A PLACE WHERE THOSE WHO LIVE IN THE ANGLICAN CONTINUUM, OR WHO ARE THINKING OF MOVING THERE, MIGHT SHARE IN ROBUST, IF POLITE, DISCUSSION OF MATTERS THEOLOGICAL AND ECCLESIOLOGICAL. QUOD UBIQUE, QUOD SEMPER, QUOD AB OMNIBUS CREDITUM EST
Sunday, February 28, 2010
Another Haiti Update
Saturday, February 27, 2010
Second Sunday in Lent
I Thess. 4:1-8
In today’s Gospel we see something strange to our way of thinking, as modern Westerners long accustomed to thinking of Christianity as universal, perhaps even as democratic in the classic sense, maybe as egalitarian to some degree, or, at the very least, as polite. We see Jesus appear unwilling to help this Gentile woman until she humbly acknowledges that she, not being Jewish, is like a dog asking for scraps that fall from the Israelite table.
It seems even more strange after the Morning Prayer lesson from I Kings in which Solomon asks God to grant the prayers of the stranger who comes and prays in the Temple, having heard of God’s great Name, that all the world may know that there is only one God. It seems strange when we remember that Jesus had angered the people of His hometown by saying that they would reject Him, but that as Elijah was sent to a Gentile widow, and as Elisha had cured the leper Naaman, from Syria, His own ministry would benefit even the Gentiles who would trust Him.
The story of Naaman is very dramatic, and a lot like this story. The Syrian General, who had been Israel’s enemy, came to be healed by the prophet Elisha. By the grace of God, he was healed, but not before humbling himself and accepting the one demand that the prophet made; that he wash himself in the Jordan river (and what do we learn from this? Naaman’s mikvah, his cleansing, in the River Jordan signifies that some day the Gentiles would be able to enter into the covenant by baptism). The prophet did not even bother to come meet this very important man, but simply sent a messenger. At first Naaman was angry and started to leave in a huff, but his friends reasoned with him. Like this woman we read of today, he had to humble himself in order to receive a gift from God.
Of course, Jesus did grant her request, and before He was finished, He commended her for her faith. But why did He put her through it? What point was He making?
The point has everything to do with the Covenant, specifically the Covenant that God made with Abraham. Abraham is the father of the people of Israel, which means, as St. Paul would write, that he was the father of all who have faith in the true and Living God, the true God Who is known only by the revelation of Himself. Out of that Covenant came the other Covenants, the Covenant of Sinai, when the Law was given to the people who were freed from slavery in Egypt, and the Covenant of the Kingdom made with David. These grew out of the Covenant that God made with Abram, when he was yet uncircumcised, that is when he was still a Gentile named Abram, and had not yet become Abraham, circumcised and the father of Isaac, and thereby the father of a multitude.
The last Covenant to grow out of the Covenant of promise to Abraham was the Covenant that Jesus Christ would make, the New Covenant, the B’rit Hadashah, prophesied of by Jeremiah:
"Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a New Covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which My covenant they brake, though I was an husband unto them, saith the LORD: But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my Law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be My people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying Know the LORD: For they shall all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, saith the LORD: For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more (Jer. 31: 31-34)."
But, before proceeding with what we can say about that, we need to see that the Gentile woman who came to Jesus was not included in the Covenants of God made with Israel. She was, to use the words of Isaiah, from the 57th chapter of his book, one who was "afar off." St. Paul described the situation of the entire Gentile world in these words: "Wherefore remember that ye being in time past Gentiles...at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world..." He concludes, "But now, in Christ Jesus, ye who sometimes were afar off are made nigh by the blood of Christ (Eph. 2: 11-13)."
Our Lord helped the woman, and granted her prayer, as she was the stranger coming to the One Who was greater than the temple, and was making her prayer of the One true God, the only God in all the earth (I Kings 8:41-43). But, first He made clear the truth, and it was for her to accept it in humility. She was an outsider, and was not requesting something to which she was entitled; she was not one of the children. Understand, that her faith changed this, as faith did for the centurion whose servant was healed. Foretold in that ancient story of Naaman is the truth of what happens when one who is “afar off” has faith. When Jesus commended this woman’s faith, He was not simply granting her request, but acknowledging her as a daughter of Abraham, a Gentile no longer.
This is lost on many people who cannot understand the words of this woman, when she spoke with humility. Against the warning of St. Paul they "boast against the root" that bears them, that is against the Jewish heritage of the Church by which all Christians are made children of Abraham through faith in Jesus Christ. They presume, they boast, and think that God is a modern egalitarian Who accepts everyone and everything as six of one and half a dozen of the other. We are very comfortable hearing about the New Covenant, and the forgiveness of sins, but what does it all entail? What do we need to be asking and learning?
Is the New Covenant made with all mankind? We know that there is only one God, and that Jesus would send His disciples on the mission, the true mission of Israel, to be the light of the world, a light to the nations. "Go and make disciples of all nations," He would tell them, after His resurrection, "baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you." (Matt. 28: 19,20) So, it seems that the Covenant is with all mankind equally- right? Wrong.
Look again at the words that Jeremiah spoke, to which Jesus clearly alluded, by speaking of the New Covenant. Jeremiah said that the New Covenant is with the house of Israel; it is not made with the nations. It is part of the Covenant of Promise made with Abraham. The only people with whom God made the New Covenant are the Israelites, not the Gentiles. If you understand that, you must then begin to understand why the Great Commission is given with these provisions and conditions: The disciples from all nations must be baptized in the Name of God, the Trinitarian Name; and they must be taught to live by all of Christ’s commandments.
The New Covenant brings with it the Law written on the human heart, the forgiveness of sins, and the knowledge of God. The people who enter into it by baptism, and who have faith in Jesus Christ, are not Gentiles; Christians are not called Gentiles; rather St. Paul says "ye were Gentiles in time past." He writes to the Roman Christians that they have been grafted into the tree of Abraham. He tells the Ephesians and the Corinthians that they were Gentiles (past tense), and that when they used to be Gentiles they were led astray by dumb idols. But, now, in Christ, they have been brought near by the Blood of the Messiah, the Blood of the New Covenant and the forgiveness of sins.
The Law is written on our hearts, which is the work of the Holy Spirit. We read it and learn it; but more than simply that, it is within us on a deep level of conscience that is unknown to unbelievers. For we know not only the Law of Christ- about which more needs to be said- we know the One Who gives it. We know and love the Lawgiver; we are personally affected by His great act of love when we think of the cross of His Passion. We know what it means that we are bought with a price, that is, His blood. His Spirit is within us, and we have a conscience quick to feel, which we could not have otherwise. This is the meaning of the Epistle reading for this day, St. Paul’s first Epistle to the Thessalonians: "This is the will of God, even your sanctification."
In Lent we are reminded of this portion of the New Covenant in a special way, not to be forgotten the rest of the year; that the Holy Spirit writes the Law on our hearts, and that we know God in a manner that makes our consciences grieve when we sin against Him; and that convicts our consciences to live in a way that pleases Him. For, having entered into the New Covenant, and having been made a part of Israel by faith, we are given that Law as our guide, we are given the forgiveness of sin, and we know the Lord. The words of Isaiah are true for us: "The Lord is our Judge, the Lord is our Lawgiver, the Lord is our king, He is our Salvation." (Isaiah 33:22)
The message of the Church to God’s ancient people of Israel is, "the temple is here, the sacrifice is here, the Messiah Whom we know will come again; this is your heritage as children of Abraham, born to live under the New Covenant." Our message to the whole world, and its many nations which, to this day, worship many false gods, is, "there is no God in all the earth but in Israel; We know Him through 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, dominion, power and glory henceforth world without end. Amen.
