Saturday, August 30, 2008

Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity

Gal. 6:11-18
Matt. 6:24-34

Years ago Diane and I were subjected to the spectacle of clergymen who could not think of what to say in their sermons, because the scriptures seemed to them something much too strong for the likes of ordinary people, and they assumed that everyone is afraid of that thing called theology. On a couple of occasions, several years ago, back when I still sat in a pew with my wife, we were treated to exegesis and in-depth commentary on a text that appealed to these clergymen more than the passages of scripture that were read in church. And, so it was that they proceeded to expound upon the meaning of a children’s story called The Velveteen Rabbit. Their sermons could be summarized as follows: “Hey, like get real, man.” After being tortured by these homilies two or three times, I resolved that, were I ever to meet this velveteen rabbit chap I would kill it, and put myself out of its misery. With all of the writers of the Bible, Moses, David, Isaiah, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and Paul- to name only a few- why is it that anyone would have trouble thinking of something to say?

The problem that some clergymen have with preaching is that they know they are handling dynamite, and it scares them. “The word of God is quick and powerful, sharper than any two edged sword,” says the writer to the Hebrews. When you and I are facing the real life traumas and struggles that threaten to shake either our lives or our faith, or that seem to challenge the very idea that God is good, merciful and kind, it is that objective thing called doctrine, that unchanging Creed, yes, our theology, that provides an anchor in the storm. When the world presents the illusion that our faith can be threatened by some sophisticated and trendy new “final blow to Christianity” (as opposed to last month’s “final blow to Christianity” which died away as soon as the clear light of reason shone upon it), it is theology that keeps us rooted and unshaken. What the teaching of the word of God does for you is by no means some irrelevant academic exercise divorced from the real world. No indeed. It is, rather, the armor and weaponry by which you advance in the knowledge of God and of His Son Jesus Christ, by which you overcome the world through your faith by the power of the Holy Spirit Who is in you. In times of sorrow, in times of joy, in times of suffering, and in times of merriment, the word of God is our daily bread for the mind and for the spirit; it is the lamp for our feet. It does not divorce us from reality because it keeps us rooted and grounded in the truth.

The scriptures today warn us of two kinds of deception, namely the deception of false religion and the deception of the cares of this world. And, what we see connecting these passages of scripture is summed up perfectly by our Lord when He tells us to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. In that seeking we are not escaping reality, rather we are facing it in its fullest. We can face good news and bad, even the fact of our own mortality, with a brand of courage unknown except by faith.

Saint Paul, in this Epistle to the churches in Galatia, saw the need to correct the heresy of self-appointed teachers who proclaimed a new and different “gospel.” In the first chapter he told them: “I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.” These words may sound harsh to people who imagine that all religion is good: But every genuine pastor, every sincere bishop, priest, or deacon, cannot help but agree fully and empathize with the burden that Saint Paul expressed. We cannot simply smile and accept what is taught in cults, or even in churches that are turning away from a clear and faithful adherence to “that which has been believed in all times, everywhere and by all” of the true teachers and saints in God’s Holy Catholic Church.

The heresy addressed in this Epistle was the new teaching that all of the gentiles who had converted to Christ could not be saved unless they were circumcised and kept the Six Hundred and Thirteen Commandments of the Torah as interpreted by the early Talmudic Rabbis of the time. Today we have false teaching of every sort all around us, and it has terrible consequences spiritually, and sometimes physically. For example, the Jehovah’s Witnesses not only teach the Arian and Pneumatimachian heresies by denying the Trinity, by denying the existence of the Holy Spirit, and denying the bodily resurrection of Christ (who appeared to witnesses). They also cause their people to die, and at times have caused the deaths of their own children, by forbidding blood transfusions. It is tragic. For many years my father worked side by side with a good friend, a man we all liked very much, who died at the age of sixty from heart disease. A very simple medicine could have kept him alive to this day; but he was a member of Mary Baker Eddy’s so called “Christian Science Church,” and so he would not take medicine. As a result of his religious beliefs he died before he could retire, before he could meet his grandchildren. The picture we are given of God, by these kinds of doctrines, is very much like the picture given by the teaching that we have to keep the rules of the early Talmudic Rabbis in order to be saved: that is, the picture of God is one of a very unreasonable and harsh taskmaster who demands the impossible without providing grace.

To avoid false gospels we need sound doctrine, and true theology.

In the Gospel Jesus lifts our eyes heavenward. The Book of Common Prayer does something unusual in this passage. It does not use the exact words of the King James Bible, which tells us “give no thought for the morrow.” Instead, this one passage is changed from the King James to translate the words as “be not anxious for the morrow.” Anxiety can take your mind off of the Lord; it can disturb your peace and ruin your whole life. Anxiety is the opposite of faith. Isaiah the prophet tells us: “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee. Trust ye in the LORD for ever: for in the LORD, the LORD, is everlasting strength (Isa. 26:3,4).” This strength is real and effective for us here and now in this life, and it is the only strength that lasts forever. No matter what evils come in this life, as people face the death of loved ones, as they face betrayal, economic hardship, illness, and the hostility of an unbelieving world, in the Lord is everlasting strength.

“Look for an example to the suffering of Job” we are told. Let us look as well to the suffering of the Apostles. One of the most moving passages in all of Saint Paul’s Epistles, at least for me, is a personal plea that he wrote near the end of his life to his son in the Faith, Timothy. It is not a deeply theological passage, at least not in an academic sense. It is not a passage that we can use to illuminate our minds with doctrine- and yet is a very useful passage for theology and doctrine if you reflect upon it. In the last chapter of Second Timothy we find two requests. First he wrote: “The cloke that I left at Troas with Carpus, when thou comest, bring with thee, and the books, but especially the parchments.”

Then he wrote, “Do thy diligence to come before winter.” Think about that. When the Romans locked up a prisoner they did not feed him, or tend to his needs. That had to be arranged by family and friends. At the end of his many years of service, which he once described as involving constant persecutions, and other troubles such as shipwrecks, hunger and cold, he had come to this. The Saint, the former Rabbi who was the father of the Gentile Christians, the man who wrote about charity in words more meaningful than any other passage ever written about love, the man who gave us most of the words of the New Testament, bearing in his body the marks of Christ, glorying only and ever in the cross of Christ, had instead of retirement and a nice pension, a cell in a dungeon and a sentence of death. He was going to face Nero’s executioner. To get through his last Winter on this earth he asked Timothy to bring the cloak, and to hurry up and get it to him before the cold winds of Winter could blow through his dungeon cell.

Well, that may not seem like a very deep theological passage. But it is. We see the faith of this saint who looked above the things of this world, this last witness of Christ’s resurrection facing death without fear, suffering the loss of all things with joy. His needs were real. He needed the cloak. Also, he wanted his books, no doubt hand written copies of the Old Testament scriptures. What good were “the books, especially the parchments,” to a man on death row? The answer is, he wanted to keep his mind fed with the word of God, because he knew, living in prison and facing death, that the truth of the word of God was his anchor.

“Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.” Everything you need for this life will be added. You have no cause for anxiety as unbelievers do. But more than that, more than food and drink, clothing and a place to lay your head, in the Lord is everlasting strength, the gift of sharing immortality with the Risen Christ, and the hope of partaking of the Divine nature through grace. You need not fear that the one who died to take away your sins, and who has promised in His resurrection to be with us forever, will change His mind and break His promises. What you need in this life will be provided as you seek first His kingdom and righteousness. But, even more so, “in the Lord is everlasting strength.” The pledge is eternal life through the risen Christ who has overcome death.

This is the faith that takes you through a life of real struggles and temptations. To feed and strengthen this faith you need to know what to rest your hope upon. For that you need the teaching that God has given by the revelation of His word. Dare I say it, you need theology and sound doctrine, because that alone- and nowhere else- is where you discover the truth of God’s love.

Friday, August 29, 2008

The APA and the CCP

At a recent synod of the Anglican Province of America (APA), the Most Rev. Walter H. Grundorf, D.D, as their presiding bishop explained why his jurisdiction will not be part of the Common Cause Partnership at this time. For your information as readers of The Continuum, here is the relevant portion of his address:

As I address this subject, I am reminded of a quotation of a wise man, "Be careful not to sacrifice the permanent on the altar of the immediate." At no time in my ten years as bishop of this Province has anything created more discussion and controversy as the Common Cause Partnership. So much of what the CCP stands for, we of the APA enthusiastically support.

A return to Biblical standards of faith and practice and the Anglican Way are what we would like to see re-established in this country and the world. Areas of great concern to those of us who left the Episcopal Church 30-40 years ago and upon which we have stood firm has been theological opposition to the ordination of women to the sacred ministry which in turn affects the validity of the sacraments and the theological weakening of the Book of Common Prayer. We have witnessed a steady decline in the witness of the Episcopal Church over these years which culminated in their consecrating an actively gay man as Bishop of New Hampshire. Nothing seemed to disturb the Episcopal Church as much as this, although their course and direction pointed this way for many years. It has all been part of the incrementalism that has infected the church in the 20th and 21st centuries.

