Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Secularisation of Christianity - some quotes from Eric Mascall

Eric Lionel Mascall OGS (1905 -1993), a priest of the Church of England, a theologian, formidible scholar, Thomist philosopher, staunch Anglo-Catholic, and prolific writer, was known for his brilliance at mathematics from an early age, winning a scholarship to Pembroke College Cambridge where he took the Mathematical Tripos. 

In 1931, after three unhappy years as a schoolmaster, Mascall entered Ely Theological College and was ordained two years later. He served in London parishes until his appointment as Sub-Warden of Lincoln Theological College in 1937. He taught at Christ Church Oxford from 1945 until he became Professor of Historical Theology at King’s College London in 1962. 

Upon his retirement in 1973 he became Canon Theologian of Truro Cathedral and continued to live in the clergy house of St Mary’s Bourne Street, London, where he was Honorary Assistant Priest. He spent part of 1976 in Rome as a Visiting Professor at the Gregorian University. He was awarded a DD by Oxford in 1948 and by Cambridge in 1958. He was elected a Fellow of the British Academy in 1974. 

Mascall travelled extensively abroad, especially in the USA, Rome, and Romania, for the purpose of meeting and addressing a variety of Anglican, Roman Catholic, and Orthodox individuals and groups. 

One of the most significant books written by Mascall is THE SECULARISATION OF CHRISTIANITY: AN ANALYSIS AND CRITIQUE (London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 1966). It is a systematic and methodological study of the arguments used by J.A.T. Robinson in Honest to God, and Paul van Buren in The Secular Meaning of the Gospel. Here are some passages from Mascall’s book, which, although out of print, is not difficult to find second-hand. I hope that at least some of my readers will be inspired by these passages to try and find a copy for themselves.

There are, of course, interesting questions that can be asked about the nature of the transformation which our Lord’s body underwent in his resurrection, and if we know anything about physics and biology we are quite likely to ask them. But, since we are concerned with an occurrence which is [by hypothesis] unique in certain relevant aspects, we are most unlikely to be able to give confident answers to them. [Paul M.] van Buren’s remarks about biology and the twentieth century are nothing more than rhetoric or, at best, are simply empirical statements about his own psychology. The first century knew as well as the twentieth that dead bodies do not naturally come to life again, and no amount of twentieth-century knowledge about natural processes can tell us what may happen by supernatural means. (p. 79-80)

* * * * * * * * * *

It has been a frequent trait in Christian theologians down the ages to commit themselves whole-heartedly to the fashionable philosophies of their day, while passing severe judgments on their predecessors for adopting precisely the same attitude. (p. 103)

* * * * * * * * * *

Even the most traditional theologian will be anxious to point out that the classical images which have been used, with more or less success, to depict different aspects of Redemption—the winning of a battle, the liberation of captives, the payment of a fine or a debt, the curing of a disease, and so on—are not to be interpreted literally, any more than, when we say that the eternal Word “came down from Heaven,” we are describing a process of spatial translation. For here we are dealing with processes and events which, by the nature of the case, cannot be precisely described in everyday language . . . The matter is quite different with such a statement as that Christ was born of the Virgin Mary; for, whatever aspects of the Incarnation outstrip the descriptive power of ordinary language, this at least is plainly statable in it. It means that Jesus was conceived in his mother’s womb without previous sexual intercourse on her part with any male human being, and this is a straightforward statement which is either true or false. To say that the birth... of Jesus Christ cannot simply be thought of as a biological event and to add that this is what the Virgin Birth means is a plain misuse of language; and no amount of talk about the appealing character of the “Christmas myth” can validly gloss this over. (p. 157)

* * * * * * * * * *

If we are prepared to admit, even as a possibility, that Jesus was divine, or even that without being divine he was unique, then we must, as a matter of logic, discard any attempt to discredit the Gospel accounts on the ground that they record abnormal occurrences [i.e. miracles]. (p. 211-212).

* * * * * * * * * *

I do not wish to imply that God the Son could not, absolutely speaking, have become incarnate by a non-virginal conception, any more than I should wish to deny that God might, absolutely speaking, have redeemed mankind without becoming incarnate at all; it is always unwise to place limits to the power of God. What we can see is that both an incarnation and a virginal conception were thoroughly appropriate to the needs and circumstances of the case and were more “natural,” in the sense of more appropriate, than the alternatives . . . In practice, denial of the virginal conception or inability to see its relevance almost always goes with an inadequate understanding of the Incarnation and of the Christian religion in general. (p. 270-271)

