Sunday, December 31, 2006

High Altar and Lady Chapel of my Title Parish in Durham

Here are a couple of photos of the Lady Chapel and the High Altar at St. John the Evangelist in Durham England where I will be serving my title in six months. I am really looking forward to getting back to parish work. I serve my title here as curate for a while and then I will go on to be an incumbant in one of our open parishes, Lord willing!

Saturday, December 30, 2006

St. Vincent of Lérins and Development of Doctrine

Faith of our Fathers

Arthur Middleton on St Vincent of Lérins and development

Image and video hosting by TinyPicVincent in his Commonitorium [23, 28 and 2–3] states that there must be development of religion in the Church, but ‘it must truly be development of the faith, not alteration of the faith. Development means that each thing expands to be itself; while alteration means that a thing is changed from one thing into another.’ So our understanding, knowledge and wisdom as individuals, as well as that of the whole Church, needs to progress through the centuries, ‘but along its own line of development, that is, with the same doctrine, the same meaning and the same import.’

He uses the analogy of the body. ‘Tough bodies develop and unfold their component parts with the passing years, they always remain what they were. There is a difference between the flower of childhood and the maturity of age, but those who become old are the very same people who were once young.’ Appearances of the same individual may change, but it is the same nature and the same person. The limbs of unweaned children and the grown limbs of young people are still the same limbs, and adults have the same number of limbs.

The later development was already present in a seminal form, meaning that ‘there is nothing new in old age that was not already latent in childhood. There is no doubt, then, that the legitimate and correct rule of development, the established and wonderful order of growth, is this: in older people the fullness of years always brings to completion those members and forms that the wisdom of the Creator fashioned beforehand in their earlier years.’ A human body distorted into a shape alien to its own nature, or with something added or subtracted, can destroy the body, making it freakish or handicapped.

‘In the same way, the doctrine of the Christian religion should properly follow these laws of development, that is, by becoming firmer over the years, more ample in the course of time, more exalted as it advances in age.’ In the beginning, our ancestors in the faith planted the good seed in the Church. ‘It would be very wrong and unfitting if we, their descendants, were to reap not the genuine wheat of truth but the intrusive growth of error.’

We need to secure a fixed and guiding principle for distinguishing the true Catholic Faith from heresy. A healthy faith is fortified in two ways; first, by the authority of God’s Law; secondly, by the tradition of the Catholic Church.

Not only do we need Scripture but alongside it the interpretation of the Church, because of Scripture’s depth of meaning and everyone placing as many interpretations as there are people. The intricacies of error require a rule for the exposition of Scripture in accordance with the standard of the interpretation of the Church Catholic where care is taken to hold ‘that which has been believed everywhere, always and by all.’

Keep this rule by following universality, antiquity, and consent. In universality, acknowledging that one Faith to be true which the whole Church throughout the world confesses; in antiquity by not departing from those interpretations proclaimed by our ancestors; in consent, by following the definitions and opinions of antiquity.

A New Link Added

I have added a new link to the St. Paul Centre for Biblical Theology. This is a very useful resource for priests as well as the laity for finding resources that address many theological and practical issues in the Roman Catholic Church and the Church Catholic throughout the world. Give it a go and I hope it is useful to you.

Steel Family News

I know it has been a while since Rhea posted on the family site, but she has so go by and pay her a visit. Let the readers know who have stopped reading due to lack of posts that Rhea is back up and running!

The Elements are Changed by Consecration

I am about to begin writing my chapter on presence within a week or two. I have a couple of things to do on my sacrifice chapter and some other deadlines but I want to begin on the chapter very soon and hopefully have it written by 1 March. That will leave me with my final chapter on Ecumenism in the area of Eucharistic sacrifice for today that I hope to have written by 15 June. The rest of the summer will be my re-write of the whole and my introduction and conclusion. I will also be in back in parish ministry beginning 1 July 07. That being said, I thought I would begin a season of postings on Eucharistic presence along with other things that interest me.

I recently received a wonderful copy of Robert Wilberforce's work The Doctrine of the Holy Eucharist. It is beautifully bound in leather and is an original of 1853. In his chapter on the 'Testimony of Antiquity to the Real Presence', he speaks of the schools of thought of the Eastern School. It is this school of thought that includes the writings of Ss. Cyril, Gregory of Nyssen, and John Damascene, in which flows the theology of Andrewes on Eucharistic presence. Unlike numerous English reformers of the C16, Andrewes held tightly to the undoubted truth that the elements in the Holy Eucharist are changed by consecration. I have argued in my work on Andrewes of his christological emphasis of Christ's person and the relationship of his Person to the Eucharist. Wilberforce draws out this school of thought from the Orientals that I have so clearly seen in the writing of Andrewes. Wilberforce writes that
The Holy Eucharist is so intimately related to the doctrine of Our Lord's Person, that it is not surprising that those who defended the reality and union of His two natures, should have bethought themselves of it as a fitting illustration of their meaning. At the same time nothing can show more clearly how general was the belief in that sacramental oneness, by which the inward and outward parts are united in the Holy Eucharist, than that it should have been assumed to offer the nearest analogy to that personal union, whereby Godhead and Manhood are united in Christ. Of course the Personal bond is one thing, the Sacramental another: each is peculiar and without parallel; but they are analogous as regards the mystery of their operation, and the reality of their effects. Of this circumstance the opponents of the Eutychian heresy availed themselves. Their object was to maintain that though Godhead and manhood were truly united in the one Person of Christ, yet that the human was not so absorbed in the Divine nature, as to be altogether lost. They referred, then, to the Holy Eucharist, in which the inward part was allowed to be the real Body of Christ, while yet, they said, the outward elements of bread and wine had still their function to discharge, and were not wholly lost. The chief writer of this school is Theodoret, who dwells upon the truth that the bread and wine, regarded as objects of sense, are unaltered by consecration, and who argues thence that Our Lord's Body and Blood are not lost in that nature of Deity, with which they are united.
This argument stated above is found in Dialogus Secundus where Orthodox and Eutychian are in dialogue. The above paragraph is the exact argument of Andrewes when he discusses the nature of Real presence in the Eucharistic elements. It the above christological formulation of presence that lies at the heart of the mystery of the Sacrament. For the accidents to remain is to maintain the human (earthly) element of the Sacrament while the substantial change is the Body and Blood of Christ (the divine element). The two are joined together into one Sacrament of Life. Therefore, the two natures of the Sacrament are analogous to the theology of the Person of Christ. For the accidents to be assumed into the substance would make Eutychianism the truth of the Nicean debate on christology according to some early Fathers. This analogy of the hypostatic union and the Eucharistic consecration is worthy of theological pursuit and may help the Church in getting beyond the impasse on Eucharistic presence. To deny transubstantiation (as the 'how') and yet hold to the above description of Real Presence is without doubt a testimony of someone who believes in the Real Presence of Christ in the elements. That is the heart of Andrewes' teaching and his influence from the Eastern Fathers on his christology is another testimony of where he stood in relationship to the Catholic Church of antiquity.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Forbes on Justification

Justification certainly is a continuous act, which is and lasts so long as the acts of living faith endure; but is broken off always, and as often as they cease, contrary to the duty of Christian piety. Works, iv., 6, 409

...therefore the word to justify, which afterwards [James 2] occurs several times in this argument, neither ought nor can be otherwise understood than of justification before God; for otherwise the Apostle's argument could not agree with itself...the sole purpose of the Apostle is to show that faith without works, or dead faith, is altogether useless and inefficacious to justify and save us before God. [as opposed to men]...where the Apostle expressly affirms, that the Scripture was fulfilled, which affirms that faith, (namely that faith which is living and working), was imputed to him for justice, and that he himself [Abraham] by that justification was called a friend of God, or was accounted by God to be His friend; nor can the other example (that of the justification of Rahab by works,) which is adduced to confirm this proposition be otherwise understood. iv., 6, 413

Jeremy Taylor on Justification and Works

So that as it is to no purpose for Christians to dispute whether we are justified by faith or the works of the law, that is, the covenant of works without the help of faith, and the auxiliaries and allowances of mercy on God’s part, and repentance on ours; because no Christian can pretend to this: so it is perfectly foolish to dispute whether Christians are to be justified by faith, or the works of the gospel; for I shall make it appear that they are both the same thing. No man disparages faith but he that says, faith does not work righteousness; for he that says so, says indeed it cannot justify; for he says that faith alone: it is faith only, and the words of my text are plain; ‘you see,’ saith St. James, that is, it is evident to your sense, it is as clear as an ocular demonstration, ‘that a man is justified by works and not by faith only.’ viii., 288.