We have always prayed that others who in conscience disagreed with the direction of The Episcopal Church (TEC) would leave and join those of us who left earlier. That time has come; the problem is the incremental changes that have taken place in TEC has created an entire generational gap.

Those of the APA and others who left in the 70's over the ordination of women and Prayer Book are theologically and culturally different from those who are now leaving. Aside from the homosexual concerns, our issues and their issues seem so different and what we see as of primary importance are of only secondary importance to the new exiles.

We must now ask ourselves as Bishop John Broadhurst, head of Forward in Faith, U.K. has asked recently, "Are we prepared to give up what we have worked so hard to maintain and what we believe is essential to being a Classical Anglican to be part of CCP?" Although the seductive nature of GAFCON has appealed to a number of our people, having read the Jerusalem Declaration coming from GAFCON, I find little encouragement for those of us who call ourselves "catholics." It is not so much what the Declaration says, but what it does not say. We must ask ourselves, are we prepared to break communion with our APA brethren to join something of which we are not sure ultimately what it will be?

"Be careful not to sacrifice the permanent on the altar of the immediate."

There are differing opinions about what the level of participation in the CCP we should have, particularly as it is now rapidly moving to become "the New North American Province." My statement in January 2008 that the APA not join the CCP at this time was supported by the majority of the House of Bishops, the Provincial Council, and many of the Christian media. The positive effect of this seems to have been that it has raised the issue of women's ordination (WO) to a new level of consciousness.

It appears that our not joining the CCP has caused more interest in addressing the problem. Bishop John Rodgers of the Anglican Mission in America noted at GAFCON the "serious degree of impaired communion...around this matter." Bishop Hewett, who attended GAFCON representing FACA, stated that FACA and Forward in Faith, N.A. (FIF/NA) and therefore the APA, will introduce a resolution to the CCP to begin a study of the women's ordination issue. There are forces and personalities in CCP equally intent on maintaining the status quo of allowing the ordination of women. Until a resolution is reached on this vital issue, there can be no inter-communion with other members of CCP who accept the practice.

It has been argued that the APA will have no voice at the table to defend our theological position as Classical Anglicans. This is not true. In October 2007, the Federation of Anglican Churches in the Americas, which we of the APA helped to create a couple of years ago, voted to become a member of the CCP. At the April 2008 meeting, the Rt. Rev. Paul Hewett was elected to serve as the new Moderator of FACA. Although his jurisdiction, the Diocese of the Holy Cross, like the APA, are not voting members of the CCP, through the FACA we do have a voice and a vote on the direction of the New Province. Some will argue that we need to join now because the train is leaving the station. It has been stated that if the direction or the leadership changes we can always get off. Getting off a moving train can be very dangerous and we would no doubt have numerous casualties. I will state also, that not joining now does not mean this is irrevocable. I would like to quote one of our members who had served as a lay representative to CCP, Mr. D. J. Fulton of St. Barnabas' Church.

"I am actually cautiously optimistic on this matter (WO) although I cannot tell if a resolution will be reached in 20 days or 200 years. My guess is that whenever the resolution comes it will resemble the fall of the Soviet Union - it will come unexpectedly and quickly. The APA, by being in the unique role of collaborative initiator and principled non-joiner with respect to CCP will have played an important role in the resolution.

"Be careful not to sacrifice the permanent on the altar of the immediate."


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Thursday, August 28, 2008

A 450 year old experiment indeed!

The following is a word for word quotation from a public address by a Continuing Anglican clergyman, whose identity I am not at liberty to divulge at this time (except to say, it was not-as in not-Archbishop Hepworth of the TAC). All that we can gather from this quotation is that the man who said this is aware of a case that some people can make, and we cannot conclude that he believes the case himself. I will add, not only can the case be made, but some people have been making it for years. First I will provide the quotation, then comment, then open the question for discussion.

"The ongoing collapse of the Anglican Communion and the concurrent inability of conservative Anglicans outside that body to get their act together suggest that these groups may share a fatal flaw. Anglicanism may arguably be seen as a 450-year experiment to determine whether a separated part of the church can remain fully catholic, keeping its apostolic ministry and grounding its teaching and practice in Holy Scripture and the Sacraments, but replacing the authority structures of the main body of the Church with a sort of democracy in which no single leader has complete authority, and in which clergy and laity gathered together in Synods and Conventions take the place of Church Councils. A strong case can be made for the premise that the experiment is concluded, and it has failed."

My first point would be to say that the second half of the quotation applies equally to the Orthodox Church, except that we must replace the 450 year time span with a 2,000 year time span. By this reasoning, "A strong case can be made for the premise that the experiment called the Orthodox Church is concluded, and it has failed." They too have "a sort of democracy in which no single leader has complete authority," and that relies on cooperation and the Conciliar process to a degree impossible in the Roman Communion (no matter how much they may protest that it is possible).

My second point begins with a hypothetical question: What is wrong with a properly balanced kind of democracy? The objection may be made that it is all too often a bit messy. In the Church that means that pastors and teachers must always clean up doctrinal confusion; but, then again, is that not simply our calling anyway? Part of the work priests are ordained to do is to teach, and bishops are consecrated with the charge to banish strange doctrines. If we want to see an example of tidiness and efficiency we may look to the German government under Hitler, the trains that ran on time in Mussolini's Italy, and the Soviet or Chinese Communist methods for maintaining an orderly society. But, who wants that much efficiency?

In the Roman Catholic Church the authority of one man is not producing everything truly needed by faithful members. But, if we want to see where the efficiency of the Roman Catholic beauracracy was quite effective, we need only look to the clericalism that shielded pederast clergy, hiding their crimes and relocating them to inflict their brutality on fresh unsuspecting children. We need to see that the absolute authority of the papal office created this abuse over centuries in which required celibacy has forced them to accept a standard far lower than "the cream of the crop." The idea that this kind of system can be trusted to relay the guidance of the Holy Spirit is simply impossible to believe.

My third point would be to ask if indeed the stronger and well-established jurisdictions of the Continuning Church really share a fatal flaw with the apostate bodies in the Anglican Communion. I see very real evidence to the contrary among the legitimate Continuing Church bodies. It was rejection of heresy and apostasy that led the pioneers of the Continuing Church to produce the Affirmation of St. Louis, in which we have embraced a truly Catholic and Apostolic standard.

If the imperfections and sins of Continuing Anglicans are weighed against the imperfections and sins of the First Century Church, which required (as you may have read in scripture) more than a few corrective directives from St. Paul, it would appear that we are not better than that first generation of Christians; nor would I expect that a church full of sinners ever could be (including the Roman Catholics too). Perhaps the solution is to quit and join a Pentecostal church where only saints are allowed to be members -just ask them if you don't believe me; they are all saints.

But, to say that we share a fatal flaw that is only 450 years old, instead of the same fatal flaw that has "made many sinners" since the Fall of Adam, is outrageous. It suggests that this flaw was not to be found in any significant degree in the Roman Communion. I think that point need not be argued further.

This brings me to my fourth point: The principles that led our fathers to seek an obedient reform of a disobedient Church was no rebellion. It was faithfulness, a good response to consciences quickened by the word of God to be faithful to Jesus Christ and his Gospel. Furthermore, over the centuries the true effect of Anglican scholarship and the witness of our patrimony has helped Rome to correct its own abuses and its neglect in matters theological. Our own Fr. Matthew Kirby laid this out very well in one of the earliest posts on this blog. (Hit that link when you are done, and read it for yourself.)

My fifth point is that many of the problems of the Roman Catholic Church really are experiments that have failed, and failed big. Do we really need to ask why they have such few clergy that men like Cardinal Law shielded child abusers in recent times? In the Lutheran Augsburg Confession the same problem was clearly alluded to as common knowledge, and that was written in the 16th century. Do we really need to ask why they have such a problem of homosexuality, alcoholism and the drainage of good priests who simply leave the ministry? Is there not a glaring experiment of Rome's that has failed, but one they cannot admit to? What a burden it is to have to be an infallible Church; it prevents solutions to obvious problems if mistakes and errors of the past cannot be admitted to and repaired. It confuses every precedent with the Tradition itself.

I am not anti-Roman Catholic, and I know that we are no more perfect and holy than any other body of Christians seeking to be faithful to our Lord Jesus Christ. But, our own patrimony is not an experiment, rather a return to Catholic principles that had been abandoned by the Church of Rome. "Also the Church of Rome hath erred, not only in their living and manner of ceremonies, but also in matters of faith." This was obvious to the English Reformers in the 16th century who saw it as their duty to have done with errors that obscured the Gosepl of Christ, and laid on men heavy burdens, grievous to be borne. Were those Reformers infallible? Of course not.

Neither is the "Successor of Peter."

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Following the Devil

The "Conservative Episcopalians" and other Gaffe-Conned Anglicans who stand firm in quicksand, have devised a way to follow the Devil, that is, a plan to to let him lead the way. The method is very simple. In order to recognize an issue as "communion breaking" they choose a heresy that they don't like, which is always going to be the latest one inasmuch as they have put up with all of the previous ones. Right now, in the international Psycho-Ward called the Anglican Communion, that heresy is acceptance of same-sex unions on all levels. To be a good follower of Satan, you dig in your heels and "stand firm" only now. In this way, you concede all the ground he has taken heretofore, which gives aid and comfort to the enemy, and leads to the destruction of souls.