Fr. Wells' Bulletin Inserts
Concerning the Epistle:
“For this is the will of God, even your sanctification,” St Paul writes in the passage we read today from I Thessalonians. Paul is well known for his unfolding of the great theme of Justification, God's gracious act in simply declaring sinners to be righteous when we look to Christ as our Saviour. That simple faith unites us to Christ so that His righteousness becomes our righteousness and God accepts us as perfectly righteous in His sight.
But as joyful a message as this is, there is even more. The rest of the Good News is continued in the word “sanctification.” Whereas Justification is a judicial decree, declared once for all when the sinner turns to Christ, this is continued in a process which has no end in this lifetime. Paul wrote elsewhere “He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6). Put simply, the Christian is not only a man who believes in Christ, but a person undergoing a process. That process is called sanctification.
Sanctification means becoming holy. In this text in I Thessalonians Paul was thinking of passages in the Old Testament, such as Leviticus 19:2. “You shall be holy; for I the Lord your God am holy.” That sounds like an impossible command. Jesus did not make matters any easier when He said, “Be ye therefore perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48). We know what this word “perfect” means: faultless, without blemish, surpassing all standards of excellence. Paul tells us this is the will of God for us.
At this point we are bound to feel a bit of spiritual frustration and say, “That is too hard. God is asking too much of us.” We can hide behind a mask of false humility and say, “Oh, I know I will never be perfect.” That trite saying all too frequently really means, “I am satisfied with myself exactly as I am; I feel no need to improve.”
God never commands anything He does not give grace to fulfill. When our dear Lord said, “Be ye therefore perfect,” His words were both command and promise. “Be ye perfect” can also mean, “you will be perfect.”
Holiness, sanctification, perfection (these three words are all the same) have been called “the moral result of Christ's atoning work.” They refer to the inward moral rehabilitation, in which sinful hearts slowly become pure hearts, unclean minds become clean minds, impure lives become pure lives. That is God's will for us and His work in us. It has been well said that God loves us enough to accept us as we are, but too much to leave us as we are.
Concerning the Gospel:
Today's Gospel is echoed in one of our most beloved prayers, the Prayer of Humble Access, with the words “We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table.” This is derived from the Canaanite woman's humble plea, “Yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters' table.”
This Gospel is truly a puzzling passage. Many have stumbled in its interpretation. Some have said that Jesus was having a bad day, treated the woman rudely, but came around when she outwitted him with her clever reply. Others have opined that Jesus shared the prejudices of his Jewish race against Gentiles, but this woman helped him to overcome his narrowness. Really!
We must study the reactions of Jesus to this woman carefully. He moves from (1) utter silence, to (2) a statement of His mission, then to (3) a statement of testing, and finally to (4) a statement of delight and abundant grace. “Great is thy faith! Be it unto thee even as thou wilt.”
The silence of Jesus reminds us that God is sovereign and acts on His own timetable. The statement of His mission, “but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” reminds us of the great separation and demarcation which runs from “the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman” in Genesis 3 to the final separation of the sheep and the goats at the Last Judgment. And yes, indeed, God indeed tests us. No person of faith will claim that God has never been tested him. The untested person probably has no faith at all or faith in small degree.
Possibly (and here we cannot be sure) the Gentile woman only knew of Jesus as a wonder-worker, someone who could simply oblige her desires, like the nine lepers who were healed and promptly abandoned Jesus. Her words “thou son of David” surely appear to recognize Jesus as the Son of God and Savior of the world, but that had to be tested.
The scene changed when the woman expressed her own humility, unworthiness, and utter dependence on Divine grace. The woman has no one else to go to; she has no other option, no other place to look for healing. Jesus is her last resort. Her prayer is the prayer of desperation.
When we learn that we too are just as needy as this woman, having no Saviour but Jesus, and are truly the dogs eating crumbs from God's table, then we too will hear Jesus' own voice, “Great is thy faith! Be it unto thee even as thou wilt.” LKW
For Prayers-Archdeacon DeHart
It is with the deepest regret that I have learned that yesterday, that is, Friday, February 26, 2010, Archdeacon DeHart passed through the gates of larger life.
For One Departed.
ALMIGHTY God, we remember this day before thee thy servant Josephy, Priest, and we pray thee that, having opened to him the gates of larger life, thou wilt receive him more and more into thy joyful service; that he may win, with thee and thy servants everywhere, the eternal victory; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
REST + eternal grant unto him, and let light perpetual shine upon him. May his soul, + and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.
For Those Who Mourn.
ALMIGHTY God, Father of mercies and giver of all comfort; Deal graciously, we pray thee, with all those who mourn, especially thy handmaid Edy and thy servants, the DeHart children, that, casting every care on thee, they may know the consolation of thy love; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Rev. Canon John Hollister
The Burial Office and Requiem Mass will be held on Wednesday, March 3rd, at St. Mary's Anglican Catholic Church, Akron, OH, beginning at 10:00 a.m. The Right Reverend Rommie M. Starks, Bishop of the Diocese of the Midwest will be the Officient. Your continued prayers for the Archdeacon and his family are requested.
Wednesday, February 24, 2010
Although it is not "ecumenically correct" to speak of theological disputes by using war as a metaphor, the shoe fits. We may love our Christian brethren, and ought to, even when they disagree with us. Nonetheless, Anglicanism itself has been in a state of tension as long as it has existed, because outside influences have been aggressive in trying to overcome it. And, as much as we may prefer to use the expression via media, that middle way (not "middle of the road," but a separate road altogether) that avoids the extremes that create error by over-emphasis or neglect, the metaphor of war is also appropriate; not war against our brethren, but spiritual war aimed to destroy something good, strong and healthy by its own nature as most conforming to the truth of God's revelation.
In an essay called Anglican identity, I wrote:
The English Church established a carefully maintained balance between Rome, Calvinism, Lutheranism, and Zwinglianism, criticizing and rejecting various ideas in each of these systems. This in turn kept the Anglicans in a state of at least some amount of opposition to everybody all the time. Each of these camps saw the Church of England as accepting error by adopting or maintaining some of the ideas and practices of Rome, or some of those belonging to Calvin, or some of those belonging to Luther, but never to the satisfaction of loyalists in any of those parties.
And in case anyone considers "war" too strong a metaphor, let me finish quoting that paragraph:
At one point, the most extreme group of the Calvinist camp, Cromwell’s Puritans, made war on the Church of England as well as on the Crown; executing the king, finally, for refusing to abolish episcopacy, before turning their wrath on the Archbishop of Canterbury. William Laud was executed by means of a Bill passed by Parliament, for they had nothing, in the way of a criminal charge, of which to convict him. The King and the Archbishop suffered religious persecution because they were loyal Anglicans.
None of this would matter much if religion were merely a business or an amusement. But, everything we do is directly related to salvation from sin and death. Those who think on a lower plane can play "church" and have a party celebrating and even "performing," but they cannot understand the seriousness of the battle.
We should consider also that every kind of apostasy is first and foremost rejection of the very tradition in which the rebellious party is already housed. The Canterbury or official Communion Anglicans who have rebelled against generations of Christian belief and practice have rebelled, first and foremost, against the Anglican expression of Christian faith, and then against Christian faith in general. We must bear that in mind when they invoke our formularies, liturgy or scripture to justify their errors.
