Tuesday, May 27, 2008

St Augustine of Canterbury

Christianity came to Britain very early - many say in the first century - but as the Romans eventually withdrew it was largely submerged by the pagan Anglo-Saxon invasions of the fifth and sixth centuries. It remained alive only in the far west, which continued to be British because the west was too remote and inaccessible for the invaders to attack.

Pope Gregory the Great saw some fair-haired Anglo-Saxon slaves exposed for sale in a market in Rome. He asked where they were from, and when he was told, replied non Angli, sed angeli – “not Angles, but angels”, and determined to secure their evangelization.

Gregory organised a party of thirty monks to travel to south-eastern England and spread the Gospel there, and chose as their leader Augustine, prior of the monastery of St Andrew in Rome. They landed in 597, and were welcomed by the king of Kent, Ethelbert, who became a Christian along with many of his subjects. A second wave of missionaries arrived in 601. Augustine went to Arles, in France, where he was consecrated archbishop of the English, and then returned to Canterbury to set up his see. The mission prospered, and he founded two more sees, at London and at Rochester in Kent.

The evangelization of the country was planned in close agreement with Pope Gregory, and took care to respect existing traditions. Pagan temples and holy places were not to be destroyed, but to be converted to Christian use; and pagan feasts were to be superseded by Christian ones. This is consistent with the pattern of evangelization throughout the first millennium, which saw Christianity as a fulfilment of what went before, rather than a contradiction of it. Even in Rome itself, temples of Juno had a tendency to become churches dedicated to Our Lady.

In the far west of Britain, where British bishops had survived the pagan invasions – or where they had fled to escape them – Augustine was less successful in establishing his authority. Many traditions of the Celtic church differed from the Roman ones; it took several generations for the whole of Great Britain to become Christian and for the English and British liturgical traditions to be reconciled.

Augustine created the Dioceses of London and Rochester, consecrating bishops for the new sees. He died at Canterbury on 26 May 604 or 605.

It has long been fashionable to belittle St. Augustine.

"‘We cannot,’ says Bishop Creighton, ‘reckon him higher than a capable official of the Roman Church.’ High indeed must have been the Roman standard for capable officials. It is true that he had not the force of Boniface or the attractiveness of the Scottish saints, and his letters to Gregory seem to show a man somewhat distrustful of his own judgment. But it is more likely that his modern detractors are mistaken in their estimate of his character and abilities than Gregory. Deeds speak louder than words. A stranger, ignorant of the language of the country to which he was sent, he was only in England seven years, yet he founded three bishoprics which endure to this day, and laid foundations on which his successors have been content to build." (C.P.S. Clarke)

O Lord our God,
who by thy Son Jesus Christ didst call thine apostles
and send them forth to preach the Gospel to the nations:
We bless thy holy name for thy servant Augustine,
first Archbishop of Canterbury,
whose labours in propagating thy Church among the English people
we commemorate today;
and we pray that all whom thou dost call and send
may do thy will, and bide thy time,
and see thy glory;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who liveth and reigneth with thee,
in the unity of the Holy Ghost,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Corpus Christi

Back in the late 1960s and early 1970s there was a huge sign painted on the side of a building facing the railway line near Redfern Station in inner Sydney. Tens of thousands saw it daily on their way to work. I read it almost every day for my first two years at University. I cannot remember the product being advertised, but the sign said: “WHAT YOU EAT AND DRINK TODAY WALKS AND TALKS TOMORROW.”

It was difficult not to think of the teaching of St Augustine, bishop of Hippo in Northern Africa in the 4th century (who I was studying at the time), that as we eat the body of Christ in Holy Communion, we become the body of Christ in the world; or to remember that as he gave Holy Communion to his people, Augustine would actually say to them, “Eat what you are, and become what you eat”!

Today is the Feast of Corpus Christi, a special day when we thank God for the Real Presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. He comes to us supernaturally as FOOD so as to share his life with us, to deepen our union with him and with one another, to strengthen us for our lives here in this world, and to sustain us on our journey to heaven. He comes as Food to nourish and transform us.

“But it’s just symbolic” is what some Christians say.

Well, the words of Jesus in 1 Corinthians 11, in the Gospel narratives of the institution of the Eucharist, and in John 6 where he calls himself the “Bread of Life” after feeding the 5,000 seem to be very clear.

And we can turn to those generations of the early Church closest the apostles for an indication of how the Eucharistic language of the New Testament was understood in their day.

Writing between 80 AD and 110 AD, - that is, while the Apostle John is still alive - St Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch, calls the bread of Holy Communion “the flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ, the flesh which suffered for our sins and which the Father, in his graciousness, raised from the dead.”

St Justin Martyr says the same kind of thing a little later on - around 150 AD: “We do not consume the Eucharistic bread and wine as if it were ordinary food and drink, for we have been taught that as Jesus Christ our Saviour became a man of flesh and blood by the power of the Word of God, so also the food that our flesh and blood assimilates for its nourishment becomes the flesh and blood of the incarnate Jesus by the power of his own words contained in the Eucharistic prayer.”

A little later on - in 189 A.D. - St Iraneus of Lyons said: "If the Lord were from other than the Father, how could he rightly take bread, which is of the same creation as our own, and confess it to be his body and affirm that the mixture in the cup is his blood?" (Against Heresies 4:33–32)

He also said: "He has declared the cup, a part of creation, to be his own blood, from which he causes our blood to flow; and the bread, a part of creation, he has established as his own body, from which he gives increase unto our bodies. When, therefore, the mixed cup [wine and water] and the baked bread receives the Word of God and becomes the Eucharist, the body of Christ, and from these the substance of our flesh is increased and supported, how can they say that the flesh is not capable of receiving the gift of God, which is eternal life—flesh which is nourished by the body and blood of the Lord, and is in fact a member of him?" (ibid., 5:2). "

The realism of this language is startling. It comes from a time when the good guys were defending the Gospel and the Faith, which is all about the coming of God into real human life and joining himself to it (and to the creation of which human life is part) in order to redeem, renew and transfigure it. And who were the bad guys? You guessed it . . . the SPIRITUALIZERS who couldn't conceive that the flesh could be saved. So - did these early Christian leaders expect to be taken "literally" in these matters? You bet!