* * * * * * * * * *

The critical scholar is not committed, within the area of his research, to accepting the Church’s presuppositions about Jesus, but he should not be committed to accepting naturalistic presuppositions either. If he does accept the latter, then the results of his research will in all probability contradict the beliefs of the Church, but this is because he has begged the question from the start. In examining, for instance, the evidence for the virginal conception [of Jesus], if he begins with the presupposition that such an event is impossible he will end with the same conclusion; if he begins with the presupposition that it is possible he may end with the conclusion that the evidence for it is good or that it is bad or that it is inconclusive. This is as far as scholarship can take him. The Christian will accept the virginal conception as part of the Church’s faith. In the rare cases where faith appears to be contradicted by scholarship whose conclusions have not been prescribed from the start, [the critical scholar] may be cast down but will not be destroyed. For he will know how temporary and mutable the conclusions of scholarship essentially are, and he will also be conscious that he himself may not have perfectly comprehended the Church’s faith. (p. 276)

* * * * * * * * * *

Enough has . . . been said to show that the impoverished secularised versions of Christianity which are being urged upon us for our acceptance today rest not upon the rigid application of the methods of scientific scholarship nor upon a serious intuitive appreciation of the Gospels as a whole in their natural context, but upon a radical distaste for the supernatural.  (p. 282)

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

J.B. Phillips on Who Jesus is

In my youth I became familiar with the J.B. Phillips New Testament, and some of its striking translations (more properly, paraphrases) are permanently and helpfully lodged in my mind. I shared one of them on this blog a couple of weeks ago . . . 

“With eyes wide open to the mercies of God, I beg you, my brothers, as an act of intelligent worship, to give him your bodies, as a living sacrifice, consecrated to him and acceptable by him. Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould, but let God re-mould your minds from within, so that you may prove in practice that the plan of God for you is good, meets all his demands and moves towards the goal of true maturity.” (Romans 12:1-2)

J.B. Phillips (1906-1982) was a priest in the Church of England, remembered for his skill in communicating the Gospel message in fresh and memorable ways. During World War II he used his time in the bomb shelters during the London Blitz to begin a translation of the New Testament into modern English, starting with the Epistle to the Colossians. The results appealed to the young people of his day. After the war he continued to work the rest into colloquial English. Phillips also translated parts of the Old Testament. In 1963 he released translations of Isaiah 1-39, Hosea, Amos, and Micah. This was titled Four Prophets: Amos, Hosea, First Isaiah, Micah: A Modern Translation from the Hebrew. After that, he did not translate the Old Testament any further. He often spoke of the revelation he received as he translated the New Testament, describing it as “extraordinarily alive” unlike any experience he had with non-scriptural ancient texts. He referred to the scriptures speaking to his life in an “uncanny way.” His other triumph - by the all-sufficient grace of God - was that he remained faithful to his vocation and ministry while at the same time enduring crushing bouts of real depression.

In addition to his translation work, Phillips wrote a number of books in which he shared the impact of the Gospel on his own life. Here are some passages about Jesus, who he is, and the difference he can make if we surrender to his love.

We may with complete detachment study and form a judgment upon a religion, but we cannot maintain our detachment if the subject of our inquiry proves to be God Himself. This is, of course, why many otherwise honest intellectual people will construct a neat by-pass around the claim of Jesus to be God. Being people of insight and imagination, they know perfectly well that once to accept such a claim as fact would mean a readjustment of their own purposes and values and affections which they may have no wish to make. To call Jesus the greatest Figure in History or the finest Moral Teacher the world has ever seen commits no one to anything. But once to allow the startled mind to accept as fact that this man is really focused-God may commit anyone to anything! There is every excuse for blundering in the dark, but in the light there is no cover from reality. It is because we strongly sense this, and not merely because we feel that the evidence is ancient and scanty, that we shrink from committing ourselves to such a far-reaching belief as that Jesus Christ was really God.
- Your God is Too Small [1953], Simon and Schuster, 2004, p. 83  

It is, of course, impossible to exaggerate the importance of the historicity of what is commonly known as the Resurrection. If, after all His claims and promises, Christ had died and merely lived on as a fragrant memory, He would only be revered as an extremely good but profoundly mistaken man. His claims to be God, His claims to be Himself the very principle of life, would be mere self-delusion. His authoritative pronouncements on the nature of God and Man and Life would be at once suspect. Why should He be right about the lesser things if He was proved to be completely wrong in the greater?
-Your God is Too Small [1953], Simon and Schuster, 2004, p. 110  

I have heard professing Christians of our own day speak as though the historicity of the Gospels does not matter—all that matters is the contemporary Spirit of Christ. I contend that the historicity does matter, and I do not see why we, who live nearly two thousand years later, should call into question an Event for which there were many eye-witnesses still living at the time when most of the New Testament was written. It was no “cunningly devised fable” but an historic irruption of God into human history which gave birth to a young church so sturdy that the pagan world could not stifle or destroy it.
- Ring of Truth, London: Hodder & Stoughton; New York: The Macmillan Company, 1967, p. 40-41

