Sunday, November 15, 2009

Elder brothers

Following up on my earlier essay about unspinning the new constitution, it is time now to focus on the most egregious interpretation of scripture I have seen in a very long time, outside of reported teaching from the cults. Confusion has been caused by sloppy reporting on the Traditional Anglican Communion's (TAC) own website, inasmuch as they put these words in the mouth of Abp. John Hepworth; but, in fact, they were really commentary by one Brother Stephen, who calls himself a former Anglican, a convert who is now a Catholic:

"To Catholics and to especially [sic] my fellow converts, since we often carry the biggest chips on our shoulders, who want to rage about the evils of Anglicanism and want people to come crawling, chastened, and cowed, remember that it is the Holy Father himself who has chosen to kill the fatted calf. It seems that the least we can all do is make merry. Reviewing the parable of the wages of the laborers in the vineyard might do us all some good."

That former Anglican has made, frankly, a terrible admission. The rage he describes, and the desire to punish, seem to come from self-loathing that reminds me of Frank Schaeffer's never ending adolescent tirade against his parents. Aside from that, I feel inclined to take this unfortunate commentary as an opportunity to teach. The first reference is to the Parable of the Prodigal Son, in Luke 15:11-32. *

The obvious meaning of the parable is that a sinner who comes home to God is forgiven, and "there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth." (v.10) The prodigal's life of sin is described in the words, "wasted his substance with riotous living." He goes as far as working with unclean animals, pigs. This indicates that he disobeyed the Law of God very openly. The father in this story clearly represents God the Father; and if the slain fatted calf represents anyone it is no one less than God the Son in his role as the sacrifice and atonement.

Brother Stephen has so interpreted the parable as to make of our Anglican affiliation a life of sin, a waste and uncleanness. He has identified the father as the pope, sneaking that in gently with the term "the Holy Father." Confusing the language of Scripture with "lingo" that has grown up in various customs, is a very subtle trick indeed, making a certain kind of deception all the easier to perpetrate. He writes, "it is the Holy Father himself who has chosen to kill the fatted calf. " And, he has ignored the true meaning of the parable.

Sadly, there seems to be a host of Brother Stephens out there, ready to twist the scriptures, ready to treat former Anglicans as repentant sinners coming back to the father's house-not God the Father, but "the Holy Father" in Rome. They will make merry when they see Anglicans repenting of their "sinful" sacraments, and admitting that the elder brother has been right. Such elder brothers will have won an argument.

I am sure this is not what Pope Benedict XVI had in mind when creating the new constitution. I believe he is too gracious for that. On the other hand, the new constitution was an idea first created by Pope John Paul II in response to a request for help from Forward in Faith United Kingdom, back in the 1990s. In those days the Pope encountered obstruction from the British Roman Catholic bishops themselves, and complained to then Cardinal Ratzinger, "Why are the English [RC] bishops so unapostolic?" Overcoming obstruction is what delayed this constitution.

This should indicate that the people who plan to take it as an opportunity to swim the Tiber, by fooling themselves into thinking they get to remain Anglican somehow, are swimming into danger. The levels of bureaucracy that will remain between them and the Pope are occupied by men hostile to a traditionalist invasion (and we have said enough already about Rome's unfortunate choice of Cardinal Levada). And, many who will cheer the swimmers on constitute an army of Brother Stephens, gleeful at winning the argument against their own past, and watching Anglicans "repent" of wasting their living on false sacraments in a heretical church.

I do not consider any one denomination to be, exclusively, the Father's house, and that includes my own. The Universal Church is the earthly expression of the Father's House, and it contains many weird and strange people, relatives we may find embarrassing even though "He [Christ] is not ashamed to call them brethren." (Heb. 2:11) Even so, life for the Tiber Swimmers will be very difficult with so many elder brothers around.

* A certain man had two sons: and the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me. And he divided unto them his living. And not many days after the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living. And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want. And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him. And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father's have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger ! I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, and am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants. And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him. And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son. But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet: and bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry: for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry. Now his elder son was in the field: and as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard musick and dancing. And he called one of the servants, and asked what these things meant. And he said unto him, Thy brother is come; and thy father hath killed the fatted calf, because he hath received him safe and sound. And he was angry, and would not go in: therefore came his father out, and intreated him. And he answering said to his father, Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment: and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends: but as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf. And he said unto him, Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine. It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found.


Священник села said...