Lest anyone accuse me of caricaturing the "Conservative Episcopalians" and their kind in my 2004 article, The Gay Divorcé, they may see for themselves the convoluted reasoning of one of the chief spokesman of that party, in the third part of his 2006 series, Has the Episcopal Church been “Falsely Accused” Part III. Matt Kennedy, an Episcopal priest married to another Episcopal "priest" (just like the confusing and confused Ephraim Radner), actually proved the accuracy of my analysis. The problem is, to this day he no doubt continues to think that his position was clever. Kennedy wrote:

In yesterday’s article I argued that that the “accusations” of heresy and apostasy against the Episcopal Church do not rest on the presence and/or influence of John Shelby Spong or Dr. Marcus Borg, but on the historical fact of the election, consent and consecration of V. Gene Robinson to the office of bishop in the state of New Hampshire. By this official legislative and sacramental act, the Episcopal Church crossed the boundary between right and false doctrine, orthodoxy and heresy. The transgression was confirmed, officially, at GC2006.

He follows with more of the same bizarre reasoning:

The case against the Episcopal Church is not that there are influential false teachers in the church and therefore the Church is heretical. Nor is it that “hundreds or thousands” of parishioners hold beliefs consistent with the heretical teachings espoused by the false teachers above and therefore the Church is heretical.


The Church is in error because the election, consent, and consecration of V. Gene Robinson officially moved the Episcopal Church beyond the limits of orthodoxy.

The orthodox emphasis on the influence of Spong, Dr. Borg, +Pike, +Righter, et al ... is not intended to “prove heresy” but to explain the root origins and causes of the heretical acts of 2003.

In other words the assertion is that the Episcopal Church officially stepped away from orthodoxy and into heresy in 2003 because the false teachers and errors above, over the course of thirty years, significanly influenced the collective body of the Episcopal Church and played a major, if not definitive, role in the decision to give consent to the election in New Hampshire.

He concludes:

The that the “embrace” occurred in 2003, the seduction leading up to the embrace was long, drawn out, and, in fact, did and does include alien and pagan forms of religion.

This reminds me of the meeting that I described in my own article, published over two years before Kennedy decided to prove me right.

My article included this:

Last August (2003) the Episcopal Church’s General Convention approved the election of V. Gene Robinson to be the bishop of New Hampshire. Many protests have been made, meetings held, resolutions passed, and stands taken by conservative Episcopalians and other Anglicans because of this man’s open and unrepentant life of homosexual sin. In protesting [Robinson's] elevation to the episcopate on these grounds alone, many conservatives have only advanced the agenda of his supporters, and have shown that their understanding of the issue is little better than that of the liberal wing of the Episcopal Church.

I saw this at a meeting held by and for Episcopalians who were trying to deal with the practical effects of this latest crisis. These well-meaning and very sincere people were concerned only about his homosexuality. It is for them the straw that breaks the camel’s back, the point of no return. What I heard that night has been said over and over again: “We cannot allow the consecration of an openly ‘gay’ man to the office of bishop.”

When I took the floor during that meeting, I argued that a spokesman for the AAC (American Anglican Council), who had just addressed that same meeting, was wrong. He had said that what the Episcopalians needed to do was to get their church back to where it was just before the vote to elevate Robinson. I asked them what they would gain if their "church" went from being the "church" that had done the deed, to being the "church" that was about to do the deed.

In a comment a while back, a defender of Kennedy insisted that the issue of contention on Stand Firm was not only the homosexualist heresy, but "the authority of scripture." It seems that this commenter had either not read Kennedy's 2006 blog entry, or had forgotten it. What Matt Kennedy wrote perfectly summarizes the position of the "conservatives" who pretend to stand firm, all the while being blown about by every wind of doctrine even if tossed a little slower or not quite as far as other heretics. Perhaps they did not get carried all the way to OZ; nonetheless, they are not in Kansas anymore.

What does it take to be in heresy? What is communion breaking? For the very polite, reasonable Canterbury Crowd, adopting an English temperament even if they are not English, it does not do to get excited and overreact. Putting up with all manner of abuses while maintaining a stiff upper lip, but remaining always polite, it can be all too easy to let things go by. Such people need a bit of help in realizing that right doctrine required a break in communion quite a long time ago. Faithfulness to the Gospel cannot live with these things.

It was necessary to break communion over women's "ordination" because the validity of priestly and episcopal sacraments was done away.

It was necessary to break communion because this put souls in peril, since two of these sacraments are "generally necessary to salvation."

It was necessary to break communion when no clear stand could be taken on moral issues, such as abortion, etc.

We could cite many things, but essentially this is the true dividing line: It was necessary to break communion when orthodoxy became merely one acceptable option among others. The Church either functions as the pillar and ground of the truth (I Tim. 3:15), or it loses its very nature, and with it the calling of God. Its ministry is gone, even though its earthly organization remains intact.

We are the ones who, by the grace of God, try to stand firm. Our principles are eternal and defined by the unchanging standard of Heaven. We must never merely react to the latest turn the Devil has taken on a twisted path, and that is possible only if we have not been following him at all.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Defining the terms

We saw this in a recent comment: "More Roman does not necessarily mean more Catholic." This was in response to my earlier statement: "Low church does not mean un-Catholic." Again we see (as if proof were needed) that Anglicans who are never accused of being both too Catholic and too Protestant, at the same time, need to consider if they have strayed from the via media; that is, if they have turned to the right hand or to the left.

The Left Hand

My observation about Low Church does not apply, of course, in modern Gaffe-Con circles, where the word "orthodox" is spread so thin that orthodoxy itself becomes slender, slight and lighter than air, with a girlish figure. A body that includes Anglo-Catholics and Archbishop Peter Jensen of Sydney Australia, is not embracing High or Low Church, but new animals altogether as yet unnamed by Adam. Dr. Jensen allows "lay celebration" in his diocese, and that is why he doesn't need women's "ordination." He has no concept of holy orders at all, and would have been jailed in England back when a State Church was really a State Church.

There was a time when Anglican Comprehensiveness meant that the worship of both Low and High Churchmen need not lead to division in the Catholic Church- that is, as Anglicans defined "Catholic Church." But, for the Gaffe-Con folks, Low Church means High Church Baptistry, with infant baptism. This is why Dr. Jensen wears the traditional vestments of a Baptist preacher, no doubt. A few years ago he preached a sermon about why sacraments have nothing to do with salvation, which means that he rejected the Anglican Catechism, that short catechism in the Book of Common Prayer for confirmands.

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."

"As generally necessary to salvation." That seems clear to me.

The bottom line here is simple. These modern day Anglican conservatives cannot define the terms of debate for us. Their usage of such words as "orthodox" or even "conservative" is entirely unacceptable. They may call themselves Evangelical, Protestant or Reasserter. But, we cannot accept their terms, or discuss doctrine by their definitions.

The Right Hand

The Romeward-Bound Anglicans suffer from an inferiority complex. When Roman Bulldog polemicists beat them up, they come back meekly and beg for more. No wonder they get what they ask for. They should answer the idiotic, nit-picking, historically erroneous, academically embarrassing and theologically inept Bull, Apostolicae Curae with both appropriate laughter and derision, and then quote the factually accurate, scholarly superior and theologically sound Saepius Officio. But, instead, they worry. Perhaps they did not read the Anglican response, or even know about its existence. By the way (attention up in Canada), no Continuing Anglican bishop has any business mentioning the 1896 Roman Bull (I did not make up that word, so don't blame me) unless he quickly mentions the 1897 Anglican Response in the same breath. Let the Romans make their own bad case without giving them help- for crying out loud.

Stop trying to out-Catholic the Romans by their own terms. Don't you know that faithfulness to our own patrimony does that automatically? This is true whether you use the Missal or just the Book of Common Prayer, whether you celebrate in a chasuble or merely a surplice and stole. The religion of Roman Catholicism began at the Council of Trent, and continued to embrace innovations, inventing new dogma like papal infallibility in 1870, and then leaning towards Cardinal Newman's theory of Doctrinal Development out of necessity. That is because their innovations are as obvious as those of Protestant sects. But, real Catholic doctrine, as taught in the Bible, the Creeds and Councils, is what our own church tradition has aspired to all along.

If you want to honor the Blessed Virgin Mary because of your faith in the Incarnation, do so with wisdom, not because you think Rome gets to set the terms. If you want to think about the intermediate state, think Biblically and Patristically, not in terms of "temporal punishment." If you want to teach potential Anglicans use the Offices of Instruction, the Catechism in the BCP, and our wealth of Anglican sources (including modern writers such as the late Fr. Louis Tarsitano, or Archbishop Haverland of the ACC). If you use The Catechism of the Catholic Church you should not need to wonder why your congregation fails to grow, while the local Roman Catholic parish obtains the people you were teaching.