Right now, we have battles on all fronts, but, as always, mainly on two fronts. Within the proximity of orthodoxy, that is close enough to shoot at and cause damage to us, those two mobilized armies are a wild and unruly form of "Protestantism" (in quotation marks, because it is a false label) on one front, and Romanism on the other. Close enough to fire on the camp we are called to defend, these extremes of error are visible for us today in two blogs. On one front, Stand Firm, with a false version of Protestantism that is less extreme than the atheist version of Spong and Jefferts-Schori, and on the other front that blog that calls itself, quite falsely, The Anglo-Catholic. Both sides threaten to destroy the Anglican camp. One seeks to present a kind of Christianity that cannot really stand up against the dangers of women's ordination and every other innovation of revisionism, not even against the "same sex" heresy that they currently (as in, for the time being) condemn. The other cannot preserve an Anglican identity and ethos, and more importantly an approach that insists on true doctrine, against the softly aggressive nature of Roman Catholicism that, in fact, really does seek to assimilate and thus conquer, and by conquering, over a generation or so, eliminate.
Mobilized armies: 1) from a "Protestant" front.
The question has been raised here about the idea often expressed by Archbishop Robert Morse, who for years led the Anglican Province of Christ the King (APCK), that "the Elizabethan Settlement has failed." It has never been a subtle idea with him. He was not speaking of the actual historical breakdown of the particularly English political compromise, namely, the overthrow and execution of King Charles I and the legal murder of Archbishop William Laud directly following the tragic English Civil War. He was speaking, instead, of the spiritual, theological and even intellectual collapse of the Episcopal Church and other churches of the official Anglican Communion, as they began first to tolerate, then to embrace heresy and apostasy in the form of innovations, such as women's ordination. In his mind, the fault was due entirely to what he called "Protestantism," seen as rebellion against the Catholic Tradition of the Church.
Though I consider the "Elizabethan Settlement" innocent of the charge, because the classic Anglican Formularies had to be abandoned first in order for the modern apostasy to take place (inasmuch as nothing in those Formularies justifies any of it, but only condemns it root and branch), it was a modern twist on Protestantism that paved the way. That twist began not among Anglicans, but among Lutherans. Even some of the brightest Lutheran minds in the twentieth century, such as, for example, Rudolph Bultmann, had come to embrace an approach to Holy Scripture so saturated with and dominated by Form Criticism, and Higher Criticism, that direct proclamation of the Gospel became next to impossible.
This Higher Criticism became the standard method of teaching the Bible. Anglicanism became infected by the unbelief that it helped to create, as it went throughout the Protestant world of established churches. The Bible was not the source of true doctrine any longer, speaking to believers with the voice of God. Inspiration went from being the breath of God to nothing but a strong conviction and passion. Under Higher Criticism, in the place of prophets we had skeptics, pulpits filled with men who had gone into seminaries filled with faith, coming out filled only with doubts, minds bullied into unbelief by a system of teaching that we now know to have been utterly unscientific, and void of genuine intellectual substance.
Today, the "science" of Higher Criticism ought to be regarded as the theological equivalent to the "science" of medicine taught as body humors with prescriptions as effective as blood letting and bleeding with leaches. No more horrifying sound could come from a pulpit than the eerie words, "scholars believe." The problem was two-fold: It seemed more likely that scholars did not believe, and that what they imagined was not based on any genuinely scientific method. By the end of the twentieth century it had taken the form of the "Jesus Seminar," engaging no longer in subtle endeavors, but rather that of scholars making themselves into the very caricature of absurdity by trying to establish which words Jesus really said from those he simply would not have said, strictly by majority vote among themselves. That any real science was lacking from the procedure became obvious; and what became obvious was, in fact, essentially nothing but a disclosure of how shallow the whole exercise had been for several decades.
Nonetheless, the destructive work had been done. A generation of clergy searching for relevance had been steering the Episcopal Church, the Canadian Church and the Church of England away from the unchanging ever true relevance of the Gospel, always the only thing truly relevant to man's deepest need. Today, we still see the results of this false brand of Christianity in such people as Katherine Jefferts-Schori, John Spong, and a host of others.
It is true that on this front we battle an extreme that comes entirely from within Protestantism. It is ironic, however, to blame any of this on Classic Anglicanism and the Formularies simply because the apostates pretend still to claim them for their own. The fact is they do not hold to them, but merely use them for their own purposes. They invoke them when convenient, such as Ms. Jefferts-Schori quoting or alluding to very carefully selected portions of the Articles of Religion in order to justify something that the English Reformers and Anglican Divines would have condemned forcibly. The irony is that when Archbishop Morse says "the Elizabethan Settlement has failed," he is thinking mostly of the work of apostates who have rejected first and foremost the very form of Anglicanism he has identified. But, he is right that this brand of apostasy and heresy comes from the extreme end of the Protestant academy.
Against this brand of error, the "Stand Firm" version of Protestantism offers no long lasting defense, if any. When this variety of modern nouveau Evangelicals or Protestants say Sola Scriptura, they do not mean what the Reformers meant, which is to say, they do not mean what St. Thomas Aquinas 1 meant by the same term. They mean, instead, solo scriptura, with no Church and no Creeds to teach the true doctrine that Scripture contains. Rather, they are free to run wild with it. Anyone who doubts the ineffective nature of any defense they could offer to genuine orthodoxy, should read the excellent work that Fr. John Hollister did for us a few months ago in the three part Priestesses in Plano series. In it you see that such thinkers are quick to decide for themselves when the Bible ceases to be relevant. This they judge in order to be more faithful, they suppose, to its higher priority of "mission," that is, as they see it. This is not your father's Evangelicalism.
2) From a Roman, or allegedly Catholic, front.
But neither is what passes for Anglo-Catholicism your father's Anglo-Catholicism.
In previous essays from the two-part Unconfusing series (here and here), we saw that John Henry Newman, though weak in driving home the point he had made so well, demonstrated his fidelity to the Anglican Formularies as a necessary part of the Anglo-Catholic foundation, when writing Tract 90 to defend the catholic nature of the Thirty-Nine Articles. In fact, the writers of the famous Tracts for These Times, the fathers of Anglo-Catholicism never turned away from the Formularies (and until Dom Gregory Dix's inexplicable love for the Tridentine Missal, they always used the Book of Common Prayer). At the end of Tract 90, Newman wrote: "In giving the Articles a Catholic interpretation, we bring them in to harmony with the Book of Common Prayers, an object of the most serious moment in those who have given their assent to both formularies." My criticism is only that he said he gave the Articles "a catholic interpretation." 2 In fact, he had brought out the only meaning possible both in the context of the times in which they had been composed, and according to their plain and obvious meaning in the continuity of theological discourse (he had succeeded, but nonetheless retreated).
The great Anglo-Catholic writers defended the Catholic nature of Anglicanism, rather than trying to impose something from without. They held out hope for a reunion of Catholic Christianity, both with Rome and with Orthodoxy while trying to raise the understanding of various Protestant churches of the European Continental Reformations, and while taking part in missionary work wherever the Sun refused to set on the British Empire. Their approach to Rome was ecumenical in the manner first expressed by Richard Hooker during the reign of Queen Elizabeth (about which you may read here).
