Tuesday, March 30, 2010

About the washing of his disciples' feet

Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he was come from God, and went to God; He riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself. After that he poureth water into a bason, and began to wash the disciples' feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded. - John 13:3-5

Humility was good enough for God; how can it be less so for us? He had all power and all authority, yet we see him lying as a babe in a manger. We see him, rightly called Lord and Master, washing the feet of his disciples, in the place of the lowest of servants. We see him obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. And may it never cease to shock.

“Service Men” first appeared in the June, 2005 issue of Touchstone.

Service men

Robert Hart on Men Who Are Not Savages

When I was a young man, I tried to make money by selling (I was never any good at it). Once, as I was going through paperwork with a customer after having closed a sale—a rare experience for me—the man began to pour forth the strangest piece of boasting I have ever heard. “I told my wife that if she becomes pregnant, she is on her own. I’m leaving.” He said this with no apparent sense of shame.

Having just married my wife and in those days going through the process of adopting her child who had been conceived by rape, I wanted very much to tell him about the duties of being a man, but I remained silent and finished the paperwork. He went home, probably thinking that the average guy approved of his attitude. To this day, I wish I had been strong enough to show my disapproval.

The Common Man

His kind of “man” is not as rare as we would like to think. One of the ministries I have tried, at which I was not very good, is sidewalk counseling. A group of us would stand outside of abortion mills and try to talk the pregnant mothers into seeking the alternatives. Many times I saw very brave and compassionate Christians try to save the lives of unborn children, and to save their mothers from the harm they were bringing on themselves.

The problem was that most of the time we could not talk to the women. (Did I say women? Most of them were girls.) The overwhelming number of them came with either a parent or a boyfriend. A funny thing: I never saw a woman, head held high, proudly walking in and exercising her “right to choose.” I saw young women being bullied by their keepers, strong-armed into making a “choice” to kill, vulnerable women who saw, under pressure, no other way.

When our people were able to talk to someone, it was to those expectant mothers who had, as we would later hear, been praying that God would give them a way out before it was too late. These were also the few who did not have their keepers dragging them in and fighting us off.

One woman who came alone listened to me, but I simply could not keep her from entering the facility and carrying out the execution of her baby. She did not want to go in there, and was clearly in distress. But she said to me that she had no choice; she did not want to kill her child, but her husband insisted that she had to do this thing because they simply could not afford to care for a baby.

She had to know what pure nonsense that argument really was. To this day I cannot help but wonder if I was speaking to the wife of my customer from years before, the one to whom I did not say anything.

I cannot count how many times, in the course of working to aid poor hospital patients, I have been in a home that consisted of a visibly unhappy mother and several children, half-siblings, each with a different last name inherited from a stranger, innocent bastards all (and a bastard is not so much an illegitimate child as a victim of illegitimate parents). These “families” are always in a state of crisis.

The mothers account for the household income by telling me how many of the fathers are paying child support—that is, most of the time—and how many never have. Most of them, in my vast experience, never have, or rarely do. It is very easy to fault the men who neglect their responsibilities; but the women, too, have often confessed to me their unwillingness to have a traditional family. They were not free in their own minds to accept the natural hierarchy of family life.

Some may have refused because the men in their lives had abused or neglected them, so they could not be expected to know what real masculinity is about, much less to expect or demand it. In any case, the men currently in their lives were not able to shoulder the responsibility of fatherhood. Others may have refused because they have accepted an egalitarian ideology that demands the impossible, an unnatural existence in which a woman is bound to refuse the natural authority, and therefore the service, of a man as head of his family.

Fearful Service

Why do so many fear a life in which the man rules and serves for the good of his wife and children? Men of today fear it as much as women. Why?

Because they are not Christians, or, if Christians, because they do not see the world as Christianity sees it. Outside of the Christian understanding, authority is simply power. Nothing in the world is able to convert power into something beautiful and gracious. We need the doctrine of the Incarnation to save our souls, yes, but also to train the powerful to honor humility and to care for the weak—to be civilized in the Christian sense.

Many people can only understand the world in terms of conflicting centers of power. Women exercise power by granting life or inflicting death upon their children by the alleged right of choice. And men exercise power by demanding and receiving sexual pleasure with no obligations and responsibilities, no calling to provide and protect and serve. The result is a kind of equality, but one in which women are relegated to a role of sexual servitude and not honored and protected in recognition of their status, and children are not protected in honor of their natural frailty, and men are not real men.

What is missing is the understanding of that combination of leadership and servanthood which is a uniquely Christian concept, uniquely Christian because it is rooted in the Incarnation. In seeing that Christ came not to be served but to serve, we see a revolution. It overthrows principalities and powers, using the appearance of weakness and foolishness, both God’s very own by the Cross (1 Cor. 1:22–25). So, too, “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the Church, giving his life for it” (Eph. 5:25).

This laying down of life in the service of love is the role of the husband, and it is the true nature of authority from the perspective of the Cross. In the natural hierarchy of family life, I express my authority by choosing to render service in ways that include such simple things as opening the car door for my wife (and how strange it looks to passersby). Something as simple as opening a door she could easily open for herself is the result of centuries in which a culture has been transformed by the prevailing belief that unto us a child is born whose Name is the Mighty God.

Do we see the revolution inherent in Christ’s humility with the same clarity with which the ancients saw it? After centuries of Christian civilization, we expect everyone to behave in an unassuming and humble manner, if only for appearance’s sake. We are not shocked by the Lord and Master girding himself in a towel to wash the feet of his disciples; we would instead be shocked by anyone, absolutely Anyone, behaving as though he deserved preferential treatment, or a place of honor. Yet, somehow in our expectation of how people should behave, we have overthrown the essence of humility by divorcing it from its context.

Screwtape’s Democracy

We are returning to something more “natural,” more egalitarian, and, in time, perhaps truly savage. It appears that unashamed raw power is beginning to assert itself, and the idea of subduing one’s natural strength in order to serve the weaker is becoming archaic. Can we no longer see that power cloaks itself in humility by becoming service, and that authority takes the lowest place at the feast by its own gratuity? No one is permitted to humble himself anymore, but instead must be humbled from without. Expectations demand it. It is democratic in Screwtape’s sense. It is egalitarian.

If we recognize no Lord and Master who, by his own example, taught humility and service in all their inherent beauty, we will not be shocked by the girding with the towel and washing of the feet. But we will be immune to shock for all the wrong reasons. From henceforth it is expected, it is demanded, that any seemingly exalted Person must wash those feet, not to set the example of humility born of love, but to teach himself a lesson, that no one is better than anyone else. The beauty of gratuitous self-humbling is lost when we impose lowliness on every genuine position of honor. Is there no room, then, for service from the heart?

A major factor in our rise to Christian civilization, the subsuming of power by the powerful, the idea that the strong should serve the weak, did not come from the imagination of fallen man. It came in consideration of the Christ, “who though he was rich, yet for your sakes became poor, that ye, through his poverty, might become rich.” Without the One who did not grasp his equality with God, but made himself a servant, even the smallest expression of service by the simple good manners of deferential treatment seems a mere folly.

Humility was good enough for God; how can it be less so for us? He had all power and all authority, yet we see him lying as a babe in a manger. We see him, rightly called Lord and Master, washing the feet of his disciples, in the place of the lowest of servants. We see him obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. And may it never cease to shock.

In the world of faith, the stronger and more powerful give themselves to others, willing to be spent, all for love. Men love the women and the children under their care. They shoulder responsibility that turns authority into the work of a servant, and the work of a servant into authority. Jesus Christ tells us to humble ourselves as this little child, to take the lowest place.

All good manners were born here. All hierarchies are here not only made bearable but made glorious. Humility and service come from without, from above, from the One who is “high above all nations, and his glory above the heavens . . . Who dwelleth on high. Who humbleth himself to behold the things that are in heaven and on the earth.”

Maundy Thursday

This night is the night of the Passover 1 that Christ ate with his disciples, and so we rightly ask, why is this night unlike all other nights?

A wall carving in the chapel of the Wieliczka Salt Mine, Poland.