Much of today’s Christianity is almost completely earthbound, and the words of Jesus about what follows this life are scarcely studied at all. This, I believe, is partly due to man’s enormous technical successes, which make him feel master of the human situation. But it is also partly due to our scholars and experts. By the time they have finished with their dissection of the New Testament and with their explaining away as “myth” all that they find disquieting or unacceptable to the modern mind, the Christian way of life is little more than humanism with a slight tinge of religion.
- Ring of Truth, London: Hodder & Stoughton; New York: The Macmillan Company, 1967, p. 102

Monday, July 28, 2014

The Eucharist and Jesus the Bridegroom

I have just read Dr Brant Pitre's book, JESUS THE BRIDEGROOM. Written for the non specialist, it is really a 200 page Bible study on nuptiality, demonstrating that the bride-bridegroom imagery of Scripture is the fundamental undergirding symbol or icon of the Christian revelation, and not just one set of optional (and disposable!) metaphors that might have helped people in less enlightened ages than ours. I recommend JESUS THE BRIDEGROOM to all who might not grasp the violence done to the very basics of the God-given iconography at the heart of the Christian faith by the purported ordination of women priests and bishops. As John Saward said in his 1977 paper "Christ and His Bride", "He who images the heavenly bridegroom must be male."

I share with you today a section from JESUS THE BRIDEGROOM on the nuptiality of the Eucharist (hoping that it inspires you to buy the book!)


For many Christians the Lord's Supper is primarily a “memorial” of the Last Supper and the events of the night on which Jesus was betrayed. As Jesus says: “Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19; 1 Corinthians 11:24-25). For others, it is a banquet of “thanksgiving” (Greek eucharistia) offered to God in gratitude for the gift of salvation, in union with Jesus, who “gave thanks” (Greek eucharistesas) over the bread and wine before he died (Matthew 26:27; Mark 14:23). For still others, the Eucharist is primarily a sacrifice, in which the bloody sacrifice of the cross is made present through the unbloody offering of bread and wine, as described by the apostle Paul: “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?” (1 Corinthians 10:16).

However, when we look at the mystery of the Eucharist through the lens of Jesus’ passion and death as the Bridegroom Messiah, another meaning comes to light. If Jesus is the Bridegroom and the Church is his bride, the Lord’s Supper is not just a memorial, or a banquet of “thanksgiving,” or a sacrifice; it is also a wedding banquet in which Jesus gives himself entirely to his bride in a new and everlasting marriage covenant.


One doesn’t have to look very hard or long to find abundant evidence in ancient Christianity for the understanding of the Eucharist as the wedding banquet of Christ and the Church.

As we’ve already seen, there are hints of just such an understanding in the book of Revelation’s description of a heavenly “wedding banquet” to which the disciples of Jesus are invited:

“Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to be clothed with fine linen, bright and pure” - for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb.” (Revelation 19:7-9)

As we have seen earlier, on one hand, the wedding supper described here is a representation of the heavenly kingdom of God and the end of time. On the other hand, it is also an allusion to the wedding banquet of the Eucharist, to which Christians on earth (known as the “saints”) are invited. As theologian Roch Kereszty writes: 

The eucharistic connotation of the wedding feast . . . is hard to miss. Already in the 50s in his first letter to the Corinthians Paul uses the phrase deipnon kuriakon [Greek for “supper of the Lord”] to designate the Eucharist.” 

In other words, the book of Revelation is deliberately describing the heavenly banquet of the kingdom of God in terms that are evocative of the Lord s Supper, to which Christians are invited and for which they should prepare themselves. This supper is both a participation in heavenly glory and an anticipation of the eternal marriage that will be fulfilled at the end of time.

Indeed, following in the footsteps of the book of Revelation, Saint Augustine writes that every celebration of the Eucharist is a renewal of the wedding of Christ and the Church:

Every Celebration [of the Eucharist] is a celebration of Marriage; the Church’s nuptials are celebrated.The Kings Son is about to marry a wife, and the Kings Son [is] himself a King; and the guests frequenting the marriage are themselves the Bride . . . For all the Church is Christ’s Bride, of which the beginning and first-fruits is the Flesh of Christ, because there was the Bride joined to the Bridegroom in the flesh. (Augustine, Homilies on 1 John 2:12-17)

In other words, in the Eucharistic “marriage celebration” (Latin nuptiarum celebratio) Jesus the Bridegroom is united to the Church, not just in spirit, but in body as well. For while Jesus, as the divine Son of God, is spiritually present everywhere, in the Eucharist he is present bodily: it is the wedding banquet at which the Bridegroom Messiah is united to his bride in both body and spirit.


