Tuesday, March 31, 2009


Now that Fr. Kirby may be typing more sermons, and thus able to post them, we are able to give more resources to lay readers who must carry the weight of Morning Prayer in churches that are without a priest, and to men who are ordained only far enough for Deacon's liturgies with the pre-sanctified, that is Reserve Sacrament, and who are not yet either licensed or confident (I say not yet) to compose their own without some help. For the first category especially, I want to draw your attention to a link over on the right of this page, under Resources. In a cooperative effort Mr. Ed Pacht (Poetreader) and Fr. John Hollister offer "Sermons for Layreaders" every week, and have done so for quite some time.

Some may think we are foolish to give these things away without charge. But, our main desire is to be of assistance whenever and wherever needed for the good of the Church, that God's people may be edified.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

That Terrible Trent

Recent discussion of a Statement of Faith of the Anglican Catholic Church (written by the late Abp Stephens, then Primate) led to disagreement over whether individual members or churches of the TAC could agree to it in good conscience. It was claimed that acceptance of Roman Catholic dogma, as has been signalled recently by the bishops of the TAC, was incompatible with acceptance of the Abp Stephen's statement. I support the position that there is nothing in the ACC's statement manifestly contradicted by RC dogma, since, in regard to the main purported contradiction, the ACC accepting Seven Ecumenical Councils is not, according to a strictly literal and grammatical interpretation, contradictory to also accepting other, later Councils as Ecumenical (unless the qualifier “only” is added to the “Seven”, which it was not).

However, during this discussion a more substantial point was made, namely, that one could not accept the authority of the Council of Trent and be faithfully Anglican Catholic. Given that, at the very least, I do not perceive Trent as anything like an insurmountable obstacle between us and the RCC, I thought it was important for me to explain why.

What has puzzled me about these claims of Tridentine error and offensiveness is how entirely non-specific they have been. That is to say, no actual example of doctrinal error has been given, instead we are told to have “no truck with Trent”. This echoes the approach of C. B. Moss, a famous High Church theologian, who made Trent the dividing line between Anglican and Roman Catholics, but only seemed to give one specific reason for this. And that reason was that at Trent the RCC had taught that dogma did not need Scriptural support, but could rely on extra-Scriptural Tradition alone. While this is certainly inconsistent with Anglican formularies and the Patristic Consensus, the RC theologian Tavard has shown that it is not a necessary interpretation of the Tridentine decrees. Indeed, at Trent it was actually suggested that it be said the Church derived its doctrines “partly” from Scripture and “partly” from Tradition. This suggestion was rejected, so the belief that binding doctrine is to be all derived from Scripture as interpreted by Tradition (i.e., the Anglican Catholic position) is not excluded by Trent. It is also worth noting that Newman maintained and defended this view of the relationship between Scripture and Tradition even after he transferred from the Church of England to the Roman Catholic Church, and without censure. So, no insurmountable obstacle there.

Is the Tridentine way of expressing this and other teachings entirely felicitous, or always the most suitable? Probably not. But even RCs are not obliged to say it is. All that is asked is that the parts of the Council's statements that are binding and de fide be accepted as without error. Not every part of these statements are binding in the same way or to the same degree, by the way. Many were disciplinary only. The dogmatic Canons with anathemas attached are binding, whereas, as I understand it, the long doctrinal Chapters of Decrees are to be accepted in their general sense (and in conformity with the Canons), with not every sentence necessarily infallible. So, to complain of Anglo-Papalists supposedly having to affirm all Trent's statements unreservedly (as wholly and absolutely infallible) would be attacking a straw man.

Now, it is pretty clear that much of the rest of Tridentine teaching is entirely consistent with Anglican Catholicism. We too affirm 7 sacraments, Eucharistic Sacrifice, the Invocation of Saints, the relative honouring of images, etc., etc. The areas I can see where apparent obstacles may be claimed are as follows: first, the Canon of Scripture; second, Purgatory and Indulgences; third, Transubstantiation; fourth, the legitimacy of withholding the chalice from communicants; fifth, the strict necessity to forgiveness of mortal sins of sacramental confession or the desire for it; and, sixth, the definition of Justification.

The first obstacle is very small indeed once one realises that the Tridentine dogma on the Canon of the Scripture does not say whether different parts have different levels of authority, as I think Pusey also noted. Since we include all the books the RCC does, though giving the Deuterocanonical books less authority (though they are quoted as the word of God in the Homilies of Article XXXV), there is no contradiction.

The second issue I have dealt with here, and resolution of apparent differences is possible.

As for the third issue, there have been a long line of RC theologians in good standing, both pre- and post-Tridentine, who define Transubstantiation, in non-materialistic ways that eschew pseudo-scientific accounts, as a real transformation of the fundamental identity and being (the “quidditas”) of the Elements into the Body and Blood through a spiritual presence, while acknowledging the persisting reality of the Elements in their material properties, this position being perfectly Patristic and compatible with Anglican Catholicism, as argued persuasively by many Anglican theologians, including the great Bishop Forbes of the 19th Century.

The fourth item on the list refers to Trent's affirmation that the Church had good reason for withholding the chalice and that denial of this is sinful. While it is hard not to criticise this position, the fact is that it is not really a dogmatic decree but a condemnation of those disagreeing with a past disciplinary, prudential decision. Dissenting from the Tridentine statements that the “holy Catholic Church” had “just reasons” to do this might involve the view that since the East never did this, the “holy Catholic Church” did not do it either, so the relevant canon defends an act which we do not condemn because we do not believe it ever occurred in the way claimed! Or, we might simply say that we differ on the justness of this disciplinary action (as we do on the justness of non-vernacular liturgies for so many centuries in the mediaeval Western Church), but in doing so merely dissent from a non-infallible, non-dogmatic decree and canon. (Trent's dogmatic argument that the communicant is not absolutely commanded by divine precept to communicate in both kinds is not a doctrinal barrier, since Anglicans have never condemned those communicating only in one kind for medical or other reasons.)

The fifth issue dissolves once one discovers that Trent also stated that the requirement for sacramental confession in particular circumstances was due to “ecclesiastical usage”. In other words, in itself it is not a matter of Divine law. (However, Scriptural, Anglican and Patristic teaching would imply that normally reconciliation of notorious sinners does intrinsically require sacramental confession and absolution for the sake of the Body. And the Council of Trent does say that the specific confession of all remembered mortal sins, public or not, is mandated by Divine right within sacramental confession, this position having roots in the Canons of the undivided Church.) Therefore, the relevant Tridentine statements on the necessity of sacramental confession for those conscious of mortal sin, no matter how contrite, before partaking of the Eucharist are actually historically conditioned disciplinary decrees, strictly peaking, not dogmatic, and thus are not irreformable.

As for the definition of Justification, and soteriology in general, I hope to write more on this issue soon and to do so in an eirenic context. However, there is certainly nothing in the Anglican formularies that absolutely forbids allowing the word “justification” to have impartational connotations as well as imputational ones. Indeed, one of the Homilies referred to in the Articles, “For the Rogation-days”, says: “To justify a sinner, to new create him from a wicked person to a righteous man, is a greater act, saith St Augustine, than to make such a new heaven and earth as is already made.” But it is only such a complete rejection of impartational connotations that is anathematised by Trent! As I have noted before, the intrinsic (and even, in some sense, causal) connection between the forgiveness and renewal aspects of salvation is explicitly taught in the Book of Common Prayer, when we pray that the baptised “may receive remission of sin by spiritual regeneration”. This is consistent with the Tridentine description of sanctifying grace as the “formal cause” of justification. (Ironically, Calvin himself, as I learned recently, taught that there was for Christians such a thing as a non-imputational aspect of salvation that could be termed “righteousness” or “justice”, which was conceptually and really, though not verbally, distinct from imputational justification. Hooker did the same, using the terms “first justification” and “second justification”.)