First of all, the Lord gave the answer to a riddle that had long been in the minds of his disciples. Like other Jews who turned away from him, these Jewish men also must have wondered, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 2 They expected a genuine answer, unlike others who asked hypothetically (to put it mildly). This night the answer was given. He took bread and wine, and told them that it is his body and blood. He commanded them to do this in remembrance of him. So, from the earliest times to this very night, we do this in remembrance of him. We remember that he promised us that to eat his flesh and drink his blood is to take the food and drink of eternal life.

As Anglicans, we are instructed that this eating and drinking benefits only those who believe. Following the teaching of St. Paul about the dangers of eating and drinking this holy sacrament without first knowing in ourselves “hearty repentance and true faith,” Article 25 warns, “And in such only as worthily receive the same, they have a wholesome effect or operation: but they that receive them unworthily, purchase to themselves damnation, as Saint Paul saith.” And, Article 27 tells us, “it is a Sacrament of our Redemption by Christ’s death: insomuch that to such as rightly, worthily, and with faith, receive the same, the Bread which we break is a partaking of the Body of Christ; and likewise the Cup of Blessing is a partaking of the Blood of Christ.” And, the warning of St. Paul is repeated again in Article 28: “The Wicked, and such as be void of a lively faith, although they do carnally and visibly press with their teeth (as Saint Augustine saith) the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ; yet in no wise are they partakers of Christ: but rather, to their condemnation, do eat and drink the sign or Sacrament of so great a thing.”

This must be true, because of what the Lord told us: “Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.” 3

And, St. Paul says that those who eat and drink unworthily do not discern the Lord’s body, and endanger their souls. 4 So, we learn from these scriptures that a person may eat and drink this sacrament, and yet not in the saving way that Jesus taught. This is because the sacraments are one of the ways in which God imparts his grace; by these mysteries that signify what they effect, and effect what they signify. If the heart is not right with God, one may eat and drink the body and blood of Christ, and yet not feed on the Living Christ who is himself the food and drink of eternal life. What is the effect, then, of eating and drinking with a bad conscience but to harden one’s own heart against the very grace of God that is only in Jesus Christ himself, and nowhere else? The sacraments are charismatic, not magic. They work with the conscience; not mechanically, but honestly and truly.

He referred to the cup as the cup of the New Covenant in his blood. Our translation says “testament,” but we know that the meaning was the closest that Greek came to the Hebrew understanding of B’rit. The reference is to the New Covenant. Hear what Jeremiah said, and you will know what these words meant to the apostles who heard Jesus refer to them on the night in which he was betrayed.

“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, although 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 neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD; for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”5

What does it mean to have the Law of God written in our hearts, to know that our sins have been forgiven, and to know God?

All of this is more than simply observing a ritual, and more than eating and drinking these mysteries as part of a ceremony. We are here to feed on the Living Christ himself, the only one who is the food and drink of eternal life. We must bring to the altar, as we come to eat and drink this sacrament, “ourselves, our souls and bodies to be a reasonable, holy and living sacrifice.” 6 We dare not bring only our bodies simply because it is the custom. We must bring our whole selves along with the truth that speaks to an honest conscience, knowing we are sinners, knowing we need his mercy, knowing that he alone is the food and drink of eternal life, and the fountain that washes us from every stain of sin, and the Passover that frees us from death. He established this New Covenant in his own blood that we may know him. Knowing him is eternal life, knowing him is salvation.

Of course, there are those “Reasserters” out there who fail to see this sacrament as “a salvation issue.” What a tragedy for them and their followers. They know nothing about Anglican teaching. More importantly, they have not listened to the clear teaching of Jesus Christ from the Bible.

On this night he established this sacrament so that we could die to sin and live again in him, so that in this New Covenant we could enter into a special intimacy with him, and through him, with the Father. “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” 7 He established this sacrament to that we could enter into his life as he enters into us. He uses such earthly things as bread and wine, just as also he uses water, and as he uses the oil we carry for healing. This is because he uses earthly things for heavenly purposes, just as he himself took the fullness of our own human nature. “The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.” 8

The hope of this sacrament is tied to all that will follow in the night in which he was betrayed. He will begin to shed his blood in the duress of his prayers in Gethsemane. He will offer himself willingly with the words, “not my will, but thine be done.” He will be obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. And we all know what will follow the pain and suffering of death. It will be the resurrection that completes the true Passover.

About this sacrament we will pray words so powerful that they have scared the modern Episcopalians into removing them from their new religion. We will pray: “Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his Body, and our souls washed through his most precious Blood, and that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us.” How can the body be sinful? Because death is unclean according to the Law of Moses. But, as we feed on the Living Christ, we are freed from death, with that freedom and cleansing we look for when he comes again in glory. The soul, the nefesh, of all flesh is in the blood, says the Book of Leviticus, “therefore I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls.” 9 Christ has established the New Covenant in his blood to wash our souls clean from all stain of sin: "Because he hath poured out his soul (nefesh) unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors." 10

When you come to the altar rail this night, the night in which he was betrayed, understand the meaning of all that has been done for you in the Passover of Christ. Your sins have been nailed to the cross in his own body, to die and pass away. Just as we look ahead to Sunday morning remembering his resurrection victory, we look ahead to his coming in the clouds of heaven and in his Father’s glory to give us our share of his immortality and eternal life.

Yes, this sacrament is a means of grace. It effects what it signifies. Your sinful body will be cleansed from the uncleanness of death and your soul will be washed in his most precious blood, because you are coming in the fulness of a living faith to offer back to him your very self, your soul and body, to be a reasonable, holy and living sacrifice. You are coming with hearty repentance and true faith. You are coming to feed on Christ, who is himself the New Covenant, and the food and drink of eternal life.

  1. Luke 22:11-15
  2. John 6:52
  3. John 6:54
  4. I Cor. 11:29
  5. Jeremiah 31:31-34
  6. From the service of the Holy Communion based on Romans 12:1,2.
  7. John 17:3
  8. John 1:14
  9. Lev. 17:11
  10. Isaiah 53:12

Sunday, March 28, 2010

That pestilent fellow Paul

Excerpt from Screwtape Letter XVI:


The two churches nearest to him, I have looked up in the office. Both have certain claims. At the first of these the Vicar is a man who has been...long engaged in watering down the faith ...At the other church we have Fr. Spike...

But there is one good point which both these churches have in common—they are both party churches. I think I warned you before that if your patient can't be kept out of the Church, he ought at least to be violently attached to some party within it. I don't mean on really doctrinal issues; about those, the more lukewarm he is the better. And it isn't the doctrines on which we chiefly depend for producing malice. The real fun is working up hatred between those who say "mass" and those who say "holy communion" when neither party could possibly state the difference between, say, Hooker's doctrine and Thomas Aquinas', in any form which would hold water for five minutes. And all the purely indifferent things—candles and clothes and what not—are an admirable ground for our activities. We have quite removed from men's minds what that pestilent fellow Paul used to teach about food and other unessentials—namely, that the human without scruples should always give in to the human with scruples. You would think they could not fail to see the application. You would expect to find the "low" churchman genuflecting and crossing himself lest the weak conscience of his "high" brother should be moved to irreverence, and the "high" one refraining from these exercises lest he should betray his "low" brother into idolatry. And so it would have been but for our ceaseless labour. Without that the variety of usage within the Church of England might have become a positive hotbed of charity and humility,

Your affectionate uncle,

What did that "pestilent fellow Paul" teach?

"Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations. For one believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth herbs. Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him. Who art thou that judgest another man's servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand. One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind...But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ...Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother's way. I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself: but to him that esteemeth any thing to be unclean, to him it is unclean. But if thy brother be grieved with thy meat, now walkest thou not charitably. Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died. Let not then your good be evil spoken of: For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. For he that in these things serveth Christ is acceptable to God, and approved of men. Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another...It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak. " -- Excerpts from Romans 14.

