Saturday, March 29, 2008

First Sunday after Easter 2008

I John 5:4-12
John 20:19-23

Generally speaking, the sacramental life is the way of salvation. This is the Catholic Tradition that the Church has taught from the beginning, from that first day of Pentecost when the appearances of the risen Lord Jesus Christ were fresh in living memory. It is the Faith we have received from our fathers, including those of our Anglican heritage. In the Gospel appointed for today we see the ordination of the Apostles themselves. This is not the Great Commission (for that He gave on different occasions during His resurrection appearances); but rather this was a special bestowal of gifts to empower them for the day their work would really begin- that day that we shall celebrate in a few weeks on Whitsunday, that is, Pentecost.

What happened when the Risen Lord breathed on them, and when He spoke these words of ordination? It was no mere formality; it was supernatural. When we consider those other words we have heard today from scripture, those of the First Epistle of the same Saint John, it may help us to place them in the context of the opening of that Epistle. In this way they take on their full meaning. For now understand, when John tells us about the witness of the Holy Spirit who speaks the truth within the Church, he hearkens back to those early days, those days of Easter and Pentecost, those days when they were seeing the Risen Lord, and the day when the Holy Spirit came in power to create a large body of Christ’s Church in the earth. And, at the center of it all was the ministry of the Apostles.

It was given to them to forgive sins; not simply to preach forgiveness, but to have the power of the keys of the kingdom, to bind and loose; the power to forgive sins or retain them. Do we understand this? Remember in the Gospel of Matthew when Jesus was about to heal the paralytic man? Listen to these words from the ninth chapter of Matthew, vs. 2-8:

And, behold, they brought to him a man sick of the palsy, lying on a bed: and Jesus seeing their faith said unto the sick of the palsy; Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee. And, behold, certain of the scribes said within themselves, This man blasphemeth. And Jesus knowing their thoughts said, Wherefore think ye evil in your hearts? For whether is easier, to say, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Arise, and walk? But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins, (then saith he to the sick of the palsy,) Arise, take up thy bed, and go unto thine house. And he arose, and departed to his house. But when the multitudes saw it, they marvelled, and glorified God, which had given such power unto men.

Look at two things that are here: 1) Many people today say that “only God can forgive sins.” But, they agree with the Pharisees who did not believe in Christ. 2) Look at the last line: “But when the multitudes saw it, they marvelled, and glorified God, which had given such power unto men.” Not just to one man- to men plural. And so, Christ, in today’s Gospel tells the Apostles: “Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained.”

This has special meaning for every priest. I was ordained by a bishop who uses the 1928 Book of Common Prayer [American]; and the Ordinal makes use of the words of Christ from this chapter: This ordinal is all in the Book of Common Prayer. It says on page 546:

When this Prayer is done, the Bishop with the Priests present, shall lay their Hands severally upon the Head of every one that receiveth the Order of Priesthood; the Receivers humbly kneeling, and the Bishop saying,

RECEIVE the Holy Ghost for the Office and Work of a Priest in the Church of God, now committed unto thee by the Imposition of our hands. Whose sins thou dost forgive, they are forgiven; and whose sins thou dost retain, they are retained. 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.

This power has been handed down from the times of these same Apostles in a real sacrament through the Apostolic Succession of bishops. It is not simply a relay race; it is the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit active in a time space world of matter, a reality that springs from Christ’s Incarnation and that is embodied in history, and is alive here today among us. Furthermore, it is not based upon the success or failure of the men though whom it has come, or whether or not they have been saints or sinners. The work is the work of God. It has pleased God to establish His Church so that the Risen Christ, even after being taken to the throne of God and hidden away from sight until He comes again in glory to judge the living and the dead, remains present in the earth, extending the mystery of His Incarnation and of His Resurrection through the Apostolic ministry of the priesthood.

Many churches have no one who believes that he has this power to forgive or to retain sins. Their doctrine is that only God can forgive sins. And, in all humility and charity, I must challenge them to explain what they do with these words of Jesus Christ. If the power to forgive sins is not present, then how can it be the same Church that Christ established? I do not deny that He is present in these churches; I do not deny that through them God gives knowledge of salvation. But, I must insist that the Church does not only proclaim salvation. To the Church, through the Apostolic ministry, is given the power to administer salvation by supernatural gifts that do not depend on the wisdom of men; but on the power of God. “Ye men of Israel, why marvel ye at this? or why look ye so earnestly on us, as though by our own power or holiness we had made this man to walk?”It is not our own power that had made the crippled man to walk, Saint Peter was telling a crowd that had witnessed a miracle; It is through the name of Jesus Christ and through faith in His name. “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved,” he would say on another occasion.

So we come now to the opening of Saint John’s Epistle, and to the context of the words that we heard about the witness of the Holy Spirit within the Church:

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.

The message of John in His Gospel was that “the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. And we beheld his glory…” Here he speaks of seeing Christ, and of touching Him with his hands. He says that what he and the other Apostles heard and saw is what they have passed on. He says that life in the Church, the life in which we are called to be saved, is to have fellowship with the Apostles and through them, fellowship with the Father and His Son Jesus Christ.

Well, that may make it all sound like an exclusive club- until we remember that this fellowship is to be extended throughout the whole world, and the Gospel is to be preached to all nations. How do we have fellowship with the Apostles after 20 centuries? The simple fact is, through the sacramental life we are given, to use the phrase of Paul Harvey, “the rest of the story.” These days, everyone with a television or radio has heard someone tell them about the need to “come to Jesus and be saved.” And, we say to that, “Amen!” We even may find ourselves pronouncing it with a long “A”- Ae-men! But, we want to proclaim the rest of the story; the sacramental life. We want to extend the fullness of Apostolic fellowship to everyone; We want your joy to be full. Not superficial; not simply a happy feeling. We want your joy to be full- that is, filled with all the fullness of God, established and built upon solid faith, built upon knowledge of the truth of our salvation in Jesus Christ.

And it comes from the Incarnation; it all comes from the manifestation of the Word of Life in the Flesh; it is continued as Christ remains incarnate here in His body the Church. The Risen Christ is known to us in the waters of Baptism, in the Apostolic gift of Confirmation. He is known to us in the priestly ministry of the forgiveness of sins. He is known to us in the Breaking of Bread.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Reasserters and Relative Orthodoxy

Or, the problem with neo-orths

. 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."
From the Catechism in the Book of Common Prayer

"Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day."
-John 6: 53, 54

"There is, likewise, a reason there are no sites with comparable readership [to Stand Firm] that focus primarily on the matter of women's ordination: NOBODY GIVES A S..T "
-Greg Griffith of Stand Firm in Faith

We have a problem in the Anglican world that threatens to destroy the validity of our sacraments, and with that to overturn Catholic Faith for many. It is a salvation issue, because the validity of the Blessed Sacrament of Christ's Body and Blood may very well depend on the validity of Holy Orders (that is, we have no revelation of such validity without the sacrament of the priesthood). Furthermore, this is the only position ever taken by the Church of England and the Anglican Communion; for although we do not presume to declare the sacraments of the other Protestant churches to be "absolutely null and utterly void," neither can we affirm them.1 Despite attempts to distort Anglican history, this has been the only official position of Anglicanism throughout its history.

Since Canon Law has ruled, and the formularies of Anglicanism have consistently taught, that two of the sacraments are "generally necessary for salvation," and that only a priest can validly consecrate the bread and wine on the altar to be Christ's Body and Blood, the position we have held to, as traditional Anglicans, requires Holy Orders (and we must consider the importance placed on this by our Lord Jesus Christ in the Gospel of John). If we have women functioning outwardly in the place of priests and bishops, the sacrament of Holy Orders is not present anymore, and we have no basis for confidence in other sacraments that depend on apostolic validity. All Holy Orders depend on the Apostolic Succession 2, and so a man "ordained" by a woman "bishop" is no priest. Confirmation depends on the office of bishop also.3 Absolution and Holy Communion also depend on the validity of a priest, as does the full grace of anointing for healing.4 We may refer to these as dependent sacraments.