In conclusion, I contend, along with respected Anglo-Catholics of the past, that Trent is not so terrible after all (though far from perfect) and, if understood in the light of the larger Tradition, is entirely capable of Orthodox interpretation and as such neither proof of Roman heresy nor an insuperable barrier to reconciliation.

Passion Sunday 2009

I thought it was about time I put another sermon up, since Fr Hart has been carrying the load so much for so long on this weblog. While most of my sermons have been handwritten for some time, of late I have begun to type them again more often. Please note that this is not necessarily the sermon as it would be preached, verbatim. I tend to expand and ad lib somewhat in the actual presentation.

[B]y his own blood [Jesus] entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us.+

The word “eternal” occurs 3 times in this Epistle (Heb 9.11f). The first is in the verse just quoted. In the second instance, we are told Christ “offered himself“ “through the eternal Spirit”. And then we are told that the purpose of this offering was that “they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritence”.

Thus we learn that the Cross was eternal, unending in its power to save and bring us finally to live with God forever. It is important to realise that this is more than just a promise of permanence, a guarantee that the effects of our Lord's Sacrifice will not finish or fail. This is not just a statement of duration. The fact that the Sacrifice of the Cross is eternal in its effects is related to the fact that it exists in and draws upon the eternity of God Himself. It does not decay or dilute or decrease because it can not do so. The victory of the Cross is invincible, and so eternal.

But there is more to it even than that. Eternity in God does not just mean going on forever in time or starting at a certain point and never ceasing after that. Eternity means timelessness. “Before” time existed, God is. He is outside time. There is a sense in which God did not “wait” until a certain moment to make this Sacrifice a reality. The night before He offered himself, the Lord prayed, “Father, it is time for you to glorify me with that glory I had with you before ever the world was" (Jerusalem Bible, John 17.5). Is this exclusively a reference to the obvious glory of the Resurrection and Ascension after the Cross? Or does it include the suffering and death of his Self-Offering? We cannot forget that Christ described the Cross as him being “lifted up” (John 3.14), a clear double-meaning. St Paul says, “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ”. (While the word for glory here means boast or "take pride in" and is not from the same Greek word as "glory" in John's Gospel, a conceptual connection is difficult to deny.) There is a sense in which the Cross was always imprinted on the heart of God, long before the lance pierced the heart of God the Son's human flesh. The Cross does not just tell us what God has done, but what He is, who He has always been. This is an astonishing truth, well worth meditating upon.

However, as beautiful and mysterious as this truth is, it is also very practical and personal to each of us. For deriving from the eternity of the Cross is the eternity of our redemption, our forgiveness and freedom from the power of sin, and the eternity of our inheritence, the promise of eternity experiencing God. Our salvation is not a fragile gift, or a fleeting thing which we must grasp at desperately, as if God had released for us a creature quick and wild and sent us hunting it. No, it is solid, firm, and safely held in the hand of faith. While it is true we must not presume upon grace or pretend automatically to know with absolute, infallible certainty that we will reach Heaven, Christian Hope is more than just a wish for final salvation. While we know that we could depart God's grace, the more we live by faith and love, the greater becomes our certainty of reaching the goal, and the greater becomes our sense of total dependency on God and His power to keep us in His grace. Let us rejoice, for God holds onto us harder than we can ever hold on to Him. Jesus said “I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand” (John 10.28)

It is this Hope, this certainty of eternity, that helps us persevere to the end. And it makes it easier for us to take up the Cross while we are in via, on the way. After all, for us as for Christ, the eternity of the Cross does not change the fact that it must happen in time as well. This means we will suffer in ways large and small. We will have to be patient with the annoying, forgiving of the hurtful, persistent in kindness through difficult circumstances, and charitably honest with those to whom truth is not welcome! The glory of the Cross can seem very inglorious. (I am reminded of a movie, "Entertaining Angels", about Dorothy Day, a Twentieth Century Roman Catholic worker for the poor. In one scene she complains in tears of frustration to God before the Crucifix about those to whom she is ministering. “let me tell you something. They smell! They have lice and tuberculosis!” Yes, sometimes the Crucified life “stinks”.) All the more reason to see, through faith, the eternal truth, the invincible Cross, and the completion of suffering and Resurrection that lies on the other side of it. +

Lent V Passion Sunday

Hebrews 9:11-15

John 8:46-59


“Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I AM.”

For once the enemies of our Lord were right about something, frankly, about something that many nominal Christians are wrong about. His enemies understood exactly what he meant by his words, “before Abraham was, I AM.” And, we call this day Passion Sunday because we see the reason, ultimately, that his enemies wanted him dead, and the reason they were unrelenting in pursuit of his execution. They understood him rightly, and because they reacted in the only logical way they could, they picked up stones in order to kill him.

In one of his most famous passages in all his works, C.S. Lewis addressed this very thing that today’s Gospel is about, in Mere Christianity:

I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: "I'm ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don't accept his claim to be God." That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a good moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic-on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg-or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about His being a great moral teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. 1

Recall the words from the Gospel two weeks ago: “He that is not with me is against me: and he that gathereth not with me scattereth.” He called his followers to be ready to die rather than to deny him before men. There was nothing innocuous about the commitment he called for, because that commitment was personal.

Some men have called people to die for ideas and ideals, causes both good and bad. These causes were always bigger than any individual, whether leaders and thinkers were advocating something harmful, such as Karl Marx, or something truly heroic and principled, such as John Adams and George Washington. But, Jesus called people to die as martyrs out of personal commitment to him, faithfulness to him as an individual. He allowed people to worship him, even Jews who knew that there is only one God, and who were forbidden to worship any other god in the presence, that covers all of heaven and earth, of the One True God. What kind of man would assume the place of God, and use that sacred Name, I AM, as his own? What kind of man would claim the right to such loyalty as leads his followers to persecution and death? What kind of man, if he has any compassion in him, would knowingly demand total commitment?

A word I use sparingly is the word “loyalty.” That is because loyalty is not always virtuous. I remember a young man saying to me, many years ago, that Albert Speer had been loyal to Hitler. He said this in the context of having just heard, in a rather pathetic sermon by somebody, that loyalty is a virtue, and that it always pleases God. So, the young man was praising Speer for his loyalty to something very close to evil incarnate. Loyalty can be pleasing to God, or it can be a sin. Loyalty to Hitler, or to any evil cause, man or movement, is not virtuous, but abominable. That kind of loyalty is the worship of a false god. It is one way, in any age of history, to bear the mark of the Beast, to make a radical decision against Jesus Christ.

But, Jesus dares to call his followers to complete loyalty to himself, even to the point of dying rather than to deny him. What kind of a man is he then? C.S. Lewis was right: He is either God or he is mad or worse. Jesus deserved at that moment to be stoned for blasphemy, unless he truly is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God, the Word made Flesh. Yes, his enemies understood him. He did, in fact, declare himself equal to God. Either he is the One who gave the Law to Moses, or, by that Law, he must die.

It would have been bad enough, by their standard, to say only the opening of today’s Gospel. “Which of you convinceth me of sin?” That is, which of you accuses or convicts me of sin? The same chapter begins with the story about the woman taken in adultery, brought to Jesus by enemies who wanted to trap him into either of two snares: denying the commandments in the Torah (though the commandment was to execute both the man and the woman who commit adultery- which presents quite a mystery in that story), or defying the Romans who allowed no one to execute anybody in their empire except through Roman law. We all remember what Jesus said: “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” All of these men, enemies of Jesus, had at least the honesty to drop their stones and leave. Were they men of greater integrity than Jesus, who now turns around and says, in effect, “I am without sin- who can accuse me of anything?”