The Anglo-Catholic view was that Rome had erred, just as Article XIX says, and that they had erred in modern times by an innovative doctrine about the papacy itself that had, far from undergoing correction, developed further in the wrong direction. None of them advocated conversion to the Roman Catholic Church, and they foresaw the possibility of unity as requiring a process of theological reformation in which Rome corrected its few remaining errors. They did not think of Anglicanism as a failed experiment, and certainly never called Rome by such fanciful titles as "Mother Church." Their apologetics against innovative doctrines on the papacy were more forceful than what came from the other side of Anglican thought and practice.
But, the modern so-called Anglo-Catholics seem blissfully unaware of the great writings of the Oxford Movement, and of giants like Francis Hall, or the real mind of the more recent E.L. Mascall. They begin with an inferiority complex about Anglicanism itself, often are not educated about its virtues, and begin with a bias that defines all things catholic strictly by Roman criteria. Judging from their arguments, they have learned everything they "know" about Anglicanism from aggressive Roman Catholic polemics, having learned only to be ashamed of themselves and their heritage.
They offer no strong defense against a relentless and aggressive effort to convert Anglicans. In fact, they seem almost proud to be bullied into submission. They reject the Anglican Formularies, and in the process demonstrate that they have failed not only to understand their meaning, but even to think about it. It is no wonder they are constantly writing like Roman Catholics, men who already have converted in their minds. The tragedy is, when it comes to Anglican beliefs they seem never to have studied or learned, and do not know what they are rejecting.
The defense of our camp requires an honest appraisal of what we are up against. If we err on either side, by neglecting any necessary and true part of our patrimony, we cannot defend our position. The value of maintaining our beliefs and practice are contained in the true doctrine about salvation. That doctrine has its most clear and orthodox meaning protected and proclaimed by those very treasures that far too many of our own people mistake for wood, hay and stubble, because they lack discernment. If we lose who we are, and what we are, we can do little good for the rest of the Church, or for ourselves.
1. Yes, sola scriptura is an old Catholic medieval term first coined by the "Angelic Doctor." St. Thomas Aquinas wrote: Notandum autem, quod cum multi scriberent de catholica veritate, haec est differentia, quia illi, qui scripserunt canonicam Scripturam, sicut Evangelistic et Apostoli, et alii huiusmodi, ita constanter eam asserunt quod nihil dubitandum relinquunt. Et ideo dicit Et scimus quia verum est testimonium eius; Gal. I, 9: Si quis vobis evangelizaverit praeter id quod accepistis, anathema sit. Cuius ratio est, quia sola canonica scriptura est regula fidei. Alii autem sic edisserunt de veritate, quod nolunt sibi credi nisi in his quae ver dicunt. Thomas's commentary on John's Gospel, Super Evangelium S. Ioannis Lectura, ed. P. Raphaelis Cai, O.P., Editio V revisa (Romae: Marietti E ditori Ltd., 1952) n. 2656, p. 488.
Translated into English: ""It should be noted that though many might write concerning Catholic truth, there is this difference that those who wrote the canonical Scripture, the Evangelists and Apostles, and the like, so constantly assert it that they leave no room for doubt. That is what he means when he says 'we know his witness is true.' Galatians 1:9, "If anyone preach a gospel to you other than that which you have received, let him be anathema!" The reason is that canonical Scripture alone is a measure of faith. Others however so wrote of the truth that they should not be believed save insofar as they say true things." (St. Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Gospel of John 21)
2. His argument was more powerful than he seemed aware of, or ready to welcome. His private judgment by which he converted to Roman Catholicism seems already to begun to sway.
Tuesday, February 23, 2010
Humility of an Un-magisterium
In past discussions here, the question has been raised, how much authority do the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion possess? The answer is, certainly no more authority than the Articles themselves can allow. In 2008 the GAFCON people placed them as second to the Scriptures, certainly a new idea, since such a definition has never existed in Anglicanism. No comparative degrees of authority have been established except for primacy of Scripture, and their doctrine as expressed in the great Creeds. Certainly, the classic Anglican formularies are a supporting pillar for those of us who claim to have The Affirmation of St. Louis as part of our own foundation, and that includes the Articles, if only because the whole "spirit of St. Louis" was to continue, not to change. So, what if we allow the Articles to set their own terms for how we regard them?
What can we make of any body of doctrinal principles that contains something as direct and clear as Article VI? Were we to use our imaginations so as to personify the Articles with a kind of anthropomorphism, we could say that they refuse to be treated as the voice of God. They insist that we hold them to the same standard as any other extra Biblical doctrinal statement. The Articles, were they living, would demand to be judged by the authority of Scripture, saying, "whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the faith."
This brings us to yet another question that has been discussed recently. It has been suggested that Article XX is more useful than the Vincentian Canon. In practical terms, within the grasp of the average person who can pick up the Bible, that makes sense. However, let us compare these two statements.
First the Vincentian Canon places this measure on doctrine: "That [Faith] which has been believed everywhere, always and by all (Quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus creditum est)." From this we derive easily a standard of Antiquity and Universal Consensus.
And, as for the other:
Article XX Of the Authority of the Church.
THE Church hath power to decree rites or ceremonies and authority in controversies of faith; and yet it is not lawful for the Church to ordain anything contrary to God's word written, neither may it so expound one place of Scripture, that it be repugnant to another. Wherefore, although the Church be a witness and a keeper of Holy Writ: yet, as it ought not to decree anything against the same, so besides the same ought it not to enforce anything to be believed for necessity of salvation.
The first question is, are these two standards in conflict? They can be in conflict depending on how they are used, that is, if someone elevates an amount or degree of apparent consensus from Antiquity to the level of authority, but that kind of effort always proves to be deceptive, generally giving undue weight to councils that never attained Ecumenical status, or giving over much weight to various opinions of sundry writers. The Affirmation of St. Louis affirms the Seven Ecumenical Councils as possessing authority, concerning which it may be argued that the first four Councils were formulative, defending doctrines against heresies in such a way as to clarify them for all generations; and the final three defended those clarifications, making them less significant though not less authoritative. Nonetheless, however we sort out the details, those seven Councils are the definitive example of Antiquity and Universal Consensus, and also the perfect example of the same principles we see in Article XX, in this case applied to the Church Universal rather than to a specific church within the Church.
The seven Ecumenical Councils agree with the revelation contained in Holy Scripture, and set it forth with fidelity and accuracy, fulfilling the words of Jesus Christ, "Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth" (John 16:13). For, the Apostolic Church can declare truth dogmatically and authoritatively, as St. John also wrote, "We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us. Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error." (I John 4:6) This brings to mind the words of St. Paul, "But we have the mind of Christ," (I Cor. 2:16), and "the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth." (I Tim. 3:15)
We cannot accept, therefore, simply any measure of limited consensus; but, the Seven Ecumenical Councils defended clearly the same doctrine we profess in the Creeds, and that we see revealed in Scripture.
Ultimately, "Antiquity" speaks of the Scripture above all else. The fans of Newman's theory of Doctrinal Development, the most vocal opponents of the Vincentian Canon, forget that the Councils, beginning with Nicea (325 AD), defended the Traditional teaching of the Church, and that the defenders of orthodoxy argued exclusively from Scripture. Nowhere else, but Scripture, was the Apostolic teaching actually documented in the Aposltes' own generation, and left behind for future generations. The authority of Scripture is unique, and in the Scriptures we hear the voice of God directly. For "the holy Fathers" of Nicea, the voice of Antiquity was Scripture. The witness of the Apostles was no longer in living memory, that is, but for a public record that had been left behind, received and recognized by the Church even before the formality of establishing the New Testament Canon (with those few questions, in a few places, about Jude, Revelation and, above all II Peter, effectively resolved long before Nicea I).
