Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Bishop John-David Schofield . . . thank you

Bishop John-David Schofield 
6th October 1938 – 29th October 2013 

I first met Bishop John-David Schofield as part of the international Forward in Faith team witnessing to and reporting from the 1998 Lambeth Conference. We had a number of conversations during that time, and our paths crossed occasionally in the years that followed. Bishop Schofield was a Gospel man in whom the “three streams” of Anglican renewal (Anglo-Catholic, Evangelical and Charismatic) flowed together without contradiction to the glory of God. A fellow priest of the Society of the Holy Cross (“SSC”), he was gentle, kind and courageous, often very funny, and always encouraging others to trust in God’s goodness and love. May he rest in peace and continue to grow in the love of the Lord Jesus whom he served with all his might.

Archbishop Robert Duncan’s statement:
Bishop John-David Schofield was a great man of God.  I – like so very many others – shall miss him terribly.  His spiritual depth twinned with his unparalleled sense of humor made him one of a kind.  The Renaissance poet Dante Alighieri once likened the sound of heaven’s perpetual “Holy, Holy, Holy” to “the laughter of the ages.”  With our beloved late Father-in-God now swelling the chorus, there will be more laughter than ever.  Ours is the loss.  Jesus is our hope.  Rest in peace dear friend.

To the faithful of the Diocese of San Joaquin, and to all who grieve in this season, please be assured of my prayers, and of those of all the faithful of the Anglican Church in North America.

The Most Revd Robert Duncan, D.D.
Primate of the Anglican Church in North America

Bishop Keith Ackerman’s statement: 
The death of the Right Reverend John David Mercer Schofield, SSC, 4th Bishop of the Diocese of San Joaquin, has touched the hearts of many people throughout the world, and particularly those Traditional Anglicans who looked to him as a courageous leader, who took seriously his vows as a Successor of the Apostles and a Defender of the Faith once delivered to the Apostles. 

A cradle Anglican with deep English roots, Bishop Schofield’s life embodied the breadth of Anglicanism: Anglo-Catholic in theology, Evangelical in proclaiming the Gospel, and Charismatic in expression. Those with a limited view will remember him primarily for his staunch defense of the Catholic Faith which resulted in his participation in numerous events that challenged the Catholic order of the Episcopal Church. Indeed, his election as Bishop of San Joaquin very nearly was not approved by the General Convention due to the fact that he maintained the historic and received view regarding Holy Orders. His participation in the Righter trial was due to his belief that Conventions do not have the authority to alter that which was received regarding both Holy Orders and the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony. His brave defense of Orthodoxy resulted in his Diocese concluding that in order to remain faithful Anglicans they needed to participate in the realignment of North American Anglicanism resulting in his expulsion from the Episcopal Church, endless litigation by that ecclesial body, and public statements including a booklet which mischaracterized him. 

In the spirit of the Beatitudes he continued to glorify God with joy, drawing upon the spiritual strength bestowed upon him by regularly being at the Altar, hearing confessions, offering spiritual direction, delving deeply into the Scriptures, reading carefully the Church Fathers and being immersed in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

The “Bishop John-David” not portrayed in magazine articles was generous with all people, a great lover of the arts, particularly Opera, and enthusiastically engaged in the culinary arts. Being hosted by Bishop John-David was a bit like having a foretaste of Heaven. One day he heard of a Bishop whose ring had been stolen. He immediately took off his own and placed it on the finger of the Bishop. It has been been said that the mark of a holy man is when one is in his presence and feels as if there is no one else in the world at that moment. As a result he had many spiritual sons and daughters who looked to him for guidance, counsel, encouragement and prayer. 

He was a leader in virtually every organization or movement that has sought to preserve the received Faith, among them Forward in Faith and its predecessors and Nashotah House. His contribution will be missed, but the promise of his prayers before the throne of Grace at the Altar in Heaven will be a great consolation for us who are left behind in our earthly pilgrimage. He who was “larger than life” is now in the “larger life,” and as we approach All Saints Day and All Souls Day we will remember our beloved John David. May he rest in Peace and Rise in Glory. Pax tibi dear bishop.

The Right Revd Keith Ackerman,
President of Forward in Faith North America

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

What a great Hymn!

The Forerunners of Christ with Saints and Martyrs 
by Fra Angelico (1423-1424) 
(in the National Gallery, London)

Sometimes even long-ish processional hymns are not quite long enough - especially if the altar is to be incensed at the end of the procession. So, with All Saints' Day almost upon us, in case any readers are looking at ways of lengthening the hymn “For all the Saints”, here it is with the missing verses, and one for Our Lady as well! 

“For all the Saints” was written as a processional hymn by William Walsham How (1823-1897), Bishop of Wakefield, and was first published in Hymns for Saints’ Days, and Other Hymns in 1864. The verses honouring the Apostles, Evangelists and Martyrs were certainly part of the original. The one for our Lady is a later addition.

For all the Saints who from their labours rest,
Who thee by faith before the world confessed,
Thy name, O Jesu, be for ever blest.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

Thou wast their Rock, their Fortress, and their Might,
Thou, Lord, their Captain in the well-fought fight;
Thou in the darkness drear their one true  Light.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

For Ever-blessed Mary, — full of grace,
Mother of God, and Queen of all thy Saints, —
With her to thee “Magnificat” we raise.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

For the Apostles’ glorious company, —
Who, bearing forth the Cross o’er land and sea,
Shook all the mighty world, — we sing to thee,
Alleluia! Alleluia!