Either he gave the Law to Moses, or he had broken it, and deserved to die. Listen to the writer to the Hebrews in today’s Epistle: “For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh: how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” Jesus, alone out of all mankind, could go to the cross and there make “by his one oblation of himself once offered, a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction, for the sins of the whole world.” While having his vision on the isle of Patmos, the Apostle John wept because no one in all heaven and earth was worthy to open the book and break its seven seals, that is until the man came forth who was both Lion of the Tribe of Judah, and also the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, indeed a lion who appeared as a lamb that had been slain. He was worthy, and he alone of all mankind.

The writer to the Hebrews uses the temple, and its typology regarding the New Covenant that Christ would establish in his own blood, foretold by the prophet Jeremiah. The High Priest once a year, on Yom Kippor, brought the blood of the sin offering into the Holy of Holies, and sprinkled it on the mercy seat. That was the type. The priest who offered any sacrifice had to be a perfect physical specimen of a man, having no deformity or loss of limb or any member. The animal sacrificed for sin had to be a perfect specimen, without even spot or blemish. This is because both the priest and the animal to be offered had to be pictures of Jesus Christ, and their physical perfection had to be a picture of his spiritual perfection as the only human being free from all stain of sin.

Our Gospel text is just right for leading us into Passiontide. In declaring his own sinlessness, Christ reveals that every priest and every sacrifice were only types and shadows of the Real priest and sacrifice, himself, the only man worthy to take the book and open the seals thereof. Declaring his own freedom from sin and death, as contrasted to all the rest of us, sets the stage for the sorrows of the cross that were to follow. “They that trust in their wealth, and boast themselves in the multitude of their riches; None of them can by any means redeem his brother, nor give to God a ransom for him: For the redemption of their soul is precious, and it ceaseth for ever,” 2 says the Psalmist. Isaiah adds this: “But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all… he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth. Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.” 3

Declaring oneself free from sin would be madness and delusion for you and me, but for Jesus it was another step closer to the cross. On that cross he would establish the New Covenant in his blood, the Covenant that alone frees us from sin and death, and that stretched back in time as well to those who before had hoped for the coming of Christ. He bore the sins of all the world, the perfect and sinless Son of God. After the victory of his death and passion, he rose the third day, and appeared to witnesses. He spent forty days with those witnesses before ascending into the presence of God the Father to make intercession for us by means of his own blood, the fulfillment of that image we see in the Biblical Yom Kippor, where the High Priest, alive after making atonement, took the blood of the sacrifice into the Holy of Holies and sprinkled the mercy seat- the image of God’s throne.

When Jesus tells us he is without sin, he tells of his love for us; for on the cross he offered that ransom for each of us that no rich man can give for his brother. He said that he is the One, and he dared to take as his own the Name I AM. So, he reminds us of his love as well, since this declaration also took him closer to the cross. So, when he calls you to the radical commitment that may even cost you your life, as it does cost Christians in other lands who suffer persecution and martyrdom even to this day, know that he already died for you. Know, as I say often, that when you look up and see him on the cross, and behold sorrow and love flow mingled down, the shedding of his blood and pouring out of his soul unto death, that you can and must take this love personally. Either reject him completely, if you can, or fall down and worship him as your Lord and your God.

1. Page 56

2. Psalm 49: 6-8

3. from Isaiah 53

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Gospel of Thomas authorship verified by scholar

After many years doubts laid to rest.

the Pandemonium Observer, March 26, 2009

The controversial "Gospel of Thomas" has long been considered the work of a third century Gnostic writer. At least it has been targeted for attack by those who oppose the trend to treat it, and countless other such works, as wrongly excluded from the New Testament Canon. In what is sure to be a controversial book, and even more controversial T.V. program on the National Geographic channel, Nabal Tonto has discovered that the writing, far from being a third century Gnostic work, was actually the writing of none other than Thomas himself.

"This ought to top the effect of the 'Judas Gospel,' the 'Tomb of Jesus', and even The Da Vinci Code itself," said Tonto; "At least I had better break even."

Tonto's discovery has been preserved from the critical scholarship of historians and archaeologists so that he can bring it directly to the public. "The people themselves ought to be able to judge the authenticity of my claims," said Tonto, "and what better way for them to make an accurate assessment than by means of a special on television?"

Along with producer Gene Pool and director Rick Shaw (the team best known for the films, Helen does Houston, and their remake of Gone with the Wind) Tonto and National Geo have made a special timed to air, coincidentally, with the upcoming Easter weekend.

Pool said, "This is a monumental discovery, one that presents a challenge to the faith of every Christian."

Tonto spent years documenting from eyewitness accounts, reliable hearsay, and studio records, that Thomas would often hide away in his dressing room between filming of scenes for Make Room for Daddy, writing his Gospel. See the evidence for yourself, and you may rightly ask if the New Testament Canon, so long defended by close-minded hard-nose Christians, has ever been complete. See it if you dare.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Annunciation of the blessed Virgin Mary

Isaiah 7:10-15
Luke 1:26-38

It is no accident that today's Collect summarizes the entire Gospel, both with its glorious history of Christ's saving acts, and with our sure and certain hope for the promise of the future.

WE beseech thee, O Lord, pour thy grace into our hearts; that, as we have known the incarnation of thy Son Jesus Christ by the message of an Angel, so by his cross and passion we may be brought unto the glory of his resurrection; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

A few years ago, my friend and fellow editor of Touchstone, A Journal of Mere Christianity, Dr. William J. Tighe, professor of History at Muhlenberg College, presented in the magazine a thesis brand new to many. Whereas it has been assumed for a long time that Christmas is on December 25th, because it borrows the date of a pagan festival, the very opposite is true. The date was chosen by the Roman emperor to compete with the Christian holy day, the Feast of the Nativity. Tighe writes:

As things actually happened, Aurelian, who ruled from 270 until his assassination in 275, was hostile to Christianity and appears to have promoted the establishment of the festival of the “Birth of the Unconquered Sun” as a device to unify the various pagan cults of the Roman Empire around a commemoration of the annual “rebirth” of the sun.

He goes on to explain the origin for the Christian date:

Second-century Latin Christians in Rome and North Africa appear to have desired to establish the historical date on which the Lord Jesus died. By the time of Tertullian they had concluded that he died on Friday, 25 March 29 [AD]...At this point, we have to introduce a belief that seems to have been widespread in Judaism at the time of Christ, but which, as it is nowhere taught in the Bible, has completely fallen from the awareness of Christians. The idea is that of the “integral age” of the great Jewish prophets: the idea that the prophets of Israel died on the same dates as their birth or conception. This notion is a key factor in understanding how some early Christians came to believe that December 25th is the date of Christ’s birth.

Therefore, we have a triangle with points in succession: Good Friday-Annunciation-Nativity. That is, the day of his atoning death for the sins of the world, pointing back to the day of his conception (today's Feast), then leading to a day in which they came to celebrate his birth. It does not matter that these dates are likely not to be historically accurate; they represent three major events in the life of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ that remain forever linked in the mind of his Church: Good Friday, Annunciation and Christmas. Indeed, if we see Good Friday as the first part of the Christian Passover, which includes the Resurrection and our whole liberation from sin and death accomplished by Christ's victory on the cross and his triumphal rising on the third day, this triangle of dates fits well with the brief but penetrating summary of the Collect. And, it cannot fail to be sufficient pledge to us that God intends good for us, even everlasting life as we enter fully into Christ's resurrection life on the day when he will come again.

It has been suggested, with irony, tongue in cheek, that the Incarnation is the "Anglican heresy." That is, based on what theology students are taught as a basic point: That over-emphasis of any single point of doctrine causes imbalance, and therefore neglect of other points of doctrine, resulting in distortion of the truth so severe that it becomes heresy. And, indeed if any single point of doctrine comes across as the one most strongly emphasized by authentic Anglican teaching, it is the Incarnation of the Word: Nonetheless, we must insist that the Incarnation and the Trinity are two points of doctrine that, by their nature, cannot be over-emphasized. It is impossible to say too much about the Incarnation; and frankly, impossible on a human level to say enough about it, ever.

