Thursday, October 30, 2008

All Saints November 1st

Rev. 7
Matt. 5: 1-12

Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.

I recall my very first solar eclipse, probably about 1961 or 1962, when I could not have been more than four years old. I remember it well. My mother was very careful to tell me not to look directly at the sun, because it was very possible that I could go blind if I did. During a solar eclipse, we can look at the sun, not realizing that the infrared rays are every bit as destructive to the optic nerve as ever. Our eyes cannot take those rays in their full strength. So, I was told not to look up when the sky would darken, but to look down and so preserve my eyesight.

A cousin, who lived across the street, came over with a cardboard box, that, if worn like a helmet over the head, due to a hole cut in the back and a white sheet of paper as a viewing screen placed in front, could be used to see the reflection of the eclipse. It was a partial eclipse, and I recall that on the white screen I saw the sun with a dark round shadow in front of it, causing the reflection of the sun to appear like the moon, when it is only partly visible. The sun appeared shaped like a quarter moon, reflected inside the box-helmet. Even more strange, when I removed the box from my head, on the ground a thousand such reflections appeared, little quarter-moon images of the sun. We could not look directly at the brightness of the sun with any safety, but we could look at the endless reflections all over the ground. I have never seen that particular effect from an eclipse on any other occasion in all the decades since. But, I cannot forget what it looked like.

That is an illustration for us. In our condition as fallen creatures, subject in this world to sin and death, we cannot not look upon the undiluted glory of God in its perfection. It is not a danger, because it cannot happen; for if it happened we would be unable to endure it. It is true that Christ said, “Whoever has seen Me has seen the Father.” But, this was accomplished by His coming to us as a man. Even on the Mount of Transfiguration it was His glorified humanity that shined with the brightness of the sun in its strength. He made known His divine presence by everything He said and did, especially by defeating death when in His resurrection He ushered in immortality. But, never did He unleash on anyone a perfect glimpse of His divine nature, for to do so would not have been merciful, but rather terrifying. So, He took human nature in its fullness, and this became a part of Him forever by a loving and gracious act of His will. Human nature served as His icon, a perfect image of the Father for us to see. Similarly, His Presence here today is very real, but made food for us under “these shadows mean” of bread and wine.

We do hope to see God some day, and not only in the human nature taken by the Son, though never will it be set aside; And whenever we see God we cannot do so without seeing Christ Jesus, for the Trinity cannot be divided or dissected. The goal and hope of Christians is to see God as our Lord Jesus said: "Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God." This one little line is the reason why this passage that opens the Sermon on the Mount is the Gospel for the Feast of all Saints. The Church long has used the word “saints” to speak of those we believe to have entered already into the perfect state that allows them to be granted the Beatific Vision. That is, to see God as God, the final perfect destiny of the human creature by grace.

Because we are not ready for the Beatific Vision, we must, for now, see God the way I saw the sun during the solar eclipse in my childhood. What we see, that is the sight of God in Jesus Christ, is real. And, real also is what you see when I hold the Sacrament up and tell you to Behold the Lamb of God. We see that reality in a way that is given to us by God’s love, because He saves us by showing Himself. Jesus said to Nicodemus:

And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. (John 3:15-17)

We see Him in His human nature, lifted up on the cross. We see Him as the Lamb of God, ourselves not worthy that he should come under our roof, but asking that He speak the word only, and our souls shall be healed. Yes, what we see is real. And, what we see is granted to us in a way that saves us rather than destroying us, for He came to save us. Our sinfulness, our weakness and our foolishness is all taken into account by the Father, and what we do not see is due to His mercy. The fullness of Godhead dwells in Christ bodily, and the Holy Spirit is really and truly present within the Church- within us with all His gifts. But, our destiny is to behold the sun in its strength when our eyes are made able to endure the brightness, able to endure seeing God as God. We are meant to know Him as He is, to behold throughout eternity the Beatific Vision, a vision not stagnant because He is infinite, and our knowledge of Him once made perfect will be ever perfected more and more, endless knowledge, joy and love.

Yet, we must never presume on God’s grace. Hell is the eternal denial of this joy; not that God denies it to us, but that we deny it to ourselves if we do not make it our aim to know Him.

Think of the words we call the Summary of the Law. The first and great commandment is the impossible call to be saints, to love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul and all your mind, and then to love your neighbor as yourself. When you look at the Epistles of Saint Paul, in the opening of the Epistle to the Romans and the first Epistle to the Corinthians, you see that all of the people who belong to the Church are “called to be saints.”

I like the King James Bible, with that accurate translation “called to be saints.” That “called to be” part is missing from the understanding of a good many Protestant revivalists, fundamentalists and Pentecostals. They teach that every Christian is a saint just by, as they like to say, “accepting Jesus.” Meanwhile, the opposite error belongs to those who seem to think of saints as if they were comic book superheroes, people with special abilities like Superman born on Krypton, or Spiderman with his radioactive bug bite that enables him to do amazing things. We mere mortals cannot be like them, and it’s best just to be normal.

Well, the truth is that a saint is a holy person. That is what the word means. And, the truth is that everyone who belongs to Christ has the vocation to be a saint. We have not yet arrived at being perfected as saints, but neither are we supposed to leave that to a special class of superheroes. The scripture commands us to “follow on to know the Lord (Hosea 6:3).”

Let me quote one of my own sermons for the eighteenth Sunday after Trinity:

“Everyone who belongs to the Church is called to be a saint. You, whether you like it or not, are called to be a saint. Your vocation is holiness, without which no one shall see the Lord. That is what the first and great commandment means. And, the problem is, if you don’t like the first product the Church has for you, namely to become a saint, we have nothing else to offer. Real Christianity is radical, and calls for total commitment in every area of life. That is why we need the Holy Spirit.”

The most important thing that we Anglicans focus on during the Feast of All Saints is not the issue of devotions to the saints. Sure, it is possible, I suppose, to slip into idolatry and to worship saints and angels- and some people have. But, that is not a likely error for most Anglicans. I think we all know that only God is to be worshiped as God. The ancient practice of asking the saints to pray for us is not idolatry, and should not be condemned as if it were. There is no reason to object to someone saying “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners…” If someone were to speak to her as if to a goddess, that would be wrong; but asking for prayer from a person who now sees God face to face, unhindered by the world, the flesh and the devil, is not idolatry.

But, as I say, the subject of devotions to saints is not our focus on the feast of All Saints. Our focus has always been the call that God has given to all of us, the call to become, by grace, saints ourselves. That is, we are called to be holy, to be faithful in every area of our lives, to press on to know the Lord, to confess the sins we fall into and repent of them in order to be forgiven, and also to be cleansed and delivered from the power of sin. We are called to develop the virtues, faith, hope, charity, fortitude, justice, prudence and temperance. Above all of the others charity, the bond of perfection.

In order to begin to answer the call to holiness, we must be thankful. And, that is the best reason to look at the Lord Jesus as the Lamb of God, lifted up on the cross as Moses lifted the serpent on the pole in the wilderness. It is in thanksgiving that our hearts begin to render for Christ’s great act of love, that our souls are healed, not treating us our sins deserve, but rather dying as our atonement. In that love we begin to see the reflection of Divine glory. Like that reflection I saw as a child, wearing a box as a helmet on my head, we see the glory of God the way I saw a projection of the sun. And like the innumerable reflections of the partial sun that I saw across the ground, we see radiant glory in the great company of saints who have gone before, and who now, with hearts made pure by grace, behold the glory of God.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Lessons from the Proto-Council of Jerusalem

In order to justify their own brand of Doctrinal Development, modern (or post-modern) revisionists have invented a story that is not in the Bible at all, even though they insist that they find it there.