For the Evangelists, — by whose pure word,
Like fourfold stream, the Garden of the Lord
Is fair and fruitful, — be Thy Name adored.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

For Martyrs, — who with rapture-kindled eye
Saw the bright crown descending from the sky,
And dying, grasped it, — thee we glorify.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

O may thy soldiers, faithful, true, and bold,
Fight as the Saints who nobly fought of old,
And win, with them, the victor’s crown of gold.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

O blest communion! fellowship divine!
We feebly struggle, they in glory shine;
Yet all are one in thee, for all are thine.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

And when the strife is fierce, the warfare long,
Steals on the ear the distant triumph song,
And hearts are brave again, and arms are strong.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

The golden evening brightens in the west;
Soon, soon to faithful warriors cometh rest:
Sweet is the calm of Paradise the blest.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

But lo! there breaks a yet more glorious day;
The Saints triumphant rise in bright array:
The King of glory passes on his way.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

From earth’s wide bounds, from ocean’s farthest coast,
Through gates of pearl streams in the countless host,
Singing to Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

Sunday, October 27, 2013

In the Lord's presence - a psalm and a prayer

Psalm 84 Quam dilecta

1. O how amiable are thy dwellings : thou Lord of hosts!
2. My soul hath a desire and longing to enter into the courts of the Lord : my heart and my flesh rejoice in the living God.
3. Yea, the sparrow hath found her an house, and the swallow a nest where she may lay her young : even thy altars, O Lord of hosts, my King and my God.
4. Blessed are they that dwell in thy house : they will be alway praising thee.
5. Blessed is the man whose strength is in thee : in whose heart are thy ways.
6. Who going through the vale of misery use it for a well : and the pools are filled with water.
7. They will go from strength to strength : and unto the God of gods appeareth every one of them in Sion.
8. O Lord God of hosts, hear my prayer : hearken, O God of Jacob.
9. Behold, O God our defender : and look upon the face of thine Anointed.
10. For one day in thy courts : is better than a thousand.
11. I had rather be a door-keeper in the house of my God : than to dwell in the tents of ungodliness.
12. For the Lord God is a light and defence : the Lord will give grace and worship, and no good thing shall he withhold from them that live a godly life.
13. O Lord God of hosts : blessed is the man that putteth his trust in thee.

* * * * * * * * * *

Enthroned at your Father’s right hand, 
yet truly present in this Blessed Sacrament; 
we pray you, risen Lord, 
whose power sustains all things, 
whose beauty makes all things fair, 
and whose triumph seals all things 
with the hope of renewal: 
come to us in our receiving 
of your Body and Blood, 
and in your coming raise us up 
to seek the things which are above - 
and above all, your love 
which is above all understanding. Amen.

- Brian Moore (adapted)

Here is Exeter Cathedral Choir singing Psalm 84 to Parry's well-known chant.

And here is "Lord I need you", led by Matt Maher 
in adoration of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament 
at World Youth Day 2013

Friday, October 25, 2013

Bishop Jonathan Baker's Address to the Forward in Faith National Assembly

Last Saturday (19th October, 2013) the National Assembly of Forward in Faith met at St Alban’s Holborn, London. Full reports of the Assembly can be found on the FORWARD IN FAITH WEBSITE.

In particular, the following presentations are well worth listening to:

* Bishop Geoffrey Rowell's sermon

* Father Christopher Smith on the advent of a new newspaper

* "Women in the Church" - a presentation by women of Forward in Faith

* "Women in the Episcopate" (resolution)

* Concluding remarks by Father Ross Northing

* Meditation at Benediction by Bishop Jonathan Goodall

The Chairman of Forward in Faith is the Rt Rev’d Jonathan Baker SSC, Bishop of Fulham. Click HERE to listen to his important keynote address, or read the text below. 


Dear Friends 

What a difference a year makes. Francis for Benedict, Justin for Rowan; just two changes in the leadership and oversight of the Church of God since we were last gathered together. At least the Bishop of Ebbsfleet is still called Jonathan! We pray, as we must, for the Holy Father and we pray for our Archbishop of Canterbury, for all the gifts and graces of the Holy Spirit for each one of them, that they may fulfil the awesome calling laid upon them. There’s a third change of name, of perhaps just a little less significance in the life of the universal Church, but let’s not be too modest: Colin for Stephen. This is of course the first National Assembly of Forward in Faith organised under the auspices of our new Director Colin Podmore, so let me thank him straight away on your behalf for all his hard work in making today possible, and for all that he has achieved in six months so far, working on your behalf for this organisation. 

So, fellow bishops, Fathers, Holy Deacons, ladies and gentlemen – welcome again to the Forward in Faith National Assembly for 2013; our twentieth, I think. It is very good to be here at St Alban’s, Holborn: not here quite for the first time, but this year it was our decision to ask Fr Christopher Smith for hospitality, rather than us having to leave Christ the King Gordon Square for reasons beyond our control. The complex of church, chapel, office space and meeting rooms in WC1 remains vital to the work of Forward in Faith, indeed we couldn’t possibly function as an organization without those premises, but I hope you share with me the sense that in this place, not only do we have a wonderful and holy sacred space for worship – as we have just experienced – but we have the ability here to experience a sense of solidarity and togetherness on the same site, sitting together for our business, eating together at lunchtime, which that transit between Christ the King and the capacious but somewhat chilly and intimidating Emmanuel Centre did not always offer. We shall of course keep these matters under review and your comments are always welcome. (As long as they agree with me.) 

