Monday, December 31, 2007

Circumcision of Christ

January 1st

Romans 4:8-14
Luke 2:15-21

Back in the 1970s, when I was in my first year in college, I had a run-in with a Philosophy instructor. The older I get, the more I read and the more I learn, the more I know how right I was, and how wrong the instructor was. Now, that is not the normal reflection one makes of his first year of college, and not the normal reflection I make of my undergraduate days in the 1970s when I was a mere boy and a beardless youth (a time my own kids think could not have existed. When I tell them I was once their age, I am not sure they believe me). Anyway, this Instructor told the class that the ancient Greeks had believed that matter was evil (so far she was somewhat right), and that, in her words, “we see this as part of Christian teaching, that matter is evil.” I did not hesitate to contradict her. I spoke right up: “That is not Christian teaching,” I said. And I was right. She said to me, “Defend that statement.” So, I did. I pointed out that as early as the Book of Genesis, God looks at His creation and says, “It is very good.” I mentioned the sacraments, specifically bringing up baptism and the Lord’s Supper, which use matter for what is holy. I was about to point out the most important part, that Christians believe that God Himself has appeared in the world of matter in what we call the Incarnation, the Christian teaching that God the Son is fully God and fully man in one Person. But, she cut me off, and repeated her assertion that Christians have always believed that matter is evil.

Now that I am a real theologian, and a published one at that, I can add that the entire concept of matter being evil was the worst of ancient Gnostic heresies taught by one Marcion, whom the bishop and martyr Saint Polycarp called “the firstborn of Satan.” I am sure that these names were not familiar to the instructor. To this day I am irked by the fact that standards at that college were so low as to make an instructor out of someone so totally unqualified. And yet, if that unfortunate person had not been presenting herself as someone who is educated, we could have a certain amount of sympathy.

After five centuries of division and confusion among Christians, it is all too true that the heart of the message is missing from what most people think we believe. During this season of Christmas, and particularly this eighth day of Christmas, the Feast of the Circumcision of Christ, it is a good time to state some basics about our faith. In particular, what does it mean that God the Son was born into the world as a human being? And, what does it mean about the use of matter in sacraments and in worship in general? It is right that we can see water, incense, the sound of bells and other created things as useful in worship. Our God made a good world, and created things have been sanctified by Christ taking human nature and coming into the world of matter, of space and of time. Eternity and time have met in one Person. For people who object to water, to incense, to bells and to the Real Presence in the Sacrament, I can only ask what they have against Jesus Christ having come in the flesh.

The fact that we believe such a thing, that we believe “the Word was made flesh,” is rather startling, quite a shock when we really take it in for the first time. I recall vividly when I was very young, attending a Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, and the Rector of Saint Mark’s Episcopal Church, a small country church in Maryland, read the opening of the Gospel of Saint John, the appointed Gospel for Christmas. I knew the words already, but as they were read in the context of the Church in that holy service, on that holy night, they hit me like a bolt of lightening. “…the Word was God…And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.” A few days later I was walking the family dog, and those words came again. I already believed that Jesus Christ is fully God and fully man; but the idea of what that means, once again, was like being struck by lightening. It really is rather a shock, a good shock and happy, to grasp the fact that God the Son has condescended to take our very nature into His eternal and uncreated Person- God equal to the Father and the Holy Ghost.

The very fact that Saint Luke tells us that he was circumcised takes on great significance. Every Jewish boy was circumcised on the eighth day. This is what God commanded Abraham, and what Moses simply continued. But, what does it mean that Jesus Christ was circumcised? What does it tell us about creation and redemption, and God’s love for the human race?

Well, to begin with, as our Collect points out, Jesus Christ would fulfill the Law. For redemption, it reminds us of words from the Epistle to the Hebrews: “For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin (Heb. 4:15).” The fact that He fulfilled the Law perfectly, and was Himself without sin is essential to our salvation; the Righteous One being sacrificed as a Lamb without spot, himself pure from all sin, “Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed (I Pet. 2: 24).” As Isaiah put it, in the 53rd chapter:

Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.”

The sinless One, like Adam whose sin made the many guilty, has by His obedience unto death as the atoning sacrifice, made the many righteous. In this first shedding of blood by circumcision He begins to obey and to fulfill the whole Law; no one else ever did it perfectly. No one else could. No man in heaven or earth was worthy to open the scroll, says the Book of Revelation, except for the One who was like a Lamb that had been slain, and is called the Lion of the Tribe of Judah.

What else does His circumcision tells us? It tells us that we can identify Him as an individual in history. This is very important, indeed essential, to believing that His Incarnation was real and not allegorical. Back in the 1980s, in New York City, one of the “progressive” Episcopal churches in town decided to display a female corpus- that is, the body of a woman- on a crucifix. One of the great errors of our time is the kind of feminism that wants something other than simply equal respect for both men and women, which is a good thing in itself. But this is, instead, that other kind of feminism, the Satanic kind that hates human nature as God created it, and meant it to be. It is the kind that hates life, that makes the sin of abortion, which is the murder of the unborn, into its only “sacrament.” Like the witch in Narnia, it makes it always Winter but never Christmas. A female corpus on the crucifix gets to the heart of error. Jesus Christ, in His sacrifice is transformed into a mere symbol. How backwards from reality.

God is the greatest Reality of all, and we human beings are the image. Jesus Christ in His human nature is the exact image, the express icon of the Father. His Circumcision reminds us of this reality: namely, that He entered real human history. That is, the world, as it really is, received into its created existence the Lord Himself. He was real, and as an individual had marks that made him of the male sex and of Jewish ethnicity, just as we all have these same distinctions of belonging to one of the two sexes, and to our own specific lineage from our ancestors. His sex was male, his ethnicity was Jewish.

It is important that He was male. This is no “accident” of the Incarnation, but rather, part of the plan. It is important that he was Jewish, descended from the Royal line of David. This too was no mere “accident” of the Incarnation, but an essential part of the plan of His Incarnation. Only a man could be our High Priest and represent all of humanity in One Person- as head. Only a Jew from the line of David could be the eternal King whose government and peace will have no end. 1

And, all of this ties into that other fact of His Circumcision, his Name. “And when eight days were accomplished for the circumcising of the child, his name was called JESUS, which was so named of the angel before he was conceived in the womb.” Jesus, Y’Shua, is a Hebrew name that means Salvation. As it says in the book of Isaiah:

Ci’ Adonai Shof’tenu

Adonai Mak’ka’kenu

Adonai Malkenu

Hu Yashi-enu

“For the LORD is our judge, the LORD is our lawgiver, the LORD is our king; He is our salvation (Isaiah 33:22).”

My upcoming book goes into detail about the two comings of Jesus Christ as they are revealed in the Old Testament: His first coming as Priest and His second when He will come as King. For today, let us consider the meaning of His circumcision, the first shedding of His blood, and His particular history as a male of the house of David, of the tribe of Judah. This real man in real history has overcome the barriers between us and God. By taking human nature He has overcome the chasm between Creator and creature that separated us from God. As the Lamb of God Who took away the sins of the world in his atoning death, when he offered himself on the cross as the full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world, he removed the separation between us as sinners and the Holy God. When He rose from the dead He did away with death that separated us from the Living God, the source and author of all life.

His Name is Jesus. He is our salvation.

1. See Isaiah 9:6,7. These two verses reveal the male sex and Davidic family descent of the Messiah as absolutely necessary.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Solemnity of the Humble Shepherds

In 2003 I had reason to preach based on the propers used by the Polish National Catholic Church, in which the first Sunday after Christmas bears the name placed above as the title.

Luke 2: 15-20

And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.

Saint Luke was a physician, and his writings make him the Charles Dickens of the New Testament. By that I mean that he always takes into account human frailty, and our need for healing. His writings have been very important in the history of the Western world, in helping to create the conscience of civilized man, in forming the recognition that compassion is a necessary ingredient for any people. I cannot help but wonder if our world would have developed the medicines and built the hospitals which have prolonged countless lives and relieved much suffering, if not for the message which has been gleaned from his two books. I do not want to take away anything from the other saints who wrote the scriptures, such as Saint Paul who taught us more about charity- the love of God- in one chapter than even a mind like that of Plato could have written in thousands of chapters in numerous books; or from Saint John, who first tells us of the mysteries of love within the Trinity, and extended to mankind. I simply want to speak of my appreciation for Saint Luke who saw the need of man to be healed, first and foremost by repentance from sin.