The story goes like this: During the early years of the Church a great controversy raged about how to include Gentile converts. The Church was not sure whether or not they needed to be circumcised and keep the Law of Moses, or if they could be admitted simply by baptism. The two parties in the controversy were represented by St. Paul for the baptism party and his opponent, St. James for the circumcision party. This division, disagreement and controversy was settled after many years at the Council of Jerusalem, where the Apostles finally came to some agreement. Furthermore, the years of controversy are a precedent for contemporary Christians to struggle through a "period of reception" about new leadings of the Holy Spirit, for example, women's ordination and Blessings for same sex unions. Just as God did a new thing with the Gentiles, while Peter and James learned to adjust, so he is doing now with priestesses and with conjugal blessings for Adam and Steve, Frankie and Johnnie, etc. We see from the controversy that raged in the Book of Acts that this is normal, just the way the Spirit works.

But, as a matter of fact, there was no controversy about what to do with Gentiles. There was, rather, a settled doctrine, and it was the only Tradition of the Church regarding Gentile converts. When this settled Tradition and dogma of the Church was challenged, the challengers were not treated as equals whose opinion deserved consideration. Rather they were seen to be heretics (the first heretics), and were told, frankly, to shut up, sit down and accept the authority of the Apostles. They were told to stop, and those who persisted were labeled false teachers, and warnings were sent to the churches not to heed them. The Council of Jerusalem is the prototype for the Ecumenical Councils, presenting defense of the Faith against heretical innovation that was contrary to the received doctrine of the Church as based on revelation.

Let us look at the record of Scripture.

And the apostles and brethren that were in Judaea heard that the Gentiles had also received the word of God. And when Peter was come up to Jerusalem, they that were of the circumcision contended with him, Saying, Thou wentest in to men uncircumcised, and didst eat with them. But Peter rehearsed the matter from the beginning, and expounded it by order unto them, saying, I was in the city of Joppa praying: and in a trance I saw a vision, A certain vessel descend, as it had been a great sheet, let down from heaven by four corners; and it came even to me: Upon the which when I had fastened mine eyes, I considered, and saw fourfooted beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air. And I heard a voice saying unto me, Arise, Peter; slay and eat. But I said, Not so, Lord: for nothing common or unclean hath at any time entered into my mouth. But the voice answered me again from heaven, What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common. And this was done three times: and all were drawn up again into heaven. And, behold, immediately there were three men already come unto the house where I was, sent from Caesarea unto me. And the spirit bade me go with them, nothing doubting. Moreover these six brethren accompanied me, and we entered into the man's house: And he shewed us how he had seen an angel in his house, which stood and said unto him, Send men to Joppa, and call for Simon, whose surname is Peter; Who shall tell thee words, whereby thou and all thy house shall be saved. And as I began to speak, the Holy Ghost fell on them, as on us at the beginning. Then remembered I the word of the Lord, how that he said, John indeed baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost. Forasmuch then as God gave them the like gift as he did unto us, who believed on the Lord Jesus Christ; what was I, that I could withstand God? When they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life. (Acts 11:1-18)

Certain things must be noticed in this account. Peter likened the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the house of Cornelius to the Day of Pentecost ("...the Holy Ghost fell on them, as on us at the beginning. Then remembered I the word of the Lord, how that he said, John indeed baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost. Forasmuch then as God gave them the like gift as he did unto us..."). Unlike the usual laying on of the Apostle's hands, these Gentiles were Confirmed directly from heaven, even before Baptism. The message was clear; the Pentecost experience was exactly duplcated, or rather, extended to Gentiles. Later, Peter would say, "And God, which knoweth the hearts, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Ghost, even as he did unto us; And put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith" (Acts 15:8,9). The words "no difference" were because of the Divine action that repeated what happened on Pentecost itself.

Established doctrine

The other thing we must note from the discussion between Peter and the other Apostles and brethren is how quickly they accepted his words. There was no controversy at all once they heard what happened from Peter's own mouth: "When they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life." There it is: The unanimous declaration by the Apostles that they received this revelation from God about how the Gospel would be received by believers among the nations of the earth. They knew that it would be done, and now God revealed how. This was now the teaching of the Church, the doctrine of the Apostles.

Later, during a brief episode Peter would lapse into his old way of treating Gentiles, giving in to some embarrassment at Antioch (Gal. 2:11f), and receiving a rebuke from his brother Apostle, St. Paul, for failing to live by the very doctrine that he, Peter, had himself first proclaimed, and which he still professed. This episode mentioned in the Epistle to the Galatians bears no resemblance to what followed. The sudden appearance of the "Judaizers" comes as a shock in the Book of Acts, a disruption of the Church's teaching and order. "And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved. When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question." (Acts 15:1,2)

The Council of Apostles and Presbyters in Jerusalem were not there to reconsider the revelation given to Peter all those years earlier; they did not come with an open mind considering some possibility that they may have been mistaken in their recognition that God had poured out his Spirit on the Gentiles. Neither did James come there holding out after many years and resisting the new movement of the Spirit during a "period of reception." James, as the local Apostle (bishop) appears to be presiding over this Council as its host, joining his voice to that of the all the other Apostles in defending the teaching that the Church received on that day, years earlier, when Peter was given the revelation. As for Peter (based on the part I quoted above from this same 15th chapter), it seems he must have read Paul's Epistle to the Romans, or perhaps, simply had always taught the same doctrine (imagine that).

The lesson of Acts chapter 15 is not that the Church is slow to catch on when the Spirit moves, and that we need a "period of reception" on those occasions when "time makes ancient good uncouth." There was no controversy or misunderstanding on the part of the men who held the offices of authority to teach in the Church.

And after they had held their peace, James answered, saying, Men and brethren, hearken unto me: Simeon hath declared how God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name...Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God. (14, 19)

The clearest language is employed to describe the authority with which these men sent out their unanimous defense of the revelation that had been unanimously received years earlier, which Tradition they now asserted once more.

"For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things." (v.28)

The revisionists will have to come up with something better to defend their innovations. Their tale of a long drawn-out controversy over "a new thing" simply is not what the Bible says.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Bicknell on Development of Doctrine

The following is an excerpt from The Thirty-Nine Articles by E.J. Bicknell. It comes from a chapter about Article XX* in a section called the "Church's authority in doctrine."

So we refuse to accept such doctrines as those of the Treasury of Merit or the Immaculate Conception or Papal Infallibility as true developments of Christian truth. They cannot be proved from Scripture. There is no evidence that they formed part of the beliefs of the Church in early times. Nor can they be logically deduced from apostolic teaching. Human logic is only valid when it has a complete and adequate knowledge of the facts from which it argues, but when it deals with Divine truths about which our knowledge is limited, its conclusions are at best precarious. Logic is most triumphant in dealing with abstract or mathematical statements, in the form of 'all A is B.' When we know the symbols A and B, we know at once all that there is to be known about them. They are the pure creation of the human mind. But we cannot detect in advance by logic the course of human history or the conduct of our friends. So to argue that our Lord's sinlessness and the holiness of the Blessed Virgin imply that she must have been conceived free from all taint of original sin, and to state this as a new dogma, that of 'the Immaculate Conception' is to strain logic. Such an argument would only be valid if we knew all about original sin and heredity and the manner of the Incarnation. Further, since the Blessed Virgin is a historical person we are justified in asking for historical evidence that she either claimed to be sinless or made the impression of sinlessness on others. In Scripture there are indications that at times she lacked the complete and immediate sympathy with our Lord's purposes which would be evidence of entire sinlessness. She is rebuked by Him once (John 2:4) and even takes part in an attempt to restrain Him from His ministry (MK 3:21 and 31ff). In the Acts, after the first chapter, she disappears. The whole idea of 'Immaculate Conception' is the natural outcome of the place she has come to hold in modern Roman devotions, not of the place that she held during her life on earth. Logic cannot create new facts, and the Roman doctrine needs such for its defence. We claim, then, that Roman developments of doctrine are not on the same level as the earlier developments of doctrine, such as we admit in the case of the formal statement of the doctrines of the Incarnation and the Trinity. They imply an addition from outside to the deposit of faith, and so demand in the last resort a fresh revelation. At best they are but pious opinions which grew up in the Church as the private beliefs of individuals and schools, and afterward were exalted into dogmas. We fall back upon the test of Scripture as interpreted by the Universal Church and by such a test they stand condemned.

