Monday, August 30, 2010

The farce be with you

In an effort to stay afloat, the dishonestly named blog, The Anglo-Catholic, has become an organ of the pro-Roman voices within Forward in Faith/UK. No longer does that blog speak of trying to be Anglican and Roman at the same time, but simply of becoming Roman. A recent post there, by one Fr. Ed Tomlinson, includes some revealing lines, such as these:

"We Anglo-Catholics who seek unity with Rome find ourselves in a tight spot at present...We set sail on our raft because our sincere Catholic convictions have left us unable to remain Anglican with integrity now that General Synod has made clear its decision to move the national church in a less Catholic direction. Getting on the raft is not easy as it requires leaving much that we love and treasure behind us. And for this reason, amongst others, we are clearly few in number."

Note the perspective from which this is written: It is written by someone for whom "Anglican" is inseparable from the official government organ called the Church of England. Therefore, the writer seems incapable of imagining a church body that still teaches and practices the religion of the Book of Common Prayer. He is unable to perceive of a church that holds to Anglican principles without being in communion with the See of Canterbury. Reading this causes me to imagine what St. Maximos the Confessor would have faced if his regard, in his day, for the See of Constantinople had been so greatly exaggerated. St. Maximos could say, during the tenure of an unorthodox man as Patriarch, "we are not in communion," without losing the things he loved and treasured.

No Anglican alternative to offer?
We too, as a people, several decades ago, took a course of action based on conviction and sober reflection. For more than thirty years we (not each and every one of us, but our church body) have not been in communion with Canterbury. But, we have not been forced to decide between Canterbury and Rome. Someone ought to suggest to Fr. Tomlinson that he read the Affirmation of St. Louis. The truth, that he does not know, apparently, is that he need not leave behind those things he claims to love and treasure.

But, the real irony is this: That blog was supposed to have been an organ of Continuing Anglicanism, and so pretended only a few months ago. But, now we see that sustaining a lie of that magnitude required more energy than their power line could supply. What is missing from the picture? Very simply, the Continuing Anglican alternative. For the people who blog at the so-called Anglo-Catholic, there is no Affirmation of St. Louis. Therefore, Fr. Tomlinson writes for them, "our sincere Catholic convictions have left us unable to remain Anglican" (perhaps everyone can see now why we have been calling that blog The Former Anglican). By "Catholic" he means, of course, Roman. The meaning of the word "Catholic" loses its true meaning, its Credal meaning, and is tossed from their "raft" into the sea, along with the Book of Common Prayer.

This is what happens when you reduce your knowledge of all things Catholic to the selected portions of true catholic faith that happen still to be held by Rome. In place of what is omitted, you build new ideas onto your knowledge of things Catholic to include Roman innovations unknown to the Apostles, unknown to the Fathers, and unknown to the whole Church during the entire first millennium. It involves both taking away and adding to the word of God. It means removing whole portions of his revelation through the Apostles and Prophets, and adding, in their place, doctrines that are at best mere speculation, and at worst "repugnant to the word of God." Inasmuch as that practice of subtraction and addition is how, when in Rome, to do as the Romans, it may be fitting for these former Anglicans to learn it now.

We see that the whole effort of trying to reunite with Rome on false pretenses, at a time in history when outward and political forced Reunion of the Church is premature, has led the people who trust in Anglicanorum Coetibus with its potential Ordinariates, to abandon the Continuing Anglican Church altogether. They have lost the whole foundation that we build on firmly and confidently. But, have they rejected The Affirmation of St. Louis, or have they merely forgotten it? It hardly matters which; either way, it is obvious that they have no answer to offer to Fr. Tomlinson, and no alternative for people like him.

They have fallen for the same Roman propaganda, which means they never really got the point in the first place. Their blog has a lot to say about liturgy, without putting in one good word for the Book of Common Prayer. That is always a sure symptom, I might add, of severe theological ignorance, with misinformation serving as their only "education" about content, history and meaning. It is that misinformation, worse than mere ignorance, that is always evident whenever they might say anything about the subject.

In place of Anglican fathers, their website pays homage to Thomas More, the "saint" who hounded the godly William Tyndale to death, ultimately accomplished by strangulation (we hope that More repented that ultimately successful attempt at judicial murder before "instant karma" got him-and he didn't look a thing like Paul Scofield). It pays homage, also, to John Fisher, but has nothing good to say about the Anglican martyr who gave us our Prayer Book, Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, nor a word about Richard Hooker, Lancelot Andrewes, or Abp. Laud. It has nothing good to say about anyone or anything that is not thoroughly Tridentine. It is obviously Roman Catholic, and in a manner so partisan and triumphalist that it would embarrass many a thoughtful and reasonable member of that communion.

So, why the dishonest name they continue to use?

Division in the ranks
One of the former bloggers of the Former Anglican, as we call it, has gone from being a contributor to the dishonestly named Anglo-Catholic, to being the webmiester of a dubiously named English Catholic blog, posted in France by Fr. Anthony Chadwick (whose TAC congregation in that country must hold a record, not unlike the record height of the word's tallest midget). Apparently, from all the evidence, Mr. Campbell down in Orlando has finally learned that my warning was true: Archbishop John Hepworth is not to be trusted. This shocking revelation has, however, cost him the continued writing of the English Catholic, Père Chadwick.

In a letter written and sent via email to his faithful readers, Chadwick writes:

"The Moderator’s [Campbell] explanation of my ‘firing’ was this:

'You really ought to have checked with me before your last post (which I have been forced to remove). +Hepworth is leading you down the primrose path; if you would like to speak about the situation, I would be happy to explain. Please feel free to give me a call.'

Whose hermeneutic of the Ordinariates will prevail? It is no longer my concern but that of my Archbishop [Hepworth] and the TAC bishops with very few exceptions solidly supporting him and his approach to Rome . I believe in ecclesiastical obedience and I follow my Archbishop in what I am convinced is the right thing. I joined the TAC knowing that the intention was to approach Rome for corporate unity / reception into communion...From this point, I eschew disputes on account of clerical marriage / celibacy, sexual ethics or the like. Though these matters are important, they are not my concern."

Apparently, it has become clear to Mr. Campbell and his band of bloggers, that Hepworth's spin on Anglicanorum Coetibus has been as absurd as we, here on this blog, have been saying all along. Perhaps he has run out of the steam it takes to "believe six impossible things before breakfast," having come to his senses in accord with my analysis of a few simple facts. But, Père Chadwick is still a faithful Hepworthian, still believing that the twice-married former Roman Catholic priest will, somehow, get to be an Ordinary. We know that Hepworth was telling the TAC's Canadian churches that he, even with that baggage, would be accepted as an Archbishop by the see of Rome (which seems to have contributed to the reasons why at least ten of those parishes, last I was given the count, have left the TAC. Mr. Haney can sell only so much to Mr. Douglas before his shtick gets old).

Chadwick has also expressed his deep love for what he seems to think of as Anglican patrimony:

"I am now (as I always have been) concerned with English Catholic (both Anglican and Roman Catholic) culture and spirituality. The Sarum Liturgy is particularly close to my heart, but also the English Church ’s adoption of the Counter Reformation and the Roman Rite. Patrimony also expends ["extends?"] to culture, art, music and spirituality as well as systems of Church government."

Notice what is missing. That's right--no mention whatsoever of the Book of Common Prayer, or anything Anglican. It includes the Counter-Reformation, and it reduces Anglican patrimony to cultural and artistic expressions, as if theology and the Anglican renaissance of Biblical and Patristic scholarship, were meaningless (no doubt, his knowledge of these things is a complete blank). And, the use of the phrase "systems of Church government" indicates that he does not know the difference between the true Anglican Catholic Episcopal order and the Geneva Discipline. I suspect that he has not read Hooker, and was not aware that "church government" is a term we have never used (Anglicans have polity, not "church government").