And, in the early chapters of his Gospel we see a glimpse through the eyes of Doctor Luke into the value of humility that was a part of Christ’s coming and His message to a lost world. Back in the sixties it was popular and trendy, as well as dishonest and silly, to picture Christ as a "revolutionary.” The very context of the times made the use of that word, "revolutionary," part of a grand deception against order and hierarchy, both natural and spiritual, which is needed to sustain human life and love of truth. But, Christ did bring about a kind of genuine revolution; His was the revolution of humility which overturns the overwhelming structure of power and domination, oppression and distinction of class. In Luke’s Gospel we read of the great and powerful figures of the empire by name and office, the name of Caesar Augustus and his governors, but mentioned briefly as nothing more than markings of time. And the time they mark is important not because of their power, but because of what God was doing for mankind through humble persons, insignificant as the world counts significance, poor members of a conquered people without wealth or power, suffering their own kind of oppression from a foreign ruler who taxed and commanded without "consent of the governed." So, yes, Augustus was the emperor, and Cyrenius was the governor, and so forth; but the action of the story, what matters, is what takes place in a stable with a poor carpenter and his wife, with poor shepherds, and with that most helpless of human creatures, a newborn babe.

The angels did not appear to the emperor, or to the governor. They did not appear to the priests in the temple, compromised as they were by their dealings with Caesar’s henchmen. They did not appear to the Pharisees who loved to be greeted in the marketplace and given the position of honor. They appeared to the shepherds, men whose vocation had become despised by the religious authorities of their day; men who were not regarded as members of the synagogues because their work kept them busy in the fields when others could gather for prayer. By the standards of that time these were men who were deemed to be irreligious for reasons beyond their own control. They could not ignore the sheep on every Sabbath, or every Holy Day; their livelihood kept them outdoors with dirty stupid animals who could not be abandoned for even an hour. But, it was to them that the angels appeared; it was to them that the Gospel was preached from heaven itself. And they were the first to come to Bethlehem and adore Christ the Lord.

Now that is genuinely revolutionary, standing the honors of the fallen world upon their head.

And where did they go to worship this king? Did they go to a fine palace adorned with every luxury? They that wear fine apparel are in king’s houses; but the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes was lying in a manger. His mattress was straw, surrounded by the aroma of animals - ox and donkey. As Saint Paul tells us, "For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich ( II Cor. 8: 9)."

And again,

" Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Phil. 2: 5-11)."

Now that is a true revolution, without committing violence, though suffering the violence of sinful men, conquering the conqueror by humility. The structure of the world is based upon how the Gentiles do things - ruling and climbing the ladder of power, exercising dominion upon others- "it shall not be so among you; but he that would be greatest among you must be servant of all, even as the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve." The world cannot change this system; it is in bondage to it until Christ returns as the rightful King of all the earth, because until then sin reigns in the human heart. We have seen that the world cannot change this system of power. The modern world has seen many revolutions. What we had here in America was not a revolution, even though the American war for Independence is called a revolution. The first modern revolution was in France, and it overturned a neglectful monarchy for a reign of terror, a violent assault on everything good and decent by bloodthirsty savages, many of them in fine lace and powdered wigs. This French monstrosity was the prototype of the revolutions of the Twentieth Century, each a blood bath bringing on a new ideology and with it a new and more harsh oppression than anything suffered before it by the peoples of the various countries. The world’s idea of a revolution is simply the rule of the Gentiles replacing a previous rule of the Gentiles, exactly as our Lord described it. The ideologies of the world remain nothing more than competing parties locked into the same old system of sin and darkness which can only express it’s perverse notion of order by raw power.

The only real revolution was accomplished by the rightful King, Jesus Christ; and He did it by the most astonishing means; He did it by humility and by the cross. Choosing to be born in a stable into a poor family, a noble family descended from ancient royalty, but a humble and poor family nonetheless- so poor that at His Presentation (a feast coming up, also named the Purification), as recorded also by St. Luke, they had to offer two pigeons instead of a lamb- to be worshiped by shepherds instead of by the "significant" people of either the Temple or the Empire. And he chose to establish his kingdom by taking up the cross instead of claiming a throne. The shadow of the cross hung over the manger in which he lay as an infant. Every detail of His life on earth, from its earliest moments, speaks of the cross that He would later take up and carry by His own free will. Everything that Christ does, including the circumstances of His birth, goes against the grain; the world is locked into a system of ambitious power and dominion because its greatest law is the law of sin and death. The world’s revolutions never create freedom, peace and righteousness because it is not possible. Pride and ambition, no matter how lofty the ideology, cannot provide an escape from the gravity of sin and death. But, humility, when it is exalted to the highest place of honor by God who resists the proud, is the only true revolution. It does not bring about anarchy or a new order. It restores the rightful King to His place of ruling in the hearts of men. It brings about love and obedience to the Christ Who ruled from the cross to bring about our healing from sin and death, and Who everlives to intercede for us sinners, sinners who repent.

This choice made by God speaks loud and clear to us. He ignores the honors of the world, and calls the outcast shepherds, men who probably would never have considered themselves worthy of God’s love, or of any honor, to be the first to worship the Incarnate Christ, to be the first congregation that stands a prototype of the Church. From this we learn of our need to humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God

Friday, December 28, 2007

Non-Anglican Difficulties, Part Three

The following came from my answers in private correspondence. It struck me as I had completed it, that parts of it may be useful. The identity of the person to whom I wrote is confidential. The first answer is not to a Non-Anglican difficulty, just a modern one.

About contraception: The fathers were not silent. What they wrote condemns it as sin. I do understand your circumstances very well, because we have four (now grown) children, and at times my one and only source of family income seemed to be no better than desperate poverty. My health was not good, and I came close to death more than once. The last time that happened my wife was pregnant with number four. Someone did bring her to the hospital that night, assuming I might die before they arrived. That was, in fact, exactly nineteen years ago this very day (the feast of the Holy Innocents). answer cannot help but seem superficial. But, it is not really superficial at all. It is that you allow this one matter to help you develop something in addition to faith, namely trust. Whatever God has planned for your family, it is not to destroy you or hurt you. It is not adverse to your well being.

These answer Non-Anglican difficulties:

About Anglican orders: ...The question deals with apologetics, that is, a defensive argument. Argument is not a bad word, and should normally take place between "learned friends." I repeated an outline of very basic arguments in order to inform you. This is a subject that is difficult to put into a few words in an e-mail perhaps, and so I overloaded each sentence with information. This is because I keep this information in my head. If you look at the 2006 archives of the
Continuum, you will discover a wealth of information that refutes Apostolicae Curae. I recommend as well that you read Saepius Officio (1897), which was superior in scholarship to the 1896 Papal Bull it refuted. ...the See of Rome is stuck with every document bearing Papal Imprimatur as a precedent. But, the good news is you can ...receive Communion in good conscience from an Anglican priest if you study the Anglican answers.

About the Sacrifice of the Mass: the only thing rejected by the
Church of England was the plural, "sacrifices of masses." Written in the 16th century, the relevant Article was addressing the flawed understanding of the people, not the theologians in Rome. In modern times, the Church of Rome sees that the Church of England was right to reject "the sacrifices of masses." There is only one sacrifice, and only one Mass, no matter how often it is celebrated. The Book of Common Prayer draws from the Epistle to the Hebrews and produces this line in the Canon of Consecration:

ALL glory be to thee, Almighty God, our heavenly Father, for that thou, of thy tender mercy, didst give thine only Son Jesus Christ to suffer death upon the Cross for our redemption; who made there (by his one oblation of himself once offered) a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction, for the sins of the whole world."