* Article XX. Of the Authority of the Church. The Church hath power to decree rites or ceremonies and authority in controversies of faith; and yet it is not lawful for the Church to ordain anything contrary to God's word written, neither may it so expound one place of Scripture, that it be repugnant to another. Wherefore, although the Church be a witness and a keeper of Holy Writ: yet, as it ought not to decree anything against the same, so besides the same ought it not to enforce anything to be believed for necessity of salvation.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Christ the King final Sunday in October

I am busy in Roanoke today, but I want to post a link to my sermon for Christ the King Sunday from 2006.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Name of God - Revelation and Imagination

From New Directions, March 2002
Robert Hart on inclusive language

Lex Orandi Lex Credendi, ‘The law of prayer is the law of belief.’ New forms and versions of Christian liturgy become a danger to right belief to the extent that the language of such prayer is a departure from the language of revelation. Setting aside ‘what has been believed everywhere, always and by all’ (St Vincent of Lerins), creative liturgists have set about giving us new services and prayers that reach even beyond ‘inclusive language’ to call God by the unrevealed name of ‘Mother.’ This equates mere imagination with what the Church believes by revelation. The message is that God has revealed a new thing contradicting the previous revelation, making him arbitrary, confused or capricious; or, that the Christian religion is not revealed. If not revealed, then we must conclude it to be a product of that same capacity of imagination which has created religions throughout the history of man. We must conclude that all religion is merely idolatry.

‘Inclusive Language’ about God and God as ‘Mother’

‘Inclusive language’ is nothing but an ideology, based upon the false notion that ‘Man’, adam, anthropos, homo, has lost any meaning inclusive of the entire human race, making it and all related words – him, his or he – into exclusive language.1 Hence, the promise of salvation given to each individual in John 6.40 (‘I will raise him up on the last day’) becomes subject to ideological imposition of a plural to replace the singular. There is no substitute for the individual use of ‘him’, and so the Lord is misquoted as saying, ‘I will raise them up on the last day.’(1982 Hymnal) The havoc that is wrought on theology is this: the promise now appears to be made to a group, in which group not every individual, even though a faithful believer, is given any assurance of the resurrection. Or, when men are spoken of in a genuinely exclusive sense, we lose, as in the NRSV, the very much needed use of ‘fathers’ in Malachi 4.6, at a time when society’s need for men to take their paternal role has become a crisis. This unjustified rendering of av’yot as ‘parents’ instead of ‘fathers’ is just one example of many.

We can no longer speak of God as ‘Father,’ or ‘Lord.’ ‘Son’ is also unacceptable. The argument is that a God who is Father, or Son, or Lord must be inaccessible to women. The logical answer to this problem is to meet the needs of women by the elimination of ‘the Father,’ or, more boldly, by introducing ‘God the Mother’. And why not? Is it not helpful to fashion a new image of God based upon a perceived need? And, besides, we are told, the Bible gives us feminine names for God and images of God. This ideology requires a misunderstanding of the concept of names in Biblical literature, as well as a complete ignorance of the scriptural prohibition against attempting to make images of the Divine Nature. It denies revealed religion, preferring an image.

Feminist writers have ‘discovered’ a feminine meaning to such words as ruach, shadai, or shekinah, etc. Never mind the fact that there is no factual basis for these assertions, they fit the need of the ideology even despite their being fictitious. Fraudulent translations have been invoked, such as a ‘translation’ of the Hebrew word rawchem as ‘motherly compassion’, even though the ‘motherly’ part was dishonestly inserted. Be warned: this is not what it appears to be. They are not looking for authority in the revelation of scripture, but only to market their idea. Their entire system has nothing to do with revelation, and in the end must negate it.

The Revelation: what is in a name?

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

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

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

The Idolatry

At the end of the First Epistle of St John, is a very simple commandment: ‘Little children, keep yourselves from idols’ (1 John 5.21). It would have been very unlikely that people once enlightened by Christ, possessing knowledge of the true God, would be so easily deceived as to bow down before images made of wood or stone. The context of the Epistle is that it contrasts the truth of the Gospel against heresy, false teachings by which people are drawn to worship images of God that, though not ‘graven’, are nonetheless idols of the mind and heart.

One major characteristic of the feminist theology by which God’s Fatherhood is denied, and in which God is called ‘Mother’, is that the apologists for this sort of religion never use the word revelation. It is not in their vocabulary. Instead, they endorse their view of God by telling us of our need to have new and improved ‘images’ of the Divine; in this way, and by this method, they regard the revelation of God in Christ as though it is nothing but an ‘image’ as well.

Two kinds of images exist in religion: idols and icons. These two are opposites. Christ himself is called the Icon (εἰκών) of the Father in the Greek New Testament, for in his Incarnation we see that iconography exists by God’s own initiative, and is an echo of the revelation. And it is the very fact that it stems from the revelation of God that makes a written picture an icon instead of an idol. In a sense, the first icon of God was Adam; the perfect such icon is the Incarnate Christ (2 Corinthians 4.4, Colossians 1.15). We are transformed into the icons of Christ by the Holy Spirit (Romans 8.29, 2 Corinthians 3.18). ‘The Word was made flesh … and we beheld his glory’ (John 1.14). Therefore, the Church regards iconoclasm as a heresy; it was not the destruction of idols, but rather a subtle denial of Christ’s having taken human nature into his Person, and thus into the Godhead. So, the difference between iconography and idolatry is, above all else, the source; it is also the intention. Icons are based upon divine revelation, and are themselves sacramentals.

But, idols are not based upon God’s revelation. The English word image is related to the word imagination; and only understood as a product of imagination do we see religious images as idols. The human imagination, I believe, with the aid of the demons creates images as it creates gods and goddesses. People who would not worship the work of their own hands will nonetheless worship the work of their minds. The feminist theologians actually are saying that their image of a Mother God is at least equal (and I think they believe it is superior) to the revelation of the Father in Christ. Put another way, they are saying that Christianity is a form of idolatry; in fact that is their view of all religion. By this construct, there was no difference between worshiping the Lord and sacrificing to the golden calf. One was as much a mere image as the other. They want to worship their goddess, and call this pagan idolatry a form of Christianity.

But all in stages, like any strategy. First comes the ‘inclusive language’ stage. The baptismal formula has been substituted at times with ‘In the name of the Creator and the Redeemer and the Sanctifier’ – such is no true baptism. It is in three designations instead of the one Name of the Undivided Trinity. At this first stage we are told that our faith is simply the worship of an image, the product of human imagination (I would suggest that human imagination can only tend to shy away from such a mystery as the Trinity, and could not, therefore, have created it. But, that is a subject for another day). The second stage is the introduction of the new image: Mother God, the goddess, the Ashteroth, an image from the fallen mind for pagan adoration. And so, the revelation of God in Christ is rejected by being denied; the message is that it was no revelation, just an image of the divine which is outdated as a relic of the age of male dominance.

This is subtraction by addition. Christianity is based upon belief that the revelation is real and therefore true. The attempt to join a religion of human imagination to revealed religion causes not only a denial of the truth of revelation, but also of the fact of revelation. As a result there is nothing left in which to believe. The equation is simple. Idolatry plus revealed religion equals zero. Pagan idolatry can exist on its own, and revealed truth on its own. To wed the two is impossible as they must cancel each other out. Finally, it produces atheism.

Holding fast

St Paul told the Corinthian Church that they were being saved if they remembered the Gospel he taught them, lest they believed in vain (1 Corinthians 15.1f). We are commanded in scripture to ‘earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered to the saints’ (Jude 3). Our liturgies must not be the latest fad, the newest style, but the Tradition in which we pray to the God who revealed himself in Christ. Our Creeds must be the Apostle’s Creed and the Nicene (Constantinopolitan) Creed, by which we rehearse the truths of our God and his salvation. We must baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, and worship only this One undivided God who has, for our salvation, revealed himself to all men only in Christ. We must worship him only as he has made himself known by revelation, and never worship the images fashioned in our own minds. We must keep ourselves from idols.