So, we have the Vincentian Canon as a guide, and also Articles VI and XX agree. Like the Articles, that guide takes us back to the Scriptures as received and understood within the Church, as taught and expressed in liturgy, as believed wherever the Church was established, as passed down from earlier generations, as coming from the Apostles, as verified in the public record of New Testament books. As guides, in fact, we can use these standards together. If a doctrine is professed and taught, we may ask, when did it first appear? Is it really from the Apostles' time, and does it come from their teaching? If so, where is the Scriptural witness? Regarding any dubious matter, when did anyone in the Church first begin to interpret the Scriptural witness in like manner? If from the beginning, then finding it relies on nothing more than exegesis, and requires no isogesis (or eisegesis, same word). By this standard doctrines may be weighed in the balance and found wanting. For example, the bloated claims of the papacy lack the witness of this standard.
Let me bring up another example, one that is absurd and obvious, but all the more useful for it. Around the end of the last century a new fad sprang up of "interpreting" the Old Testament by the numerology of the Hebrew alphabet making use of computer technology to find the hidden "Bible Code." No longer did the Tenach, the Old Testament, mean what it said, with its emphasis above all on the Messiah to come bringing God's salvation. That is, no longer did the Old Testament testify of Christ. (John 5:39) No. By a new Cabala that was computer dependent, the real and hitherto hidden meaning of Scripture (in clear contradiction to Ephesians 3:5) was worked out by those cunning and computer savy enough to play around with this new system. Did this new "Bible Code" have any roots in Antiquity or Universal Consensus? Obviously not. But, many modern so-called Evangelicals were fooled by it, at the very least wasting time "ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth." (II Tim. 3:7)
Not a magisterium
Some people feel a need for more security than faith allows, requiring an infallible authority who answers every question, rather than reading, marking, learning and inwardly digesting Scripture. Some people need a thorough set of rules for every little detail in life. They fear to form their consciences according to God's word (as we are taught to do in The Affirmation of St. Louis). They need God's address here on earth, where they may knock on His door, where He speaks now as if he has not spoken already, as if he does not speak to everyone who will hear even now, through what He said already, long ago, recorded in Scripture.
The Anglican Formularies are a disappointment for those who need the security blanket of an infallible magisterium. But, in the Anglican mind, no council representing a mere portion of the Church (such as the Church of Rome, or, for that matter, our Church) can teach simply from its own authority, nor can its pastors and bishops require that what they teach be received as an article of faith based simply on their own consensus. So too, the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion would be self-contradictory if used in such a manner; and by their nature they "refuse" to be granted infallible authority status. Rather, they compel us to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest Scripture. That is why they are worth more than all the local councils, including the Council of Trent and both the Vatican Councils put together.
The whole idea of Anglicanism always was, and for us still is, to live by the teaching of the ancient catholic doctors and bishops. Out of respect for what we know to have been revealed, and for the authority that ancient revelation possesses, our own relatively new (as in 500 years or less) statements are not thundered at us from a self-proclaimed magisterium, but spoken from a humble and reasonable form of pastoral teaching and guidance. We need add no dogma, and need seek no additional revelation. It remains sufficient to say, "whatsoever is not read [in Scripture], nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation." Truth does not come any more catholic than that.
Monday, February 22, 2010
On Property and “Mission”
(Or, “Who could get your home if you take your home to Rome?”)
There has been considerable discussion on this and other blogs concerning property rights under the recent Apostolic Constitution. Specifically, there have been questions raised as to whether the soon-to-be (or, perhaps, currently) former Anglicans will be able to retain their parish property without interference from “Mother Church”. After all, this is a particularly touchy point for traditional Anglicans whose litigation over the last 30 years with the formerly-Christian sect variously known as PECUSA, ECUSA and TEC has read like the Wreck of the Hesperus. There should be an even deeper concern given the ongoing level of litigation concerning sexual misconduct by Roman Catholic clergy, again reaching fever pitch here in the States (Delaware) and across the pond (Ireland), and the concomitant fire sale of properties in various dioceses around the United States and the world.
We should be clear at the outset. In the U.S. the Catholic Church collects revenues totaling around $7.5 billion annually. Even more impressive are its vast property holdings, which include everything from cathedrals and schools to beachfront retreats, mansions, golf courses and even television and radio stations. And this is just at the diocesan and archdiocesan levels, and does not account for the holdings of religious orders, societies and the like. For example, the diocese covering Stockton, California operated the wholly-separate Roman Catholic Welfare Corporation, worth an estimated $400 million. Each of the 178 Roman Catholic dioceses in the U.S. organizes its affairs separately; nearly all employ a highly complex and decentralized legal structure.
As litigation has intensified, the dioceses and organizations have sought new ways to protect their assets from the claims of the molested and abused. In the case of one option gaining popularity among a range of Catholic communities, some schools and parishes have established corporations to give themselves complete independence, even from their local diocese. Ironically, the hierarchical RCC is taking positions with respect to church property ownership far more lax than that of the U.S. Episcopal Church! Predictably, this has been met with challenges, particularly in the ongoing Delaware litigation in which the diocese asserted that parishes own their own property, and the few sole assets amenable to judgment to the abused were the diocesan headquarters and residence.
Who Owns Rome’s Homes
According to canon law, Catholic Church property belongs to the juridic person that lawfully acquired it. (c. 1256) A physical person, such as a bishop or a parish pastor, cannot lawfully, according to canon law, own church property; however, physical persons are the administrators of church property. A “juridic person” is the canonical equivalent of a civil law corporation, though not precisely equal to it in nature. In the 1983 code, a juridic person is an equity that is the subject of law, rights and obligations. For example, a diocese is a juridic person.
An administrator is a canonical office that confers specific powers including the power to alienate or change ecclesiastical property on the incumbent. Church property, known in the code as ecclesiastical property, is any property or goods owned by a juridic person. It includes land, buildings and their contents, and sacred vessels. It consists of anything that has value.
Juridic persons come into existence by a decree, either explicit or implicit, issued by Church authority competent to do so. The main juridic persons under consideration here is the “Ordinariate” being formed under the Apostolic Constitution.
In case anyone missed it, the pope, as the incumbent of the Holy See, is the supreme authority over the entire RCC. However, the Holy See does not own the church property of all Catholic entities subordinate to it. However, because the pope has universal jurisdiction over the entire Church, he has form of eminent domain over church property that belongs to subordinate bodies. This means that, while the pope cannot claim ownership of local churches, he has the jurisdiction or power to sell them (c. 1273).
The means whereby church property is held depends on the regulations of the Code of Canon Law, the nature of the property in question, and the civil laws and customs of the place where the property is located. In the United States, church property has been mainly held over the past two centuries in three ways: Parish Corporation, Corporation Sole, and in Fee Simple.
Authority over church property rests with the administrators who are given a variety of powers in the code concerning administration. One of the primary acts of power is the alienation of church property. Alienation is the sale, gift, long-term loan or mortgage, or any action that weakens or eliminates control over the property by the juridic person that holds dominion or ownership.
When Rome Doesn’t Need a Home
There are specific norms in canon law for alienation. An administrator of church property (bishop or pastor) cannot simply sell or otherwise alienate any church property under his authority. Depending on the nature of the property and its value, he is required to seek permission. Basically, a bishop cannot alienate any church property whose value exceeds $5 million without the explicit permission of the Holy See through the Vatican Congregation of Bishops.