Reading through the entire Prayer, the language of sacrifice is clearly present. It is repeated in many ways, so as to include the whole of life, to summarize everything that is offered to God. If not in the Mass, where could we summarize the whole of our lives as an offering to God, in response to His gift of His Son? This includes praise and thanksgiving. It includes the bread and wine on the altar, so that they may be for us the Body and Blood of Christ. It includes as well our bodies as living sacrifices and our reasonable service of prayer (Rom. 12:1,2).

Excerpts from the BCP, Holy Communion:

we, thy humble servants, do celebrate and make here before thy Divine Majesty, with these thy holy gifts, which we now offer unto thee, the memorial thy Son hath commanded us to make..."

And here we offer and present unto thee, O Lord, our selves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice unto thee..."

And although we are unworthy, through our manifold sins, to offer unto thee any sacrifice; yet we beseech thee to accept this our bounden duty and service; not weighing our merits, but pardoning our offences, through Jesus Christ our Lord..."

That last line is not to be understood as "bounden duty and service"
instead of sacrifice; but, in the context of the Prayer, it is an expanded way of saying "sacrifice." We are not worthy to make any sacrifice, but accept this duty and service- i.e. sacrifice- through Jesus Christ who gave himself once for all.

About the Real Presence:
Lex Orandi Lex Credendi. See these words of orandi, and so be helped to understand what is actually credo for us:

AND we most humbly beseech thee, O merciful Father, to hear us; and, of thy almighty goodness, vouchsafe to bless and sanctify, with thy Word and Holy Spirit, these thy gifts and creatures of bread and wine; that we, receiving them according to thy Son our Saviour Jesus Christ’s holy institution, in remembrance of his death and passion, may be partakers of his most blessed Body and Blood."

Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his Body, and our souls washed through his most precious Blood, and that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us"

THE Body of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was given for thee, preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life...THE Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was shed for thee, preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life."

ALMIGHTY and everliving God, we most heartily thank thee, for that thou dost vouchsafe to feed us who have duly received these holy mysteries with the spiritual food of the most precious Body and Blood of thy Son our Saviour Jesus Christ."

My point is simple. Despite the theories of various writers, including some Anglicans, the actual Holy Communion service is the Catholic Mass of the Apostolic Church with no gaps in the theology it expresses. This is why the Patriarch of Alexandria wrote these words to the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1930, delivered on Christmas day:

"The Holy Synod recognizes that the declarations of the Orthodox, quoted in the Summary, were made according to the spirit of Orthodox teaching. Inasmuch as the Lambeth Conference approved the declarations of the Anglican Bishops as a genuine account [1] of the teaching and practice of the Church of England and the Churches in communion with it, it welcomes them as a notable step towards the Union of the two Churches. And since in these declarations, which were endorsed by the Lambeth Conference, complete and satisfying assurance is found as to the Apostolic Succession, as to a real reception of the Lord’s Body and blood, as to the Eucharist being thusia hilasterios [2] (Sacrifice), and as to Ordination being a Mystery, the Church of Alexandria withdraws its precautionary negative to the acceptance of the validity of Anglican Ordinations, and, adhering to the decision of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, of July 28, 1922, pronounces that if priests, ordained by Anglican Bishops, accede to Orthodoxy, they should not be re-ordained, as persons baptized by Anglicans are not rebaptized."

About the 16th century: It is true that during the days of Henry VIII iconoclasm was caused by the fanatical excesses launched by Thomas Cromwell. The people were mostly outraged by this blasphemy. Of course, later the the Church of England was reunited with the Pope. A second break with the See of Rome was caused by the Pope himself. Eager to please the king of Spain, he demanded that Elisabeth be overthrown and put to death, and that the faithful of England plunge themselves into Civil War. The new queen had not split with Rome at that time; but, she was the daughter of Ann Boleyn, and so the king of Spain wanted to use this to claim that her rule was illegal, and he wanted to conquer England. This second split was not like the the earlier one that had been caused by Henry VIII's desire to have a divorce. It was caused by a pope who aligned himself with the empire of Spain, and who made impossible demands for bloodshed, and surrender of a whole country to a foreign power. The iconoclasm of Thomas Cromwell never resurfaced except among the heretical Puritans, a group that was considered to be a threat to the Church of England from its outset (even though some people pretend that the Puritans were Anglicans).

So, I would not allow the iconoclasm that had once taken place to cast a shadow over Anglican validity.

You wrote: "
Purgatory, excessive devotion to the saints with
novenas, heavy heavy heavy emphasis on works sometimes
at the expense of faith, Mariology taken too far,
indulgences, and a lack of Biblical study have all
concerned me about Roman Catholicism."

Some of these things are simply popular expressions of devotion [which are perfectly good], and some Anglo-Catholics are identical in their practices. The only theological problem that I see in the teaching of Rome, among the items you listed, is the combination of Purgatory with indulgences. It is still taught in the (otherwise excellent) Catechism of the Catholic Church that was produced under Pope John Paul II. If Purgatory is a punishment instead of purification, and if indulgences are granted on the basis that God owes mankind credit to its account due to supererogation of the saints, what happens to this clear teaching of scripture? "Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life. For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous (Rom. 5:19, 20)." I say, this point of official Roman Catholic teaching is incompatible with the Word of God, and refutes essential truth of the Gospel. It is, also, a point in which the new catechism is self-contradictory, because it affirms those same essential points of the Gospel earlier on, that this section denies. There's that problem of being stuck with every precedent again. They should, rather, just drop the Medieval innovation.

About Papal Infallibility: Like the above Medieval innovation, this modern innovation (1870) is not part of "the faith once delivered to the saints (Jude 3)." It is not in accord with the Vincentian Canon: "Quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus creditum est (What has been believed everywhere, always, and by all)." Conciliar authority was the rule for a thousand years, and no pope [needed to be] present at any of the seven Ecumenical Councils, having sent representatives, and having awaited the written documents to either ratify or reject (with no more or less authority than the other Patriarchs).

On that last question of Papal Infallibility, the subject is more complicated than most people realize. Fr. John Hunwicke, a priest in the Church of England, wrote an article that helps to clarify its meaning. You can read what he has written here.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Feast of the Holy Innocents December 28th

The Slaughter of the innocents, TINTORETTO 1582-87

Lullay, Thou little tiny Child,
By, by, lully, lullay.
Lullay, Thou little tiny Child.
By, by, lully, lullay.

O sisters, too, how may we do,
For to preserve this day;
This poor Youngling for whom we sing,
By, by, lully, lullay.

Herod the King, in his raging,
Charged he hath this day;
His men of might, in his own sight,
All children young, to slay.

Then woe is me, poor Child, for Thee,
And ever mourn and say;
For Thy parting, nor say nor sing,
By, by, lully, lullay.

Coventry Carol -Robert Croo, 1534

The Collect.

O ALMIGHTY God, who out of the mouths of babes and sucklmgs 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.

For the Epistle. Rev. xiv. 1.

I LOOKED, and, lo, a Lamb stood on the mount Sion, and with him an hundred forty and four thousand, having his Father's name written in their foreheads. And I heard a voice from heaven, as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of a great thunder: and I heard the voice of harpers harping with their harps: and they sung as it were a new song before the throne, and before the four beasts, and the elders: and no man could learn that song but the hundred and forty and four thousand, which were redeemed from the earth. These are they which were not defiled with women for they are virgins. These are they which follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth. These were redeemed from among men, being the firstfruits unto God and to the Lamb. And in their mouth was found no guile: for they are without fault before the throne of God.

The Gospel. St. Matt. ii. 13.

THE angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saving, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, an be thou there until I bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him. When he arose, he took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt: and was there until the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt have I called my son. Then Herod, when he maw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, amid slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to time which he had diligently enquired of the wise men. Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremy the prophet, saying, In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not.

Saint John, Apostle and Evangelist December 27th

In the Orthodox Church, St. John is one of three men to have the title "Theologian" added as a special designation to his name. When we reflect on his words in his first Epistle (appointed for today) and in the opening to his Gospel, we find a strong affirmation of the Trinity and the Incarnation as the center of his message. In his case it was the clarity of revelation expressed so powerfully that marks him as what we call, in the deepest sense, the Theologian.