1 See Jesus, Son of Humankind? By Paul Mankowski, S.J. in Touchstone, A Journal of Mere Christianity, vol. 14, num. 8, October, 2001.

Mommy Dearest

This month's Maggot Gagger Award goes to "Women's Ministries working for gender justice in the Church & the world" for their liturgies for trial use in the Episcopal "Church" in America.

Here are a few excerpts for the strong of stomach. This is real, not satire.

Morning Prayers to the Lady*

The Officiant (O) and the people (P) begin by saying

O: Dear Lady, open our lips

P: And our mouth shall proclaim your praise...

Confession of Sin

Silence may be kept. All kneel.

O&P: Most merciful Lady, we confess that we have

separated ourselves from you in thought, word and

deed, by what we have done and by what we have

left undone. We have not loved you with our whole

heart; we have not loved our neighbors

as ourselves; and we have even failed to love

ourselves. We are truly sorry, and we humbley

repent. Have mercy on us and forgive us; by your

love, lead us forward in a new direction that we

may delight in your vision for us and walk in your

ways to bring honor to your name. Amen.


A Collect for Guidance

Blessed Lady, walk with us this day and guide us in all the tasks we undertake. Open our hearts to hear and acknowledge the thoughts and feelings of others, especially those of children. Help us to nurture ourselves and one another without engaging in enabling behaviors. Empower us with patience, Wisdom, and joy, that at the close of day we may rest in the assurance that we, like your beautiful Son, Jesus Christ, are in right relationship with you. Amen.

A Collect for Service

Holy Lady who sent your Son Jesus Christ among us as one who serves, draw us into service this day. Give grace to those who serve others through their occupations or volunteer work. Give us grateful hearts to joyfully receive the assistance of others. Lead us to the knowledge that all challenges and relief come from your hand. Amen.

A Collect for Peace

Gentle Lady, who desires all of creation to live in perfect harmony, assist us in our search for peace...

They even created a Eucharist.

The people ( P) standing, the celebrant (C) says

Blessed be the Lady who births, redeems and

sanctifies us.

P: And blessed be all of her creation forever. Amen

C: Nurturing Mother, our hearts are open to you. You

know our yearnings and our deepest fears. Purify

our hearts with your burning love, that we may

learn to love you more and more. Amen.

C: Loving Lady, have mercy.

P: Mother Jesus, have mercy.

C: Loving Lady, have mercy.

The Collect (see Proper 5, p 229, BCP)

C&P: Mother of all mercies, all good things proceed from you. Inspire us to think right thoughts and empower us to act on them; through your beautiful Son, Jesus Christ, who with you and the Holy Spirit perpetually watches over us. Amen

This is about as much as I can stand to post. I hope I have not soured anyone's stomach.

Muslim persecution of Christians

A reader, Millow Shaw, sent me this link to a report about persecution of Christians in Egypt. I have met the kind of exiled Egyptian Copts mentioned here, who have asylum in the United States, and I know that this report is accurate.

And then you may want to read about this report from Afghanistan about a Christian woman, a "charity worker" from the the U.K.,who was assassinated, gunned down in the streets by the Taliban.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Tongues and interpretation of tongues

Understanding the times in which the English Reformers lived is necessary for an intelligent discussion of Anglicanism. Nothing better demonstrates this fact than the effort of Roman Catholic readers, of late, who have sought to straighten us out. What becomes clear in a hurry is that they cannot understand the perspective of the 16th and 17th century Church of England, and that is partly because their own people have taught them to look back at history knowing only modern definitions and concepts. (Neither does it help when an Anglican bishop, alas a Continuing Church bishop, displays the same ignorance while dismissing his own patrimony as a failed experiment of 450 years. With all due respect and with sadness, I find that statement appalling.)

When the polemicists and self-appointed apologists for Rome seek to straighten us out, they sometimes begin by revealing a fascinating presumption that we are uninformed; that we are ignorant and, in the words of one of their wordiest writers with the least to say, "don't get it." They presume that if only we understood, we would leap into the Tiber and swim merrily. They think that their church believes and practices everything exactly the same today as they did in the 16th century with the exception of vernacular vs. Latin. They believe that where Anglicanism deviates from the practices of Rome it is the Anglicans who came up with something new. How little they realize that we are the ones who have preserved many older Catholic practices that they have abandoned. In fact, our own Fr. Matthew Kirby wrote an excellent article that shows the many ways in which Anglicanism has been in the lead, and Rome has followed our example, and come around to our beliefs or practices on various matters. Is that because the Infallible Church realized the heretics were right? It is more likely that they recognized the truth, the Catholic truth, of our practices and teaching.

It is even more troubling that some Anglicans often learn from the RC apologists, and so abandon their Anglican patrimony due to ignorance and misinformation. Afterward, they testify about their wonderful conversion, and begin to argue against Anglican teaching based on a completely flawed understanding of what it is. They appear to have authority as ex-Anglicans, but in fact reveal that they never had an Anglican mind in the first place.

Let us take our Article XIX as an example, once again, of flawed understanding on the part of some modern readers who cannot appreciate the perspective of those who wrote this, originally in 1553.

XIX. Of the Church.
The visible Church of Christ is a congregation of faithful men, in the which the pure word of God is preached and the sacraments be duly ministered according to Christ's ordinance in all those things that of necessity are requisite to the same. As the Church of Jerusalem, Alexandria, and Antioch have erred: so also the Church of Rome hath erred, not only in their living and manner of ceremonies, but also in matters of faith.

So too, they misunderstand Article XXI:

XXI. Of the authority of General Councils.
General Councils may not be gathered together without the commandment and will of princes. And when they be gathered together, forasmuch as they be an assembly of men, whereof all be not governed with the Spirit and word of God, they may err and sometime have erred, even in things pertaining to God. Wherefore things ordained by them as necessary to salvation have neither strength nor authority, unless it may be declared that they be taken out of Holy Scripture

The most common mistake is failing to recall what was in the works when these Articles were being written (and forgetting that several ancient councils were rejected by the Universal Church). They forget that Rome was at that time holding the Council of Trent, and that the Church of England had no idea what would emerge. The reason these two Articles appeared was to remind the people of England that their Faith need not be shaken by any error that could come from a council limited only to the west, lacking the consent of the Universal Church, run by fallible men.

In their view the Church of Rome had erred, not only in a few ancient examples such as E.J. Bicknell recorded ("The latter section justifies the breach with Rome by denying her infallibility. As she has erred in the past, so she may err again at the Council of Trent. The allusion is to such events as the acceptance of by Pope Liberius of an Arian creed, the acquittal of Pelagius by Pope Zosimus and the lapse of Pope Honorius into Monothelitism."1) Also, she had erred in more recent times by allowing the false doctrines that caused the famous heresy of Indulgences being sold for money, offering salvation by means that even Simon Magus had never imagined. No hearty repentance and true faith was required, just the sound made when the coin in the coffer rings. These included the following:

XXII. Of Purgatory.
The Romish doctrine concerning Purgatory, Pardons, worshipping and adoration as well of Images as of Relics, and also Invocation of Saint, is a fond thing vainly invented, and grounded upon no warranty of Scripture; but rather repugnant to the word of God.

Frankly, the errors of more recent times included the requirment of celibacy in the priesthood, which thing contradicts scripture (I Timothy 3:2,12, Titus 1:6).

The programmed response even of many Anglicans is this: "That's probably unwise, but not error. It is not a matter of teaching." True enough, the Church of Rome has no doctrine of clerical celibacy. Nonetheless, this error of polity evolved from a larger error: That any idea could be good for the Church even if it flies in the face of Scripture; that the "Apostolic See" could have greater wisdom than the Apostles. This cannot be a proper exercise of Right Reason. The compounded problems that come from requiring celibacy of priests cannot be hidden; they are obvious to everyone who is willing to see facts.