Chadwick's personal affirmation is really the same Roman collection we see in Fr. Tomlinson's thinking, and that we find on the so-called Anglo-Catholic. It appears, furthermore, that the disunity in TAC ranks boils down to the relative strength of personalities; who reigns as king of the hill, who gets to play Robin Hood, and who gets to wear the purplest shirt of them all. It is the same as ever, the reason why schisms have broken away from the Continuing Church up to and including the Deerfield Beach schism, which is now coming apart.

At the present time, there is nothing good to report about the direction taken by these people. To this day they have maintained an outward rejection of the necessary theological improvements and cleansing of the English Reformation, and of the development of the real Anglican Patrimony, including the balance restored, in their generation, by the real Anglo-Catholics of old Oxford. They remain ignorant, possibly by choice, of the theological issues that forced a separation in the sixteenth century, and which remain unresolved. They think of Anglicanism merely as Roman Catholicism with an English accent. They haven't got a clue.

I hope, for their own sakes, that all of them will stop trying to be teachers and leaders. They have yet to be students of the theology of the Anglican Way. Obviously, everything they think they know, about their own heritage, they have learned from Roman polemicists. They are filled with the fruit of a false education, and even in their divisions, are racing to the wrong destination, leaving behind riches they know nothing of.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Blood money

From Mere Comments at Touchstone

Dear Friends for LIFE:

Please do everything you can to participate in the screening of BLOOD MONEY, an expose on the diabolical Planned Parenthood and abortion industry. See schedule and website below.

5 S Prospect Ave
Park Ridge, IL 60068

"BloodMoney" is a documentary film that exposes the truth behind the Abortion Industry from the Pro Life perspective.

This film will examine the history of abortion in America, from the inception of Planned Parenthood and the profitability of abortion clinics, to Roe v. Wade, to the denial of when life begins, to the fight to save the lives of innocent babies, and the devastating effects it has had on the women that have had them.

Starting August 27th thru September 2nd

Sunday 8/29/10: 2:00PM, 5:00PM, 8:00PM
Monday 8/30/10: 5:00PM, 8:00PM
Tuesday 8/31/10: 5:00PM, 8:00PM
Wednesday 9/1/10: 5:00PM, 8:00PM
Thursday 9/02/10: 5:00PM, 8:00PM
Website of Blood Money

Fr. Wells' bulletin inserts


The Epistle

After glancing briefly at 2 Corinthians last Sunday, the Prayer Book now spends three Sundays with Paul's Epistle to the Galatians. We can expect to do some hard digging to work through the passages assigned for Trinity XIII, XIV, and XV.

In today's passage, from Galatians 3:16—22, Paul is arguing the point that since Abraham lived 430 years before Moses, the Covenant promise given to Abraham has right-of-way over the Law given by Moses. (Our attitude, which C. S. Lewis describes as “chronological snobbery,” is that Later is Better, which makes it hard for us to grasp Paul's point.)

Now what is the difference? The promise given to Abraham was unconditional. God promised Abraham the land of Palestine, inhabited by numerous descendants, who would be the source of universal blessing. This was an unbreakable covenant, with no stipulations or reservations, truly a sovereign arrangement springing from Grace Alone. The law given to Moses, on the other hand, was highly conditional, contingent on the perfect obedience of God's people.

Here we have a paradox, an apparent contradiction pointing to a deeper truth. We are compelled to ask what, or rather which, is God's relationship to us? Unconditional or conditional? One sided or two-sided? The paradox is resolved only when we notice that the unconditional promise was made long ago by God with Abraham and also with Abraham's “seed” (that is “offspring”), whom Paul plainly asserts to be Christ Himself. Abraham's child of promise, in the grand scheme of things, was not just little Isaac, but Christ Himself.

Christ obeyed the law perfectly, something none of Abraham's Israelite descendants had ever done, fulfilling all its demands and requirements in His sinless life, but moreover submitting to its curse and penalty as He took our place upon the cross. He inherited rightfully all the blessings of the covenant made with Abraham.

The selection ends on the same note on which it began, the word “promise.” In ordinary use, this term indicates something unreliable, worthless and empty. But the promises of God are always certain of fulfillment. In Jesus Christ God has promised us the full pardon of all our sins, a new life empowered by His resurrection and animated by His Spirit, the resurrection of our bodies at the end of the world, and eternal life in His new creation. These are God's covenant promises to all who believe in Jesus. LKW

The Gospel

The Gospel lesson provided for this Sunday consists of three fairly distinct units. Taking these in reverse order, we have before us (1) the familiar parable of the Good Samaritan, (2) a conversation of Jesus with a scholar of the Torah, and first of all (3) a beatitude given privately to the disciples, declaring the blessedness of "those who see and hear what you see and hear." Let us examine these components in that sequence.

As for the parable, we need to recall that the Samaritans (a mysterious people whose origins are somewhat unclear) were not always as kind as the one in this parable. They regularly harassed pilgrims en route to Jerusalem and on one occasion actually desecrated the Jewish temple during Passover, by throwing dead bones into it to pollute it. A "good" Samaritan was as improbable as a "good" thief, like the one who appears on Good Friday. The Gospel in its entirety consists of improbable things, like a Virgin Birth, or a Resurrection, things as unlikely as sinners becoming saints, or a holy God showing Himself as gracious to undeserving rebels.

Moving backward in the passage, please notice that Jesus' interlocutor was not a "lawyer" in the modern sense of an attorney, but a scholar of the first five books of the Old Testament. His modern equivalent would be a Scripture scholar. Although Jesus dealt with him with patience and kindness, it is important to remember that the man was not a disciple. But even so, he asked the supreme question: "Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" Even an unbeliever can ask a worthwhile question. But sad to say, he cannot accept the answer. That is what makes him an unbeliever.

The Synoptic Gospels also give us a similar incident, with a person whom we call the "Rich Young Ruler" asking the same question. Jesus gave him the same answer, but with a further detail, "Come, follow me." The story ended tragically, "But when he heard these things, he went away sorrowful." The outcome of today's Gospel is not divulged. But "go and do thou likewise" sounds like an unobeyed commandment.

This encounter between Jesus and the learned gentleman, in which a sharp probing mind received far more information that it was possibly willing to reckon with, throws into perspective the words "Blessed are the eyes which see the things that ye see." Jesus was speaking of those who see HIM, God walking around in two feet. That beatitude was not uttered as a universal truth but privately, to disciples only. Reflecting on the passage in its entirety, do we see what Jesus was talking about? Are we ready for the commandment, "Go and do thou likewise"? LKW

Friday, August 27, 2010

Passing on True Religion

“Passing on True Religion” first appeared in the December, 2001 issue of Touchstone, a Journal of Mere Christianity.

Louis R. Tarsitano on Islam, Christianity, and Moral Education

The unsettling, but predictable, news comes from Britain that a recent survey of teenagers of all religious backgrounds revealed that while most Muslim young people believe the teachings of their inherited faith, most young Christians openly reject the teachings of the Church. In other words, young Muslims are much more likely to be Muslims, than young Christians are to be Christians.

The study, conducted by the Reverend Professor Leslie Francis of Bangor University, found, among other things, that only 15 percent of young Roman Catholics believe their Church’s teaching against sex outside marriage. Furthermore, despite their Church’s clear teaching on the sanctity of human life, only half of them opposed abortion. The results among other young British Christians were just as dismal.

Although Islamic leaders will no doubt find room for improvement in the statistics, at least they have the consolation (in comparison with the Christians) that 49 percent of their young people believe that sex should be confined to marriage and 58 percent oppose abortion. If religious groups were scored on the curve, the Muslims would have the “A” students.