In order to retain control over church properties in the United States, all forms of civil tenure somehow involve a diocesan bishop. In their book Church Property, Church Finances and Related Church Corporations, Adam Cardinal Maida and Nicholas Cafardi stated that Corporation Sole was the preferable civil law means for diocese to hold church property. Thus, each diocesan parish would be a corporation with one member, the diocesan bishop. In other methods of incorporation, the bishop would be an ex-officio member with other members chosen from the diocesan consultors and often including the pastor in parishes.
While it is not precisely true to say that the diocesan bishop or the diocese, as a separate juridic entity, owns the church property of each parish, it is true that the bishop, as the sole agent of the diocese, has administrative control over each parish. Were a bishop to create separate corporations for each parish with a board totally distinct from the diocesan administration, significant problems would arise if a parish community, through its board, were to challenge his decision to close a parish, or if itself were to close a parish or otherwise dispose of significant parish holdings.Tom Kyle, “Ownership of Church Property”.
When You Give Rome Your Home
Where does all of this leave the continuing Anglican folk who take their property to Rome? Let’s be blunt: the Roman Catholic Church did not sign the Affirmation of St. Louis. Novel legal theories to avoid pedophilia and sexual abuse judgments notwithstanding, absolute ownership by the laity has not been the historic method of ownership for RCC parishes in the United States or elsewhere. Will the Apostolic Constitution be “special” in this regard? Well…
First, the recognition of an entity as a juridic person in canon law does not abrogate the principle of hierarchy. Although the parish is a separate juridic person with the right to private property (dominum or proprietas), it remains part of the diocese and subject to the authority (imperium) of the diocesan bishop.102 Section 1 of Canon 1276 requires that the “Ordinaries must carefully supervise the administration of all the goods which belong to the public juridic persons subject to them . . .” Coughlin, O.F.M., Rev. John J., "Church Property: The Unity of Law and Theology" (February 1, 2007). Notre Dame Legal Studies Paper No. 07-23. As the Ordinary of the diocese, the bishop incurs the obligation to supervise the administration of all the assets of the parishes and other juridic persons under his authority.
Consistent with Vatican II’s theology of the particular church, the juridic personality of the parish does not constitute it as an autonomous unit which may acquire, administer oralienate its property without regard to the authority of the diocesan bishop. Id. The parish is a part of the diocese, and the bishop has both the responsibility and right to exercise the power of governance over it. Section 1 of Canon 381 recognizes that the bishop exercises ordinary, proper and immediate power with the jurisdiction of his diocese. This includes power over any of the temporal goods that belong to the parish.
The hierarchical principle is particularly evident in Section 2 of Canon 515 establishing that only the diocesan bishop may erect, suppress or alter parishes. When a parish is entirely suppressed, Canon 123 requires that the property of the now extinct juridic person be distributed in accord with the suppressed parish’s statutes. (Presumably, the parish statutes and by-laws are drawn in such a way as to insure that the property passes to the diocese, although continuing church parishes routinely have non-conforming organizational documents with respect to their own canons, and these would be subject to review by the RCC.) Now, here’s the rub, in case that the parish statutes provide for the distribution of its property upon extinction, Canon 123 provides that the property reverts to the diocese.
Finally, the ecclesiastical property of a juridic person remains an integral part of the "mission of the Church". All ecclesiastical property is dedicated to the mission of the Church, and serves communities by advancing the mission under the supervision of the appropriate hierarchical figure. Coughlin, Church Property, 36. Any given piece of church property must always be available to serve the common good in light of the gospel ideals of common ownership, apostolic mission, and poverty. Parish property is part of the mission of the diocese as the particular church within the universal Church. The ultimate authority in the diocese with regard to the church’s mission is vested in the diocesan bishop.
Based on Vatican II’s theology of the “particular church”, diocesan bishops retain the right to direct the property under their canonical jurisdiction in accord with what “best advances the mission of the Church.” Id. “It would be an error about canon law if a pastor, parishioner, or group of persons concluded that the diocesan bishop lacked the authority to direct parish property in accord with the Church’s mission.” Id.
Does the Apostolic Constitution Toss You a Bone?
Nothing in the Apostolic Constitution negates or alters this essential principle. It is true under the A-C that, “Each Ordinariate possesses public juridic personality by the law itself (ipso iure); it is juridically comparable to a diocese.” I. §3. It also is true that, under section IV of the A-C, “A Personal Ordinariate is entrusted to the pastoral care of an Ordinary appointed by the Roman Pontiff.” However, the power of the ordinary of the Ordinariate “is to be exercised jointly with that of the local Diocesan Bishop, in those cases provided for in the Complementary Norms.”
And what of the Norms? Article 3 provides that, “The Ordinary [of the Ordinariate], in the exercise of this office, must maintain close ties of communion with the Bishop of the Diocese in which the Ordinariate is present in order to coordinate its pastoral activity with the pastoral program of the Diocese.” The norms are silent as to property matters and in no way modify the 1983 Code of Canon Law on questions of property.
The bottom line: to meet “the mission”, the administrator of the juridical person that is the Ordinariate can deal with property as needed, whether this means being sold as redundant, merged, or offered up to satisfy judgments. One really has to ask the question whether the small properties that comprise most continuing church parishes which actually own property would be needed at all, or would the proceeds of these properties better serve the “mission” of the Ordinariate or the larger RCC? Further, in a season of litigation, might these properties provide tasty morsels to meet the “mission” of satisfying judgment creditors rather than sell properties that would affect established Roman Catholic constituencies?
These are fair questions that cannot be ignored, particularly in light of the bitter history of traditional Anglicans and their parish property. As the Roman Catholic faithful in Boston, Cleveland and so many other places now understand, where differing notions of “mission” clash, it is the ordinary who prevails. And for those who haven’t yet heard, e-bay® is a dandy place to pick up the remnants from the sales of those homes once part of Rome.
Sunday, February 21, 2010
Beyond Port and Prejudice - The High Church Revival Before the Tractarians
Seventeen years older than Lloyd, Van Mildert was a transitional figure. Born in 1767, he grew up in the 1770s and 1780s as Toryism and High Churchmanship came back into fashion. Oxford had been a High Church stronghold since the Restoration, but for much of that period, High Churchmanship has been associated with Jacobitism and political subversion. However, under George III there was a resurgence of the Toryism, which had the support of the King, and this benefitted the High Churchmen, who, free from the taint of Jacobitism, became less defensive. This renaissance of traditional High Church theology set the theological atmosphere at Oxford in the early nineteenth century. It also led to a significant High Church grouping emerging at Cambridge centred on Trinity College.
People like Van Mildert breathed new life into the High Church tradition. The new generation of High Church intellectual in both Universities were determined not only to advance the Apostolic claims of the Church of England, but also give them administrative reality through an active revival of Church discipline, and a programme of Church extension. The practical manifestation of this desire to improve religious provision in England's cities was the passage of the Million Act that allocated one million pounds for the construction of new parish churches. It received active support from High Church clerics, such as Charles Manners-Sutton, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and High Church politicians such as Lord Liverpool, and from an informal High Church ginger group referred to as the Hackney Phalanx. It was the first ig political success for High Church principles for nearly a century.