Several years ago, I wrote these words: "A good theologian takes his readers by the hand and leads them up the Mount of Transfiguration, where they can see the revelation of divine glory in the human face of Jesus Christ. A good theologian helps us to encounter God, because he knows God. Though his work is too objective to indulge in autobiography, his footprints are discernable in his pilgrimage to Zion and the temple." Indeed, for the average theologian (small "t") who works in academic and ecclesiastical circles, published work is quite often objective in this sense, and is not autobiographical. Not so with St. John the Apostle and Evangelist, the Theologian. For most of us, we can understand the love of God only because of the Church that teaches, and that documents its teaching with the authority of scripture. We are taught that the man who died for each of us, to restore us to God from sin and death, and who appears now as our Mediator and Advocate, the resurrected Christ, has demonstrated God's love by his life, death and life.

St. John came at the beginning of the Church, and he learned of this love in a very personal way, a way that he wants to share with all of his readers as extended fellowship with him, and the other eyewitnesses of Christ's ministry in this world, and therefore with God and with his Son. Throughout his Gospel, John refers to himself as "the disciple whom Jesus loved." The meaning of this can be reduced to a matter of some form of favoritism, or simple friendship. But, in light of the great themes of his writing, the apostle was more likely to have been letting us in on revelation that made him the Theologian. He saw in everything that Jesus taught and did that inexpressible love beyond all human imagination. He saw it as the Lord was going about teaching and healing. He saw it as the Lord washed the feet of the apostles on the night in which He was betrayed. He saw it as he stood and beheld the agonies of Christ dying on the cross, giving his life willingly. He saw it when the Lord appeared after his resurrection to extend grace and mercy. To John it was this love that opened his eyes so wide that he could write, "And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us."

And so, he tells each of us that God's love is so great that we can enter the fellowship of those who have heard, who have seen with their eyes, who have looked upon, and whose hands have handled the Word of life. He dwelt among us because of what was made known to this one apostle, that the Lord loved him. He could write of that love only in the great eternal and universal themes of his Gospel.

Saint John the Evangelist's Day.

The Collect.

MERCIFUL Lord, we beseech thee to cast thy bright beams of light upon thy Church, that it, being instructed* by the doctrine of thy blessed Apostle and Evangelist Saint John, may so walk in the light of thy truth, that it may at length attain to everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Epistle.
1 St. John i. 1.

THAT which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our bands have handled, of the Word of life; (for the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;) that which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full. This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: but if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

The Gospel. St. John xxi. 19.

JESUS saith unto Peter, Follow me. Then Peter, turning about, seeth the disciple whom Jesus loved following; which also leaned on his breast at supper, and said, Lord, which is he that betrayeth thee? Peter seeing him saith to Jesus, Lord, and what shall this man do? Jesus saith unto him, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? follow thou me. Then went this saying abroad among the brethren, that that disciple should not die: yet Jesus said not unto him, he shall not die; but, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? This is the disciple which testifieth of these things, and wrote these things: and we know that his testimony is true. And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written.

For Shame!

BETHLEHEM, December 27 (AFP) - Seven people were injured on Thursday when Greek Orthodox and Armenian priests came to blows in a dispute over how to clean the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.

Following the Christmas celebrations, Greek Orthodox priests set up ladders to clean the walls and ceilings of their part of the church, which is built over the site where Jesus Christ is believed to have been born.

But the ladders encroached on space controlled by Armenian priests, according to photographers who said angry words ensued and blows quickly followed.

For a quarter of an hour bearded and robed priests laid into each other with fists, brooms and iron rods while the photographers who had come to take pictures of the annual cleaning ceremony recorded the whole event.

A dozen unarmed Palestinian policemen were sent to try to separate the priests, but two of them were also injured in the unholy melee.

"As usual the cleaning of the church afer Christmas is a cause of problems," Bethlehem Mayor Victor Batarseh told AFP, adding that he has offered to help ease tensions.

"For the two years that I have been here everything went more or less calmly," he said. "It's all finished now."

The Church of the Nativity, like the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem's Old City, is shared by various branches of Christianity, each of which controls and jealously guards a part of the holy site.

The Church of the Nativity is built on the site where Christians believe Jesus was born in a stable more than 2,000 years ago after Mary and Joseph were turned away by an inn.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

St. Stephen Protomartyr

The Feast of St. Stephen, πρότος μάρτυρας

From my sermon for the twenty second Sunday after Trinity:

In the Old Testament Chronicles, a prophet named Zechariah (not to be confused with the later prophet of the same name), suffered this fate:

And the Spirit of God came upon Zechariah the son of Jehoiada the priest, which stood above the people, and said unto them, Thus saith God, Why transgress ye the commandments of the LORD, that ye cannot prosper? because ye have forsaken the LORD, he hath also forsaken you. And they conspired against him, and stoned him with stones at the commandment of the king in the court of the house of the LORD. Thus Joash the king remembered not the kindness which Jehoiada his father had done to him, but slew his son. And when he died, he said, “The LORD look upon it, and require it.” (II Chron. 24:20-22)

However, in the Book of Acts, we read of the same fate being suffered by the first Christian Martyr, Saint Stephen centuries later. Notice the difference.

Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye. Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? and they have slain them which shewed before of the coming of the Just One; of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers: Who have received the law by the disposition of angels, and have not kept it. When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth. But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up steadfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God. And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God. Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord, and cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man's feet, whose name was Saul. And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep. (Acts 7:57-60)

Saint Stephen had an advantage that Zechariah, centuries before, did not have. We do not criticize Zechariah for demanding justice when he died, because, unlike Saint Stephen, he could not look back to Jesus Christ on the cross. We all know the words from the Gospel of Luke: words spoken by Jesus as He was hanging upon the cross: “Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” The Word made Flesh, God the Son in His human nature, showed us what mercy truly is. We already knew that God, from heaven, forgives sins. God cannot be harmed, wronged or deprived of anything. Yet, as a Man, it is God who was mocked, beaten and crucified by sinful men, and who pronounced forgiveness. No angel can preach on this subject as well as you and I can, for it takes human frailty to speak of forgiving those who can cause us to suffer.

So we do not criticize the holy prophet, Zechariah, of the Old Testament; Instead, we see that Saint Stephen had even more grace, for he could look back to God the Son, in His human nature, forgiving the very men who were murdering Him, who were enjoying the spectacle of His suffering, as they displayed the depths of Schedenfreude. Saint Stephen could recall God in the flesh forgiving genuine pains that were inflicted upon His Person.

May our Lord Jesus, grant to us the joy that comes when we are free to love everyone, including those who have wronged us, with that charity placed within us by the Holy Ghost that that can, if we acquire it, make us perfect, as our Father in heaven is perfect. Amen

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Advent IV Guest "preacher"

I like the sermon of my friend, Fr. Charles Nalls, so much that I want to post it. I figure, since he is a friend I can steal it, as long as I give attribution.

Advent IV- A sermon by Fr. Charles Nalls


“Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice. . .The Lord is at hand.”-Philippians 4:4, 5.

THE Lord is at hand.” Today we are drawing close to the festival of the first Advent. Indeed, in this shortened Advent, we will celebrate tonight that time when our Lord came in great humility. It is a very, very, very joyful time, for soon the light will shine out amid the darkness, and the hope of the Church of the Old Covenant will become the faith of the Church of the New.

In today’s Epistle, St. Paul reminds us of two great fruits of the Spirit which are especially associated with our Lord’s birth. These are truly the two great gifts of Christmas—Joy and Peace. We see them on so many Christmas Cards and in decorations and in “holiday” messages from merchants and even in lighted yard displays. Do we really stop to think about Joy and about Peace?

The Epistle begins with the words, “Rejoice in the Lord alway; and again I say, Rejoice.” Each festival has its own joy. Easter brings us the joy of victory over sin and death. Christmas the Advent Joy, the joy of hope fulfilled, of the possession of a great gift, the greatest gift-Christ Jesus, Who is the Light of the world, and Who comes to us in our Christmas Communion to be our Light.

In the Collect for today we are taught to say, “Lord, raise up, we pray Thee, Thy power, and come among us, and with great might succour us.”