... if the slain fatted calf represents anyone it is no one less than God the Son in his role as the sacrifice and atonement.

I would be interested in finding any authoritative commentary expressing the thought that the fatted calf is a type of Christ, or the slaughter of the fatted calf an anticipation of the atoning work of Christ.

Cherub said...

I completely agree with you Father. It is common currency between the Churches that we are all baptised into the Catholic Church, that we are in a state of impaired communion with each, but we all occupy the Father's House and recipients of the grace, mercy and forgiveness which our Heavely Father has so freely lavished upon us. Hatred of the Anglican Communion, depicting it as something evil or something of which one should be ashamed simply because one has come into Full Communion with the Catholic Church is unChristian. By virtue of our common Baptism each of us can say, using the words of the Catechism of the Prayer Book, that I am a "member of Christ, the child of God, and an inheritor of the Kingdom of Heaven".

Mark VA said...

From the Roman/Traditionalist perspective:

Actually, I completely agree with Father Hart, especially the bit about swimming into danger. Pope's response is, after all, an offer to join with the Conservatives and Traditionalists in a spiritual struggle with sin, primarily our own. It emphatically is not an invitation to an all expenses paid cruise on the Pope’s luxury yacht. Ultimately, it is not about ordinations, confirmations, lace, or birettas. There may be no victory parade in our time. It is not for Nervous Nellies.

I imagine Winston Churchill would have said this about this matter:

We are being invited to a spiritual ordeal of the most grievous kind. If we join, we have before us many, many decades of struggle and suffering;

The Anglicans are unique. They are the only people who like to be told how bad things are, and who like to be told the worst.

Anonymous said...

I saw that rubbish also, but did not have the zeal or the energy to address it. I envy Fr Hart's energy and zeal, which frequently surpasses mine.

But like Andrew, I'm not to keen on this interpretation of the fatted calf. But it may be an example of acceptable eisegesis. (Eisegesis, btw, is not always wrong.) The banquet surely suggests the eucharistic banquet, in which "Christ our psachal lamb is sacrificd for us, therefore let us keep the feast."

The robe surely symbolizes the imputed righteousness of Christ. See Hymn 208, Stanza 4, "Here is my robe, my refuge and my peace."

poetreader said...

Since it is not uncommon for Jewish sources to explain the dietary laws at least partially in terms of the now unpracticed sacrificial system, it would be surprising to me if the fatted calf lacked sacrificial significance, and, though I've never run across a specific reference, I would be startled to be told that such a thought did not occur to the early Church. From the Epistle of the Hebrews through many of the Fathers, all the minutae of the sacrificial system are looked at through the lens of Christ's sacrifice. The killing of an animal in the context of forgiveness could hardly have been missed.

Священник села said...

it would be surprising to me if the fatted calf lacked sacrificial significance, and, though I've never run across a specific reference

This is my question. In all my years of preparing sermons, and many more of listening to sermons, and in years of reading, I don't recall any commentary, let alone a significant commentary, let alone an authoritative one, that offers this idea. (Save one I found today on-line, in a commentary of Origen on Genesis)

The fatted calf is sacrificed after the prodigal returns and has nothing to do with bringing about the restoration of the prodigal's right relationship with the father. It is simply the father's expression of joy.

I understand that this is utterly irrelevant to the issue Anglicans and Romans.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

What I said was, "... if the slain fatted calf represents anyone it is..." etc. It is not meant to distract from the main subject.

Canon Tallis said...

Excuse me, Father, but I must confess that I am always more than a little upset when we Anglicans unthinkingly and to our own damage adopt Roman terminology. I realize that they have spent the last four centuries attempting to reserve the use of the term "Catholic" for themselves alone, and with Elizabeth I I refuse to let it stand. Many a long year ago I was at St. Julian's in Norfolk when another man in clericals asked me if I were "Catholic or Anglican." My reply was that I was Catholic, but not a papist. Since it turned out that he, also, was Anglican, he may simply have been trying not to be rude, but with Archbishop Fischer I have no faith but that of the Catholic church. When you let the other fellow set the terms you concede the argument.

For all of my current dislike of some aspects of the Roman Church, I could serve mass in Latin well before I even knew that the Book of Common Prayer or Anglicanism existed. And I wish all of those who believe they will find the grass on the other side of the mountain greener that they will find the happiness they seek when they get there. I don't want them to be disappointed in their expectations. But, in like manner, I would want them to know that I am quite satisfied in the Continuum, knowing that such dissatisfaction as I or others may have here are due to our sins and failures and not the faith of the Church.