The urgency of this whole crisis has caused two major movements in Anglicanism, namely the Continuum and Forward in Faith. The numbers of both groups combined is counted by hundreds of thousands. It is true that the same people who care about the crisis of women's "ordination" hold to orthodox doctrine about sexual morality also, and therefore care very much about the attack on marriage in the heresy of "same sex blessings," as well as generally abominating the liberal stand on acceptance of homosexuality as a "lifestyle."


Unfortunately, a crop of modern Anglicans has emerged that has no understanding of their Anglican roots. One of our readers, Fr. Laurence Wells, put it this way: "These self styled 'Reassterters' ...know in their hearts they should not call themselves traditionalists or orthodox..." To this I replied, in full agreement:

"They are modern Fundamentalists, Charismatics and Evangelicals. Their ecclesiology and soteriology are completely in line with what the Baptists and Assemblies of God believe. I don't mind that from Baptists and AG people because it is to be expected. I do mind it from people who claim to be Anglicans, because I am tired of everybody who wants to call himself by my family name feeling free to disregard our Catechism, Offices of Instruction and the whole corpus of our formularies. As someone who can say, quite positively, from whence John received authority to baptize, I ask from where these neo-orths receive their authority."

Perhaps the term "neo-con" for new conservative comes to mind. This is not a political blog, so I will refrain from discussion about that term. But, I suggest that we can speak of "neo-orths" as people who invent a new orthodoxy. This "new orthodoxy" seems to have one and only one principle. Its adherents don't like homosexuality. They can live with every denial of the Gospel ever made, and they can tolerate women's "ordination" too. They can live in a church body that allows bishops to get away with denying the resurrection of Christ and having multiple wives (a sort of harem, but with the restriction of one at a time), but not with homosex. There they draw the line, about a hundred miles too far .

Because they live with the minimal concept of salvation by faith alone, a Baptist and Pentecostal doctrine that is now a cornerstone of neo-Evangelicalism, they throw away the Anglican doctrine quoted above from our Catechism. And, it is only due to the confusion caused by the heresies they long have tolerated, that they can imagine themselves to be, in any way, standing firm in faith. Having lost their center, they have no sense of balance.

They have decided, arbitrarily, what issues are not "salvation issues," and in doing so have demonstrated a genius for protecting their own ignorance. Because they want to proclaim, according to their new version of orthodoxy, that the latest crisis is the only issue dividing Anglicans, one of their spokesmen, also quoted above, has dismissed all of the people of the Continuum and all of the people of Forward in Faith as "nobody." We who, to use his profane expression, "give a s..." do not count, if we exist at all. To defend this ignorance against all assaults of fact and reason, they have established on their own blog a censorship policy. Any comment that draws attention to women's "ordination" will be deleted as "off topic," and the commenter, should he persist in stating the truth, is banned.

Of course, people who are simply wrong find it easier to censor the truth than to refute it. The adolescent minds that excel in copying and pasting the work of genuine reporting, in order to produce their overblown "Stand Firm" blog, make Ezekiel Bulver look like an amatuer. In the process, they are liars.

The realignment movement going on between the Episcopal Church and the Province of the Southern Cone, for example, did not begin over homosexuality. The Forward in Faith bishops set it in motion over the issue of women's "ordination," and bishop Duncan of Pittsburgh only became involved later. The Diocese of San Joaquin realigned in part over the homosexuality crisis, but had begun the process due to the issue of women's "ordination." This is something I have reported, quoting large portions of a speech given by Bishop Jack Iker of Ft. Worth, both here on The Continuum, and in the latest isue of The Christian Challenge.

This is an inconvenient fact for those who want to believe that nobody cares about women's ordination; so don't look for this fact ever to be allowed on Stand Firm. It will not be reported there, and any comment about it will be censored.

Neo-orths believe they are orthodox only because they compare their views to the latest crisis instead of the Traditional doctrine of the Church that has rightly interpreted scripture from ancient times until now. They feel ever so orthodox only because someone else is even worse. In so doing, they may pray "I thank thee God I am not like other men." They reaasert only that portion of Christian doctrine that is easy.

1. We can and do hope that in the Economy of God's grace the grace of the sacrament is present in many places beyond the visible Catholic Church of which we are a part. Just as "baptism by desire" is an approved doctrine since early times, the same desire, that is the heart of faith itself, can be present for feeding on the Living Christ and drinking his blood.

2. This is not extra-biblical doctrine. The pattern is clearly stated in the pastoral Epistles to Timothy and Titus. This will be the subject of a future post.

3. As well as a rite that conforms to the scriptures, that is, laying on hands with prayer. This must state the sacramental Intention.

4. James 5:14. "Let him call for the πρεσβύτερος."

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Only Christians Believe Christ Is Risen

For your edification I am posting another piece that was written by Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, OFM Cap. This is good reading in Easter week. This contains points that I have made myself about the silliness of theories that deny the resurrection of Christ.

Only Christians Believe Christ Is Risen

Gospel Commentary for Easter Sunday

By Father Raniero Cantalamessa, OFM Cap

VATICAN CITY, MARCH 21, 2008 ( To the women who had come to the tomb on Easter morning the angels said: “Do not be afraid. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified. He is risen!”

But did Jesus really rise? What assurances do we have that we are dealing with something that really happened and not an invention or suggestion? St. Paul, writing no more than 25 years after the event, lists all the people who saw Jesus after the resurrection, the majority of whom were still alive (1 Corinthians 15:8). For what fact of antiquity do we have testimony as strong as this?

But a general observation will also convince us of the truth of the event. At the moment of Jesus’ death the disciples were scattered; his case was taken to be closed: “We had hoped that he would,” the disciples of Emmaus say. Evidently they did not hope anymore.

And then all of a sudden we see these same men proclaim together that Jesus is alive and face, on account of this testimony, trials, persecutions and, in the end, one after the other, martyrdom and death. What could have caused such a total change if not the certainty that he had truly risen.

They could not be deceived because they spoke and ate with him after his resurrection; and then they were practical men, not at all given to easy exaltation. They themselves doubted at first and put up not a little resistance to believing. Neither could they have wanted to deceive others, because, if Jesus was not risen, they were precisely the first to be betrayed and to return. Without the fact of the resurrection, the birth of Christianity and of the Church becomes a mystery that is still more difficult to explain than the resurrection itself.

These are some objective, historical arguments, but the strongest argument that Christ is risen, is that he is alive! He is alive not because we keep him alive by talking about him, but because he keeps us alive, he communicates the sense of his presence to us, he makes us hope. “He touches Christ who believes in Christ,” St. Augustine said, and the true believers experience the truth in this affirmation.

Those who do not believe in the reality of the resurrection have always advanced hypotheses that it be treated as a phenomenon of autosuggestion; the apostles “believed” to see. But this, if it were true, would constitute, in the end, a miracle no less great than the one that people try to avoid admitting. Suppose that different people, in different situations and places, all had the same hallucination. Imaginary visions usually come to those who intensely expect and desire them, but the apostles, after the events of Good Friday, did not expect anything else.

Christ’s resurrection is, for the spiritual universe, what the initial “Big Bang” was for the physical universe, according to one modern theory: such a massive explosion of energy impressed on the cosmos that expansion of energy that continues even today at a distance of billions of years. Take away from the Church faith in the resurrection and everything stops and shuts down, as when the electrical current goes out in a house.

St. Paul writes: “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the death, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). “The faith of Christians is the resurrection of Christ,” St. Augustine said. Everyone believes that Jesus died, even the pagans, the agnostics believe it. But only Christians believe that he has also risen, and one is not a Christian unless he believes this.

Raising Christ from the dead, it is as if God had approved his conduct, impressing it with his seal. “God has given to all men an assurance by raising Jesus from the dead” (Acts 17:31).