Two Reasons

I would identify at least two factors behind this disparity of results, all of which were obtained in the setting of an industrialized Western nation. This was not a comparison of young Britons with young Saudi Arabians, but a study of young people of different religious inheritances living in, or at least surrounded by, the same secular culture.

Islamic faith, at least for the present, is proving more resistant than Christian faith to being made over in the image of that secular culture. Why this should be so has more to do with the Western Church’s often abject surrender to modernism and the failure of Christian clergy to provide young people with an intact ecclesiastical tradition, than it does with some sort of “natural superiority” of Islamic sexual ethics.

Sexual morality does matter, of course, in an absolute way; but it may also serve as an indicator of a church’s or a mosque’s effectiveness in teaching its youth the fullness of its faith. How we treat one another sexually says as much about our answer to the question “Who is God?” as it does about the question “Who am I?” The promoters of modernism have always known this, and they have promised limitless sexual favors to those who will adopt the materialistic agenda of their man-centered creed.

Modernism, which has long claimed for itself the status of mainstream Western culture, has been empowered by its pandering to the worst in fallen human nature, offering an ever-expanding menu of casual, varied, and frequent sexual intercourse without responsibility. Postmodernism (modernism’s “new and improved” second release) continues the pattern, with an even greater stress on the supposed “relativity” of the morality of every sort of relation among persons.

Neither modernism nor postmodernism, however, has been able to do away with shame, the fig leaf that remains of the innocence of Eden. Treating other people as sex toys or as the clinical instruments of personal gratification elicits shame from all but the sociopath.

Since human nature and its capacity for shame cannot be changed by human fiat, the unhappy (because he feels shame) sexual slob has to blame something outside himself for his discomfort, such as the practical social structure of the family or the written expressions of a moral code. Thus, in its futile efforts to banish shame, the rutting party must question the organization of the family and the express doctrine of the churches.

It may even seek, by civil law, to change them, in alliance with other groups of modernists who prefer other cultural perversions. At this point, all “progressives” can divert themselves from feeling their shame by patting themselves on the back for being tolerant and open-minded (except, of course, where religion is concerned).

Without agreeing with Islam, let alone the grotesque excesses of certain contemporary Islamic regimes, one can sympathize with the mullahs’ designation of the West (by which they mean “Western modernism”) as “the great Satan,” the great adversary of everything they call “holy.” It is just as true that general Western culture, in the thrall of modernism, has been in an equally adversarial relation to the historic catholic faith. The Muslims are trying to do what Christians did not manage to accomplish—namely, protect their people from a perverse and perverting enemy.

For the time being, at least, a greater number of Muslims living in the West still believe in their religious understanding of the family, and so they still believe that it is proper to feel shame when they transgress their moral code. Because they have not yet capitulated to Western modernism, they have not yet talked themselves out of feeling shame. They can still admit that certain practices are shameful, even if they indulge in them. This practical adherence to the faith (even when it is the tribute that vice pays to virtue) liberates them to confess their faith and its formularies publicly.

The Clergy’s Failure

The other factor behind the Western defection from Christian moral standards I blame almost entirely on the clergy, and especially on the bishops (or whatever the chief pastors are called in the various Western traditions). The Second Vatican Council was the formative event for all of the contemporary Western churches, including those that choose to pretend that the Roman Catholic Church does not exist or is not a factor in their lives.

It does not matter whether one praises or condemns aggiornamento, or chooses to stipulate that it has been abused. From Vatican II on, the Western Church has forgotten the first rule of sustaining a religion and its moral code as credible. That rule is this: Change nothing in the Church, especially as it affects the day-to-day life of the people of God, by the raw exercise of power.

This rule has three corollaries. The first corollary is the one exception to this rule: Immediate change is pastorally necessary when it has been discovered that some previous enactment is in such grievous moral and doctrinal error that it endangers the people’s very souls and eternal life.

The second corollary is the alternative to coercive change: the pastoral decision to formalize such changes in practice as have grown up over time by “custom” (as defined in the usual way by the general canon law of the Church). In every such case, however, even popular custom must never be permitted to depart from the historic faith and its necessarily connected practices.

The third corollary is the foundation for making changes that deepen and do not undermine the peoples’ faith: In any case, teach, teach, teach the unamendable basics and necessities of the Faith, so that any legitimate changes, by legislation, by decree, or by custom, will be understood as preserving and not changing the Faith.

Imposed liturgical changes (even in churches with a customary, rather than a written liturgy) set every sort of Western Christian adrift in a sea of change. Little of what had been learned by heart was applicable in the new worship, and less of what was offered in its place was in any way memorable.

Arbitrary and periodic changes in fasting rules and other matters of spiritual discipline made clowns of pious traditionalists, to be mocked for their old-fashioned ways. Where the strongest traditions of liturgy and piety had once prevailed, priests relaxing in their “presidential chairs” while laymen administered the Holy Communion to people forbidden to kneel made nonsense of the sacramental reverence once shared by prelates and scrub ladies alike.

Experiments in feminism at the altar and in the home sought to obliterate the created and revealed order of the sexes that is the necessary foundation for a moral sexual order. The forced remodeling of church buildings, while played out like domestic farce (“Put the altar over there. No, how about here? No, let’s try it again back there”), in its removal of beauty and transcendence would have made a Roundhead soldier blush.

Arbitrary Rules

Taken together, these changes, enforced by a blatantly self-indulgent clergy obsessed with novelty for its own sake, have convinced the people that all religious rules are strictly arbitrary. A human being might well sacrifice his appetites for the sake of companionship with God and a vision of eternal order, as delivered to him by means of rites, disciplines, creeds, and moral codes with the authority of generations of saints behind them. But who will do so for the sake of this year’s rules or this month’s paperback worship?

Some heroes will, submitting to these ephemera out of a glorious loyalty to what the Church ought to be, and clinging to a vision of the Kingdom of God despite the officially imposed human chaos around them. But mankind in general is not heroic.

Worse still, how exactly do the heroic faithful promote the unchanging verities of the Faith to doubters and unbelievers when all they have to offer them is the foolishness of the churches caught up in constant spasms of change? Unstable churches make the argument for deferred gratification sound even more implausible to those who have been elsewhere promised a life of instant physical pleasure.

If Christianity is a concrete, specific life in Jesus Christ, then it makes sense to live it—to fast on Good Friday or to worship God every Sunday in his Church as the redeemed have always worshipped him, or even to reserve sexual intercourse for the marriage bed. To do these things is to live a life with Christ and his saints as a particular member of his particular Body.

On the other hand, if Christianity is nothing more than a set of religious fads and mutable opinions, then the Body of Christ is the thing least like a real body in the whole world, and the warm human body on the adjoining barstool cannot help but exert a greater attraction.

Restoring the Old Religion

This is not, God forbid, an argument for simply freezing things as they are today, as if that action could somehow make Christian youth continue in the teachings of their churches or provide Western Christians in general with a new stability. I can’t think of a single imposed change since Vatican II first opened the present season of imposed changes in the Western Church that has had any constructive value. Nor is it possible now, after these changes have been injected into the bloodstream of the Church, merely to recall them by fiat.

Rather, it would be best for the churches to allow people, parishes, and dioceses to return as they wish to the traditional religion, without penalty or persecution. The old religion will survive, as it always has. The new religion will simply change itself into extinction or remove itself entirely from Christian ground.

In any case, the practical, visible witness of traditional Christians with their traditional families and traditional churches is the only means of offering the victims of modernism an alternative. Those Muslim kids get a lot of things right because they have seen traditional Islamic families and faithfulness with their own eyes.

For Christians to get the same results with their own children, or better yet to surpass them, they must not only tell their children to be good. They also must be good themselves, in the ancient, changeless, and permanent Christian way, so that their children can see an alternative to what a corrupt Western culture has to offer.