Although the Tractarians liked to present themselves as being like Melchizedeck, they were in fact the radicalized successors to the Old High Churchmanship of the Hackney Phalanx. The Phalanx was a loose collection of High Churchmen, about evenly divided between clergymen and laymen, who worked together to perpetuate High Church principles in the Universities, in the wider Church and in Parliament. In a sense the Hackney Phalanx was a late manifestation of "Church and King Toryism" but their emphasis was primarily spiritual, not political, thus anticipating Oxford Movement principles. One of the key "backroom boys" of the Hackey Phalanx was the Rev. Charles Lloyd, whose influence in Lambeth, and in Oxford helped to push forward High Church principles.
Lloyd was an hereditary High Churchman, the son of the clerical schoolmaster, who was himself an Oxford graduate. Tutored by his father, Lloyd achieved the prize of a King's Scholarship at Eton. From there, he went on to Christ Church, Oxford, where Lloyd took a first in Classics in 1804. He made the logical progression to become a fellow and tutor in his College and set about making himself into a theologian. He spent some time as a chaplain to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Charles Manners-Sutton, then moved into two positions recently vacated by William Van Mildert.
The first of these was the moderately wealthy Rectory of Ewelme, Berkshire, which was conveniently close to Oxford, and provided the Regius Professor of Divinity with a country retreat. This was held with a canonry at Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford, and was traditionally regarded as a stepping stone to a Bishopric. It was also increasingly regarded as a key teaching office in the Church of England, so it was a position that admirably suited Lloyds talents.
Like Van Mildert, Lloyd gave public lectures on what we would today call systematic and liturgical theology. Among his hearers were three key figures in the Oxford Movement - John Henry Newman; Edward Pusey; and Hurrell Froude. The founding minister of All Saints', Margaret Street, London - Frederick Oakley, also studied under Charles Lloyd. Among the things that they heard from his lips was that the Book of Common Prayer, "was but a reflection of mediaeval and primitive devotion, still embodied in its Latin form in the Roman service books." He also taught that prayers for the departed were not contrary to the Anglican tradition, and pointed to the essential continuity between pre- and post-reformation English Church.
Many of Lloyd's ideas were culled from the Caroline Divines and from their Non-Juror successors. After Lloyd's death in 1829, they reappeared in less hesitent form, in the Tract for the Times, the first of which, on Apostolic Succession, was written by Lloyd's pupil - J. H. Newman.
Saturday, February 20, 2010
In your prayers...
First Sunday in Lent
To accept the Gospel you must come to a very simple recognition of fact: Life is not a test. Those who teach, in the name of religion, that life is a test, and at the end you get a passing or failing grade, will never understand the portion of the Gospel according to Matthew that we read this first Sunday in Lent. Pelagius and the new unitarians who pose as Christians, cannot see that Christ came in the fullness of his divine nature, taking our finite and mortal human nature into his uncreated eternal life. They cannot see that he reached down and saved us from sin and death, that his cross and passion were the sacrifice by which we receive forgiveness of sins, and that he was raised again for our justification; that only by his cross and passion, and glorious resurrection and ascension, are we given life and immortality. They cannot see that he did for us what we could not do for ourselves. Life is not a test; it is a shipwreck. Christ did not come to prepare us for a test; he came to rescue us, to pull us out of the sea of sin and death and place our feet on solid ground. If life were a test we would all get an "f" and be cast into Hell. "For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved."2
So, the message of today's Gospel is not, "imitate Jesus: if he could do it so can you." Yes, try to imitate Jesus the best you can by doing always what pleases the Father. But, when, not if but when, you fail, confess your sins and be forgiven. This is one area in which you cannot imitate Jesus, for he had no sins to repent of. We have no power in ourselves, of ourselves, to save ourselves. The temptations of Jesus in this passage from Matthew are strange to us. They exist on a higher level than the carnality we must wrestle with. I have never been tempted to use divine power to turn stones into bread. Have any of you? I have been tempted to eat when I was fasting, and tempted to satisfy the body in ways that are outside of God's will; but, never to turn stones into bread.
We need to examine these temptations in light of what they were for Christ, and in light of what they mean for us. Two things that come to our aid are from St. Paul. One is the line, "There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it." 3 The other is, "But not as the offence, so also is the free gift. For if through the offence of one many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many." 4 With these passages in mind, let us think of the temptations Christ endured, first in terms of their meaning in his life, and then what they mean for us. Always remember this; Christ being holy and sinless was not a fallen creature. He was the Word made flesh, the fullness of the Godhead dwelling bodily among us, fully God and fully man. It was not the fullness of his divine nature shrunken down into humanity, but the raising of human nature into his infinite divine Person. For us, the temptations that come are common to man. To the holy, righteous savior, born of a virgin by the Holy Spirit instead of the seed of a fallen man, he is the pure and perfect man. These temptations we read about in this chapter of Matthew were not common to man, in one sense, but were common to man in another sense. I shall explain.
The first temptation was this: "If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread." The temptation was to use his divine power in a way that was foreign to his very character as God. In everything we see from creation, God always used his power to make, that is, to give. Everything is grace, including life itself. The creation of life, including human life, met no need of God, for God has need of nothing.5 All of God's creative work was from his love, by which love he gave, seeking nothing for himself. 6 The Son of God came into the world because of God's immeasurable love, with the intention of sharing the humility of a creature, and suffering the death of the cross as the atonement that no sinner could make either for himself or as a ransom for his brother. The will of God that he would rise again was for the sake of fallen mankind who needed the gift of eternal life to save us from the full power of the grave. Every miracle he planned to perform would be so that he could go about "doing good, healing all who were oppressed by the Devil."7 The temptation was to use this power for himself. It was to satisfy the demands of his body by that creative power that had always been used in charity, that is agape- the love of God.
The second temptation was to throw himself down from the temple, that is, to put the truth itself on trial. It is this temptation that demonstrates the cunning of Satan in his misuse of the very scriptures themselves. Notice how he misquotes the Psalm, taking it out of its context that teaches us not to fear death as an ultimate power, so that its meaning is reduced to something no bigger than this mortal life. Notice too the addition of three words not in the real Psalm: "lest thou strike thy foot against a stone" becomes, in the Devil's mouth, "lest at any time thou strike thy foot against a stone." At any time? The condition is taken away, and the promise mis-stated. The temptation here is to place the word of God on trial, and it is to be done by using an arbitrary and false measure, one forbidden by the Law itself, namely, testing God.
The final temptation is subtle indeed. "The devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; and saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me." It is the plan of God that all nations serve and obey Christ, 8 for this is best for man and so in accord with God's love. When he comes again in glory, this will happen, and will happen in a way far beyond our ability to perceive in our present state. The temptation here is to avoid the cross. This is why we see this echoed in Christ's words to his own Apostle Peter. Remember one day, when the Lord predicted his coming suffering and death, that Peter
"took him, and began to rebuke him, saying, 'Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee.' But he turned, and said unto Peter, 'Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men.'" 9
The temptation is to arrive early at the goal by abandoning the Father's will, by avoiding the suffering and death which alone could reconcile man to God without any compromise of his holiness, and which in making sacrifice also shows the seriousness of our sins to change us morally. Retire early, avoid the suffering, do not take up the cross. Such a decision would have been to turn away from the Father indeed.
In fact, there was no danger that Christ would yield to this. But we see important things for our own edification.