[Translation by Joseph G. Trabbic]

The very model

I am the very model of a modern Major-General
I've information vegetable, animal, and mineral
I know the kings of England, and I quote the fights historical
From Marathon to Waterloo, in order categorical

I'm very well acquainted, too, with matters mathematical
I understand equations, both the simple and quadratical
About binomial theorem I'm teeming with a lot o' news
With many cheerful facts about the square of the hypotenuse

With many cheerful facts about the square of the hypotenuse
With many cheerful facts about the square of the hypotenuse
With many cheerful facts about the square of the hypotepotenuse

I'm very good at integral and differential calculus
I know the scientific names of beings animalculous
In short, in matters vegetable, animal, and mineral
I am the very model of a modern Major-General

In short, in matters vegetable, animal, and mineral
He is the very model of a modern Major-General

I know our mythic history, King Arthur's and Sir Caradoc's
I answer hard acrostics, I've a pretty taste for paradox
I quote in elegiacs all the crimes of Heliogabalus
In conics I can floor peculiarities parabolous

I can tell undoubted Raphaels from Gerard Dows and Zoffanies
I know the croaking chorus from the Frogs of Aristophanes
Then I can hum a fugue of which I've heard the music's din afore
And whistle all the airs from that infernal nonsense Pinafore

And whistle all the airs from that infernal nonsense Pinafore
And whistle all the airs from that infernal nonsense Pinafore
And whistle all the airs from that infernal nonsense Pinapinafore

Then I can write a washing bill in Babylonic cuneiform
And tell you ev'ry detail of Caractacus's uniform
In short, in matters vegetable, animal, and mineral
I am the very model of a modern Major-General

In short, in matters vegetable, animal, and mineral
He is the very model of a modern Major-General

In fact, when I know what is meant by "mamelon" and "ravelin"
When I can tell at sight a Mauser rifle from a javelin
When such affairs as sorties and surprises I'm more wary at
And when I know precisely what is meant by "commissariat"

When I have learnt what progress has been made in modern gunnery
When I know more of tactics than a novice in a nunnery
In short, when I've a smattering of elemental strategy
You'll say a better Major-General had never sat a gee

You'll say a better Major-General had never sat a gee
You'll say a better Major-General had never sat a gee
You'll say a better Major-General had never sat a sat a gee

For my military knowledge, though I'm plucky and adventury
Has only been brought down to the beginning of the century
But still, in matters vegetable, animal, and mineral
I am the very model of a modern Major-General

But still, in matters vegetable, animal, and mineral
He is the very model of a modern Major-General

Gilbert and Sullivan
Pirates of Penzance

Monday, March 24, 2008

David Bentley Hart on Rowan Williams

Rowan Williams
Conversations in modern theology
Edited by Mike Higton
384pp. SCM Press. Paperback, £21.99.
978 0 334 04095 8
US: Eerdmans. $28. 978 0 8028 2726 5

In a bracingly venomous Spectator article on the Archbishop of Canterbury’s recent remarks about sharia law in Britain, the journalist Rod Liddle opined that it must be Rowan Williams’s beard that has won him the reputation of an intellectual. Certainly, Liddle remarked, “it cannot be anything he has ever said or written”. I have to confess my doubts that Liddle has really read much of Williams’s oeuvre. No one who had – whatever reservations he or she might harbour as to the Archbishop’s wisdom, prudence or pogonotrophy – could possibly dismiss the man as a featherweight or a fraud.

Well before he moved to Lambeth Palace (heedless, alas, of a few desperate voices calling him back from the edge), Rowan Williams had established himself as perhaps Britain’s most impressive theological virtuoso. His gifts as a linguist alone set him apart from most of his contemporaries, granting him access to texts and conversations well outside the orbits of more narrowly specialized researchers, and his ability to speak authoritatively, reflectively and creatively on authors as diverse as the Greek Fathers, the medieval and early modern mystics, the German idealists, the Russian Sophiologists, and so forth, marked him from an early age as an uncommon talent, possessed of a scholarly range that even the most accomplished theologians might envy. Whether his intellectual attainments have translated well into the sort of public skills required of a church leader is a legitimate matter of debate; whether those attainments are real and substantial, however, is not.

To any who doubt this, I would heartily recommend Wrestling with Angels, a collection of essays edited by Mike Higton which (though it does not provide a comprehensive portrait of the Archbishop’s interests and accomplishments) nevertheless grants us entry into one very vital area of his work. Higton has confined himself to pieces – all originally published between 1978 and 1998 – that deal directly with the thought of modern philosophers and theologians, and that therefore might be described as exercises in philosophical or systematic theology (as opposed, say, to historical theology, another field in which Williams has long distinguished himself). This sort of approach suits Williams well. He is not a theologian who has ever attempted to develop a “system” of his own, or to establish a particular school of theology within the greater theological world, or to enucleate a set of basic principles by which then to determine where and how other thinkers ought to be situated within his own thought. Rather, what he does extremely well is to “think along” with the author whose work he is considering, to measure the strengths of that author’s ideas, to seek out certain of the subtler currents within those ideas, and to identify what can and should be criticized therein.

At its best, Williams’s method (if careful and inquisitive reading really needs to be described as a “method”) casts a clarifying light on difficult and often obscure questions. Perhaps the best examples of this in the collection are two essays on Hegel, which succeed not only at avoiding many of the pedestrian misreadings to which he is too often subjected, but at compellingly demonstrating why it is necessary for theologians to continue to engage with Hegel’s thought on the implications of Trinitarian dogma, the nature of freedom and community, the possibility of speaking of God, the essence of rational existence, and much else. Williams realizes not only that, to an often unappreciated degree, it is Hegel more than any other modern thinker who revived the project of classical Christian Trinitarianism (and of the metaphysics attendant thereon), but also that Hegel’s own contributions to that tradition cannot simply be dismissed as perverse attempts to “universalize” the particularity of God’s revelation in Christ; rather, they consist of necessary critical reflections on several of the profoundest implications of the orthodox Christian understanding of God, creation and history. Equally suggestive, perhaps, and even somewhat more original, is Williams’s essay on the nature of human interiority that unexpectedly – but fruitfully – juxtaposes Wittgenstein and Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

As is inevitably the case in a collection of this sort, of course, the interest these essays excite in the reader will vary according to the figures or concepts they address, as will their relative importance for theology as a whole. The very first essay in the volume, for instance, is an early consideration of the apophaticism of the great twentieth-century Eastern Orthodox theologian Vladimir Lossky (the subject, as it happens, of Williams’s doctoral work), a figure of immense importance in the development of modern Orthodoxy’s self-understanding, and one who probably did more than anyone else to give shape to a kind of general “Orthodox system” that many theologians today – Eastern and Western alike – have come to equate with Orthodoxy as such. It is a deeply respectful essay, but one that also brings into sharp focus certain troubling weaknesses of Lossky’s thought, both as an interpretation of Orthodox tradition and as a theological proposal in its own right.

It is an essay, more to the point, of more than merely local interest, not only because of the larger importance of Lossky within modern theology, but because it touches on matters central to all theological reflection. Much the same can be said of those essays that deal with, say, the limits of Karl Barth’s Trinitarian theology, or with René Girard on violence, or with Hans Urs von Balthasar on “difference”, or with the disagreements between Balthasar and Karl Rahner on the relation between metaphysics and revelation. In this last case, incidentally, as he acknowledges in his introduction to this volume, Williams has done Rahner less than perfect justice. That said, it would be difficult to find a more absorbing short treatment of the issues that for many years set the two greatest Catholic theologians of the twentieth century at odds with one another, and that continue to divide their followers: Rahner’s perceived desire to develop an epistemology, metaphysics and anthropology into which God’s revelation in Christ would then “naturally” fit; and Balthasar’s anxiety to preserve the uniqueness of that revelation against any too comprehensive an “anticipation” within the structures of human consciousness or culture.

