Friday, February 29, 2008

Invalid Baptism formulae

Dr. William Tighe sent me this today by e-mail:

From "Whispers in the Loggia" blog, 29 Feb. 2008:

In other things Vatican today, the Pope formally rejected two illicit
formulae of baptism as invalid.

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith published a "response" to a query on the validity of formulas such as "I baptize you in the name of the Creator, and of the Redeemer, and of the Sanctifier" and "I baptize you in the name of the Creator, and of the Liberator, and of the Sustainer" in the rite.

Replying that the formulas were, indeed, invalid, the Congregation also specified that anyone who had been baptized with said exhortations must be baptized again by a minister of the sacrament in forma absoluta -- the traditional baptism "in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."

Dated 1 February but only made public this morning, the response was issued with the explicit approval of Benedict XVI. The decision dropped in Italian, French, Spanish, English and German alongside the definitive Latin.

This is relevant for us, as I will explain shortly.

First, let us recall the theology of why we say what we say. A description of something that is either an attribute or the work of God most strongly associated with a specific Person of the Godhead, could be called a title, but not a name. "The Son" is a name, or rather, part of a Name; but nowhere is "the Redeemer" revealed as a Name. "The Son" relates the Logos Himself to the Father, as "the Father" relates the first Person to the Son, without whom He is not Father. This speaks of the Son who is eternally begotten of the Father. The Holy Spirit is part of the Name as well, since this relates Him to the Father from whom He eternally proceeds, and speaks of his equality to the Father and the Son, whereas "Sanctifier" only describes one of His workings in relation to creation, specifically to man. Furthermore, St. Basil, in On the Holy Spirit, reminds us that the Risen Christ told us that the Name is not three names, but One Name. "In the Name.." not, "in the names."

Once again I take the liberty of quoting one of my own articles:

To the ancient Hebrews, a name represented the very person. After Israel returned to their land from Babylon, they ceased to pronounce the holy ineffable Name of God. In place of the mysterious YHVH they would say the word Adonai, which was translated into Greek as Kyrios, and into English as ‘‘Lord.’’ From this we see that the New Testament proclaims Jesus as God by calling him Lord (and also the Holy Spirit 2 Corinthians 3. 17). Also, we see that the Tetragrammaton (יהוה YHVH) pronunciation has been lost, perhaps providentially. We do not need the ineffable Name; a far greater revelation shines in the brilliant light of the New Covenant.

The first mention of prayer is ‘‘Then began men to call upon the Name of the Lord (Genesis 4.26).’’ In the greater glory of the New Covenant revelation, he teaches us: ‘‘In this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father Who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy Name’’ (Matthew 6.9). When uttering what is called the High Priestly Prayer, he addresses God with that same Name, ‘‘Father.’’ He says: ‘‘I have manifested Thy Name unto the men whom Thou gavest Me out of the world’’ (John 17.6). Whether we ever again can say the ineffable Name, we have this greater revelation by which we call God ‘‘our Father’’ –– the gift of the Father’’s love.

After rising from the dead, the Lord fully revealed the Divine Name by commanding us to baptize ‘‘in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost’’ (Matthew 28.19). We see that ‘‘The Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost’’ is the Name of God. The revelation of the Trinity did not come as an abstract proposition; it came in the life of Jesus Christ, intricately bound up in his salvation. So it is that the Creeds teach us the truth of the Trinity and also of our redemption in Christ; for the revelation of one is intimately tied up in the revelation of the other. And, only in this Person, our salvation himself, is God revealed and known (John 17.3). This is not an image created by human imagination, but rather the saving revelation.

Relevance for Continuing Anglicans

The formulae rejected by Pope Benedict XVI have been used by rebellious and revisionist Roman Catholic clergy in the past. It has been used also by Episcopal clergy. To the people who come our way we have the obligation of asking not only if they have been baptized, but also if it has been in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost (or Holy Spirit, of course). Desperate times call for desperate measures, perhaps even of conditional baptism for those who don't know.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Preaching: Why do we do it?

"For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect. For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God."
I Corinthians 1:17, 18
"If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God."
I Peter 4:11

I know that some priests consider preaching to be a necessary evil, straining to get through a mere seven-minute homily. One priest asked me how I felt about preaching (why are we Americans so obsessed with how we feel anyway?), and I told him how much I feel at home and in my element when in the pulpit. Like Jeremiah, the word of God is a fire in my bones, and I simply have to proclaim it. He shook his head, and he told me how it was with him: "I try to play it down, so it doesn't get in the way of the sacrament." I told him I was not buying it. The word of God and the sacraments of his Church are never in competition, and without sound preaching, how do we prepare people to receive the body and blood of the Lord? I did not say, but thought later, that of all the excuses for dereliction of duty, a sanctimonious one has to be the most odious. Recall that last part of the Imperative Prayer in the Ordinal: "And be thou a faithful Dispenser of the Word of God, and of his holy Sacraments; In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen."

Before I make my major point, I want to ask why it is that any priest has trouble thinking of what to say in a sermon? For crying out loud, we have the greatest writers of all behind us. Moses, David, Isaiah, James, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, along with Peter and Paul, to name a few. Everything they wrote came straight from the Holy Spirit. As the papal document Dominus Iesus put it so well about the books of scripture: "These books have God as their author." Just lean back into the scriptures, pray for the power of the Holy Spirit, and let the truth flow out like living water. You have it in you: The part that is knowledge by diligence, and power and charisma through the laying on of the bishop's hands.
Is the sermon merely a little instruction, something mild and short and tasteful? Too many Anglo-Catholics have decided that good preaching is a Protestant sort of thing; so, to prove what good Catholics they are, they aspire to be lousy preachers. All too often they accomplish their goal. Have they never heard of the great Catholic preachers in the ancient Church? Was Chrysostom so named (Golden-Tongued) because he offered forgettable seven-minute homilies? Furthermore, why do we preach at all? And, for that poor clergyman who feared that he might compete with the sacrament, it is because of the sacrament that your preaching must be excellent.

I believe we ought to take a good look at where the sermon is placed in our Liturgy (yes, in our Liturgy, not as an extra tacked onto it). It is followed directly (in the BCP we use) by the Offertory, and prayer. But this leads to the General Confession. What is this all about? The General Confession is a prayer of cleansing, followed by a General Absolution that only a priest may say, which rubric itself shows that the act is sacramental, not merely ceremonial. Unless it is intended as a real Absolution it would not be reserved to the priesthood. Look at the words which preceded it:

YE who do truly and earnestly repent you of your sins, and are in love and charity with your neighbours, and intend to lead a new life, following the commandments of God, and walking from henceforth in his holy ways; Draw near with faith, and take this holy Sacrament to your comfort; and make your humble confession to Almighty God, devoutly kneeling."

In good Evangelical terms, we may call this an "Altar Call." The difference is, "we have an altar"1 unlike many others. The call goes out to the people that in order to approach in a few minutes, to eat and drink the body and blood of Christ, their hearts must be cleansed, their consciences must be healed from sin. This is the laver, and it is the fountain of cleansing in Christ's blood.