Where would we be without this simple fact? "The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us." (John 1:14) The whole opening of John's Gospel is about the Trinity and about the Incarnation. When it opens, we hear the Name God, and we hear it three times:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God.

I do not know why, in so many dramatic and musical readings of this opening, edited out is the third mention of the name, "God." It is no redundency: Neither the Apostle Saint John nor the Holy Spirit need the correction of editors who simply fail to hear the truth. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God [the Father], and the Word was God [the Son]. The same was in the beginning with God [the Holy Spirit]."

And we learn that this Person (ὑπόστασις) called the Word (λόγος) has both made and given life to the world and all mankind. Then we learn that this Person, the Word who is with God, who is God, and who is from the beginning with God (that is, he who who is eternally begotten of the Father as the Spirit is eternally proceeding from the Father-"from the beginning") was made flesh. As the Greek text says in the original, he pitched his tent (or his tabernacle) among us. Or, as the King James Bible translated it:

And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.

So we must ask this question:

What was God's purpose in making man? None other than what we see at the end of the Book of Revelation, foretelling the destiny of the saints when the Redemption will have been completed.

And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. (Rev. 21:3)

God made the human race to manifest his glory among us, and that is the essence of the Divine plan and his great love for a creature made as the icon of God, for "God created man in his own image." (Gen. 1:27) And this was very good. But, we know that our race fell into sin and death, all mankind thus plunged into death by sin as the due reward of being "in Adam." Therefore, the manifestation of God's glory among us as a human being took on emergency measures. So, the Son came into the world to bear the cross and die to take away sin, then to rise to immortality as the new and everlasting man, thus to conquer death.

As we saw in the portion read for this Feast from the Gospel of Luke, God Almighty sent his Angel Gabriel to announce the Divine will to a virgin whose purity reflected the faith of her father Abraham She obeyed with such courage as faith alone produces in the human heart. She understood that she would conceive as a virgin, that it would be a miracle; for so the angel had explained in unmistakable and clear language (as the text plainly says). But, knowing it would be a miracle did not remove the need for her courage; for what was presented was no easy path, certainly not easy by any estimation.

And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.

This was the faith of Abraham, expressed perfectly in a purified and seasoned people, from the mouth of Israel's finest, the pure virgin mother. She now bore in her womb the conceived God, the embryo, the fetus, the baby; the Word made flesh sanctifying even the most helpless and earliest stages of human life, which human life deserves protection at every stage; (lest failing to protect the helpless ones in the womb, who share this with Christ himself who also was there, we hear it said to any of us: "Verily I say unto you, 'Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels...Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me'"- Matt. 25:41 ).

What happened at that moment of Christ's conception in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary his mother? Did he diminish his own glory and Godhead? Did he distill it down so as to fit in a human container? Did he leave behind the fullness of Divine Nature? Not at all. As St. Athanasius put it in The Incarnation of the Word of God :

The Word was not hedged in by His body, nor did His presence in the body prevent His being present elsewhere as well. When He moved His body He did not cease also to direct the universe by His Mind and might. No. The marvellous truth is, that being the Word, so far from being Himself contained by anything, He actually contained all things Himself. In creation He is present everywhere, yet is distinct in being from it; ordering, directing, giving life to all, containing all, yet is He Himself the Uncontained, existing solely in His Father. As with the whole, so also is it with the part. Existing in a human body, to which He Himself gives life, He is still Source of life to all the universe, present in every part of it, yet outside the whole; and He is revealed both through the works of His body and through His activity in the world...His body was for Him not a limitation, but an instrument, so that He was both in it and in all things, and outside all things, resting in the Father alone. At one and the same time-this is the wonder-as Man He was living a human life, and as Word He was sustaining the life of the universe, and as Son He was in constant union with the Father. Not even His birth from a virgin, therefore, changed Him in any way, nor was He defiled by being in the body. Rather, He sanctified the body by being in it. For His being in everything does not mean that He shares the nature of everything, only that He gives all things their being and sustains them in it. Just as the sun is not defiled by the contact of its rays with earthly objects, but rather enlightens and purifies them, so He Who made the sun is not defiled by being made known in a body, but rather the body is cleansed and quickened by His indwelling, "Who did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth." (1 Peter 2. 22) 3.17

Let me summarize his words thus: While Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, walked the earth as a man, he filled the heavens as God.

And, he gives us the promise of glorification in him; as St. Peter wrote:

Grace and peace be multiplied unto you through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord, According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue: Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. (II Pet. 1:2-4)

The drop that fell was human nature, and the ocean that it entered was Divinity. Christ did not lower himself; rather he raised us. He did not diminish himself; rather he made us into children of his Father. He took into his proper, uncreated and eternal Person, an alien, created and temporal nature. Properly, he is from everlasting to everlasting God, eternally begotten of his Father. He is God of God, Light of Light, very God of Very God, begotten not made; Being of homoousioun, that is, of One substance with the Father, and through whom all things were made..

He took human nature into his Godhead.

He took created nature into his uncreated Person.

He took time into his Eternity.

He gave back to us recreated, justified, redeemed, sanctified, and (at his coming again) immortal unending life.

No wonder, as we are told by St. John, the spirit of Antichrist refuses to confess this glorious doctrine (I John 4:1f). That spirit will never confess that "Jesus Christ is come in the flesh," and will always deny either his Divine Nature as God the Son, or deny his full human nature. The spirit of error cannot deceive us once we know that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh; for then we can hear the whole Gospel with the fullness of this complete truth for us.

WE beseech thee, O Lord, pour thy grace into our hearts; that, as we have known the incarnation of thy Son Jesus Christ by the message of an Angel, so by his cross and passion we may be brought unto the glory of his resurrection; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

Friday, March 20, 2009

Fourth Sunday in Lent

Galatians 4:21-31
John 6:1-14

The Epistle and Gospel appointed for this Sunday teach us about the wide gulf between God's grace, and the weakness and hopelessness of man's highest aspirations apart from that grace. The Epistle is a blend of doctrine and St. Paul's autobiographical reminiscences that demonstrate the truth of that doctrine. The occasion for the writing of the Epistle was a heresy that is described in the 15th chapter of the Book of Acts. "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." This so troubled the Church that the first Council was called, the proto-Council of Jerusalem. This new and troubling doctrine contradicted what all the Apostles had taught ever since the day that St. Peter entered the house of Cornelius, and Gentiles had become part of the Church.

This heresy is called the Judaizer heresy, and it has very much in common with a later heresy of the fourth century. Pelagius in the fourth century taught that man does not need the grace of God to become righteous, but can achieve perfection by the power of the flesh. What the Judaizers did not understand, and what later the Pelagians did not understand, is expressed perfectly by St. Paul in another Epistle, the Epistle to the Church in Rome: "For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh."1 The Law cannot save us, because the flesh is weak. The Law, rather, serves the purpose of diagnosing our genuine condition, that we are subject to sin and death, and that we need the Savior. In this context Paul opens the whole Epistle by contrasting the limited and weak state of man against the unlimited power and wisdom of God.

The Gospel tells of a miracle that Jesus used for the purpose of teaching that he alone is the food and drink of eternal life, that he imparts grace and salvation as we partake of him, the true Bread from heaven. He not only wrought our salvation: He himself is our salvation.