XXXII. Of the Marriage of Priests.
Bishops, Priests, and Deacons are not commanded by God's laws either to vow the estate of single life or to abstain from marriage. Therefore it is lawful also for them, as for all other Christian men, to marry at their own discretion, as they shall judge the same to serve better to godliness.

The Reformers were rather clear in why they saw the Church of Rome as having erred in the past.

But, to the modern polemicists Article XIX automatically appears to deny the Infallibility of the Church. The Article does not deny the Infalliblity of the Church at all, but rather states facts of history. Neither does it say the churches are any less the Church for having erred. What is clear is that they saw the Church of Rome, that is the Church in Rome itself, as a particlular church that needed to submit, like everyone else, to the mind of the Universal Church. It was the practice of Archbishop of Canterbury, Michael Ramsey, (the last real ABC) to use the word "antiquity" where others use "Tradition." Indeed, the Scriptures and the Tradition are ancient, and the mind of the Universal Church as expressed in Antiquity carries authority to which every later generation must bow. When there was only One visible Church able to meet in Ecumenical Council (during the first millennium) it established doctrine and polity against which Rome was creating innovations and new doctrines, making a claim to have the power to create dogmas unknown to the Fathers (considering that no one had yet imagined the 1870 doctrine of Papal Infallibility, it is irrelevant to anything that was intended by writers in the Elizabethan era).

From the perspective of the Reformers in the Elizabethan era Rome was no longer fully Catholic in doctrine and practice, having abandoned Antiquity and the mind of the Universal Church, and was transgressing by its new and innovative doctrines, no matter how logically deduced. It fell to Hooker to do in greater detail what the writers of the various Articles did simply and briefly. That was to explain why Protestantism (as they used the word) was the only way to restore the Catholic Faith corrupted by Rome, and at the same time to defend the Church of England against other Protestantisms that also created new doctrines with innovations every bit as troublesome as those of Rome. For this reason the Articles imitate a Lutheran format, and show in the process a strong contrast and disagreement with the extremes of Lutheranism; and also the Articles make use of the vocabulary employed by Calvinists in order to correct the extremes and outright errors of Calvinism.

What is also misunderstood in modern times is that the theological terminology of the English Reformers, and the issues raised in their works, makes use of langauge and arguments that had been generally considered within the boundaries of acceptable thoughts and beliefs by many Catholics for centuries. For example, the opening of Article VI has caused some to make the accusation Sola Scriptura!

VI. Of the sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures for Salvation.
Holy Scriptures containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation.

It is not clear what they think sola scriptura means, except that they presume it is a rejection of the authority of Tradition (as indeed it does mean to some fundamentalists these days). But, as Fr. Laurence Wells has pointed out, the problem with the phrase is that no one ever explains what they mean by "Scripture alone." That is, alone for what exactly? In the Article we see that, assuming they had the phrase in mind at all (since they never actually used it), it would have been that the "scriptures [alone] containeth all things necessary to salvation."

And, though they never used the phrase sola scritpura or "scripture alone," if they had used it they would have considered it to be a very Catholic concept. As I have demonstrated before, it was not the Continental Reformers who came up with the phrase, but St. Thomas Aquinas.2 And, that alone indicates that they would have meant the phrase, had they used it, to be understood in a manner wholly consistent with the Tradition.3

The problem our critics have, and that some of our own who are weak in the faith have, is that they read every olde thing with the a modern mind. They cannot even understand what was meant by the words "Catholic" and "Protestant." How much less can they begin to put themselves into the world of the 16th century. If they want to read and understand the formularies of Anglicanism they may need the gift of tongues and of the interpretation of tongues.

At least they might allow Anglican teachers to interpret.

1) E.J. Bicknell, The Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England.

2) St. Thomas Aquinas wrote: Notandum autem, quod cum multi scriberent de catholica veritate, haec est differentia, quia illi, qui scripserunt canonicam Scripturam, sicut Evangelistic et Apostoli, et alii huiusmodi, ita constanter eam asserunt quod nihil dubitandum relinquunt. Et ideo dicit Et scimus quia verum est testimonium eius; Gal. I, 9: Si quis vobis evangelizaverit praeter id quod accepistis, anathema sit. Cuius ratio est, quia sola canonica scriptura est regula fidei. Alii autem sic edisserunt de veritate, quod nolunt sibi credi nisi in his quae ver dicunt. Thomas's commentary on John's Gospel, Super Evangelium S. Ioannis Lectura, ed. P. Raphaelis Cai, O.P., Editio V revisa (Romae: Marietti E ditori Ltd., 1952) n. 2656, p. 488.

Translated into English: ""It should be noted that though many might write concerning Catholic truth, there is this difference that those who wrote the canonical Scripture, the Evangelists and Apostles, and the like, so constantly assert it that they leave no room for doubt. That is what he means when he says 'we know his witness is true.' Galatians 1:9, "If anyone preach a gospel to you other than that which you have received, let him be anathema!" The reason is that canonical Scripture alone is a measure of faith. Others however so wrote of the truth that they should not be believed save insofar as they say true things." (St. Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Gospel of John 21)

3) Most likey they avoided the phrase so as not to promote the excesses of Lutherans and Calvinists.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

A public stand on abortion

A reader named Kamilla provided a link to an address given recently by [Roman] Catholic Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver. This is well worth reading, and below is an excerpt. Everything his address says about Catholics and a public expression on abortion applies to all Christians equally. It is right to stand up for what we believe.

And here’s the irony. None of the Catholic arguments advanced in favor of Senator Obama are new. They’ve been around, in one form or another, for more than 25 years. All of them seek to “get beyond” abortion, or economically reduce the number of abortions, or create a better society where abortion won’t be necessary. All of them involve a misuse of the seamless garment imagery in Catholic social teaching. And all of them, in practice, seek to contextualize, demote and then counterbalance the evil of abortion with other important but less foundational social issues.

This is a great sadness. As Chicago’s Cardinal Francis George said recently, too many Americans have “no recognition of the fact that children continue to be killed [by abortion], and we live therefore, in a country drenched in blood. This can’t be something you start playing off pragmatically against other issues.”

Read the whole address here.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Trinity XXII The unforgiving servant

This year with the Prayer Book Feast Day of St. Luke so close to Sunday (Saturday) my only new sermon was for that. But, click on the picture (The Small Crucifixion by Matthias Grunewald) and it will link you to my sermon about the Unforgiving Servant, that is the Gospel for the 22nd Sunday after Trinity, from last year.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Fr. John Hollister's Layreader sermon for St.Luke 2008

In addition to the sermons I post, and the links to sermons from Ed Pacht, Fr. John Hollister creates Layreader sermons in a PDF format. These are normally meant to go along with Morning Prayer lessons. The plan here is to add a "page element" to the right side of the blog after this initial post.

For the Feast of St.Luke, here is the link to the PDF file. The pages are scrambled because it is meant to be printed and folded.

UPDATE: I think I have found the solution to the problem mentioned in the comments below. Please, someone, hit the link and let me know if the PDF file opens now for someone other than me on another computer.

A pro-abortion record

American readers need to see what Robert George has to say about the record of the Democrat's Presidential candidate. This is not a political blog, and we are not endorsing anyone. Nonetheless, I know Robert George from editorial discussions among editors of Touchstone, and my brother David Bentley Hart knows him even better. When he documents facts, those facts are reliable.

Some of the facts Dr. George presents are new to me, and I thought of myself as well-informed.

Here is the link.

Robert P. George is McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence and Director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton University. He is a member of the President's Council on Bioethics and previously served on the United States Commission on Civil Rights. He sits on the editorial board of Public Discourse.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Odd Couple

Article XIX:Of the Church.
THE visible Church of Christ is a congregation of faithful men, in the which the pure word of God is preached and the sacraments be duly ministered according to Christ's ordinance in all those things that of necessity are requisite to the same. As the Church of Jerusalem, Alexandria, and Antioch have erred: so also the Church of Rome hath erred, not only in their living and manner of ceremonies, but also in matters of faith.