Tradition works by example. Young Christians and could-be Christians are a mess, because the example given to them by the Christian churches and their members is, by and large, a mess. Tradition is working perfectly, but we are passing on the worst possible things.

The article from which the statistics were taken is “Britain’s Young Catholics Disagree with Church’s Teaching,”, 14 March 2001.

Louis R. Tarsitano (d. 2005), a former associate editor of Touchstone, was the rector of St. Andrew's Church in Savannah, Georgia. He also was the co-author, with Peter Toon, of Neither Archaic Nor Obsolete: The Language of Common Prayer & Public Worship (Brynmill Press, Ltd., 2003).

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Dawkins' God

by Robert Hart

(Dawkins' God originally appeared in the March 2008 edition of Touchstone, a Journal of Mere Christianity)

If Richard Dawkins wants to refute what Christians believe, he should not declare his own belief in Divine Transcendence. Time Magazine recently asked him and Francis Collins, a Christian who heads the Human Genome Project, what caused the universe to exist and suggested that the answer could be God.

Dawkins answered: “There could be something incredibly grand and incomprehensible and beyond our present understanding,” To this Collins responded “That’s God.” Yes, said Dawkins,

but it could be any of a billion Gods . . . the chances of its being a particular God, Yahweh, the God of Jesus, is vanishing small — at least the onus is on you to demonstrate why you think that’s the case. . . . I don’t see the Olympian Gods or Jesus coming down and dying on the cross as worthy of that grandeur. They strike me as parochial. If there’s a God, it’s going to be a whole lot more incomprehensible than anything that any theologian of any religion has ever proposed.

How is this an argument against the Christian faith? (By the way, what does Dawkins mean by “our present understanding”? Does he anticipate some future state of exaltation and glorification that will increase it?) Furthermore, Dawkins has been a favorite of atheists for a long time, and yet here he clearly professes agnosticism. And, what he is agnostic about is revelation.

In the Bible we read of God who dwells in the darkness and of God hidden by the radiance of blinding light. St. Paul writes of “the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords; Who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see” (I Tim.6:15, 16).

In the first of his Soliloquies, St. Augustine writes of God as “incredibly grand.” The entire tradition of Apophatic theology is about God who is beyond our understanding. God is spoken of in negatives, because we cannot know the Nature that is Wholly other than every created nature, infinite, without beginning or end.

Dawkins believes that “The chances of its [this incomprehensible God] being a particular God . . . is vanishing small.” Yet the Transcendent and incomprehensible God beyond our knowing whose possible existence he concedes is a particular God, and quite in keeping with the one element that he actually brings into question: Have we been given the complement of the Divine mystery, namely, revelation?

Theology is, though the modern mind may find this astonishing, a science. It is based on statements of fact, including miracles. The Christian faith takes its stand on one thing above all, the eyewitness accounts of those who saw the resurrected Christ.

This is strengthened in its status as actual history by the martyrdom of the earliest witnesses. What stands as a unique event in history is not merely an empty tomb, and not the story of the resurrection, but the deep conviction of the earliest Christians that Christ’s post resurrection appearances were events real enough to die for.

This provides for us a fact to consider, namely that what we have, not only a particular God, but specific revelation, is the opposite of “vanishing small.” Instead, it is quite substantive on the basis of evidence.

In terms of this revelation, the post resurrection appearances verify the teachings of Jesus, as recorded by eyewitness accounts, and lead to our central doctrine, the Incarnation. Dawkins fails in his attempt to criticize Christian teaching because he describes the very opposite of what we believe.

“I don’t see the Olympian Gods or Jesus coming down and dying on a cross, as worthy of that grandeur,” he tells the magazine. Here we can sympathize with him, because some theologians have made too much of St. Paul’s use of the Greek word kenoo to mean that Jesus “emptied himself” into human nature.


Never has the Church taught it this way. Always, the revelation has been understood to be that Jesus Christ is God the Word (Logos), or God the Son, having taken finite human nature into His infinite being, time into eternity, mortality into life, created nature into uncreated Person, the known into the unknowable. “God was made man that man might become God,” as St. Athanasius wrote in his On the Incarnation.

Dawkins is right to say that the idea of a knowable and definable god leaping down from Mt. Olympus is not worthy to be compared to this revelation. It is the very opposite. He is wrong to think of Jesus as an Olympian God. He is the very opposite.

Although Dawkins asserts his estimation of the crucifixion of Christ as unworthy of Divine grandeur as a crushing criticism of Christianity, it is simply an echo of St. Paul’s words. “For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” (I Corinthians 1:22-25).

Unworthy of Divine grandeur indeed; that was the point.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Mother of God part II

It comes as no surprise that my earlier essay, Mother of God, sparked some debate. For "westerners" who have witnessed proof of genuine Maryiolatry (i.e., treating the Blessed Virgin as if she were a goddess), red flags and notes of caution are quite reasonable. Among some Roman Catholics serious usage of the term "Co-Redemptrix" has been unleashed, which can produce only confusion at best, heresy at worst. Yes, Mary's obedient faith is part of our salvation history, and her involvement was, therefore, very direct. Her emotional suffering at the foot of Christ's cross while he was dying, the sword through her own soul, was also very real (Luke 2:35, John 19:25). But, the term "Co-Redemptrix" may suggest that her mental anguish somehow added to the efficacy of Christ's atonement as the Priest and Sacrifice, which idea is completely wrong. Nothing added to his full payment of our debt of sin, and no one could pay any portion of our debt but Christ himself.

Along with the dangerous "Co-Redemptix" title, other titles given to Mary include some I never use. I refrain from the title "Our Lady." My reason is very simple. When we call Jesus the Lord, as we call also the Father and the Holy Spirit, it is a very special use of the word "Lord." Because the Jewish people ceased to pronounce the Name of God (יְהֹוָה corresponding to our Latin letters YHVH) after returning from captivity in Babylon, it became the normal rule to substitute the word Adonai (אָדוֹןי) when reading aloud from the Torah. The word Adonai means "Lord." Therefore, the use of the Greek word kyrios (κύριος), the standard translation, when used for a Person of the Godhead, that is "the Lord," means more than merely a human master or nobleman. In that context it means God. Therefore, to speak of Mary as "our Lady" makes me uncomfortable, to say the least. God has no consort, and Mary is not the Lady, that is not an equal sharing the Divine nature among the three Persons we call the Lord. I would not accuse anyone of meaning it that way; but, I refrain from so using it. Others may, and I will not judge them unorthodox.

Likewise, I see no reason to use the title "Queen of Heaven." I know about the twelfth chapter of Revelation, and how Mary is mysteriously portrayed there as the chief representative of the people of Israel (as signified by the elements from Joseph's dream about Jacob, that is Israel, and his heirs; the sun, the moon and the eleven stars-Gen. 37:9,10), giving birth to the Messiah. But, that hardly justifies insulting the Blessed Virgin Mary with a title that brings to mind the Ashtoreth (Jeremiah 7:18 & 44:17-25). She deserves better than to be called by such a title, especially concerning Heaven where everyone present sees the throne of God, and concerning which we have no revelation about a queen, and no need. The title "Queen" suggests the need to perpetuate a dynasty. I would not accuse anyone of meaning it that way; but, again, I refrain. Others may use it in good faith, and I will not judge them unorthodox.

But, concerning the title "Mother of God" I say only "amen," without any caveat or red flag whatsoever.

Translating Theotokos

It has been argued that "God-bearer" is a more exact translation of the word Theotokos. I have no argument with that, as an exact translation (though I still insist that "Birth-giver of God" comes across as a heroic, if not silly, measure to avoid the word "mother"). But, the nature of language is such that sometimes an exact translation loses something in...translation. Even if someone may argue that the exact translation suffers no loss, history has assigned the expression "Mother of God" to our common western vocabulary (not only in English, e.g., the Spanish Madre de Dios). I understand the argument that the ancient Church could have used an unmistakable expression, incapable of any other translation, and chose not to do so.