We meet, as we must, as a Christian assembly, modelling something, we hope, of the true ecclesial characteristic of synodality: a taking counsel together, a walking together – bishops, priests and people – in the way of discipleship, the way of Cross and Resurrection, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. We seek all of us to be formed by, and to reflect back to others, the theological virtues of faith, hope and love, those crowning gifts of the Holy Spirit of which we have spoken and sung in this morning’s liturgy. And so we live out our baptismal vocation to be salt and light in the world. And, as we heard in the homily, as one very small part of the Church of God, the people of God gathered here this morning, we cannot but be conscious of the face of Christ in our suffering brothers and sisters, not least in Syria, in Egypt, and in so many regions of the lands of Our Lord’s birth and ministry, and the lands of the earliest spread of the primitive Church. Our consciousness of this truly universal, this truly world-wide Church, and consciousness of the suffering Church, can only help to keep our gaze long and our horizons wide, and these things must continue to characterize an organization which continues to stand under the strap-line, the banner, of the quest for unity and truth. All of this teaches us humility: humility which is learnt from the Church of the Ages, humility which is learnt from the example of the persecuted Church. And from humility flows thanksgiving, for our own small part in the task entrusted to us: that of not only guarding the deposit, but handing on, handing over, as St Paul has it, that which we have received. That is our mandate, our mandatum, our new commandment; that is our agenda for mission. 

So: a new Pope, a new Archbishop, yes, even a new Director of Forward in Faith. What a difference a year makes. In the body politic of the Church of England, and over that question of holy order which exercises us so much, we might say that everything has changed and nothing has changed. A year ago we met a matter of weeks before a historic debate in the General Synod on Final Approval of draft legislation to allow the consecration of women to the episcopate. As we know, that vote for Final Approval was lost: lost by a handful of votes (in terms of the required synodical majorities) in the House of Laity, but lost because the middle ground of that House – representing very faithfully, I believe, the middle ground of the Church of England – could not see the ground being laid for the flourishing of the whole Church of England, in what was then proposed. Many of us here this morning, and many more of those we represent who are not in this church now, were put in a deeply discomfiting and even stressful position after last November’s decision in General Synod: a position misrepresented in some quarters of the press at least and taken up by many of those who think differently from ourselves. And the story went something like this: the legislation had been brought down by those who were anti-women, those who had deliberately wrecked the credibility of the Church of England, those who are simply obstructive and reactionary. Well, we know very well that none of this was or is true: but it was said, and it hurt. It hurt many of our number. So let us not be afraid to bring that hurt to the foot of the Cross, and to ask for God’s healing.

So: nothing has changed; here we are in a Church of England which, on paper, is just as it was on this question on 12 November 1992, the year before my ordination to the diaconate – that’s how long we have been living with this issue. But of course we know that in another sense everything has changed. The Church of England has quickly embarked on a fresh process, and it is likely that we will be back at the Final Approval stage of legislation, just as we were last November, within the next couple of years. Others will speak later this afternoon in much more detail – and with a much more informed perspective than mine – about this fresh process, and you as an Assembly will have the chance to make your voices heard in the debate which we shall hold. What I want to say now is this. I believe that it is hugely important for us to grasp that, in one key sense, everything has changed, and changed in a way which – extraordinary as it is to say so – can and must give us hope, hope that creates real opportunity for us under God, if only, under God, we can rise to the challenge. 

The change is this, and it is embedded, if you want to look at documents, in that report that the latest Working Party on fresh legislative proposals brought to the General Synod in July this year. There we read, by unanimous agreement of the members of that working party – which, as with all these things, had among it representatives of the spectrum of views across the Church of England – that catholics and evangelicals who are unable, on the grounds of theological conviction, to receive the ministry of women bishops or priests, remain within the spectrum of Anglican teaching and tradition; that the Church of England will be committed to their flourishing within its life and structures (a very important phrase, that, of which we’ll hear a great deal more later today); and that provision for them – for us – will be made without limit of time. Now it’s easy to say – words, promises, empty promises perhaps – and trust me, we will be watching like hawks to see that the promises, the commitments, contained in those words are honoured! But those words, those commitments, those promises, do potentially create the space for us in which we can go forward; yes, forward in faith. 

I have said already that others will have much more to say later today on the detail. I just want to make two points. The first is brief, and it is this. It is a huge tribute to all those, including our many friends who are now in another and larger part of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church; it is a huge tribute to all, who over twenty years and more have continued to present and to argue our case with clarity and courtesy – to put across our arguments over reception, over the limits of authority and the nature of development, over the relationship between Scripture and Tradition, over questions of assurance and symbolism in the sacramental economy; it is a huge tribute to them and to all that work that our theological position is being recognized by those who are charting the way ahead for the Church of England. We are determined to keep that work fresh and in the collective mind of the Church, and there are plans in train for a new project in this regard, of which more another day. 

The second and even more substantial point is this. If – and I repeat it’s an ‘if’, for we do not know the detail – if the Church of England really does mean what it says, that we are to be given the space, the tools, the means whereby we can flourish, then we had better grasp every opportunity to occupy that space, to grow the Church, to win souls for Christ, to serve the people of this nation, and to build the Kingdom of God. 

This is where the growing relationship between Forward in Faith and the Society, and its bishops, is really beginning to build. A much greater sense of collegiality and co-operation among the bishops – diocesan and suffragan, PEV or those with a traditional geographically bounded ministry. A more strategic understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of the catholic movement, of our parishes, clergy and resources – human, built, and of course financial. A much greater unity of purpose beginning to show among the catholic societies and their various bodies of governance and trusteeship. A real sense of asking ourselves where we can pool our collective resources to reap the greatest harvest in terms of mission and evangelization. A zeal for evangelization in the hugely challenging multiple contexts of Britain 2013. An absolute commitment to the highest standards of formation for our priests (and I know very well, as they say in some advertisements, that ‘other products are available,’ but I am going to exercise my right to single out the work done by the Principal and his staff at St Stephen’s House, in forming a new generation of really able and committed and creative priests). And we have a wonderful opportunity through creative engagement with something the Church of England is doing, the new validation pathways through the Durham Common Awards. We have a new opportunity to participate in the evolution of a link between training in the academic discipline of theology and training which is pastoral, applied and distinctively ministerial, which will surely bear great fruit in the future. Above all – and this is where every member of this Assembly has such a key part to play – we look for a renewal of our hearts and minds in the service of the Lord; a deepening of our prayer; a greater love for Jesus Christ, in the Blessed Sacrament, in the life of the Church, in the face of the poor. 