Once again this week I was subjected to the oft repeated claim that only two churches have any integrity, validity, catholic standing, and all that. Against the backdrop of current news that highlights the "realignment" within the Anglican Communion-those other Anglicans who don't always share our convictions-the following was in an e-mail from a long time friend:

"The only two churches that have enough past to be taken seriously in the future do not show the slightest interest in any such realignment."

This friend long ago became a member of the Orthodox Church, and his sentence is about those exclusive and unique (?) institutions we may call the Two One True Churches. That is, the Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church (with its other Catholic churches under the Pope). Indeed, we love and honor both of them, which is more than they usually say for each other. In our ecclesiology there is room for them both as part of the Church in its fullness, unlike the respective ecclesiology of each of them concerning the other (let alone everybody else). If the Two One True Churches were no longer twain but one, then they might have some credibility to their exclusivist claim. Their mutual exclusion still bears witness to the fact that they too have erred at different times, and have yet to work out their differences.

Nonetheless, I cannot blame these churches for the fact that many of their members have a wrongheaded notion of Anglicanism. They confuse Anglicanism with the "Anglican Communion," and along with us they notice it suffers from a corrupted polity and heretical doctrines. Like us, they have no desire to be part of that structure, or to be contaminated by its errors. Therefore, I contributed my own thoughts to the e-mail stream:

"It is almost impossible to find traces of Anglicanism in the Anglican Communion. The mantle was discarded and taken up just over thirty years ago. The best the Anglican Communion can come up with is the GAFCON statement; but we (in the Continuum) still abide by The Affirmation of St. Louis (1977), which merely asserted Traditional Christianity.

"It is my experience with conservative Episcopalians and with realigned Anglicans (of the sort who mistake Stand Firm for something Anglican) that even the most 'conservative' of them (or even the most 'orthodox' by their standard) do not recognize quotations of, or allusions to, classic Anglican formularies. They think the Articles are Calvinism (which the Calvinists of the time did not, hence their consistent opposition), they think Baptismal Regeneration is debatable, they think Apostolic Succession is optional, etc. These things are debatable in the large world of ecumenical Christian relations, but they are settled matters in Anglican formularies, leaving no room for that kind of 'comprehensiveness.' I have even found self-proclaimed Anglicans who are surprised to hear that Anglicanism has always defined itself as both Catholic and Protestant (which means these folks have absolutely no understanding whatsoever of the patrimony they claim for themselves). Frankly, these 'conservatives' have no roots at all.

"How can they understand the Anglican mind if they draw a complete blank when I remind them that the sacraments of baptism and communion 'are generally necessary to salvation' (Catechism, and Offices of Instruction)? Or, if they argue against the priestly power to absolve sins (the Ordinal-rather explicit about that I might add)? I have seen other examples, and they are astonishing. The treatment of women's 'ordination' as as a 'secondary issue' requires treating at least one sacrament 'generally necessary to salvation' as secondary.

"The result of this rootless 'conservatism' is that much of what I write on The Continuum blog is designed to convert Anglicans to Anglicanism"

Nonetheless, I can put up with only so much, especially from friends. To say that only the Two One True Churches "have enough past to be taken seriously in the future," is simply wrong. First of all, what is required to be taken seriously is fidelity to the true doctrine of Christ as revealed in Scripture, and as taught and defended in the Tradition, and the Sacraments. The first part of Article XIX makes this clear by defining the Visible Church as "a congregation of faithful men, in the which the pure word of God is preached and the sacraments be duly ministered according to Christ's ordinance in all those things that of necessity are requisite to the same." Indeed, what else is there?

If what gives credibility is simple continuity of an institution recognized by a distinctive name, then to call ourselves Anglicans, especially as Anglicans of the Continuing Church, is unimpressive. This gives us only a brief time in which we can look back on a past of our own. That weakness coupled with smaller numbers than the Two One Trues, must provide a constant source of amusement to them. They are so ancient, and so big. We are so young and, compared to their millions upon millions, so small. They know that when we finally "get it," we will take their advice: "When you get to the fork in the road, take it." Somehow, the purity of the word of God preached in our churches, and the sacraments no matter how duly administered, only makes it easier for them to deride us. Just who do we think we are? At least the many Protestant denominations out there don't think of themselves as really Catholic, at least not like the great big Odd Couple of east and west (don't forget to fill out your Form 1054 by April 15th).

First of all, to meet the Odd Couple on its own terms, the Church of England is ancient, and our Anglican Patrimony, in terms of a claim to a past, beats the Russian Orthodox Church hands down. After the ancient Celtic Church of the Britons (which was established in the First Century) worked out a mutual polity with the Church of the Angles (English) at the Council of Whitby (664 AD), they formed into one Ecclesia Anglicana at the Council of Hertford (673 AD). But, is even that claim to the past, impressive as it is, what matters most?

We hold to our Article XIX. Regarding the Visible Church, other than the genuine ministry of God's word and sacraments, what do we need in order to be part of the Body of Christ? These two things, God's word and the sacraments, in a congregation of faithful Christians, contain all the antiquity necessary in every meaningful way, of the whole Church. We have the past that truly matters: Our church was not born in the 7th century, and certainly not in the 16th century. It was born on the Day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came on the Apostles and other disciples that had gathered in the upper room, and were at that moment in the temple at prayer. Our Church was born in Jerusalem that very day, and it spread out from there to many nations.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Be Angry

Normally it's Fr. Hart who posts sermons on this blog, but certain thoughts have been coming to me, once a pastor, but now a layman, that needed to be said. (I needed to hear them.) The following is unashamedly preaching, but I hope it may be heard.

Ephesians 4:23-27 (King James Version)
"... be renewed in the spirit of your mind;
... put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.
Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbour: for we are members one of another.
Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath:
Neither give place to the devil."

Pilate refused to get angry, or at least to show anger. He asked, "What is truth?", as if the truth did not matter, and allowed a man he knew to be innocent to be killed, not for truth, but for cold and rational expedience. Anger would have been better than indifference.

In the Revelation, St. John reports Our Lord as saying to certain Christians, "You're neither hot nor cold; you're lukewarm and disgusting, I'll spit you out of my mouth." Anger would have been better than indifference.

German citizens under Hitler avoided getting angry when first one group and then another was carried off to concentration camps. Absolute tyranny took over. Anger would have been better than indifference.

In a certain church, step by step the truth has been relinquished. Doctrinal error has been tolerated. Morality has been ignored. The extermination of the unborn has been championed. The ancient order has been compromised by the ordination of women. And so it goes on and on, while many hold their tempers and yield. Anger would have been better than indifference.

St. Paul in the passage quoted writes about a renewal of the mind, about a new man whose nature is righteousness and holiness, about a commitment to the truth. In this context he speaks with a startling and uncompromising use of the imperative mood: "Be angry," he says. There's reason for it. Satan and his fallen legions abound in this earth, and there is evil that is distinctly hated by God Himself. If we are not angry, we have either misunderstood the threat or we have misunderstood God Himself. St. Paul is not making a suggestion, nor is he yielding to the inevitable, but rather he is issuing a solemn command.

There's more, however, St. Paul goes on, "And sin not." Anger can lead to a loss of self-control. It can lead to any of several forms of hatred. It can result in hurtful action. It can produce permanent and needless estrangement. Truly righteous anger does indeed hate the sin, but we have a very clear instruction from Our Lord: "Love your enemies. Do good to those that persecute you. Return good for evil." A righteous anger recognizes that the sinner is enslaved by his sin, that the sin is just as harmful to the sinner as it is to any victim. A righteous anger is controlled, proportionate, loving, and inviting.