Perhaps, because they were writing in a time of emergence from Pagan culture, the ancient writers in the Church really did mean to keep their distance from any suggestion that the Godhead has an origin in some sort of mother. But, even so, it is unrealistic to suppose that, in modern times, anyone anywhere might think that Christians believe in an emergent Deity coming from an origin that gave birth to the Divine Nature. Even if the expression "Mother of God" could have been misunderstood in the Hellenistic culture of the fourth century, today the shocking boldness of the expression, loaded with its built-in paradoxical punch, creates the demand for an immediate resolution of the logical tension it creates. The only resolution that the informed mind can provide is in Scripture: "The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us..." (John 1:14). The expression, "Mother of God" leads directly to the doctrine of the Incarnation, without any possible alternative destination.

The expression states clearly that Jesus Christ is fully Divine and fully human. Therefore, the term fights against Arianism on one hand, and at least one form of Gnosticism on the other. That is, by affirming that Mary's Son, the Man Christ Jesus, is rightly called God, it refutes Arianism. By affirming that this same Person rightly called God is Mary's Son, the Man Christ Jesus, it refutes the Gnosticism of Marcion, the Jesus who merely appeared to be human, but who left no footprints behind him because he was not really human. Against these heresies we use the expression, "Mother of God" for the Blessed Virgin Mary. In saying that, we say that Jesus Christ is fully God and fully man.

"Western" Trinitarianism, apologia

We were told, in comments, that the word "God" properly speaks of the Father only (an unanticipated objection, since it is "God" that puts the Theo in Theotokos). This view is commonly expressed, normally by converts to Orthodoxy or even by lifelong Orthodox Christians, but only by those who want to place far too much emphasis on supposed differences between Orthodoxy and "Western" Christianity. In trying to be as different from "Western" Christians as they can, some of their writers go too far. For example, Fr. Thomas Hopko has made too much of the distinction between Ho Theos and Theos (τὸν θεόν and θεόν) in John 1:1. That is, between how the grammar added the word ho (τὸν), which means only "the" when speaking of the Father. But, the simple fact is, the word Theos itself is what truly matters. The Second half of John 1:1, translated into English very literally, would be "And the Word (λόγος) was with the God (τὸν θεόν), and the Word (λόγος) was God (θεόν)." But, the same word, Theos, is unmistakable.

At this point, it is reasonable to ask about verse two. Why would John repeat a point already made? "The same was in the beginning with the God (οὗτος ἦν ἐν ἀρχῇ πρὸς τὸν θεόν. )." The answer is, John was not repeating the same point, for sheer redundancy would have been unnecessary. Clearly, this third invocation of Theos refers to the Holy Spirit. Like the Word (who is also called the Son), the Holy Spirit derives His existence from the Father. In language that points to truth beyond our comprehension, the Gospel of John teaches that the Word is the only begotten Son, that he is eternally begotten of the Father; and it teaches that the Holy Spirit eternally proceeds from the Father. Neither the Son nor the Spirit were or are created; both are equal to the Father, and yet both come from the Father, One we say begotten the Other proceeding. Both are eternal, without beginning or end; both are equal to the Father, each Person having the same uncreated Nature (physis, φύσις) as God.

To get to the point, about John 1:1,2, if the Father is somehow the only Person properly called "God" because He is "the God" or Ho Theos, why is the Holy Spirit, in verse 2, who derives His eternal existence from the Father no less than does the Son, also called Ho Theos? The simple answer is this: Ho, or "the," is a separate word that does not change the meaning of Theos. The issue is grammar, not meaning. To suggest otherwise leads us to the dangerous business of making a distinction between degrees of Divinity -- not Degrees in Divinity as an academic subject, but degrees to which a Person (or hypostasis - ὑπόστασις) is more or less God, or perhaps merely a lesser "god" in some sort of pantheon. In attacking the "Western" concept of the Trinity, with its somewhat more pronounced emphasis on the equality of each Person of the Trinity, some of our Orthodox brethren lay the unstable foundation for arguing the Arian heresy. They will not make that argument themselves (thank God for such mercies), nonetheless they cannot help but provide the rationale for those who do.

To suggest that the Son is God, but not quite as much God as the Father, would be heresy. These "Eastern" Orthodox Christians do not go there themselves, or so I hope, but they make straight the way to that heresy. I wonder why not being "Western" is worth the risk to them. To hear some of them use phrases like "the idolatry of the Son," ought to send chills up our spines. I would urge them to stop worrying about the alleged dangers of "Western" Christianity, and make a better effort to steer clear of the Arian heresy. They need to do so even if they risk sounding like the allegedly inferior "Western" Christians, those they seem ashamed to call brethren.

When we say "God" we speak in light of the full revelation of the Divine Name, into which we were baptized, that is, "the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost." (Matthew 28:19) Obviously, when we use the word "God," the context gives us all the clarity we need. When we speak of the Son of God, we emphasize the distinction between the Father and the Son. When we say "the Spirit of God," we make the distinction between the Father and the Holy Spirit. In fact, when Saint Paul and Saint Peter wrote the words, "the Spirit of Christ" (Romans 8:9, Philippians 1;19, I Peter 1:11), they made a distinction between the Holy Spirit and the Son.

Likewise, when we call the Blessed Virgin Mary by the title "Mother of God," it should be obvious to everyone that we speak of God the Son, or Word. "And the Word was God...and the Word was made flesh." Without context, the word "God" all by itself, speaks to us of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. That is how Saint John used it, and therefore what he taught us, in the opening of his Gospel.

Twelfth Sunday after Trinity

II Cor 3:4-9 * Mark 7:31-37

Many years ago, back in the 1970s, some of the notable figures of the Charismatic movement- the popular “neo-Pentecostal” movement that spread across all denominational lines- would address the burning question “why does God not heal everybody?” The truth is, miracles of healing can and do happen every once in a while, but, to be honest, not most of the time. The reverse question that ought to have been obvious, but that no one seemed to ask, was: “Why, considering that ‘all have sinned,’ has God ever healed anybody?”

In popular religious movements it is all too easy for false doctrine to arise. Furthermore, one of the insidious results of false doctrine is to hide true doctrine from view. People become obsessed with the demands of false teaching. In the case of the healing and faith emphasis, or as it was called, "Faith and Prosperity," of popular TV ministers, the concept was introduced that people can receive healing for any and all ailments (as if they could never die) if only they would embrace methods to work their faith up to such a level that all things would be possible on demand. This mistaken notion of faith carried with it no moral implications, and this kind of faith itself was the substitute for all of the virtues. In this whole mess of confusion, the truth that was lost was the Gospel itself. I am not saying that everyone in the Charismatic movement was guilty of this; it was not accepted by most. However, the right question was not asked. Why has God ever healed anybody?

Indeed, why did Jesus heal this man in this portion of the Gospel of Mark? Why does He give to him ears that hear and a tongue that speaks? Why did the Lord heal people? Why did he show compassion? If He had handed out what was due, He would have slain everybody; “for all have sinned.” But, instead we see His ministry described in the words of St. Peter: “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power: who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with him. (Acts 10:38).” The purpose of the Incarnation includes this fact: He does not deal with us as our sins deserve. If we repent, He forgives us.

Some people misread the Lord’s words: “Thy faith hath made thee whole." All too often, this is presented as if faith worked like some kind of magic charm, or, as if faith becomes the one work that brings salvation. Such an idea would invert the great teaching of St. Paul that faith does for us what our own works cannot do. It is not the one human merit that earns either healing, blessing or salvation, but instead is the doorway by which we may receive God’s gifts.