It is not necessary to enter into doctrinal discussion by allowing either the Reasserters or the Romans to define the terms. The scholarship and theology of modern times has no finer jewel than the Anglicanism we continue. It is time for us to define some terms.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

St. Bartholomew (Apostle and Martyr)

Acts 5;12-16
Luke 22:24-30

It is as if the Epistle and Gospel were chosen to teach us that the significance of St. Bartholomew is that he almost fades into the background. He never stands out like Peter, James and John, but quietly goes about doing the work of the ministry with them as part of the team. Spectacular work indeed, healing of sickness and freedom from demonic afflictions, along with the preaching of the Gospel. And, the Gospel appointed for today closes with a promise of twelve thrones, one for Bartholomew. Yet, even here he simply fits in with the other Apostles.

And, perhaps that is indeed the message. Like John the Baptist, all of us must decrease. This is because the focus is on the Lord Jesus Christ. We all point to the Deliverer; Christ is that Deliverer. Anyone who has been a priest for any length of time has learned that it is never about us. In the Gospel we see that before Christ's Passover, namely the one saving event of his death, burial and resurrection; and, before the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, the Apostles argued about who would be the greatest. Their attitude in that story is far away from the teamwork we see in the reading from the Book of Acts, teamwork that accepted the obvious role of Peter as a chief spokesman and leader. The name of Bartholomew does not appear in these two passages for his feast day.

Another passage about Bartholomew uses his proper name, Nathaniel. The full name was, as we see from connecting these passages, Nathaniel Bar-Tholomew (Bar was Aramaic for "son of"). In the first chapter of John's Gospel we find this:

"Now Philip was of Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip findeth Nathanael, and saith unto him, We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph. And Nathanael said unto him, Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth? Philip saith unto him, Come and see. Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and saith of him, Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile! Nathanael saith unto him, Whence knowest thou me? Jesus answered and said unto him, Before that Philip called thee, when thou wast under the fig tree, I saw thee. Nathanael answered and saith unto him, Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel. Jesus answered and said unto him, Because I said unto thee, I saw thee under the fig tree, believest thou? thou shalt see greater things than these. And he saith unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man." John 1:44-51

We learn from this passage a few little things, and then one very big thing. We learn that Nathaniel was frank, that is, without guile. "Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth?" His answer was straight and to the point, a hypothetical question holding back nothing of his genuine opinion about the towns of the Decapolis, the places where foriegn traders did business in the land of Israel. When given merely a glimpse of Christ's supernatural means of knowledge, he quickly believes.

The first chapter of John's Gospel can be startling, because we find that those who had been disciples of John the Baptist were quick to proclaim that Jesus was the Messiah, and Nathaniel Bar-Thomolomew, arriving on the scene, quickly uses the phrase, "the Son of God." This seems premature, as it was later that Peter spoke the confession of his blessed revelation: "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God." It is as if, following this initial identification, no doubt with some excitement, they needed to gain some knowledge of Jesus, to hear his words and see him in action, before these proclamations about his identity could begin to take shape and have meaning. Even so, their full meaning was not clear even on the night in which he was betrayed, as we see the Apostles in competition with each other, arguing over who would be the greatest.

The biggest thing we learn from this passage comes from the Book of Genesis:

And he [Jacob] dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven: and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it. And, behold, the LORD stood above it, and said, I am the LORD God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac: the land whereon thou liest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed; And thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and thou shalt spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south: and in thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed. And, behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest, and will bring thee again into this land; for I will not leave thee, until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of. Genesis 28:12-15

Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, is Jacob's ladder. Upon him the angels ascend and descend. He connects heaven and earth, the throne of God to the dwelling of man. This is the image of our salvation, a connection made by the initiative of God, not by the efforts or best thoughts of man.

The disciples at this early stage are given a glimpse of something glorious, but have yet to see the labor and effort that is involved with the work that lies before them. In the few years that follow, they witness miracles and healings beyond counting, and hear teaching that comes from God, having such authority that none of the scribes and pharisees could begin to match. They can see Jesus as the ladder from heaven to earth. But, they want him to be only a glorious Messiah, and so Peter will follow the confession of his blessed revelation with revulsion and rejection of the cross: "Far be it from thee Lord. This shall not happen unto thee." And, even as they gather on that night before his passion and death, they are thinking carnal thoughts. They are in competition, each wanting to be esteemed the greatest. Ah, such purple fever!

The Lord promises these new patriarchs that each will have a throne, but in so doing makes them equals. There is no room for competition in the ministry he has for them, and no room for competition and ambition in his Church. It is enough for each disciple to be as his Master, and each servant as his Lord. They will soon learn, during their terror in the garden, their utter loss of every dream and hope when he is taken from to be tried and crucified. "But we trusted that it had been he which should have redeemed Israel."

The revival of their joy and hope, upon seeing the risen Lord, is forever marked afterward by the nails, the thorns and the spear. Now they know that this work is for something greater than each man's wish to be seated at his right hand or at his left. Their faith had been the stuff of which ambition was made, but now it is the stuff of which martyrdom is made. For this reason they could now be trusted to carry on his work by the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and with humility and team effort.

The lesson of Bartholomew is simple. Be content to serve among God's people in his Church.

St. Bartholomew August 24th

1. Behold an Israelite indeed,

In whom no guile is found,

For such was blest Nathanael’s meed,

Ere yet with glory crowned!

Now he who once, in bending awe,

Beneath the fig-tree prayed,

Séeth greater things than then he saw,

In highest heaven displayed.

2. O when did he that vision bright

Of wondrous glory scan;

Of angels, to and fro, in flight

Upon the Son of Man?

Long waiting for the sight, perchance,

When came his master’s call,

The Martyr, as with Stephen’s glance,

Looked up, and saw it all!

3. Now Him who made the Apostles wise,

Who made His weak ones strong,

He gazes on with raptured eyes,

Amidst the Martyr throne:

To Him the Father, praise we sing,

To Him the Son be laud;

To Him the Spirit, honour bring,

The One Eternal God!

(Author unknown)

Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity

(From 2005)

The Epistle. Gal. v. 16-24 The Gospel. St. Luke xvii. 11-19

Never has there been anyone with a more profound insight into psychology than Saint Paul. He knew the true human condition far better than modern theorists such as Freud and Jung. Saint Paul could speak of the dichotomy between what we are in our imperfect, fallen, and mortal weakness and the hope of what we can be through the Holy Spirit. He knew that the true dilemma of mankind is essentially a moral conflict. We know what we ought to be, and we know what we are. In writing to the Galatians he contrasts the works of the flesh with the fruit of the Spirit, and in so doing teaches us what we need to know about ourselves.

And, as always, he leaves us with a certainty that everything depends upon the grace of God in Jesus Christ. If we want to rise above the works of the flesh we have to walk in the Spirit. Therefore, to attain godly character we need the Holy Spirit. To live a life with these virtues that he calls “the fruit of the Spirit” we must recognize that we need the grace of God, that we depend upon the Holy Spirit working within us. We are thus humbled by his words, given genuine hope, but hope that it is not from our own strength, about virtue for which we cannot take the credit. It is the fruit of the Holy Spirit in us, which means that we must be grateful rather than proud should we be able to find a trace of goodness in our own lives.

This takes us straight to the lepers in today’s Gospel. Upon finding themselves clean from their disease of rotting flesh, nine of the men who were healed simply went away somewhere, but one came back to give thanks. Furthermore, the one who came back was a Samaritan, a stranger. What the Lord had told the men to do was from the Law of Moses: “Go shew yourselves unto the priests.” Perhaps the nine believed that they were being rewarded for obeying this commandment from the Law, namely the portion from Leviticus about the laws of leprosy. If so, maybe they reasoned that they had managed to earn their healing. Not so the Samaritan, who exhibited humility by his gratitude. These two qualities of humility and gratitude caused him to understand that his healing was all a matter of grace, even if he was fulfilling a specific commandment by doing as the Lord instructed. After all, to obey a specific commandment of God earns us nothing, since we are only doing what is our duty as unprofitable servants. The Samaritan who was cleansed of his leprosy understood that he had been granted a miracle beyond his deserving, in fact a miracle that he could not have deserved.

When we find that we have managed to act in charity, to have obeyed God’s commandments against our own desires, to have avoided the occasion of sin, to have done good to those in need, or whatever other virtuous thing and good work we may have done, let us not lose sight of the truth. We have done what was our duty to do, not some great thing; furthermore, it does not change the truth that, even as we were doing good, we have failed to live a life in which we love the Lord our God with our whole heart, soul, mind and strength and our neighbor as ourself. The fact remains that we are sinners nonetheless. So, do we wander off like the nine, or return to Christ with gratitude? No one deserves a miracle, and no one earns eternal life. When we perceive the grace of God at work within us, just as these men were aware that their leprosy was cleansed away, do we imagine (as C.S. Lewis wrote) a halo around our own silly heads, or do we have the humility to be grateful, to give thanks for the grace of God in our own lives?

This is what connects today’s Gospel and Epistle. The virtues are the fruit of the Holy Spirit Who has shed abroad the love of God within our hearts (Rom. 5:5). We may like to believe we could have done it in our own strength. But, let us have the humility to thank God for healing us from our state of walking death, like these lepers, and giving us life by the resurrection of Jesus Christ his Son.