The book of Genesis describes the Fall this way:
"And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil. And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat." 10
Look at these three things: 1) Good for food. 2) Pleasant to the eyes. 3) Desired to make one wise. Compare this to the words of St. John:
"Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever." 11
Compare the two lists: "Good for food" to "the lust of the flesh." We forget that the lust of the flesh is not only sexual lusts and passions, but also all other things that drag us away from God because of their direct effect on the desires of the body. This includes abuse of sex and of food, but also the abuse of drugs and alcohol that destroys lives and families. Beyond the obvious, read the fifth chapter of St. Paul's Epistle to the Galatians about "the works of the flesh" that are the opposite of "the fruit of the Spirit."
Compare "Pleasant to the eyes "with "the lust of the eyes." Remember the words of St. Paul: "for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet."12 The lust of the eyes is what Jesus spoke of when he said that it is the sin of adultery to look on a woman to lust after her. He was simply driving home the point he had made in the days of Moses: "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife." 13 The lust of the eyes is never content with the gifts that God has given, and is the opposite of that love that "seeketh not her own." It wants more, even if your neighbor is deprived or diminished. The lust of the eyes does not give thanks to God for what he has given, but finds fault with him for not giving to our satisfaction. "Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee." 14 Giving in to the lust of the eyes is like drinking sea water. It never satisfies, but with each drink makes a man thirstier and thirstier.
Compare "it was desired to make one wise" to "the pride of life." Pride requires an illusion. The truth makes a man humble. The truth is the very opposite of Pelagianism; for the fact is, you cannot go one day without committing sins if only in your thoughts. The truth is, you cannot keep your own soul alive. The truth is contrary to "Motivational Seminars," which teach the sin of pride a thousand different ways. Every day, in every way, it is not getting better and better, no not at all. You are aging, and as your eyes fail, and your hair gets gray or falls out, and your skin wrinkles, you are reminded that the body is sinful because it is subject to the uncleanness of death 15. This is part of the Fall. Pride says life must be a test, and we can pass it. Humility says, "God I have earned no better than an 'f', that is, everlasting damnation. Save me from sin and death." A man trying to stay afloat in a shipwreck has no time to impress anybody; he must, with the humility that realism brings, accept salvation from his rescuer.
Christ overcame the things that are in the world. "The world" in this sense, that has only these three sinful categories, is best described in the first chapter of John's Gospel: "He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not." The world is fallen into the state of not knowing its Creator, even in his Incarnation. 16 This season of Lent, learn the humility to take seriously these three enemies: The world, the Flesh and the Devil. Learn to fight the temptations used by the Devil through "the things that are in the world." Jesus used the scriptures, the sword of the Spirit; so, you need to know the word of God, to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest it. 17 The disciplines of Lent are useful indeed. Fasting is a way to humble our souls before God, 18 and giving is away to show gratitude to the Lord.
Let us have a holy Lent, knowing that without him, we can do nothing.19
1) John 8:23
2) John 3:17
3) I Corinthians 10:13
4) Romans 5:15
5) Acts 17:25
6) I Corinthians 13:5
7) Acts 10:38
8) Psalm 2
9) Matthew 16:22, 23
10) Genesis 3:4-6
11) I John 2:15-17
12) Romans 7:7
13) Cp. Exodus 20:17 to Matthew 5:28
14) Hebrews 13:5
15) See my sermon for Trinity XVI.
16) John 1:10
17) Ephesians 6:17, in context.
18) Psalm 35:18
19) John 15:5
Fr. Wells' Bulletin Inserts
For anyone unfamiliar with the word “paradox,” this is the term for a a statement which seems to contradict itself but actually points to a deeper truth. The Christian faith is full of paradoxes. The Gospel is all about how God hates sin but loves sinners. That makes no sense to the unbeliever, but it is the Christian's joyful hope. This Gospel is a far cry from the lying message which claims that God ignores sin and indulges sinners.
Today's reading from 2 Corinthians concludes with a series of magnificent paradoxes. Describing his own ministry, and by implication describing the ministry of the whole Church, Paul writes,
“as deceivers, and yet true
as unknown, yet well known,
as dying, and behold, we live,
as chastened, and not killed,
as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing,
as poor, making many rich,
as having nothing, and yet possessing all things.”
Although Paul was writing in his own defense, in the face of critics and detractors, in each step of the sevenfold series in this text, Paul was thinking of the Lord Jesus. In the desert of temptation, Jesus was falsely accused by Satan by pretending to be the Son of God: “If thou art the Son of God.....” In His earthly life and ministry Jesus was unknown, dying, chastened, sorrowful, poor, and having nothing. That was the route which led Him directly from the humiliation of His baptism with sinners to the shame and disgrace of His death on the cross.
If mankind or any human individual had designed for itself a Savior (or a god!), we would surely have come up with something very different. We would have preferred a god (notice the small g, which indicates a false god) which winks at sin, ignores evil, and shuns suffering. We would surely have chosen a messiah who was rich, successful, popular, entertaining, and undemanding. Because Jesus taught and lived the “way of the cross,” He was none of those things. The cross, so prominently placed at the threshold of our churchyard, stands as God's stern rebuke to all earthly notions of success.
Yet He is now acknowledged as true and well-known (“the Way, the Truth, and the Life”). Once poor, He has made us rich. Once “having nothing” (even stripped of His very garments), He is now Lord of heaven and earth. LKW
“Recapitulation” is a helpful word for understanding today's Gospel. To recapitulate means to repeat or re-tell; the current slang term “re-cap” almost expresses what we are talking about. The New Testament frequently presents Jesus as the One Who Recapitulates, the one who relives the history of His people. In His visit to Egypt as a child and in His Baptism in the Jordan, He was reliving or replaying the history of His Israelite people. He was particularly “re-capping” that history as He spent 40 days in the wilderness, as His ancestors had spent 40 years there.
But the recapitulation runs are deeper than just the history of God's covenant people, Israel. What we see in today's Gospel is a repetition of the very oldest story in the history of mankind, the temptation and fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, that sad, moving and haunting story told in Genesis 3. Both stories involve the devil presumptuously making suggestions. To Adam and Eve he said, “Ye shall be as God.” To Jesus he said “If thou be the Son of God.” In both instances, in Eden and in the desert, Satan used a clever and insidious sort of logic. Adam and Eve were indeed made in “the image and likeness of God,” Jesus was indeed the incarnate Son of God, and the devil tried to use both facts to his own evil advantage.
But the recapitulation goes only so far. We know how the temptation of Adam and Eve worked out, with their tragic rebellion and banishment from God's presence, a sinful condition for all their descendants who sinned in them and fell with them, and misery and suffering for all mankind. But the temptation of Jesus has the very opposite conclusion: He rejects Satan's suggestions, resists the power of sin, and scores a decisive victory. J. H. Newman expressed this splendidly in Hymn 343: Stanzas 2 and 3:
O loving wisdom of our God, When all was sin and shame,
A second Adam to the fight, And to the rescue came.
O wisest love! That flesh and blood, Which did in Adam fail,
Should strive afresh against the foe, Should strive, and should prevail.
Each one of us has chapters in his life which he would like to re-write, to tell his story with another conclusion. But thanks to the Gospel we are not trapped in the sad words of the Rubaiyat, “The moving finger writes, and having writ moves on.” In His victory over sin and Satan, the victory finished on the Cross, realized in His resurrection, but initiated in His temptation, Jesus has given each of us a new biography, with a New Life, having a new conclusion. When Jesus said, “Get the hence, Satan,” He proclaimed a new outcome and a new destiny for each one of us. LKW