After the General Confession, note what is said by the priest, with the rubric itself included here for your attention:

¶ Then shall the Priest (the Bishop if he be present) stand up, and turning to the People, say,
ALMIGHTY God, our heavenly Father, who of his great mercy hath promised forgiveness of sins to all those who with hearty repentance and true faith turn unto him; Have mercy upon you; pardon and deliver you from all your sins; confirm and strengthen you in all goodness; and bring you to everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen."
Look at both the call to confession and the Absolution, and notice the conditional nature of both. It is no small matter that the 1979 so-called Prayer Book, in its Rite II, removed the conditions, and made the whole thing a matter of mere priestcraft and magic. The General Confession must be accompanied by the sincerity of true repentance, a condition that is always necessary for the efficacy of the sacrament of Absolution, whether General or private.
The call to Confession is conditional as well, a reminder before the confession is made that "hearty repentance and true faith" must be present at this point. To replace this Call with something else, such as I have heard among even Continuing Anglicans, is a grave mistake. I have heard it replaced often with this insufficient and disappointing formula: "Let us pray for the whole state of Christ's Church, beginning with the words of the General Confession." Then the Prayer for the Whole State of Christ's Church is skipped, and the Confession is said without this eloquent invitation that our Anglican fathers had the wisdom to provide.
Consider the importance of this: The people are about to come forward for the Food and Drink of Eternal Life. 2 They are about to receive one of those two sacraments that are "generally necessary to salvation."3 The sermon that precedes this must have an aim not unlike the best preaching of some of the finest Protestant Evangelists, such as Billy Graham. These men see the purpose of their preaching as no less than the salvation of souls, the difference between something far more important than life and death. The difference, as I said, is that "we have an altar" and on that altar the sacrament of Christ's body and blood, "the food and drink of eternal life." Our altar call has this substantial reality that theirs lacks. All the more reason, because the people come forward to eat and drink Christ, and they are in a state that is either worthy or unworthy. They must first have their consciences cleansed, their souls washed by a sincere confession "with hearty repentance and true faith," so that the priestly Absolution is received into the good ground of a believing heart. So, they come, they eat and drink, and they live forever.
Preach as though the souls of those who hear you depend on what you say. Endeavor to bring them, by your words face to face with Jesus Christ. For, indeed, "in so doing thou mayest save thyself and them that hear thee."4
1. Hebrews 13:10
2. John 6: 53-58
3. Anglican Catechism: "
Question. How many Sacraments hath Christ ordained in his Church?
Answer. Two only, as generally necessary to salvation; that is to say, Baptism, and the Supper of the Lord."
4. I Timothy 4:16

Orthodoxy and 'Papism'

Over the past year or so, we have occasionally touched on the suggestion that the continuing movement might better exercise any ecumenical inclinations it has by seeking an understanding with Orthodoxy. In the course of such discussions, it has often been stated that Anglicanism has perhaps more in common theologically with the East than it does with Rome.

As part of the inquiries that I have been making into Orthodoxy, I have been introduced to Hierotheos Vlachos, metropolitan of Nafpaktos in Greece. Perhaps best known for his book Orthodox Psychotherapy, Vlachos has also written a brief piece entitled Basic Points of Difference between the Orthodox Church and Papism.

While Metropolitan Vlachos is addressing differences between Orthodoxy and the Roman Catholic Church, he gives Anglicans an opportunity to set out their own beliefs and compare them to what he considers right belief and right worship. As we are fond of checklists on this blog, I will share with you his, and invite any comment that may be forthcoming. For ease of same, I shall edit the original by numbering the points listed.

The bishops of Old Rome, beside small and non-essential differences, always held communion with the bishops of New Rome (Constantinople) and the bishops of the East until the years 1009-1014, when, for the first time, the Frankish bishops seized the throne of Old Rome. Until the year 1009 the Popes of Rome and the Patriarchs of Constantinople were unified in a common struggle against the Frankish princes and bishops, already even at that time heretics.

The Franks at the Synod of Frankfurt in 794 condemned the decrees of the Seventh Ecumenical Synod and the honorable veneration of the holy icons. Likewise in 809 the Franks introduced into the Symbol of the Faith the “Filioque” (Latin: “and the Son”); namely, the doctrine concerning the procession of the Holy Spirit both from the Father and from the Son. Now at that time the Orthodox Pope of Rome condemned this imposition. At the Synod of Constantinople presided over by Photios the Great, at which also representatives of the Orthodox Pope of Rome participated, they condemned as many as had condemned the decrees of the Seventh Ecumenical Synod and as many as had added the Filioque to the Symbol of Faith. However, the Frankish Pope Sergius IV, in the year 1009, in his enthronement encyclical for the first time added the Filioque to the Symbol of Faith. Then Pope Benedict VIII introduced the Creed with the Filioque into the worship service of the Church, at which time the Pope was stricken out from the diptychs of the Orthodox Church.

The basic distinction between the Orthodox Church and Papism is found in the doctrine concerning the uncreated nature and uncreated energy of God. (My emphasis) Whereas we Orthodox believe that God possesses an uncreated nature and uncreated energy and that God comes into communion with the creation and with man by means of His uncreated energy, the Papists believe that in God the uncreated nature is identified with His uncreated energy (acrus purus) and that God holds communion with the creation and with man through His created energies, even asserting that in God there exist also created energies. So then the grace of God through which man is sanctified is seen as created energy. But given this, one cannot be sanctified.

From this basic doctrine proceeds the teaching concerning the procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father and from the Son, the cleansing fire, the primacy of the Pope, etc.

Beside the fundamental difference between the Orthodox Church and Papism, in the theme of the nature and energy of God, there are other great differences which have given rise to topics of theological dispute, namely:

1. the Filioque, that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and from the Son with the result that the monarchy of the Father is diminished, the final equality of the Persons of the Holy Trinity is compromised, the Son is diminished in His own character in having been born, if there exists a oneness between Father and Son then the Holy Spirit is subordinated as not equal in power and of the same glory with the other Persons of the Holy Trinity, with the result that He is shown as the “unproductive (steiro) Person,”

2. the utilization of unleavened bread in the Divine Eucharist which transgresses the manner with which Christ accomplished the Mystical Supper,

3. the consecration of the “precious Gifts” which takes place not with the epiclesis, but rather with the proclamation of Christ’s words of institution, “Take, eat . . . drink of it, all of you . . .,”

4. the view that the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross satisfied the Divine justice, which presents God the Father as a feudal lord and which overlooks the resurrection,

5. the view about the “merits” of Christ which the Pope dispenses, along with the “superabundant” grace of the saints,

6. the alienation and segmentation placed between the mysteries of Baptism, Chrismation, and the Divine Eucharist,

7. the doctrine concerning the inheritance of guilt from the ancestral sin,

8. the liturgical innovations in all of the mysteries of the Church (Baptism, Chrismation, Ordination, Confession, Marriage, Anointing),

9. the practice of not communing the laity in the “Blood” of Christ,

10. the primacy of the Pope, according to which the Pope is “episcopus episcoporum (Latin: the bishop of bishops) and the origin of the priesthood and of ecclesiastical authority, that he is the infallible head and the principle leader of the Church, governing it in monarchical fashion as the vicar of Christ on the earth” (I. Karmires). With this concept the Pope views himself as the successor of the Apostle Peter, to whom the other Apostles submit themselves, even the Apostle Paul,

11. the non-existence of concelebration in the praxis of worship services,

12. the infallibility of the Pope,

13. the dogma of the immaculate conception of the Theotokos and the development of the worship of Mary (mariolatria), according to which the All-Holy Virgin is elevated to Triune Deity and even becomes a concept leading to a Holy Quaternity (!),

14. the views of analogia entis (analogy of being) and analogia fidei (analogy of faith) which hold sway in the West,

15. the unceasing progress of the Church in the discovery of the recesses of revelatory truth,

16. the concept concerning the single methodology for the knowledge of God and of creatures, which leads to a blending of theology and epistemology.

Moreover, the great difference in practice, which points out the manner of theology, is found also in the difference between Scholasticism and Hesychastic theology. In the West Scholasticism was expounded as an endeavor to search out the meaning of all the mysteries of the faith by means of logic (Anselm of Canterbury, Thomas Aquinas). However, in the Orthodox Church hesychasm prevails; namely, the purification of the heart and the illumination of the mind (nous), towards the acquisition of the knowledge of God. The dialogue between St. Gregory Palamas and Barlaam the scholastic and uniate is characteristic and shows the difference.