The truth about the works of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit is that we live in a constant tension between them. On any given day, we find both of these presenting themselves and forcing us to make choices. People think of the “flesh” only in terms of sexual sin. But, if we look at these “works of the flesh” that the Apostle has listed, we find among them sins that have a “spiritual” quality- like witchcraft and heresies. We find among them sins that are matters of how we relate to other people, sins of anger or gossip. We even see political sins. The nature we have, as created by God, is not inherently sinful; rather it is inherently weak, fallen from grace and therefore it tends to sin because it is captive to death. How fitting leprosy is as an image of this condition. Nonetheless, what it lacks is the ability to rise above sin, and to rise to a level of perfect goodness.

Too many people misunderstand the idea of grace. They confuse it with mercy. They see it only as “unmerited favor.” It is favor, certainly; but, it is unmerited as a consequence of the Fall into sin and death. They do not realize that even the picture of Adam before the Fall is the picture of a creature who lived by grace, and who depended upon grace. He was created by a gracious act; he lived by God’s gracious will, and when he fell into sin he was barred from partaking of the fruit of the tree of life, that is, barred from remaining in the grace of God as an immortal and eternal being. For grace and gift are translated from the same word in the Greek New Testament, Charisma. Adam’s life was a gift, that is, it was grace. And so, the Fall brought death: “in the day that thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die.”

Pelagius was a heretic from Britain who lived in the fourth century. He taught that we have the power within ourselves to be perfectly holy without God’s grace. In a way he revived the oldest heresy about which we read in the Book of Acts, the doctrine of those converts from the Pharisee party who said that unless the Gentiles became circumcised and fulfilled the Law of Moses they could not be saved. Both the Judaizers of the first century, and Pelagius of the fourth century, taught that we must do it alone, become perfect without God’s grace. Saint Paul (along with the other apostles, if we read the actual scriptural account) refuted the Judaizers, as later Saint Augustine refuted Pelagius. That is what the Epistle to the Galatians is about. We cannot be saved by our own efforts, and we cannot become holy by our own strength. The Law teaches us, but it does not make us into “good people.” We need the humility and gratitude that it takes to depend upon the Holy Spirit- and even that humility and that gratitude must come from Him. We don’t possess the power within ourselves to generate those.

What do we see in the cleansing of the lepers? Leprosy is a disease that gives us a picture of the way Saint Paul speaks of “flesh.” The skin is rotting as if the poor leper were dead already. Jesus cleansed the lepers, and their flesh was made as healthy as that of a newborn babe. In baptism Jesus gives us back our lives, made clean from original sin, and made new. In the sacrament of Absolution He gives us back our lives, cleansed yet again. In giving His Flesh for food and His Blood for drink He gives us the food and drink of eternal life, making Himself the tree of life from which our first parents were barred. In the sacrament of Confirmation by the laying on of the apostle’s hands, Jesus pours out the Holy Spirit upon us and into us.

As we present ourselves to Jesus Christ, returning to give thanks, we enter into a new life marked by gratitude. And that gratitude is the mark of humility. And all of this is the evidence of God’s grace working within us. The Holy Spirit is a very active agent in our lives as we return to Jesus to render thanks, for in drawing close to Christ by living this whole sacramental life within His Church, and by feeding on His word within our hearts, we surrender to the Holy Spirit; and we cooperate with his grace. This is how the fruit of the Spirit grows. The Law cannot give us this, because we are weak through sin. But, in drawing close to Jesus Christ in gratitude, His Spirit makes to grow within us love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness and temperance. Against such there is no Law.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

In all fairness to ourselves

In recent comments we have heard about bad parishes and mean-spirited Continuing Anglicans. I do not doubt that such problems exist among some of our people, just as they do in every section of the Church and among many various sects. People are sinners, and that surely includes all of us. Nonetheless, I want to go on record as saying that in my associations with Continuing Anglicans, what I have found for the most part has been that people are gracious, and very concerned about evangelism. This is what I have encountered across the board, among people in the ACC, the ACA, the APCK, etc.

The people on the outside are ready always and everywhere to beat us up, and that includes some of the Anglo-Catholics in the mainstream Canterbury churches. Before our own St. Andrew's congregation moved into the historic building we have in Easton, Maryland (formerly Sts. Peter and Paul Roman Catholic Church for about 150 years), we were renting store space for many years. Some (certainly not all) of the local Episcopalians mocked and derided our "store-front church" during those years. At one point a couple was shamed by their "conservative Episcopalian" friends into leaving our little church, and even into spreading their derision of us far and wide. In those years we had people actually say, "when you have a proper church (by which they meant building- a mark of theological ignorance) we might think about joining you."

We could only apologize for using a store-front with the excuse that Easton has no catacombs. I suppose that such people with their refined taste for attractive architecture would have preferred a temple to the Greek Pantheon, or a shrine to one of the gods, over the houses and catacombs where Christ's Church could be found during the time of persecution by the empire. Not everybody has the endurance it takes to start up a Continuing Church, to be faithful to it despite the costs and hardships of early years, with the addition of mocking and derision from established Episcopal Churches. I respect the people who have gone through such difficulties, and those who are yet in such a time. (Even now, our ability to remain in this building is uncertain, due to the current troubles in the American economy.)

About the apparent divisions among Continuing Anglicans, we do have to reply with realistic appraisal of our true condition. First of all, I see more evidence of charity and desire for unity than I see of the opposite. We need to remember certain facts.

1) Not every jurisdiction can be traced to the 1978 Denver Consecrations. Some are older.
2) Some are not splits, but imitation. As I have said before, that is simply what Freedom of Religion produces. Anybody can call himself an Anglican and start up a church.
3) Continuing Anglicans are not the only traditional Catholics who have to put up with vagante (or epsicopus vagens). There are also imitation Orthodox, and imitation Roman Catholics - such as the ones falsely identified as Catholic whenever some clumsy news outlet reports their "ordinations" of women.

The accord between the ACC, UEC and APCK is not a small matter at all. From my perspective, the ACC is needed by those other two jurisdictions, because they are small right now; and this unity is based on a true adherence to Anglican Comprehensiveness, embracing the decidedly "low church" UEC (low church does not mean un-Catholic).

Questions about mysterious jurisdictions, to those who are looking for a church, should include the following:

1. Does the jurisdiction exist for a valid reason, or simply because somebody wanted to be the bishop (or Archbishop)?
2. Does it have Canon Law?
3. Is it in communion with anybody?
4. What accountability is there concerning everything from money to doctrine?

(Some of you may add to this list in comments)

You see, not all churches are created equal.

Dracula, a novel about the Blessed Sacrament

"The point of the story really seems to be that the Incarnate God, visible and tangible to man in the Holy Communion, alone can subdue and expel evil."

I wrote this mostly for fun, back in 2003. It seems like a good time for a fun distraction.

“No Dread of the Undead” first appeared in the July/August, 2003 issue of Touchstone.

Robert Hart on Virtues & Vampires

. . . that diabolic aid which is surely to him; for it have to yield to the powers that come from and are symbolic of good. . . . Thus are we ministers of God’s own wish: That the world, and men for whom His Son die, will not be given over to monsters, whose very existence would defame Him. He have allowed us to redeem one soul already, and we go out as the old knights of the Cross to redeem more. Like them we shall travel towards the sunrise; and like them, if we fall, we fall in good cause . . . for the good of mankind, and for the honour and glory of God.
Dr. Abraham Van Helsing, mustering the courage of his companions in Bram Stoker’s Dracula

The vampires in the popular TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I am told, are all evil—except one named Angel. He is a vampire “cursed with a soul.” In other words, he does the same evil things to defenseless people that all vampires do, only we are supposed to accept him because he feels bad about it. What a moral quagmire pop culture can be these days.

In other hands, the vampire has, from being the perfect symbol of evil when Bram Stoker’s Dracula appeared in 1897, become sexy, attractive, and able to laugh in the face of God and man—and even, as in the novels of Anne Rice, sensitive and tragic. Today’s vampire can stare down a man holding a crucifix and he can withstand the Real Presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. (Rice’s vampire Lestat breaks open a tabernacle and takes out “the jeweled ciborium with its consecrated Hosts. No, there was no power here, nothing that I could feel or see or know with any of my monstrous senses, nothing that responded to me.”)

A Loss

Today’s vampire is all the more dangerous for existing in a fictional world that has neither good nor evil in it. One sees a hint of sympathy for the demonic in the revised versions, suggesting a reaction against religion rather than simply a change of taste. This is a loss, for in Stoker’s hands the vampire story was a parable of the mercy of God, a lesson in the reality of the Blessed Sacrament, and an extolment of the Seven Virtues.

Stoker based his vampire upon the genuine superstition of the mountain people of Romania. It had grown up among people who knew that evil—which will be defeated and ultimately destroyed by God and his Church—is inherently weak and unreal. It is not sexy or attractive.

Stoker’s Dracula was ugly, and his breath stank with the foul odor of undead centuries. Being in the grip of evil, he went about spreading his misery by draining the life, the soul of the flesh, which is in the blood, from his victims. The sight of him repelled everyone who suffered the misfortune to behold him. He existed only to perpetuate his unnatural—dead—life.