The Epistle

The only way to understand the Epistle is to know your Old Testament. The story from Genesis about Hagar, and her son, is the story about two sons of Abraham, Ishmael and Isaac. Both of them are the sons of Abraham, but Paul tells us that one, Ishmael, was born after the flesh, the other, Isaac, after spirit. St. Paul considers his own life, and presents himself as an example of both of these, inasmuch as before his conversion he was very much the son of Abraham, but only after the flesh. Look at these words that were read today from the text we have heard: "But as then he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, even so it is now." In the overall context of the Epistle, this follows the autobiographical confession of St. Paul near its beginning, where he wrote:

"For ye have heard of my conversation in time past in the Jews' religion, how that beyond measure I persecuted the church of God, and wasted it: And profited in the Jews' religion above many my equals in mine own nation, being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers." 2

And, this gives an autobiographical flavor to what comes near the end of this Epistle:

"As many as desire to make a fair shew in the flesh, they constrain you to be circumcised; only lest they should suffer persecution for the cross of Christ. For neither they themselves who are circumcised keep the law; but desire to have you circumcised, that they may glory in your flesh. But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature." 3

And, so also an earlier passage:

"Even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness. Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham." 4

Saul of Tarsus had been that son of Abraham born only after the flesh, for he had yet to become a full son of Abraham by faith in the Messiah. Born after the flesh a son of Abraham, but not a son with the faith of Abraham, he persecuted the Church, those who were born after the spirit, those born according to the promise which was by faith. In those days he imagined that he was keeping the Law: "Imagined" I say, because he described his own self-deception in no uncertain terms, in yet another of his Epistles, and then describes the light of truth that shined on him:

"Though I might also have confidence in the flesh. If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more: Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless. But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith."5

What Saul learned, on the day that Jesus Christ appeared to him, was that his greatest crowning act of righteousness, persecuting the Church, was a filthy rag,6 the sin of persecuting the Messiah himself. "Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?" But he also learned that righteousness is accounted to us only through faith. This was not simply any faith. The old question of faith and works can be very misleading if we see these as mere principles. What matters is not some thing called faith versus some thing called works, but specifically faith in Jesus Christ himself. Only that faith can save us, because only Jesus Christ can do what the Law, the good, holy and death-dealing Law that condemns us all, cannot do. What the Law cannot do is not because it is weak, but because we are weak due to the Fall of man into sin and death.

Saul, on the road to Damascus, lying in the dust of death, now revealed by his own most righteous act to be a miserable offender in desperate need of God's mercy, rises to become Saint Paul the Apostle. No longer clouded by the self-deception of having some righteousness of his own, but having the righteousness of faith in the Messiah, Jesus, he is forgiven, justified, and called to true service in the Kingdom of God.

So, when St. Paul contrasts faith in Jesus Christ against the works of the Law, he speaks from his own life. When he speaks of the good works to which Christians are called (in full agreement with St. James), he speaks even of these as part of the life of faith, something that charity itself, by the Holy Spirit, produces in us because of our faith; not something that we can manufacture by our own strength. So, he wrote to the Church in Ephesus:

"For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them."7

St. Paul had been the son of the bondwoman, and he so cast out the son of the bondwoman from his own heart and life, that he became the son of the free woman; that is, in place of Saul was Paul; he was born again, born of the spirit,8 a child of Abraham by faith. Now he receives persecution rather than dishing it out. And, that share of persecution was part of knowing Christ, fellowship with his sufferings in light of the hope of the resurrection.

The Gospel

The very next verse, directly following the selection we have heard today from the Gospel of John, says, "When Jesus therefore perceived that they would come and take him by force, to make him a king, he departed again into a mountain himself alone." Later, as recorded in the very same chapter, it was this that prompted Jesus to say to the crowds that sought for him, "Verily, verily, I say unto you, Ye seek me, not because ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves, and were filled." 9

The crowd was interested in having the problems of this world solved. The aspiration to have a king who would break the tyranny of a foreign empire, Rome, was understandable, as was the desire for a king who could employ his miraculous power to feed the nation. But, like those who later would teach salvation by the power of the flesh to keep the perfect and holy Law of God, the worldly focus of the crowd fell short of God's grace as he was revealing it through his Son.

This miracle revealed that Jesus Christ places in the hands of his Apostles miraculous food for all the people, and he does so in a desert place where no one can keep himself alive. Where there is no means of feeding, and where there is no power from human strength to bring forth bread from the earth, Jesus Christ provides all that is needed. He sustains life, feeding the bodies of the crowd to teach them that it is he who gives the only true bread, the food and drink of eternal life. For, we are in the desert place, unable to keep ourselves alive, unable to avoid the universal sentence for all human sin, namely, death. No matter how long we hang on in this desert, we do not have in ourselves the power to survive forever. Sooner or later, this applies to each one of us: "Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return."10

It is from this miracle that the Lord begins to teach them, to lift the vision of those who will see, and to speak the word to those who may hear:

"Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Moses gave you not that bread from heaven; but my Father giveth you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world. Then said they unto him, Lord, evermore give us this bread. And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst."11

He went on:

"Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me hath everlasting life. I am that bread of life. Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world. The Jews therefore strove among themselves, saying, How can this man give us his flesh to eat? Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him. As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me. This is that bread which came down from heaven: not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead: he that eateth of this bread shall live for ever."12

Not until "the night in which he was betrayed," when he broke the bread and took the cup, did they know how to eat his Body and drink his Blood. Those who continued to follow him trusted him enough to expect the revelation that would explain how to make sense of his words. "Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life," said Peter. On that night they were not disappointed.

Jesus Christ places into the hands of the ministers in his Church the means of eternal life, this Sacrament "generally necessary to salvation." But, remember that this sacrament is a means of grace only to those who believe in Jesus Christ. As St. Paul tells us in the 11th chapter of his First Epistle to the Church in Corinth, those who presume to eat and drink without faith, add sin to sin and incur judgment. They do not receive the grace of the sacrament. Therefore, our Book of Common Prayer only bids those who come with "hearty repentance and true faith." To approach the sacrament without "hearty repentance and true faith" is dangerous, profiting nothing, incurring judgment. Therefore, as we have heard, Jesus prefaced his teaching by saying, "Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me hath everlasting life. I am that bread of life."

When our Anglican Fathers wrote the first Book of Common Prayer in 1549, under the direction of Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, they emphasized the need to eat and drink the sacrament rather than merely to attend Mass. They gave the service we are having this day a new and somewhat long name: "The Supper of the Lorde and the Holy Communion, commonly called the Masse." Since then, to emphasize the words of Christ ("take, eat...drink, ye all, of this...") Anglicans have called the Mass by this Biblical name, full of meaning: "Holy Communion." Unlike the word "Mass," that simply refers to being dismissed at the end of the service (having no spiritual or theological meaning), "Holy Communion" actually means something; and what it means is very important. It takes us to the words of Jesus Christ about himself, and how he gives himself that we may be partakers of him: "I AM the Bread of life." The Name of God, "I AM" is contained in these words. The grace of God is revealed in these words. He is our salvation.

When you approach the altar rail, know this is the gift of Christ to you, and you are feeding on him as he gives himself. Come forward with hearty repentance and true faith, or not at all; because, we are not trying to keep ourselves alive by the efforts of our own flesh, weak as it is through sin. We put our trust in Jesus Christ, and not without that faith that makes us children of Abraham, born after the spirit because we were buried and risen with Christ in baptism, partaking of him by that same faith as receive him in this sacrament today.

Even the best aspirations of mankind, of hopes for this world and confidence in our own ability, are nothing worth, compared to the grace of God revealed in his Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

And now, unto God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost, be ascribed as is most justly due, all might, majesty, dominon, power and glory, henceforth, world without end. Amen.

1. Rom. 8:3
2. Gal.1:13,14
3. Gal. 6:12-15
4. Gal. 3:6,7
5. Phil. 3:4-9
6. Isaiah 64:6
7. Eph. 2:8-10
8. John 3:1-17, Rom. 6:1f
9. verse 26
10 Gen 1:19
11. John 6:32-35
12. John 6:47-58

What we believe

I received this very useful summary of the Faith of the Church in an e-mail from Fr. John Hollister. He said in that e-mail: "I came across Archbishop Stephens' statement, 'What we Believe' on the ACC Provincial website. So I turned that into tract form, printed it, and stuck it in our tract rack. In case it might prove useful to you, who are each newly taking over a congregation, I am attaching a PDF file of that leaftlet."