It was the prayer of the Psalmists (Psalm 80:2), uttered again and again amid the gloom and darkness which so deeply enshrouded humanity. Now it is the prayer of the Church, really, of each Christian soul, that He Who did raise up His power, and came into the world at the Incarnation with great might to comfort us, would at this time come into our hearts. We are asking today on the eve of the great festival that, through our Christmas Communion, we will be helped and delivered us from those sins which hinder us in running the race that is set before us. We pray today that our Lord would not only come to visit us, but to abide with us, to run our race with us. And the effect of His Presence must be to fill us with Joy and Peace.

And so let’s look at some simple thoughts on real joy and peace.

In regard to Joy, in the Old Testament oil is associated with joy as its symbol. We read in Isaiah that the Messiah was “to appoint unto them that mourn in Zion . . . the oil of joy for mourning.” (Isaiah 61:3) Again, in Psalm 45, addressed to the Messiah, we read, “Thou lovest righteousness, and hatest wickedness: therefore God, thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows.” (Psalm 45:7) And we will hear this passage quoted in the Epistle for Christmas Day. (Hebrews 9)

The major property of oil is that it reduces friction. Machinery without oil soon wears out or tears itself to pieces. Similarly, in spiritual life, joy saves us from that friction which often wears down and ruins what is beautiful in Christian character.

All of us know good people who, by their spirit of complaining, rub everyone the wrong way. We also know cheerful people whose presence is like sunshine in the house. Let’s take two Christians, one who cultivates the spirit of joy, and one who does not.

The first will go through life so happily, that temptations will lose half their force, and trials half their power to hurt. The other looks at the dark side of life, exaggerates its difficulties and sorrows, and gets out of every trial the greatest amount of friction possible. One could say they make their own hell on earth. What that second person needs so desperately is to pour the oil of joy into the machinery of life. If they did, so many things would be possible that seem quite hopeless.

And what of the spiritual life that may have grown rusty. Joy works wonders, just like the rusty piece of machinery which creaks and moves with great difficulty, if at all. But add some oil and work the machine slowly. There will be some difficulty at first, but as the oil is absorbed the rust wears off, and the machinery does its work. This is a type of human life. Joy is the fruit of the spirit which lubricates life's machinery, and makes work easy.

There are three places we especially need to use the oil of joy. First, in our dealings with those who are disagreeable or morose-it helps us and it will help them. Second, we need the oil of joy in bearing our own crosses or sorrows. Remember that our Lord promises that your sorrow shall be turned into joy; that is, if you use the gifts of the Holy Spirit. And third, in times of temptation, joy will be the great weapon with which to meet and conquer temptation.

Bear in mind that joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit, not a gift. Joy depends first upon our union with Christ, of being an Advent people who live in the expectation of Christ and of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. When we do this, we will have a reservoir of joy to bear life’s trials, and to meet life’s tempta­tions in a spirit of cheerfulness.

“And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” The Church has appropriated these words for the Eucharistic blessing. Peace, as a fruit of the Spirit, is the special gift of Christmas. Christmas heralds to the world the advent of the Prince of Peace. As we receive Him in our Communion on Christmas Day and at every Mass we ought to be filled with peace-not with the world's peace, but with the peace of God. And this, we are told, shall keep our hearts and minds even though strife and the storms of life may rage around us.

There is a picture in the gospels full of meaning if we will only look at it. It is of Jesus fast asleep on the helmsman’s cushion while the boat was almost sinking in the fury of the storm. Here is our Lord in perfect while the tempest raged without.

And that, my beloved, is the peace of God, the peace that comes to us in Christ. It does not mean the absence of all conflict. Those times of external peace, the world’s peace, may not always give the best results. Absence of conflict may be stalemate, just as worldly security, the security of things and goods we so highly value produces little of the noblest virtues of this world.

One thought about peace relates to the expression “shall keep”. The image the text suggests is of a sentry keeping guard. At first there seems to be a paradox here, when we are told that the peace of God shall keep guard over us like a soldier; but if we consider it carefully, we shall observe that the very word peace always connotes relief from war. Nations that are at peace are for the most part those which have been through times of war, and trace their peace to the result of successful struggle. And so we must face the struggles of life.

The peace of God which holds us, not away from but through, the conflict of life, is the sure knowledge, sought and grasped and grasped again, that we are held by the hand of God what­ever happens in the world around us.

The peace of God which passes all understanding is the peace which does not rest on any human device like deaden­ing down the feelings or falling back on instincts or self. The peace of God is the product of faith learned from Christ's Cross and resurrec­tion that we are in God’s hand for good, come whatever may. When we grasp it once and grasp it again, the peace of God goes walking up and down the entrance to the courtyard of our souls, just like the guards outside the palace gates, keeping back the fears that cripple us. “The peace of God shall guard your hearts and your thoughts in Christ Jesus.”

And so it is with the peace of God, which is our great Christmas gift. It is, first, the result of war, for it was won for us by our Lord on Calvary. It can only be made our own by war, by successful struggle against sin, ending in the peace of forgiveness which results in the possession of Christ. Then, as the Epistle tells us, God’s peace shall stand guard over our hearts and minds, to challenge every wrong thought, word, or deed that strives to enter our hearts to crucify the Prince of Peace Who dwells there.

What a beautiful thought for Christmas—God's gift of Joy and Peace, and the assurance that God’s peace shall stand sentry over us for this is the cause of our joy. And so the angel’s message at Bethlehem was, “I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. . . . And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” Amen.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Rowan Williams on the Virgin Birth

Following Albion's piece on Christmas Foolishness, This has been reported by Ruth Gledhill:

"Although he believed in it himself, he advised that new Christians need not fear that they had to leap over the "hurdle" of belief in the Virgin Birth before they could be "signed up". For good measure, he added, Jesus was probably not born in December at all. "Christmas was when it was because it fitted well with the winter festival."...Dr Williams was speaking live on BBC Radio Five to the presenter Simon Mayo when Ricky Gervais, star of The Office and a fellow guest, challenged him about the intellectual credibility of the Christian faith. He said he was committed to belief in the Virgin Birth "as part of what I have inherited". But belief in the Virgin Birth should not be a "hurdle" over which new Christians had to jump before they were accepted.

You can read the whole thing here.

Frankly, until someone believes in the Creed, he is not converted to Christianity. ++RW once again shows that he stands for nothing, and falls for anything.

SFIF Banned on The Continuum

Okay, folks, enough is enough.

A little while ago, I sent the following comment to the thread "A Completely Bizarre 'News' Article in the Falls Church News" on Stand Firm in Faith. Within minutes, Sarah Hey deleted it as off topic:

"I am sorry to see that my co-host at The Continuum, Fr Robert Hart, has become the latest person to be banned from SFIF. We do not have a policy of banning people for engaging in reasoned discussion about any topic of concern to the church, something of which I am proud.

"I had thought of removing from the sidebar the link that I provide to SFIF, but will not do so, as that would simply be petty retaliation. I believe that the issues discussed here are important, though I am often in disagreement with what is said here."

Were there a thread on SFIF about freedom of expression, I would have perhaps posted my comment there. But it was on this thread that Fr Hart was banned, and so it was there that I posted my comment.

In light of the deletion, I have chosen to reconsider my initial inclination to "ban" SFIF at The Continuum by removing the link to it in the sidebar.

It is removed forthwith.

Update on Conservatives and Traditionalists

About Martyn Minns

It seems that I owe the readers a correction, not to my reporting, neither to any reporting of David Virtue. It seems that the Falls Church News quoted Bishop Martyn Minns incompletely by editing much of what he said. Furthermore, his full remarks are bad news, and they indicate how strait the gate is, and how narrow the path.

Here is the wider quotation:

Another arena where we have both opportunities and challenges has to do with the question of women’s ordination. From the inception of CANA we have made it very clear that we are committed to the full participation of women in the life and leadership of the church. We recognize that among biblically faithful members of the Anglican Communion there are differing theological positions as to whether women should serve in ordained ministry. There are, as have been described, TWO INTEGRITIES: those who believe that women should NOT be ordained at all and those who do believe that women can serve in ordained ministry– although within the latter group there are differing understandings as to whether this includes priesthood and extends to congregational oversight and serving as bishops.