In today’s Epistle reading we see two curious phrases: “the letter” and “the Spirit.” We learn that the letter, which refers to the Law, kills; but the Spirit, which is the life of Christ given to us in the New Covenant, gives life. The letter, the Law that God gave in the Covenant of Sinai when He revealed His commandments to Israel in the days of Moses, is “holy and just and good," as St. Paul tells us in another Epistle, his Epistle to the Church in Rome. The glorious ministry of the Law is condemnation, and the severity of that condemnation justifies no one. Our Lord is the one who brought this fact out most clearly. For example, in the Sermon on the Mount each of us learns that he has received the sentence of death, utter condemnation- damnation. The parable of the Pharisee and the Publican that we looked at only last week demonstrates the folly of anyone pleading for life by the letter that kills. Only a self-deceived man living in a fantasy of self-inflicted and extraordinary delusion, pleads the Law of God, expecting to be justified by it. The Pharisee deceived himself into believing that he was not a sinner “like this Publican.”

The glorious ministry of that Old Covenant revelation of the Law is that it slays each of us; it condemns each of us. “All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” So, then, why did Jesus go about and do good to sinners? Why did He heal anybody ever? Because the glory of the ministry of the New Covenant is even greater than the glorious ministry of condemnation. In the night in which He was betrayed, our Lord spoke of the blood that would be shed from His own body as “the blood of the New Covenant which is shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.” The disciples understood this from the prophecy of Jeremiah, in which the greater glory of the ministry of the Spirit of life was foretold:

"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 ( Jer. 31:31-34)."

Israel looked ahead to the time when this covenant would produce new people, who have within them the Spirit of God writing the commandments of God on their hearts. The forgiveness of sins and the promise that each person would know God, was the promise of the new Covenant.

The promise of forgiveness was demonstrated by the works of Jesus, and only by way of the cross. Not one person that Jesus healed deserved that healing. None of them deserved, merited or earned healing; but by healing Jesus showed that He forgives sins. Every time He healed someone, and every time He spoke the words of forgiveness to a repentant sinner, He knew that it was all due to the painful stripes He would endure later, the Friday when He would pour out His soul unto death, with the nails through His hands and feet, and the thorns piercing His brow. It was not free of charge, for He - He alone - would pay the price. The burning question “why does God not heal everybody?” can be answered only by saying, in terms of God's perfect will, "but He does"- if only because all who believe in the Son of God, all who eat the Bread of Life, all who live by the Food and Drink of eternal life, will be raised up on the Last Day, when Jesus Christ comes again in glory.

We need the ministry of condemnation in order to appreciate and understand the mercy of God in Jesus Christ. Jesus never approved of sin; He was far more condemning than Moses, speaking of Hell in a way no other preacher ever did. Forgiveness requires condemnation. Churches that approve of sin cannot meet the greatest need of the human heart; and they cannot bring healing. For, there is no acknowledgment of the wound among them. Forgiveness itself is very condemning, for what is approved cannot be forgiven. Jesus condemned all sin on the cross in the most powerful way possible. Justice and mercy met where the cross intersected, where He hung beneath the charge of the Roman governor. But, St. Paul, in another place, tells us that the real charge that hung over the Lord was the Law of God (Colossians 2:14). There He paid the full price of sin for you and me. Then He rose the third day, and overcame death. So, the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

And that my friends, is why God has ever healed anybody.

Fr. Wells' bulletin inserts


The Prayer Book has a pesky habit (a habit we encounter almost every week) of beginning and ending the Lessons from the Epistles and Gospels quite arbitrarily, in the middle of a paragraph, with scant regard for the flow of thought in the Scripture itself. It is almost as if the editors who selected the readings (the selections are much more ancient than the Prayer Book itself) wanted to drive us back to the Scriptures, making us open our Bibles and find out what the passage is really about.

Such is definitely the case with today's Epistle from 2 Corinthians 3. Paul is saying “Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God.” This is like walking into the middle of a conversation between Paul and the Corinthians. What confidence? A confidence which a mere sinful man would have in the face of God is surely a wonderful thing.

When we go back a couple of verses, to the beginning of the chapter, this is cleared up. Paul had just informed his readers that he needed no letter of recommendation from them, as certain other apostles evidently were requesting of them. Letters of recommendation were a common practice in the ancient world, particularly for travelers. Paul has said that he has no need for such documentation, as the simple fact of a Church in Corinth, something Paul had founded through his preaching, is sufficient evidence of his effectiveness as an apostle.

Paul's line of argument is surprising. The Corinthian Church was a mess, full of heresy, immorality, disorder. Paul's detractors might indeed have said, “Look at that corrupt church, which Paul started! By his fruits we shall know him!” This church was hardly a credit to its founder!

But Paul knew that for all its problems, the Body of Christ was truly alive in Corinth. This body was more than the sum of its members, as Paul wrote, “the Spirit giveth life.” Paul went on to speak of the “glory” of the Body: “how shall not the ministration of the Spirit be glorious.”

The Church as we experience it is frequently an inglorious and imperfect affair. But the Church as God sees it is truly glorious, as sinners are being turned into saints. This is the glory of a “new testament,” the new and final chapter in God's plan of salvation. The “old testament” made through Moses had a certain glory of its own, a glory which has now passed into history. But the glory of the Risen Christ is a far greater glory, which the life-giving Spirit implants in every believer. That was Paul's confidence, trust, and certitude, which he invites us to share. LKW


Almost never do we find a Sunday Gospel selection from Mark. And the remarkable thing in today's Gospel is that it is a passage unique to Mark, with no real parallel in Matthew or Luke.

This passage contains a text perplexing to many. "And he charged them that they should tell no man, but the more he charged them, so much the more a great deal they published it."

Here we have an occurrence of a special feature in Mark, the so-called "Messianic secret." Seven times (the number could be symbolic) Our Lord emphatically directed the witnesses of His miracles to "tell no man." Each time the command is quickly disobeyed, with one exception. The first instance of this "secret" comes in Mark 1:34, where "he would not permit the demons to speak, for they knew him." The followers of Jesus, to our surprise, are less obedient than the demons! Lacking the supernatural knowledge of the demons, they do not know who He is.

This theme is sustained from the opening chapter to the very last. On Easter morning, the women at the tomb are specifically commanded to go and tell His disciples. Here the instructions are reversed, but the disobedience continues. "They said nothing to any man, for they were afraid." The irony is almost overwhelming. The Gospel message has been brought to its perfection, and the friends of Jesus fall into silence, suddenly suffering an impediment in their speech.

This bring us around to the miracle before us in which Jesus healed a man who was deaf and afflicted with a speech impediment. Like every miracle in all of the Gospels, the afflicted person is a picture of our human predicament. We are deaf to the voice of God, deaf to the cries of our fellow human being. We cannot articulate the message God has given us or even our deepest prayers to Him. But we can jabber incessantly when we ought to be silent.

Charles Wesley wrote a stanza which is a great comment on this passage:

Hear Him, ye deaf; His praise, ye dumb,

Your loosened tongues employ;

Ye blind, behold your Saviour come,

And leap, ye lame, for joy!

Let us add our stammering voices to the chorus of praise which concludes our passage: "He hath done all things well, for he maketh both the deaf to hear, and the dumb to sing." LKW

Friday, August 20, 2010

3 recent sets of sermon notes

Below are links to my sermon notes for the last three Sundays. Due to busy-ness and tiredness I did not post them on those Sundays. However, in order not to crowd out (i.e., push far down the page) recent posts by Fr Hart with a huge three-in-one post of my own, I have posted them back at the appropriate times.

Trinity 9

Trinity 10


Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Mother of God

Justify FullIn his weekly "Bulletin Inserts" this past Sunday, Fr. Wells wrote:
"The Church has given her the title 'Mother of God.' That appellation still offends many, just as it offended the heretic Nestorius. He was willing to call her 'Mother of Christ,' but not 'Mother of God.' 'Mother of God' seems to imply something false, that Mary is the mother of the Godhead, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, as if Mary herself were a Goddess from eternity. Such a notion would be beyond heresy, a leap into sheer paganism.