As we enter into Holy Week we see more, than at any other time of the year, practices that vary from parish to parish. The clergy should all agree that we have a duty to practice what we see in the rubrics of the Book of Common Prayer, and that is for reasons that ought to be plain enough. First of all, what we have in those old rules is good and wise. Second, if we vary from what we see in the rubrics of the Book of Common Prayer, the people will conclude (rightly) that we are lawless, reserving to ourselves options instead of practicing obedience. In practical terms, that only makes it more difficult to attract and keep visitors, adding new members to a parish; after all, people come to Continuing Anglicanism, in part, to flee from arbitrary practices. For this reason, at St. Benedict's, we have the Decalogue at least once a month, and I, as the celebrant, kneel during the General Confession and Prayer of Humble Access, and I will never drop the Comfortable Words.

This, however, calls for common sense. The late Dr. (or Fr.) Louis Tarsitano used to quip, "The Prayer Book rubric on baptism says, 'Then the Minister shall take the Child into his hands.' But, it never says we give the child back. Therefore, to conform to the rubrics we must have a room in the basement of the parish hall where we keep all those baptized children." Right?

Some argue that we need to to treat Anglican patrimony a bit more legalistically than I would recommend, not in terms of following rubrics, nor of (more importantly) teaching right doctrine, but in terms of attempting to enforce something thought of as "authentic Anglicanism." On one hand, some people are concerned that various usages of the Missal are a road that must lead to Rome. Against this I have argued that what we see practiced, generally, is an embellishment of the Book of Common Prayer, and that if we are not allowed embellishments we would have to throw away the hymnal. On the other hand, some people are intolerant of any celebration without the Missal and all that goes with it, because they have lost sight of what truly is essential, placing too much emphasis on ceremony in terms of all the trappings, bells and whistles (well, maybe not whistles).

Nonetheless, where the Missal is used its own rubrics are optional; for if the rubrics of the Missal were all observed, the service would start on Sunday morning and end some time on Monday afternoon. Where Anglicans use Ritual Notes or the Missal, it makes sense to be discriminating about what is practical and what is not (let's face it-nobody anywhere ever follows them all anyway); but the rubrics of the Book of Common Prayer should be regarded as coming to us with the authority of the Church in her Right Reason. For Continuing Anglicans who hold to the Affirmation of St. Louis, by the way, this is not an option. If someone can show me a contradiction between Prayer Book and Missal rubrics, I would say to follow the Book of Common Prayer; but, no one has showed me such a contradiction, at least not that I can think of off the top of my head.
Justify Full
Popular Piety

In a recent comment, I said this:

Questions of popular piety never spring from hierarchical legislation, but from the laity in their devotions. The right question for some practices is not whether or not they are found in Anglican rubrics somewhere, but simply, might they be practiced to someone's edification, and free from error? If yes, leave it alone; do not disturb them.

For example, if someone kneels in prayer in church, perhaps during a week day, especially mindful of the tabernacle, or sits in contemplation mindful of it, feeling the fires of true devotion because of his closeness to the sacrament, mindful not so much of bread but of Christ's Real Presence in the sacrament (reminding him of the Incarnation), who has the authority or even the right to condemn him? Who should interfere with the man's devotions? If, however, this action harms someone who cannot distinguish between this practice and idolatry, should he not practice it at another time, or content himself not to practice it unless and until his brother can understand it? Is not this how we apply what was taught by "that pestilent fellow Paul" to our Continuing Anglicanism?

And, yes, that does apply to the use of a monstrance, or other practices to which none of the Thirty-Nine Articles ever spoke directly, since the practices in question did not yet even exist, nor could be foreseen. I do not imagine that Cranmer, Jewel, Hooker, etc., would have approved of, for example, a Benediction service; but, in their day they were fighting a specific battle, namely, restoration of the whole idea of Receiving the sacrament of Holy Communion rather than merely gazing upon it from afar. Perhaps, the emergency they faced is no longer an emergency in our own time; or at least, the idea needs to be considered.

However, if such practices were to lead to idolatry (i.e. worshiping the physical substance itself), or led the people away from actually receiving the sacrament, and back into Medieval "gazing" as if that were the means to receive grace, then, the practices should be abolished. However, I do not believe that is going on; neither do I believe that what people are doing necessarily leads to Rome; for it has gone on a long time with people who have done no such thing, nor contemplated it (those who opt to go Roman do so for other reasons, generally because they believe in the papacy beyond what true doctrine has ever established). As long as we all maintain that "The Sacraments were not ordained of Christ to be gazed upon or to be carried about, but that we should duly use them," as Article XXV says, we should be safe.

The search for Authentic Anglicanism

I question if the search for authentic Anglicanism is at all practical, or even possible, beyond matters directly involving doctrine and theology, and for practice, matters addressed in BCP rubrics or Canon Law. I refuse to engage in conversations about how many candles belong on the altar, or whether we should use the colors associated with the calendar in accord with people's expectations. If these matters are not in the Bible, not in the Prayer Book, not essential to the Gospel and right doctrine, what point is there in getting worked up about them? If God has not addressed an issue, and if the Church with her authority has not ruled on it, why should we?

In the fourth chapter of John's Gospel, Jesus could have addressed this objection from the woman of Samaria with a "correct" answer in her own terms: "Our fathers worshiped in this mountain; and ye say, that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship." The Lord could have said: "The temple is in Jerusalem, you silly cow." But, inasmuch as He came to establish the New Covenant, and bring in something greater, and wanted to save her soul (a consideration we might want to remember now and again), He answered:

"Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father. Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth."

In light of that, I say again, questions of popular piety never spring from hierarchical legislation, but from the laity in their devotions. The right question for some practices is not whether or not they are found in Anglican rubrics somewhere, but simply, might they be practiced to someone's edification, and free from error? If yes, leave it alone; do not disturb them. It is better to frustrate Hell by having our variety of usage become a hotbed of charity and humility.

Frankly, religion is not frozen in time; doctrine must never change, but popular expression of the faith cannot help but change a bit from age to age. That is, unless it is dead. To freeze "authentic Anglicanism" into absolute conformity to 16th century English culture, turns our faith into a nice museum piece, (to borrow words from Virgil Fox on another subject) to be placed "under glass next to a comb some dead queen wore in her hair three thousand years ago."

"Authentic Anglicanism," is worthy of a true search to make sure our doctrine is sound and to see why our patrimony is valid. It is worthy of a true search so that we do not err from or lose the truth we ought to proclaim. However, simply to search for it so as to reproduce some exact performance, might help us turn our services into something that amounts to a nice stage play about history; but, it may not have practical value in terms of worshiping the Father in spirit and in truth, nor in evangelizing among the nations where our churches have been and are being planted. Anglicanism that is authentic is, and always has been, and always will be, belief in, and proclamation of, the Gospel. It is Catholic and Evangelical fullness, together.

Now that I have offended everybody who holds strongly to partisan inclinations (in imitation of Christ I hope) , have a blessed Holy Week.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Palm Sunday

So our consciences are stricken, and our hearts afflicted, by something more profound than guilt; we are brought low, and moved, by this true drama, to gratitude, to give thanks with tears, moved to love, all of which restores to us hope, and faith, and charity for all. Our consciences are cleansed by His death, and made new. They are made active; they stir to holy living. No longer is our life a matter of rules for the sake of rules, laws for the sake of laws. The Law is written on our hearts by the Holy Ghost along with the deepest recognition that we could not give enough thanks to our Redeemer had we a thousand tongues to sing, and that we will never stop giving thanks for eternity, unto ages of ages, or world without end. It is now personal. "We love Him because He first loved us."

Click here for the whole Palm Sunday sermon.

Fr. Wells' Bulletin Inserts


The liturgy for the final Sunday in Lent, when we come to something like a pre-climax just before the real climax on Easter morning, is an embarrassment of riches. We have two moments of real drama today: first, the re-enactment of Our Lord's not-quite-triumphal entry into Jerusalem, and second, the long reading of St Matthew's Passion narrative. Between these two splendid moments, the Prayer Book gives us a brief reading from Philippians as the Epistle appointed for the day.

Bible scholars are almost unanimous in their suspicion that in these verses Paul was quoting a hymn from the early church's worship. These verses read like a hymn of six stanzas, three devoted to our Saviour's humiliation and three more (beginning at “Wherefore God”) proclaiming His exaltation. This passage almost cries out to be sung and is the basis for one of our finest hymns. See The Hymnal 1940, Hymn 356.