A consequence of all the foregoing is that we have in Papism a decline from Orthodox ecclesiology. Whereas in the Orthodox Church great significance is given to theosis which consists in communion with God, through the vision of the Uncreated Light, then those who behold the Light gather in an Ecumenical Synod and accurately define revelatory truth under conditions of confusion. But in Papism great significance is given to the edict of the Pope; indeed, the Pope even stands over these Ecumenical Synods. Consistent with Latin theology, “the authority of the Church exists only when it is established and put in good order by the will of the Pope. Under a contrary condition it is annihilated.” The Ecumenical Synods are seen as “councils of Christianity that are summoned under the authenticity, the authority, and the presidency of the Pope.” Whenever the Pope leaves the meeting hall of the Ecumenical Synod, it ceases to have power. Bishop Mare has written, “There would be no Roman Catholics more accurate as those exclaiming, “I believe also in one Pope” than who say “I believe also in one . . . Church.”

Furthermore, “the significance and role of the bishops within the Roman church is no more than a simple personification of the papal authority, to which also the bishops themselves submit just as also do the simple faithful.” Towards this papal ecclesiology it is essentially maintained that “the apostolic authority left off with the apostles and was not passed on to their successors, the bishops. Only the papal authority of Peter, under which all of the others are found, was passed on to the successors of Peter; namely, the popes.” Along with the foregoing it is maintained by the papal “church” that all the churches of the East are secessionist and have deficiencies. It receives us as sister churches into communion by dispensation (kat’ oikonomian), since she sees herself as the mother church and sees ourselves as daughter churches.

The Vatican is an earthly power (kratos) and each pope is the wielder of the power of the Vatican. It is a matter of a man-centered organization, a worldly, indeed an especially legalistic and worldly organization. The earthly power of the Vatican was instituted in the year 755 by Pepin the Short, the father of Charlemagne –even in our own time he was recognized by Mussolini, in 1929. The source of the proclamation of papal worldly power is significant, as Pope Pius XI maintained, “the one who stands in God’s stead on earth cannot be obedient to earthly power.” Christ was obedient to earthly power, the pope cannot be! The papal authority establishes a theocracy, since theocracy is defined as subsuming both worldly and ecclesiastical authority into one concept. Today we can see theocratic-worldly power in the Vatican and in Iran.

Pope Innocent IV (1198-1216) maintained the characteristic nature of these things in his enthronement speech, “He who has the bride has the bridegroom. However the bride herself (the church) has not been coupled with empty hands, but brings therein an incomparably rich dowry, the fullness of spiritual goods and the expanses of the world’s things, the largesse and abundance of both. . . . Your contributions of the worldly things has given me the diadem, the mitre over the priesthood, the diadem for kingdom and it has established me as His representative (antiprosopo), in the garment and on the knee of which it is written: the King of kings and Lord of lords.”

Consequently great theological differences exist, which have been condemned by the Synod of Photios the Great and at the Synod of Gregory Palamas, just as it appears in the “Synodikon of Orthodoxy.” In addition also the Fathers of the Church and the local synods down to the 19th century condemn all the deceits of papism. The issue is not mollified or improved by a certain typical excuse which the pope would give for an historical error, whenever his theological views were outside of the revelation and the eccesiology is moved into an enclosed course, since of course the pope presents himself as leader of the Christian world, as successor of the Apostle Peter and the Vicar-representative of Christ over the earth, as if Christ would give His authority to the pope and He cease ruling in blessing in the heavens.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Justina, Pray for Us

It was if it had been meant to happen. There were so many accidents of fate leading up to it.

My son, Winslow, had come to spend the weekend with me in Jerusalem, his first visit to the Holy Land.

We had aleady spent a couple of hours on our own walking tour of the Old City, which at one point included climbing the 200-odd steps up the narrow winding tower of the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer.

I was beginning to tire, but it did no good trying to steer Winslow toward an early lunch. Now he wanted to see the Jewish quarter. Reluctantly I gave in, and off we started down more narrow and often winding streets. We quickly found it too sanitised and boring (read: no shops), so I started navigating us out, taking streets I had never seen before and trusting to my sense of direction.

Just as I was rounding a corner, Winslow behind me, I heard him say: "Hey, why don't we check this out?" It was St Mark's Syrian Orthodox Church, said to be built over the house of the Evangelist Mark, and in whose Upper Room the Last Supper was held.

I couldn't really resist a suggestion by my own son, who had already been forced to endure visits to a number of churches, to visit just one more.

Neither of us had any idea what awaited us inside, but it kept us spellbound for more than half an hour.

It was actually she, Sister Justina, who seemed to be a sort of custodian and who asked if we wanted her to give us a tour of the small church. More out of politeness than any real interest, I replied yes. When we finally gave Justina a kiss good-bye all that time later, I was in a state of blessed spiritual agitation.

Rather than reinvent the wheel, I defer to Canadian Anglican priest Kevin Dixon, who wrote the following account of his meeting with Justina last June and which I found on his blog, holybuzz.

"Justina is a nun of the Syrian Orthodox Church. This stream of Christianity represents a tradition that has been passed down in Jerusalem from the very first followers of Jesus. Some of the beliefs of this church are different from our own; for instance, Syrian Orthodox Christians believe that God first gave the Church the Holy Spirit not at Pentecost (Book of Acts, ch. 2), but rather when Jesus on the cross gave up his spirit and “breathed” his last. In the Syrian Orthodox view, with this last breath came the Holy Spirit.

"Sister Justina met us at St. Mark’s Syrian Orthodox Church. She is a little woman, maybe 4′ 6″ (137 cm), and quite wide in proportion to her height. She was dressed all in black so only her face showed. When she began to speak in a high-pitched, sing-song voice, I wasn’t sure if we were being welcomed by a hobbit or a character from Shakespeare.

"She told us about her own mystical experiences in the seven years she has been resident at St. Mark’s. For instance, she described her own 'Pentecost' when she greeted a visitor who spoke Hebrew and no English. Sister Justina doesn’t speak Hebrew, but she said that over the course of a one hour conversation they understood every word that was said. She also showed us an icon painted on leather in the first century by St. Luke the Evangelist himself. The power of her belief was compelling. It underlined for me that one person’s faith, shared, can touch the heart of another deeply.

"At the conclusion of her remarks, she sang the Lord’s Prayer in Aramaic -- the language of Jesus, and the liturgical language of the Syrian Church -- in a beautiful, keening, Arabic style. It brought tears to my eyes, not least because in recent years the Lord’s Prayer has taken on new depth and meaning for me."

Kevin Dixon's description of Sister Justina is spot on, and closely traces much of what Winslow and I experienced. I would add that she wore a black wool stocking cap that seemed to be too small: She would keep pulling it down to her eyebrows as if she were cold, and it would immediately pop a couple of inches back up her forehead.

I would also add that she spoke in a powerful and compelling voice, often punctuated by references to how she had shed her tears in long hours of solitary prayer in the church.

What Dixon didn't mention was that Justina had spent nearly 20 years teaching math to high school seniors in Nineveh before leaving Iraq, and that she was extremely anguished by the fate of the tens of thousands of fellow Iraqi Christians who had been driven from their country, with others martyred.

She also spoke of having personally been involved in the healing of a young woman from cancer and of how the image of St Luke's Virgin and Child had appeared in the Florida home of a family whose seriously ill newborn was being prayed for, and how the Virgin had brought healing to the infant.

I did't ever look at the time, as the time passed. For most of the time, Winslow and I were privileged to be alone with Justina, though an Irish gentleman eventually joined us. But I do know that occasionally I would anxiously glance in Winslow's direction to see if he were growing restless, and he showed no sign of it.

I wish I had thought to ask Justina if I could take her picture, but the image of her sweet but impassioned exposition of her faith in the Blessed Trinity and of her special love of the Holy Spirit will always remain in my heart.