"When we say, as we must say, that the Virgin Mary was the Mother of God, we are saying quite emphatically that the One to whom she gave birth was none other than God in the flesh. Her Son Jesus Christ was and is Deity Incarnate. So the title 'Mother of God' at bottom line is not a statement about Mary herself but a statement about the One to whom she was Mother."

Like me, Fr. Wells is about as much on the Reformed and -- according to Anglican use of the word -- Protestant (emphasis on the first syllable, pro) side as Continuing Churchmen tend to be. And, like me, he says that we "must" call the Blessed Virgin Mary "the Mother of God." Frankly, if Martin Luther insisted on the same point (which he did), and even the way out Urich Zwingli insisted on the same point (which he did), it ought to be no surprise that two priests of the Anglican Catholic Church say so.

But, someone may contend, is not the word "must" a bit strong? Why would Fr. Wells and Fr. Hart say that we "must" call Mary the Mother of God? Is that not merely optional? Let me say, with all the confusion of the last several centuries, I am not about to declare someone anathema if he cannot bring himself to say "Mother of God" about the Blessed Virgin mother of our Lord. But, once we understand that the title is not about Mary herself as much as it is about Jesus Christ, we must find it acceptable. In fact, it is shorthand for "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...And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth." (John 1:1,2,14)

The Council of Chalcedon (451 AD) has been much aligned in recent decades, blamed for creating division and banishing the Alexandrian Church. It was Eric L. Mascall, writing in 1980, who rehabilitated the reputation of the fourth [O]Ecumenical Council, getting to a simple but profound point early on in his book, Whatever Happened to the Human Mind?1

"What, let us now inquire, is the relevance of Chalcedon to Christian belief today?...First, I would suggest, its insistence upon the reality and completeness of Jesus' humanity. Orthodox Christians in the world of today have had to devote so much effort to defending the divinity of Christ against attacks from within as well as from outside the Christian community, that both they and their opponents have sometimes forgotten that Traditional Christology, with its roots in Chalcedon, is committed no less strongly to defending, in its concrete fullness, his humanity."

The teaching, defended and clarified at Chalcedon, reaches its greatest point in this passage:

"So, following the saintly fathers, we all with one voice teach the confession of one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ: the same perfect in divinity and perfect in humanity, the same truly God and truly man, of a rational soul and a body; consubstantial with the Father as regards his divinity, and the same consubstantial with us as regards his humanity; like us in all respects except for sin; begotten before the ages from the Father as regards his divinity, and in the last days the same for us and for our salvation from Mary, the virgin God-bearer (Theotokos) as regards his humanity; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, only-begotten, acknowledged in two natures which undergo no confusion, no change, no division, no separation; at no point was the difference between the natures taken away through the union, but rather the property of both natures is preserved and comes together into a single person and a single subsistent being; he is not parted or divided into two persons, but is one and the same only-begotten Son, God, Word, Lord Jesus Christ, just as the prophets taught from the beginning about him, and as the Lord Jesus Christ himself instructed us, and as the creed of the fathers handed it down to us"

Without digressing far from the main topic of this essay, notice how the passage begins: "So, following the saintly fathers." This point is clear: They created nothing new, but rather defended what had been taught from the beginning. We must recall the words of St. Paul:

"But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed." (Gal. 1:8,9).

Recall also his words,

"Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the Gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received.." (I Cor. 15:1-3a)

The key word is "received." The truth taught, defended and proclaimed by the Church has been received, not imagined or created by men. Paul says "But though we" preach a message other than the message of the Gospel that has been received. Even the Apostles themselves would have been anathema were they to change course, and preach some other message. The Gospel has been revealed, therefore received, not invented. So, at Chalcedon in 451 AD, the bishops of the Church declared that they followed the doctrine already taught and received by the Church. They had nothing new to say.

In the above translation we find the Greek word Theotokos translated "God-bearer." Fair enough. We have seen the word translated "Birth-Giver of God." Also, fair enough. But, that translation seems strained, coming across as a fancy and impressive linguistic feat, or academic acrobatic stunt, to avoid the obvious word, "mother." She bore the Lord in her womb, and gave birth to him. The word for that, in mere human language, without all the heroic efforts not to sound "too catholic" (whatever that silly phrase could possibly mean), is "mother." To say that God the Son, or the Word (λόγος ) has a mother, is to say that He has been made flesh, that he may dwell among us in the tabernacle of a complete human nature.

When you say that Mary is the Mother of God, you are saying very much the same thing that you say when you confess that "Jesus is the Lord." As I wrote once for the Tenth Sunday after Trinity:

"If you know, and can say with all your heart, that Jesus is the Lord, you are saying that He is one with the Father. You are saying, therefore, that 'the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.' You are saying that God the Son has taken human nature into His Divine Person, our created nature into his uncreated Being. You are saying that He has assumed what is alien to Him, our humanity, as the One who is wholly other from every created thing, to forever transform human nature by making us partakers of the Divine Nature, as is written by the Apostle Peter (II Peter 1:4)."

"Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world. Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world." (I John 4:1-3)

Of all the doctrines that our enemy cannot confess, one stands out above all others. It is the doctrine of the Incarnation. That is the one doctrine we must get right in order to have the others right. For, without a true understanding of Jesus Christ, we are like a man buttoning his shirt who begins by getting a button into the wrong buttonhole. Unless he goes back and corrects that first misplaced button, every other button will be in a wrong buttonhole. Unless we can say that Jesus Christ is both fully God and fully man, complete in both natures (φύσις) and yet remaining one Person (ὑπόστασις ) after the union, nothing else we say can be the revealed and received message that is the Gospel.

No wonder, then, that we are warned by St. John the Apostle, that this is the one doctrine that the spirit of Antichrist refuses to confess. That evil spirit of error must profess some other Jesus (II Cor. 11:4), either by denying that Jesus Christ is one with the Father, equal by nature to God as the eternal and only Son, without beginning and without end, not created, but eternally begotten of the Father, as the Holy Spirit is eternal and not created, eternally proceeding from the Father; or, the spirit of error must profess some other Jesus who, even if he is divine, is only a mixture that is part divine and part human, and therefore by nature neither fully God nor fully man, or that has never taken human flesh, true human nature, at all; merely appearing human while leaving no footprints. The different false versions of Jesus make him out to be merely human, like all others -- perhaps a great prophet or teacher, but less than God. Or, they make him out to be a god, created although superior to mere mortals (the polytheism of the Arian heresy), and therefore a lesser god. Or, they allow him perhaps as much as full divinity and equality to the Father, but deny to him a real human nature in which he could die for our sins as the Propitiation and Atonement, and in which he could rise again from the dead to give us immortality. Such a Jesus may be worthy of worship because he is divine; but, he offers us no hope and no salvation.

No wonder the Church has no hesitation in calling Mary the "Fighter against heresy." When we say, as we must, that she is the Mother of God, we have said more than a mouth full. We have confessed that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh. We have frustrated the spirit of Antichrist, and confessed the true Jesus; the Jesus Christ who is come in the flesh, the Lord proclaimed in the Gospel that has been revealed, which we have received, and wherein we stand.

1. Mascall, E.L. Whatever Happened to the Human Mind? ( London: SPCK, 1980)

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Assumption Day 2010

Lesson: Ecclesiasticus 24: 7-15. Gospel: Luke 10: 38-42

And the temple of God was opened in heaven, and there was seen in his temple the ark of the covenant … [T]here appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars … And she brought forth a man child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron: and her child was caught up unto God, and to his throne” (Rev. 11:19, 12:1, 12:5).+

I have begun today's sermon with a quotation from the Book of Revelation, rather than either of today's assigned passages. Why? Because here we have the clearest teaching on the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Scriptures. In this passage we have two images of a surprising nature, both regarding things located in heaven.