Without all this – and much, much more – the efforts of our representatives in the political arena will be in vain, and we shall die not because of what the General Synod does, but for want of priests, for want of parishes which model beautiful and attractive Eucharistic community, which draw fresh Christians to the Lord, and for want of newly baptised women and men who are on fire with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. 

I have – if you’ll indulge me in saying this – just a little bit of experience in the heat of the political kitchen in the Church of England. And I’m sure that those who this time around are standing over the pots full of boiling water and the pans spitting oil are doing – as I did and those who went before me did – all this political work for the sake of the Gospel. It might not feel like it at the time. Others might not believe that that is our motivation, but it’s our job to prove them wrong. It is truly love for the Lord which inspires us, and love for his Church and for his people, and I hope that is what has inspired every one of you to come here today.

We have a mixed agenda this afternoon: some business which looks like housekeeping, but which is actually very important for the furtherance of the work of this charity and for the prosecution of our aims and objectives; some consideration of the political and synodical agenda; and what I hope will be a timely and significant presentation on the faith and life of some of our – very many – members who are women; and other bits and pieces of business besides. We shall end, as we always should, before the Lord, and perhaps after Benediction you could manage to slip away into the October night as quietly and prayerfully as possible, before continuing your conversations and your fellowship out there in the fleshpots of Holborn. Your fidelity inspires me and your Executive and your Council to serve you. May the Lord bless you, as you seek to follow Him more faithfully; and we pray that our day together will be richly blessed. Thank you very much indeed.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Just "saying prayers" or "really praying"? - Pope Francis' homily

Pope Francis’ pastoral heart is nowhere more apparent than in his no-nonsense daily preaching, much of which - after clearly being prayed over - is “off the cuff” rather than read. Those of us who have regularly given a homily of just a few minutes to sustain people at the daily Mass on their way to work, will know what a challenge that is, as well as the commitment it places on the priest the night before, and the sensitivity required to reshape what is being said during the homily itself so that it speaks to the particular cluster of people present, without becoming “waffle.”

Pope Francis  is a master of the craft. Actually, he does what all parish priests are supposed to do:  he “unpacks” the Gospel of the day as it relates to our ordinary lives. For 50 years now, the Church has been emphasising that at the Eucharist, we gather at TWO tables: the table of the Word and the table of the Sacrament. The homily is a vital aspect of nourishing the people at the first of those tables. Pope Francis shows how it’s done.

Yesterday (16th October 2013) Pope Francis developed the theme of Jesus in the Gospel reading. He pointed out the difference between praying and simply “saying prayers”, reminding us that when faith becomes an ideology, it can make Christians hostile and arrogant. 

These excerpts from the homily Pope Francis preached at Mass yesterday morning are from the translation made by Vatican Radio:

“The faith passes, so to speak, through a distiller and becomes ideology. And ideology does not beckon [people]. In ideologies there is not Jesus: in his tenderness, his love, his meekness. And ideologies are rigid, always. Of every sign: rigid. And when a Christian becomes a disciple of the ideology, he has lost the faith: he is no longer a disciple of Jesus, he is a disciple of this attitude of thought… For this reason Jesus said to them: ‘You have taken away the key of knowledge.’ The knowledge of Jesus is transformed into an ideological and also moralistic knowledge, because these close the door with many requirements.”

“The faith becomes ideology and ideology frightens. Ideology chases away the people. It creates distances between people and it distances the Church from the people. But it is a serious illness, this ideology in Christians. It is an illness, but it is not new, eh? Already the Apostle John, in his first Letter, spoke of this. Christians who lose the faith and prefer the ideologies. His attitude is: be rigid, moralistic, ethical, but without kindness. This can be the question, no? But why is it that a Christian can become like this? Just one thing: this Christian does not pray. And if there is no prayer, you always close the door.”

“When a Christian does not pray, this happens. And his witness is an arrogant witness.” He who does not pray is “arrogant, is proud, is sure of himself. He is not humble. He seeks his own advancement.” Instead, he said, “when a Christian prays, he is not far from the faith; he speaks with Jesus.” And, the Pope said, “I say to pray, I do not say to say prayers, because these teachers of the law said many prayers” in order to be seen. Jesus, instead, says: “when you pray, go into your room and pray to the Father in secret, heart to heart.” The pope continued: “It is one thing to pray, and another thing to say prayers.”

“These do not pray, abandoning the faith and transforming it into moralistic, casuistic ideology, without Jesus. And when a prophet or a good Christian reproaches them, they the same that they did with Jesus: ‘When Jesus left, the scribes and Pharisees began to act with hostility toward him’ – they are ideologically hostile – ‘and to interrogate him about many things,’ – they are insidious – ‘for they were plotting to catch him at something he might say.’ They are not transparent. Ah, poor things, they are people dishonoured by their pride. We ask the Lord for Grace, first: never to stop praying to never lose the faith; to remain humble, and so not to become closed, which closes the way to the Lord.”

Monday, October 14, 2013

Are we on the right track? - St Vincent of Lerins

Last Friday in the Office of Vigils (or Readings), many of us pondered this passage from St Vincent of Lerins on the development of doctrine in the Church, sparking some discussion about where we find ourselves in relation to a proper ecclesiology. St Vincent’s teaching is clearly relevant to some of the contentious issues being faced by the Church in our time. So, I share with you a short piece I wrote some time ago about the implications of this for modern day Anglicans.