Today we must concentrate on the first part of the hymn Paul was quoting. There we meet the contrast between “the form of God” and “the form of a servant.” Those two expressions reveal the amazing chasm of distance the Incarnate God traveled for us. How far is it from heaven to earth? No, the question really is, How far is it from God's throne to Calvary's hill? A distance more vast and exhausting than we can imagine. And this word “form” is not just outward show, but inner reality. He possessed the very nature of God and took the role of a servant in the most realistic sense of the word.

From the moment when God commanded Adam in the garden “to till it and keep it,” and to give names to every beast of the field, God had been seeking a perfectly obedient and cooperative servant, to bear His image in His creation. Beginning with Adam, such a servant had never been found-- until Christ Jesus appeared. His task had been a far greater burden than that of Adam; his garden is not Eden but Gethsemane. His perfect obedience is submission to the Cross itself.

But if Paul is quoting a hymn in this passage, the opening line is his very own. “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.” The attitude of Christ Jesus, in His self-denial, His perfect obedience, and His willingness to suffer, is to be our attitude as well. Those who are “in Christ Jesus” are called to be like Him, marked with the humility of slaves. Here is the point that Paul was striving to make as he quoted this hymn. Christ was not only our substitute but also, as today's Collect puts it, our example. And as St Peter wrote (I Peter 5:6), “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that in due time He may exalt you.”


One neglected key-word in the Biblical vocabulary is the word “memorial.” This word appears inconspicuously in the Words of Institution, “Do this in memory of me.” A more precise translation of the Greek would be, “Do this for my memorial.”

To us the word memorial refers to a purely mental exercise, a straining of the mind to think of something far away and long ago. We hold a “memorial service” for someone dead, not for someone alive. This word memorial might refer to the re-enactment of a battle, which everyone knows is not the real thing.

But as the Bible uses the word, a memorial (and here the Eucharist is the example
par excellance) is not for someone absent but for Someone Present. A true memorial brings things out of the past and makes them contemporary. The is because the One who does the remembering is none other than God Himself! Think of all the times the Psalter calls upon God to remember His covenant and His promises, or think of how we pray in the Litany, “Remember not, Lord, our offenses, nor the offenses of our forefathers.”

In the Eucharist we are permitted to do something far greater than just sitting around and thinking about the death of our Saviour. Instead, we call upon God to remember that sacrifice, to make it present before our very eyes, to make it effective and powerful here and now. As Hymn 189 expresses it,

“Look, Father, look, on His anointed face,

And only look on us as found in Him.”

Now we come again to Holy Week. This is emphatically not just a historical commemoration, like Columbus Day or Independence Day, of remote events from another time, whose relevance we must strive to recall. In the Blessing of Palms today, in the Mass of the Lord's Supper on Maundy Thursday, in the Vigil around the Cross during the sacred three hours of Good Friday, we are permitted to re-live the mighty acts of God for our salvation—acts which we treat rather cheaply. The special services of Holy Week are a unique opportunity to encounter Christ and to grow closer to Him.

St John's Gospel emphasizes that Peter did not merely look at the empty tomb, but moreover Peter went into the tomb. That is what this holy season is all about. We make and keep this Memorial of our Saviour that we may climb down into Him and find our resting-place in Him. LKW

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Feast of the Annunciation March 25

The feast of the Annunciation is one of the most important in the Church year. Last year, I wrote for this day:

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

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

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

You may read the entire sermon by clicking here.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Prayer Book Catholicism

One thing I never cease to be thankful for is the fact that I managed to learn about Anglicanism in a Prayer Book Catholic parish just before the present tide of Revisionism started to wash over the Church of England. This Prayer Book Catholic tradition had, in that particular parish, succeeded to the old Protestant High Churchmanship of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries giving it a very definite sense of having been there always.

Prayer Book Catholicism is the moderate strand within the nineteenth century Catholic Revival within the Church of England. Unlike Anglo-Papalism which looked longingly to Rome for guidance both in theology and liturgy, Prayer Book Catholics looked to the Early Fathers for their theology and to the mediaeval English Uses when it wanted to deduce the proper ceremonial to use with the Book of Common Prayer.

I suppose if you were to ask me what is the archetypal "Prayer Book Catholic" theological work I would have to answer C. B. Moss "The Christian Faith." The copy I possess has a picture of Moss in cassock, gown, tippet and Canterbury Cap sat in a rose garden stuck in it, which seems curiously appropriate. Moss takes his theology from the Holy Scriptures and Early Fathers, and to a lesser extent the greats of later centuries. He is also a commonsense theologian who prefers the factual to the fanciful. Behind Moss stood a whole theological tradition including Charles Gore the "liberal" Catholic, Armitage Robinson, Lightfoot, Hort, John Wordsworth, then reaching back, figures like Van Mildert, Waterland, Burnet, Cosin, Andrewes, Hooker, and so on and so forth. These were the men who had put the meat on the bones of the Elizabethan Settlement, and raised Anglican scholarship to the level of being the "stupor mundi."

Later exponants of the Prayer Book Catholic theological tradition include William Wand (1885-1977) who as Archbishop of Brisbane and later as Bishop of London wrote a whole series of popular books about the High Church Movement. A more serious pair of theologians in the Prayer Book Catholic tradition were Austin Farrer and Michael Ramsey. All of them emphasized both the Biblical and Sacramental in their theological writings.

When it came to liturgics, the English Prayer Book Catholic's favourite guide had to be "The Parson's Handbook" by the Rev. Dr. Percy Dearmer. Dearmer was an enigmatic figure whose interests ranged from the mainstream to the eccentric and back again. He was passionately committed to Prayer Book Catholicism and Christian Socialism before World War I; later, after loosing his first wife and a son in the Great War, a crisis of Faith made him into strong liberal and early advocate of the ordination women. Oddly, their experiences in World War I often led theologians to travel the other way - from Victorian Liberalism to Neo-Orthodoxy. In another paradox Dearmer remained committed to "the English Use" inspite of his conversion to Liberalism and was able to render some small assistance to the Rev. Jocelyn Perkins, the sacrist of Westminster Abbey, when he became a Canon there in 1931.

Dearmer was not an original liturgical scholar - and never claimed to be. Instead he put the academic research into a useable form - "The Parson's Handbook" - which ran through some twelve editions between 1899 and 1932. The Handbook was immensely popular with the average High Church Parson who wished to enrich the worship of the Church without being disloyal to the Book of Common Prayer. This is no surprise, as it had started with the persistent question of his first Vicar, who kept asking the young Anglo-Catholic fireband, "Is it in the Prayer Book?"

Another "Dearmer as Prayer Book Catholic" production was the "English Hymnal" whose publication was prompted by the diasterous revised version of Hymns Ancient and Modern published in 1904. In addition to roughly six hundred hymns "The English Hymnal" also incorporated the texts of the Sarum Introits, Graduals, Alleluias and Tracts for use in the BCP Communion Service. Dearmer acted as the text editor, whilst Ralph Vaughan Williams - a professed agnostic with a love of church music and folksong - was the music editor. The requirements that texts should be spiritually objective and free of doctrinal eccentricity, and the music be worth singing left a permanent mark not just on the English Hymnal, but also influenced the PECUSA 1940 Hymnal, and the 1950 "Hymns Ancient and Modern Revised."

On the whole, Prayer Book Catholicism stood for a reformed Catholicism that started from the premise that the English Reformers of Elizabeth I's reign knew what they were doing. They also maintained that the subsequent adjustments of the tradition in the Catholic direction; first by the Catroline Divines, then by eighteenth century High Churchmen, and the moderate Tractarians were organic developments of that tradition. It was a party that took its stand on the Prayer Book and the Articles, and backed them up with the Holy Scripture, the Earlky Fathers, and good scholarship.