He is a symbol for everything that sin makes of men, and of the pure evil that ensnares them through it. In the character of Dracula, written to be as minimal as his undead state demands, nothing can be observed except that some of the Seven Deadly Sins had captured his soul. For example, he is quick to wrath so as to be thoroughly exacting in vengeance. He is very proud that he was the greatest of the nobles that his country ever produced, especially in war.

Lust, in a strange undead way, dominates him as well. He keeps three vampire wives, all of whom gain power over their male victims by becoming sexually irresistible. He goes after female victims exclusively. There is no hint that he has charmed or seduced any of them; just the opposite, he is a brute beast, a sort of serial rapist.

Though Dracula has under his power the pathetic madman, Renfield, he never bites him; his blood seems not to interest the monster. After he uses this man to gain entry into the house where Mina Harker is staying, he simply kills him and goes after the woman, wanting only her as his newest victim.

The Virtues

Against this unman, this undead monster, a small heroic band assumes the duty to rid the earth of him. They have no strength compared to his demonic preternatural powers. They cannot change into wolves or bats, or enter a house by becoming a mist. Yet they are truly alive and substantial: They can absorb the light he cannot. He, being the undead and insubstantial, cannot even reflect in a mirror.

This band, led by the saintly and devout Catholic, Dr. Abraham Van Helsing, has no power of arms, no strength in the flesh against the death in which their adversary lives. Yet they possess faith in God, and their charity for others emboldens them to act.

We see from the words and actions of the hero of his story, Van Helsing, that Stoker had religious insight. Conflict with pure evil throws sins and virtues into sharp relief throughout his book. A hint of biblical theology may be given to us in the name of his hero, Abraham. Did Stoker use his own first name (Bram was short for Abraham) from some instance of vanity? Hardly so. As a good writer, he did everything for a purpose.

Abraham Van Helsing emerges as a man of solid Christian faith, able to become a father to all of the others in the little band. He becomes the father of their faith, not just in the reality of evil, but in the power of sacraments and sacramentals to overcome it. This holy man has been faithful for years to an incapacitated wife, who is unable to give him anything. Stoker made his hero a true believer by Catholic standards: “and my poor wife dead to me, but alive by Church’s law, though no wits, all gone—even I who am a faithful husband.”

The saintliness of Van Helsing is essential to the story. With true charity he hopes, believes, and endures all things, seeing the victims of Dracula, Lucy and Mina, in only the kindest light. He suffers distress at the sufferings inflicted upon them and is able to weep for them compassionately. He is a man both of faith and of science; a scientist so advanced that he can fathom the supernatural world. He complains that the fault of modern science is that it will not believe anything until it can explain it.

Just as Dracula epitomizes the Seven Deadly Sins, the small band exhibit the Seven Virtues. Van Helsing has the prudence to know what the danger is, and to focus upon priorities in the stressful time. The entire band has the strength to act with courage, possessing fortitude and justice. That is, they are brave because their cause is a kind of Just War. The courage they show is based upon their attainment of true charity. In fact, before it is over, one of the heroes, Quincey Morris, the American, lays down his life for his friends.

From this charity they act in faith that advances with no promise of success except for their conviction that this is how they are called to serve God, and for the hope that they are his instruments. So they venture into danger and hardships, embracing temperance, for their chosen lot is discipline and self-denial to endure the final stages of the journey that lies ahead, into the mountains of Transylvania to chase the fleeing monster back to his lair.

Defenseless Victims

The book opens with the journal of Jonathan Harker, traveling on legal business to see a new client of his London law firm, a nobleman in Transylvania. He discovers that this client is a monster who wants to buy properties in England for some evil purpose. Dracula plans to reside in England, where he may feed upon people who are naive because they are sophisticated. They are without defense against him because they cannot believe that he exists.

But in England he happens across the wrong people, friends of Dr. Seward, who knows and trusts Van Helsing. These men can use against Dracula the created things of God, even simple garlic, with varying success. The crucifix (a “sacramental”) contains power to disarm their opponent. But the real power, against which he cannot stand at all, is the Blessed Sacrament itself. Although the way Stoker has allowed Van Helsing to make use of the consecrated Host is a bit unreal, it makes great stuff for the story and for its point.

Van Helsing has been authorized to carry the Blessed Sacrament, for the presence of Christ overwhelms the vampire. He cannot pass it or view it. The point of the story really seems to be that the Incarnate God, visible and tangible to man in the Holy Communion, alone can subdue and expel evil.

This brings us to Mina Harker, the wife of Jonathan. She is the ideal woman of the nineteenth century, perhaps overly feminine for contemporary tastes, which is refreshing in itself. This honorable woman is virtuous without hint of impurity. She possesses courage, and with it a self-sacrificial nature based upon charity.

The men had freed Dracula’s slave Lucy from being a vampire by destroying her body as she lay in her tomb, and have been obstructing his plans to hide away in the English homes he had acquired. So, for revenge, he begins feeding upon this other virtuous and beloved young woman. As a result she is in the grip of evil, doomed to become eternally undead as an animate and conscious horror. The traits of the vampire are slowly becoming evident in this life; her teeth begin visibly to sharpen as she is drawing towards death.

Thinking to help her, at one point Van Helsing touches the Blessed Sacrament to her forehead. But, instead of helping her, it burns her. She cries out in pain, and the red scar left by the Host is clear and indelible. Stoker had learned, no doubt, that the sacrament which imparts life harms one enslaved to evil. This image becomes the symbol of her peril for the rest of the story.

The scar tells us that the sacrament is real, as taught in Scripture. The damage it does to Mina, undergoing gradual metamorphosis into a vampire herself, shows the terrible lot of the damned, whose hands will never handle, nor eyes see, the Word of Life—except to see him in judgment, when they will shrink in fear and revulsion from the one who would have healed them.

Death to Sin

The criticism that comes to mind is that this damnation appears not to stem from moral failing, for Mina is a victim. Her failings are not obvious, not even visible to those who know her. This fails to take into account the fact that sin, though often invisible to the eyes of men, is always known to God, and always exploited by the devil. Her corruption only makes sense with the Christian doctrine of original sin.

The depth of the subtle nature of sin, and of its alliance with the evil one, are suggested to great effect. Despite her hatred of Dracula’s evil and her desire to be free, the facts show to Van Helsing that she has buried within her a sympathy for the evil count who had mixed his pirated blood with hers, and she has with him an empathy so strong that the good doctor is able to use hypnosis on her to learn of Dracula’s movements.

Though convenient for tracking Dracula, Mina herself realizes the danger she now presents to these brave men. Later, as the band must split into small parties and Van Helsing is in the woods of Transylvania alone with Mina, she is urged by the vampire “wives” to leave his protection and complete her transformation, but she is terrified, not tempted. After chasing them away by holding up the sacrament, he encloses her within a circle of fragments from the consecrated Host for their mutual safety.

But they are near the end. And when the man of sin is destroyed, the scar left by the sacrament vanishes from her forehead; she is saved from the fate of becoming an undead feeding upon the souls of the living. Because Dracula is truly dead, she can live free and blessed, for the presence of Christ no longer acts upon her as a curse.

There is but one freedom for the undead. Earlier, when Van Helsing had led his companions to rescue Lucy from her undead state, he asked her grieving fiancé, Arthur, to be the one who with “the hand of him who loved her best” would do the deed “most blessed of all, when this now Undead be made to rest as true dead.”

After the painful ordeal of driving the stake through her heart, while Van Helsing read prayers from a missal, all of the men were comforted by what they saw: “One and all we felt that the holy calm that lay like sunshine over the wasted face and form was only an earthly token and symbol of the calm that was to reign for ever.”

In the context of the novel, this does not suggest Universalism. It is more likely that Lucy, a thoroughly charitable Christian soul, entered into a state of blessed death after her purgation. She had been an innocent victim, and had not shown any sympathy for Dracula in her life, dying from his attacks without knowing what was happening to her until the very end.

Near the book’s close, when Van Helsing drives stakes through the hearts of Dracula’s three “wives”—a task difficult and terrible—each one dissolves instantly because they had for centuries cheated death, but not until first showing an expression of peace. So, too, it is with Dracula, upon having a knife driven into his heart and his neck severed. Mina recounts in her journal: “It was like a miracle; . . . the whole body crumbled into dust and passed from our sight. I shall be glad as long as I live that even in that final moment of dissolution there was in the face a look of peace, such as I never could have imagined might have rested there.”

Charity & Peace

This “miracle” does not imply sympathy for the vampire, but charity, and the realization that perhaps this one too, having been enslaved himself, was not beyond God’s mercy. Even he could hope to find, after undergoing at least this much purgation, peace.

This is, however, unlike Lucy’s passage into tranquility, a bit of a problem from a religious standpoint. Perhaps here is the one weakness in the story: Dracula and his wives are never presented except as demonic creatures, yet here they seem possibly to be granted entry into heaven itself. It is not farfetched to consider, however, that the relief they show, which is far less than the blessedness that is revealed in Lucy, is meant to convey rest from laboring under the domination of evil. Some vestige of a human soul in them is glad that mankind is spared further evil from their undead, demonically animated forms. The nightmare is over.