Ordination is not only a response to God’s call on an individual but it is also an action of the church. At this time the Church of Nigeria, to which we owe canonical obedience, has no provision for the ordination of women although there has been acceptance of women in the order of deacons. At their most recent gathering the Church of Nigeria’s General Synod tabled discussion about ordination of women to a future date. Archbishop Peter Akinola has stated that while he supports this action he recognizes that there needs to be freedom for CANA to take a different direction because of its North American context. In light of this commitment to embrace both integrities we have received applications from congregations and female clergy with the expectation that women clergy will be licensed to continue their ministry.

In anticipation of this Council I appointed a task force under the leadership of Archdeacon Adedokun Adewunmi and the Rev’d Bill Haley to prepare recommendations as to next steps. The members of the task force included advocates of widely differing perspectives. They are working on a number of possible ways in which we can move forward as a united community while recognizing both integrities. I have asked that they be available to discuss their deliberations with members of this Council. They acknowledge that while they have not yet come to one mind as to a recommended direction they have made enormous progress in the time that they have worked together.

In light of this I propose the following:

• We will keep our promise to honor both integrities within CANA and fulfill our commitment to the full participation of women, in the life and leadership of the church. We will seek to do so in such a manner that both those who are unable to support the ordination of women and those who embrace it will know that their position has been honored.

• We will continue to accept applications from qualified congregations and female clergy with the expectation that women clergy will be licensed to continue their ministry within
CANA. We will request permission of the Church of Nigeria to ordain appropriately qualified women candidates to the diaconate within CANA as soon as possible.

• We will continue to look to a task force to continue work on this issue. We will expect them to develop a unified recommendation regarding ways in which we maintain our
commitment to both integrities and at the same time provide the necessary theological framework pastoral procedures and canonical provision for the ordination of qualified
women to the presbyterate within CANA.

I am fully aware that this is a topic of concern for many clergy and congregations throughout CANA and one that produces intense reactions. It is therefore my prayer that we will take these next steps looking for the Holy Spirit to lead us into all truth and guard our common life and witness.

"Accepting applications" indicates a willingness to consider them for ordination, even though it is possible that actual ordinations might be delayed until some sort of further resolution is found among these new "Continuing Episcopalians." In other words, we must pray for them, not think of them as enemies, but in compassion pray God to open the eyes of their understanding. Remember where they are coming from, a place of turmoil and confusion. I am more upset about what this tells us about Archbishop Akinola- I feel like a hero has fallen, maybe like a kid who just found out that one of his favorite baseball players was using steroids.
My information came from someone who related it to me from Stand Firm, a source from which I was unable to obtain an answer to my inquiry. It was important to find out why they attacked the Falls Church News report (having relied on that very report, and therefore having a responsibility to get to the facts). I questioned why they attacked the accuracy of a report that had seemed to be objective. I was rewarded for my efforts in asking this reasonable question by being banned from their blogsite. Well, so be it. I simply asked for information, and they took it as a challenge (something that is always too much for them, it appears). I have only visited that site a total of less than ten times ever. They need to grow up over there.

Calculating Christmas

Here it is, posted again, the link for you to read the reason why Christmas is dated on December 25th. My friend Bill Tighe wrote this a few years ago, not to answer the ignorance of unbelievers and secularists, but to answer the misconceptions of his fellow Christians.

William J. Tighe on the Story Behind December 25.

Read it here.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Traditionalists and Conservatives

What is in a label? "A rose by any other name..."and all that.

In recent weeks I have been referring once again to "conservative Episcopalians." This label produced, in a comment by a reader, the good observation that we should not call such people "conservative." To clarify the way I have used this expression, I relied on an article from the June 2002 Touchstone by Fr. Samuel Edwards, because his definition gave clarity to the usage of "conservative" in this admittedly relative context. In that article, he spoke of "members of what the sociologists call 'the Silent Generation,'

who were born between 1927 and 1943, [and who] were growing up during World War II...As a generation, they tend to be reflexively (as opposed to reflectively) conservative; most of its members in Accokeek are socially and politically conservative or moderate, but none can be accurately described as genuinely traditional...They are, in a word, corporatists."

Indeed, if we understand the difference between "conservatism" as a reflex and conservatism as a reflection, a set of deeply held convictions based on the foundation of true philosophical thought, we cannot escape the fact that the true conservatives are Traditionalists. So, when we write of "conservative Episcopalians" we are speaking of reflex, knee jerk reaction, at best relative "conservatism" of the loyal corporatist, party line, team players type. The fact that they remain "Episcopalians" indicates the limitations and relativity of their "conservatism" so automatically that the expression, "conservative Episcopalians" just about says it all. Of course, we find this kind of relative conservatism in other officially Anglican venues, including the Church of England, where it includes a part of national identity and patriotism.

What we are witnessing right now in the Anglican Communion will only serve to further blur the lines between these relative conservatives and Traditionalists, because the team (or party or corporation), is viewed less as the Episcopal Church (et al) and more as, for some, the Anglican Communion.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, has a safe place to cover himself from the storm, because he can play both sides against the middle. He can say, as he does, that each province and diocese that is at odds with the rules about boundaries and their integrity (shown for the false issue that it is by William Tighe), are still in good standing within the Anglican Communion because they are holding to the principles of belief about human sexuality stated during the 1998 Lambeth Conference. However, the provinces and dioceses that are at odds with the stated beliefs of that last Lambeth Conference are in good standing as members of the Anglican Communion too, and they are in the process of discerning.

In his recent Advent Letter sent to the whole Anglican Communion, the Archbishop of Canterbury presented this ongoing "discernment" process as the corporate, shared communion-wide continued reading of the Bible. Does this mean that as the Anglican Communion reads the Bible together that they may hope to find something new? Maybe something that contradicts the Traditional teaching that the church has always, everywhere and by all (quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus creditum est), found in the scriptures? (Have we missed something all along, failed to turn a certain page, or notice a passage tucked away behind the sofa? How careless of the Fathers.) Here we see an appeal to the Scriptures, but not not to the weight of Traditional, Rightly Reasoned, teaching that alone guides the reading of scripture truly. This appeal gives an appearance of authority that is sufficient to please the relatively conservative mind, and to keep objections within the boundaries of the team- the Anglican Communion.

So, for now Archbishop Williams may be on the side both of Ms. Schori and Bishop Schofield, and appear to be standing on principle.

We are seeing more of such blurring from other quarters. Today, David Virtue has reported that the Virginia "Continuing Episcopalians," as they call themselves, are about to go through the same process of study that the AMiA went through a few years ago. In a report filed by Nicholas Benton for The Falls Church News Press, and posted with attribution on Virtue Online, Bishop Martyn Minns (consecrated earlier this year to the episcopate in Virginia under the authority of the Anglican Church of Nigeria) is reported as having said that "he's appointed a task force to study the matter...

...from the standpoint of what he called "two integrities" of the issue, namely, adamant opposition to the ordination of women, on the one hand, and an array of alternatives ranging from some diminished role for women in the leadership of the church to ordination, on the other.

"We will keep our promise to honor both integrities within CANA and fulfill our commitment to the full participation of women in the life and leadership of the church," he said. "We will do so in such a manner that both those who are unable to support the ordination of women and those who embrace it will know that their position has been honored."

But Minns did not offer any further clarification on how both opponents and supporters of the ordination of women would come away happy.

We may pray and hope for the best; yet for now, the only reason Bishop Minns gave for why his mission diocese cannot ordain women was stated at a recent service to consecrate new bishops. At that service he said: "At this time, the Church of Nigeria, to which we owe canonical obedience, has no provision for the ordination of women." And if they did? At this time Bishop Martyn Minns is a faithful team player, loyal both to the Province of Nigeria with its Archbishop, Peter Akinola, and also to Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams and the Anglican Communion. It is good that they do not "ordain" women in Bishop Minn's diocese. But, let us hope and pray that this will grow into a matter of deeply held conviction that is both Traditional and truly conservative, rather than just relatively conservative and loyal to the corporation.