Not all of the essays in Wrestling with Angels command comparable attention, however. For example, there is a piece from 1984 on Don Cupitt, a thinker little known outside the UK, whose attempt to construct a kind of post-theistic theology is simply too slight and slapdash to bear the weight of much serious scrutiny. Read now, when the discussions that prompted them have long faded from memory, many of Williams’s objections to Cupitt’s project look more or less obvious, and the essay in which they appear seems of little more than archival interest. For quite different reasons, Williams’s reflections on Gillian Rose, in many ways a brilliant and original philosopher, are more likely to provoke consternation from his readers than to aid them in understanding Rose’s thought; for those unfamiliar with her work, Williams’s discussion will probably seem somewhat elliptical and vague; and, for those few who have read her, it will not necessarily be clear how Williams has further illuminated the questions he addresses.

Taken as a whole, though, this is a marvellous collection, full of riches, in equal measures provocative and profound. It is testimony to a lively and subtle mind, one unusually adept at penetrating far beyond the surfaces of texts, and at finding curiosities and rewards where most of us would not have thought to look. It is, as I have said, only a fragmentary portrait of Rowan Williams the theologian, but it is enough to mark him out as a thinker of great stature and imagination. It is, moreover, resplendent proof that there is far more to this man than a beard – however luxuriant it may be.

David Bentley Hart currently holds the Robert J. Randall Chair in Christian Culture at Providence College. His books include The Doors of the Sea: Where was God in the Tsunami? 2005, and The Beauty of the Infinite: The aesthetics of Christian truth, 2004.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

The Tunic was Without Seam

If one day all believers shall be reunited in one single body, it will happen like this, when we all are on our knees with a contrite and humiliated heart, under the great lordship of Christ...“Who is it that overcomes the world,” John writes in his first letter, “if not those who believe that Jesus is the Son of God?” (1John 5:5). Sticking with this criterion, the fundamental distinction among Christians is not between Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants, but between those who believe that Christ is the Son of God and those who do not believe this.

It seems like thirty years since I have heard anything like this Good Friday sermon that was preached at St. Peter's Basilica in the presence of the Patriarch of Rome. Like Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) Fr. Cantalamessa transcends the divisions that even many members of his own communion hold dear and defend. As Continuing Anglicans we are part of something larger than our own jurisdictions, and our own Continuum, as well we know. We are part of the Body of Christ, the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. I am humbled, broken in fact, as I ponder this genuine prophet's message.-Fr. Hart

Raniero Cantalamessa is a Franciscan Capuchin Catholic Priest. Born in Ascoli Piceno, Italy, 22 July 1934, ordained priest in 1958. Divinity Doctor and Doctor in classical literature. Former Ordinary Professor of History of Ancient Christianity and Director of the Department of religious sciences at the Catholic University of Milan. Member of the International Theological Commission (1975-1981).

In 1979 he resigned his teaching position to become a full time preacher of the Gospel. In 1980 he was appointed by Pope John Paul II Preacher to the Papal Household in which capacity he still serves, preaching a weekly sermon in Advent and Lent in the presence of the Pope, the cardinals, bishops and prelates of the Roman Curia and the general superiors of religious orders.

The Tunic was Without Seam

“When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and divided them into four shares, a share for each soldier. They also took his tunic, but the tunic was without seam, woven in one piece from the top down. So they said to one another, ‘Let’s not tear it, but cast lots for it to see whose it will be,’ in order that the passage of Scripture might be fulfilled that says: ‘They divided my garments among them, and for my vesture they cast lots’” (John 19:23-24).

It has always been asked what the evangelist John wanted to say with the importance that he gives to this particular detail of the Passion. One relatively recent explanation is that the tunic alludes to the vestment of the high priest and that with this John wanted to affirm that Jesus died not only as king but also as priest.

It is not said in the Bible, however, that the tunic of the high priest had to be seamless (cf. Exodus 28: 4; Leviticus 16:4). For this reason the most authoritative of the exegetes prefer to stick to the traditional explanation, according to which the seamless tunic symbolized the unity of the disciples.[1] It is the interpretation that Saint Cyrpian already gave: “The unity of the Church,” he writes, “is expressed in the Gospel when it is said that the tunic of Christ was not divided or cut.”[2]

Whatever be the explanation that one gives to the text, one thing is certain: the unity of the disciples is, for John, the purpose for which Christ dies. “Jesus had to die for the nation, and not only for the nation, but also to gather into one the dispersed children of God” (John 11:51-52). At the Last Supper he himself said: “I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me” (John 17:20-21).

The glad tidings to proclaim on Good Friday are that unity, before it is a goal to be sought, is a gift to be received. That the tunic is woven “from the top down,” Saint Cyprian continues, means that “the unity brought by Christ comes from above, from the heavenly Father, and because of this it cannot be broken apart by those who receive it, but must be received in its integrity.”

The soldiers divided “the clothes,” or the “the cloak,” (“ta imatia”) into 4 pieces, that is, Jesus’ outer garments, not the tunic, the “chiton,” which was the inner garment, which was in direct contact with his body. This is also a symbol. We men can divide the human and visible element of the Church, but not its deeper unity, which is identified with the Holy Spirit. Christ’s tunic was not and can never be divided. It too is of a single piece. “Can Christ be divided?” Paul cried out (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:13). It is the faith the we profess in the Creed: “I believe in the Church, one, holy, Catholic and apostolic.”

* * *

But if unity must serve as a sign “so that the world believe,” it must also be a visible, communitarian unity. This is the unity that has been lost and must be rediscovered. It is much more than maintaining neighborly relations; it is the mystical interior unity itself – “one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God Father of all” (Ephesians 4:4-6) – insofar as this objective unity is in fact received, lived and manifested by believers. A unity which is not endangered by diversity, but enriched by it.

After Easter the apostles asked Jesus: “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” Today we often address the same question to God: Is this the time in which you will restore the visible unity of the Church? God’s answer is also the same as the one Jesus gave to the disciples: “It is not for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has established by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses” (Acts 1:6-8).

The Holy Father recalled this in a homily he gave on January 25 in the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls at the end of Christian Unity Week: “Unity with God and our brothers and sisters,” he wrote, “is a gift that comes from on high, which flows from the communion of love between Father, Son and Holy Spirit in which it is increased and perfected. It is not in our power to decide when or how this unity will be fully achieved. Only God can do it! Like St Paul, let us also place our hope and trust ‘in the grace of God which is with us’.”

Today as well, the Holy Spirit will be the one to lead us into unity, if we let him guide us. How was it that the Holy Spirit brought about the first fundamental unity of the Church, that between Jews and Gentiles? The Holy Spirit descends upon Cornelius and his whole household in the same way in which he descended upon the apostles at Pentecost. So, Peter only needed to draw the conclusion: “If then God gave them the same gift he gave to us when we came to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to be able to hinder God?” (Acts 11:17).

For a century now, we have seen the same thing repeat itself before our eyes on a global scale. God has poured out the Holy Spirit in a new and unusual way upon millions of believers from every Christian denomination and, so that there would be no doubts about his intentions, he poured out the Spirit with the same manifestations. Is this not a sign that the Spirit moves us to recognize each other as disciples of Christ and work toward unity?

It is true that this spiritual and charismatic unity is not enough by itself. We see this already at the beginning of the Church. The newly formed unity between Jews and Gentiles was immediately threatened by schism. In the so-called Council of Jerusalem there was a “long discussion” and at the end an agreement was reached and announced to the Church with the formula: “It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us...” (Acts 15:28). The Holy Spirit works, therefore, also through another way, which is that of patient exchange, dialogue and even compromise between the different sides, when the essentials of the faith are not in play. He works through human “structures” and the “offices” put in action by Jesus, above all the apostolic and petrine office. It is that which today we call doctrinal and institutional ecumenism.