Until recently the following paragraph of St Vincent of Lerins (400-450 AD) was a much used reference point among Anglicans: 

“Now in the Catholic Church itself we take the greatest care to hold that which has been believed everywhere, always and by all. That is truly and properly ‘Catholic,’ as is shown by the very force and meaning of the word, which comprehends everything almost universally. We shall hold to this rule if we follow universality [i.e. oecumenicity], antiquity, and consent. We shall follow universality if we acknowledge that one Faith to be true which the whole Church throughout the world confesses; antiquity if we in no wise depart from those interpretations which it is clear that our ancestors and fathers proclaimed; consent, if in antiquity itself we keep following the definitions and opinions of all, or certainly nearly all, bishops and doctors alike.”

- From Chapter 4 of the Commonitorium    434 AD

In fact, St Vincent’s expression “we take the greatest care to hold that which has been believed everywhere, always and by all (‘ubique, semper, omnibus’)” is referred to as The Vincentian Canon.    

Doctrine does develop. Not the Faith itself, but its formulation in words. It is not possible to be against doctrinal development per sé if we accept the Creeds, the Trinitarian and Christological formularies of the ancient Church (or, indeed, the even more basic emergence of the Canon of Scripture and the Apostolic Ministry). 

Naturally, we want to know how to tell if a particular development is right or wrong. For St Vincent it was a matter of discerning whether or not the local teaching, the new development, really reflects what the Universal Church believes and has always believed. 

Now, St Vincent lived a long time ago, well before the open schism of East and West, and the subsequent splintering of the western Church in the 16th century. So, it could be said that the ecclesial context in which the Church of the first millennium, with comparative ease, discerned particular developments simply does not exist in the way that it did for St Vincent, and as it will again when the kind of unity for which the Lord prayed has come about. (And, of course, I know that what I have just said raises questions about the unique charism of the Bishop of Rome and how that, too, will operate in a future unity of East and West.)

But, given this state of things, there has been among Anglicans a commendable spirit of caution with respect to novelty, and a real concern to check what is taught (and practised) against the convictions of the ancient undivided Church. The injunction in Canon 6 of The Canons of the Church of England, 1571, is typical:

“See to it that you teach nothing . . .which you would have religiously held and believed by the people, save what is agreeable to the teaching of the Old or New Testament, and what the Catholic fathers and ancient bishops have collected from this self-same doctrine.”

This principle of accepting the Church of the Fathers as the definitive reference point by which developments in doctrine or interpretations of Scripture are to be evaluated, explains the Anglican habit of quoting the Vincentian Canon.   

But the theological and doctrinal development in many Anglican provinces upon which the attempt to ordain women presbyters and bishops is predicated, represents a breaking free from that hermeneutical principle and the constraints it imposes on a matter as basic as the sacrament of Order which we claim to share with the great apostolic churches of East and West. Anglican liberals have been and are still intent on being ‘trailblazers” in sacramental actions that impact seriously on a whole range of basic Christian doctrines, creating huge new obstacles to our growth toward the unity for which Jesus prayed and to which we have said we were committed. 

How can a tiny minority of the Church Catholic on its own be confident that this is a legitimate development of doctrine on which to act sacramentally? Some say it is; others, including the present writer, say it is not. The most charitable - and factual - response, consistent with the Anglican habit of referring to the Vincentian Canon, is to say “we can’t know.” To be sure, there are Roman Catholic and now even a handful of Orthodox theologians no longer theologically opposed to the innovation. But the churches of the first millennium with whom we have always looked to what the “Catholic fathers and ancient bishops” have collected from Holy Scripture, have not themselves (so far) endorsed the development as legitimate. 

Will they do so in the future?  

I personally don’t think so, for a range of reasons, including the importance to the Eucharist of the nuptial imagery undergirding the whole of Scripture, and the implications of that for the sacrament of Order. At a time when the fruitful recovery of  communion ecclesiology (so closely related to Eucharistic nuptiality) which is fundamentally important to the Vatican II Documents, as well as to the work of ARCIC and the developing theological dialogue between Rome and Orthodoxy, it would seem foolhardy for Anglicans to embark on a development that undermines its biblical and theological basis.

Those of us who treasure the claims our church has made and continues to make for her catholicity might be right or wrong on the substantive issue, but we believe that she should not be purporting to ordain women as priests and bishops at this time. Such ordinations would seem precluded by her own traditional means of discerning developments of this kind. 

If, however, it turns out that the development is embraced by the whole Church, then we will gladly admit that we were wrong.

In the meantime it is regrettable that we are portrayed by the trailblazers as misogynist, fundamentalist and obscurantist. The truth is that we are simply mainstream in our Christian believing, and in our view of who we are as Anglicans.

Twenty years ago, in order to obtain the last few synodical votes necessary to make the changes they wanted, the trailblazers invoked the theological idea of a “period of reception.” It is quite common now to hear them speak as if that period has reached its end. They forget that, properly understood, “reception” is a prayerful dialogue throughout the WHOLE Church (and not just our little part of it) in order to discern together the rightness or otherwise of a proposed innovation. It is a long process, and on the matter of women and the sacrament of Order, we will be living in it for quite a while yet. Furthermore, for it to be a genuine “period of reception”, both sides must accept the possibility - however remote it might seem to each - that they are wrong.