This was prepared on behalf of the Anglican Catholic Church; however, I cannot imagine that other serious Anglicans would fail to agree wholeheartedly.

What We Believe

Let me review briefly with you what the Anglican Catholic Church believes.

We believe in the One, Holy, Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We believe that there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved, and that most holy name is Jesus, Lord of heaven and earth. We believe that only through Him is the full revelation of God given to man and that we have the awesome responsibility to preach the Good News of salvation to all nations and tongues.

We believe that the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are the authentic record of God’s revelation to man, a revelation that is valid for all men and all time. In the Bible we have God’s revelation of Himself, His saving activity, and His moral demands. We believe that all Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

We believe the Catholic Faith as set forth in the three recognized Creeds of Christendom: the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, and that known as the Creed of St. Athanasius. We receive and believe them in the sense they have had always in the Catholic Church.

We believe in the holy Tradition of the Church as set forth by the ancient catholic bishops and doctors, and especially as defined by the Seven Ecumenical Councils of the undivided Church.

We hold dear the seven Sacraments of Grace, namely, the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and the Holy Eucharist, Holy Matrimony, Holy Orders, Penance, and Unction of the Sick. We believe them to be objective signs of Christ’s continued presence and saving activity among us. We believe in the holy sacrifice of the Mass and that the body and blood of Christ is truly and really present in the Holy Eucharist.

We believe in God’s gift of the apostolic ministry to His Church, asserting the necessity of a bishop in apostolic succession (or a priest ordained by such) as the celebrant of the Eucharist. Furthermore, we hold that the Holy Orders of Bishops, Priests, and Deacons consist exclusively of men in accordance with Christ’s will and institution.

We believe in the sanctity of human life; that life begins at the moment of conception; and that the willful taking of that life in the womb by abortion to be a grave sin (Title XV, Canon I, 1.01of the Canons of the AnglicanCatholic Church).

We believe in the family, in the God-given sacramental bond in marriage between one man and one woman. We profess that sexual activity is to be practiced only within the bonds of Holy Matrimony.

We believe that man is very far gone from original righteousness, is in rebellion against God’s authority, and is liable to His righteous judgment. We believe that all people, individually and collectively, are responsible to their Creator for their acts, motives, thoughts, and words, since we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ.

We believe it is the duty of the Church and her members to bear witness to Christian morality, to follow it in their lives, and to reject the false standards of the world.

Lastly, the Anglican Catholic Church acknowledges that rule of faith laid down by St. Vincent of Lerins: Let us hold that which has been believed everywhere, always, and by all, for that is truly and properly Catholic. The Bishops of this Church are committed to seeing that the Faith of Christ is kept entire as it was given to this Church. Any assertion to the contrary has no basis in fact. We call upon all the communicants of this church to believe without reservation that deposit of Faith that has been given to the Anglican Catholic Church and earnestly to contend for the faith once delivered to the saints.

This short statement of the ACC’s beliefs was written in February, 1998, by the Most Reverend M. Dean Stephens, late Archbishop and Metropolitan of the Anglican Catholic Church.

© 1998, The Anglican Catholic Church. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Saint Patrick, March 17th

Now the LORD had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, unto a land that I will shew thee: And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing.
Gen. 12: 1,2

I bind unto myself today
The strong Name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same
The Three in One and One in Three.

I bind this day to me forever
By power of faith, Christ’s incarnation;
His baptism in the Jordan river,
His death on Cross for my salvation;
His bursting from the spicèd tomb,
His riding up the heavenly way,
His coming at the day of doom
I bind unto myself today.

I bind unto myself the power
Of the great love of cherubim;
The sweet ‘Well done’ in judgment hour,
The service of the seraphim,
Confessors’ faith,
Apostles’ word,
The Patriarchs’ prayers, the prophets’ scrolls,
All good deeds done unto the Lord
And purity of virgin souls.

I bind unto myself today
The virtues of the star lit heaven,
The glorious sun’s life giving ray,
The whiteness of the moon at even,
The flashing of the lightning free,
The whirling wind’s tempestuous shocks,
The stable earth, the deep salt sea
Around the old eternal rocks.

I bind unto myself today
The power of God to hold and lead,
His eye to watch,
His might to stay,
His ear to hearken to my need.
The wisdom of my God to teach,
His hand to guide,
His shield to ward;
The word of God to give me speech,
His heavenly host to be my guard.

Against the demon snares of sin,
The vice that gives temptation force,
The natural lusts that war within,
The hostile men that mar my course;
Or few or many, far or nigh,
In every place and in all hours,
Against their fierce hostility
I bind to me these holy powers.

Against all Satan’s spells and wiles,
Against false words of heresy,
Against the knowledge that defiles,
Against the heart’s idolatry,
Against the wizard’s evil craft,
Against the death wound and the burning,
The choking wave,
the poisoned shaft,
Protect me, Christ, till Thy returning.

Christ be with me,
Christ within me,
Christ behind me,
Christ before me,
Christ beside me,
Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ in quiet,
Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

I bind unto myself the Name,
The strong Name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One and One in Three.
By Whom all nature hath creation,
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
Praise to the Lord of my salvation,
Salvation is of Christ the Lord.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Third Sunday in Lent

Spiritual Warfare

(Deut. 6:1-9, 20-25, Psalm 25, Eph. 5:1-14, Luke 11:14-28)

The Scriptures and the Collect for this Sunday draw our attention to the fact of spiritual warfare, a very important theme all year long, not only in Lent. The essence of spiritual warfare, and of the greatest need of every human being, is summed up in the words of Jesus that we have heard already as the Gospel was read: “He that is not with me is against me: and he that gathereth not with me scattereth.” The real question for every individual is this: Who is your king? Is Jesus Christ your king, or do you obey the prince of this world?

When I was learning Hebrew at the Baltimore Hebrew College (now the Baltimore Hebrew University), and learning it the way that Jewish people are taught it (Sephardic Hebrew in fact), I found that a verse from the Book of Isaiah is used in basic instruction as an important tool because of how it rhymes.

(I will stick to the Jewish tradition of using Adonai whenever the original contains the Name, YHVH.)

Ki Adonai Shophtenu
Adonai Makakenu
Adonai Malkenu
Hu Yeshienu

“For the LORD is our judge, the LORD is our lawgiver, the LORD is our king; he is our Salvation.” Isaiah 33:22

This is the essence of what Jesus said in today’s Gospel. We need him as our only Salvation; so we must acknowledge him to be our Judge, our Lawgiver and our King. In the word for our Salvation, do you see his name? Yeshienu, the plural possessive of Yeshua-or Jesus. He is our Judge, he is our Lawgiver, He is our King, and therefore, he is our Salvation. We gather with him, our only Salvation, or we scatter, lost forever.

The collect today speaks of God as “the defence against our enemies”. What is meant by the use of the word enemies? Classically, Christians have known there are three enemies: The world, the flesh and the devil.

The image we are given in the Gospel reading, that of the strong man being overcome by One even stronger than he, was vividly portrayed for us in the news several years ago. If I may take the liberty of casting Saddam Hussein in the role of the devil; this is a man who had ruled over his conquered subjects, and who sat secure on his stockpile of wealth, who was overcome by superior strength.

So too, the devil has dominated the world, and subjected mankind to his will since the Fall. But, when Christ came into the world, He overcame the strong man and spoiled his goods. However, we have yet to see our complete liberation, which will be at Christ’s second coming. At that time even death itself will be destroyed. What we are told is that we who belong to Christ have been set free from the domination of Satan, but that for now our freedom must be completed by enduring a battle. This battle is a defensive fight against the world, the flesh and the devil.