Pray for us, Justina.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Lent 3, 4, &5 layreader homilies

They are now posted through Passion Sunday, March 9, at


Saturday, February 23, 2008


Ephesians 5:1-14

Luke 11:14-28

Modern religion is big business, and its many sounds go out and attack the senses like the advertising of most other businesses, empty of content but full of noise. Like the advertising of all other products the message is, buy our brand to be happy. People who sell products never sell the product itself, but rather its benefits. Everything advertised, from cars to deodorant, is pitched to sell you happiness. And, the root of “happiness” is based on what’s “happening.” Happiness depends on the fleeting moment, the temporary things that must pass away. The old satire about “the church of what’s happenin’ now” is far more profound than the gag writers supposed.

If you want a religion that centers on the fleeting moment of what’s happening now, boy do some of these churches have a product for you. You can have the pleasures of sin for a season, and still have eternal life. You can have all the sex you want, even if it is outside of God’s institution of marriage, and with anybody you want of either sex and any number of some endless list of “genders.” That is assuming the other person or persons of any number are consenting and over the age of 18; after all, even the new religion has to have at least a few rules, otherwise how can its adherents say “I thank thee God I am not like other men” in such a way as to give that feeling of being better than somebody? Despite what the children at Stand Firm are telling you, the issue is bigger than simply the issue of “gay or straight.” That issue only exists to make everybody feel good about living in a Hedonistic, Hugh Heffner style paradise. Somehow, some of the self-proclaimed true believers miss this point: If you hold the “gay” people to the Biblical standard, you have to hold everybody to the Biblical standard. That’s no good in a new religion that teaches that “a bishop must be the husband of one wife” at a time; and that we must never judge anybody, not even ourselves. This kind of happiness is fleeting at best; but joy is eternal, and joy does not depend on anything that is happening or not happening.

Against this delusion of happiness, today’s scriptures lay down for us the clearly stated conditions for joy, and with it eternal life: “He that is not with me is against me: and he that gathereth not with me scattereth.” “For this ye know, that no whore-monger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no man deceive you with vain words: for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience. Be not ye therefore partakers with them.” We may not be in touch with the times, and we may be out of step with the current fads. But, we are not “the church of what’s happenin’ now.” We are the Church of Jesus Christ. And our message, far from enticing the world with empty promises of happiness, is the message that alone brings any true joy, and with it freedom from guilt and pain. That freedom from guilt does not come from trying to kill the voice of conscience, or from treating the feeling of guilt as some sort of psychosis to be overcome. That joy comes only from surrendering to the words spoken to the conscience by the Holy Ghost. In the words of a marvelous hymn most appropriate to this season of Lent: “Repent, Confess: thou shalt be loosed from all.”

St. Paul’s words tell us of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus, and what it means to be “followers of God as dear children.” This is why the Epistle today works so well with the words of Jesus in the Gospel. “He that is not with me is against me: and he that gathereth not with me scattereth.” The world, indeed even with its big business religion, offers an alternative. You don’t like the real Jesus? Is he too demanding? Does he want too much commitment? St. Paul told the Corinthians: “For if he that cometh preacheth another Jesus, whom we have not preached, or if ye receive another spirit, which ye have not received, or another gospel, which ye have not accepted, ye might well bear with him… For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works.” 1

Maybe we could fill this church with bodies if only we told everybody just those things they want to hear. But, we might as well fill it up by exhuming all of the corpses in the graveyard across the street behind the parish hall, and seating them in the pews. The effect would be no different. The church would become an unclean place, and the people filling the pews would all be dead. Only, unlike many of those people buried out there who departed this life with faith in Christ, the dead people who would walk in here on their own two feet would be truly dead and without hope of eternal life. The false gospel of “the church of what’s happenin’ now” cannot produce life, but only death. “The pleasures of sin for a season” 2 are just that: Mere pleasures, not joy; for a season, not for eternity.

The message of any church is far more serious than a matter of life and death. Mere matters of life and death are very small compared to matters of eternity. A false gospel can kill the spirit, and the true Gospel brings eternal life. “For this ye know, that no whore-monger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.” Those words ought to terrify some people, and produce the fear of God in everybody. Was Christ making a small statement about the seriousness of sin by the agonizing death he died on the cross for you? Was it a statement about sin as something trivial? The love of God was expressed this way: By the Son allowing himself to be betrayed, beaten, scourged, mocked, and crucified. The condemnation of sin as darkness and death was forever demonstrated, along with the love of God that opens the door to mercy and forgiveness, only on the cross where our Saviour died, and nowhere else in all history in all the world.

This cross of Jesus Christ has no place in the new big business religion, and is never preached in “the church of what’s happenin’ now” because it offends the people who go there, and is bad for business. Better to have a Jesus who carries no cross, and tells you not to carry one. But, that Jesus cannot save you from sin and death, and from Hell. The Jesus we proclaim has died for you, and in calling you to die to the pleasures of sin and live instead by carrying his cross and following him, calls you to something better than happiness; he calls you to joy. The Lord Jesus, our God and Savior, calls you to something more alive than life; he calls you to fellowship with himself and his Father by the Holy Spirit, that blessed fellowship that lasts forever, and that we enter into in fullness when he returns and we are given new life patterned after his own resurrection from the dead, when he rose the third day never to die again, but to give to all his people immortality and eternal life.

What we proclaim may fail to be as attractive as the big business religion of today. But, we do not advertise fleeting happiness, a temporary buzz, or the many things that satisfy the flesh. What we have is so much better. “Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light.”

1. II Cor. 11:4, 13-15

2. Heb. 11:25

Thursday, February 21, 2008

What is Good for Us?

From Fr Stephen at Glory to God For All Things:

We live in a culture that has a fairly clear idea of what is good for a human being. We have notions of the “American Dream” and other ideals. Self-help books abound, each with its own understanding of what it means to be healthy, successful, well-balanced, etc. Frequently these cultural norms run counter to the writings of the Church fathers - sometimes scandalously so. Consider the following excerpt from the Desert Fathers:

Euprepius blessed us with this benediction: May fear, humility, lack of food and Godly sorrow be with you.

I am certain that were I to end a meeting in my parish with such a blessing many people would be either confused, maybe even outraged. There are things in our culture that treat fear as always a bad thing; almost nothing in our culture promotes humility (consider things like “American Idol”), lack of food is a curse and Godly sorrow is just the opposite of the spiritual life marketed through most of our culture.

But the writings of the desert fathers have a different point of view. Their goal is the salvation of the human person. There is a recognition that hardship, whether in the form of fear, humiliation, famine or sorrow are frequent tools in the hand of God to bring about the sanctification of our lives and to re-create us a holy beings.

Christ immediately sets out to fast for 40 days following His Baptism. He does not begin His ministry without such hunger. He did not make Himself a stranger to sorrow, but purposefully delayed His travel to help his dying friend Lazarus. There He encounters weeping and anger, questioning and heartache. And there He raised the dead.

I cannot think of a single saint in the Church, from St. Paul and the Apostles forward who were stranger to any of the benedictions offered by Abba Euprepius. But modernized Christianity has made itself a stranger to these things. Theologians of various stripes go so far as to abandon the faith in the face of suffering and sorrow and discover they have no root in themselves. (A recent interview on NPR offers a very thin reason by the scholar Bart Ehrman, of the University of North Carolina, of why he no longer believes in God. Of course, he never knew or was a part of Orthodox Christianity and has simply reached a trajectory set by the modern academy).

The quote from Abba Euprepius is a demonstration of the Tradition - one that not only knew and understood the meaning of suffering and did not fear to offer such a blessing. But such knowledge can only be known in the heart. It is not a syllogism that satisfies the mind. Thus, we are forced to remember that the great and only battleground of the Christian faith is the human heart. Someone’s unbelief only tells me something of their heart at a particular moment. Unbelief does not tell us of the ultimate end of a person, for only the God who know the human heart can know such a thing. But only the human heart can truly know God. For in the heart all things dwell: heaven, hell, God, the demons. Everything is there.