* * *

However, experience is convincing us that even this doctrinal ecumenism is not sufficient and does not advance matters if it is not also accompanied by a foundational spiritual ecumenism. This is repeated with ever greater insistence by the major promoters of institutional ecumenism. In this centenary of the institution of the week of prayer for Christian unity (1908 – 2008), at the foot of the cross we would like to meditate on this spiritual ecumenism, on what this spiritual ecumenism is and how we can make progress in it.

Spiritual ecumenism is born through repentance and forgiveness and is nourished by prayer. In 1977 I participated in a charismatic ecumenical congress in the U.S., in Kansas City, Missouri. There were 40.000 participants, half of them Catholic – Cardinal Suenens among them – and half from other Christian denominations. One evening, one of the leaders of the meeting began speaking at the microphone in way that, to me, at that time, was strange: “You priests and pastors, weep and mourn, because the body of my Son is broken... You lay people, men and women, weep and mourn, because the body of my Son is broken.”

I began to see people around me fall to their knees, one after another, and to weep with repentance for the divisions in the body of Christ. And all of this went on while a sign reading “Jesus is Lord” went up from one part of the stadium to the other. I was there as an observer who was still rather critical and detached, but I remember thinking to myself: If one day all believers shall be reunited in one single body, it will happen like this, when we all are on our knees with a contrite and humiliated heart, under the great lordship of Christ.

If the unity of the disciples must be a reflection of the unity between Father and Son, it must above all be a unity of love, because such is the unity that reigns in the Trinity. Scripture exhorts us to “do the truth in love” – “veritatem facientes in caritate” (Ephesians 4:15). And Augustine affirms that “one does not enter into the truth if not through charity” – “non intratur in veritatem nisi per caritatem.” [3]

The extraordinary thing about this way to unity based on love is that it is already now wide open before us. We cannot be hasty in regard to doctrine because differences exist and must be resolved with patience in the appropriate contexts. We can instead “be hasty” in charity and already be united in that sense now. The true, certain sign of the coming of the Spirit, Saint Augustine writes, is not speaking in tongues, but it is the love of unity: “Know that you have the Holy Spirit when you allow your heart to adhere to unity through sincere charity.”[4]

Let us reflect on Saint Paul’s hymn to charity. Each verse acquires a contemporary and new meaning if it is applied to the love of members of different Christian denominations in ecumenical relations:

“Love is patient…
Love is not jealous…
It does not seek its own interests…
It does not brood over injury… (if necessary, of the injury done to others!)
It does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth (it doesn’t rejoice over the difficulties of other Churches, but delights in their successes)
It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1Corinthians 13:4 ff.).

This week we have accompanied a woman to her eternal rest – Chiara Lubich, the founder of the Focolare Movement – who was a pioneer and model of the spiritual ecumenism of love. She showed that the pursuit of unity among Christians does not lead to a closing to the rest of the world; it is rather the first step and the condition for a broader dialogue with believers of other religions and with all men and women who are concerned about the fate of humanity and about peace.

* * *

“Loving,” it has been said, “does not mean looking at each other but looking together in the same direction.” Even among Christians loving means looking in the same direction, which is Christ. “He is our peace” (Ephesians 2:14). It is like the spokes of a wheel. Consider what happens to the spokes of a wheel when they move from the center outward: as they distance themselves from the center they also become more distant from each other. On the contrary when they move from the periphery toward the center, the closer they come to the center they also come nearer to each other, until they form a single point. To the extent that we move together toward Christ, we draw nearer to each other, until we are truly, as Jesus desired, “one with him and with the Father.”

That which will reunite divided Christianity will only be a new wave of love for Christ that spreads among Christians. This is what is happening through the work of the Holy Spirit and it fills us with wonder and hope. “The love of Christ moves us, because we are convinced that one has died for all” (2 Corinthians 5:14). The brother who belongs to another Church – indeed every human being – is “a person for whom Christ died” (Romans 14:16), as he has died for me.

* * *

One thing must move us forward on this journey. What is in play at the beginning of the third millennium, is not the same as what was in play at the beginning of the second millennium, when there was the separation of East and West; nor is it the same as what was in play in the middle of the same millennium when there was the separation of Catholics and Protestants. Can we say that the way the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father or how justification of the sinner comes about are the problems that impassion the men of today and with which the Christian faith stands or falls? The world has moved beyond us and we remain fixed by problems and formulas that the world does not even know the meaning of.

In battles in the Middle Ages there was a moment in which, after the infantry, the archers and the cavalry had been overwhelmed, the melee began to circle around the king. There the final outcome of the fight was decided. Today the battle for us also takes place around the king. There are buildings and structures made of metal in such a way that if a certain neuralgic point is touched or a certain stone is removed, everything falls apart. In the edifice of the Christian faith this cornerstone is the divinity of Christ. If this is removed, everything falls apart and faith in the Trinity is the first to go.

From this we see that today there are 2 possible ecumenisms: an ecumenism of faith and an ecumenism of incredulity; one that unites all those who believe that Jesus is the Son of God, that God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and that Christ died to save all humankind, and an ecumenism that unites all those who, in deference to the Nicene Creed, continue to proclaim these formulas but empty them of their content. It is an ecumenism in which, in its extreme form, everyone believes the same things because no one any longer believes anything, in the sense that “believing” has in the New Testament.

“Who is it that overcomes the world,” John writes in his first letter, “if not those who believe that Jesus is the Son of God?” (1John 5:5). Sticking with this criterion, the fundamental distinction among Christians is not between Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants, but between those who believe that Christ is the Son of God and those who do not believe this.

* * *

“On the first day of the sixth month in the second year of King Darius, the word of the LORD came through the prophet Haggai to the governor of Judah, Zerubbabel, son of Shealtiel, and to the high priest Joshua, son of Jehozadak…: ‘Is it time for you to dwell in your own panelled houses, while this house lies in ruins?’” (Haggai 1:1-4).

This word of the prophet Haggai is addressed to us today. Is this the time to concern ourselves with that which only regards our religious order, our movement, or our Church? Is this not precisely the reason why we too “sow much but harvest little” (Haggai 1:6)? We preach and we are active in many ways, but we convert few people and the world moves away from Christ instead of drawing near to him.

The people of Israel heard the prophet’s reproof; everyone stopped embellishing his own house and began to work together on God’s temple. God then sent his prophet again with a message of consolation and encouragement which is also addressed to us: “But now take courage, Zerubbabel, says the Lord, and take courage, Joshua, high priest, son of Jehozadak, And take courage, all you people of the land, says the Lord, and work! For I am with you, says the Lord of hosts” (Haggai 2:4). Take courage, all of you who have at heart the cause of the unity of Christians, and go to work, because I am with you, says the Lord!

[1] Cf. R. E. Brown, The Death of the Messiah, vol. 2, Doubleday, New York 1994, pp. 955-958.
[2] Saint Cyprian, De unitate Ecclesiae, 7 (CSEL 3, p. 215).
[3] Saint Augustine, Contra Faustum, 32,18 (CCL 321, p. 779).
[4] Saint Augustine, Sermons, 269,3-4 (PL38, 1236 s.).

Friday, March 21, 2008

Holy Saturday

Come, and let us return unto the LORD: for he hath torn, and he will heal us; he hath smitten, and he will bind us up. After two days will he revive us: in the third day he will raise us up, and we shall live in his sight.
Hosea 6:1,2

By night on my bed I sought him whom my soul loveth:

I sought him, but I found him not.
I will rise now, and go about the city in the streets,
and in the broad ways I will seek him whom my soul loveth:
I sought him, but I found him not.
The watchmen that go about the city found me:
to whom I said, Saw ye him whom my soul loveth?

I charge you, O ye daughters of Jerusalem, by the roes,
and by the hinds of the field,
that ye stir not up, nor awake my love, till he please.