Since the dying and rising of Jesus, his followers have gathered at the altar Sunday by Sunday (and where possible daily!) in order to receive him in what is the most precious, sacred, awesome, life-giving encounter possible this side of heaven.

Holy Communion is a powerful sacrament of divine love. Indeed - and this might astound you if you are new to these things - we have proclaimed for two thousand years that Holy Communion is to the Church’s relationship with the Lord Jesus, her heavenly Bridegroom, what the act of making love is to the relationship of a man and woman united in marriage. From Genesis to the Apocalypse the controlling image used of the covenant relationship between God and his people is marriage. That is so basic that if, like a range of feminist and other liberal theologians, you are offended by it and try to pull it like a thread from the Judaic-Christian revelation, the rest actually falls apart! Notice that in Ephesians 5 the nuptial union of Christ and his Bride is The Great Mystery from which the marriage of men and women to each other is derived.

The Eastern Orthodox writer Anthony M. Coniaris puts it like this: "The Eucharist is a personal encounter with the living Christ. This is where we meet him . . . The Eucharist has been called a nuptial encounter of the soul with her Lord, a marriage union between Christ and the soul. In the words of Cyril of Jerusalem: 'Christ has given to the children of the bridal chamber the enjoyment of his body and his blood.' Another ancient Christian writer, Theodoret, writes, 'In eating the elements of the Bridegroom and drinking his blood, we accomplish a marriage union.' The Eucharist, then becomes the marriage relationship through which the Bridegroom, Christ, espouses the Church as his Bride, thus transforming a human community into the Church of God."
(Introducing The Orthodox Church, p. 134)

But throughout the twentieth century a renewal of what has come to be called "nuptial mysticism" was taking place in the Western Church as well. So it is that in writing about Pope John Paul II's Theology of the Body Christopher West, commenting on Ephesians 5 can say "Christ left his Father in heaven; he left the home of his mother on earth - to give up his body for his Bride, so that we might become 'one body' with him." West goes on to describe the Eucharist as "the consummation of a mystical marriage. It is a physical sign that effects the profound spiritual mystery it symbolizes." Theology of the Body Explained, page 18.


By the 13th century, the laity in the west began to express their desire to fix their eyes on the Eucharistic body of the risen Jesus, and exclaim in faith and devotion with the apostle Thomas “My Lord and my God.” This is a very Christian instinct, born out of the great love the people had for the Heavenly Bridegroom. The bishops recognised this to be a real move of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Church, and so they encouraged both the elevation of the Host in the Mass and the devotions that evolved into Benediction as we know it today.

In 1263, prompted by a Eucharistic miracle at Bolensa, Italy, in which, during the consecration at Mass real blood seeped from the Host over the hands of the priest and onto the corporal, Pope Urban IV commissioned the well known theologian Thomas Aquinas to compose special liturgical prayers and hymns in honour of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.

One year after the miracle, in August of 1264, Urban promoted Thomas’ compositions to the whole Church, and instituted today's feast of Corpus Christi.

St Thomas Aquinas' hymns and devotions to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament have stood the test of time, both in Latin and in every language spoken by Christian people. They are still used today - in fact, portions of them are sung weekly in parishes like ours where Benediction occurs each Sunday:

Therefore we, before him bending,
This great Sacrament revere;
Types and shadows have their ending,
For the newer rite is here;
Faith, our outward sense befriending,
Makes the inward vision clear.

Glory let us give and blessing
To the Father and the Son;
Honour, might and praise addressing
While eternal ages run;
Ever too his love confessing
Who from both with both is one.


One of the more eccentric and colourful characters of the Catholic Revival in the Church of England was Father Sandys Wason (1867-1950). A number of his poems have been included in his biography, Mr Wason . . . I Think, by Roy Tickner. Here is the one he wrote for today's Feast:

Corpus Domini

At every doorway of the rose-hung street,
On the stone stair-heads, in the angled shade,
Peasants in old-time festival brocade
Took refuge from the unrelenting heat;
These, all by some Mystery made one
With those who dozed or whispered, kissed or played
As silver trumpets rang through the arcade,
Leaned to the far-off sound like wind-blown wheat.

A dark-haired boy, sandalled and naked save
A shift of camel's hair, came first as John
The Baptist: in his wake a yearling lamb,
A crucifix, blest incense; next, a score
Of sunburnt singing-boys in lawn and black
Swept gaily on before a company
Of girls in long lace bridal veils and wreaths
Of oleander, telling rosaries,
But none so fervid that she failed to screen
The lighted taper in her small brown hand
Lest any love-lorn breeze mistake and woo
Its flame for some gold flower.

A group of children who from ribboned frails
Unendingly were flinging to the Host
Flowers of genista, poppy, myrtle, bay;
At last, as from a mist of frankincense
And candle-light and waving cypress boughs,
A priest in silver vestments flowered with gold
To which, as by a spell, his eyes were held;
He gazed, as if these transitory things
Were with the earth, all they had been before
They were created; as if our life were but
A greying garland doomed to pass away.

To him, within the pale orb of the Host,
All he had ever dreaded or desired,
Truth, wisdom, power, peace and righteousness,
As in a crystal mirror, stood revealed,
And so, adoring his uplifted God,
Wonder, profoundest wonder filled his soul.

This Host he held before him was, he knew,
But one of thousands he, with Christ's last words,
Had blessed and raised to God at break of dawn;
As known to him, as dearly natural
As his young olive trees, his violin,
The cedar press where lay the folded alb
He would at death be clothed in, the pale crown
Of 'everlastings' on his mother's grave.