Christmas Foolishness

With Christmas drawing nigh, we are again being bombarded with the foolishness, even the outright malice, of the ignorant and of those who would undermine the Christian faith.

This piece would be better run on the excellent blog GetReligion, but I offer it for your consideration. In it, a journalist does a half-baked job of reporting on what may have been a half-baked BBC radio interview with the Archbishop of Canterbury, who was discussing some of the legends and traditions that have grown up around the Nativity story.

Full text here

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Abusing the Fathers

From the archives of Touchstone, A Journal of Mere Christianity

The Windsor Report’s Misleading Appeal to Nicea

by William J. Tighe

A year ago, after the uproar over the consecration as bishop of New Hampshire of the notorious Vicki Gene Robinson—the Episcopal priest who divorced his wife and subsequently openly entered a homosexual relationship that continues to this day—the Archbishop of Canterbury appointed a committee to look into the matter. The consecration clearly contradicted the 1998 Lambeth Conference’s resolution declaring such relationships to be incompatible with the Christian faith, and the “Lambeth Commission” was to recommend ways in which the Anglican Communion could maintain the highest possible degree of communion.

The ensuing “Windsor Report,” released on October 18, 2004, called for moratoria on the ordination of all non-celibate homosexuals and on the approval of rites for blessing same-sex “partnerships,” as well as for an end to the intervention of traditionalist bishops (usually from Africa or Asia) in the dioceses of “revisionist” bishops. It called both traditionalist and revisionist groups to express regret for their actions, which were deemed to be incompatible with the tangible and intangible bonds that held the Anglican Communion together.

Wright’s Defense

N. T. (“Tom”) Wright, the bishop of Durham in the Church of England, was a member of the commission, and in various places since the issuance of the report has defended it. He has for some years deservedly enjoyed the reputation of a first-rate Scripture scholar who has been able to counteract and debunk revisionist—read, if you will, heretical or anti-Christian—views of the life, death, and resurrection of the Lord and of the authority of the Bible.

He appeals particularly to those “conservative evangelical” Christians who wish to uphold a generally high view of the authority of Scripture in doctrine and morals, but wish to leave room for some “developments,” such as the ordination of women, which Wright supports.

Wright has, in particular, defended the report’s implicit censure of the intervention of orthodox Anglican bishops in the dioceses of revisionist ones in the United States and Canada. In a report published in the liberal-leaning English Roman Catholic weekly The Tablet, he justified this censure on the basis that such interventions were “in contravention not only of Anglican custom but of the Nicene decrees on the subject.”

The theory of the inviolable integrity of diocesan boundaries has underpinned the statements of more than one or two Episcopal bishops in recent years, such as Peter Lee of Virginia and Neil Alexander of Atlanta. The result of the theory that “heresy is preferable to schism” and “schism is worse than heresy” has been the belief among influential conservative Anglicans that the faithful must put up with an unending stream of doctrinal absurdities and moral enormities.

In an interview with Christianity Today, Wright insisted that “border crossings” are not only “disruptive” but prohibited by the Council of Nicea. “And I think not a lot of people know this, but it’s important to say this was a question that the early fathers faced at the same time as they were hammering out the doctrine of the person of Jesus Christ, and that they gave it their time to say people should not do this because that’s not how episcopacy works.” He insisted that “the real charge” against the offending dioceses

is that they were going ahead with innovations without giving the proper theological rationale, without paying attention to the rest of the communion, without doing all the things which as Anglicans we all thought we were signed up to doing before people make innovations. The bishops and archbishops who have intervened in other people’s provinces and dioceses are, in effect, at that level making the same error.

The interviewer then noted that one theologian believed that, in the early Church, orthodox bishops considered a heretical bishop’s see vacant and would go into his diocese. “It’s not simply as easy as that, because who says that so-and-so is a false teacher?” Wright responded. Bishop John Spong would describe the Evangelical former Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, as “a false teacher. . . . So you have to have some way of getting a handle on this and not simply one bishop saying that his next-door neighbor is out of line and therefore he’s going to invade. That has never been the Anglican way.”

As Bishop Wright’s grasp of the church fathers’ theory and practice seems a bit weak in these areas—and as he was clearly the most scholarly member of the commission—it may be useful to pursue the subject a bit further. Less can be said for the church fathers’ support for the commission’s claims than Wright asserts.

A regrettable feature of the Windsor Report is its lack of documented notes and references to back up its claims and assertions. For example, it simply cites “the ancient norm of the Church” for its claims about the unity of all Christians in one place and for its rationale against the intervention of outside bishops, without offering any evidence at all. It never quotes any “Nicene decrees on the subject,” to use Bishop Wright’s phrase, though an allusion to one of Nicea’s canons, of doubtful relevance, is tucked away in the report.

Inapplicable Canons

The Council of Nicea, which met from May to August of a.d. 325 and is most famous for its formulation of the original version of the Nicene Creed, also produced twenty canons, or rules, to settle problems or fix abuses in the Church. Several of the canons concern the relations of bishops with one another and of clergy with their bishops. Significantly for the present case, none have any legal force in any contemporary Anglican church.

But more importantly, none of them seem to have any real applicability to the situation of the Anglican Communion, or the Episcopal Church, today. If any one of them underlies Bishop Wright’s oblique reference, it must be Canon 16. Members of the clergy, it declares,

who have the audacity, not considering the fear of God and not knowing the Church’s rule, to abandon their churches, must not under any circumstances be received in another church but by all means must be forced to return to their proper communities, and if they refuse, they are to be properly excommunicated. In addition, if anyone dares to take someone who is under the authority of another bishop and to ordain him in his own church without the consent of the bishop in whose clergy he was enrolled, let the ordination be regarded as null.

This canon obviously deals with “clergy flight” and “clergy poaching”: It assumes a community of orthodox belief between the churches and bishops concerned, and says nothing at all about interventions in churches whose bishops have abandoned orthodoxy of belief and practice and have begun to oppress those of their flock who continue to uphold it, even if that “oppression” consists only in contradicting that orthodoxy and furthering those who teach and act against it.

But while I was puzzling over Wright’s invocation of this inapplicable canon, I found an allusion to the eighth canon early in the report. In this passage, the report deplores “ as now part of the problem we face” the breaking of communion with the Episcopal Church by other Anglican churches, attempts by dissenters in America to “distance themselves” from the Episcopal Church, and the interventions of archbishops from other Anglican churches.

Then it comments: “This goes not only against traditional and oft-repeated Anglican practice [alluding to the 1988 and 1998 Lambeth Conferences] but also against some of the longest-standing regulations of the early undivided church (Canon 8 of Nicea).”

The Pure Ones

So what does the canon say? It is one of the longer ones, and it concerns the re-entry into the Church of “the so-called ‘pure ones’.” It required them to “promise in writing to accept and to follow the rulings of the Catholic Church,” primarily to have communion with those who renounced the faith during persecutions but had since been given a period of penance and a date for their reconciliation with the Church.

In places that had only “pure ones” as clergy, they should keep their status, but if a “pure one” wanted to be admitted to the clergy in a place that had “a bishop or a priest of the Catholic Church . . . it is evident that the bishop of the Church should keep the dignity of bishop.” A bishop of the “pure ones”

is to have the rank of priest unless the bishop consents to let him have the honor of his title. But if he is not so disposed, let the bishop give him a place as a chorepiscopus [i.e., a bishop who exercised some supervision over Christian communities in the rural areas, while being himself subordinate to the bishop of a nearby city] or as a priest so that he can appear as being integrated into the clergy. Without this provision, there would be two bishops in the city.

“The pure ones” was the name given, perhaps self-given, to a schismatic group known as the Novatianists. They originated in the aftermath of the great persecution—the first empire-wide persecution—launched against the Church by the Roman Emperor Decius in 249–251. Before that persecution, a Christian who renounced Christianity under pressure and then wished to return to the Church could only be readmitted to the Eucharist when on his deathbed.