It is little wonder that we seek to live somewhere else. But every other world is but a false or poor construct of the human heart. We must make that difficult journey and enter through the narrow gate if we are to find the wideness of God’s mercy and the infinity that is the fullness of the human person.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Grace of the Sacraments

From the Catechism in the Book of Common Prayer:

Question. How many Sacraments hath Christ ordained in his Church?
Answer. Two only, as generally necessary to salvation; that is to say, Baptism, and the Supper of the Lord.

(The answer given in the Catechism is the official commentary on Article XXV. That is, it explains the difference between the five “commonly called sacraments,” or lesser sacraments, all five of which were clearly present in the Old Testament, and that transmit grace specific to their purpose, but are not “generally necessary to salvation,” and the two sacraments of the Gospel, i.e., ordained by Christ when he was physically present in the flesh on earth.)

In the New Testament we find exceptions to the rule, but no exceptions to the principle behind it. That rule is that the two sacraments of the Gospel, that is, ordained by Christ, are “generally necessary to salvation.” In accord with the witness of the Universal Church stated over and over by the Fathers, and easily proved by scripture, we see that our new birth is in the waters of baptism; 1 and we see, as well, that we must feed on Christ’s Body and Blood in order to receive his eternal life. 2 Therefore, it is no stretch or leap of logic, but rather the unavoidable conclusion of Reason, that these two sacraments not only signify but also effect salvation, that the grace they convey is unto eternal life.

We see that our Anglican Fathers were so careful in their teaching that they stated this in a manner that shows deliberate and thorough consideration. They did not say only that these two sacraments are necessary for salvation, but "generally necessary to salvation." After all, they inherited the Tradition of the Church which recognized that some martyrs were baptized in their own blood, by desire, having had no opportunity to receive the sacrament from ministers of the Church. Even the word “to” was chosen carefully, because these two sacraments create a path to salvation. Yet, for those martyrs baptized in their own blood, by desire, the way to this salvation was clearly open. That grace to salvation can be opened without the sacraments, by God’s direct action, is proved by scripture, as follows:

And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him, saying, If thou be Christ, save thyself and us. But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss. And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.3

This man did not have the opportunity to be baptized, and the Lord granted him mercy. What is generally necessary was not necessary for him.

But, even though the sacrament itself was not available to him, the power of the sacrament was present and grace bestowed by that power. For that power is the word of God. It is the power of the word of God that transforms water into the matter of a sacrament, and the word of God spoken by a minister (“in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost”) that both signifies and effects grace to salvation. The power of baptism was present in the words of Christ himself: “Today thou shalt be with me in Paradise.” So we see that even though God is not bound by the rule, the principle is still there, that of the power of his word working through the grace imparted by the Holy Spirit. The power that makes baptism a sacrament, that fills the actions of the Church through form, matter and intention, was present in the word of the Lord spoken, in this case, from the cross.

The thief had no opportunity to eat the body of Christ and drink his blood. But, the power of the word of God, “this is my body…this is my blood,” was present in the words Jesus spoke to him. So, we see that the grace of the sacraments can be received when no opportunity exists for the form, matter and intention to be present. Nonetheless, we do not presume on the grace of God, as if simply because he can work without the sacraments and effect the same grace by his word, we have any right to neglect the ministry that he has revealed and commanded us to carry out. The Church in its ministry both proclaims and administers salvation, and so we are to both preach the Gospel and provide by form, matter and intention the sacraments that are “generally necessary to salvation” to everybody who would be part of the Church. We only mean that the revelation of Christ, the Word made flesh, is about Grace rather than the making of yet more laws, and that God in his mercy may be expected to grant mercy to those who have desired the sacraments when those sacraments were beyond their reach. And, we mean that God, rich in mercy, is powerful and acts through his word. This is what is meant by saying, “In the New Testament we find exceptions to the rule, but no exceptions to the principle behind it.” That principle is the power of the Word of God, the power that the Holy Spirit applies directly to human souls.

Pentecost and house of Cornelius

We know that the Holy Spirit was given by the laying on of the Apostle’s hands, which is why the portion of scripture that is written into the service of Confirmation is from the eighth chapter of the Book of Acts.

Now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John: Who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost: (For as yet he was fallen upon none of them: only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.) Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost. 4

We could as well use the nineteenth chapter, where Paul, expecting all disciples to have received the Holy Ghost, realized from the absence of their understanding that the believers in Ephesus had yet to receive either proper Baptism or Confirmation. The Church has always taught that Confirmation is the sacrament in which Christians receive the Holy Spirit with his manifold gifts that are distributed as it pleases him throughout the Body of Christ.5 From the scriptural accounts, in the Book of Acts, the sacrament itself was performed by the Apostles with the laying on of their hands, and with prayer.

But, on two occasions God gave the grace of this sacrament directly from heaven. Those two occasions were the outpouring the of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, and the first outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Gentiles 6 in the house of Cornelius. On that second occasion the gifts of the Holy Spirit were evidently given even before these people were baptized. In the first case, the Day of Pentecost, this was the birth of the Church as the body of Christ, the extension of his Incarnation to continue his ministry in the world. On that second occasion, God acted directly even though it had been established that he normally gave this gift by the laying on the Apostle’s hands, and only after baptism. It may well be that none of the Jewish men with Peter would have laid hands on these Gentiles 7 and prayed for them, and it is also clear that this direct action was intended to be just like the Day of Pentecost itself.8 Much more can be said about the particulars of the outpouring of the Spirit in the house of Cornelius. For our purpose it is necessary to notice two things: 1) the lesson that the Apostles drew from this, and 2) a false lesson they did not draw, because it would have been a mistake.

The lesson they did draw was that without circumcision the Gentiles were fellow heirs of salvation in Christ. 9 But, they did not conclude that God had ceased to give the Holy Spirit through the laying on the Apostle’s hands, that is, what came to be called Confirmation. The Apostles continued to lay hands on the new believers, and they continued to receive the Holy Spirit and the gifts he brings. So, we see the principle that God uses the sacraments, but is not bound by them. We see that the Church has no right to neglect the ministry of Christ as he has ordained it, and therefore no right to presume on God’s grace by failing to administer the sacraments. We see that the power and principle of the sacraments is never absent, even when God acts directly in an extraordinary and sovereign manner of his own choosing.

Life and power

The New Testament shows the birth of the Church as an explosion of life and power. I have spent years carefully examining the debates between Anglicans and some Roman Catholics over the issue of our orders (from the 16th century to almost modern times, nothing new in substance having been said for decades). Larger than the many details is this major difference: Even though the Anglican side, back when these debates went on, proved its case from the history of the Church, including everything that can be shown from the theology and practice of the Holy Catholic Church in the many different rites used for ordination beginning in ancient times, the other side would respond with elaborate arguments that reduced the sacrament of Holy Orders in two ways. It was reduced by a legalistic approach, and it was treated almost as if it was an issue of magic that might fail if the formula, as it had evolved right up to that time, was not precise. The arguments against Anglican Orders were, finally, unworthy of sacramental theology altogether, because they formed a position that completely lost sight of the sacraments as a lively impartation of grace. Grace was gone from view in legalistic polemics, aimed not at understanding the work of the Holy Spirit, but at grasping for straws in a technical nightmare of hair-splitting. Instead of form, matter and intention used by the Holy Spirit to give something that is powerful and larger than anything the mind can grasp, many unnecessary and burdensome details were added, and arguments produced, including some the nature of which even the worst lawyers would blush with embarrassment to make (if only because Anglican apologetics, and explanations were not answered. From 1624 on, the Anglicans explained why their fathers never departed from Sacramental Intention).