This Host was close to these persisting things.
In this, then, dwelt the marvel; here abode
The Lord who made the beauty of the world,
The sun, the moon, and all the stars that be,
The solace and the menace of the sea.

Came holding, shaded by a baldaquin
Of white and silver tissue, thin with age,
A golden monstrance like an outspread fan.

Monday, May 19, 2008

St. Bernadine of Siena (1380-1444)

Today we celebrate the work of God's grace in Bernardino degli Albizzeschi, born near Siena in Tuscany, Italy, in 1380. He joined the Franciscan Order in 1402 and was assigned the task of an evangelist, travelling the length and breadth of Italy preaching the Gospel and extolling the Name of Jesus. So powerful was his charismatic preaching that Pope Pius II called him "a second Paul." The thousands who flocked to hear him packed the piazzas of Italian cities. He explained the Good News of Christ, often with stories and parables, always in terms that gripped the people's hearts. His preaching was usually followed by outpourings of the Holy Spirit, with collective weeping, miraculous healings, and exorcisms. Bernadine was also noted for his work in bringing warring clans and family groups together in mutual forgiveness. Whenever he preached, as he got into the body of his sermon, he would hold up a placard with the sign of the name of Jesus, "IHS," written on it, urging the congregation to turn to the one symbolized by those letters. Many of his followers even had IHS painted on their houses. He ushered in a period of genuine renewal and revival.

Bernadine was sometimes criticised by more "settled" interests in the Church, as is often the case even to this day with those who have the kind of ministry he exercised. But each time he was eventually vindicated. In spite of this criticism, three times the Pope asked him to become a bishop, and he declined on the basis that his calling was evangelistic preaching.

He did, however, hold high office in his Order. And, far from being a "mere" popular preacher, he not only wrote serious theological works in both Latin and Italian; he founded two theological schools. He also assisted at the Council of Florence.

Bernadine died at Aquila in the middle of a preaching tour. His tomb there was said to be the site of many miracles. He was canonized within six years of his death.

St. Bernadine, pray for the Church in our time, that many more evangelists may be raised up to proclaim Jesus and the salvation he came to bring.


The name of Jesus is the glory of preachers

"The name of Jesus is the glory of preachers, because the shining splendor of that name causes his word to be proclaimed and heard. And how do you think such an immense, sudden and dazzling light of faith came into the world, if not because Jesus was preached? Was it not through the brilliance and sweet savor of this name that God called us into his marvelous light? When we have been enlightened, and in that same light behold the light of heaven, rightly may the apostle Paul say to us: Once you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord; walk as children of light.

"So this name must be proclaimed, that it may shine out and never be suppressed. But it must not be preached by someone with sullied mind or unclean lips, but stored up and poured out from a chosen vessel. That is why ou
r Lord said of Saint Paul: He is a chosen instrument of mine, the vessel of my choice, to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel. In this chosen vessel there was to be a drink more pleasing than earth ever knew, offered to all mankind for a price they could pay, so that they would be drawn to taste of it. Poured into other chosen vessels, it would grow and radiate splendor. For our Lord said: He is to Carry my name.

"When a fire is lit to clear a field, it burns
off all the dry and useless weeds and thorns. When the sun rises and darkness is dispelled, robbers, night-prowlers and burglars hide away. So when Paul's voice was raised to preach the Gospel to the nations, like a great clap of thunder in the sky, his preaching was a blazing fire carrying all before it. It was the sun rising in full glory. Infidelity was consumed by it, false beliefs fled away, and the truth appeared like a great candle lighting the whole world with its brilliant flame.

"By word of mouth, by letters, by miracles and by the example of his own life, Saint Paul bore the name of Jesus wherever he went. He praised the name of Jesus at all times, but never more than when bearing witness to his faith. Moreover, the Apostle did indeed carry this name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel as a light to enlighten all nations. And this was his cry wherever he journeyed: The night is passing away, the day is at hand. Let us then cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us conduct ourselves honorably as in the day. Paul himself showed forth the burning and shining light set upon a candlestick, everywhere proclaiming Jesus, and him crucified.

"And so the Church, the bride of Christ strengthened by his t
estimony, rejoices with the psalmist, singing: 0 God, from my youth you have taught me, and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds. The psalmist exhorts her to do this, as he says: Sing to the Lord, and bless his name, proclaim his salvation day after day. And this salvation is Jesus, her Saviour."

From a sermon by Saint Bernardine of Siena, priest (Sermo 49,
De glorioso Nomine Iesu Christi, cap 2: Opera omnia, 4. 505-506)

you gave Saint Bernardine a special love
for the holy Name of Jesus.
By the help of his prayers,
may we always be alive with the spirit of your love.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


One of the best hymns Charles Wesley (1707- 1788) wrote is "Jesus, the Name high over all." It can be sung by Christians of all traditions. I'm sure that St. Bernadine would have loved it!

Jesus! the Name high over all,
In hell or earth or sky;

Angels and men before it fall,

And devils fear and fly.

Jesus! the Name to sinners dear,
The Name to sinners given;

It scatters all their guilty fear,

It turns their hell to heaven.

Jesus! the prisoner’s fetters breaks,
And bruises Satan’s head;

Power into strengthless souls it speaks,

And life into the dead.

O that the world might taste and see
The riches of his grace!

The arms of love that compass me
Would all the world embrace.

His only righteousness I show,
His saving grace proclaim;
’Tis all my business here below

To cry “Behold the Lamb!"

Happy, if with my latest breath
I may but gasp his Name,

Preach him to all and cry in death,

“Behold, behold the Lamb!”

The Day After Trinity Sunday

In Firmly I Believe and Truly (page 18), the then Bishop Graham Leonard wrote: "The doctrine of the Holy Trinity seeks to put into words what God has told us about himself. It tells us that he is not a solitary being, occupied simply with himself, who, for some reason known only to him, decided to create the universe and, within it, men and women who could, as it were, keep him company. It tell us that God is love - not just loving, but love itself from whom all human love is derived. He is a community of love. We describe the relationships within that community as those between persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We do so for two reasons: First, the word “person” is the highest description we, as human beings, have at our disposal to describe a distinct being, with the freedom to love and enter into relationships with others . . . Second, because Holy Scripture speaks of God in personal terms, as Father, as Son and as Holy Spirit."