Does a new one begin? Does their brief cessation of slavery lead only to hell? The religion of the novel is not simply Christianity, but Catholicism specifically. The difference between absolute damnation and the hope that exists in the doctrine of Purgatory cannot be overlooked as part of Stoker’s thinking.

Though she had been under the power of evil, Mina’s deliberate and sustained will to resist it and to contribute to Van Helsing’s efforts saved her. Despite the pull of evil, she nonetheless endeavored to help kill the monster. She had struggled in this effort, for his evil had become a part of her very being. Her battle suggests the words of Christ about the violent nature of genuine repentance: “If your hand cause you to sin . . . if your eye cause you to sin. . . .” The echo of these dominical words comes to us from St. Paul: “Put to death your members upon the earth.” Death is what we must give to our own sinful passions; otherwise, we live as though dead and cannot be free.

This is a story that is creative not only in content but also in the manner of its telling, using the collected journals, correspondence, and diaries of the characters themselves, interspersed with occasional newspaper reports—a clever method that gives us the various characters’ own reflections upon their experience as it is unfolding. Since it cannot be duplicated in any medium other than a book, this method is one reason why no movie has ever been true to Stoker’s work.

The other reason is, I suspect, a deep and subtle sympathy for and empathy with the count, a very telling feature of the times in which we live.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

A blessing

"Yea, thou shalt see thy children's children, and peace upon Israel." Psalm 128:6

One of the perks of blogging is getting to show off a grandson Diane and I are proud of. My daughter and son in-law took a while, but did present him to be baptized.

What is the Catholic Church?

I received some questions via e-mail that I choose to answer here on the blog.

I have stumbled onto the Continuum Blog and am not familiar with 'continuing churches'. What differences exist between the continuing churches and the Catholic Church? Doctrinal differences are? Keep it in easy to understand terms, please, as I am not a theologian and have a short attention span!. I assume that the continuing churches are 'liturgically styled in what is called 'high church'?

I understand that different groups can choose to call themselves Catholic by virtue of reciting the creeds (whether they are or not is not the question) do ya'll justify trying to rename the Catholic Church into the Roman catholic Church when the Church in question refers to itself as the Catholic Church ?

It appears to me that the first paragraph was simply meant to set up the second. That is because there can be no difference between the Continuing Churches that practice the traditional Catholic faith and practice of Anglican Christianity, whether the worship is decidedly high, mid, or low. Most of us like the high church sort of worship, but I trust we know better than to think that incense, chasubles, benedictions, holy water fonts or even Marian devotions are the essence of the Catholic faith (although the last, properly understood, is centered on the Incarnation, and is in that theological sense tied to the essence). The celebration of a low church Prayer Book Holy Communion is just as valid as a high church Mass from the Anglican Missal. Sometimes, that low celebration is refreshing in its simplicity, and helps us feel the depth of our faith for that reason, just as a very high Mass helps us to transcend the things of earth. As a lifelong Anglican I embrace all of these expressions of the Catholic faith in celebrating the Eucharist.

The real question in the first paragraph deals not with these different ways to worship, but with the substance of doctrine. We cannot answer what the difference is, because another question would get a simple answer of "no." That question, which the correspondent did not ask, is, "Is there a difference between the teaching of the Catholic Church and the teaching of the Continuing Churches?" The answer is no.

"And the Catholic Faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity, neither confounding the Persons, nor dividing the Substance." -the Athanasian Creed (Quicumque vult)

The real question is why we call the Roman Catholic Church by that name. First of all, it is not a sign of disrespect, since we regard the Church of Rome and those churches in communion with it, to be part of one and the same Body of Christ to which we ourselves also belong. Also, it is a proper name of the largest Rite in that Communion, namely the Latin Rite.

We must refer to the Roman Catholic Church by that name, and this is for the very reason mentioned in the question. When we speak of "the Holy Catholic Church"and the "One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church," we are not professing belief in some foreign institution that we merely aspire to, but the Church in which we live as members of the Body of Christ. The Orthodox Church has the same problem with the name of the Roman Communion; they too see themselves as within the Catholic Church of the Creeds.

It is more basic than the fact that we have retained a valid Apostolic Succession of bishops. It is rooted in baptism and in faith in Christ, and a continuation of the teaching handed down from the beginning. Whereas we mean no offense to the churches in communion with Rome, neither do we offer an apology for recognizing our own validity and taking joy in our true identity.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Archbishop Hepworth and Anglican Orders

Well, I don't like the treatment I have been given for my efforts to give the floor to Archbishop Hepworth, by none other than the man himself. I am still reeling from the results of my recent efforts to let him represent his own position, clear up rumors and answer speculation. Nonetheless, since he has now granted very much the same interview to David Virtue, but allowing it to be the second "first exclusive," I see that one of the particular points the Archbishop made needs the complement of a direct quotation that he had given to me.

First of all, this is from the VOL interview:

VOL: When the former Bishop of London went to Rome, he was "conditionally re-ordained" a priest rather than having to undergo re-ordination. Do you see that as a possibility for the TAC's clergy?

HEPWORTH: The way in which pastoral provision currently works allows Anglican clergymen to tender evidence of the validity of Anglican ordination. In fact, the re-ordination is a response to the circumstances within Anglicanism which vary for good and ill in the last century as Cardinal Kasper recently said, and re-ordination is a necessary assurance to the good consciences of those with whom unity is sought.

VOL: Some fear, if conditional re-ordination is not allowed, that sacramental rites performed by TAC clergy prior to their re-ordination would be considered invalid. Do you see the difference between "conditional" and unconditional re-ordination as important?

HEPWORTH: No. It is important to individual Anglo-Catholics who in practice have responded to Apostolicae Curae by seeking to involve other than Anglicans in their ordinations, not necessarily as a criticism of their own orders but as an act of pastoral generosity towards the wider catholic church.

Add to that what he told me in Timonium, Maryland on July 31st:

Since the issue of Anglican Orders has been raised by reader's comments, the Archbishop had this to say for readers of the Continuum: "We would not be ordaining or saying Mass if we believed our Orders were invalid. That would be sacrilege. There must be room for our conscience."
This does indeed ring true. When he gave me the above quotation, I mentioned to him that Brian Taylor had documented1 the Anglican reason for seeking the Infusion of Old Catholic orders in 1932 via co-consecration, initially in the consecration of Rev. Graham Brown to the episcopate with the Old Catholic Bishop of Haarlem assisting. The purpose was to help make Anglican orders more acceptable to Rome in the event of a possible Reunion, as Taylor documented by quoting correspondence between leaders of the Church of England, including then Archbishop of Canterbury, Cosmo Lang. As I was mentioning this, Archbishop Hepworth nodded his head in obvious recognition of Taylor's work. Hence the words of Archbishop Hepworth: " act of pastoral generosity towards the wider catholic church."

This demonstrates, however, an ongoing factor that appears to be one weakness in the whole strategy. These bold steps are being discussed on one end as if only one party needs to be sold this whole idea, namely Rome. I can well appreciate Archbishop Hepworth's generous offer to make the orders of TAC acceptable to the larger Catholic Church, while at the same time insisting that this is not, in any way whatsoever, to be taken as a statement of doubt concerning Anglican Orders. He holds firmly, judging from what he said to me, to the Anglican position as stated in Saepius Officio, and any willingness to submit, in future, to conditional ordinations and consecrations would be simply a gracious act for wider catholic unity. But, now he must sell that to the clergy of the TAC and to the lay people as well. He has already let the cat out of the bag on VOL.

The comparison to the Old Catholic Infusion, though I had raised it myself, is not an exact parallel. Co-consecration did not involve any sort of "re-ordination" or "re-consecration," conditional or otherwise. So, this may be a tough sell in some places.

I trust that Archbishop Hepworth appreciates the helpful clarification I have given here to the answer he gave on VOL, in order to avoid widespread panic; since what appears on VOL may have led some members of the TAC to worry about what he thinks of Anglican Orders (if e-mails to me from TAC people today and yesterday are any indication of facts on the ground) --Speaking of generousity.

1. In his 1995 paper, published in Great Britain, Accipe Spiritum Sanctum.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Introduction to St. Athanasius’ De Incarnatione Verbi Dei

By C.S. Lewis

There is a strange idea abroad that in every subject the ancient books should be read only by the professionals, and that the amateur should content himself with the modern books. Thus I have found as a tutor in English Literature that if the average student wants to find out something about Platonism, the very last thing he thinks of doing is to take a translation of Plato off the library shelf and read the Symposium. He would rather read some dreary modern book ten times as long, all about isms and influences and only once in twelve pages telling him what Plato actually said. The error is rather an amiable one, for it springs from humility. The student is half afraid to meet one of the great philosophers face to face. He feels himself inadequate and thinks he will not understand him. But if he only knew, the great man, just because of his greatness, is much more intelligible than his modern commentator. The simplest student will be able to understand, if not all, yet a very great deal of what Plato said; but hardly anyone can understand some modern books on Platonism. It has always therefore been one of my main endeavours as a teacher to persuade the young that firsthand knowledge is not only more worth acquiring than secondhand knowledge, but is usually much easier and more delightful to acquire.