Paradoxically, it the the Prayer Book Catholic tradition that gets the shortest shrift from both the Continuing Churches, the "Neo-Cons" in ACNA, and official Anglicanism. Continuing Anglicanism being of American origin seems to have little room for something so "English" though it is the one group that might be able to bridge the gap between Anglo-Catholics, and traditional Broad Churchmen. The bulk of the Neo-Cons in ACNA are too enamoured of the liturgical movement, the charismatic movement and various other movements to be much interested in it; besides which it seems "old hat." Lastly the official Anglican Communion seems to like its catholic style of worship, but absolutely no use for its theology - after all, humanity is all grown up now and we don't need Christian Orthodoxy anymore. Yeah right!

Given that so many folks think they have no use for Prayer Book Catholicism, and perhaps because it takes the catholic nature of Anglicanism so seriously, it is perhaps the one movement that needs to come back in a big way. The same goes for its slightly more "protestant" sister Central Churchmanship, by the way. The great danger for the Continuum in embracing traditional RC liturgics and a watered down version of post-Tridentine Catholic theology is that we send out the wrong message about Continuing Anglicanism. That wrong message is that Anglicanism is second best - the real thing is Tridentine Roman Catholicism!

Now we would not want that, would we?

Friday, March 19, 2010

Fr. Wells' bulletin inserts

Lent V Passion Sunday

The violet vestments have been replaced by red, the color of blood, signifying that in the final two weeks of Lent we draw closer to our Lord Jesus in His suffering and death. The Sunday before Palm Sunday is known among Anglicans as Passion Sunday. It prepares us for Holy Week somewhat in the manner that the “Gesima” Sundays prepare us for Lent itself. The veils on the altar crucifix and other icons remind us of the time when Jesus “hid himself, and went out of the temple,” signifying that the glory had departed.

The word Passion means suffering; one with a “passion” for art or music will actually go experience suffering as he devotes himself totally in self-discipline and practice. In His suffering under the scourge and on the cross, our dear Lord revealed God's great passion for the souls of men.

All four of the Gospels devote a disproportionate number of chapters to the final week and even the final hours of the life of Jesus. The accounts have different perspectives and emphases.

Matthew and Mark are almost the same, emphasizing the rejection, humiliation, and suffering of Jesus. Their picture of the passion is reflected in the painful crucifix above the altar. These two Gospels give only one of the “Seven Words,” the cry of dereliction, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”

The authenticity of the saying is evinced by the fact that it is quoted in Hebrew by Matthew and in Aramaic by Mark. Aramaic was Our Lord's normal spoken language, but Hebrew was the language of the Psalm He was quoting.

Luke, on the other hand, emphasizes the compassion of Jesus, which strangely elicits the compassion of others. It is Luke who tells us that “there followed him a great company of people, and of women, which also bewailed and lamented him” (Lk 23:27). Luke gives us three words from the Cross, including, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” and the word of compassion to the thief, “To day thou shalt be with me in paradise.” Luke's third word reflects the serene resignation of Jesus, “Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit.” Luke's version is reflected in the San Damiano icon at the side altar.

John presents yet a third picture, a picture of Jesus already in majesty. Jesus at every point is in full control of the situation, causing the soldiers in the garden to fall down in awe, and clearly worsting Pontius Pilate in the trial. John relates three other words from the cross: “Woman, behold thy son, Son, behold thy mother,” “I thirst,” and “It is finished.” All three reflect Jesus in command, even to the point of demanding a drink! The royal Christ is portrayed for us in the Christus Rex over the west door. LKW

Concerning Today's Gospel:

Running through St John's Gospel we have an interesting series of sayings from the lips of Jesus, beginning with the simple formula “I am.” We hear Him saying, “I am the true vine, ... the good shepherd, ... the door, ... the bread of life, ... the resurrection and the life, ... the way, the truth, and the life.” These sayings are all striking not only because they create vivid word pictures for us, but moreover because they use an especially emphatic and solemn form of “I am” in the original Greek which under-lies our English Bibles. When Jesus said “I am,” He said it in a way which gets people's attention, as today's Gospel reading from John 8 clearly demonstrates.

The phrase echoes a number of passages from the Old Testament. As an example, there is Isaiah 41:4:

Who hath wrought and done it, calling the generations from the beginning?

I, the LORD, the first, and with the last, I am he.”

But the most striking example is from the account of Moses' encounter with the Lord at the Burning Bush, in Exodus 3:14. Moses asked the mysterious voice coming from the bush to reveal His name. (We might forget what a bold and presumptuous request this was on Moses' part!) God revealed His name, nevertheless, telling Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” That mysterious and awesome Name was abbreviated with the one word all devout Israelites past and present feel is too sacred to be uttered aloud, the Divine Name YHWH.

When Jesus began to make statements, “I am ....” it surely sounded as if He were claiming for Himself the very Name of God, the Name too holy to be spoken above a whisper. But in John 8:58, He left no room for doubt, when He stated firmly to His opponents, “Before Abraham was, I AM.” Not only did He claim to be older than Abraham, He claimed to be God. If the words are obscure to us, the meaning was perfectly plain to the Jews. It is no wonder that they attempted to stone Him on the spot.

When the huge band of soldiers went out to arrest Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, He told them three times, “I am He” (John 18:5). When the high priest asked Him “Art thou the Christ, the Son of the Blessed,” again He answered “I am” (Mk 14:62). Both times, He made the bold claim to be God, the same God whom Moses met in the burning bush. This is not merely an opinion about Jesus; it is not to be explained as the Church's faith regarding Jesus; it is simply what Jesus claimed for Himself. If He did not make such a claim, why were His opponents so angry? If we love Jesus and place our trust in Him, then we simply must come to terms with the claims which He made concerning His identity.

A man who claims to be God, many have observed, is either a lunatic, a liar, or the Lord. In any case, such a man is no one to trifle with. As Christians, we have been granted to know the right answer. LKW

Thursday, March 18, 2010

So far, not eating my fedora

One week ago I posted the Big Challenge to apologists for the TAC/ACA spin on Anglicanorum Coetibus, in these words:

"Here is our big challenge: All you Anglicanorum Coetibus Enthusiasts: If you can demonstrate from that constitution any specific Anglican treasures, even so much as one, I will make and post a video of myself eating my favorite hat, and I do mean a classy fedora-the only thing that Frank Sinatra left me in his will."

So far a whole week has gone by, and not one answer has come directing us to any place where the new Roman constitution identifies any specific Anglican treasure it will protect and preserve. Don't the boys in Orlando want to watch me eating my hat? It is just as well as I don't need all those unhealthy carbohydrates.

After Easter, each week we will note how many replies have been sent with a quotation from Anglicanorum Coetibus that justifies the claim that it promises to preserve Anglican treasures. So far the count is 0, as in zero, nothing, not even one. At this rate it appears I will get to keep my hat, and not eat it too.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Much ado about much ado

The following is offered to clarify facts from fiction, as a reference you can point to. - Fr. Hart

In the Fall of 2009, the See of Rome issued what they call an “Apostolic Constitution” entitled Anglicanorum Coetibus. In the words of the constitution:

"…this Apostolic Constitution provides the general normative structure for regulating the institution and life of Personal Ordinariates for those Anglican faithful who desire to enter into the full communion of the Catholic Church in a corporate manner."

The condition of the Anglican Communion since the late twentieth century is no secret, beginning with the idea that orthodoxy is to be tolerated as one option among many, and ending in some of its member churches practicing lawless tyranny of apostasy over the mind and conscience. For example, in my congregation I have a retired Episcopal priest who was fired by his bishop, with no due process of canon law, because he refused to bless same sex unions. His conscience had no protection. The reports from various countries where churches of the Anglican Communion have abandoned their own patrimony and the solid teaching of the Book of Common Prayer are many, and ought to be well known, and need no repeating here.

Apostasy is first and foremost rejection of and rebellion against the house in which it appears, and so the first thing to be rejected was Anglicanism itself, with an established understanding of the Bible and the consensus of Antiquity in the Church, summarized in a traditional edition of the Book of Common Prayer (for example, the 1928 American edition). In the churches that suffer attack against their faith from the highest levels, it should come as no surprise that a good number, perhaps even a disenfranchised majority, should seek for alternatives.