Sometimes we can forget just how Trinitarian our life really is, in spite of being reminded all the time in the Church's prayer.

We were born again by being baptized "in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."

In the Sacrament of Reconciliation we hear the words, ". . . I absolve you from all your sins in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."

In the Mass, at the climax of the Eucharistic Prayer, we acknowledge that we offer the Holy Sacrifice "Through Jesus Christ our Lord, by whom, and with whom, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, all honour and glory be unto thee, O Father almighty . . ."

When we are on our deathbed the priest will say:

"Go forth upon thy journey from this world, O Christian soul,
In the name of God the Father almighty who created thee, In the name of Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, who suffered and died for thee, In the name of the Holy Spirit who was poured out upon thee . . . "

Fr Fergus Kerr OP writes on
The Trinity and Christian Life:

"The reality of the Godhead, so to speak, is intrinsically relational - or, as Basil of Caesarea put it, God is 'a kind of continuous and indivisible koinonia, (Letter 38, Migne, PG 32, 332a). Indeed, as Zizioulas points out, it looks as if Basil and his younger brother Gregory of Nyssa (who may have been the author rather than the recipient of this particular letter) were perfectly well aware of how radical the conceptual (and theological) innovation was that they were making - 'a new and paradoxical (conception of) united differentiation and differentiated unity' (333a).

"Such language (from the 360s) is so audacious that the phrase deserves to be quoted in the original Greek (it is in the accusative case in the text): kainen Kai paradoxon diakrisin te sunemmenen kai diakekrimenen sunapheian. Remote as it obviously is from the letter of the New Testament, and somewhat breath-taking (not to say jaw-breaking) in verbal concision, this paradoxical innovation certainly strives to secure and protect a much more sophisticated understanding of the divine mystery than one finds in a great deal of Christian theology since the eighteenth-century Enlightenment, which is often little more than deism with a splash of supernatural dressing.

"The aloof and isolated deity, whose being is also often alleged to be 'static', and by whom many modern atheists seem to be persistently haunted, bears no resemblance to the God whose very being is intrinsically communion, as the fourth-century Cappadocian jargon seeks to express it."
For the rest of the article click HERE.

A more basic essay for those thinking about these truths for the first time is by the team at Desiring God: "The doctrine of the Trinity is foundational to the Christian faith. It is crucial for properly understanding what God is like, how He relates to us, and how we should relate to Him. But it also raises many difficult questions. How can God be both one and three? Is the Trinity a contradiction? If Jesus is God, why do the Gospels record instances where He prayed to God?" To read the rest, click HERE.

Bishop Kallistos Ware famously remarked:
"It is not the task of Christianity to provide easy answers to every question, but to make us progressively aware of a mystery. God is not so much the object of our knowledge as the cause of our wonder."
The Orthodox Way
, page 14

Finally, here is the Prayer of Thanksgiving to the Trinity of St Catherine of Siena (1347-1380), taken from her
Dialogue on Divine Providence. We read this passage in the Office of Readings on her feast day (29th April):

O Eternal God! O Eternal Trinity! Through the union of thy divine nature thou hast made so precious the Blood of thine only-begotten Son! O eternal Trinity, Thou art as deep a mystery as the sea, in whom the more I seek, the more I find; and the more I find, the more I seek. For even immersed in the depths of thee, my soul is never satisfied, always famished and hungering for thee, eternal trinity, wishing and desiring to see thee, the true light.

"O eternal Trinity, with the light of understanding I have tasted and seen the depths of thy mystery and the beauty of thy creation. In seeing myself in thee, I have seen that I will become like thee. O eternal Father, from thy power and thy wisdom clearly thou hast given to me a share of that wisdom which belongs to thine only-begotten Son. And truly hast the Holy Spirit, who procedeth from thee, Father and Son, given to me the desire to love thee.

"O eternal Trinity, thou art my maker and I am thy creation. Illuminated by thee, I have learned that thou hast made me a new creation through the Blood of thine Only-begotten Son because thou art captivated by love at the beauty of thy creation.

"O eternal Trinity, O Divinity, O unfathomable abyss, O deepest sea, what greater gift could thou givest me then thy very Self? Thou art a fire that burns eternally yet never consumed, a fire that consumes with thy heat my self-love. Again and again thou art the fire who taketh away all cold heartedness and illuminateth the mind by thy light, the light with which thou hast made me to know thy truth.

"By this mirrored light I know thou are the highest good, a good above all good, a fortunate good, an incomprehensible good, an unmeasurable good, a beauty above all beauty, a wisdom above all wisdom, for thou art wisdom itself, the the food of angels, the fire of love that thou givest to man.

"Thou art the garment covering our nakedness. Thou feedest our family with thy sweetness, a sweetness thou art from which there is no trace of bitterness. O Eternal Trinity! Amen."

Friday, May 16, 2008

Getting Ready for Trinity Sunday

With Trinity Sunday just up ahead I cannot resist quoting this from Dr Eric Mascall (1905-1993):

"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

[Actually, for some years I have bemoaned the fact that amidst all the available online theological resources no-one has put together an "E.M. Mascall Megasite"! The Doctor is often overlooked in theological circles today, especially in Anglican Colleges whose faculties should know better. He hardly ever turns up on the reading lists students have shown me over the last decade. In fact, a few years ago a previously notable Australian theological college of my acquaintance had a heap of Mascall books on the table near the door ("to be taken by anyone who wants them") as part of the purging of their library! So . . . Mascall fans out there (recently retired or otherwise with time on your hands) . . . there must be ONE of you who could work away at such a project. How wonderful it would be if today's seminarians, writing essays with the help of Google and other search engines, frequently came face to face with Dr Mascall's wisdom on this or that subject.]