In the meantime, because those wanting the proposed development  have “jumped the gun” and created a ministry of which the most that can be said is that it may or may not be valid in the apostolic and sacramental sense, it is an urgent matter of justice and fairness that a proper, undisputed catholic sacramental ministry be provided for the many women and men of our church who cannot in good conscience (yet) affirm that women standing at the altar are, in fact, priests and bishops. In a church whose general operation is regulated by legal canons, such provision must also be legally constituted, otherwise - human nature being what it is - unfair discrimination will be the order of the day. Nor must the provision be grudgingly offered, for its purpose is to prevent the “unchurching” of those Anglicans who believe the Faith concerning Holy Order that has been believed “everywhere, always and by all”, and as it is still officially believed by the vast majority of Christians, including those ancient churches with whom we have been actively seeking full sacramental unity.

Proper provision, enshrined in our church’s law, is surely the way to preserve the highest possible level of communion and association together during this “period of reception” while the question of the ordination of women to the presbyterate and episcopate is discerned by the whole Church Catholic to be a legitimate or mistaken development of the Faith we have received.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

"Modernity must recognise the source of its values" David Bentley Hart

One of the most stimulating of modern thinkers is American Orthodox theologian, David Bentley Hart (b. 1965), who in 2011 won the coveted Michael Ramsey Prize for his book “Atheist Delusions.” In presenting the prize, then Archbishop Rowan Williams described Hart as “a theologian of exceptional quality, but also a brilliant stylist . . .” who “shows how the most treasured principles and values of compassionate humanism are rooted in the detail of Christian doctrine.” This is true of all Hart’s work including “The Doors of the Sea: Where was God in the Tsunami?” I previously shared on this blog an interview with David Bentley Hart about evil and its place in the world that God created and loves was published in The Christian Century, (January 10, 2006, pp. 26-29.) 

Today I am recycling a penetrating interview Hart gave to Kay Parris of Reform Magazine, July/August 2011. It is from their website HERE.

David Bentley Hart is an Eastern Orthodox theologian, philosopher and cultural commentator whose remarkable breadth of knowledge and understanding is widely recognised – not only in his expert areas of theology and the Western philosophical tradition, but also in the fields of world literature, art, history, and culture.

His writings are characterised by a combination of erudition, elegance and wit; and he has an intimidating reputation as a debater and speaker. Prominent scholars in Europe and America describe him as “brilliant”, “exceptional” and “a master theologian”. Yet despite all this, mercifully, he comes across in conversation as gentle, good-humoured and even a little self-deprecating at times.

Atheist Delusions, his most recent book, constitutes not only a scorching attack on the ignorance of much “New Atheist” literature, but an appeal for popular reappraisal of how Christian ideas impacted on the ancient world; and for proper understanding of the historical development of the Christian tradition.

Our interview took place shortly after Atheist Delusions was awarded the prestigious biennial Michael Ramsey prize for theological writing.

In praising your book, Atheist Delusions, Rowan Williams pointed to its illumination of “how the most treasured principles and values of compassionate humanism are rooted in the detail of Christian doctrine.” Is that what you set out to show?

Well in part, yes I think so. One of the odd things about a great deal of the New Atheist literature and the literature that has cropped up in its margins is an unawareness of the contingency of cultural values – it’s peculiar. People like Richard Dawkins – asked, if the world was purged of all religious belief, what would it be like, he says, it would be a paradise.

And as he goes on to explain why he thinks this, it’s obvious he believes that there are, just out there in the world, a set of values that are independent of any historical tradition; that are recognisable and available to every reasoning mind; and that society would naturally happen upon if it weren’t distracted by the idiocies of religion and dogmatism.

Yet if the cultural experience of late modernity has proven anything, it has proven that this sort of bland moral optimism rests upon nothing at all. And many of the moral truths people like Dawkins take for granted are available to them because they happen to live in a society whose history was shaped by beliefs that they now abominate.

Your view is that modernity – Western modernity anyway – believes in nothing. Is that right?

Modernity always means Western modernity, at least as a technical term academically – it means the specific culture of late western civilisation – and yes I think it is true. It is not wild, empty nihilism, but it is the belief that the source of values and truth no longer can be presumed to be some transcendent source irreducible to anything else. There is no ultimate ground or meaning to the world, there is just the world.

But can’t a society hold on to and believe in values, including some Christian values, without accepting Christianity wholesale, and still move forward?

Once you acknowledge the cultural contingency of values, you also have to accept that there is nothing necessary about their persistence and nothing inevitable about it either. You have to start asking yourself what sort of values take shape when the horizon of the good ceases to be that transcendent truth that Christians believe is revealed in history, and becomes something else – what, we can’t as yet say, because modernity is a period without any ultimate answers.

I would not argue that one is obliged to be a Christian in order to continue to hold these values. But much of the point of the book is to make people aware that they can’t separate these values from Christian history. What makes much of the New Atheist literature rather intellectually crude is not that it rejects Christianity, but that it rejects a willfully absurd, historically awfully distorted picture of Christianity. Once you know the history, you realise this is a much more serious issue. It’s not a matter of simply casting off ludicrous beliefs about purgatory or sexual practice – it really is a question about the meaning of one’s life in the world and the shape the social good should take. And as long as this literature insists on attacking straw men, it wins very easy victories, but it blinds those who take these books seriously to deeper questions about what is to come.

Your book bases its rebuttal of atheistic thinking very intricately within history. A lot of the historical points you make confront commonly perceived truths that even a lot of Christians would have accepted – like witch-burning for example, which many people have put down to Christian repression and intolerance, but you suggest the picture is much more complex.

Among historians, nothing I have said would be considered provocative or original to be honest. But to this day you will find people saying things like: “During the Middle Ages the Catholic Church burned nine million women as witches” – when the actual number is zero. There were witch trials and burnings, from the very late Middle Ages into early modernity – but they were usually, almost exclusively, prosecuted by secular authority, by the power of the state. It was not a great period in terms of social justice for Western society generally, but if we look at the record of all the powerful institutions of that period, at who took the most skeptical view of this new mania for destroying witches, it was actually the church.