Among Anglicans who want alternatives, various structures have been created even in recent years, such as the Anglican Mission in America (AMiA), and the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) led by Bishop (now Archbishop) Robert Duncan. This followed an existing pattern of realignment within the Anglican Communion whereby North American Anglicans in the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church in Canada had left their respective jurisdictions to be under the Archbishop of the Southern Cone (Abp. Gregory Venables), or, in some cases, the Archbishop of Nigeria (Abp. Peter Akinola).

A bit of background

The Vatican response of Anglicanorum Coetibus was not intended for any of these Evangelical groups, but rather was created in response primarily to two. One was Forward in Faith, specifically Forward in Faith United Kingdom (FiF/UK); The other, a long-standing request from the Traditional Anglican Communion (TAC), the American branch of which is called the Anglican Church in America (ACA). Both of these are Anglo-Catholic groups. What the TAC had requested amounted to various options ranging form "uniate" status to "inter-communion," none of which are provided for in the new constitution. It spells out something different, a "no" with a counter offer.

The second of these, the TAC/ACA is headed by Archbishop John Hepworth who resides in Adelaide, Australia, a former Roman Catholic priest who claims to have converted to Anglicanism long ago. For inexplicable reasons, the numbers of the TAC have been reported in the press to be about 400,000 strong, an estimate that was, perhaps, slightly more than ten times their actual world wide numbers; perhaps the count was around 50,000. That is, as it was before they started losing not only members, but several parishes formerly associated with them. In some cases the losses in their numbers have been significant, as in South Africa and the Congo (which have joined the Anglican Catholic Church, Original Province, ACC-OP).

The irony is that the TAC/ACA do not need, and never did need, an alternative to the apostasy in the Anglican Communion. Over the last several years they have constituted one of the two major groupings known as the Continuing Church, an Anglican association of jurisdictions that was formed almost immediately after women’s ordination began to be practiced in certain Anglican churches. In 1977 The Affirmation of St Louis was written in the city of the same name, and in January 1978, in Denver Colorado, four bishops were consecrated in accord with all the provisions of the Anglican Ordinal including full Apostolic Succession, with Rt. Rev. Albert Chambers as the chief consecrator. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Donald Coggan, refused to accept them; so the Continuing Anglicans have been separate from the Anglican Communion all along, with no regrets.

The TAC/ACA separated and formed as a distinct jurisdiction several years later. At the time the new constitution was issued by Rome, the Continuing Church had many unaccounted for jurisdictions, and some imitators, claiming to belong to it, but existed most visibly and surely in the TAC/ACA, and in a unified group of three jurisdictions, unified by a concordat that has proved to be practical and quite genuine. The largest is the Anglican Catholic Church (ACC), with two Provinces: The Original Province (OP) headquartered in the United States, and the second Province headquartered in India, led by the original Church of India that was formerly of the Anglican Communion. The two jurisdictions also in the concordat are strictly in North America, unlike the world wide ACC. These are the Anglican Province of Christ the King (APCK) and the United Episcopal Church, North America (UECNA). Related is the Anglican Province in America (APA) which dates back to the 1960s, but later also adopted The Affirmation of St. Louis.

When the Apostolic Constitution was offered by Rome, the idea of reunifying the jurisdiction with the other major group of Continuing Anglicans died in one sense, because the bishops of the TAC/ACA have mostly endorsed Rome’s offer (though not all: The Rt. Rev. Rocco Florenza, formerly of the ACA, was received into the ACC-OP in his episcopal orders during the Fall of 2009). On the other hand, this whole episode has revitalized some efforts toward unity because of the large number of people who simply will not join the Roman Catholic Church, and who are not persuaded to do so by the new constitution.

The simple irony is, however, that the TAC/ACA, by virtue of The Affirmation of St. Louis, and the principles it defends, was not in crisis like the Anglicans in the Anglican Communion. There were no women among the clergy, nor could there be. No heresies were tolerated, no apostasy, no same-sex blessings. In short, they had nothing compelling them to look for answers from the outside, no need to flee the dangers of the Anglican Communion, for they had escaped it in 1978.

The problems-analysis

One fact to be stated upfront should be obvious, and yet apparently comes as a surprise to many: Unresolved theological differences remain between Roman Catholicism and classic Anglicanism. Granted, these differences are fewer than differences between Rome and each of the other Protestant traditions, and in some ways not as obvious. But, they are real.

For, even though none of the Reformation churches ever dropped the word “catholic” from its self-understanding, Anglicans alone maintained a continuity of identity with the Church that dated from Antiquity through the Medieval period, so that what was the Church of England before the Reformation, was the same Church of England after it, with that continuity affecting the entire family of churches that would grow from it. This mind, with the same old adherence to such things as Apostolic Succession of Bishops, has been protected and maintained in the Continuing Anglican Church that dates to The Affirmation of St. Louis and the Denver consecrations.

Nonetheless, close as Anglicanism is, both in appearance and substance, to Roman Catholicism, we have a few differences that practical and honest ecumenical efforts would treat as subjects for discussion. But, the approach of the TAC/ACA bishops has been to ignore theological differences altogether. This, however, does not make those differences go away. Meanwhile, many of their members have not ignored those theological differences, and this simple fact has been splitting the TAC/ACA, and shows every sign of continuing to do so.

Is this unity?

Anglicanorum Coetibus opens by appealing to the whole idea of unity, and this theme has been taken up by bishops of the TAC/ACA, alluding to “Christ’s prayer that they all may be one.” (John 17:21). Aside from the fact that we have a theological problem presented to us by the notion that we, mere mortals, are in a position to answer the prayer of God (the Son), we need to be clear as to what Rome means by “unity.” The answer is in the opening of the Apostolic Constitution, but the words are by no means new:

“This single Church of Christ, which we profess in the Creed as one, holy, catholic and apostolic ‘subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him. Nevertheless, many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside her visible confines. Since these are gifts properly belonging to the Church of Christ, they are forces impelling towards Catholic unity.’”

What this means is that they believe that what they offer is not unity within the generally understood ecumenical paradigm, but an offer to enter into the unity of the Catholic Church, as they define it. The difference may be subtle at first, but it is clear. Nonetheless, the TAC/ACA bishops, along with others who regard Anglicanorum Coetibus as a generous offer and historical milestone, do not concentrate on what the constitution says after the opening. They have made promises to their people, mostly on church websites, that the constitution has been created to preserve the patrimony of Anglicanism itself, with its many treasures.

In fact, what Anglicanorum Coetibus really proceeds to do is lay down the law about how people will be able to enter into unity with the See of Rome under the new Ordinariates, and that is all. If read carefully, it merely extends to every country and every diocese the existing Pastoral Provisions that have been since the time of Pope John Paul II. The Pastoral Provisions made a way for former Anglican clergy to be candidates for ordination, even if they are married men. No provision is made, in Anglicanorum Coetibus, for any married clergy in the future except by the same old terms of the Pastoral Provisions; that is, they must have been married and ordained before converting to Roman Catholicism. They cannot, at any time in the future, arise from within the ranks of those under an Ordinariate, but must come only from without. All other candidates must embrace lifelong celibacy.

Also, the constitution offers the potential to create something like the “Anglican Use” liturgies and maybe even parishes. It puts some kind of Ordinariate in charge of these two matters, removing from diocesan bishops the option not to participate. How this is to be established, and what it means, is not spelled out. The “Anglican” in Anglicanorum is not, if we examine the conditions, capable of self-perpetuation.

As far as any treasures of the Anglican patrimony are concerned, there is not one guarantee, not one mention, of any specific thing at all. In fact, the purpose of the whole document is obvious: It is a way for groups of Anglicans to become former Anglicans. And, that is all it claims to be. Look at the opening paragraph, stated in terms consistent with the beliefs of the Roman Catholic Church:

In recent times the Holy Spirit has moved groups of Anglicans to petition repeatedly and insistently to be received into full Catholic communion individually as well as corporately… Indeed, the successor of Peter, mandated by the Lord Jesus to guarantee the unity of the episcopate and to preside over and safeguard the universal communion of all the Churches, could not fail to make available the means necessary to bring this holy desire to realization.

Rome has not been guilty of false advertising; but their document has been severely misrepresented.