Song of Solomon 3:1-3,5

Good Friday Poem

March 21, 2008. Good Friday. On my annual walk through Hanson Pines.

The Calling Wind

Bright sun glares on the whiteness
of the snows that still blanket the land.
Beneath the cold blue of the wintry sky
the wild winds whip through the mighty trees,
and a loudness roars and fills the ears.
Under the bridge the brim-full river runs,
pushing with power in its ever seaward flow,
glutted with the springtime rains and thaws,
crashing madly on the rocks beneath the city's dams,
threatening to repeat the havoc of the last year's flood.
There I walk, remembering things of long ago,
yet things I witness, touch, and taste each day
that Mass is offered on the altar of the church,
and those that come are taken to that Holy Cross,
and stand with Him who died that they might live,
the very Food that feeds to everlasting life;
and, as I walk and say my prayers and sit and write,
I hear the rushing mighty wind above my head,
and in its awesome rush of sound I hear
the Voice of God say, "Come."

---------ed pacht

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Good Friday

Now we come to this evening, the evening following the death and Passion of our Saviour. About this evening poets have spoken. About this evening, we find these passages at the ending of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion (translated from the German):

At evening, hour of calm and peace,

Was Adam’s fall made manifest;

At evening too, the Lord’s redeeming love.

At evening, homeward turned the dove,

An olive-leaf the while she bore.

O beauteous time, O evening hour!

Our peace with God is evermore assured,

For Jesus hath His cross endured...

We sit down in tears and call to Thee in the tomb:

Rest softly, softly rest!

Rest, ye exhausted limbs,

Rest softly, rest well,

Your grave and tombstone

Shall for the unquiet conscience be a comfortable pillow

And the soul’s resting place.

In utmost bliss the eyes slumber there.

We sit down in tears and call to Thee in the tomb:

Rest softly, softly rest.

Yes, the unquiet conscience is itself a gift from God. We live in a time that follows decades of psycho-babble about the need for man to be liberated from the Tradition which demands that he suppress his desires and cravings, the alleged needs of his true nature as a noble savage. What rot, what foolishness, as if the conscience of man and his moral sense is the part of his nature that he must suppress. We have seen the results of this imagination, this high thing that has exalted itself against the knowledge of God, having created a broken society due to broken families, and the creation of broken individuals. These wander in darkness more severe than any since before the Gospel and the Church made a civilization where once stood only a world of pagan cruelty. Reversion back to this cruelty is the mark of our time, a false liberty celebrated less and less as people find themselves living with the tyranny of bad philosophy.

The conscience is the gift of God, and the feeling of guilt is not some medical disability to be cured. Thank God we have a conscience, and thank God we have enough self worth to feel guilt, for we know that we can live up to a higher calling than the calling of sin and death. We also know that we cannot do so without His grace. When this evening comes, and we see that Jesus has endured His cross, we are given both that calling and that grace. We read in the Epistle to the Hebrew that we have boldness to enter into the holiest, meaning into the very presence, the Real Presence [pointing to the ciborium on the side altar being Good Friday] of the Living God.

Hear again the words:
(Heb. 10:19f): "Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; And having an high priest over the house of God; Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised)."

This is the day which fulfills the meaning of the slaying of the Passover Lamb and also of Yom Kippor, that is, the Day of Atonement. That was the day in which the High Priest made the sin offering for the whole nation, and in which the scapegoat was led away. The Sin Offering that was killed was a type and shadow of the One True Sacrifice, the One True Offering made by the true High Priest, of which the sons of Aaron were themselves merely types and shadows. By His One Offering of Himself for sin, He put away sin forever. This is what the Epistle is mostly about, Christ the Kippor, the Atonement. The scapegoat was the type of Christ’s spirit descending to hell, to Hades actually, where He would preach to the spirits in prison, and bring the saints of the Old Testament out of their graves to be, with Him, the first fruits of Resurrection and of the World to Come (as we see from St. Matthew’s Gospel). But, on Good Friday we have come to the time of His death and burial. We can see that death and burial in one of two ways. Either it is a tragedy, no more than a simple injustice, one among millions in the history of a sinful and fallen world. Or, we can believe the truth which I preached to you on Palm Sunday, that no man took His life from Him; He gave it by His own power and His own will. He had power, as He said, to lay it down, and He had power to take it again.

His death is the One True Kippor, the atonement for all sin. “He is the Propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.” He is the One for the many, by which the many who were made sinners in Adam are made righteous in Christ. We are told to come in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience. That word, “sprinkled” needs to be explained. “Without,” says this same Epistle to the Hebrews, “the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness for sins.” The sprinkling is with the blood of Christ, just as Moses sprinkled the people, just as the Levitical priests would sprinkle the blood of sacrifices. For us there is no need of animal blood; just as we need to kill no sacrifice on our altar, since the altar we have is meant to show that the True Sacrifice for sin was made, and we participate in that one Offering of Christ, both Priest and Sacrifice. The conscience and the heart are sprinkled by the blood of Christ if we come in full assurance of faith. This gift is effective, abundantly given to those who believe.

Again, the place of conscience must be understood. We feel the sting of conviction, the good and right office of guilt doing its wholesome work, whether or not the spirit of the age and the psycho-babblers agree. The conscience is aware of sin, aware of guilt, and forecasts the danger of judgment and of eternal separation from God. We want to come to the Holy Place, but we dare not. It may help to abandon all true religion, and take up a contemporary “spirituality” in its place. You perhaps know my meaning, the kind of “spirituality” which has no moral obligation but to affirm oneself and to seek power as a possession. The effect, if we succeed in such a thing, is simply deception, and the worst kind of deception, for it teaches us to kill the voice of conscience, and to eschew guilt. It truly suppresses our nature, it suppresses conscience, and moral sense, and so causes the very maladies wrongly ascribed to the Tradition of the Catholic Faith, to the Word of God. The conscience is not quieted simply because it is hushed.

But, if ever it becomes quiet, God has given us over, and we are lost; the alienation beginning in this life cannot feel like freedom for very long, nor can it be eased after death. Let the conscience perform its wholesome and healing office. For with all our embrace of genuine guilty conviction, we also embrace the Gospel. The cross is at once our diagnosis and our cure. The cross shows sin in all of its ugly, violent and cruel reality. The cross shows the Divine sentence upon sin, and the rejection of all that sin is. The cross shows the love of God for all sinners everywhere, for you and for me. The cross is the forgiveness of sin, the poured out blood of sacrifice, the blood sprinkled on the mercy seat. It is the place where perfect justice and perfect mercy meet. It is the place of condemnation and of forgiveness. It is where our hearts are sprinkled and our consciences are made whole. When we have been to the cross, we can enter into the presence of God with boldness, being made new and alive through Jesus Christ. The conscience takes on an even higher function of being the voice of the Holy Spirit, the Law of God written on our hearts, not simply to convict, but to instruct in the way of freedom, of life and of peace with God.

So the Epistle continues:

“Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;) And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works...”

Beware of the kind of religion St. Paul warned against:

(Phil. 3: 17f ): “Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample. (For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.) For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ:”

St. Paul spoke of enemies of the cross of Christ. Such people probably think themselves to be friends of Jesus Christ, and may delude themselves that they love Him. But, to hate His cross is to be His enemy; for it was His work, His great act of love. He did embrace it, and carry it, and let Himself be nailed to it. He commands, also, that we take up our cross, and say no to worldly lusts, and to all self exaltation. We are to walk in the way of Christ, the way of the cross. This is how to live with a good and healthy conscience.


This night is the night of the Passover 1 that Christ ate with his disciples, and so we rightly ask, why is this night unlike all other nights?

First of all, the Lord gave the answer to a riddle that had long been in the minds of his disciples. Like other Jews who turned away from him, these Jewish men also must have wondered, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 2 They expected a genuine answer, unlike others who asked hypothetically (to put it mildly). This night the answer was given. He took bread and wine, and told them that it is his body and blood. He commanded them to do this in remembrance of him. So, from the earliest times to this very night, we do this in remembrance of him. We remember that he promised us that to eat his flesh and drink his blood is to take the food and drink of eternal life.