What is at issue is the life and power of God granting gifts to fallen man by the Holy Spirit. The power of the sacraments rests always in the word of God, the underlying principle without which nothing is sacramental. They remain mysterious, utterly dependable in their effects because of the promises of God that he will act in response concerning each of them; and above all, they are all about one thing: Grace. Each sacrament brings its gift to man, each imparting its own specific grace from the Word of God, by the Holy Spirit.

1.Compare John 3:3f with the opening verses of Romans 6.
2.John 6:47-59
3.Luke 23:39-43
4.Acts 8:14-17
5.I Corinthians 12
6.Chapters two and ten.
7.Acts 10:45- Note the astonishment.
8.Acts 11:15f
9.Acts 11:16,17

A 30 year old problem

This was published today in a Canadian publication, The National Post. The Rt. Rev. Carl Reid is a Suffragan Bishop in the Anglican Catholic Church of Canada, which is part of the TAC. Near the end of the article the term "the Catholic Church" is used without the qualifier (Roman Catholic, and/ or Byzantine or Eastern Rite Catholic) we use when we mean, specifically, that part of the Catholic Church that is in communion with the See of Rome. I assume that is due to the policy of the secular news outlet rather than Bishop Reid's opinion, simply one of those things we have to expect from the secular press. The main point of the article is absolutely right - spot on in fact. It is the difference between Continuing Anglicans and the CCP, CANA, etc. way of thinking. The penultimate paragraph is, of course, specifically and uniquely from the perspective of the TAC, and keeps things enigmatic.

A 30-year-old problem

Rt. Rev. Carl Reid, National Post
Published: Wednesday, February 20, 2008

In Chapter 16 of the Gospel according to St. Matthew, Jesus tells His disciples that He will be put to death by the chief priests and elders in Jerusalem. This was repugnant to his disciple, Peter, who took hold of Jesus, telling Him that such a thing was not going to happen. Jesus' response? "Get thee behind me Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men."

Sometime in the 1990s, Pope John Paul II reminded the Church in the West of the dangers of cafeteria style Christianity -- the idea that "I will choose to believe or accept the things that sit well with my current worldview, and reject the rest, even if they come from the mouth of God Incarnate." While he aimed his comments at Roman Catholics, they resounded in the minds of all orthodox-minded believers, regardless of denominational affiliation.

Was the episode with St. Peter the first example of cafeteria-style Christianity?

The current furor over same-sex blessings in the global Canterbury Anglican Communion is being characterized as a debate between orthodox Anglicans who oppose same-sex blessings and those who do not. But how orthodox are those Anglicans who are now considering leaving the Canterbury Communion to preserve their opposition to same-sex unions?

Thirty years ago another debate divided Anglicans, one that has a direct link to the debate today. In 1978 the issue was the nature of the priesthood. At that time parts of the Canterbury Communion voted to overturn revelation and to allow women to become priests, using sociological arguments about the equality of women. Feminism and its unisex views of the interchangeability of men and women trumped almost 2,000 years of revelation and tradition in the Anglican, Catholic and Orthodox Churches. Back then, as today, a small group of Anglicans found this departure from divine revelation troubling. They wished to remain orthodox, so they left the Canterbury Communion.

Father Carmino de Catanzaro who had been the Anglican parish priest in Ottawa established one of the first parishes in this new body. We now have parishes from St. John's to Victoria and are part of the worldwide Traditional Anglican Communion, with membership in over 40 countries. We are the largest group of Anglicans who have found it necessary to exist outside Canterbury.

Father de Catanzaro's comments in 1978 turned out to be prophetic. "Women priests are now an accomplished fact in both Canada and the United States. Why, then, resist? Because I am convinced with many others, that this is against God's will for His Church." He succinctly summarized his reasons: "It has no support in Scripture. It has no support in Catholic tradition. It creates theological confusion." He then went on to predict that the issue of same-sex unions would cause further confusion and destruction of the Anglican communion.

If it is permissible, based on sociological obfuscation, to alter the nature of one Sacrament (Holy Orders) and invent women priests, then why should it not be equally permissible for another (Holy Matrimony) and invent same-sex marriage? This was the danger Father de Catanzaro warned of. When sociology trumps Revelation, where can one possibly stop?

This only would I say to those who are contemplating breaking with Canterbury and seeking alternate Episcopal oversight: Are you behaving like cafeteria Christians when you effectively say, "We're with you on the nature of marriage, but so far as the priesthood goes, well, we think that we know a better way"? Are you prepared to examine all of your beliefs, even at the expense of discovering you are not quite as orthodox as you think?

With so many Canterbury bishops offering to serve inside the cafeteria, many Anglicans may continue to find the varied diet pleasing as long as it doesn't include same-sex blessings or actively gay bishops. Is this orthodoxy? It is more orthodox, but it is still inside the cafeteria.

The Traditional Anglican Communion left the cafeteria long ago and has grown tired of the wilderness. We want the full course meal served by the Communion of Saints from the very beginning of the church. Quite aside from our desire to remain steadfast to traditional Anglicanism, we desire just as strongly to do whatever small part we can in terms of healing the broken Body of Christ, His Church, to seek unity rather than division. That's why we have asked to come into full sacramental communion with the Catholic Church, with the Book of Common Prayer, married priests and our Anglican identity intact. At their invitation, we made our formal request in early October and await a reply from the Vatican. As our primate, Archbishop John Hepworth, stated -- based on our Lord's Prayer on the night before His crucifixion "that they may be one" -- "Unity with Canterbury is a pleasant device. Unity with [the Catholic Church] is an imperative."

To those still lingering inside the cafeteria, we offer you our prayers. You do not need to go to Africa or South America for episcopal oversight. Come join us for Anglican worship that is orthodox both in practice and belief.

-The Rt. Rev. Carl Reid is Suffragan Bishop for Central Canada in the Anglican Catholic Church of Canada.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Lancelot Andrewes on the Real Presence

A good read on the sacramental theology of Lancelot Andrewes can be found at De Cura Animarum by a C of E priest, Fr. Jeffrey Steel. I shall paste a teaser below.

"First of all it goes without saying that Andrewes rejected transubstantiation. He denied transubstantiation on three fronts: 1) he denied any ‘bodily’ presence of Christ in the sacrament in any sort of a natural mode [so did Trent]. 2) he denied it in terms of terminology since he did not find the substantial language in the early Fathers and 3) he denied it in the context of the political climate of the day. That being acknowledged, what Andrewes did not deny that Calvin clearly denies was that Christ is contained under these signs, and that it is there that we must seek him."

You may read the rest by clicking here.

Monday, February 18, 2008

The Iconic nature of revelation

“God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds; Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high.” Hebrews 1:1-3

The basic principle of Apophatic theology is negation, teaching us what God is not. The essential point is that God is Wholly Other from every created nature. This includes the created natures of spirits; the angels do not share the nature of God any more than we do. Only God is without beginning, only God is uncreated. How, then, does God reveal himself to mankind in a way that can be understood by human reason? Nothing we know, nothing we can see or even contemplate, is distinct from created natures, and, as a result, all human language is finite, limited to things that are made.

For this reason we should speak with humility when we say the Creed, since what we express is beyond all human comprehension. Beyond the ordinary meaning of most of the words themselves, what can we really understand in such a passage as this? “God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, begotten not made.” We have a concept of light, obviously used here metaphorically as we understand light, and some grasp of truth, which we speak of with the word “very.” Ordinarily, we would understand what the word “begotten” means, but not in this case. That is because we have no understanding of the Nature of this Person who is “not made.” That is because he is “not made,” whereas all that we know is made. And, so all human language is about things that are made, created things that do not share the nature of God. Whatever we know and understand, God is not that.