I have always found mildly blasphemous the reaction of some clergy when asked to preach on Trinity Sunday. Their hearts sink and they squirm in their seats. A newly ordained curate once said to me, "I'd rather you preach on Sunday, Father; I wasn't very good at Systematic Theology in college"!

One of the good things happening today is the revival of Trinitarian theology. Even among otherwise liberal theologians. (Presumably their re-jigged belief in the Trinity 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 will sooner or later be asked to justify the Christian understanding of the Trinity. So - yet again - it's homework time for ordinary run-of-the-mill Christians! Otherwise we will continue to act as if the doctrine of the Trinity is indeed an unnecessary complication, cringing on the inside when Muslim friends ask out of genuine curiosity if we could explain to them why we believe such a thing.

Of course, 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, this small volume is a very useful resource for clergy and laypeople alike, 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.)

Christianity says that at the heart of the universe is relationality, personality, 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.’" See 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 suffering.

Cardinal Walter Kasper spoke about this last Monday in his John Henry Newman Lecture (sponsored by The Catholic Herald and organized by the Catholic Halls of Oxford University):

"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" DC)

"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)

Hubert van Eyck, The Ghent Altarpiece “The Adoration of the Lamb”, painted 1432. Size: 11 by 15 feet (3.5 by 4.6 metres). Cathedral of Saint Bavo, Ghent, Belgium.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Pentecost 2008

Yesterday was Pentecost Sunday (known by many in the Anglican tradition as "Whitsunday") when we celebrated the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the Church as recorded in Acts 2.

And I have a confession to make. I pinched a good story to illustrate the abundance of God's provision for us, and our failure to avail ourselves of that provision.

"At the beginning of the last century a family from southern Italy emigrated to the United States. Not having enough money to pay for meals at restaurants, they took bread and cheese with them for the trip. As the days and weeks passed the bread became stale and the cheese mouldy; at a certain point their child could not take it anymore and could do nothing but cry.

"The parents took the last bit of money that they had and gave it to him so that he could hav
e a nice meal at a restaurant. The child went, ate and came back to his parents in tears. The parents asked: 'We have spent all the money we had left to buy you a nice meal and you are still crying?'

"'I am crying because I found out that one meal a day was included in the price and this whole time we have been eating bread and cheese!'

"Many Christians go through life with only "bread and cheese," without joy, without enthusiasm, when they could, spiritually speaking, every day enjoy every good thing of God, it all being included
in the price of being Christians."

Doesn't that just about sum up the way we live as a church and as individuals?

But we're on a journey to glory, a journey that has its fair share of difficulties and heartaches. In order to journey well, we need to know what God has provided for us, and we need to support each other as we learn to draw by faith on that provision each day.

The story I pinched (but not without owning up to it!) came from this year's Pentecost homily of Father Raniero Cantalemessa, the Pope's household preacher. You can read all of it HERE.

Another very famous Pentecost sermon, by Pope St. Leo the Great, is HERE.

On the day of his consecration in Auckland NZ (3rd March 1861) John Coleridge Patteson, the Missionary Bishop of Melanesia (and martyr) preached THIS SERMON on the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

Go HERE to read Cardinal Levada's thumbnail history of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, written when he was Archbishop of San Francisco.

And for a highly original twist on the Spirit-inspired languages of Christians see Father Hunwicke's PENTECOST HOMILY. (Actually, his blog is well worth bookmarking!)


The Lord raises up people to do his will in all kinds of circumstances. And he raises up notable leaders whose place in history is assured.

One such person is Stephen Langton. Born in England in the late 12th century, he studied in Paris and eventually became a professor at the university there. During that time one of his friends was Lotario de' Conti di Segni who in 1206 as Pope Innocent III made him a Cardinal, and the following year appointed him Archbishop of Canterbury.

However, the English King John refused to recognise Langton, and the latter lived in exile in France for six years. While there he composed (in Latin) the hymn to the Holy Spirit that survives to this day in the Western Church as the Pentecost sequence before the Gospel. Most Anglicans will be familiar with John Mason Neale's English translation:

Come, thou Holy Paraclete;
and from thy celestial seat
send thy light and brilliancy.
Come, thou father of the poor,
come who givest all our store,
come the soul's true radiancy;

Come, of comforters the best,
of the soul the sweetest guest,
sweetly and refreshingly;
Come, in labour rest most sweet,
shade and coolness in the heat,
comfort in adversity.

Thou who art the Light most blest,
come fulfill their inmost breast,
who believe most faithfully;
For without thy Godhead's dower,
man hath nothing in his power,
save to work iniquity;

What is filthy make thou pure,
what is wounded work its cure,
water what is parched and dry;
Gently bend the stubborn will,
warm to life the heart that's chill;
guide who goeth erringly;

Fill thy faithful who adore,
and confess thee evermore,
with thy sevenfold mystery;
Here thy grace and virtue send,
grant salvation in the end,

and in heaven felicity.

It has been said that if all Langton did was to write this hymn, his place in history would be secured. But another project of his changed the lives of all literate Christians for good. Until the 13th century, reading and studying the Bible was difficult even for those who knew the ancient languages. So, in order to help students make exact references to Holy Scripture, Stephen Langton divided the text of each book into chapters and verses. What an enormous debt we owe him! Whenever someone says "John 3:16", "Matthew 6:33", or "Galatians 2:20" (or refers to any other passage of God's Word like that) you should pause and thank God for Langton's meticulous work.

When Langton returned from exile and settled into his role as Archbishop of Canterbury, he realised that the King was ruling the country in a completely unjust and arbitrary way. It was Langton who in June 1215 called the barons together at Runnymede to see what they could do. As Cardinal Archbishop he assisted them in creating a document which outlined the rights of the people, dealing with things like taxation and due process, and not neglecting legal protections for the Church. This document is the MAGNA CARTA, the real beginning of English democracy. So, even today's secular people who value democratic principles owe Langton a huge debt. What a man!