In the aftermath of the persecution, which saw apostasies on a large scale, the bishop of Rome, Cornelius, allowed the “lapsed” to be readmitted after some years of public penitence, which involved, among other things, standing in a particular place during the Church’s Liturgy and leaving before Communion. Most bishops elsewhere adopted this practice as well, but in Rome, Pope Cornelius was opposed by the priest Novatian, whose followers elected him bishop in opposition to Cornelius, and in the ensuing years the schism spread throughout the Roman Empire.

The Novatianists were moral rigorists, best known for their absolute prohibition of second marriages under any circumstances (including after the death of a spouse) and their refusal to readmit the lapsed to Communion. In every other respect, though, their beliefs were thoroughly orthodox. A Novatianist bishop turned up at the Council of Nicea, where he was as vehement in his opposition to the views of the heretic Arius as any of the other bishops there. It was only when he went on to insist on the exclusion of the lapsed from Communion that his Novatianist allegiance came to light, and he was ejected from the council.

Of all the various heretical or schismatic Christian sects, the Novatianists were viewed with the most indulgence, as this canon indicates. Although it was common at the time to regard as “heretical” all Christian sects that pertinaciously and as a matter of principle separated themselves from the “Catholic and Apostolic Church,” in practice the council treated groups of them who wished to rejoin the Church as though they were simply schismatics.

In fact, few Novatianists took advantage of this offer. Their church, or “denomination,” continued to exist as a rigorous and “pure” alternative to the established Church in parts of the Eastern Roman Empire for some three or four centuries afterwards.

Dealing with Defectors

It is hard to see how this canon has anything to do with the troubles of contemporary Anglicanism that evoked the Windsor Report. The canon does uphold the unity of the local church, but the situation it addresses is the reunion of a schismatic group with the Church, not the appropriate response of bishops to the defection of one of their brethren from their common orthodoxy. However, the latter type of situation did arise in the fourth century, in the long aftermath of the Council of Nicea, and later still.

The main purpose of the Council of Nicea was to judge the views of the Alexandrian priest and theologian Arius, who held that Jesus was a creature—a divine being created by God before the angels, the cosmos, and mankind, but a creature nevertheless. Nicea condemned Arius’s views, and its creed confessed the full co-divinity and co-eternity of “the everlasting Son of the Father.”

However, since the controversy continued unabated after Nicea, and since Emperor Constantine had wanted the council to promote ecclesiastical harmony, the fact that it signally failed to produce such harmony induced him, within a few short years, to attempt to promote various theological compromises that would reconcile the Arians and the Niceans. (Many of the most influential bishops around the emperor were sympathetic to some degree with Arius.)

Among the most vigorous and uncompromising upholders of Nicea and its creed was the young archbishop of Alexandria, Athanasius (c. 296–373), who as a priest had accompanied his predecessor to Nicea. His vigorous opposition to any compromise earned him the hostility of the bishops who had most influence with the emperor, who himself in the last decade of his life (he died in 337) increasingly regarded Athanasius as a disturber of the peace, and finally exiled him to what is today the German Rhineland.

After Constantine’s death, as his Arianizing son Constantius became master, first of the East and then (in 350) of the whole Roman Empire, imperial policy shifted from conciliation to coercion of the adherents of Nicea, and these shifts continued down to the final defeat of Arianism in 381.

As time went on, the whole Church became divided over the question, with bishop opposing bishop. Athanasius was willing, as the conflict intensified—in his case, as early as the mid-340s—to intervene unilaterally in dioceses whose bishops were Arians or compromisers. The historians Socrates and Sozomen, writing in the middle of the next century, record that he ordained men in dioceses whose bishops were tainted with Arianism to serve the orthodox upholders of Nicea, and that he did so without seeking or obtaining the permission of those bishops.

We do not know for sure whether Athanasius ordained bishops for these orthodox communities faced with hostile heterodox bishops, or only priests and deacons. Socrates’s account in his Ecclesiastical History is obscure, stating only that “in some of the churches also he performed ordination, which afforded another ground of accusation against him, because of his undertaking to ordain in the dioceses of others.”

In his Ecclesiastical History, Sozomen wrote of Athanasius’s ejection of Arianizing clergy when he returned to Egypt from his second exile around 346, and added, “It was said at that time that, when he was traveling through other countries, he effected the same change if he happened to visit churches which were under the Arians. He was certainly accused of having dared to perform the ceremony of ordination in cities where he had no right to do so.”

Violable Boundaries

And he was not alone. Other orthodox bishops acted similarly.

Theodoret of Cyrrhus, yet another historian (and bishop), tells us in his Ecclesiastical History that a contemporary and collaborator of Athanasius, Eusebius of Samosata, traveled around many of the eastern portions of the Roman Empire disguised as a soldier, and where he found Arian or Arianizing bishops, he ordained deacons, priests, and even bishops to care for the orthodox and oppose the official bishops and their supporters. He names five bishops Eusebius consecrated.

Another bishop, Lucifer of Cagliari, wandered throughout the Mediterranean world in support of those who upheld Nicea. Both Socrates and Theodoret record his intervention in the divided church of Antioch. In 362 he consecrated the leader of one of the orthodox groups, the leader of the other, larger group having early on in his career appeared to compromise with moderate Arians. The uncompromising orthodox group had never been willing to accept him as their bishop, and the consecration embittered the break between the two and led to a schism that was not to be healed for over fifty years.

Epiphanius, bishop of Salamis in Cyprus, conducted ordinations in his native Palestine in defiance of compromising bishops during the Arian crisis. As Socrates relates, he did the same thing many years later in Constantinople, when he was led to believe that John Chrysostom, the patriarch there, supported the errors of Origen.

Details of the activities of such bishops are few, but in the next century, for 85 years after the Council of Chalcedon in 451, both proponents and opponents of that council among the bishops in the eastern parts of the empire were willing to intervene, or intrude, regularly in dioceses whose bishops were on the “ other side.”

All of this allows us to say that any attempt to construct a theory of the inviolability of diocesan boundaries cannot find any support in the theory and practice of the early Church. In the light of this history, Bishop Wright’s invocation of “Nicene decrees” and the Windsor Report’s allusion to “the ancient norm” and “some of the longest-standing regulations” vanishes altogether, and all that is left is “Anglican custom” (Wright) or “traditional and oft-repeated Anglican practice” (Windsor).

Deprived Christians

Those who have followed the actual practices of Anglican churches over the past three decades, in the United States, Canada, and Australia especially, will see how readily proponents of one innovation after another have been willing to abandon norms, decrees, regulations, canons, customs—you name it—to gain their ends.

In the Christianity Today interview, Wright remarked that “the real question at the heart of much of this is, which [are] the things we can agree to differ about and which [are] the things we can’t agree to differ about.” He continued, speaking of modern questions the Nicene fathers he invoked would have thought settled matters of their common faith,

Again and again I hear people on both sides of the argument simply begging that question and assuming that they know without argument that this is something that we can agree to differ about, or assuming that they know without argument this is one of the things we can’t agree to differ about. What we all have to do is to say about any issue—whether it’s lay celebration [of Communion], whether it’s episcopal intervention, whether it’s homosexual practice—

How do we know, and who says which differences make a difference and which differences don’t make a difference?

Speaking for myself as a Catholic with many Anglican friends, the clearest and most instructive (as well as the saddest) lesson of this episode is how sincere and pious Christians, like Bishop Wright, deprive themselves of any compellingly persuasive basis for rallying a forceful “Athanasian” movement to retake their churches from the heterodox innovators who dominate them—and not least because of their own inability, as the bishop’s statements show, to make clear judgments about false teaching and false teachers and to take firm and decisive measures in response. In consequence, they render their own situations hopeless, being able neither to fight nor to flee.

N. T. Wright’s article appeared in the 23 October 2004 issue of The Tablet and may be found at The Christianity Today interview can be found at The sources of the quotations from Socrates are (in order): Book II, chapter 24; III.6 and 9; VI.12; those from Sozomen are III.21; and from Theodoret IV.13 and V.4; III.2.

William J. Tighe is Associate Professor of History at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pennsylvania, and a faculty advisor to the Catholic Campus Ministry. He is a Member of St. Josaphat Ukrainian Catholic Church in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. He is a contributing editor for Touchstone.