It is essential to theology that we see God as separate from every created nature, and so from every created thing. It is this separation that first teaches us that God is holy. For this reason we cannot accept Pantheism, since the universe cannot be God, but is a creation of God. For the same reason we cannot speak of God with maternal imagery, as if creation had been “brought forth” as in given birth. One of the reasons that divine revelation always and consistently speaks of God as Father is because creation is the result of his word- whatever that means. God remains separate, “the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God…the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords, Who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see: to whom be honour and power everlasting. Amen” 1

Atheistic confusion

How amazing, indeed, that one of Richard Dawkins’ attacks on Christianity sounds like nothing more than an affirmation of the doctrine of Divine Transcendence and of the method of Theology we call Apophatic. Here is a selection from Time Magazine recording a discussion that was part interview, as it took place between Dawkins and Francis Collins, about what has caused the universe to exist:

Time: Could the answer be God?

Dawkins: There could be something incredibly grand and incomprehensible and beyond our present understanding.

Collins: That’s God.

Dawkins: Yes, but it could be any of a billion Gods…the chances of its being a particular God, Yahweh, the God of Jesus, is vanishing small—at least the onus is on you to demonstrate why you think that’s the case…I don’t see the Olympian Gods or Jesus coming down and dying on the cross as worthy of that grandeur. They strike me as parochial. If there’s a God, it’s going to be a whole lot more incomprehensible than anything that any theologian of any religion has ever proposed.

I think not. Theologians since the Apostles have taught this very thing about the incomprehensible God, and it is a necessary doctrine of our Faith. St. Paul taught it with poetic words, as we saw above. Indeed, the very opposite of Dawkin’s picture of Christianity-which cannot be called a caricature since it draws from no genuine characteristic-is taught by St. John with the words, “No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.”2

Some people who call themselves atheists may be closer to the faith than they realize, inasmuch as the God we believe in is beyond the limits of our understanding. But, the atheists have not yet acquired sufficient skepticism, as C.S. Lewis charged; and not only about the limits of science. They have yet to acquire sufficient skepticism about the illusion of comprehensive knowledge available to the mind. At least Dawkins appears to have broken through that barrier, which may well explain his presence, though non-communicating, at Catholic Masses in recent months.


But, as we see from the words above of St. John, we are not left with the unknowable God and theology of negation. We have as well the Affirmative approach based on the opposite and equally necessary understanding of Revelation. “No man has seen God at any time,” says the Beloved Disciple. But, we are not left there: “The only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.” The Son is called in the same chapter the Word (the Logos λόγος). We gather from this that apart from the Word, himself God the Son, we could have no knowledge of God, even though Reason would dictate that the universe was created. So, the revelation of God to the human race, such as everything made known to the prophets and patriarchs of the Old Testament, was the work of the Logos who communicated to the human mind revelation about God.

This revelation involved words and images drawn from the only things available to the created mind of man (the condition we call the Fall into sin and death causing a further separation than merely that of Creator and creature), and so the very language of revelation had to be that of imagery: It had to be iconic. The iconic nature of Revelation is necessary, as is reason itself, for the Word of God to communicate to the human mind.

Icon against idol

This explains why it is that idolatry is so evil that God forbids it in the Torah with the strictest of penalties, namely death. The very nature of an idol, that is what an idol is, distorts the nature and product of Revelation. A partial-truth is the most insidious kind of lie, which is why idolatry contradicts Revelation with more terrible consequences than disbelief. The result of idolatry reached its most terrifying end with the human sacrifices to Molech, the religion of Baal that made Carthage so odious even among Pagans, and later, the religion of the Aztecs in Mexico. But, even in its more benign forms, idolatry must run into conflict with Revelation, and that is because Revelation is, due to the limits of our created minds, iconic. The idol blocks the way to the true God by presenting an image that is, in essence, a lie. Iconic Revelation opens a door to the true God, using what can be understood to teach about the One above and beyond all human knowledge.

Finally, the Living God cannot be represented by dead images, but he made a living image of himself that he named Man. The name Father is no metaphor, but rather man is himself iconic in the image and appearance of the mystery of Fatherhood. The name Son is no metaphor, but man in the image and appearance of sonship is, as a living intelligent being, the icon of the Word. Finally, in the Incarnation we see the perfect image of the Father, the living icon that reveals the full truth of God for our benefit, an icon without the defect of sin, the express image of the Father’s person now visible.

“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands 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.”

“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.”

“Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen.” 3

  1. I Timothy 1:17, 6:15,16
  2. John 1:18
  3. I John 1:1f, John 1:14, I John 5:21

Saturday, February 16, 2008


I Thessalonians 4:1-8
Matthew 15:21-28

The will of God, St. Paul tells us in today’s Epistle, is your sanctification. He repeats this, saying it a second time this way: “For God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness.” The will of God is treated by many like a problem, like a mathematical problem so complex in nature that it requires endless work and a thousand chalk boards. Others treat the will of God as a matter that requires special revelation about their own futures, a kind of direction either from his very mouth, or by dreams and visions or by signs. Often this causes sincere Christians to be behave much too much like unbelievers who commit the sin of going to fortune tellers (strictly forbidden in scripture), being obsessed with answers about the future, and very much for selfish motives. Still others treat the will of God as a matter to be neglected by its very nature, a complete mystery not to be solved. This last category is not unlike the common misreading of the prophet Isaiah, where a famous passage is often taken to mean the very opposite of what it truly says:

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. 1

In that text the prophet contrasts the ways and thoughts of the unrighteous and wicked against the ways and thoughts of God, too high for the wicked and unrighteous man to grasp. But, God’s ways and thoughts come down from heaven like the rain and snow, coming down in the revelation of his word. Therefore, the wicked and unrighteous man can repent, and can learn to renew his mind. 2 The ways and thoughts of God that are revealed speak to the mind of man. So said the prophet Moses to the whole people of Israel: “The secret things belong unto the LORD our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law.” 3 It may be comforting to treat the will of God only as those secret things of Providence, hidden mysteries beyond human thought. Indeed, more of God’s wisdom remains hidden to human view than what is seen. But, the will of God does not belong exclusively in these categories: It is not a problem to work on endlessly, nor is it likely that most individuals will be guided in every decision of life by signs and dreams, nor is the will of God too lofty a subject for our consideration. For, as Moses and Isaiah spoke long ago, it is the task of the believer to pay heed to what God has, in fact, revealed. And why? As Moses said, to do what God has commanded, and as Isaiah said, to repent, to abandon all wicked ways and unrighteous thoughts, so to learn God’s ways and thoughts.

Therefore, in that light we repeat what St. Paul wrote: “This is the will of God, even your sanctification…For God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness.” I want to quote two other passages by the Apostle that help clarify this even more. In the first chapter of his Epistle to the Romans he addressed the Christians there as “all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints.”4 He opened another Epistle in similar fashion: “Unto the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours.” Whatever else the will of God may mean in your own life, this is clear: You are called to be a saint. That is what is meant by the words: “For I am the LORD that bringeth you up out of the land of Egypt, to be your God: ye shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.”6

The word “holy” is related to the words “sanctify,” “sanctification,” “santos” and “saint.” Since the will of God is your sanctification, the will of God is your sainthood. Some people are sure that saints are not ordinary people at all, but special people like the comic book superheroes. They can leap tall buildings at a single bound: They came from Krypton, or were bitten by a radioactive spider. They have an advantage over regular people. Only a fool, they figure, thinks he can become a saint. Others, especially among Evangelicals, assume that Paul says that the Christians are all called saints because we have already arrived. But, the word “called” does not mean labeled, as in tagged and designated. A nominal sainthood, a merely titular sanctification, or even one somehow completely imputed by grace alone, is not his meaning. Rather, the word “called” appears, as in all those who are “called saints,” to speak of a calling. Whatever you do in life, all Christians have a common vocation to become saints. Some of us have been called to the ordained ministry, and others have been called to various ministries in the Church as laity. But, all of us who are baptized into Christ have been called to become saints.