You suggest that where the church did show intolerance, in many instances this might have been something to do with its inability to tolerate pagan practices of human sacrifice, cannibalism and so on.

I’m not trying to exaggerate the virtue of all the early Christians; I think I’m fairly honest about the violence on all sides. But it is curious that quite often when we talk now – and this is part of the current fashionable mythology – about the historical intolerance of Christianity, two things should be kept in mind.

One is that it is a false picture of pagan society to imagine that it was expansive, open and welcoming of every mutation of religious faith. That’s simply not true. The other is that, while granted you cannot approve of all the behaviour of Christians towards pagans in those first three centuries, there were realities of pagan culture that from a Christian point of view were rightly regarded as abhorrent. When we talk about intolerance, we should remember that there are things that are intolerable.

Let’s talk about the nature of belief today. You’ve said that there is no reason for modernists like us to feel superior – that the advances we have made do not make us wiser than those who believe in miracles or other supposedly outdated beliefs. Do you not accept that society does generally advance in its understanding?

Unfortunately this is very much part of the underlying myth and ideology of modernity – that we are on the way to ever-better things – because our high definition televisions are getting better every year and therefore so is our morality.

There is a tacit contempt for those whose experience and beliefs don’t fit in to the modern world as neatly as they ought to. And that includes not just people of the past, but people of other cultures who haven’t embraced western modernity, either because of material privation or because of cultural resistance.

It is an odd belief, that somehow we know more about reality and that therefore we realise there is no spiritual dimension to reality – because, what? Because we have functioning capitalist societies that are only occasionally on the verge of complete collapse? Or because we understand the molecular architecture of cells better?

And at the same time, there is a failure to question, to ask whether the way we live might in some ways blinker us or limit the scope of our understanding. As I think I pointed out in the book, I have friends in Africa who approach the world with a very different set of presuppositions, and whose personal experience, as far as they’re concerned, bears out quite concretely the reality of the spiritual world.

If you read a lot of the New Atheist literature – which is going to be fairly careful on this, because they don’t want to come across as cultural supremacists or racists – well nonetheless there is a tacit suggestion that those cultures are more primitive, not only in water sanitation but in everything, because they don’t all have complete cell [mobile phone] coverage or whatever.

I think it would be wiser perhaps to ask if a life lived where most of us can’t go through a whole day without the television or surfing the net – if perhaps we’re the ones who have declined into a kind of barbarism where the spiritual senses are concerned. Maybe we’re the ones who are farther removed from reality, even though we have a society where scientists have provided us with such a rich and wonderful sense of certain physical truths.

It is your view isn’t it, that nothing is ultimately reducible to zero, to mechanical explanation, and so you can never get away from that question of existence?

Yes. The question of existence is something that can’t be reduced to the question of the physical origins of the universe. There’s a question of being, which is a much more radical question, which is prior to the physical reality, it is prior to physical possibility. At the philosophical level it’s a question that probably renders any straightforward materialism logically incoherent, but that’s an argument for another time.

To draw from an “extra-Christian” source, Martin Heidegger [the 20th century German philosopher] thought it was very much the particular pathology of the modern age that we have done everything possible to forget that question – to forget the question of being, and mistake it for something else, for a question about say mechanical causes. He thought that that peculiar pathology, that indifference to, or ignorance of, or failure to understand the radical nature of the question of existence in many ways makes modernity a rather barbarous condition.

In contrast, there was the metaphysical impact of the Christian story on human consciousness. How radical was it, do you think, given that we already had Judaism and its imperative for good behaviour in relationship with one God?

What was being said by Christians was that there had been a real rupture in the course of cosmic time – that things had changed, that the powers that had once held creation in thrall had been defeated. And so the story of salvation really was a matter of turning away from those powers that at one time were the spiritual and cosmic principalities all people supposedly were subject to, and committing oneself completely to this new reality.

So in that sense it was just as exclusive a creed as Judaism was, in that you couldn’t be a good Jew and also a worshipper of other gods; but its proclamation had far greater urgency, because it made a claim of universalism – that in Christ there was not really any distinction any more between peoples.

In addition to that, the story of the incarnation of God required successive centuries-long consideration of what it was to be human. What does it mean to say someone is completely God and completely human? It turns out that is a very difficult philosophical problem in some sense, and it requires an ever deeper and deeper definition, not only of the relationship of human beings to God, but of what humanity is in its essence – and that creates a metaphysical picture of the person that is really something novel when compared to ancient philosophies.

And the beginning of that process is represented in the human stories of the Gospel – where for the first time, you believe, attention is paid to the emotions and pain of an individual as lowly in stature as Peter.

I don’t think that can be denied. Anyone who knows ancient literature – and I suppose I started in some ways as a classicist – knows that something is going on in the depictions in the Gospels that is new. I don’t mean there is great dramatic exploration of character as there is in a fully developed piece of literary art – these are very simple books in some ways, with the exception of John’s Gospel – but I mean that where these books are willing to find the fullness of our humanity expressed even through someone of low social station – this is something without precedent.

It is something the pagan critics attacked – there was something almost loathsome in their eyes about a creed that placed so much emphasis on a person of such extraordinary low degree and importance.

It wouldn’t have been such a scandal in Jewish circles.

In Jewish circles no, because obviously there is a long prophetic history there. And even in the pagan world there are glimmers of awareness. Stoicism has a very lovely and elevated ethical view of the “city of humanity” – but it is a strangely passive view. It’s not one that really has the power on a social scale to transform the way we see humanity as a whole and it’s not nearly as radical as Christianity.