He goes on to say in conclusion:

I will sum it all up in this proposition, that in the question of justification and salvation, faith and good works are no parts of a distinction, but members of one entire body. Faith and good works together work the righteousness of God: that is, that I may speak plainly, justifying faith contains in it obedience; and if this be made good, then the two apostles are reconciled to each other, and both of them to the necessity, the indispensable necessity of a good life. viii., 295

Justification: Catholic and Anglican

Fr. Al Kimel has responded to Fr. Rob Sanders' treatment of Justification and the differences that still divide Anglicans and Roman Catholics. The only that about Fr. Sanders' article was that his treatment of what IS Anglican does not span the scope of how justification was described by men like Andrewes, Laud, Buckeridge, Bramhall, Forbes, Cosin, etc. You can read Fr. Sanders at the link below. I will look up some stuff from the Caroline Divines to see if some more could be said about Anglicans and Justification. In the meantime, read Fr. Kimel's response as well as Fr. Sanders.

That's So C16: Rob Sanders on Justification and the Catholic Church
by Fr. Al Kimel

Should justification by faith still be considered a church-dividing issue between Anglicanism and the Catholic Church. Fr Rob Sanders, who possesses a PhD in theology, thinks so. According to Sanders, Catholic teaching on justification “does not do justice to Scripture, to the holiness of God, the depth of human sin, the fallibility of our understanding of Christian truth, the power of Christ’s atonement, and the need for peace with God in regard to our salvation.” Strong words indeed, strong enough perhaps to deter orthodox Episcopalians and Anglicans from converting to Catholicism. Yet are they accurate? Are they true?

Fr Sanders informs us that his presentation of Catholic teaching faithfully represents the 1992 Catechism of the Catholic Church, and he supports his presentation with several quotations; yet his presentation is misleading and quickly moves into caricature. It’s as if he knows Catholic vocabulary, but because he misunderstands Catholic syntax, he is unable to formulate meaningful Catholic sentences. No informed Catholic will recognize his faith in the Catholicism Sanders describes. Three examples:

(1) The Catholic position on justifications, says Sanders, can be summarily described in these words: “we, by our own works aided by grace, can be righteous before God.” There is a sense in which this is absolutely true. Catholicism, like Orthodoxy, Arminianism, and mainstream Anglicanism, is unabashedly synergistic. It teaches that regenerate believers are given a Spirit-enabled freedom to cooperate with God’s grace and therefore contribute to their sanctity and final salvation. Yet in saying this, four crucial Catholic points, none of which are mentioned by Sanders, need to be remembered:

First, justification is a merciful, gratuitous act of God, ordinarily accomplished in the Sacrament of Holy Baptism. All who are baptized are justified, unless they have separated themselves from God through disbelieving or mortal sin. As Fr William Most liked to say, we cannot earn our status as justified children of God but we can “earn to lose it.”

Second, justification is nothing less than union with Christ and participation in the divine life of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. All who by grace share in this divine life are righteous. In the words of the Catholic Catechism:

Grace is a participation in the life of God. It introduces us into the intimacy of Trinitarian life: by Baptism the Christian participates in the grace of Christ, the Head of His Body. As an “adopted son” he can henceforth call God “Father,” in union with the only Son. He receives the life of the Spirit who breathes charity into him and forms the Church. (CCC 1997).

Third, the freedom to cooperate with divine grace is a fruit of renewal in the Holy Spirit. Sinful man outside of Christ does not possess this freedom. As the Council of Trent declared: “If any one saith, that man may be justified before God by his own works, whether done through the teaching of human nature, or that of the law, without the grace of God through Jesus Christ; let him be anathema.”

Fourth, the works that contribute to final salvation occur within the saving relationship with God enacted in baptism. Only those who have been justified by grace and reborn by water and Holy Spirit are capable of working out their salvation in fear and trembling. Only God can bring us into the state of justification: our sanctifying works flow from this state and sustain and strengthen it.

(2) Noting the Catholic rejection of the Reformation construal of imputational righteousness, Sanders states, “For Rome, however, one cannot be both justified and a sinner since the only righteousness we possess is our own which cannot coexist with our unrighteousness.” Again, this is a sense in which this is true, but it must be rightly interpreted. It does not mean that justified Catholics may boast in their righteousness. As St Thérèse of Lisieux observes, even if we have done all that is commanded of us, we remain but unprofitable servants. Nor does it mean that justified Catholics do not acknowledge themselves as wretched sinners and pray for God’s forgiveness. We daily pray the words enjoined by our Lord: “forgive us our sins,” and the XVI Synod of Carthage anathematizes all who say that this petition is offered by the faithful only in words and not in truth. Despite new birth in the Spirit, disorder of desire and inclination to sin remains in the hearts of the baptized. But what justified sinners cannot say is that they are now by nature objects of God’s wrath and condemnation; for they know and believe, by the divine promise of baptism, that they have been justified in Christ and made a new creation. Hence the explanation of concupiscence given by the Lutheran-Catholic Joint Declaration on Justification:

Catholics hold that the grace of Jesus Christ imparted in baptism takes away all that is sin “in the proper sense” and that is “worthy of damnation” (Rom 8:1). There does, however, remain in the person an inclination (concupiscence) which comes from sin and presses toward sin. Since, according to Catholic conviction, human sins always involve a personal element and since this element is lacking in this inclination, Catholics do not see this inclination as sin in an authentic sense. They do not thereby deny that this inclination does not correspond to God’s original design for humanity and that it is objectively in contradiction to God and remains one’s enemy in lifelong struggle. Grateful for deliverance by Christ, they underscore that this inclination in contradiction to God does not merit the punishment of eternal death and does not separate the justified person from God. But when individuals voluntarily separate themselves from God, it is not enough to return to observing the commandments, for they must receive pardon and peace in the Sacrament of Reconciliation through the word of forgiveness imparted to them in virtue of God’s reconciling work in Christ.

The Catholic, therefore, cannot affirm with his Reformation brothers and sisters that the baptized believer is simultaneously sinful and righteous, condemned and forgiven. He whom God has made righteous in baptism is truly oriented in love to the eternal Good and thus free from divine condemnation. Yet the Catholic can also speak of degrees of righteousness and growth in justification and honestly acknowledge his ongoing struggle with sin and his daily failures to love God and his neighbor. This may not, at least initially, make much sense to those operating within the Anglican model of double justification; yet as the ARCIC participants discovered, it really is not that far apart (see the ARCIC statement “Salvation and the Church“; also see my article “The Grand Question“).

(3) Sanders rightly notes that the Catechism defines faith in a comprehensive way, that includes both assent to divine revelation and obedience to God’s Word. As we read in the Catechism:

By faith man completely submits his intellect and his will to God. With his whole being man gives his assent to God the revealer. Sacred Scripture calls this human response to God, the author of revelation, “the obedience of faith.” (143)

To obey (from the Latin ob-audire, to “hear or listen to”) in faith is to submit freely to the word that has been heard, because its truth is guaranteed by God, who is Truth itself. The Virgin Mary is its most perfect embodiment. (144)

Faith is first of all a personal adherence of man to God. At the same time, and inseparably, it is a free assent to the whole truth that God has revealed. As personal adherence to God and assent to his truth, Christian faith differs from our faith in any human person. It is right and just to entrust oneself wholly to God and to believe absolutely what he says. It would be futile and false to place such faith in a creature. (150)

This construal of faith is well grounded in Holy Scripture—a fact not acknowledged by Sanders—and enjoys ample patristic support. But it lacks, at least explicitly, that one element that is dear to the evangelical heart—unconditional trust in God’s promises (though one might reasonably argue that trust is necessarily included in “personal adherence to God”). This does not mean, however, that trust is foreign to the Catholic. It only means that we must look elsewhere in the Catechism to find a discussion of it; namely, we must look under the locus of hope:

Hope is the theological virtue by which we desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness, placing our trust in Christ’s promises and relying not on our own strength, but on the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit. “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.” “The Holy Spirit … he poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that we might be justified by his grace and become heirs in hope of eternal life.”

The virtue of hope responds to the aspiration to happiness which God has placed in the heart of every man; it takes up the hopes that inspire men’s activities and purifies them so as to order them to the Kingdom of heaven; it keeps man from discouragement; it sustains him during times of abandonment; it opens up his heart in expectation of eternal beatitude. Buoyed up by hope, he is preserved from selfishness and led to the happiness that flows from charity.

Christian hope takes up and fulfills the hope of the chosen people which has its origin and model in the hope of Abraham, who was blessed abundantly by the promises of God fulfilled in Isaac, and who was purified by the test of the sacrifice. “Hoping against hope, he believed, and thus became the father of many nations.” (1817-1819)

Precisely because faith, as traditionally defined, does not include hope, and love, it cannot be said to be exclusively justifying (sola fide). “The devils also believe,” the Apostle James reminds us, “and tremble” (James 2:19). But at this point we are playing with words. It is easy enough for the Catholic to speak of faith as comprehending assent, repentance, trust, love, obedience, and hope—at which point it becomes identical to the “lively faith” of which the Anglican Homily on True and Lively Faith speaks.

If faith includes obedience, then this would seem to imply, says Sanders, that “a certain degree of achieved righteousness is necessary to be saved.” A few paragraphs later Sanders expands his thought: “Since faith is assent to saving truths followed by obedience, it follows that the soul must be obeying the right moral and doctrinal norms for this obedience to save.” From this he then infers the necessity of the Catholic dogma of infallibility.

Now I have never read a Catholic defense of ecclesial infallibility along these lines, but this does not mean that it hasn’t been done. My acquaintance with the literature is limited. However, from what I can tell, the Catechism does not deduce the necessity of infallibility from the salvific necessity of obedient works. I would not expect it to do so, because the Catholic Church does not teach the salvific necessity of obedience in quite the way that Sanders thinks she does.

Sanders is correct. Justification is an achieved righteousness: specifically, it is achieved by God in his supernatural transformation of the sinner (sanctifying grace). This is the meaning of the insistence of the Council of Trent that the formal cause of justification is the justice of God—”not that by which He Himself is just, but that by which He makes us just.” God’s love and forgiveness does not remain external to us but grasps us and makes us into new creatures in Christ. God alone justifies, and he accomplishes this justification through gratuitous, unmerited acts of love and mercy. But once justified, believers are summoned to cooperate with divine grace and obey God’s commandments. As mentioned above, Catholicism is synergistic: redeemed believers are given a Spirit-enabled freedom to love God and obey his will. There is therefore a sense in which one might say that a Christian is justified by his works, yet only in a limited sense. Like all human beings, Christians are historical beings. They live in the world. Each day they make countless moral decisions that issue in moral and immoral actions. These decisions form who they are, both in relation to God and their fellow human beings. Catholicism refuses to divorce the faith of the believer from his choices and actions in the world. There is no believing “I” who is not simultaneously embodying his faith or unfaith by his actions. “Show me your faith apart from your works,” writes St James, “and I will show you my faith by my works” (James 2:18). The Catholic Church therefore recognizes the moral seriousness of daily living. By our choices and actions, we are either growing toward God in love and faith, or we are growing away from God. As John Paul II has rightly asserted: “By his fundamental choice, man is capable of giving his life direction and of progressing, with the help of grace, towards his end, following God’s call. But this capacity is actually exercised in the particular choices of specific actions, through which man deliberately conforms himself to God’s will, wisdom and law.” And it is possible, terribly, terribly possible, for the believer to separate himself from the love of God and lose his justification. He may do this both by apostasy but also by committing serious sin with the full and free engagement of the will. There is sin, the Apostle John tells us, that is mortal (1 John 5:16-17): it leads to death because it destroys the charity that God has placed in our hearts. It might also be noted that this distinction between mortal and venial sin is known to all Anglicans who have been catechized in the catholic wing of Anglicanism.

I can well understand why evangelical Anglicans, particularly at this time of ecclesial crisis, would seek to deter their fellow Anglicans from converting to the Catholic Church by identifying crucial, church-dividing differences in doctrine and practice. But surely this must be responsibly executed. A real and sympathetic attempt must be made to understand the Catholic Faith. A quick read-through of the Catholic Catechism is hardly sufficient. I have been immersed in Catholic theology for the past three years, and I am just starting to get the feel of the Catholic understanding of grace and justification. Evangelical theologians need to do a better job at understanding the Catholic Faith before they attempt to critique it.


Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Bishop N.T. Wright's Christmas Sermon 2006

Full of Grace and Truth

If I asked you where in John’s Gospel you would find a wedding scene, several of you would know the answer at once. Don’t worry; I am not going to use the excuse that this is Christmas Day to turn this august congregation into a glorified Sunday School, though actually Christmas Day of all days is a great time to celebrate childlikeness and some of you may perhaps have been enjoying doing so already. But the obvious wedding in St John is of course in chapter 2, the wedding at Cana in Galilee, where Jesus changes the water into wine. But I want to suggest to you this morning, as a matter of considerable importance for understanding our Christian pilgrimage and mission, that there is a wedding of equal if not greater significance in the famous passage we just heard, the extraordinary Prologue to John’s Gospel.

John’s Prologue, as again many of you will know, is like the great doorway to a great building. These eighteen verses, so apparently simple yet, like their primary Old Testament background in Genesis 1, so utterly profound, introduce us to the subject-matter of the whole gospel. For many generations and in many traditions they have been read as the Christmas morning gospel, because of their central and earth-shattering announcement: And the Word became Flesh and dwelt among us. That is the mystery which lies at the heart of Christian faith and life, mission and ministry, the mystery at which the other two great monotheistic faiths, Judaism and Islam, completely balk: that the one true and living God should pour out his very self into created flesh, that the playwright should come on stage and take the leading part because nobody else can play it. And that God-in-human-flesh theme isn’t a flash in the pan, a one-off experiment which, having riskily been tried in Jesus himself, God quickly gave up. Part of the whole point of John’s Gospel is that when the Word made Flesh accomplishes his work of glory, love and passion, he pours out his own Spirit on his followers so that they, too, can become Words-become-Flesh. This, too, is stressed in the Prologue: as many as received him, to them he gave the right to become God’s children, born not in the normal way but with a new birth from God. We can watch it happening immediately after the resurrection, when Jesus tells Mary Magdalene to tell the eleven ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father.’ Christmas, in other words, isn’t supposed to be just a truth about Jesus. It’s supposed to be, in utter dependence on Jesus, a truth about us. Christmas isn’t a spectator sport. It’s an invitation. And, yes, it’s a wedding invitation.

So where is the wedding in John’s prologue? Back to Sunday School again, this time with a guess-the-text puzzle. I said that Genesis 1 was the primary Old Testament background for John’s prologue; but what are the other major Old Testament passages that John is echoing? Hands go up in this imaginary classroom: yes, Proverbs 8, God’s wisdom through which the world was created – very good; Isaiah 55, with the Word like rain and snow coming down from above and accomplishing God’s work through the ministry of the Servant: yes, excellent; Ben-Sirach 24 – well, yes, not exactly the Old Testament but very important. But what about Psalm 85?

Think about it with John in mind. ‘Grace and Truth are met together; justice and peace have kissed each other. Truth springs up from the ground; and justice looks down from heaven.’ And suddenly that little phrase in John’s prologue, ‘grace and truth’, so easy to say that it just slips down almost unnoticed, like the second glass of ginger wine, stands out in three dimensions and demands that we pay attention to it. My friends, Christmas is in one sense all about a birth, but in another sense it is about a wedding: the marriage of grace and truth, which is in fact the marriage of heaven and earth. The word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, glory as of the Father’s only son, full of grace and truth. From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace; for the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. When John repeats something in this way, he wants us to pay it close attention.

It’s all too easy, reading a phrase like ‘grace and truth’, to suppose that these abstract nouns denote two of the many miscellaneous good things which are given to us in Jesus Christ, along (that is) with justice, peace, salvation, wisdom and a host of others. And in a sense that’s true. But with Psalm 85 in the background – and I’ll say more about that in a moment – a new possibility opens up, which means that among the mysterious envelopes under the Christmas tree we discover an invitation to this wedding.

Psalm 85 is a prayer for restoration, for forgiveness, for the mercy and grace of God to break through the long dark night of Israel’s exile and bring about that new life for which God’s people ached. It is, in other words, an Advent psalm; and we who have prayed our way through Advent these last four weeks ought to know something of its longing and hope. But then, as the poem turns its corner into the second half – it’s not long, it’s like a sonnet, you could sit down and read it in two or three minutes, though you’d better take a bit longer to get the best out of it – the Psalmist has a moment of vision, and this is what he sees. First, he sees that God will speak a fresh word, a word of peace to his people, to those who have faith. Second, he sees that God’s glory will come once more to dwell in the land – in other words, that the Temple will be restored, and the tabernacling presence of the living God will come to live there in full majesty. And, thirdly, he sees that when this happens it will be like a cosmic wedding, with heaven and earth coming together in a rich and fruitful embrace: grace and truth will meet at last, justice and peace will kiss each other; truth will spring up from the earth, and justice look down from heaven. Psalm 85 is, in other words, a Christmas poem: Advent is over, God’s fresh Word is spoken, breathed out, received by those who have faith deep in their hearts, and God’s glory, his tabernacling presence, has come to live in our midst. The word became flesh, and dwelt – the word means, ‘pitched his tent’, or ‘tabernacled’ – amongst us, and we gazed upon his glory. And in this glory we find the coming together of heaven and earth, of grace and truth.

So what does it mean that grace and truth come together in this way? Both are gifts of God, yet in this Psalm grace is the fresh love of God coming from beyond our world, and truth is the plant which springs up, strong and tall and resilient, from within our world. As I said, the phrase suddenly becomes three-dimensional. Something is happening before our very eyes, as we gaze upon the baby in the manger, the Word made Flesh, and reflect on what it all means. God’s gift of his own very self isn’t, as people so often imagine, a kind of alien invasion, an intrusion from outside. It is of course a matter of grace, of (that is) totally undeserved mercy, the free gift of an uncaused and overflowing love – and if you want to see what free and overflowing love looks like and feels like, and which of us doesn’t, then read the rest of John’s gospel and marvel at Jesus loving his own who were in the world and loving them to the uttermost. But this free grace, coming to us from beyond the world, is precisely coming from the one who created the world in the first place and made it to be a place of truth, of solid reality – the reality about which T. S. Eliot commented sadly that humans can’t bear too much of it – so that when grace happens, truth happens. And in the baby in the manger we see them both happening; we see them both married for ever. In the Word made Flesh we gaze upon the glory not just of the living God, coming to us in utter love in the person of this tiny baby, but of God’s design for his whole world. As St Paul put it, God’s plan from the beginning was to unite, in Christ, all things, things in heaven and things on earth. And part of the point of Christmas is that this marriage of heaven and earth, of grace and truth, has now begun and isn’t going to stop until it’s complete. Welcome to the wedding.

I hope you don’t find this all too abstract. That’s always a danger with heavyweight theological terms like ‘grace’ and ‘truth’, and part of the point of John’s gospel is of course that words become flesh and that you can see what they mean because look – there they are, walking around. And we desperately need them to be walking around right now, in the world and in the church. Let me sum it up like this: our world has tried for far too long to get truth without grace; and the church has been in danger for a long time of offering grace without truth. Only when we put them together can we find the way out of the darkness and into the true Christmas light.

Because it really is dark out there, and alas sometimes in here too. The great revolution of thought which happened in Europe over three centuries ago, associated with Descartes in particular, was the attempt to grasp truth as it were from scratch: by doubting everything, we would see what we could be sure of and build out from there. We would know the facts, and the facts would set us free – free from God, free from any responsibility except to our own self-interest. There’s a straight line from Descartes to Dawkins: we can doubt God, but we can’t doubt the facts, the empirical evidence. And the results of that arrogant attempt to possess truth are all around us, etched in the horrors of the twentieth century and now already the multiple follies of the twenty-first, as we in the West blunder blindly on, believing firmly that because we know the facts and have the technology we can do what we like with other people’s countries, other people’s stem cells, other people’s crops, other people’s money, other people’s lives. And meanwhile the worm in the apple has hollowed it out more or less completely: the ‘truth’ which we thought we knew has been eaten away not just in theology and philosophy but in its heartland of physics, by Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, and in its deeper heartland of the human being, where Descartes began. We have become a society paranoid about truth: so we make each other fill in more and more forms, and set up more cameras to spy on each other, to check up on one another because we want the truth, we want an audit trail, we want more and more Enquiries and Judicial Reviews and Investigations, but we can’t get at truth because Descartes’ experiment has itself made it impossible, has generated a world of suspicion and smear and spin. The project of truth without grace has become one of facts without trust, and has finally run into the buffers in the smashed cities of Iraq, in the Snooping and Sniggering Society, in the tail-eating philosophies of postmodern deconstruction. That is the darkness where we have waited for too long in Advent hope, waited for a fresh word, a living Word, the tabernacling of glory in our midst, and for truth to be called forth to its long-awaited marriage with grace. Only when we receive this world as a gift from the creator can we understand truth; only when we see one another as bearing his image can we relearn trust. My friends, Christmas sets us a cultural and political agenda which we must pray will enable us to shine a bright, searching light into the world where ignorant armies still clash by night.

But if the world has tried to have truth without grace, the church has often been tempted towards grace without truth – as Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it, ‘cheap grace’. God has become a benevolent old softie, ready to tolerate everything, to include everyone, to throw away all those unpleasant old moral standards and say it’s all right, do your own thing, if it feels good it must be OK. And once again the results are all around – both in the anti-moralism of the arch-liberals and the anti-authoritarianism of today’s new conservatives, who don’t realise that they are simply producing an ecclesiological parody of the do-it-yourself morality they so detest. But no: grace and truth must meet together; if it really is grace, it really must produce truth, a rich, deep personal, moral and ecclesial integrity which is deeply true to the created order and to its recreation in Christ, to the deep structures of God’s wise and loving ordering of his world and of us human beings. Cheap grace – assuming, in whichever direction, that God is on your side because your agenda seems to urgent, so obviously right, and not troubling to ask the hard questions – is to genuine grace as ‘facts’ are to ‘truth’: a late modern parody to be named and shamed and rejected in the name of the Christmas message, of the grace and truth which we find in the baby in the manger.

But if that larger, global picture gives a brief indication of why John’s repeated ‘grace and truth’ matters, and matters urgently, in the wider world and church, we cannot of course ignore its message for our own lives. One of the great truths of spirituality is that you become like what you worship. We beheld his glory, says John: we gazed at it, long and lovingly, with adoration and worship, so that the marriage of grace and truth which we see and know in the Christ-child can be born in us as well, so that we can be people, we can become communities, in whom God’s grace generates and sustains a human integrity, a wholeness and holiness of character. And the definition of mission – mission to which we as a Diocese have firmly commited ourselves as a priority – can be restated in exactly the same terms: we are to become people in and through whom God’s grace overflows to the world around, producing a new integrity, a new truth and truthfulness, at every level from politics to university study to sexual morality to ecology (where the image of grace from above producing fruitfulness below is especially poignant), and reaching out into human hearts and lives and imaginations with the news that there is such a thing as truth, because there is such a thing as grace, because there is such a person as Jesus, and because in him we see and know God’s living word made living flesh and are summoned to become living words in living flesh ourselves. Grace and truth have met together; justice and peace have kissed each other; truth springs up from the earth, and justice looks down from heaven. From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace; for the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. Come to him today, taste his grace and truth in bread and wine, and become yourselves wedding guests, feasting at the marriage of heaven and earth.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Remembering Tsunami 2004

Today is Boxing Day in the UK and it is another day of fun and celebration as we continue to celebrate the birth of the LORD Jesus, King of the world! At the same time, it is a dark reminder of the tsunami two years ago that killed so many people. Let us not forget those who died and those who lost loved ones in that tragic event. May God be with all of those who suffer this day in remembrance of those lost to the power of the earth!

Does the World Still Need a Saviour? Pope Benedict XVI

Christmas Day address Benedict XVI delivered at midday from the central loggia of St. Peter's Basilica.

Salvator noster natus est in mundo" (Roman Missal)

"Our Saviour is born to the world!" During the night, in our Churches, we again heard this message that, notwithstanding the passage of the centuries, remains ever new. It is the heavenly message that tells us to fear not, for "a great joy" has come "to all the people" (Lk 1:10). It is a message of hope, for it tells us that, on that night over two thousand years ago, there "was born in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord" (Lk 2:11). The Angel of Christmas announced it then to the shepherds out on the hills of Bethlehem; today the Angel repeats it to us, to all who dwell in our world: "The Saviour is born; he is born for you! Come, come, let us adore him!".

But does a "Saviour" still have any value and meaning for the men and women of the third millennium? Is a "Saviour" still needed by a humanity which has reached the moon and Mars and is prepared to conquer the universe; for a humanity which knows no limits in its pursuit of nature's secrets and which has succeeded even in deciphering the marvellous codes of the human genome? Is a Saviour needed by a humanity which has invented interactive communication, which navigates in the virtual ocean of the internet and, thanks to the most advanced modern communications technologies, has now made the Earth, our great common home, a global village? This humanity of the twenty-first century appears as a sure and self-sufficient master of its own destiny, the avid proponent of uncontested triumphs.

So it would seem, yet this is not the case. People continue to die of hunger and thirst, disease and poverty, in this age of plenty and of unbridled consumerism. Some people remain enslaved, exploited and stripped of their dignity; others are victims of racial and religious hatred, hampered by intolerance and discrimination, and by political interference and physical or moral coercion with regard to the free profession of their faith. Others see their own bodies and those of their dear ones, particularly their children, maimed by weaponry, by terrorism and by all sorts of violence, at a time when everyone invokes and acclaims progress, solidarity and peace for all. And what of those who, bereft of hope, are forced to leave their homes and countries in order to find humane living conditions elsewhere? How can we help those who are misled by facile prophets of happiness, those who struggle with relationships and are incapable of accepting responsibility for their present and future, those who are trapped in the tunnel of loneliness and who often end up enslaved to alcohol or drugs? What are we to think of those who choose death in the belief that they are celebrating life?

How can we not hear, from the very depths of this humanity, at once joyful and anguished, a heart-rending cry for help? It is Christmas: today "the true light that enlightens every man" (Jn 1:9) came into the world. "The word became flesh and dwelt among us" (Jn 1:14), proclaims the Evangelist John. Today, this very day, Christ comes once more "unto his own", and to those who receive him he gives "the power to become children of God"; in a word, he offers them the opportunity to see God's glory and to share the joy of that Love which became incarnate for us in Bethlehem. Today "our Saviour is born to the world", for he knows that even today we need him. Despite humanity's many advances, man has always been the same: a freedom poised between good and evil, between life and death. It is there, in the very depths of his being, in what the Bible calls his "heart", that man always needs to be "saved". And, in this post-modern age, perhaps he needs a Saviour all the more, since the society in which he lives has become more complex and the threats to his personal and moral integrity have become more insidious. Who can defend him, if not the One who loves him to the point of sacrificing on the Cross his only-begotten Son as the Saviour of the world?

"Salvator noster": Christ is also the Saviour of men and women today. Who will make this message of hope resound, in a credible way, in every corner of the earth? Who will work to ensure the recognition, protection and promotion of the integral good of the human person as the condition for peace, respecting each man and every woman and their proper dignity? Who will help us to realize that with good will, reasonableness and moderation it is possible to avoid aggravating conflicts and instead to find fair solutions? With deep apprehension I think, on this festive day, of the Middle East, marked by so many grave crises and conflicts, and I express my hope that the way will be opened to a just and lasting peace, with respect for the inalienable rights of the peoples living there. I place in the hands of the divine Child of Bethlehem the indications of a resumption of dialogue between the Israelis and Palestinians, which we have witnessed in recent days, and the hope of further encouraging developments. I am confident that, after so many victims, destruction and uncertainty, a democratic Lebanon, open to others and in dialogue with different cultures and religions, will survive and progress. I appeal to all those who hold in their hands the fate of Iraq, that there will be an end to the brutal violence that has brought so much bloodshed to the country, and that every one of its inhabitants will be safe to lead a normal life. I pray to God that in Sri Lanka the parties in conflict will heed the desire of the people for a future of brotherhood and solidarity; that in Darfur and throughout Africa there will be an end to fratricidal conflicts, that the open wounds in that continent will quickly heal and that the steps being made towards reconciliation, democracy and development will be consolidated. May the Divine Child, the Prince of Peace, grant an end to the outbreaks of tension that make uncertain the future of other parts of the world, in Europe and in Latin America.

"Salvator noster": this is our hope; this is the message that the Church proclaims once again this Christmas day. With the Incarnation, as the Second Vatican Council stated, the Son of God has in some way united himself with each man and women (cf. "Gaudium et Spes," 22). The birth of the Head is also the birth of the body, as Pope Saint Leo the Great noted. In Bethlehem the Christian people was born, Christ's mystical body, in which each member is closely joined to the others in total solidarity. Our Saviour is born for all. We must proclaim this not only in words, but by our entire life, giving the world a witness of united, open communities where fraternity and forgiveness reign, along with acceptance and mutual service, truth, justice and love.

A community saved by Christ. This is the true nature of the Church, which draws her nourishment from his Word and his Eucharistic Body. Only by rediscovering the gift she has received can the Church bear witness to Christ the Saviour before all people. She does this with passionate enthusiasm, with full respect for all cultural and religious traditions; she does so joyfully, knowing that the One she proclaims takes away nothing that is authentically human, but instead brings it to fulfilment. In truth, Christ comes to destroy only evil, only sin; everything else, all the rest, he elevates and perfects. Christ does not save us from our humanity, but through it; he does not save us from the world, but came into the world, so that through him the world might be saved (cf. Jn 3:17).

Dear brothers and sisters, wherever you may be, may this message of joy and hope reach your ears: God became man in Jesus Christ, he was born of the Virgin Mary and today he is reborn in the Church. He brings to all the love of the Father in heaven. He is the Saviour of the world! Do not be afraid, open your hearts to him and receive him, so that his Kingdom of love and peace may become the common legacy of each man and woman. Happy Christmas!

[Translation of the Italian original distributed by the Holy See]

© Copyright 2006 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana

Monday, December 25, 2006

Pope Benedict XVI Christmas Homily

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Dear Brothers and Sisters,

We have just heard in the Gospel the message given by the angels to the shepherds during that Holy Night, a message which the Church now proclaims to us: "To you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger" (Lk 2:11-12). Nothing miraculous, nothing extraordinary, nothing magnificent is given to the shepherds as a sign. All they will see is a child wrapped in swaddling clothes, one who, like all children, needs a mother’s care; a child born in a stable, who therefore lies not in a cradle but in a manger. God ’s sign is the baby in need of help and in poverty. Only in their hearts will the shepherds be able to see that this baby fulfils the promise of the prophet Isaiah, which we heard in the first reading: "For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government will be upon his shoulder" (Is 9:5). Exactly the same sign has been given to us. We too are invited by the angel of God, through the message of the Gospel, to set out in our hearts to see the child lying in the manger.

God’s sign is simplicity. God’s sign is the baby. God’s sign is that he makes himself small for us. This is how he reigns. He does not come with power and outward splendour. He comes as a baby – defenceless and in need of our help. He does not want to overwhelm us with his strength. He takes away our fear of his greatness. He asks for our love: so he makes himself a child. He wants nothing other from us than our love, through which we spontaneously learn to enter into his feelings, his thoughts and his will – we learn to live with him and to practise with him that humility of renunciation that belongs to the very essence of love. God made himself small so that we could understand him, welcome him, and love him. The Fathers of the Church, in their Greek translation of the Old Testament, found a passage from the prophet Isaiah that Paul also quotes in order to show how God’s new ways had already been foretold in the Old Testament. There we read: "God made his Word short, he abbreviated it" (Is 10:23; Rom 9:28). The Fathers interpreted this in two ways. The Son himself is the Word, the Logos; the eternal Word became small – small enough to fit into a manger. He became a child, so that the Word could be grasped by us. In this way God teaches us to love the little ones. In this way he teaches us to love the weak. In this way he teaches us respect for children. The child of Bethlehem directs our gaze towards all children who suffer and are abused in the world, the born and the unborn. Towards children who are placed as soldiers in a violent world; towards children who have to beg; towards children who suffer deprivation and hunger; towards children who are unloved. In all of these it is the Child of Bethlehem who is crying out to us; it is the God who has become small who appeals to us. Let us pray this night that the brightness of God’s love may enfold all these children. Let us ask God to help us do our part so that the dignity of children may be respected. May they all experience the light of l ove, which mankind needs so much more than the material necessities of life.