Veriword: "karls
Veriword: "wrove"

Fr. Robert Hart said...

I realize that they have spent the last four centuries attempting to reserve the use of the term "Catholic" for themselves alone, and with Elizabeth I I refuse to let it stand.

I think we have made our position clear. But, I suppose it bears repeating that quoting Brother Stephen's words must not appear to be an endorsement of his terminology, especially his selective and exclusive meaning for the word "Catholic."

Anonymous said...

My wife and I attend an ACA church I am carefully watching how this process moves forward. I was raised Episcopalian and I am only in my mid-20s raised unaware of all that was happening in the ECUSA church until I became of age. If anyone was curious I am not going to be swimming the timber as they say. What I am curious is how Anglicans churches over time will handle the Apostolic Constitution (since it is an open invitation). I really enjoyed this blog post (and your blog in general). Also your website has and is a great resource.

Bill Havens said...

It amazes me that all the churches are not in communion with all this talk about sin and Christ's admonitions to us to be lights to the world.

But since when did communion have anything to do with bowing down to someones political authority?

The early church started out with Bishops being in every church and being in communion with one another meaning partaking of the body and blood of Christ together not recognizing someones "position".

God have mercy on us all!

Fr. Robert Hart said...

partaking of the body and blood of Christ together not recognizing someones "position".

To some RCs it is necessary to recognize the Pope's position in order to receive the sacrament in a worthy manner. Such a doctrine is just plain disgusting.

Steve Cavanaugh said...

I doubt that Brother Stephen was trying to interpret the parable of the Prodigal Son. "To kill the fatted calf" is a proverbial saying in English, that means to celebrate. That it has its origin in the parable does not mean every instance of its use refers to the parable.
As for his comments about converts to the Roman Catholic Church having the biggest chips on their shoulders, it seems a pretty common phenomenon. Certainly, it seems that the people who most dislike the RCC on this blog are former RCs.

As for the comment on the layers of bureaucracy, the Apostolic Constitution makes the ordinarys of the new structures directly responsible to the Pope; while the ordinary has the right to participate in national episcopal conferences and is expected to cooperate with the diocesan bishops in matters of mutual interest, the line is direct to the Pope. This has been a not infrequent method of reform in the history of the Western Church, when ecclesiastical bureaucracies became too obstructionist, e.g., Cluny and the Jesuits.

Joe Oliveri said...

Fr Hart wrote: To some RCs it is necessary to recognize the Pope's position in order to receive the sacrament in a worthy manner. Such a doctrine is just plain disgusting.

I think you may be confusing the worthy reception of the Eucharist with canonically licit reception at a Roman Catholic Mass.

If by worthiness you are referring to a proper spiritual disposition, all that is required is that a (Roman) Catholic be in a state of grace -- or at least unaware of any grave sin he has committed since his last sacramental confession. He should also have observed the fast. (See the Catechsim of the Catholic Church, n. 1385-1387.) I don't think we Romans go any further in this regard than the spirit found in the Prayer of Humble Access or any of the other godly exhortations found in the Order of Holy Communion.

If by recognizing the Pope's position you mean being in full and visible communion with the Holy See, then yes, of course: Roman Catholics do not (or aren't supposed to) offer Holy Communion to Christians of other Churches or ecclesial communities except in special cases (cf. CIC, canon 844; CCC, nn. 1398-1401).

Communicatio in sacris was forbidden altogether before Vatican II; but even now, for us Holy Communion is a visible sign of unity. We believe our sad divisions should be repaired before we come together around the same altar, as it were.

In any event, I have never heard anyone, not even Lefebvrists, suggest that a proper spiritual disposition requires one recognizing the Pope as the Vicar of Christ or Supreme Pontiff. (Your experience may be different.) Of course such a thing would be absurd.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

If by recognizing the Pope's position you mean being in full and visible communion with the Holy See, then yes, of course...

Exactly. It is not about being reconciled to God through Christ. It is about submission, as well, to the See of Rome. By this standard you would refuse the Bread of Life to a dying man who has faith in Christ, wants assurance, but who never joined the RCC.

We are not on the same page with that kind of thinking, and we do not want to be.

poetreader said...

Actually, Fr. Hart, I think you overstate your case a bit. I doubt if many would carry that refusal to such lengths, but would perhaps regard the dying man (whether he would say so or not) as having made a deathbed reconciliation with Rome.