As Anglicans, we are instructed that this eating and drinking benefits only those who believe. Following the teaching of St. Paul about the dangers of eating and drinking this holy sacrament without first knowing in ourselves “hearty repentance and true faith,” Article 25 warns, “And in such only as worthily receive the same, they have a wholesome effect or operation: but they that receive them unworthily, purchase to themselves damnation, as Saint Paul saith.” And, Article 27 tells us, “it is a Sacrament of our Redemption by Christ’s death: insomuch that to such as rightly, worthily, and with faith, receive the same, the Bread which we break is a partaking of the Body of Christ; and likewise the Cup of Blessing is a partaking of the Blood of Christ.” And, the warning of St. Paul is repeated again in Article 28: “The Wicked, and such as be void of a lively faith, although they do carnally and visibly press with their teeth (as Saint Augustine saith) the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ; yet in no wise are they partakers of Christ: but rather, to their condemnation, do eat and drink the sign or Sacrament of so great a thing.”

This must be true, because of what the Lord told us: “Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.” 3

And, St. Paul says that those who eat and drink unworthily do not discern the Lord’s body, and endanger their souls. 4 So, we learn from these scriptures that a person may eat and drink this sacrament, and yet not in the saving way that Jesus taught. This is because the sacraments are one of the ways in which God imparts his grace; by these mysteries that signify what they effect, and effect what they signify. If the heart is not right with God, one may eat and drink the body and blood of Christ, and yet not feed on the Living Christ who is himself the food and drink of eternal life. What is the effect, then, of eating and drinking with a bad conscience but to harden one’s own heart against the very grace of God that is only in Jesus Christ himself, and nowhere else? The sacraments are charismatic, not magic. They work with the conscience; not mechanically, but honestly and truly.

He referred to the cup as the cup of the New Covenant in his blood. Our translation says “testament,” but we know that the meaning was the closest that Greek came to the Hebrew understanding of B’rit. The reference is to the New Covenant. Hear what Jeremiah said, and you will know what these words meant to the apostles who heard Jesus refer to them on the night in which he was betrayed.

“Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the LORD: But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD; for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”5

What does it mean to have the Law of God written in our hearts, to know that our sins have been forgiven, and to know God?

All of this is more than simply observing a ritual, and more than eating and drinking these mysteries as part of a ceremony. We are here to feed on the Living Christ himself, the only one who is the food and drink of eternal life. We must bring to the altar, as we come to eat and drink this sacrament, “ourselves, our souls and bodies to be a reasonable, holy and living sacrifice.” 6 We dare not bring only our bodies simply because it is the custom. We must bring our whole selves along with the truth that speaks to an honest conscience, knowing we are sinners, knowing we need his mercy, knowing that he alone is the food and drink of eternal life, and the fountain that washes us from every stain of sin, and the Passover that frees us from death. He established this New Covenant in his own blood that we may know him. Knowing him is eternal life, knowing him is salvation.

Of course, there are those “Reasserters” out there who fail to see this sacrament as “a salvation issue.” What a tragedy for them and their followers. They know nothing about Anglican teaching. More importantly, they have not listened to the clear teaching of Jesus Christ from the Bible.

On this night he established this sacrament so that we could die to sin and live again in him, so that in this New Covenant we could enter into a special intimacy with him, and through him, with the Father. “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” 7 He established this sacrament to that we could enter into his life as he enters into us. He uses such earthly things as bread and wine, just as also he uses water, and as he uses the oil we carry for healing. This is because he uses earthly things for heavenly purposes, just as he himself took the fullness of our own human nature. “The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.” 8

The hope of this sacrament is tied to all that will follow in the night in which he was betrayed. He will begin to shed his blood in the duress of his prayers in Gethsemane. He will offer himself willingly with the words, “not my will, but thine be done.” He will be obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. And we all know what will follow the pain and suffering of death. It will be the resurrection that completes the true Passover.

About this sacrament we will pray words so powerful that they have scared the modern Episcopalians into removing them from their new religion. We will pray: “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.” How can the body be sinful? Because death is unclean according to the Law of Moses. But, as we feed on the Living Christ, we are freed from death,with that freedom and cleansing we look for when he comes again in glory. The soul, the nefesh, of all flesh is in the blood, says the Book of Leviticus, “therefore I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls.” 9 Christ has established the New Covenant in his blood to wash our souls clean from all stain of sin.

When you come to the altar rail this night, the night in which he was betrayed, understand the meaning of all that has been done for you in the Passover of Christ. Your sins have been nailed to the cross in his own body, to die and pass away. Just as we look ahead to Sunday morning remembering his resurrection victory, we look ahead to his coming in the clouds of heaven and in his Father’s glory to give us our share of his immortality and eternal life.

Yes, this sacrament is a means of grace. It effects what it signifies. Your sinful body will be cleansed from the uncleanness of death and your soul will be washed in his most precious blood, because you are coming in the fulness of a living faith to offer back to him your very self, your soul and body, to be a reasonable, holy and living sacrifice. You are coming with hearty repentance and true faith. You are coming to feed on Christ, who is himself the New Covenant, and the food and drink of eternal life.

  1. Luke 22:11-15
  2. John 6:52
  3. John 6:54
  4. I Cor. 11:29
  5. Jeremiah 31:31-34
  6. From the service of the Holy Communion based on Romans 12:1,2.
  7. John 17:3
  8. John 1:14
  9. Lev. 17:11

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Mrs Jefferts-Schori's Easter Blessing

For those of you who have still not chosen your Easter cards for this year, here is an offering from the TEC.

Hat tip to Andy Bartus

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

A meditation for Holy Week

The School of Jesus
The word "disciple" has taken on not only a religious meaning, but a religious feel and tone. Our English word is faithful to the linguistic background of the word for being "under discipline" in the way that "discipline" is used in academic circles; that is, one who studies and learns. This learning is formal, guided and governed by standards that the learner cannot alter. The one who studies either passes or fails. A German translation of μαθητής (mathētēs, that word we translate as "disciple") is the word Schüler. This comes from the same root, obviously, as the word "scholar," and also the word "school."

To be a disciple of Jesus is to be in the school of Jesus. The school of Jesus begins with one subject, and we never graduate in this life. We take our exams everyday, we are graded far more generously than we deserve by a merciful Teacher, and our studies continue. The school of Jesus is the way of the cross.

"Whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple." Luke 14:27

This is the way of death, a lesson we must learn everyday, if we follow Jesus. In order to follow him we must die everyday to our own will, our desires, our pride, our lust, our anger. Jesus did not carry the cross only on Good Friday. He was ready to die that day because all of his life he had lived to do the will of his Father, not to please himself.

Beginning on Thursday night, we see how a lifetime of being in the form of a servant prepared him to carry the heavy wood of the cross, all the way up to Golgotha where he would be nailed to it, and would pour out his soul unto death. With humility he washes the feet of the disciples. At that time he redirected the motives of his closest disciples, who were arguing until then about which of them should be the greatest.

"So after he had washed their feet, and had taken his garments, and was set down again, he said unto them, Know ye what I have done to you? Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you." John 13: 11-15

On several other occasions he had said such things to them.

"The disciple is not above his master, nor the servant above his lord. It is enough for the disciple that he be as his master, and the servant as his lord. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more shall they call them of his household?" Matthew 10:24, 25

"Whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant: Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many." Matthew 20:26-28

The school of Jesus is the way of the cross. He has no other course of study for us, for it is the only way of life and of peace.

Transfiguration: The Choice is Ours:

This is an excellent article by Canon John D. Heidt of Dallas Ft. Worth, on the Transfiguration blog (see also our link to the entire blog on the right).