At Pentecost we ask the Lord to renew us in the Holy Spirit, to give us a fresh infilling of his power and love so that we can be more effective in living for and witnessing to Jesus in our "post-Christian" society. So (although all the hymns were properly traditional, as you would expect of us!) we sang this quiet little chorus after receiving Holy Communion:

Come, Holy Spirit, we need thee.
Come, Holy Spirit we pray.
Come in thy strength and thy power.
Come in thine own gentle way.

Come as the wisdom to children.
Come as new sight to the blind.
Come, Lord, as strength in our weakness.
Heal us, soul, body and mind.

I grant you it's not great poetry, but when sung it is beautiful, helping us all to be open to the Holy Spirit.


Not only did we celebrate Pentecost yesterday, we had the baptism of Kye Hugo Mallory, the son of Justin and Philippa Mallory (and grandson of Neville and Chris Rohrlach). Pentecost is one of the traditional Sundays for baptisms in church, so everyone was pleased to welcome Kye's Godparents and other visitors. Here are some photos:


In the afternoon of Saturday 3rd May (i.e. following Fr Stephen Hill's ordination), I had the joy of baptizing Caleb William Forbes Hoyle at St. Stephen's Coomera. Today an email arrived from Damian and Nicole Hoyle containing this photo taken after the baptism. Here is Caleb with his parents and big brother Grayden:

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Mary's Month of May

With all the preparations for last Saturday’s ordination, our focus on the ending of Eastertide and the preparations being made for Pentecost, there has not been a great emphasis (so far) on Our Lady at the start of her special month of May. This post will rectify that!

Gerard Manley Hopkins began his poem, “May Magnificat” with these verses: 

It is Mary’s month, and I
Muse at that and wonder why:
Her feasts follow reason,
Dated due to season

Candlemas, Lady Day;
But the Lady Month, May,
Why fasten that upon her,
With a feasting in her honour?

For the rest of the poem, and for a wonderful collection of meditations and teaching for Mary’s Month of May, click HERE.

One of the most amazing figures of the Victorian age was the Rev’d Joseph Leycester Lyne (1837-1908), who as a young deacon served successively Fathers Prynne and Lowder, leaders in the Catholic Revival. He then became known as “Father Ignatius”, a monk-evangelist who sought to restore the religious life in the Church of England. He was a wildly eccentric man and his detractors were (and still are) many. But he was a great evangelist. The “ordinary people” heard him gladly. He drew huge crowds up and down Britain and throughout the USA, preaching mainly in secular buildings, and many responded to the Lord through his ministry. He established a monastery at Capel-y-ffin near Llanthony in the Black Mountains of Wales. It was here that there was an apparition of Our Lady in 1880. It is said that reports of miracles, like controversy, always surrounded him. His order died when he died.

The ruins of his chapel at Capel-y-ffin remain, and I have prayed there twice.

Clearly Father Ignatius was a robust Anglican Catholic. But he was greatly loved and admired by evangelical protestants as well. Indeed, he was an encourager of those leading the Welsh Revival of 1904. So, it is gratifying to see that there is now an annual pilgrimage to Capel-y-finn which draws Christians of different traditions to honour Ignatius and to seek Our Lady’s prayers. For information on this, click HERE.

Through the first half of the twentieth century, all kinds of Christians liked to sing his best-known hymn:

Let me come closer to thee, Lord Jesus,
Oh, closer day by day;
Let me lean harder on thee, Lord Jesus,
Yes, harder, all the way.

Let me show forth thy beauty, Lord Jesus,
Like sunshine on the hills;
Oh, let my lips pour forth all thy sweetness
In joyous sparkling rills.

Yes, like a channel, precious Lord Jesus,
Make me and let me be;
Keep me and use me daily, Lord Jesus,
For thee, for only thee.

In all my heart and will, O Lord Jesus,
Be altogether king;
Make me a loyal subject, Lord Jesus,
To thee in everything.

Thirsting and hungering for thee, Lord Jesus,
With blessed hunger here.
Longing for New Jerusalem’s fullness-
No thirst, no hunger there.

Gladstone said that Father Ignatius was one of the greatest orators of his day; the leading atheist of the day, Charles Bradlaugh, said that he was the only man whose influence he feared upon his followers. Father Ignatius’ motto ‘Jesus Only’ symbolised his simple, direct message.

In his 1933 history of the Catholic revival, Desmond Morse-Boycott, while not overlooking the amazing eccentricities, weaknesses and failures of Father Ignatius, echoes the feeling of many when he says of him and his rocky relationship with the Church of England: 

“A fool like St. Francis, a hero like St. Benedict, a revivalist like Moody, a lover of souls like General Booth, an ascetic like St. Anthony the hermit, an orator as golden as Lacordaire, and as simple as a child, of whom his Church was unworthy. Alas! She is awkward in her handling of saints.”

I give you here Father Ignatius preaching about Our Lady during a mission at the Westminster Town Hall in 1885. I cannot think of a better way of marking “Mary’s Month of May”!

(Acts 1:14)

“Mary, the Mother of Jesus.” These few words go right into our hearts, because we are the people of God. Let me say them over again, because there is such a wonderful charm and such a wonderful power in them. “Mary, the Mother of Jesus.” What! Do you believe, and do I believe, that Jesus had a Mother?

Do you believe and do I believe that Jesus has a mother now at this very moment? We do believe it, and, at this very moment, while our blessed Lord Jesus is in our midst, and while we are now enjoying a sense of His presence, we believe that He has a Mother. If He had not we should all be damned for ever. Why?

Because it is the Blood of the Lamb that has saved us and there is no pardon except through the human blood of Jesus. If Jesus had no Mother He would have no blood! What an awful mystery is this!

The greyest-bearded man listening to me now, has a mother either here or in the spirit-world; and most of us love our mothers; most of us love them with a love with which we never loved anyone else.

There is a peculiarity about the love for a mother which there is in no other love. It is nothing like the love of husband towards the wife. It is not the love which we have for a friend, or for any other relation.