Be that as it may, it is all the lesser and less emotional cases wherein a brother in Christ would be refused Communion simply for not submitting to a Pope (or, for that matter, to any other earthly jurisdiction - including my own) to be seriously in error. For that reason I agree -- we are simply not on the same page.


Joe Oliveri said...

Fr Hart: Your original comment referred to receiving the Sacrament in a worthy manner. You claimed the RCC says one has to be in full & visible communion with the Holy See to receive worthily. I pointed out this was not the case; so now you have shifted the argument. All right.

For the record:

Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1401:
When, in the Ordinary's judgment, a grave necessity arises, Catholic ministers may give the sacraments of Eucharist, Penance, and Anointing of the Sick to other Christians not in full communion with the Catholic Church, who ask for them of their own will, provided they give evidence of holding the Catholic faith regarding these sacraments and possess the required dispositions.

Code of Canon Law, can. 844:
. . .
§3 Catholic ministers may lawfully administer the sacraments of penance, the Eucharist and anointing of the sick to members of the eastern Churches not in full communion with the catholic Church, if they spontaneously ask for them and are properly disposed. The same applies to members of other Churches which the Apostolic See judges to be in the same position as the aforesaid eastern Churches so far as the sacraments are concerned.

§4 If there is a danger of death or if, in the judgement of the diocesan Bishop or of the Episcopal Conference, there is some other grave and pressing need, catholic ministers may lawfully administer these same sacraments to other christians not in full communion with the catholic Church, who cannot approach a minister of their own community and who spontaneously ask for them, provided that they demonstrate the catholic faith in respect of these sacraments and are properly disposed.


Of course these are not general norms; but then neither do they paint us as the heartless monsters you would have us be for the sake of your arguments.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

And, by the time the Bishop Ordinary renders his judgment, the poor guy has kicked the bucket. Too much law, not enough grace. That's the Rome we've come to know and...well, let's just say that we've come to know.

Fr Matthew Kirby said...

Fr Hart,

No, you have misread the last quoted paragraph. Being in extremis is a separate category to needing episcopal permission: "If there is a danger of death, or ...". and I think you will find in the pre-Vatican II manuals that something similar prevailed for those with the right dispositions in danger of death, at least with regard to confession and absolution.

Bill Havens said...

Not that we need to hash out this contentious debate that has raged for over 1500 years but the fact is that I as a non-deathbed Christian cannot in "good" conscience go into a Roman Catholic Church and take communion as, I know that would be against standard RC practice.

Give honor where honor is due as the Pope is indeed the Bishop of Rome and if he had not been tempted ages ago to take on the honor that heathen princes seek for we would not be having the conversation and he would not have marred his God given honor.

As it stands now he has been the source of many offenses which has totally fragmented the body of Christ and woe unto them by whom offenses come.

Here is what really gets me. I could go into most any standard RC church (read not super conservative) and get communion. If I told them that there were many dogmatic beliefs that I do not agree with nor am I a confirmed RC they would not commune me if they had any conservatism in them.

Now there is a church down the street that the priest has a buddha statue in his backyard and communes homo's and the like....this is hypocrisy at it's highest! This is what totally bewilders me! Since these people are confirmed "RCs" they get communion but they are hardly Christians like many in the world Rome tries to accuse of being schismatic!

I would be happy to see any of the RCs that stand up for Christian values be communed in our Anglican Church. The vain hypocrisy has to go though.

Please forgive me for my lack of meekness.


Fr. Robert Hart said...

Bill Havens:

Do you mean 1,000 years or 500? Those figures would each make sense.

Bill Havens said...

No I definitely intended 1500 years. The council of Ephesus was a clear example of political manipulation that the Pope was very involved (gave his permission) in which they "excommunicated" a whole REGION of the church. The next council proclaimed the very thing that Nestorius and the rest of the Assyrians got the left foot of fellowship for.

I understand that you have "precedent" for deferring to the Roman Pope in matters of Faith and Doctrine when an issue could not be resolved but that has turned into infallibility.

The members of the Oxford movement clearly foretold the current state of the CoE due to it's Church/State affiliation and you can see throughout the history of the Church that anytime someone gets "political" disaster follows.

I am not a Restorationist or anything but I very much believe that the Church did itself and the world around it a great disservice when it got into bed with Constantine and the politics of Pagan Rome.