There is also an offensive fight, one in which the Church attacks, and Satan is forced to be on the defensive. That is another subject, the subject of mission, of evangelism.

To answer one obvious and confusing question, what is the world; that is in the sense in which it is an enemy? St. John tells us to love not the world, nor to love the things in it: Those things are the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life (I John 2:15f). The world, in this sense, is defined in the first chapter of the Gospel of John, which we hear often. Speaking of Christ, it says : “He was in the world, and the world was made by Him, and the world knew Him not.” That verse tells of a great tragedy, namely the Fall of man into sin and death, the state from which Christ redeems us. Because man is the head of this created order, his fall is the Fall of the whole world. And the definition of “the world” as an enemy, a force that opposes us as Christians trying to live a holy life, is found in these words: “the world knew Him not.” The world does not know Christ.

To attack us, the world makes use of our flesh, assaulting us with desires of the flesh, and of the eyes, and with that deadly sin of pride, whereby we place ourselves upon the throne of God. Imagining ourselves upon His throne, in our conceits, we demand and expect a life to which we are not entitled; we think it an injustice when life is not kind to us. We forget that if justice were served, we would be in hell; that what evils befall us are less than we deserve. We forget to be thankful, and instead complain against God. We refuse, indeed despise, the cross.

This is what the world, acting as our enemy, does to us through our senses and through our conceits. It is to this that St. Paul speaks in the Epistle reading. And he does so with direct words about the dangers that surround us, as well as those that come from within our own hearts. Yet all the while he does so with words that give us hope. That hope is because of the fact that we ourselves, though once a part of the very darkness of sin and death itself, are now part of the light of life, being, as we are, in Christ.

And, we are given practical help in the Old Testament commandment from Deuteronomy, to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. This commandment contains the most revered statement in Jewish liturgy, the Sh’mai:

Sh’mai Israel, Adonai Elehenu, Adonai echod.
“Hear O’ Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one.”

Sh’mai is a very important word in Hebrew. It means two things when translated into English. Depending upon how it is used, it translates as “hear” or as “obey.” The first thing to obey is the great commandment itself. “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.”

This is practical, very practical. Consider this simple fact. None of us here will be sinless, that is free of the full dangers and lures of concupiscence, until we are made perfect either after death or at Christ’s coming- whichever come first. We remain in need of God’s grace in every effort in life. We will not achieve sinless perfection in this life. But, we can, nonetheless, practice obedience. And obedience, though it includes saying “no" to worldly desires, that is that it has its "no" (because of God’s commandments that use the phrase “thou shalt not”), has, as well, it’s “yes”. Obedience says both “no” and “yes”. No, to the world, no to the flesh, no to the devil. But, all of these “nos” amount to a far greater and single “yes” to God. And that “yes” is a yes to many things. To charity with its demands and inconveniences, to prayer, to fasting and repentance, and also to the taking up of the cross. The yes to the taking up of the cross is the no to the world, the flesh and the devil. It is the great yes of love to God.

Jesus did not carry the cross only upon one Friday. He carried it every day, living always to do the Father’s will rather than His own. We say no to the world and yes to God when we give our time to Him, when we give our strength to Him, instead of wasting it upon many pleasure and cares. The world will drain all of our strength, if we give ourselves to every fruitless activity that comes along; or if we destroy our bodies-which are God’s- through drugs, alcohol or immorality, or even through seemingly innocent things. Some people are inordinate about, for example, shopping (we have heard the phrase “shop till you drop”). Our strength must be yielded to God in love, not wasted and spent foolishly.

What does it mean to love God with all thy mind? In the Grocery stores, I cannot cease to be amazed at how much paper and ink are wasted by tabloids that report news, or perhaps create fiction, or perhaps a combination of the two, about the private lives of celebrities. Who cares about some movies star’s weight problems, or a soap star’s broken marriage? And, who wants to read about their their affairs? If we love God, we must give Him our time, our strength, and our minds. If Christians are wasting time on this trash, it is a sin. In addition to wasting time, it wastes the mind. Remember the slogan of the United Negro College Fund: “A mind is a terrible thing to waste.”

We owe God the love of giving Him our minds. When some people use the word “theology” as if it were a dirty word, it tells me that they are afraid to love God with their minds, and in fact that they despise those who try to so love Him. Remember a collect from Advent. Love God and give your mind to Him as you “read, mark, learn and inwardly digest” the scriptures.

And, the Lesson from Deuteronomy (at Morning Prayer) commands us to teach our children, to inform their minds in the truth of God’s word. Those who want their children to decide it all for themselves, to come to their own conclusions about religion, sin by neglecting the religious education of children entrusted to their care by God. The scriptures do not give parents the right to neglect the spiritual formation and education of their children. The modern idea that the children should figure it all our for themselves is not an enlightened idea. Failure to teach them the true Faith is a sin. They must be taught God’s word and raised in the Church; for having had them baptized, Christian parents have brought them out of Satan’s bondage into Christ’s kingdom; they do not belong to their parents, nor to themselves. They are God’s children, and parents are entrusted (as stewards) with their care and their godly upbringing. Furthermore, it is not enough that they are taught in just any church; but that what they are taught is the truth of God’s word.

We must, with God’s grace by His Holy Spirit, withstand these three enemies: The world, the flesh and the devil, because we belong, body, soul and strength, to God.

The word that fits here is the word “asceticism.” This is a Lenten theme too. Now, if we want to be good modern people, we must react negatively to this word. We must conjure up images of sleeping on desert sands, fasting until we look like skeletons, perhaps of sleeping like Hindus upon a bed of nails. The negative reaction must include a bigoted rejection of the whole monastic life.

But, as followers of the Catholic Tradition, especially the English Catholic Tradition, the word “asceticism” must be understood in a practical way. We say “no” to those things that inhibit prayer and the growth of the virtues, not simply to obvious and gross sin. For example, we should not fit the normal American pattern of watching six hours of T.V. a day every day. I hope that our “yes” to God’s call upon our time for prayer, upon our mind in learning His word, and to serving Him in whatever good works He prepares for us to walk in, simply does not leave us with enough time for inordinate and intemperate, though seemingly innocent, misuse of time.

This practical saying of “yes” to God, and taking up the cross of Christ, dying to our desires, withstanding the world, the flesh and the devil, is true Christian asceticism. It is also to love God with all our heart, all our soul, all our mind and strength. It is to clutter our lives with the presence of the Holy Spirit so fully that the evil one can have no place in us to call home. These are practical ways to live as people who gather with Christ, and who are not scattered.

Let us learn it in Lent. Let us live it always.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Faking a Bundle

Faking a Bundle was first published in the December 2008 issue of Touchstone, a Journal of Mere Christianity.

ROBERT HART on Lucrative Careers and Pseudo-Biblical Schloarship

It was the late 1970s. Collars, lapels, and ties were wide; Jimmy Carter was President; double-knit was still ugly because it was still visible; and I was a young college student unable as yet to grow a decent beard. With a certain amount of naiveté, I sat in my first ever philosophy class.

The instructor (not a professor) lectured on the basics of philosophy before making the most flawed statement I have ever heard: “Then there is the whole idea of matter as something that is evil, which is what we see in Christian teaching.” Never before had I encountered professional and highly refined nonsense (which, I later came to see, is a hallmark of academia when it sinks into higher illiteracy). The punch line, by the way, is that this same instructor taught comparative religion.

This was my first real encounter with the problem of the uninformed informer, whether a journalist or an educator. In the academic world, the uninformed informer presents a special kind of problem, one that is compounded when commercial interests are added. This is especially true when an entire career has been built on a shocking, challenging, and revisionist thesis, authenticated by book sales or television specials rather than by scholarly rigor.