Modern Episcopal Liberalism or an All-Embracing Catholicism

Canon John H. Heidt, D.Phil.

On a mid-winter Monday in 1645 the Archbishop of Canterbury, William Laud, ascended the scaffold at Tyburn to be executed for treason by the Puritan ascendency on trumped up charges of being a crypto Roman Catholic. Instead he was actually persecuted for being a staunch defender of the Catholicity of his own Church of England. "There is," he once commented to King Charles I, "no greater absurdity stirring this day in Christendom than that the reformation of an old corrupted Church must be taken for the building of a new. She professes the ancient Catholic faith, and yet the Romanist condemns here of novelty in her doctrine; she practices Church government as it hath been in use in all ages and all places where the Church of Christ hath taken any rooting, both in and ever since the Apostles times, and yet the Separatist condemns her for Antichristianism in her discipline. The plain truth is, she is between two factions, as between two millstones, and unless your Majesty look to it she will be ground to powder." 1

As he prepared to lay his head upon the block he said aloud to the jeering crowd that his beloved Church of England "is like an oak cleft to shivers with wedges made out of its own body; and at every cleft, profaneness and irreligion is entering in, while... men that introduce profaneness are cloaked over with the name, religonis imaginarie - of imaginary religion! For we have lost the substance, and dwell too much in opinion."

In Rome an English baronet, learning of the execution, told a certain Abbot there that he presumed the Romans would be saddened by his death, to which the Abbot replied that they had more cause to rejoice: "that the greatest enemy of the Church of Rome in England was cut off, and the greatest champion of the Church of England silenced."

Laud argued that: "the Catholic Church of Christ is neither Rome nor a conventicle [a Non-Conformist or Puritan assembly]. Out of that there is no salvation, I easily confess it. But out of Rome there is, and out of a conventicle too; salvation is not shut up into such a narrow conclave."

Laud was what a later generation would call a Liberal Catholic, and what today we might call an all-embracing Catholic. His was a Catholicism not constricted by limitations imposed by embattled ecclesiastical parties but dogmatically rooted in a church formed by scripture and ancient tradition. "Out of that," he declared," there is no salvation." Laud believed that the Anglican Church was a province of the visible historic church founded by Jesus Christ, free of Puritan restrictions and Roman accretions. He would have agreed with Charles Gore when he wrote some centuries latter: "Broadly, there is no question of what the Church of England has stood for since the Reformation. It has stood for what can best be described as a liberal or scriptural Catholicism."2 Here was a claim that our present Presiding Bishop has turned on its head by declaring that we must not put God in a small box. Though Laud's insistence that salvation is not shut up into such a narrow conclave has ever been the claim of Liberal Catholics, for them it has meant that a truly all-embracing Catholicism liberates God to transform a world that has allowed itself to be boxed in by the confining barriers of secular dogmas. By adopting those dogmas we put God in a box, not by upholding the ancient Catholic Faith.

Today however, like the Archbishop himself and the church of his day, contemporary Liberal Catholics are again in danger of being ground to powder by two great millstones, now Revisionist and Evangelical where once they were Roman and Non-Conformist. The ancient internecine warfare has become a militant conflict between contradictory beliefs as to the very nature of Christianity itself.

The two sides in the present conflict are not as different from those in the time of Laud as they might seem. In the seventeenth century the Puritan accused the Romanist of being a revisionist, diluting the scriptural message by compromising the historic Faith to satisfy the pagan instincts of fallen humanity, while the Romanist, standing on the other side of the great divide, accused the Puritan of being a fundamentalist, using scripture to overthrow the very tradition needed for its authentic interpretation. Across the ever widening chasm running through the midst of Western Christendom, revisionist and fundamentalist have, for the last four hundred years, continued to throw ecclesiastical brickbats at one another until the world, growing weary of it all, has decided to turn its back on the church altogether and become purely secular.

In Laud's day Ecclesia Anglicana hoped to bridge the chasm by adopting a via media which at its best was comprehensiveness seeking to embrace the riches of both scripture and tradition and at its worst a mere compromise between irreconcilable ecclesiastical camps. But now, living in a world gone secular, historic Anglicanism, like the nation from which it sprung, has lost its nerve. The early quest for a true comprehensiveness is almost entirely abandoned and with it the church's Catholic identity. Like the rest of the Christian West, Anglicanism has itself been reduced to a power struggle between irreconcilable opposites: "like an oak cleft to shivers with wedges made out of its own body; and at every cleft, profaneness and irreligion is entering in....For we have lost the substance, and dwell too much in opinion."

Comprehensiveness is simply an Anglo-Saxon word for catholicity, and with its demise among Anglicans, the traditional Liberal Catholic loses his identity as well. As the war between fundamentalist and revisionist increases in intensity, either he retreats from the field into insignificance and obscurity or feels compelled to take sides in a battle not of his own making, joining the revisionist camp as an Affirming Catholic, or marching forward in faith allied with fundamentalist Evangelicals whose only trustworthy weapon is sola scriptura.

If historic Anglicanism is to survive, a way will have to be found to recover an authentic catholicity which is liberal without turning us into libertines, magnanimous without encouraging us to desert our principles. The former Presiding Bishop's idea of pluriformity did not do the trick; that is only a neologism for an unacceptable compromise. Our only hope is to rediscover the authentic meaning of catholicity and then learn how to deal with its opposite. We too often forget that the opposite of catholicity is heresy, not Protestantism or Evangelicalism, and that the problem with the heretic is that he uses his partial understanding of truth to deny the rest of the truth. He is not completely wrong; he is just never sufficiently right. The authentic Liberal Catholic on the other hand submits himself to the whole truth including those aspects of the truth he does not yet comprehend. The only thing he negates are negations; he only denies denials. If he opposes homosexual behavior, it is only because he believes it is not sexual enough. If he cannot accept women functioning as priests, this is because he finds that the ordaining of women as priests denies something good about the nature of women and about the priesthood of Christ. Our task is not to live out some compromise between incompatible heresies, but to embrace whatever partial truth we find, no matter where we find it, and to place that truth within the wholeness of faith taught by the church through the centuries under the guidance of that Holy Spirit who continually leads us into all truth.

Those who would still call themselves "Anglo-Catholics" need to remember that a Catholic party within the church is a contradiction in terms. We are not Anglicans who happen to be Catholic, but Catholics who can still find within the Anglican Communion of churches, no matter what some of their official bodies may proclaim, that fullness of the faith given us in the Revelation of Jesus Christ and passed on by the apostles - a faith fully contained in scripture, adequately interpreted through the ancient tradition of the church, and capable of being proclaimed by the faithful in their particular vocations and ministries. Such an Anglo-Catholicism, once it is proclaimed, can again contribute to the wholeness of Christendom and help win back the soul of a secular world.

As B.I. Bell, that somewhat gloomy prophet of the 1930s and 40s, once wrote in The Living Church:
"Having bought up the Church as a sort of plaything, they [secular Episcopalians] are now tired of their toy; and the public at large, having learned by experience how rarely is any spiritual challenge to be met within [our] church, leaves our pews unoccupied and our preachers unheard. We have our reward… And Anglo-Catholics have not mattered very much either - chiefly, I think, because...they have gotten so used to looking after their private practice as to have lost interest in the public health of the communion. If so, both they and the communion must share the blame."

And then he adds: "There are many more priests, and even bishops, ready in an emergency to stand with the Catholics, than all men understand. Of course, most of these are only semi-Catholic; but they are on their way, and they do respond to vital and clear challenge if those who make the challenge are humorous, kindly, and really Catholic."

1. All Laud's quotations are from: The Works of the Most Reverend Father in God, William Laud, D.D., James Bless, ed. (Oxford, 1850-1860) See especially vols. II & IV.

2. (The Basis of Anglican Fellowship in Faith and Organization , Oxford 1914, p. 4)

Transfiguration: The Choice is Ours: