Friday, May 29, 2015

As we approach Trinity Sunday



The Cathedral of the Holy Trinity, in Arad, Romania

"The fact that God is Trinity - that in a divine and mysterious way there are three Divine Persons eternally united in one life of complete perfection and beatitude - is not a piece of gratuitous mystification thrust by dictatorial clergymen down the throats of an unwilling but helpless laity, and therefore to be accepted, if at all, with reluctance and discontent. It is the secret of God’s most intimate life and being, into which, in his infinite love and generosity, he has admitted us; and it is therefore to be accepted with amazed and exultant gratitude." (Whatever Happened to the Human Mind? page 118)

One of the good things happening today is the revival of Trinitarian theology, even among some otherwise quite liberal theologians. (I sincerely pray that this will eventually have a positive impact on their Christology . . . but that's another discussion!) And it's just as well, because the growing number of Muslim people around us means each one of us - not just the clergy - will sooner or later be asked by a genuinely curious Muslim friend to explain why Christians believe in the Trinity.

The question boils down to "What - for you - is at the heart of the universe?" Is it a megalomaniac who just wants to have things running smoothly, whatever it takes; or maybe an abstract "force" or "intelligence"? 

Timothy George comments:

"Thomas Hardy once referred to God as 'the dreaming, dark, dumb Thing that turns the handle of this idle show.' (The Dynasts) Again we are back to the Silas Marner type of stingy God, hoarding the glory to himself, keeping the show running but not getting very involved in it: the God of deism. Thomas Hardy's God is devoid of relationship. It is stark, speechless, obscure, remote, a hideous caricature of the real God. This is why the true alternative to Christian Trinitarian theology today is not competing monotheisms such as Islam or something else, but atheism." (The Trinity and the Challenge of Islam in God the Holy Trinity - Reflections on Christian Faith and Practice, pages 126-127.) 

(Actually, that small volume is a very useful resource for those dipping their toe into Trinitarian theology for the first time, with essays from across the ecumenical spectrum, by Alister McGrath, Gerald Bray, James Earl Massey, Avery Cardinal Dulles S.J., Frederica Mathewes-Green, J.I. Packer, Ellen T Charry and Cornelius Plantinga Jr. It is available through AMAZON.COM.)

For us, at the heart of the universe is relationalitypersonality, a communion of love . . .  community. An earlier generation of Anglo-Catholic socialists, in fact, anchored their social and political theory in the Trinitarian theology of the Athanasian Creed! I know that sounds mildly bizarre to us, but only because writers on all sides today have a diminished ability for true integration of thought, perhaps (reflecting western society as a whole) not even seeing the need for it. Nevertheless, in Jesus the Heretic Fr Conrad Noel was able to write of the Holy Trinity as the basis of a new world order.

A similar notion is found in the words of Bishop Kallistos Ware, quoting Vladimir Lossky: 

"Our private lives, our personal relations, and all our plans of forming a Christian society depend upon a right theology of the Holy Trinity. ‘Between the Trinity and Hell there lies no other choice.’"  (The Orthodox Church, page 216.)

Our view of God determines our view of everything else as well as our way of dealing with the problems we face from day to day. The Doctrine of the Holy Trinity impacts on our understanding of prayer, the sacraments, redemption, the Church and community. And it informs our theology of  love and of suffering.

Cardinal Walter Kasper spoke about this at Oxford in 2008, as part of his John Henry Newman Lecture: 

"In their commitment to human rights, justice, solidarity and sustaining creation, Christians can and should work together with representatives of other religions and with all people of good will. They also owe it to the others to testify to the God of Jesus Christ, that is, the Trinitarian God who is love. This brings us to a further aspect of discourse about God which has been neglected for a long time. After a period resembling the sleep of Sleeping Beauty, the doctrine of the Trinity has regained actuality once more, in regard to historical research and systematic analysis alike. 

"Self-evidently the doctrine of the Trinity is not a matter of a numerical problem or a kind of higher mathematics attempting to show how one and the same reality can be one and three at the same time. The Trinity can only be made comprehensible on the basis of the nature of love. Love wants to be one with the other without dissolving into the other. Love does not absorb the other; it means being one while maintaining its own identity as well as the identity of the other and finding its ultimate fulfilment. Love means being one while acknowledging the otherness of the other. But it does not stop at intimate duality but instead progresses beyond its own boundaries into a shared third entity in which it represents and fully realises itself. In this sense the doctrine of the Trinity is a precise explication of the sentence “God is love” (1 John 4,8.16). God is not a solitary God, he is in himself communion (koinonia, communio), and only thus can he bring us into his communion. 

"In this context I can only hint at this aspect in order to show that the doctrine of the Trinity enables a new approach to the most difficult existential question of the doctrine of God, the problem of theodicy. I mean the question: Why is there so much innocent suffering? How can God, if he is omnipotent and loving, permit such suffering? Why does he not intervene? If he is loving but not almighty, then he is not God; if he is almighty but not loving, then he is an evil demon. 

"Obviously the doctrine of the Trinity cannot solve these questions, but it can shine a light in the darkness, and it can help us to survive the darkness of suffering and dying. It can show that love – as great literature has always known – always means renunciation, indeed that love and death belong together. That is also true of Trinitarian love. The divine persons are of course, like everything in God, infinite; they must therefore make room for one another; they must as it were relinquish themselves to make space for the other person. This kenotic, self-relinquishing mode of existence enables God on the cross to identify himself with that which is most alien to him, the sinner who has deserved death, and to enter into his opposite, into the night of death. God can take this death upon himself without being conquered by it, but instead thereby vanquish it and establish the foundation of a new life. Thus the cross is the utmost that is possible to God in his self-relinquishing love, it is the id quo maius cogitari nequit ("that than which nothing greater can be thought or conceived") . 

"The doctrine of the Trinity does not thereby give a direct answer to the question of innocent suffering. How could it?! But it is able to be light in the darkness, that helps us not to despair of God in our utmost need and distress, but to know that in our extreme helplessness the crucified God stands by us, so that in all our cries and despair “de profundis ” we are able to bear all in faith. The doctrine of the Trinity is the form of monotheism which permits existential survival in the face of the enormous extent of suffering in the world. 

"But can God suffer? Can he suffer with us? The mainstream of traditional theology has always denied this. It has understood suffering as a deficit and therefore excluded the possibility that God could suffer. On this point a shift has occurred in the case of a large part of more modern theology. Self-evidently, if God suffers he does not suffer in a human but in a divine manner. For God suffering cannot be something external which befalls him. God’s suffering cannot be a passive accident, nor can it be the expression of a deficiency, but only the expression of sovereign self-determination. God is not passively affected by the suffering of his creatures, he allows himself in freedom and love to be affected by the suffering of his creatures, he allows himself to be moved by sympathy (Ex 34,6); indeed, his heart recoils in the face of the misery of his creatures (Hos 11,8). He is not an apathetic but a sympathetic God, a God who suffers with us. God does not glorify or deify suffering, nor does he simply eliminate it, he redeems and transforms it. The cross is the passage to resurrection and transfiguration. The theology of the cross and kenosis conceptualised in the doctrine of the Trinity becomes an Easter theology of exaltation and transfiguration, it becomes a hope against hope in the living God who gives life (Rom 4,18). “Spe salvi ”, (Rom 8,20.24; 1 Pet 1,3) we are, so Scripture says, redeemed in hope. “Saved in hope” is the title of the second encyclical of Pope Benedict XVI."
(The whole of Cardinal Kasper's lecture - with footnotes - can be downloaded as a pdf file from the Catholic Herald site HERE)

The Cardinal's last point reminds me of Bishop Kallistos Ware's remarks about the way in which . . .

"God identifies himself with his creation in its anguish . . . It has truly been said that there was a cross in the heart of God before there was one planted outside Jerusalem; and though the cross of wood has been taken down, the cross in God's heart still remains. It is the cross of pain and triumph - both together. And those who can believe this will find that joy is mingled with their cup of bitterness. They will share on a human level in the divine experience of victorious suffering." (The Orthodox Way, page 64)

* * * * * * * * * *

Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
Early in the morning our song shall rise to thee;
Holy, holy, holy, merciful and mighty!
God in three Persons, blessèd Trinity!

Holy, holy, holy! All the saints adore thee,
Casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea;
Cherubim and seraphim falling down before thee,
Which wert, and art, and evermore shall be.

Holy, holy, holy! though the darkness hide thee,
Though the eye of sinful man thy glory may not see;
Only thou art holy; there is none beside thee,
Perfect in power, in love, and purity.

Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
All thy works shall praise thy Name, in earth, and sky, and sea;
Holy, holy, holy; merciful and mighty!
God in three Persons, blessèd Trinity!

(Reginald Heber, 1826)

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Getting ready for Pentecost



An important question from 
"A Monk of the Eastern Church"

Even in the context of the Eucharistic liturgy, the Spirit is not given only for the sake of the Eucharist itself. The purpose of His coming is to lead us into "Pentecostal life", the life of the Spirit. Have we ever taken seriously the promises of the Lord after His Resurrection, made not only to His apostles but to every believer? 

- Fr Lev Gillet, in Serve the Lord With Gladness (p. 510)

* * * * * * * ** *


Power From Above 
Pontifical Household Preacher, Pentecost, 2008 

Everyone has on some occasion seen people pushing a stalled car trying to get it going fast enough to start. There are one or two people pushing from behind and another person at the wheel. If it does not get going after the first try, they stop, wipe away the sweat, take a breath and try again . . . 

Then suddenly there is a noise, the engine starts to work, the car moves on its own and the people who were pushing it straighten themselves up and breathe a sigh of relief. 

This is an image of what happens in Christian life. One goes forward with much effort, without great progress. But we have a very powerful engine ("the power from above!") that only needs to be set working. The feast of Pentecost should help us to find this engine and and see how to get it going. 

The account from the Acts of the Apostles begins thus: "When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all together in the same place." 

From these words, we see that Pentecost pre-existed Pentecost. In other words, there was already a feast of Pentecost in Judaism and it was during this feast that the Holy Spirit descended. One cannot understand the Christian Pentecost without taking into account the Jewish Pentecost that prepared it. 

In the Old Testament there were two interpretations of the feast of Pentecost. At the beginning there was the feast of the seven weeks, the feast of the harvest, when the first fruits of grain were offered to God, but then, and certainly during Jesus' time, the feast was enriched with a new meaning: It was the feast of the conferral of the law and of the covenant on Mount Sinai. 

If the Holy Spirit descends upon the Church precisely on the day in which Israel celebrated the feast of the law and the covenant, this indicates that the Holy Spirit is the new law, the spiritual law that sealed the new and eternal covenant. A law that is no longer written on stone tablets but on tablets of flesh, on the hearts of men. 

These considerations immediately provoke a question: Do we live under the old law or the new law? Do we fulfill our religious duties by constraint, by fear and habit, or rather by an intimate conviction and almost by attraction? Do we experience God as a father or a boss? 

. . . The secret for experiencing that which John XXIII called "a new Pentecost" is called prayer. That is where we find the "spark" that starts the engine! 

Jesus promised that the heavenly Father would give the Holy Spirit to those who asked for him (Luke 11:13). Ask then! The liturgy of Pentecost offers us magnificent words to do this: 

"Come, Holy Spirit … 

Come, O Father of the poor, 
Ever bounteous of Thy store, 
Come, our heart's unfailing light. 
Come, Consoler, kindest, best,  
Come, our bosom's dearest guest, 
Sweet refreshment, sweet repose. 
Rest in labor, coolness sweet, 
Tempering the burning heat, 
Truest comfort of our woes!" 

Come Holy Spirit!



Sunday, May 17, 2015

Fr Arthur Fellows on the priesthood


When in 1995 I moved from the Diocese of Ballarat to All Saints' Wickham Terrace in Brisbane, Father Arthur Fellows was one of the retired priests who joined our ministry team. Ordained to the priesthood in the Diocese of Rockhampton on 16th December 1951, he had served parishes in Rockhampton and Brisbane dioceses, and for a time had been Queensland State Secretary of the Australian Board of Missions. Father Fellows was also Secretary of the Queensland Region of Forward in Faith Australia. Here is the sermon he preached at All Saints' to mark his Golden Jubilee of ordination to the priesthood..


It is a wonderful thing to be dedicated to the priesthood at baptism. This knowledge was withheld from me by my parents until, at the age of 25, I disclosed to my priest father the stirrings of vocation. I can still see the smile on his face, and can appreciate what it must have meant to him. That knowledge made my calling sure, and I resigned from a lucrative profession to begin an adventure in theological and priestly training in St Francis’ College, leading up to the great moment of the laying on of hands in Rockhampton Cathedral. I can still recall the weight of hands on my head that morning on December 16, 1951.


CHRIST THE ONLY PRIEST

To be a priest! We don’t do God a favour by offering ourselves for ordination. No, the favour is all on God’s side, for, as Jesus said in the Gospel, “you did not choose me; I chose you.” The priesthood I have is not my own, nor is it something of Holy Church’s devising. The form and matter of the ordination service is that which the Catholic Church has seen fit to use to see that the priesthood of Christ is conferred on the deacon kneeling before the bishop, who himself looks back on the line of Apostolic Succession.

For Christ is the one and only priest, perfectly fulfilling the Old Testament concepts of sacrifice. They were a shadow, offered up by the descendants of the tribe of Levi, trying to placate God with animal sacrifices, which were unable to take away sin. The sacrifice of Jesus is the substance. 

He is the lamb taken from the flock, a male without blemish, and as priest he comes not from the tribe of Levi, but, as the Letter to the Hebrews says, he arises “in the likeness of Melchisedek . . . by the power of an indestructible life.”

All priests ordained today are made one with our Great High Priest, sharing in his priesthood. There are not two priesthoods, just as there are not two sacrifices for sin. One sacrifice has for ever redeemed the world. It is offered eternally in heaven by the one and only priest, Jesus, who is also the victim, and it is the pleading of that sacrifice before our heavenly Father which reconciles us to the Father and places us in a state of salvation. It is offered continually on earth by the multitude and succession of priests who are one with Jesus as partakers of his priesthood. In our Eucharistic offering today it is our Great High Priest who is the main actor, who uses the hands and voice of the earthly priest to make present his own sacrificial offering and his sacramental presence, for we earthly priests have no priesthood of our own.


HIS PROJECTION INTO THE WORLD

The priesthood of Christ is sent into the world in the persons of other men. They are not merely teachers and examples, but extensions of himself in his divine mission, “He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives him who sent me.” The function of reconciling God and man is seen on the night of the Last Supper, when Jesus uses sacrificial language in the command to “Do This.” It is seen on the first Easter night, in the commission to forgive sins. “Whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven, and whose sins you retain they are retained.” “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” So when a priest is at the altar or sits in the confessional, he is part of the mediatorial action of Christ. He is not acting in the absence of Christ, but rather one through whom Christ himself is acting.

I recall one priest saying to me that he didn’t know what his role was in society, and I said to him, “You haven’t got a role in society, your role is within the Church.” It is the whole Body of Christ which has the role in society. It is called to be the leaven, the yeast, leavening society. It is called to be the salt, giving flavour; to be the light that shines before men. We priests are priests to the Body, in Christ’s name feeding the Body with his sacraments, teaching, preaching, shepherding, so that the members of the Body might fulfil their role as priests to the world in the scriptural sense. This means that our role as priests is a fairly humble one; wonderful, yet humble; unique, but also demanding; privileged, yet with tremendous responsibilities; for Jesus said, “Unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall much be required.”

I was called a fool because I forsook a good job, and afterwards reflected on St Paul’s words - “we are fools for Christ’s sake.” Yet we have privileges which not even kings and presidents have. What great ones of the earth may say to another, “By his authority committed to me I absolve you from all your sins?” What a privilege it is to reconcile sinners to God! What a privilege it is to take bread and wine and through a sacramental action in the power of the Holy Spirit to give the faithful Christ’s Body and Blood! Yet there is no room here for building ourselves up. It has been well said that the priest is drawing aside the curtain so as to reveal something of God, while hiding himself in the folds.

There is no doubt that it is the quality of the priests which will determine the health of a parish. The diocese is only as strong as the strength of the parishes. How much attention then must be given to the seminaries and training colleges! The first of the Tracts For the Times in the Catholic Revival in 1833 was addressed to the clergy by John Henry Newman. “My dear brethren, act up to your profession. Let it not be said that you have neglected a gift; for if you have the spirit of the Apostles on you, surely this is a great gift. “Stir up the gift of God which is in you.” Make much of it, Show your value of it. Keep it before your minds as an honourable badge, far higher than that secular respectability, or cultivation, or polish, or learning, or rank, which gives you a hearing with the many.”


THE PRIEST AS VICTIM

Jesus is both priest and victim in the Eucharistic sacrifice. We who share his priesthood must be aware that it involves being a victim with him. The Cross is to touch the life of every Christian, but it must first touch the life of Christ’s priests, and the flock is entitled to see in its shepherd something of what Jesus said about himself: “I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd gives his life for the sheep.” Jesus also said of himself: “In truth, in very truth I tell you, a grain of wheat remains a solitary grain unless it falls into the ground and dies, but if it dies it bears much fruit. He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” St Paul, writing from prison to Christians at Philippi, says: “If I be made a victim upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice...” So sacrifice is inseparable from the life of the priest. If it is resented, then we lose our way and fail Christ.

St Paul puts it in a nutshell in his second letter to the Corinthians (12:15) “I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls.” How then can we set limits to our priestly life? Jesus after his baptism was presented with various ways of going round the cross. It happened to him; it will happen ] to those who share his priesthood. The Old Testament prophet cried out against the shepherds who fed themselves and not the flock. Would not the worst thing to be said of a priest be that “he looked after No. 1?” Yes, sacrifice is inseparable from the life of the priest. He must have his own wheat and grapes to be crushed, and i’ this is not visible his priesthood lacks authenticity.

St Paul, writing about his own calling, says: “We have this treasure in earthen vessels.” In other words, we can crack up; we can fail again and again. Our own sinful human nature comes too often to the fore. Our own frailty and fallibility is highly visible. The Letter to the Hebrews speaks of the nature of our Great High Priest: “We have not a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sinning.” In the next chapter it speaks of the earthly priest: “He can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness.”

I have said something of the ideals of the priesthood, and much more time could be spent on that. I am conscious of the times I have failed to live up to those ideals. But it is quite another thing to lose the ideals altogether, or never to have been given them in the first place. The Prayer Book says, in the Preface to the Ordination of Priests, that “the people are to esteem in their office.” It is that holy office for which we praise and thank the Lord today, and it is that office which, in spite of our unworthiness, flaws and frailty, guarantees you a blessed sacramental union with our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Always put the office on a high pedestal, but beware of putting the person on the same level. You are right to expect great things from your priests, but if you never pray for them, how then can you demand so much?

“As the seminary is, so will the priest be; As the priest is, so will the parish be; As the parishes are, so will the Church be.”




Friday, May 15, 2015

With Mary and the first Church waiting in prayer



Before Jesus entered the glory of the heavenly sanctuary as our great High Priest, the cloud taking him "out of their sight", he told his followers not to leave Jerusalem but to "wait for the promise of the Father" (Acts 1:4). Then he reassured them, "You shall receive power, when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses... to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8). Clearly he said that because of the difficulty of living for him in our own strength, going forth to evangelise just with our human insights and abilities, or trying to establish his New Community, the Church merely as a sociological reality. "Power from on high" was what they needed for their mission. And it's what we desperately need, too.

So, leaving Mount Olivet they returned to Jerusalem, spending their time between the temple and the  the upper room. We read that there were "about 120" of them, not just the Apostles. This was the nucleus of the first Church. They waited "with Mary" for the Holy Spirit to be poured out upon them. "With one accord" they "devoted themselves to prayer" (Acts 1:14).

Our Lady's presence with the praying Church is emphasised in the Scriptures as well as in the iconography of the East and the art of the West. What was she doing there? I can't prove this, of course, but to me it seems very likely that she was helping the others prepare for the coming of the Holy Spirit. We know that she "kept" all the things that had happened to her, "pondering them in her heart" (Luke 2:19, 51). 

Can't you imagine Mary calming the others by sharing her testimony (maybe even in the words of the Magnificat - Luke 1:46-55)? 

Can't you hear her telling the others that their relationship with her Son could be like her relationship with him if they will only "hear the Word of God and do it" (Luke 8:21 & Luke 11:28). 

Is it unreasonable to think of her nurturing in them the openness to the Lord in prayer so evident in her all those years before when she had said, "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your word" (Luke 1:38)? 

And then, don't you think she would have reminded them that as the promise made to her by the angel, "the Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you," had been fulfilled (Luke 1:35), so the "promise of the Father" to them will likewise be fulfilled?

I always think of the Sunday between Ascension day and Pentecost as THE SUNDAY OF THE UPPER ROOM. I'm sure that Mary, the Mother of all her Son's people, prays with us and for us today as we seek to be renewed and empowered by that same Holy Spirit of love. 

It was the ancient practice of the Church to have a proper "Vigil" of Pentecost. Perhaps Christian congregations of all traditions could do with an all-night prayer meeting culminating in the Mass of Pentecost. Wouldn't that be wonderful!

Whatever we do, let's pray with Our Lady for the renewal of the Church, and for Christian unity. You see, Pentecost is not just about the empowerment of the Church; it is also about the unity that the Holy Spirit brings about. In fact, my heart's desire in praying for Christian unity has always been for the Church of Jesus to be fully catholic, evangelical, and pentecostal all at once, while again breathing deeply with both Eastern and Western lungs as she loves a broken and wounded world back to God. How dynamic would that be! Well, I believe that's what God wants for his Church as well, not just for his sake or for our sakes, but so that a hurting world will believe.

Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful, and kindle in us the fire of your love.


Monday, May 4, 2015

Fr Lev Gillet's comment on the words of Jesus, "Peace I leave with you"



I have written about the late Fr Lev Gillet before, as a search of this blog will indicate. His writings have inspired me for forty years, ever since I was given his little book On the Invocation of the Name of Jesus, first published in 1949. Go to the following links if you want to be blessed!


Today I share with you from the website of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship a passage on PEACE by Fr Gillet, excerpted and edited from a larger work “A Dialogue with the Saviour.”  


“Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you.” Jesus gives his peace. He does not loan it; He does not take it back. The peace that is in Jesus “My peace” becomes the disciples’ final possession.

The Saviour gives his disciples his peace at the moment when his Passion is about to begin. When he is confronted with the vision of immediate suffering and death, He proclaims and communicates his peace. If at such moments, Jesus is the Master of Peace, then the strength of this peace will not abandon the disciple in moments of lesser strife.

“But I say to you, do not resist evil.” How scandalous and foolish is this statement in the eyes of men, and especially of unbelievers? How do we interpret this commandment about turning the left cheek to the one who struck the right, giving our cloak to the one who took our tunic, walking two miles with the one who forced us to go one mile already, giving a blessing to him who curses us? Have we explored the ways and means of loving our enemy whether he be a personal or public enemy? “You do not know of what spirit you are.”

No, it is a question of resisting the Gospel. The choice is not between fighting and not fighting, but between fighting and suffering. Fighting brings about only vain and illusory victories, because Jesus is the absolute reality. Suffering without resistance proclaims the absolute reality of Jesus. If we understand this point, we see that suffering is a real victory. Jesus said “It is enough” when his disciples presented him with two swords. The disciples had not understood the meaning of Christ’s statement, “He who does not have a purse, let him sell his coat and buy a sword.” What Christ meant was that there are times when we must sacrifice what seems the most ordinary thing, in order to concentrate our attention on the assaults of the evil one. But defence and attack are both spiritual.

Jesus goes out to the front of the soldiers, who with their torches and weapons, want to lay hands on him. He goes freely, spontaneously, to his passion and his suffering. Jesus cures the servant whose ear had been cut off by the sword of a disciple. Not only is Jesus unwilling that his disciple defend him by force, but he repairs the damage that the sword has caused. It is the only miracle that Jesus performed during His passion.

The example of non-resistance that Jesus gave does not mean that he consents to evil, or that he remains merely passive. It is a positive reaction. It is the reply of the love that Jesus incarnates, opposed to the enterprises of the wicked. The immediate result seems to be the victory of evil. In the long run, however, the power of this love is the strongest.

The Resurrection followed the Passion. The non-resistance of the martyrs wore out and inspired the persecutors themselves. It is the shedding of blood by the martyrs that has guaranteed the spread of the Gospel. Is this a weak and vague pacifism? NO, it is a burning and victorious flame. If Jesus, at Gethsemane, had asked His Father for the help of twelve legions of angels, there would have been no Easter or Pentecost and no salvation for us!



Saturday, May 2, 2015

Athanasius on the Psalms



Today is the feast day of St Athanasius (c.296-373), the great "Doctor of the Church" who championed belief in the real divinity of Christ at a time when many in the Church were embracing ideas about Jesus not unlike the beliefs of modern liberal theologians on the one hand, and groups like the Jehovah's Witnesses on the other. (There is nothing new under the sun!) If you want a direct link to each of the chapters of "On the Incarnation", use the search facility in the sidebar.

I share with you today a few paragraphs from the letter of St Athanasius to Marcellinus on the interpretation of the Psalms. People who are new to the ancient liturgical tradition of worship, with its systematic praying of the Psalms, always them helpful. Go HERE for the full text:


Among all the books, the Psalter has certainly a very special grace, a choiceness of quality well worthy to be pondered; for, besides the characteristics which it shares with others, it has this peculiar marvel of its own, that within it are represented and portrayed in all their great variety the movements of the human soul. It is like a picture, in which you see yourself portrayed, and seeing, may understand and consequently form yourself upon the pattern given.

You find depicted in it all the movements of your soul, all its changes, its ups and downs, its failures and recoveries. Moreover, whatever your particular need or trouble, from this same book you can select a form of words to fit it, so that you do not merely hear and then pass on, but learn the way to remedy your ill.

The marvel with the Psalter is that, barring those prophecies about the Saviour and some about the Gentiles, the reader takes all its words upon his lips as though they were his own, and each one sings the Psalms as though they had been written for his special benefit, and takes them and recites them, not as though someone else were speaking or another person’s feelings being described, but as himself speaking of himself, offering the words to God as his own heart’s utterance, just as though he himself had made them up. Not as the words of the patriarchs or of Moses and the other prophets will he reverence these: no, he is bold to take them as his own and written for his very self. Whether he has kept the Law or whether he has broken it, it is his own doings that the Psalms describe; every one is bound to find his very self in them and, be he faithful soul or be he sinner, each reads in them descriptions of himself.

It seems to me, moreover, that because the Psalms thus serve him who sings them as a mirror, wherein he sees himself and his own soul, he cannot help but render them in such a manner that their words go home with equal force to those who hear him sing, and stir them also to a like reaction. Sometimes it is repentance that is generated in this way, as by the conscience-stirring words of Psalm 51; another time, hearing how God helps those who hope and trust in him, the listener too rejoices and begins to render thanks, as though that gracious help already were his own. Psalm 3, to take another instance, a man will sing, bearing his own afflictions in his mind; Psalms 11 and 12 he will use as the expression of his own faith and prayer; and singing the 54th, the 56th, the 57th, and the 142nd, it is not as though someone else were being persecuted but out of his own experience that he renders praise to God. And every other Psalm is spoken and composed by the Spirit in the selfsame way: just as in a mirror, the movements of our own souls are reflected in them and the words are indeed our very own, given us to serve both as a reminder of our changes of condition and as a pattern and model for the amendment of our lives.

The Lord, the true Lord of all, who cares for all his works, did not only lay down precepts but also gave himself as model of how they should be carried out, for all who would to know and imitate. And therefore, before he came among us, he sketched the likeness of this perfect life for us in words, in this same book of Psalms; in order that, just as he revealed himself in flesh to be the perfect, heavenly Man, so in the Psalms also men of good-will might see the pattern life portrayed, and find therein the healing and correction of their own.