This mistaken preference for the modern books and this shyness of the old ones is nowhere more rampant than in theology. Wherever you find a little study circle of Christian laity you can be almost certain that they are studying not St. Luke or St. Paul or St. Augustine or Thomas Aquinas or Hooker or Butler, but M. Berdyaev or M. Maritain or M. Niebuhr or Miss Sayers or even myself.

Now this seems to me topsy-turvy. Naturally, since I myself am a writer, I do not wish the ordinary reader to read no modern books. But if he must read only the new or only the old, I would advise him to read the old. And I would give him this advice precisely because he is an amateur and therefore much less protected than the expert against the dangers of an exclusive contemporary diet. A new book is still on its trial and the amateur is not in a position to judge it. It has to be tested against the great body of Christian thought down the ages, and all its hidden implications (often unsuspected by the author himself) have to be brought to light. Often it cannot be fully understood without the knowledge of a good many other modern books. If you join at eleven o’clock a conversation which began at eight you will often not see the real bearing of what is said. Remarks which seem to you very ordinary will produce laughter or irritation and you will not see why-the reason, of course, being that the earlier stages of the conversation have given them a special point. In the same way sentences in a modern book which look quite ordinary may be directed at some other book; in this way you may be led to accept what you would have indignantly rejected if you knew its real significance. The only safety is to have a standard of plain, central Christianity (mere Christianity as Baxter called it) which puts the controversies of the moment in their proper perspective. Such a standard can be acquired only from the old books. It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones.

Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books. All contemporary writers share to some extent the contemporary outlook—even those, like myself, who seem most opposed to it. Nothing strikes me more when I read the controversies of past ages than the fact that both sides were usually assuming without question a good deal which we should now absolutely deny. They thought that they were as completely opposed as two sides could be, but in fact they were all the time secretly united-united with each other and against earlier and later ages-by a great mass of common assumptions. We may be sure that the characteristic blindness of the twentieth century—the blindness about which posterity will ask, But how could they have thought that?—lies where we have never suspected it, and concerns something about which there is untroubled agreement between Hitler and President Roosevelt or between Mr. H. G. Wells and Karl Barth. None of us can fully escape this blindness, but we shall certainly increase it, and weaken our guard against it, if we read only modern books. Where they are true they will give us truths which we half knew already. Where they are false they will aggravate the error with which we are already dangerously ill. The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books. Not, of course, that there is any magic about the past. People were no cleverer then than they are now; they made as many mistakes as we. But not the same mistakes. They will not flatter us in the errors we are already committing; and their own errors, being now open and palpable, will not endanger us. Two heads are better than one, not because either is infallible, but because they are unlikely to go wrong in the same direction. To be sure, the books of the future would be just as good a corrective as the books of the past, but unfortunately we cannot get at them.

I myself was first led into reading the Christian classics, almost accidentally, as a result of my English studies. Some, such as Hooker, Herbert, Traherne, Taylor and Bunyan, I read because they are themselves great English writers; others, such as Boethius, St. Augustine, Thomas Aquinas and Dante, because they were influences. George Macdonald I had found for myself at the age of sixteen and never wavered in my allegiance, though I tried for a long time to ignore his Christianity. They are, you will note, a mixed bag, representative of many Churches, climates and ages. And that brings me to yet another reason for reading them. The divisions of Christendom are undeniable and are by some of these writers most fiercely expressed. But if any man is tempted to think-as one might be tempted who read only contemporaries-that Christianity is a word of so many meanings that it means nothing at all, he can learn beyond all doubt, by stepping out of his own century, that this is not so. Measured against the ages mere Christianity turns out to be no insipid interdenominational transparency, but something positive, self-consistent, and inexhaustible. I know it, indeed, to my cost. In the days when I still hated Christianity, I learned to recognise, like some all too familiar smell, that almost unvarying something which met me, now in Puritan Bunyan, now in Anglican Hooker, now in Thomist Dante. It was there (honeyed and floral) in Francois de Sales; it was there (grave and homely) in Spenser and Walton; it was there (grim but manful) in Pascal and Johnson; there again, with a mild, frightening, Paradisial flavour, in Vaughan and Boehme and Traherne. In the urban sobriety of the eighteenth century one was not safe—Law and Butler were two lions in the path. The supposed Paganism of the Elizabethans could not keep it out; it lay in wait where a man might have supposed himself safest, in the very centre of The Faerie Queene and the Arcadia. It was, of course, varied; and yet-after all-so unmistakably the same; recognisable, not to be evaded, the odour which is death to us until we allow it to become life:

An air that kills
From yon far country blows.

We are all rightly distressed, and ashamed also, at the divisions of Christendom. But those who have always lived within the Christian fold may be too easily dispirited by them. They are bad, but such people do not know what it looks like from without. Seen from there, what is left intact despite all the divisions, still appears (as it truly is) an immensely formidable unity. I know, for I saw it; and well our enemies know it. That unity any of us can find by going out of his own age. It is not enough, but it is more than you had thought till then. Once you are well soaked in it, if you then venture to speak, you will have an amusing experience.

You will be thought a Papist when you are actually reproducing Bunyan, a Pantheist when you are quoting Aquinas, and so forth. For you have now got on to the great level viaduct which crosses the ages and which looks so high from the valleys, so low from the mountains, so narrow compared with the swamps, and so broad compared with the sheep-tracks.

The present book is something of an experiment. The translation is intended for the world at large, not only for theological students. If it succeeds, other translations of other great Christian books will presumably follow. In one sense, of course, it is not the first in the field. Translations of the Theologia Germanica, the Imitation, the Scale of Perfection, and the Revelations of Lady Julian of Norwich, are already on the market, and are very valuable, though some of them are not very scholarly. But it will be noticed that these are all books of devotion rather than of doctrine. Now the layman or amateur needs to be instructed as well as to be exhorted. In this age his need for knowledge is particularly pressing. Nor would I admit any sharp division between the two kinds of book. For my own part I tend to find the doctrinal books often more helpful in devotion than the devotional books, and I rather suspect that the same experience may await many others. I believe that many who find that nothing happens when they sit down, or kneel down, to a book of devotion, would find that the heart sings unbidden while they are working their way through a tough bit of theology with a pipe in their teeth and a pencil in their hand.

This is a good translation of a very great book. St. Athanasius has suffered in popular estimation from a certain sentence in the Athanasian Creed. I will not labour the point that that work is not exactly a creed and was not by St. Athanasius, for I think it is a very fine piece of writing. The words Which Faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly are the offence. They are commonly misunderstood. The operative word is keep; not acquire, or even believe, but keep. The author, in fact, is not talking about unbelievers, but about deserters, not about those who have never heard of Christ, nor even those who have misunderstood and refused to accept Him, but of those who having really understood and really believed, then allow themselves, under the sway of sloth or of fashion or any other invited confusion to be drawn away into sub-Christian modes of thought. They are a warning against the curious modern assumption that all changes of belief, however brought about, are necessarily exempt from blame. But this is not my immediate concern. I mention the creed (commonly called) of St. Athanasius only to get out of the reader’s way what may have been a bogey and to put the true Athanasius in its place. His epitaph is Athanasius contra mundum, Athanasius against the world. We are proud that our own country has more than once stood against the world. Athanasius did the same. He stood for the Trinitarian doctrine, whole and undefiled, when it looked as if all the civilised world was slipping back from Christianity into the religion of Arius—into one of those sensible synthetic religions which are so strongly recommended today and which, then as now, included among their devotees many highly cultivated clergymen. It is his glory that he did not move with the times; it is his reward that he now remains when those times, as all times do, have moved away.

When I first opened his De Incarnatione I soon discovered by a very simple test that I was reading a masterpiece. I knew very little Christian Greek except that of the New Testament and I had expected difficulties. To my astonishment I found it almost as easy as Xenophon; and only a master mind could, in the fourth century, have written so deeply on such a subject with such classical simplicity. Every page I read confirmed this impression. His approach to the Miracles is badly needed today, for it is the final answer to those who object to them as arbitrary and meaningless violations of the laws of Nature. They are here shown to be rather the re-telling in capital letters of the same message which Nature writes in her crabbed cursive hand; the very operations one would expect of Him who was so full of life that when He wished to die He had to borrow death from others. The whole book, indeed, is a picture of the Tree of Life—a sappy and golden book, full of buoyancy and confidence. We cannot, I admit, appropriate all its confidence today. We cannot point to the high virtue of Christian living and the gay, almost mocking courage of Christian martyrdom, as a proof of our doctrines with quite that assurance which Athanasius takes as a matter of course. But whoever may be to blame for that it is not Athanasius.

The translator knows so much more Christian Greek than I that it would be out of place for me to praise her version. But it seems to me to be in the right tradition of English translation. I do not think the reader will find here any of that sawdusty quality which is so common in modern renderings from the ancient languages. That is as much as the English reader will notice; those who compare the version with the original will be able to estimate how much wit and talent is presupposed in such a choice, for example, as 'those wiseacres' on the very first page.