Most of us began like the Gentile woman in today’s story. That is, most of us were born as Gentiles, which means that in addition to being born in sin we were also, in the words of St. Paul, “in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands; That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world.” 7 I do not see how the human condition can get any worse this side of Hell. If you believe that Paul was rough on the Gentiles, remember that in today’s Gospel, the Lord, that is, Jesus the Lover of mankind, “all compassion, holy unbounded love” himself, referred to Gentiles by the flattering title, “the dogs.” We need to pay attention carefully in order to learn the point that Jesus was making, and to understand we must learn some Biblical theology. So, we proceed.

Father Abraham

The story of this Gentile woman is related very much to the Epistle today, for in it we heard, “that every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honour; not in the lust of concupiscence, even as the Gentiles which know not God.” St. Paul makes the same distinction here that he made elsewhere when addressing converts to Christianity from among the Gentiles. “Ye know that ye were Gentiles, carried away unto these dumb idols, even as ye were led,” 8 he writes to the Corinthians. In the passage I quoted earlier he began with the words, “remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles.” Note the past tense in these words. “You were Gentiles…In time past Gentiles.” What is he teaching these people, but that, as he goes on to say in the Epistle to the Ephesians, “But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ…Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow-citizens with the saints, and of the household of God; And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.” 9

Whatever ethnic pride you may have from whatever background, in Christ you are part of Israel. When my Celtic ancestors were painting themselves blue and offering human sacrifice, the Jews were worshiping the living God in his temple at Jerusalem. But, I do not say these things only to condemn anti-Semitism (though I do point out that to hate the Jews is to hate Jesus Christ, since we can say, truly, in the Incarnation God is a Jew). I say these things to make you aware of how your sanctification begins. In the Gospel today we do not see the woman become angry or offended. Why not? She was just called, along with all her people, a dog. She came for help because of what her daughter needed, and here this Jewish holy man ignores her at first, and when pressed seems to respond with an insult. But, she continued to press for his help, and in her persistence faith took the form of humility. Indeed, as all the virtues are related and finally summed up in charity, this woman’s faith was expressed by humility in that she continued to plead for his help. “And she said. Truth Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters' table.” At this point the Lord turns to face her, and in so doing reveals his will for all the nations of mankind whom he had come to save from sin and death.

The Amen of Abraham

“Then Jesus answered and said unto her, O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt.” This is why we need the Biblical theology I mentioned. What does faith, as mentioned by our Lord, indicate for us? Again, we turn to St. Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles. 10 In the fourth chapter of his Epistle to the Church in Rome, he builds on the meaning of a very significant part of the Book of Genesis. The Apostle made a very important point about the faith of Abraham. First, that faith was counted to him for righteousness. 11 This was important to Paul, for in his conversion he learned that it is by faith that we receive salvation; that grace is something we cannot receive by the Law. The importance of this faith is the essence both of his Epistle to the Romans and his Epistle to the Galatians. Indeed, he tells the Ephesians, “For by grace are ye saved through faith.” 12 Now, in the fourth chapter of Romans, as I mentioned, Paul develops this teaching about faith, and reminds us that at the time that Abraham’s faith was counted to him, or to Abram as he was still named (God would change his name later to Abraham), he was not yet circumcised. The meaning of this is that the same faith that was counted to Abram for righteousness is the faith that also is counted as righteousness to all those who were in time past called Gentiles.

And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised: that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised; that righteousness might be imputed unto them also: And the father of circumcision to them who are not of the circumcision only, but who also walk in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham, which he had being yet uncircumcised.”13

We are taught by Paul that the uncircumcised Abram, that is Abraham, is the father of all believers, even those who were Gentiles. When our Lord tells the woman that “great is her faith,” he welcomes her into the family of Abraham, which is the household of God. So too, he welcomes you.

“He therefore that ministereth to you the Spirit, and worketh miracles among you, doeth he it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness. Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham. And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed. So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham.”14

And, what is the faith that Abraham had? Look at the actual revelation he received from God:

And, behold, the word of the LORD came unto him, saying, This (i.e. his servant) shall not be thine heir; but he that shall come forth out of thine own bowels shall be thine heir. And he brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be. And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness.”15

If we look at this in light of all that would follow, we can say that Abraham believed the Gospel. How so? Because the promises made to Abraham were about the land his people would have, and about his seed. Immediately, that promise about his seed makes us think of Isaac. But, once again it is Paul who takes it to its end: “Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ.” 16 The history that unfolded takes us from Isaac the son of Abraham to Mary the Virgin, centuries later. In all its history, God would neither scatter Israel nor allow them to be lost in idolatry. He did not allow them to be destroyed like so many other nations who were taken captive by powerful kings, but he let them suffer when they needed to be purified. “Salvation is of the Jews,” 17 said our Lord. So, the revelation given to Abraham was about more than simply the son that Sarah would bear.

The revelation given to Abraham was to unfold among the people of Israel in coming centuries, as it would be clarified by prophets, such as Jeremiah who told of the New Covenant that Christ spoke of, on the night in which he was betrayed, as the new Covenant in his own blood. It would be clarified by Isaiah who spoke of the Servant of the Lord, especially the Suffering Servant who would take away the sins of the whole world: “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.” 18 The prophets foretold all, and so it came to pass. The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, 19 and he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, 20 until the day came that he was crucified as the one true sacrifice for the sins of the whole world. And the words of the prophets were fulfilled again when he rose the third day from the dead, that is, the third day before any corruption could set begin. 21

The faith that Abraham had was belief that what God had revealed is true. The word “believed” as it appears in the original in that verse, where we see that Abram believed, is a very interesting Hebrew word. You say that word quite often, usually at the end of prayers. People tell us it means, “so be it.” But, it really means, very simply, “true.” That word is “amen.” The word amen is from the word emet, which means truth. What is the faith of Abraham; that faith that makes you a child of God, and that you need in order to begin to become a saint?

The extent to which Abraham would see is a mystery to us, and it is only partly unfolded by what Jesus said. “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad.” 22 We know this, however: Abraham believed the truth fully to the extent that God revealed it to him. We see, on this side of salvation history, that God has revealed to the Church the fullness of the Gospel. It is given to us to know the mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven. 23 We have been given the revelation that Jesus Christ is God of God, light of Light, very God of very God, begotten not made. We know that he is fully God and fully man, born of a Virgin. We know that he died to take away our sins and give us his righteousness, and rose to give us his own immortality. We were taught by the Risen Christ the true name of God: “The Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.”

We said the words of that great Creed of the Church, and we affirmed our belief in everything that God has revealed. Each of you said, “I believe.” In that Creed you spoke of the God who has called you to be holy as he is holy, and you have spoken of the great love he revealed in giving you salvation through his Son. You confessed your faith in the Son who is one with the Father as God, and one with us as a man begotten by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. You said “I believe” about his atoning death and victorious resurrection. You said “I believe in the Holy Spirit,” God in our very midst who gives grace and makes us holy as we participate in the life he offers. You are a child of Abraham, and when you said “Amen” it was the faith of Abraham. On this side of God’s revelation, you said the “Amen” of your father Abraham.

  • 1. Isaiah 55:7-11
    2. Romans 12:1,2
    3. Deuteronomy 29:29
    4. Romans 1:7
    5. I Corinthians 1:2
    6. Leviticus 11:45
    7. Ephesians 2: 12
    8. I Corinthians 12:2
    9. Ephesians 2:13, 19, 20
    10. Not only does Paul use this as a personal title, but it is the clear meaning of the words spoken to him by Jesus Christ: “for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee; Delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee, To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me.” Acts 26:16-18
    11. Genesis 15:6
    12. See Ephesians 2:8-12
    13. Romans 4:11,12
    14. Galatians 3:5-9
    15. Genesis 15:4-6
    16. Galatians 3:16
    17. John 4:22
    18. Isaiah 53:5,6
    19. John 1:14
    20. Acts 10:38
    21. Psalm 16:10
    22. John 8:56
    23. Matthew 13:11