And so we come to the second meaning that the Fathers saw in the phrase: "God made his Word short". The Word which God speaks to us in Sacred Scripture had become long in the course of the centuries. It became long and complex, not just for the simple and unlettered, but even more so for those versed in Sacred Scripture, for the experts who evidently became entangled in details and in particular problems, almost to the extent of losing an overall perspective. Jesus "abbreviated" the Word – he showed us once more its deeper simplicity and unity. Everything taught by the Law and the Prophets is summed up – he says – in the command: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind… You shall love your neighbour as yourself" (Mt 22:37-40). This is everything – the whole faith is contained in this one act of love which embraces God and humanity. Yet now further questions arise: how are we to love God with all our mind, when our intellect can barely reach him? How are we to love him with all our heart and soul, when our heart can only catch a glimpse of him from afar, when there are so many contradictions in the world that would hide his face from us? This is where the two ways in which God has "abbreviated" his Word come together. He is no longer distant. He is no longer unknown. He is no longer beyond the reach of our heart. He has become a child for us, and in so doing he has dispelled all doubt. He has become our neighbour, restoring in this way the image of man, whom we often find so hard to love. For us, God has become a gift. He has given himself. He has entered time for us. He who is the Eternal One, above time, he has assumed our time and raised it to himself on high. Christmas has become the Feast of gifts in imitation of God who has given himself to us. Let us allow our heart, our soul and our mind to be touched by this fact! Among the many gifts that we buy and receive, let us not forget the true gift: to give each other something of ourselves, to give each other something of our time, to open our time to God. In this way anxiety disappears, joy is born, and the feast is created. During the festive meals of these days let us remember the Lord’s words: "When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite those who will invite you in return, but invite those whom no one invites and who are not able to invite you" (cf. Lk 14:12-14). This also means: when you give gifts for Christmas, do not give only to those who will give to you in return, but give to those who receive from no one and who cannot give you anything back. This is what God has done: he invites us to his wedding feast, something which we cannot reciprocate, but can only receive with joy. Let us imitate him! Let us love God and, starting from him, let us also love man, so that, starting from man, we can then rediscover God in a new way!

And so, finally, we find yet a third meaning in the saying that the Word became "brief" and "small". The shepherds were told that they would find the child in a manger for animals, who were the rightful occupants of the stable. Reading Isaiah (1:3), the Fathers concluded that beside the manger of Bethlehem there stood an ox and an ass. At the same time they interpreted the text as symbolizing the Jews and the pagans – and thus all humanity – who each in their own way have need of a Saviour: the God who became a child. Man, in order to live, needs bread, the fruit of the earth and of his labour. But he does not live by bread alone. He needs nourishment for his soul: he needs meaning that can fill his life. Thus, for the Fathers, the manger of the animals became the symbol of the altar, on which lies the Bread which is Christ himself: the true food for our hearts. Once again we see how he became small: in the humble appearance of the host, in a small piece of bread, he gives us himself.

All this is conveyed by the sign that was given to the shepherds and is given also to us: the child born for us, the child in whom God became small for us. Let us ask the Lord to grant us the grace of looking upon the crib this night with the simplicity of the shepherds, so as to receive the joy with which they returned home (cf. Lk 2:20). Let us ask him to give us the humility and the faith with which Saint Joseph looked upon the child that Mary had conceived by the Holy Spirit. Let us ask the Lord to let us look upon him with that same love with which Mary saw him. And let us pray that in this way the light that the shepherds saw will shine upon us too, and that what the angels sang that night will be accomplished throughout the world: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased." Amen!

Saturday, December 23, 2006

A Very Happy Christmas to All!

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Dear friends and faithful readers:

Thank you for faithfully visiting this blog and providing great comments to help make this blog what it is. I do hope and pray that this blog is a service of faith-enrichment and spiritual growth in the grace and love of the Incarnate Lord. Below I am providing a brief message of the Incarnation from St. Hippolytus. What this Saint writes IS the Catholic Faith once delivered to the saints to be passed on until the Lord Jesus returns in His glory. Let all the world know that Jesus is LORD and there is no other! May the message of His hope be preached in every church this year and bring about a renewal of faith, hope, and love lived out by the Church--the bride for whom He conquered death by being raised on third day and seated at the right hand of the Father as LORD of this world and the one to come.

May all of you have a very Happy Christmas and a Blessed New Year!

There is only one God, brethren, and we learn about him only from sacred Scripture. It is therefore our duty to become acquainted with what Scripture proclaims and to investigate its teachings thoroughly. We should believe them in the sense that the Father wills, thinking of the Son in the way the Father wills, and accepting the teaching he wills to give us with regard to the Holy Spirit. Sacred Scripture is God’s gift to us and it should be understood in the way that he intends: we should not do violence to it by interpreting it according to our own preconceived ideas.

God was all alone and nothing existed but himself when he determined to create the world. He thought of it, willed it, spoke the word and so made it. It came into being instantaneously, exactly as he had willed. It is enough then for us to be aware of a single fact: nothing is coeternal with God. Apart from God there was simply nothing else. Yet although he was alone, he was manifold because he lacked neither reason, wisdom, power nor counsel. All things were in him and he himself was all. At a moment of his own choosing and in a manner determined by himself, God manifested his Word, and through him he made the whole universe.

When the Word was hidden within God himself he was invisible to the created world, but God made him visible. First God gave utterance to his voice, engendering light from light, and then he sent his own mind into the world as its Lord. Visible before to God alone and not to the world, God make him visible so that the world could be saved by seeing him. This mind that entered our world was made known as the Son of God. All things came into being through him; but he alone is begotten by the Father. The Son gave us the law and the prophets, and he filled the prophets with the Holy Spirit to compel them to speak out. Inspired by the Father’s power, they were to proclaim the Father’s purpose and his will.

So the Word was made manifest, as Saint John declares when, summing up all the sayings of the prophets, he announces that this is the Word through whom the whole universe was made. He says: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. Through him all things came into being; not one thing was created without him. And further on he adds: The world was made through him, and yet the world did not know him. He entered his own creation, and his own did not receive him.

War In Middle East: Bishop Tom Wright and ABC Rowan Williams

A report on Fox News (an American news agency) has written a story saying that the Archbishop of Canterbury has strongly condemned the US and GB policy on the war in Iraq. What do you think about what they are quoted as saying? Read it all here. There are a host of articles on the situation in Bethlehem at Thinking Anglicans where you can read the stories of the Church leaders here in GB as they visited the Holy Land and the birth place of Christ our Saviour.

"The results are now painfully adding to what was already a difficult situation for Christian communities across the region,” he says. “The first Christian believers were Middle Easterners. It’s a very sobering thought that we might live to see the last native Christian believers in the region.” In some Middle Eastern countries where Muslim-Christian relations have always been good, he says that extremist attacks on Christians are becoming “notably more frequent.”

Dr Williams, who is visiting Israel with Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, Archbishop of Westminster, Bishop Nathan Hovhannisian, the Armenian Primate of Britain and David Coffey, the head of the Baptist World Alliance, returns to Britain today with a call for all British churches to take action to raise the profile of Christians in the Middle East. Dr Williams said yesterday that the Israeli-built wall around Bethlehem symbolised what was “deeply wrong in the human heart”.

Despite Dr. Williams’s attack on British policy in Iraq, the government insists that the strategy in southern Iraq, where about 7,000 troops are based, is bearing fruit.

Des Browne, the Defense Secretary, told The Times in an interview this week: “There is no evidence that the strategy is not still on course.” He said that Operation Sinbad, under which troops and reconstruction teams are devoting resources to improving Basra, was the key to Britain’s strategy.

The Government hopes that next year British troops will be able to adopt a “watching role”, leaving the trained Iraqi security forces to take over responsibility for Basra. “I think it’s highly unlikely that we will need the same number of troops to watch over the Iraqis as we have there at present,” Mr. Browne said.

He insisted that the environment in Basra was “genuinely improving”. In October, General Sir Richard Dannatt, the head of the Army, gave warning in a newspaper interview that if the British troops stayed for too long they would risk exacerbating the situation.

Senior bishops threw their weight behind Dr. Williams. Dr. Tom Wright, the Bishop of Durham, said: “Nobody takes any notice of what churchmen say about these things. Now this has turned into a very sorrowful ‘I told you so’.”

Dr Wright, who is one of the Church’s top five clerics, said: “We have argued all along that what was being done in our name by our government, led by America, would have disastrous consequences.

“The 64-and-a-half thousand dollar question is, what do we do now? We have made a problematic situation far worse. Even if there were changes of government in America and Britain, they will still have to cope with the chaos that has been unleashed.”