Pesher Ploy

Take, for example, the Australian writer Barbara Thiering, author of Jesus the Man, who earned a Ph.D. from Sydney University and then lectured there on Semitic studies until her retirement. Her academic career was based on her reputed expertise on the Dead Sea Scrolls. Yet even Geza Vermes, no champion of traditional Christianity, wrote about her work:

Professor Barbara Thiering’s reinterpretation of the New Testament, in which the married, divorced, and remarried Jesus, father of four, becomes the “Wicked Priest” of the Dead Sea Scrolls, has made no impact on learned opinion. Scroll scholars and New Testament experts alike have found the basis of the new theory, Thiering’s use of the so-called “pesher technique”, without substance.

What is the “pesher technique?” Basically, it’s the theory that the New Testament can only be understood correctly when it is first translated from Greek into Hebrew, and then subjected to the code of interpretation used by the Essenes of Qumran. It is this method that supposedly unlocks the real meaning of the New Testament.

What might be the weaknesses of this thesis? For one thing, we would have to accept Thiering’s unique dating of the Dead Sea Scrolls, which is about fifty years earlier than what is generally accepted. We would also have to assume that Thiering’s own translation of the Greek into Hebrew was exactly, word for word, what the apostles and other New Testament writers had intended.

There are other technical and scientific objections, but also problems evident to common sense. For example, we know that the books of the New Testament were written mostly for Gentile converts to Christianity. These Gentiles, living in such places as Rome, Corinth, Ephesus, Berea, Thessalonica, the regions of the Galatians, and so on, not only were ignorant of Hebrew; they would never have heard of the Essenes. Nonetheless, we are supposed to believe that, in order to understand the Epistles and Gospels written specifically for their instruction, they would have needed a special—dare I say Gnostic?—knowledge of the Essene Hebrew code and how to unlock it.

Thiering would also have us believe that the apostles courted the death of martyrdom for reasons that had nothing to do with actual faith in anything supernatural, such as Christ’s Resurrection. For her pesher method proves that the apostles did not really believe in miracles at all, not even the Resurrection they proclaimed at the peril of their lives. And their converts, unless they knew Hebrew and the Gnostic method, could not begin to grasp the real meaning of all the things the apostles wrote and sent to them—sent, I might add, in times of official persecution to the death. It seems like a pointlessly dangerous effort when you think about it.

Nonetheless, Thiering’s work was given serious enough consideration for her to build a career off of: employment for many years by the University of Sydney, sales of her book, and even a documentary expounding her ideas. The latter, produced by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and called Riddle of the Dead Sea Scrolls, was later shown on the Discovery Channel and sold (at the time) as a VHS tape. The promotion for the documentary called her work a challenge to the faith that every Christian needs to take seriously.

Pagels Sells a Lie

Thiering is hardly the only misinformed informer on Christianity; this kind of thing has become all too common. The Da Vinci Code, while not produced in a quasi-academic manner, is a related phenomenon, but a more relevant example is that of Elaine Pagels, whose life work and commercial success have stemmed from her claim to have discovered suppressed Christian writings, as she describes in her book Beyond Belief:

When I entered the Harvard doctoral program, I was astonished to hear from the other students that Professors Helmut Koester and George MacRae, who taught the early history of Christianity, had file cabinets filled with “gospels” and “apocrypha” written during the first centuries. . . . When my fellow students and I investigated these sources we found that they revealed diversity within the Christian movement that later, “official” versions of Christian history had suppressed so effectively that only now, in the Harvard graduate school, did we hear about them.

The trouble is, the “suppression” she writes about never occurred, and no one needed to explore file cabinets in Harvard to find these Gnostic works. One need only to have read some of the fathers of the Church, or to have taken any standard course in church history, in which Gnostic movements have always been part of the subject matter.

But Pagels’s claim of suppression is necessary for her to sell her product. Therefore, the elaborate tale was created. It is a cornerstone of her career to present the Church as having tried to silence the very texts that it, alone, preserved (simply for the sake of teaching its own history). Pagels has simply invented a lie, or fiction if you prefer, which she repeats twice in Beyond Belief:

But in [a.d.] 367 Athanasius, the zealous bishop of Alexandria—an admirer of Irenaeus—issued an Easter letter in which he demanded that Egyptian monks destroy all writings, except for those he specifically listed as “acceptable,” even “canonical.” . . . But someone—perhaps monks at the monastery of St. Pachomius—gathered dozens of the books Athanasius wanted to burn, removed them from the monastery library, sealed them in a heavy, six-foot jar, and intending to hide them, buried them on a nearby hillside near Nag Hammadi.

The only problem with this story is that it never happened. Athanasius did write the Easter Letter of 367, to be sure, but it contained none of the things that Pagels claimed it did.

Book-&-TV Deals

Sensationalism and junk science about Jesus Christ have increased in recent years in the related marketplaces of books and television. For example, in 2006, The Judas Gospel was sensationalized as both a book and as a television special on the National Geographic channel. The English translation of the book has since been discredited, as it became apparent that Judas had been inaccurately described as a “spirit” or a “god” where a proper translation would have called him a “demon.” But if the book and TV special were to achieve commercial success, it was necessary to recast the traitor into a loyal disciple. It sold better.

Not to be outdone by National Geographic, the Discovery Channel produced a heavily publicized special called The Lost Tomb of Jesus for broadcast at Easter time in 2007. Directed by Simcha Jacobovici, who has gone on to work for the History Channel as The Naked Archaeologist (just a name for the show), and produced by Titanic director James Cameron, this “feature documentary” was advertised as making the case that “the 2,000-year-old ‘Tomb of the Ten Ossuaries’ belonged to the family of Jesus of Nazareth” and as revealing “new evidence that throws light on Jesus’ relationship with Mary Magdalene.”

In fact, the “discovery” of the tomb had taken place many years earlier, in 1980. The “evidence” amounted to nothing more than a collection of very ordinary names among Jews of the period, such as would be listed in most families. The methods of genuine science were not allowed to interfere, as Michael Medved pointed out in USA Today in March 2007:

Nearly all prominent Israeli archaeologists reject [Jacobovici’s] reasoning. Amos Kloner, who conducted the original excavation, has denounced the project as sloppy, exploitative and irresponsible. Joe Zias, who was the curator at Jerusalem’s Rockefeller Museum for 25 years and personally numbered the now controversial bone boxes, has said this of Jacobovici: “He’s pimping off the Bible. . . . Projects like these make a mockery of the archeological profession.”

(It may be worth pointing out that Medved and the two archaeologists he quoted are Jewish, not Christians with a personal ax to grind.)

There was also a book, The Jesus Family Tomb (co-authored by Jacobovici and Charles Pellegrino), to go along with the TV special, and even an article in Newsweek on the subject. Medved noted that this was not coincidental: “Could this sudden flurry of interest possibly relate to the upcoming Easter holiday?”

Exorcism Time

The need today is to exorcise the TV producers and booksellers from some of the academic hideouts that have been providing a basis for their popular credibility and aiding their commercial success. It is not enough to criticize their methods after the fact, or to hold them in disdain behind the scenes.

I look back on that philosophy instructor who taught comparative religion, and feel sorry for her that she missed the bus. If only she had worked to commercialize her crazy idea, it might well have paid off and put her in fat city. Real scholars would have unloaded their scorn and derision in properly objective words, but she could have cried all the way to the bank.

And, even though I was very young, I think I gave a good answer in that classroom all those years ago. “That’s not Christian teaching.” The instructor replied, “Defend that statement.” I replied that Genesis teaches that all of God’s creation is “very good,” that the Church has always believed in the holiness of sacraments that involved such matter as water, oil, bread, and wine, and that, above all, “the Word was made flesh.”

She was visibly annoyed, and continued her lecture with, “As I was saying. . . .”