The love of a mother is something that seems to be one of the initiatory mysteries of our existence. The very first sensation of our hearts was love for our mothers. We can almost recall the time when we could only just put our arms round our mother’s neck with tenderness giving her the first kiss.

My mother! There is no other relationship that touches the heart like the one expressed by these words! “My mother!” Of course I am not speaking now to those who, unhappily, have had very wicked mothers. Though, even then, there is something in the thought of “my mother” that would make it agonising to think anything that was bad of her.

Do I not recollect, myself, how proud I used to be of my mother? I did not think there was anybody in the world like my mother. And I am sure that is what Jesus thinks about His Mother, with His human heart; for He is very Man as well as very God. And Jesus knows one Being to whom He can look up and say, before the angels, before devils, before men, “ My Mother!”

There is to me, as a man, and as a Christian, a charm that is unutterable in the thought; “Mary, the Mother of Jesus!” Oh! to speak her name is, to me, such a bringing of Jesus to my heart, as man to man. If Mary be His Mother, I can realise that Jesus is my Brother.

He has the flesh and blood and bones of man though He be God of Heaven! “He came down from Heaven, and was Incarnate, by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, and was made man.”

“Mary, the Mother of Jesus!”

Why, if anyone pointed out to me the mother of a very great statesman, or the mother of a very great orator, or philanthropist, I should feel a kind of reverence for the woman for her son’s sake. Supposing, when the Duke of Wellington came back from the wars, during which he had sustained the honour of the British Empire, and in which he had, a thousand times, risked his life, for dear Old England, supposing, when he came back from the last of his wars, that the first person whom he had met; was his mother: do you not think that the people would have said: “Look, that is the mother of Wellington”? And they would at once have made way to let the mother pass to her son’s side.

But she was not half so much the mother of Wellington as Mary was the Mother of Jesus. Mary is the Mother of Jesus in a far deeper, intenser sense. Jesus had no human father. Mary was the centre connecting Jesus with humanity. When Jesus thinks of Mary, there His thoughts must rest; for Mary is the beginning and the end of His humanity.

I cannot give utterance to one-millionth part of the feelings, in my own heart, when I think of Mary, the Mother of Jesus’, and it does not seem to me to matter, one single iota, what people say to me about this, for I feel that I have Jesus on my side; and that I have the Father on my side, Who, from all eternity, elected Mary to be the Mother mystic of His Son Incarnate.

The words “Mary, the Mother of Jesus” have a sound that makes me feel quite at home with God, because God, through Mary, became very Man.

Do you not all feel this? Are there any listening to me who think that I am exaggerating? If so, let me just refer them to one verse, in the 1st chapter of St. Luke, and let me ask them to listen to these words. They are in the 35th verse of St. Luke i, and it is a verse the like of which there is not, in all the Bible, for mystery tremendous, for marvel unutterable and ineffable.

“And the angel answered and said unto her. The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the Power of the Highest shall overshadow thee; therefore also that Holy Thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.”

Nazareth was busy in the fields, for it was spring time; the corn was beginning to grow, the birds were singing in the trees, and the farmers and the labourers were hard at work preparing for the planting of the earth; all nature’s toil was going on its way; but, in a little cottage, on the hill, there was a mystery of eternity being enacted between the Archangel of Heaven and the lowly maiden Mary.

No eye but the eye of Mary saw the tremendous glow of the gleaming light, when the Archangel came to her and said: “Hail, thou that art highly favoured,” and told her that she was to be the Mother of the Son of God. Then Mary asked him: “How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?” And now listen to the Angel’s answer: “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the Power of the Highest (that is of God the Father) shall overshadow thee: therefore also that Holy Thing Which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.”

My brethren, “the Holy Ghost shall come upon thee:” that is the Third Person. The Power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: that is the First Person. “The Holy One born of thee” is the Second Person. There is the whole Trinity.

How awful, how blasphemous, if it be not true! ls it true? ls it true that Mary became the Mother of Jesus, by this tremendous and overwhelming revelation of mystery and truth? Is there, in existence, a Being who was the Mother of God the Son by the overshadowing of God the Father, and by the conception of the Holy Ghost?

It cannot be true!It is an utter impossibility!

Oh brethren, need I urge any argument to convince my present hearers that really and truly Mary became the Mother of Jesus, the Son of God, by the overshadowing of God the Father, and by the Holy Ghost coming upon her? No, because I know that you all believe it quite as much as I do. Mary, the Mother of Jesus, is a mystery; but we do believe in this mystery of the New Testament; it is the foundation of all the other mysteries of Christianity, and they would be nothing but for this. Of course the outside world does not believe it; and a great many in the visible Church do not believe it either.

But if we do not believe in the miracle of the Mother of Christ we cannot not believe in the Divinity and in the Incarnation of Christ, nor in the Atonement of the Cross; for if the Blood that Jesus shed on the Cross was not that of the Son of God, it could not save us any more than any other blood.

We cannot prove it by argument; no logic can prove it; it cannot be proved by any other means than the Holy Ghost convincing the heart of the reality of this awful, and unutterable, mystery.

Of course if there be any individuals here who do not believe this mystery, my words must seem most blasphemous to them.

Can you feel how sweet it is to call Mary the Mother of God? I say I should not be a Christian if I could not believe that she was. What! God have a Mother! Certainly. And yet people, who call themselves Christians, scarcely acknowledge that Mary is the Mother of God.

Mary is not the Mother of God in the way in which my mother is my mother. She is not the mother of the Godhead. Mary is the Mother of the humanity of Him Who was God; of a Divine Person who, though He took human nature upon Him, was still very God. And this is a mystery that all must believe.

May I ask you, first of all, is it not tremendously necessary, in these evil days of rationalism and materialism, that we should be sound on this fundamental doctrine of our holy religion? Is it not necessary that we should know what we believe on this point, and why we believe it? Shall I, because I am afraid of the ridicule of an unbelieving world, say I do not believe that Christ is really God, and that Mary is only the Mother of a Divine person? Shall we say this? No; to settle the matter, we give the title to “Mary, the Mother of Jesus” of “Mother of God.”