He called for the U.N. resources in the region to be strengthened. “Long term, that is what we must do because it is ridiculous for any one, two or three countries to pretend they can be global policemen in other people’s parts of the world. We desperately need a credible international police force.”

“As long as it is America and Britain doing the policing, local people will see it as Christian nations coming in and beating up Muslim nations, so it merely makes matters worse.” He said that the ensuing chaos could lead to a situation that was “worse than Saddam”.

The Bishop of Chelmsford, the Right Rev John Gladwin, said: “I am fully aware of the appalling situation in which many Christians in the Middle East now find themselves and would wish to give my whole-hearted support to the Archbishop.”

The Bishop of Liverpool, the Right Rev James Jones, said: “The Archbishop has done much to deepen friendship between Christians, Muslims and Jews in this country. We must pray that this friendship spreads.

“We face two further possibilities: either a conflict of attrition between the faiths or a settlement of peaceful coexistence. We must hope that Christians will find the same just treatment in the Middle East as Muslims have a right to expect in this country.”

Friday, December 22, 2006

Something to Think About

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It is no secret that I just love to read everything by G.K. Chesterton. Looking around the Church and all the problems we are presently facing, I thought I should post a sentence by Chesterton that should cause us to think a bit about freedom and how we use it. A wise lesson to be put into practice comes from Chesterton who said,
I do not believe in a fate that falls on man however they act; but I do believe in a fate that falls on them unless they act.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Catholic Seminar During Epiphany Term at Durham University

I really enjoy the Catholic Seminar at Durham University. The Epiphany term forthcoming promises to be full of great topics and good discussion. The events are as following:

Advance Notice of the 2007 Epiphany Term Meetings of

The Durham Catholic Theology Research Seminar

Thursday 18th January 2007

Professor Neil Ormerod

Director of the Institute of Theology, Philosophy and Religious Education

Australian Catholic University, Strathfield, NSW.

“What Does it Mean to Think of Church Order

as Divinely Instituted?”

Venue: The Presbytery, St Cuthbert’s RC Church, Old Elvet, Durham

Thursday 15th February 2007

Rev. Dr. Peter McGrail

Senior Lecturer in Catholic Studies, Liverpool Hope University

“Ritual, Institution, Identity: First Communion

Under an Ethnographic Lens”

Venue: TBC

Thursday 15th March 2007

Rev. Chris Hughes

Lecturer in Pastoral Theology, Ushaw College, Durham

“Can We Talk of a Catholic Practical Theology?”

Venue: TBC

Fr. Al Kimel On Judgment

The below article is taken from Fr. Al Kimel's site with permission and I have placed it here for any discussion of it.


“When the Lord returns, what will he be looking for, what will he expect, what will he do?” So asks Dwight over at Versus Populum. This is the key question, is it not? When Jesus returns in glory to judge the quick and the dead, how will he judge us?

Dwight is dissatisfied with the typical, though not universal, Lutheran answer, which he formulates as follows:

If you simply allow Jesus to love you, it doesn’t matter what you’ve done, who you are, why you have lived the way you have. As long as you don’t put up a big “no” to him, he will usher you into his Father’s kingdom….

Dwight sardonically comments, “All that matters, apparently, is day by day reassuring myself of my personal salvation by repeating the mantra, ‘I am saved by God’s gracious loving act.’” Dwight, of course, knows full well that that any good Lutheran preacher or theologians would object to the caricature, and rightly so—yet who hasn’t heard this construal of grace promoted from the pulpit, whether it be Lutheran, Presbyterian, Episcopalian, or evangelical? I know that I more than frequently preached this message during my twenty-five years as an Episcopal priest: Final salvation is a free gift. Christ has borne God’s judgment against sin on the cross. We are justified by faith, not by works. All we need do, can do, is trust in the One who has fulfilled the law, including the law of faith, for us and in us.

My heart resonates with this message as much today as twenty-five years ago. Precisely because I am a spiritual and moral failure, I have clung to the (Lutheran) gospel of unconditional grace and have taught it to my parishioners as gospel, the gospel, without qualification or reservation. I learned this gospel well through the writings of Thomas Torrance and Robert Jenson. And so I preached and taught.

Yet periodically a text would show up in the Episcopal lectionary that seemed to say something different. My Protestant commentataries would always provide an exegetical “solution” to these difficult texts and thus allow me to continue to believe and preach my gospel of unconditional grace; but given that the “plain meaning” of these difficult texts seemed to contradict my gospel, I invariably chose to preach on something else. Thank goodness there are always three lessons from which to choose each Sunday! And thanks to the miracle of the lectionary cycle, the most difficult text of all, Jesus’ parable of the last judgment (Matt 25:31-46), only appears once every three years. Occasionally a parishioner would cite precisely this parable and ask me how it can be reconciled with my claim that we are judged by faith alone. At such moments I would immediately retreat to the Apostle Paul and insist that the parable does not mean what it seems to mean.

But what if a retreat to Paul is impossible? What if even the Apostle of grace teaches final judgment by works? This is the thesis of Chris VanLandingham’s new book, Judgment and Justification in Early Judaism and the Apostle Paul.

VanLandingham asks us to put aside our confessional spectacles and to take seriously the plain meaning of St Paul’s teaching about the final judgment. When we do so, he argues, we will discover that Paul believed, just as his Jewish contemporaries believed, that “an individual’s behavior during his or her lifetime provides the criterion for this judgment: good behavior is rewarded with eternal life, bad behavior with damnation” (p. 13). Paul may have differed with his fellow Jews on precisely which deeds where proscribed, permitted, or required; but he remained thoroughly Jewish in his conviction that the final judgment was based on deeds: “For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified” (Rom 2:13). VanLandingham therefore denies that the justification that occurs at the beginning of Christian existence is properly understood as a proleptic experience of the final judgment—God’s eschatological judgment let loose in history, as one of my professors liked to put it. Paul, VanLandingham insists, consistently distinguishes between the two justifications.

But what about all the scholarship that maintains that in Paul the dikai- words necessarily convey a forensic and eschatological sense? It’s wrong, VanLandingham bluntly asserts, just flat wrong:

I contend that even if on occasion dikai- terms are forensic, in Paul at least, the terms do not refer to the Last Judgment. Paul does not, in fact, use the dikai- terms (conjunction with “faith”) in reference to the Last Judgment, that is, the judgment that determines one’s eternal destiny. The issue does not need to be whether the terms (in conjunction with “faith”) are forensic, but whether they refer specifically to the Last Judgment. Paul’s use of the dikai- terms (in conjunction with “faith”), however, does not evoke any judgment or divine determination, and if any divine determination, then certainly not the Last Judgment. … The dikai- terms in Paul do not refer to an acquittal at the Last Judgment. Rather, Paul employs the dikai- terms, as they describe the initial effects of the Christ event for believers, to embrace both the notions of (1) forgiveness, cleansing, and purification of past sins and (2) an emancipation from sin as a ruler over humanity. As such, the dikai- terms are qualitative since they describe the believer’s state of being. The various dikai-terms all refer to the same quality or effect of Jesus’ death upon the believer. Other than their grammatical distinctions, therefore, the best rendering of dikaiosunê is “righteousness,” of dikaios, “righteous,” and of dikaioô, “make righteous.” This sense of the verb, though largely disputed, signifies the transferral from the state of unrighteousness and sin to the state of righteousness, and in regard to sin as a ruler, from bondage to emancipation. Both context and verbal tenses dictate that the verb typically denotes the beginning of the believer’s new life, not the event of the Last Judgment. The usual translation “to justify,” which indicates the notion of acquittal at the Last Judgment, is most difficult to reconcile in several places: 1 Cor 6:11; Gal 2:17; Rom 3:24-25; and Rom 6:7. … Paul never says the dikai- terms, as he uses them with regard to Jesus’ death, refer to the Last Judgment. Only rarely does he associate them with the Last Judgment, but even then nothing demands that they refer only to a status in relation to the court. To the contrary, on these occasions they just as easily could, and, in fact, do refer to character and state of being—they bring out publicly only what one really is. This sense is verified outside of Paul when the dikai- terms are used in association with the Last Judgment (Matt 12:34-37; 25:37, 46; 2 Tim 4:8; 1 Peter 4:17-18; 2 Bar. 24:1-2; 51:1, 3). (pp. 245, 331)

I am particularly intrigued by VanLandingham’s analysis of dikaioô. He notes that the word is used in a variety of senses in classical Greek, Jewish, and Christian literature. He does not deny that the word sometimes conveys a forensic sense, but he does assert that it “does not usually mean ‘to acquit’” (p. 256). On five occasions dikaioô clearly means “to make righteous” (Ps 72:13; Luke 18:14; Jas 2:21, 24, 25). In the absence of compelling contrary evidence, says VanLandingham, we should assume continuity between Paul and popular usage. This Protestant exegete, in other words, thus finds himself in basic agreement with St Jerome and the Vulgate.