There's more. St. Paul continues, "Don't let the sun go down on your wrath, but don't give place to the devil." In short, calm down before you go to sleep. Make sure you are at peace in the Lord. Make sure your motivation is love. Pray for the one who has occasioned your anger. But do not let that mildness lull you into acceptance of the evil. Don't let Satan win this one, either by destroying your peace or by getting his way unopposed.

This is an outline of robust and polite discussion. We'll fail to reach such a lofty standard, but this is the God-given goal that should be regulating our attempts to argue truth in a terribly distorted world. We Anglicans speak much of a "via media" of a middle way. This is not a pursuit of compromise, but of the single truth that lies at the center of living, from which deviation in either direction leads to danger. Be Angry, but don't sin.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Of the rights of Pig

Or Legal Fiction

"The time has come," the Walrus said,
"To talk of many things:
Of shoes--and ships--and sealing-wax--
Of cabbages--and kings--
And why the sea is boiling hot--
And whether pigs have wings."

Lewis Carroll, The Walrus and the Carpenter from Through the Looking Glass.

Thus saying the Walrus showed aptitude for a certain kind of jurisprudence. He was well on the way to developing a position which extends the mere question of whether pigs have wings to the more important issue of the right of pigs to flight by their own power. After all, a careful reading of the answer given by the Walrus to the oysters, in Lewis Carroll's famous poem, clues us in to the fact that the Walrus had great potential to become a lawyer by profession.

Therefore, his question really meant, when translated into the language of law: "Does the Constitution not guarantee to pigs the same right as it does to birds, bats and winged insects? Will not the best and most exquisitely tortured logic aid in the discovery of this right, deeply embedded in the spaces between words, clearly vague, in the Constitution?"

Of course the whole issue of the nature of pigs, and whether indeed they have wings, and just what they would be able to do with wings if they had them, is of no concern to the Walrus. His concern, is, instead, an understanding of rights which is up to date, and the application of that understanding to pig-flight rights specifically. Nature, and the work of God are not relevant. This is because he holds an essentially atheist view of the rights of man- or in this case pig- which is not the correct understanding of what the American Founding Fathers meant by the very word "rights"- and yes, I know he is an English Walrus; but lawyers are lawyers, whether wigged barristers or well-suited attorneys.

In the Walrus' view, rights are created by men, and produced specifically by the government as acts of law. The idea that God has placed them in nature is completely alien to him (which is possibly due to his having too much about oyster breakfasts on his mind). He has assumed that the entire notion of rights is grounded in societal evolution, as the creation of created beings rather than of the Creator. Therefore, rights are what we say they are, not what they actually are as part of nature

If I am right about the Walrus, then it is very easy to believe that he could entertain, as well, a completely false notion of the institution of marriage. He would not understand it as God's own work, but would wrongly conclude that it is a product of society. He will not see that it is grounded in nature itself, as the work of God; he will think it is a man-made institution, and that it has evolved in history, and that it can be transformed by law because times have changed.

By failing to see that rights and marriage are not the products of society, law and government, he will believe that legislation or arbitrary judicial activism can change them into whatever he and his colleagues dictate. Likewise, the question of whether pigs have wings is secondary to the right of pigs to use wings. But, if nature cannot aid pigs to fly because God has not given them wings, then Mr. Walrus, esquire would be quite mistaken about the whole matter of rights altogether.

My argument against a pig’s right to fly is in line with the understanding of rights which the Founding Fathers put forth as the very basis of their reasoning both for Declaring Independence and for the Constitution. Before I proceed to argue against the Walrus or any lawyer who contends for the right of pigs to use wings (or for why Adam may marry Steve), I must point out that we should reject both extreme views of the men who gave us both American Independence, and later the Constitution.

In one school of thought they were all devout Christians basing their views on the Bible; in the other, they were all Deists who espoused anti-Christian pagan philosophy. Both of these points of view fail to give an accurate picture: In fact, they were among the most educated men of their generation, and were expressing an understanding that included the whole body of civilized thought from antiquity to modernity, aided by a unique strain of pure and genuine American character. (A young country? Perhaps; but never a child. When western civilization came of age, the result was the Constitution of the United States.)

They drew upon the Bible, the philosophy and history of the ancient world, and the experience of centuries of European weal and woe. Some were Christians; some were Deists, or at least very difficult to define, especially Jefferson. But, what they held in common, a view which makes sense from the standpoint of the whole Christian Tradition, is that rights deserve the protection of law and government because they have been given by God, and exist in His world as facts.

This means that their idea of rights was based upon "Nature and Nature's God" instead of upon the power of human governments. This alone gives justification to the belief that any government that becomes "destructive of these ends of right ought to be overthrown." This is the foundation of American philosophy, and it gives recognition to God as the Author of anything which justly can be called a "right." It was revolutionary conservatism, as strange as that may sound, because it was the conclusion of all that was held to be true over the whole history of civilization.

It means also that unless a right exists in nature, it does not exist at all. The only rights which governments are "instituted among men" to protect, are rights which are God-given. Whatever one may think of the religious beliefs of the individuals who were in the Continental Congress, and later the Constitutional Convention, this basic belief is impossible to defame as "un-Christian" pagan deism. In fact, it is, to borrow yet another phrase, "self-evident." Genuine rights belong to the creation of God, and exist really and truly as part of nature.

But, all of this goes over the head of the lawyers who argue for the right of pigs to fly.

The poor Walrus (if I am right about his professional aspirations to practice law) thinks that rights come from the law itself, that they are government inventions. He believes not only that they can change with the times, but that they must. He scoffs at the idea of Natural Law, preferring, apparently, a law that is essentially unnatural. I fear that, in addition to arguing for the right of pigs to fly by their own power, he will argue that a man may marry another man, a woman another woman, and perhaps, in time, that a man may even marry his horse. A right to marry according to one's preference is something that the State cannot justly deny; that is, once we wrongly assume that rights are man-made inventions through the power of law, and that marriage is an institution of societal evolution.

The Walrus has forgotten, if indeed he ever knew, that marriage was "instituted by God" and that it is part of nature. The story of Adam and Eve is meant to teach this very doctrine. And, as our Lord Jesus Christ explained it, it was the plan and work of God: "From the beginning of the creation God made them male and female. ‘For this cause shall a man leave his father and his mother, and cleave unto his wife, and they twain shall be one flesh'; so then they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together...". The laws which recognize and protect marriage are based upon the same concept of "Nature and Nature's God" spoken of directly in the Declaration of Independence, and which provides the rationale for the Constitutional Amendments which guarantee the protection of God-given rights.

The Walrus, should he ever appear for such a plaintiff as "Adam and Steve," would be correct about one thing however. The idea that two persons of the same sex can actually have a right to be married is worthy of the same consideration we must give to "whether pigs have wings."

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Belshazzar's Wall

Beg pardon for posting two poems one right after the other, but a comment appearing below sparked this piece, and I couldn't resist posting it.

October 11, 2008. I just read a comparison of the life of Americans in this time with that of the court of Babylon in Daniel's day. A hand wrote on the wall and doom came to that society. The economy seems to be tanking out at the immediate moment. Could it be the same message? ...

Belshazzar's Wall
an acrostic

Many men making merry,
Eating freely of the substance of the land
Never giving thought to their Creator
Even offering insult to their God

Money flowing oh-so-freely
Every pleasure is with passion sought
No god worshiped but great Mammon
Endless blasphemies in them abound

Those who worship at that altar
Each pursuing his own right
Killing there their unborn children
Ending lives almost begun
Living thus in phoney freedom

Unless they shall now mend their ways
Prostrate lying at the feet of God
His hand shall come to rest upon them
And they shall know the cost of sin
Repent, He says, amend your ways
Seek forgiveness at the Cross
In sorrow come to seek His joy
Now and evermore. Amen.