And now, my brethren, consider how comfortable it is to be very clear on this point; because, when we are clear on this doctrine of Christ’s Mother, it brings Jesus so very close to us. We see Him, and we realise that He is our High Priest. If this mystery be not true, Christ is either not God or not man. If Mary be not the Mother of God, Christ is not God, and if Mary be not God’s Mother, God has never taken our nature and never redeemed us.

Therefore we cling to the truth that God so loved us that He came down from Heaven, took our nature upon Him, and bought His Church with His Own Blood. He so loved the Church that He gave Himself for it. Oh! my brothers and sisters in Jesus, this truth brings home to me so plainly that Jesus is the “Friend that sticketh closer than a brother.” It makes me to realise that I may cast all my sorrows on Him, for once He bore our sorrows; once he was “in all points tempted like as we are.”

How could He have been tempted like we are if He had not become “very man?” God could not be tempted. Therefore He came down and was Incarnate, and “was made man,” that He might be able to “be touched with the feeling of our infirmities.” When you, yourselves, are nearly overcome with grief, when tears stream down your cheeks, then comes the thought to you that He suffered, that “Jesus wept,” that Jesus was weary! Oh, what calm it brings to the soul to know that He is able “to be touched with the feeling of our infirmities” because He “was in all points tempted like as we are.” It makes life so different to go through it with Him on our side. He once was like us, because He was “very man,” “born of the Virgin Mary.”

My love for the Blessed Virgin is one of the chief things for which I have been persecuted for twenty years, and misrepresented, and for which I have had to suffer a very great deal. I was about to preach a mission in a church, where I should very much have liked to have gone; but, all at once, the clergyman drew back because of my great love for the “Mother of God.”

There are plenty of people in the Church of England who do not believe it right to love her; and if there be any such people here present, may I ask them: Do they think we can grieve our Lord by loving His Mother? Instead of loving her too much, I feel that I cannot love her enough.

Brethren, I ask you quietly to put this question to yourselves: is it pleasing to our Lord that His people’s hearts should dwell with love on the remembrance of His Mother, or is it not? My feeling is that the more we revere the Blessed Virgin Mary the more we please her Son.

If you were to go to Margate Cemetery, at the end of July, where my own darling mother’s mortal remains are lying, till Jesus comes and “the dead in Christ rise first,” you would see her grave covered with beautiful flowers. Pounds and pounds are lavished on my mother’s grave, and this by people who have never seen her, but they have a love for her for my sake; and they will spend money on her grave, for my sake, out of gratitude for what I have done for their souls. And for Jesus’ sake we do honour to the memory of the Mother of Jesus.

It is for Jesus Only that I love the Virgin Mary. She would be no more than any other woman to me if she were not His Mother. Therefore, all the glory that I pay to Mary is for love of her Son; and I am sorry that anybody should think this wrong.

The next point is “praying to the Virgin.”

You ask your wife to pray for you, and you teach your child to pray for you, and in the same way I can understand our asking the prayers of those who are departed. I do not believe in asking the prayers of dead saints; but I never heard of a dead saint! I do not believe in dead saints. I believe that Jesus lives; and because He lives they live also; and that is the reason why we ask their prayers. I believe that they are “alive for evermore.”

The Bible says of the departed, “We are compassed about with a great cloud of witnesses.” While we are “running the race” they are the witnesses looking on. So that when a person speaks of “dead saints” and says that they cannot hear, he has no authority for his assertions from the Word of God.

So, my brethren, I not only believe that it is not wrong, but that it is right, and very helpful, to ask the prayers of my fellow-believers; and you will have to prove to me that the Blessed Virgin is not among the Living “Cloud of Witnesses” before condemning me for asking the prayers of her who is our Lord’s Mother.

If you say: “where are we told in the Bible to give all this honour to the Virgin Mary?” I would answer that if Queen Victoria were to walk into this room now, should I sit still and say: “I am not going to rise, I shall not get up, I am not told anywhere to do so” when I see the Queen? No. I should rise instantly, as an Englishman, because I believe the Queen is the Lord’s Anointed over us in civil matters; and I should wish to show her every honour that I could. I should not require to be told to rise; and therefore all that I want to be told is that Mary is the Mother of Jesus, and nothing else; and I must give her the honour that is her due.

There is the Mother of your Lord; treat her as you please, but, for myself, I say that the more I love my Lord and Saviour the more I shall reverence the Mother, whom “all generations are to call blessed.”

On the Cross Jesus said to His beloved disciple “Behold thy Mother” and in these words He speaks to me, “Behold thy Mother” and therefore I say: “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for me.”

Do not let prejudice cause us to misunderstand a simple thing like this.

And I ask you, before I conclude, does my love to the Blessed Virgin hinder me from enjoying Christ in His fulness? Do I mix up the mystery of the Virgin with the message of the Gospel to sinners? Certainly not; and I think that the more I love and reverence the Lord’s Mother, the more I realise what her Son is, and the more I long to proclaim what He is to a world that is “dead in trespasses and sins.”

Here are two photos of the monastery built by Father Ignatius. (Shortly after his death it was sold.) The one on the left shows the statue of Our Lady on the spot where the apparition took place.


.”The Father Ignatius Memorial Trust was established in 1966, shortly before the centenary year of the founding of the monastery at Capel-y-ffin. It had the twin objectives of restoring what remained of the ruined church and tomb, and fostering its use as outdoor place of worship. Many volunteers have given their time and energy freely to preserve the structure. Damage caused by lightning and frost, as well as the indifferent quality of some of the original construction has presented severe problems over the years, and many reverses.     It is hoped to enable public access once more to the tomb of Father Ignatius. Why not make a donation, or request the next Newsletter of the Father Ignatius Memorial Trust.