In short, a few thousand people finding some slightly different way to enter the Roman Catholic Church is not eschatological in its significance, does not establish the kind of unity that has been invoked with advertising hype, and will not make all Christians one. Christians will remain visibly divided into Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican and Protestant “rooms” (as C.S. Lewis put it).

Anglicanorum Coetibus is a perfectly responsible and compassionate response by Pope Benedict XVI for those who either need it or want it. For Anglicans of my persuasion, it is not needed or wanted, but I am perfectly happy for those who consider it the answer to their prayers, to find our One Lord at Roman Catholic altars. But, the hype and enthusiasm is much ado about, well, something, but not a whole lot.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Embers or Ashes

And there’s nothing cold as ashes, after the fire is gone.
-Conway Twitty and Miss Loretta Lynn

We should worry when suddenly something becomes “optional.” For example, when a favorite café or restaurant announces a “neckties optional” policy for gentlemen, you can bet your last breadstick that the polo shirt or, worse still, the t-shirt emblazoned with some too-clever slogan shortly will be the norm. Whether we care to call it entropy or dumbing-down, the result is the same: things sink to the least common denominator. Ultimately, that which makes a place special disappears and the dining adventure grows as cold and sterile as any chain eatery out by the interstate.

I become even more concerned when the “optional” is introduced into the Church such as, for example, when Ember Days were made optional by churches of the Anglican Communion in 1976. Their non-observance, particularly in that they are days of fasting and discipline to sanctify the season, was virtually guaranteed, and, in many quarters they are as dead as Morley’s ghost and colder than the embers burned to ash in the fire grate at chez Scrooge.

That is why I have come to look somewhat askance at wistful journals such as Anglican Embers which is billed as “the Quarterly Journal of the Anglican Use Society published at or near the four embertides of the Church Year.” The motto of the publication is “Keeping the embers of Anglicanism alive in the [Roman] Catholic Church.” That would be the same Roman Catholic Church which has the Anglican Use as an “option” for former Anglicans and has announced that it will expand that “option” to those newly bound across the Tiber to Rome on that most recent lifeboat sent from aboard the barque of Peter.

Yes, the big chain out by the mall where simply everyone goes for standard, un-sumptuous fare has opened the Bistro Anglicano right next to any number of franchised joints—perhaps even inside one of the franchises—to offer a quaint, aesthetically delightful “option” for those with a sophisticated, but perhaps untrained palate. More on that “option” in a bit.

Of Embers

Embers are the glowing, hot coals made of greatly heated wood, coal or other carbon-based material that remain after, or sometimes precede a fire. Embers can burn hot-very hot-nearly as hot and sometimes as hot as the fire which created them. They radiate a substantial amount of heat long after the fire has been extinguished, and if not taken care of properly can rekindle a fire believed to be completely extinguished and can pose a fire hazard to anyone who is not careful.

Curiously, there is little or no mention of embers in Scripture, essentially a reference about them in certain translations of Proverbs (26:21) is about it. Coals, which are hot embers, get a bit more play as long as they are live and burning. For example, in the tenth chapter of Ezekiel, coals of fire are symbolic of the fiery trials, distress, tribulation, and purification. Further, when Isaiah was given a vision of the Lord, a hot, burning coal was used to “purify” him. (Is. 6:5-7). Of course, there is the moment amidst Peter’s denials when the servants and officers who had made a fire of coals; “for it was cold: and they warmed themselves: and Peter stood with them, and warmed himself.” (Jn. 18:18).

Ah, but fire? It is the measure of our labor, for “the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is.” (I Cor. 13:3) In fact, at the parousia “the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (II Thess. 1:7-9) Indeed, our God is a consuming fire. (Heb. 12:29) There are pages upon pages of Scripture relating to fire, but none to embers, much less those of an Anglican variety.

To borrow from the American author James Arthur Baldwin (1924-1987), “Fires can't be made with dead embers, nor can enthusiasm be stirred by spiritless men.”

A Burning Historical Question

So what about the Ember Days in the Book of Common Prayer? If embers be a Scriptural non-entity, why commemorate remnants of a burning fire, even if they might be still hot?

The origins of the observance appear open to considerable debate. What is generally agreed upon, however, is that the concept of the observance predates the Christian era, and that since Ember Days have never been observed in the Eastern Churches, the pagan origins seem to lie in the West. Some point to Celtic origins, linked to the custom of observing various festivals at three-month intervals. In pagan Rome, offerings were made to various gods and goddesses of agriculture in the hope that the deities would provide a bountiful harvest (the feriae messis in July), a rich vintage (the feriae vindimiales in September), or a productive seeding (the feriae sementivae in December).

The Christian observation of this seasonal observance of the Ember days had its origin as an ecclesiastical ordinance in Rome and spread from there to the rest of the Western Church. At first the Church in Rome had fasts in June, September, and December. The Liber Pontificalis ascribes to Pope Callixtus I (217-222) a law regulating the fast, although Leo the Great (440-461) considered it an Apostolic institution. When the fourth season was added cannot be ascertained, but the earliest mention of four seasonal fasts seems to lie in the writings of Philastrius, bishop of Brescia (died ca 387)

Pope Gelasius I (492-496) spoke of all four, and they were known as the jejunium vernum, aestivum, autumnale and hiemale, so that to quote Pope Leo (A.D. 440 - 461) the law of abstinence might apply to every season of the year. In Leo’s time, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday were already days of special observance. In order to tie them to the fasts preparatory to the three great festivals of Christmas, Easter and Pentecost, a fourth needed to be added “for the sake of symmetry” as the Encyclopædia Britannica 1911 would have it.

From Rome the Ember days gradually spread unevenly through the whole of Western Christendom. In Gaul they do not seem to have been generally recognized much before the 8th century. Their observation in Britain, however, was embraced earlier than in Gaul or Spain, interestingly, and Christian sources connect the Ember Days observations with Augustine, AD. 597. The precise dates appears to have varied considerably however, and in some cases, quite significantly, the Ember Weeks lost their connection with the Christian festivals altogether. Spain adopted them with the Roman rite in the eleventh century. Charles Borromeo introduced them into Milan as late as the sixteenth century.

Ember days in the Western Church, traditionally the Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday following the first Sunday in Lent; Whitsunday; Sept. 14 (Exaltation of the Cross); and Dec. 13 (St. Lucy's Day). They were days of fasting to sanctify the season, and the ember Saturdays were considered especially appropriate for ordinations. The Ember Weeks—the weeks in which the Ember Days occur—are the week between the third and fourth Sundays of Advent, between the first and second Sundays of Lent, the week between Pentecost and Trinity Sunday, and the week beginning on the Sunday after Holy Cross Day (September 14), the liturgical Third Week of September.

Prior to the reforms instituted by the Second Vatican Council, the Roman Catholic Church mandated fasting (only one full meal per day plus two partial, meatless meals) on all Ember Days (which meant both fasting and abstinence from meat on Ember Fridays), and the faithful were encouraged (though not required) to receive the sacrament of penance whenever possible. But then, on February 17, 1966, Pope Paul VI's decree Paenitemini excluded the now “optional” Ember Days as days of fast and abstinence for Roman Catholics. The revision of the Roman Catholic liturgical calendar in 1969 laid down the following “rules” for Ember Days and Rogation days:

In order to adapt the rogation and ember days to various regions and the different needs of the people, the conferences of bishops should arrange the time and plan of their celebration. Consequently, the competent authority should lay down norms, in view of local conditions, on extending such celebrations over one or several days and on repeating them during the year. On each day of these celebrations the Mass should be one of the votive Masses for various needs and occasions that is best suited to the intentions of the petitioners.
Optional is as optional does and I think we can safely wager that there isn’t a whole lot of unnecessary fasting and abstinence taking place on Ember Days of late, much less a coherent reason even to observe them. They are grown cold, and, for the most part, are relegated to the high heap of liturgical and theological ashes that followed in the wake of the post-Vatican II Roman Catholic Church.

So, why still with the embers?