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

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Your Enemies

October 11, 2008. A quotation in the sidebar of This blog:
"...there are men whom one hates until a certain moment when one sees, through a chink in their armour, the writhing of something nailed down and in torment."
-----Gerald Kersh, author of Night And The City

not worthy of love,
speaking evil,
doing evil,
radiating evil to the air,
hurting the helpless,
seeming to delight in their pain,
denying truth,
spreading poison lies ...

wrapped in armor like a shell,
invulnerable, it would seem,
beyond the reach of correction,
beyond possibility of cure,
so it would seem ...

Some are easy to hate,
some seem fit to despise,
some are beyond the reach of love,
or so we think until ...

... until we penetrate,
until we scry beneath that shell,
until we behold as through a crack,
the agony within,
the agony that wracks that soul,
the pain from which infection grows,
and, toxic, oozes from that soul,
attempting vainly that deep pain to ease,
but only feeding fires of hate,
only building higher prison walls,
increasing that dread weight of pain.

We scry,
and contemplate
the suffering of that poisoned soul.
We see the pain,
before it cringe,
and our own hatred is transformed,
and, almost feeling what he feels,
we weep,
our tears flow free,
our anger suddenly defused,
we pity,
and pity grows to love,
and love leads to prayer,
and prayer changes things,
beginning with us who pray,
and pity grows to love,
and, though perhaps not now
nor in a time we see,
but before all things are done,
love conquers all.

"Love your enemies ...
Pray for them that despitefully use you ...
Return good for evil."
-----Jesus Christ.

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

Friday, October 10, 2008

Twenty-first Sunday after Trinity

Eph. 6:10-20

"For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand."

In the nice world of religious pleasantries, today’s text from Saint Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians has no meaning. The idea of spiritual warfare, striving against demons, is seen as quaint, outdated, the product of an age of ignorance rendered irrelevant by scientific rationalizations. In other words, it is disregarded due to the bigotry of our modern age, and the arrogant assumption that the little bit of knowledge we have gained about material things gives us wisdom about the invisible world and its realities. The words of Shakespeare’s Hamlet speak to our age : “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

The problem with the modern Rationalist prejudice is that people who suffer from it think it is not a prejudice. They do not know the difference between being rational and being a Rationalist. I, for one, am rational enough to know that the belief that there is a scientific explanation for everything, is simply a new dogma that rests on faith without evidence- the very thing they accuse us of. They say “a rational explanation” or “scientific explanation” because they either disregard the true meaning of words, or do not know what the words mean. By “rational,” they do not mean the use of reason, but rather the prejudiced dismissal of belief in natures supernatural to those natures below them. By “scientific” they do not mean the acquisition of knowledge through empiricism, but rather, the dismissal of facts that cannot be explained in strictly material terms. For these reasons, I do not regard the Rationalists, or believers in what is called "Scientism" (as opposed to simply "science") as being either rational, scientific or sophisticated. Quite the opposite.

On the other hand, a large number of people these days who escape the influence of the Rationalist prejudice look for the supernatural in all the wrong places. A few years ago I was watching something, that passed for a documentary, about a family that had been living in fear and torment because their daily experiences indicated to them that their house was haunted. In fact, they feared that the spirits were evil, and even called them demonic. But, to whom did they turn for help? They called in a man who supposedly was a “Doctor of Paranormal Psychology.” I don’t know where they found this D.P.P., but, I do know that there is no university anywhere that would bestow a doctorate for something called “Paranormal Psychology.” That is, of course, unless Mr. Haney from the old comedy “Green Acres” has opened his own university. And, who did this alleged doctor call in for “expert” help? A psychic. And, did the "psychic"- that is, medium- offer any help? No. Just very bad advice, namely, to regard the tormenting affliction as a rare “psychic” gift. Finally, after finding no help from the psychic, they asked their pastor for help. It turns out that they were members of some sort of Pentecostal denomination. It was obvious, from a scene filmed in their church, that theirs was not one of the kooky fringe snake-handling types, but a simple old fashioned Protestant congregation with a seemingly reasonable pastor, one who seemed to know how to pray in faith. I wonder why these church-going people failed to go to their pastor first.

I mention this because, if any of you are impressed by psychics, or fortune-tellers, or go to seances, or any engage in any other occult practices, I want to be clear with you. The kinds of evil spirits that Saint Paul speaks of in today’s Epistle are very real. If you are looking for the supernatural in all the wrong places yourself, there are two things you need to know. First of all, it is a sin. It belongs to a forbidden world of idolatry and magic that the Biblical prophets referred to as a spiritual form of adultery, because it is unfaithfulness to God. Secondly, it is forbidden because it is dangerous. You may think that demon possession is only a Hollywood genre within a larger genre of horror movies. No. It is real, and the Church has always maintained that it is real. I have had to perform an exorcism on a real life demon possessed person in my time (more than one really), and I know it is real. Just as I know that miracles of healing still happen by the power of Christ, because I am an eyewitness to them. It is all of it quite real, everything you see in the pages of scripture, all of those supernatural events recorded in the New Testament (and, by the way, if you think you may need someone to do an exorcism, don’t call in a psychic. It is a job for a priest, not a circus sideshow act).

We live in a natural world that interacts with a world of holy angels and fallen angels. The holy angels are God’s servants, and the fallen angels are called "demons" (δαιμόνιον, daimonion) in the New Testament (translated as “devils” in the King James Version). The latter seem not to be super-human, but sub-human. The evidence indicates that they resent us, because we are destined to be, by God’s grace in the Lord Jesus Christ, “partakers of the Divine nature.” (II Pet. 1:4) Satan and his fallen angels were defeated when Christ died on the cross, the sinless One for the sins of the many. If you saw Mel Gibson’s The Passion, you may recall that right after the Lord gives up His spirit and dies, and the earth quakes, that Satan cries out in agony from being defeated. That is not a bad scene at all; it makes a very true point about Christ in his cross defeating the enemy of mankind. Because we live in the time of Easter, that is Christ’s resurrection, and because we live in the time of Pentecost, that is, because we are the Church of Christ filled with the Holy Spirit and His gifts and power, we need not fear any evil power such as the spirits mentioned in today’s Epistle. They are, as the Lord Jesus told us, subject to us. If I may be critical, an exorcism is not something to be tried or attempted. It is, rather, something to be done. When it is the appropriate thing to do, it must be done with faith, faith that it cannot possibly fail.

Listen to these words from the tenth chapter of Luke’s Gospel:

"And the seventy returned again with joy, saying, Lord, even the devils are subject unto us through thy name. And he said unto them, I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven. Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall by any means hurt you. Notwithstanding in this rejoice not, that the spirits are subject unto you; but rather rejoice, because your names are written in heaven." (Luke 10:17-20)

This brings us to an unavoidable question: If they are subject to us, and we can trample all over them, and they cannot hurt us, why does Saint Paul tell us to put on the whole armor of God? Why are we in a fight? The answer is to be found in scripture, and also in the tradition of spiritual warriors throughout the history of the Church, such as Saint Anthony and the desert fathers; it is continued today among monks such as my younger brother got to know on the famous Mount Athos, and many others who have been spiritual directors. The demons work hidden from our view through temptations into sin, and they work mainly through deception.

In the New Testament we see that false teaching is attributed to the work of demons. The scripture speaks of “seducing spirits and doctrines of demons,” “the spirit of error” and the “spirit of Antichrist.” How do you understand that in our time the former Episcopal bishop of New Jersey attracts audiences and readers by proclaiming that it is high time for Christianity to abandon belief in God? How is it that many cults exist that cause people to suffer both spiritual and physical harm? Apart from the countless and shocking examples of heresy, ask yourself how much you are willing, in your own mind, to abandon the direct teaching of the word of God in the scripture as understood by the Church in every place and age, in favor of ideas that you like better? Where do those ideas come from? These ideas, that we all must fight by wearing "the helmet of salvation," are capable of reaching the flesh because it has sympathetic vibrations in its tendency to sin. All of us must wear the armor, the whole armor of God, and we must consciously and deliberately put it on every day.

My dear brothers and sisters, it is time we all took heed to Saint Paul’s words. It is time we all put upon ourselves the whole armor of God, and gave ourselves to prayer.