First, there is the presence of the Ark of the Covenant. This was, in ancient days, the gold-plated and beautifully decorated box that contained, among other things, the word of God in the 10 Commandments and a sample of the manna with which God fed the Israelites in the wilderness after they escaped Egypt. This is surprising because this Ark had been lost and missing for centuries by the time Revelation was written. It is also surprising because the author of Revelation, St John, makes no obvious attempt to explain or expand upon this image.

The second image is of the heavenly woman surrounded by sun, moon and stars. Who is she? John does not spell it out explicitly. Some of the imagery could refer to redeemed Israel (cp. Genesis 37:9-11) or to the Church (Revelation 12:17 cp. 2 John 13). But other aspects refer more properly to Mary. This layering of meaning is paralleled in other prophecies in the Bible. The Marian reference is hard to ignore because this woman bears a son who will rule all nations “with a rod of iron”, that is, unquestionable and unbreakable authority, and who rises up to the throne of God. The “rod of iron” phrase is taken from Psalm 2 as part of a section the earliest disciples realised was a prophecy about Christ (Acts 13:33, Hebrews 1:5). And, of course, the one who John knew to have ascended to God's seat of authority was Jesus, as he makes clear earlier in this book (5:6). So, the woman is, at one important level, the very mother of Jesus, Mary. Indeed, twice in St John's Gospel he simply calls his mother “Woman” (John 2:4, 19:26).

But, getting back to the image of the Ark, which immediately precedes that of the Woman, what should we understand by it? This image too has an inescapably Marian reference, once the wider Biblical context is known.

Allow me to quote from a modern Catholic scholar's excellent summary of the biblical comparisons (from Dave Armstrong:

Luke 1:35 (RSV)And the angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.”

The Greek word for overshadow is episkiasei, which describes a bright, glorious cloud. It is used with reference to the cloud of transfiguration of Jesus (Mt 17:5; Mk 9:7; Lk 9:34) and also has a connection to the shekinah glory of God in the Old Testament (Ex 24:15-16; 40:34-38; 1 Ki 8:10). Mary is, therefore, in effect, the new temple and holy of holies, where God was present in a special fashion. In fact, Scripture draws many parallels between Mary, the “ark of the new covenant” and the ark of the (old) covenant:

Exodus 40:34-35 Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting, because the cloud abode upon it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.

The Greek Septuagint translation uses the same word, episkiasei, in this passage.

1 Kings 8:6-11 Then the priests brought the ark of the covenant of the LORD to its place, in the inner sanctuary of the house, in the most holy place, underneath the wings of the cherubim. For the cherubim spread out their wings over the place of the ark, so that the cherubim made a covering above the ark and its poles. And the poles were so long that the ends of the poles were seen from the holy place before the inner sanctuary; but they could not be seen from outside; and they are there to this day. There was nothing in the ark except the two tables of stone which Moses put there at Horeb, where the LORD made a covenant with the people of Israel, when they came out of the land of Egypt. And when the priests came out of the holy place, a cloud filled the house of the LORD, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud; for the glory of the LORD filled the house of the LORD.

More direct parallels occur as well:

2 Samuel 6:9 And David was afraid of the LORD that day; and he said, “How can the ark of the LORD come to me?”

Luke 1:43 And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?

2 Samuel 6:14,16 And David danced before the LORD with all his might; and David was girded with a linen ephod. . . . King David leaping and dancing before the LORD . . .

1 Chronicles 15:29 And as the ark of the covenant of the LORD came to the city of David, Michal the daughter of Saul looked out of the window, and saw King David dancing and making merry . . .

Luke 1:44 For behold, when the voice of your greeting came to my ears, the babe in my womb leaped for joy.

2 Samuel 6:10-11 So David was not willing to take the ark of the LORD into the city of David; but David took it aside to the house of O'bed-e'dom the Gittite. And the ark of the LORD remained in the house of O'bed-e'dom the Gittite three months . . .

Luke 1:39,56 In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a city of Judah, . . . And Mary remained with her about three months, and returned to her home.

Then there is the powerful witness of St Athanasius, one of the greatest theologians of the early Church, speaking of Mary: “You are greater than them all O [Ark of the] Covenant, clothed with purity instead of gold! You are the ark in which is found the golden vessel containing the true manna, that is, the flesh in which divinity resides”. Athanasius saw the clear connection between the literal Ark containing the word and bread of God and our Lady, who contained in her womb the One who was declared to be the Word and the Bread in John's Gospel (John 1:14, 6:33, 35).

Therefore, the Assumption of St Mary into heaven, body and soul, is implied by the book of Revelation, since she is clearly present in heaven. While some other references to departed Christians in this book talk specifically of their “souls” (e.g., 6:9), these Marian images are strikingly and robustly physical in connotation as well as spiritual. It was not Mary's soul alone that acted as the Ark of the New Covenant! In this context this verse from Psalm 132:8 is seen to be another prophecy of Christ and Mary: “Arise, O Lord, into thy rest; thou, and the ark of thy strength.”

There are other pieces of biblical evidence which could be considered [including comparison of the Protoevangelium of Genesis 3:15 with Revelation 12], but we should also look briefly at the evidence from Tradition. A number of scholars have pointed out that evidence for the doctrine in the Fathers is missing for the first few centuries of church history, and that when it does first appear in the literature a bodily assumption is not explicitly mentioned, but one of the soul. Also, the accounts we have are normally assessed as apocryphal. Nevertheless, the perpetual absence of a tradition of relics or an occupied burial site associated with the Blessed Virgin’s body is extremely suggestive when compared to the traditions associated with many other less important Saints, despite this being an argument from silence. Also, some scholars believe there is additional artistic confirmation of the belief from a period earlier than the relatively late-appearing written tradition. When the Fathers do eventually write about the Assumption, the Church's acceptance becomes virtually universal. Clear affirmation of the Assumption can be found in Fathers as diversely located as St Gregory of Tours and St John of Damascus.

While the Assumption has perhaps not been explicitly revealed in Scripture and does not strictly satisfy the Vincentian Canon (by having been taught constantly by virtually the whole Church), it is Scriptural and part of the Church's mature theological reflection and of its devotion. Thus, it cannot be considered equivalent to a creedal truth, and so a “dogma” in the sense that word had for the early Church and has for us and the Eastern Orthodox. But it should be considered to be a true element of Holy Tradition which we share joyfully with the rest of the Catholic Church, past and present.

Why does the Assumption of Our Lady matter to us? What can we learn from it? The Assumption gives a prototype of the glorification of the body that awaits all Christians, but also because it shows the distinct blessedness of the Immaculate Mother. The resurrection and elevation to heavenly bliss is a promise made to all Christians (1 Thessalonians 4:4:16-17), so the Assumption should not be looked on as a distant, untouchable glory but a token of joys to come. On the other hand, there is no doubt that Mary's privilege of being taken almost straight away is a reflection of her special character and role. What we can also learn from the Assumption is the more of the similarity and the difference between our divine Lord and his creaturely Mother. Both rise to be with God, but Christ ascends (an active verb) by his own power, whereas the Mary is assumed (a passive verb). This reflects the relationship of all Christians to Christ. He is the giver, we are the receivers, saved by grace. Perhaps most importantly, we can learn from the Assumption yet another reason to praise and worship God for his majesty, wisdom and mercy. The last verse of chapter 12 reveals one particularly lovely aspect of this. Christians suffering the warfare of the Devil are said to be “the remnant of her seed”. The Blessed Virgin Mary really is our Mother too, and Jesus is our brother. Doubt not that she loves you and prays for you. Doubt not that he is pleased to incorporate you into his family and make you worthy children of God. +