I do hate to keep injecting the patrimony of the English Church into discussions, but here is some substance we might consider from The Golden Legend or Lives of the Saints. Compiled by Jacobus de Voragine, Archbishop of Genoa, 1275. First Edition Published 1470. Englished by William Caxton, First Edition 1483, Edited by F.S. Ellis, Temple Classics, 1900 (Reprinted 1922, 1931.) Here are at least eight good reasons to keep our Ember Days:

The fasting of the Quatretemps, called in English Ember days, is kept four times in the year, ‘for divers reasons.’ For the first time, which is in March, is hot and moist. The second, in summer, is hot and dry. The third, in harvest, is cold and dry. The fourth in winter is cold and moist. Then let us fast in March which is printemps for to repress the heat of the flesh boiling, and to quench luxury or to temper it. In summer we ought to fast to the end that we chastise the burning and ardour of avarice. In harvest for to repress the drought of pride, and in winter for to chastise the coldness of untruth and of malice.
The second reason why we fast four times; for these fastings here begin in March in the first week of the Lent, to the end that vices wax dry in us, for they may not all be quenched; or because that we cast them away, and the boughs and herbs of virtues may grow in us. And in summer also, in the Whitsun week, for then cometh the Holy Ghost, and therefore we ought to be fervent and esprised in the love of the Holy Ghost. They be fasted also in September tofore Michaelmas, and these be the third fastings, because that in this time the fruits be gathered and we should render to God the fruits of good works. In December they be also, and they be the fourth fastings, and in this time the herbs die, and we ought to be mortified to the world.
The third reason is for to ensue (imitate or follow after) the Jews. For the Jews fasted four times in the year, that is to wit, tofore Easter, tofore Whitsunside, tofore the setting of the tabernacle in the temple in September, and tofore the dedication of the temple in December.
The fourth reason is because the man is composed of four elements touching the body, and of three virtues or powers in his soul: that is to wit, the understanding, the will, and the mind. To this then that this fasting may attemper in us four times in the year, at each time we fast three days, to the end that the number of four may be reported to the body, and the number of three to the soul.
The fifth reason, as saith John Damascene: in March and in printemps the blood groweth and augmenteth, and in summer coler, in September melancholy, and in winter phlegm. Then we fast in March for to attemper and depress the blood of concupiscence disordinate, for sanguine of his nature is full of fleshly concupiscence. In summer we fast because that coler should be lessened and refrained, of which cometh wrath. And then is he full naturally of ire. In harvest we fast for to refrain melancholy. The melancholious man naturally is cold, covetous and heavy. In winter we fast for to daunt and to make feeble the phlegm of lightness and forgetting, for such is he that is phlegmatic.
The sixth reason is for the printemps is likened to the air, the summer to fire,harvest to the earth, and the winter to water. Then we fast in March to the end that the air of pride be attempered to us. In summer the fire of concupiscence and of avarice. In September the earth of coldness and of the darkness of ignorance. In winter the water of lightness and inconstancy.
The seventh reason is because that March is reported to infancy, summer to youth, September to steadfast age and virtuous, and winter to ancienty or old age. We fast then in March that we may be in the infancy of innocency. In summer
for to be young by virtue and constancy. In harvest that we may be ripe by
attemperance. In winter that we may be ancient and old by prudence and honest
life, or at least that we may be satisfied to God of that which in these four seasons we have offended him.
The eighth reason is of Master William of Auxerre. We fast, saith he, in these four times of the year to the end that we make amends for all that we have failed in all these four times, and they be done in three days each time, to the end that we satisfy in one day that which we have failed in a month; and that which is the fourth day, that is Wednesday, is the day in which our Lord was betrayed of Judas; and the Friday because our Lord was crucified; and the Saturday because he lay in the sepulchre, and the apostles were sore of heart and in great sorrow.

These days and their accompanying mini-seasons—Embertides—are among the loveliest of the treasures of the medieval church brought to English-speakers through the Book of Common Prayer. In recent centuries of Anglican history, the Ember days have been especially devoted to prayer for the ministry of the Church, for those about to be ordained. In many places,Ember-weeks are the appointed time for ordinands to write letters to their bishops with summaries of their spiritual and educational growth. "Though we know their name has nothing to do with the glowing bits of wood in a fireplace, at each return of an Embertide we think of the Church as a big, holy hearth that needs just the right aim of a bellows to bring its smoldering spots roaring back to bright glowing life."

Of Embers, Ashes and Options

And, so, embers may work in two directions: they can die out from lack of tending, or they can be fanned so hot as to forge steel. For the latter to happen, they must be fueled and fanned with the fresh air breathed upon them. In the former instance, those charged with the fire watch muse long about the fine fire they once tended, perhaps even waxing poetic about it. They remember the color and the heat and the warmth, but they no longer feed it with the fuel it requires—fuel that is yet available. There may even be some admission as to how hard it is to tend such a fire, although that bit seldom is heard. The requirements of the old fire were difficult, and there is the matter of option.

For another fire seems to burn brightly not too far away. While it uses much of the same fuel, it does not favor the fuel that burned with the intensity and beauty of that old hearth. Nevertheless, it presents an option that requires far less ardor and energy. It is “easy-lite” and affords a measure of comfort. So, those given the task of tending that home fire of happy memory, take the remainder of the fuel in the hope of rekindling it. In the end, the fuel will be used up and “option” will have its way.

For others, there are the same embers of the same Anglican fire. They determine to tend the fire, though there may be some types of fuel that are difficult and expensive to obtain. The tools may be old, but the labor goes on and embers become coals with even fires springing up. The work is hard as there are not thousands of woodcutters to assist although, at times, there
appear to be a plethora of folks who yet try to warm themselves by the fire before they flee, whilst constantly critique the fire-tending! They cannot fathom those who don’t opt for options and fretfully declare coals but ashes despite their obvious glow and warmth. So it has been since the early fathers and martyrs were offered the dying incense embers before the idols of a decaying empire, or Christ Jesus was presented cheap opportunities to bypass the Cross by the ancient adversary

And, what of the bright options generously offered café Anglicans building their theme restaurants...er, communities...in the midst of “the big franchise”? Despite the trappings, they will be part of that big franchise. When the hours of service become inconvenient, the locale of the nearest boutique experience at a distance or the franchise holder puts on a better mealtime show perhaps in Latin with better costume, music and stagecraft, where will patron opt to go? Well, the fact that after more than twenty-five years there remain only ten or so Anglican Use franchisees, the big place out by the mall with its choice of convenient locations and hours,“informal settings” for the folks, and (for the most part) ample free parking seem to have become the preferred option.

Oh, one other thing, when you are a boutique of the major market shareholder, the settings may be familiar, but you have to take everything on the menu. Everything. Some of the familiar time-tested entrees may be gone, but there will be ample additions made up from scratch from time to time by the head chef. One must take these too, with gusto.

It’s not a cafeteria, after all.

Burning Embers

The Collect appointed by the 1928 Book of Common Prayer for the keeping of the Ember Days sums together masterfully the perennial themes of hope for increased vocations, and speak to potential new generations who would dare to tend the flame, themselves burning with the Holy

O ALMIGHTY God, who hast committed to the hands of men the ministry of
reconciliation; We humbly beseech thee, by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit,
to put it into the hearts of many to offer themselves for this ministry; that
thereby mankind may be drawn to thy blessed kingdom; through Jesus Christ our
Lord. Amen
To sacrifice comfort, buildings, secular career and life may be the cost of tending the real Anglican Embers-those that burn bright no matter how “incomplete” some would view those coals of faith.

Perhaps authenticity distills down to a question of love, of charity. Certainly, there are many who experienced none of that in Communion Anglicanism. All too often, in the Continuum there has been a distinct dearth of charity and a shameless self-promotion that have driven many into
arms that seem to offer safety even where compromise is the price. As we know from the great theologians Conway Twitty and Miss Loretta Lynn:

Love is where you find it,
When you find no love at home
And there’s nothing cold as ashes,
After the fire is gone.

Where we fail to show love, we know that someone will say, “Sweet words of love you remember, That the one at home forgot.” At that point, embers will fade to ashes.

We pray that it may never be so.
(Sources: Various Prayer Book Commentaries and Histories; Britannica (1911); Medieval Sourcebook)