I do not think I am exaggerating when I say that if VanLandingham’s exegesis of the Apostle Paul stands up against critical scrutiny, it will initiate a revolution in Pauline studies. Given my lack of competence in Greek and New Testament studies, I am unable to offer any judgment on the matters addressed; but I am impressed by VanLandingham’s thoroughness. Clearly he knows well the Scriptures and the intertestamental literature, as well as the secondary scholarship.

What are the consequences for the various Christian traditions should VanLandingham’s exegesis prove sound? The Catholic and Orthodox traditions will have no problem absorbing his exegesis, since it basically confirms the consensual exegesis of Paul in the first millenium. Arminians, too, should be able to receive his exegesis, given their affirmation of salvation as synergistic process, yet it will still require some significant adjustments on their part. But VanLandingham’s book represents a direct attack on the fundamental positions of the Lutheran and Reformed traditions. If he is right, the Lutheran and Reformed confessions are wrong, plain and simple. No longer will Lutherans be able to proclaim that the Scripture teaches that believers experience the eschatological acquittal in the present moment of faith. No longer will Reformeds be able to declare that the Scripture teaches the forensic imputation of Christ’s righteousness to the believer.

One final thought: I would love to see Judgment and Justification in Early Judaism and the Apostle Paul reviewed by N. T. Wright. Wright has struggled in his recent writings on Paul to relate present justification and future justification. Regarding the latter, Wright has written: “Future justification, acquittal at the last great Assize, always takes place on the basis of the totality of the life lived.”

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Anglican Blog Awards

Well, I wonder why there is no mention of good ole meam in the Anglican blog awards? Should it tell me something? [grin] Last year I was in the race for most theological until RatherNot took over and swept me away. This year I didn't even get a recommendation. Talk about beating a guy when he is down. I guess UK guys don't rate anymore!

Anyway, I've been wondering what to do with this blog of late! In the meantime, you can vote over at Titusonenine for your favourite blog award winner in the different categories listed. Just click on the above link. What does it all mean anyway? [laughing] Anyway, go over and give your vote while I figure out what to do with this blog.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Fr. Jonathan Baker on E.L. Mascall and the Incarnation

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Fr. Jonathan Baker, SSC writes the following article in New Directions.

Eric Lionel Mascall, priest, wit, philosopher and theologian died in 1993. In his address to the National Assembly of Forward in Faith in November 2002, Fr Aidan Nichols op numbered Mascall among those ‘separated doctors' of the Anglican Church ‘in whom the Church of Rome can recognize the overwhelming preponderance of the apostolic patrimony she has received.’ Mascall’s writings on Church, the Eucharist and the Sacraments, and his skilful exposition of orthodox Christology in Theology and the Gospel of Christ should make him required reading for all seeking a firm grounding in Christian doctrine. In both the Church and the academy, however, Mascall has slipped, with surprising speed, out of view: a consequence in part, no doubt, of his Anglo-Catholicism and conservatism. Rehabilitation is surely overdue.

The humanity of Jesus

One of Mascall’s last books was Whatever Happened to the Human Mind?, published in 1980, seven years after his retirement as Professor of Historical Theology at King’s College, London, and dedicated to the ‘priests and people of St Mary’s, Pimlico [Bourne Street],' who had given him 'both an altar and a home.' The book is a reply to Geoffrey Lampe’s God as Spirit; but the last section of the book stands somewhat apart from the rest, and is entitled Sexuality and God. In the introduction to this final part of his book, Mascall reminds us of the importance of the humanity of Jesus, ‘and this humanity, this human nature, this manhood is no fiction or phantom, no logical or psychological abstraction,' but rather ‘concrete and fleshly’ as our own.

While there is no contradiction between the universality of Jesus as Saviour of all humanity, and his particularity as one individual first-century Jew, yet, as with all humans, the humanity of Jesus is differentiated: and the most fundamental of all differentiations is that of sex: the distinction between male and female. ‘In order to be a normal human being,' writes Mascall, ‘it is necessary to be either male or female; it is, not only psychologically or practically, but physically impossible to be both.’

Next Mascall applies this to the Incarnation. God incarnate - God become human perfectly and completely - must be God who has become complete and perfect male, or complete and perfect female; and, in fact, God incarnate is a man. Now Mascall puts the question which is of such significance in the debate over the ordination of women (and which was also raised in ch.4 of Consecrated Women?) ‘Is there,' he asks, ‘any special significance in this? [Or] does the fact that what was assumed was human nature as male and not as female amount to anything more than the fact that if you spin a coin it will come down either heads or tails, since it cannot come down both at once?’

The place of Mary

Mascall turns first, in seeking to answer his own question, to the place of Mary in the mystery of the Incarnation. It is Mary’s involvement in the divine flesh-taking - and Mascall comments that ‘the incarnation itself waited for the courageous and obedient fat of Mary' - which guarantees the centrality of womanhood in the story of God’s redemption of mankind. The incarnation guarantees the dignity of women: Mascall recalls Aquinas' observation that one reason why it was fitting that Christ should take flesh from a woman was that it abolished any excuse for despising the female sex.

But Mascall is interested in more than establishing that, because of Mary’s involvement, the maleness of the incarnate Christ does not exclude women from the fullness of redemption. He wants to ask whether ‘not only the humanity of Jesus but also the sexual mode under which he assumed it reflects a real aspect of the eternal Word?' He adds that this will not be determined by a shaky logic based upon the masculinity of Jesus (‘Jesus is male, Jesus is God, therefore God is male’), but rather ‘upon the way in which God has revealed himself in the concrete historical revelation of Judaism, with its culmination in Christ and its expansion and explication in the worship, thought and witness of the Church down the ages.’

Drawing substantially on the work of Austin Farrer, Mascall answers his own question with a qualified ‘yes.’ Mascall recalls Farrer’s proposition that images have a ‘direct epistemological function' – that is, they do not rely on any secondary thought processes to be apprehended – to reflect on the images for God which are found in Scripture and the Tradition. Nearly all, including all the most obvious (King, Father, Shepherd, Husband) are clearly of a male character. Thus, Mascall observes, 'unless we are to reject the biblical revelation altogether, may we not be forced to conclude that, in however analogical a way and with whatever reservations about modus signifcandi, the notion of maleness is appropriate to God in a way that the notion of female-ness is not?'

Only one father

He refines this conclusion almost at once, however, by bringing in the French Oratorian Father of the Second Vatican Council, Louis Bouyer, who argues that the attribution of male epithets to God is not so much an assertion of masculinity as of fatherhood: a fatherhood which men can exercise only by proxy (unqualified fatherhood being alone the prerogative of the Father in heaven), while women are able to exercise motherhood totally, and in their own right.

What of the ministerial priesthood? Mascall characterizes Bouyer’s method as predominantly symbolic in character, depending as it does on a sense of biblical revelation and the sacramental economy as, in turn, resting upon a fundamentally symbolic understanding of creation, and of human nature in particular. Without locating the theology of the ordained ministry within such a symbolical scheme - without, in other words, having a strong sense that the ministerial priest and bishop participate in a distinctive way in the high priesthood of Christ by means of a particular sacramental sign - it is difficult to establish the relevance of Mascall’s line of argument in the debate over the ordination of women. But with such an understanding (which is surely consonant with the Tradition), it is not difficult to see how the pieces fall into place. Is the maleness of the Incarnation soteriologically significant? Eric Mascall’s is not the last word on the subject: but those who would say, ‘no,' must surely give his arguments the courtesy of a response. ND

    O God, most glorious, most bountiful, accept, we humbly beseech thee, our praises and thanksgivings for thy holy Catholic Church, the mother of us all who bear the name of Christ; for the faith which it hath conveyed in safety to our time, and the mercies by which it hath enlarged and comforted the souls of men; for the virtues which it hath established upon earth, and the holy lives by which it glorifieth both the world and thee; to whom, O blessed Trinity (+), be ascribed all honour, might, majesty and dominion, now and for ever. Amen.
    --Bishop Lancelot Andrewes

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