What about instinct – the human instinct for a “moral law”? Young children in any age or kind of society have an instinct for what’s cruel and what’s dishonest – we might hope it is divine in its origins, but it’s not based on history, or cultural influence. It’s just part of being human.

Of course, but that’s a completely Christian claim as well.

Yes, but it’s a Christian claim that doesn’t rely on history or learning.

That is true. But if we look at the reality of cultural history, we can see that the good as we know it is not the good as all persons have naturally seen it, despite that instinctive desire for the good. I believe absolutely in a natural desire for the good. But human societies can take shape in which the desire for the good means the desire for the preservation of my tribe or class over and against all others. So feeding the sun every day with the sacrifice of a human victim is an expression of my desire for the good. There are any number of quite dastardly and monstrous expressions of the desire for the good. I fully grant and insist that there is a human desire for goodness, but that in itself doesn’t explain why we believe what we believe about who is human, who deserves our mercy, what mercy is.

But the Christian response to humanity at the time the Gospels were written doesn’t overturn all of what we would now see as evils.

No, at the end of the day, the stuff of human nature is fairly intractable. I hope I didn't suggest in the book that Christianity actually created a Christian culture – I was trying to be very careful. Christianity created the values by which a Christian culture should live but it didn’t create the culture itself.

You seem in the book to be calling us back to the Gospel texts themselves, to focusing on the details of their messages, rather than perhaps focusing too exclusively on our Christian institutions.

I hope so. I do think Christians throughout history have not always been fully aware of how radical the nature of what’s going on in much of the New Testament is. Paul has been historically badly read, I think, even in the great traditions of Christian thought. The Augustine understanding of grace I think is a misreading of Paul in many respects. The more we get to grips with the content of the New Testament, the more uncanny and disturbing it can be, if we understand it in the context of its time.

Your book is written partly to alert us to the danger that Christianity will lose its influence, and that a post-Christian culture could turn out to be “post-human”. How gloomy or otherwise are you about the future?

Well I have a formidable capacity for gloom. It’s not really a matter of prognostication, so much as just looking around. I do think, especially if you live in the academic world at all, which I do by fits and starts, that it’s depressing the sorts of ideas that are now granted legitimacy in some circles, for example in bioethics.

There is good and bad in every age, but I do think there are aspects of modern society that could gravitate, through sheer inertia, towards fairly inhumane ultimate expressions. I have no concrete picture of the future. My real concern is to say to those who just imagine that we will naturally – through the vigorous application of secular reasoning – advance towards greater humanity, a more expansive embrace of the humanity of others, and towards social justice. I simply say: that may be nice, if it’s true, but there are reasons to doubt it. I would say that moral optimism is not warranted from a secular standpoint.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Hang in there - St Gregory of Nazianzus

Icon of St Gregory Nazianzus
Aidan Hart

Sometimes we who think of ourselves as orthodox Anglicans – whether catholics or evangelicals – feel sorry for ourselves, especially if we are a minority in our diocese. 

Sometimes we grow weary of having to explain to curious people – especially those outside the Church – why we are an A,B & C parish, have our own bishop and belong to Forward in Faith. Sometimes we genuinely feel the pain of diocesan bishops who are hurt by the anomaly of the alternative episcopal care that has been provided for us to be able to flourish during this “period of open reception.” 

Sometimes we forget how typical it is of God to use minorities in achieving his plan and purpose, or how many examples there are in the Scriptures and in Church history of the FEW keeping the Faith for the MANY. This is when, in one way or another, the institution as a whole “officially” departs from what God has revealed, and God chooses a small minority to work with love and determination to restore right believing and right worship.

One such time was the fourth century. Whole provinces of the Church had gone off the rails and were teaching false things about Jesus. In many ways the false teaching then - that Jesus is a created being, “supreme” but not actually God,  - is similar to what many so-called “liberal” Christians teach today. And that strikes at the heart of the Gospel and the Faith.

Back then it seemed to the orthodox minority that the whole Church was being sucked in by this wrong teaching. What could be done? 

Well, there were giants among our leaders back then, raised up by God. One of them - a favourite of mine – is St Gregory Nazianzus (329-390). He lived in what is now south-eastern Turkey. Highly educated, he was, according to reports, a quiet, brooding and sensitive man who liked nothing more than to be left alone to pursue the life of prayer. But God had other plans . . . Gregory became a priest and then eventually Bishop of Nazianzus. Four years after his consecration he withdrew to a monastery. 

In 379 a there was a meeting of 150 orthodox bishops in Antioch. They decided to pull Gregory out of his monastic seclusion and send him as a missionary to the Diocese of Constantinople, which was at that time presided over by one of many bishops promoting the fashionable but false ideas about Jesus. 

Do you know what Gregory did? He went to Constantinople, obtained a house in which he set up a chapel as an alternative to the “established” church of the day. (He called the chapel “Anastasia”, believing that this was where the Faith would be resurrected.) In this house he baptized, celebrated Mass, preached and nurtured the community in God’s life-giving truth. One of his parishioners there for a couple of years of Scripture study was Jerome. The sermons Gregory preached in his house-church became the basis of the Nicene Creed!

History tells us that Gregory and his community helped to turn things around. In fact, Gregory made a massive impact on the Christian world that is arguably still being felt over 1600 years later. It was tough for them; but could they have done it if they had moped around feeling sorry for themselves as we often do?  

So, whenever we get discouraged (including when General Synod meets!) and the task before us seems too great, we need to remind ourselves of Gregory and others down through the ages who with their little communities were faithful to God and whose labours of love bore fruit - eventually!