In a striking illustration of this mysterious union, Saint Ambrose, the fourth-century bishop of Milan, describes the Lord’s Supper as the fulfillment of the “kiss” shared by the bridegroom and the bride in the Song of Songs. In one of his sermons to newly baptized Christians, Ambrose declares:

You have come to the altar, the Lord Jesus calls you, for the text speaks of you or of the Church, and he says to you: “Let him kiss me with kisses of his mouth”’[Song of Songs 1:1]. This word can be applied equally to Christ or to you. Do you wish to apply it to Christ? You see that you are pure from all sin, since your faults have been blotted out. This is why He judges you to be worthy of heavenly sacraments and invites you to the heavenly banquet: “May he kiss me with the kiss of his mouth” [Song of Songs 1:1]. You wish to apply the same to yourself? Seeing yourself pure from all sins and worthy to come to the altar of Christ . . . You see the wonderful sacrament and you say: “May he kiss me with the kiss of his mouth,” that is, may Christ give me a kiss. (Ambrose, On the Sacraments, 5:5—7)

What a grand vision of the Lord’s Supper! This is especially so when we recall the ancient Jewish interpretation of the Song of Songs as an allegory of the love of God for Israel as expressed through worship in the Temple. In the words of Jean Danielou, for the Church Fathers, the Eucharist was nothing less than “the kiss given by Christ to the soul, the expression of the union of love.” In this way, the Eucharist fulfills the longing of bridal Israel for union with her God.

There is, however, a dark side to the mystery of the eucharistic kiss. Saint John Chrysostom, the fourth-century bishop f Constantinople, uses the very same image to warn against receiving the Lord s Supper in a state of unrepented grave sin. In Eucharistic liturgy composed by Chrysostom, the Christian faithful pray these striking words:

O Son of God, bring me into communion today with your mystical supper. I shall not tell your enemies the secret, nor kiss you with Judas’ kiss. But like the good thief I cry, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” (CCC 1386)

For the early Church Fathers, knowingly receiving the Eucharist in a state of grave sin is like recapitulating the “kiss” of betrayal given by Judas to Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22:47-48). Here again, sin is not just about breaking rules; it is the betrayal of a relationship.


The idea of the Eucharist as a wedding banquet is not something confined to the writings of ancient mystics or a few Church fathers. It too is part of the official teaching of the Catholic Church today.

Once again, Pope John Paul II brings this aspect to the fore when he teaches that in the Eucharist Jesus gives his bride the wedding gift of himself:

[With the Eucharist,! we find ourselves at the very heart of the Paschal Mystery, which completely reveals the spousal love of God. Christ is the Bridegroom because “he has given himself”: his body has been “given,” his blood has been “poured out” (cf. Luke 22:19-20). In this way “he loved them to the end” (John 13:1). The “sincere gift” contained in the Sacrifice of the Cross gives definitive prominence to the spousal meaning of God’s love . . . The Eucharist is the Sacrament of our Redemption. It is the Sacrament of the Bridegroom and of the Bride. (John Paul II, Apostolic Letter On the Dignity and Vocation of Women [Mulieris Dignitatem], no. 26)

How many people today think of the Eucharist in this way, as “the Sacrament of the Bridegroom and the Bride”? Yet if love is defined as the gift of oneself to another person, then the Eucharist is the highest possible expression of Jesus’ spousal love for the Church. In the Eucharist Jesus not only tells the Church he loves her; he shows his love by really and truly giving himself to her, in both body and spirit, as the divine Bridegroom. Note well that this kind of self-gift is only really possible if the Eucharist is not just a symbol of Jesus - like a wedding ring, for example - but Jesus himself: his actual body, blood, soul, and divinity.

Indeed, Pope Benedict XVI describes the Eucharist as the premier expression of the sacrificial love that Jesus demonstrated on the cross when he writes:

The Eucharist draws us into Jesus’ act of self-oblation [self- sacrifice]. More than just statically receiving the incarnate Logos [“Word”], we enter into the very dynamic of his self-giving. The imagery of marriage between God and Israel is now realized in a way previously inconceivable: it had meant standing in God’s presence, but now it becomes union with God through sharing in Jesus’ self-gift, sharing in his body and blood . . . We can thus understand how agape [Greek for “sacrificial love”] also became a term for the Eucharist: there God’s own agape comes to us bodily, in order to continue his work in us and through us. (Benedict XVI, Encyclical Letter, God Is Love [Deus Caritas Est], nos. 13-14) 

For over four hundred years, one of the main debates between Protestants and Catholics has been over whether the Eucharist is a supper that calls to mind the Last Supper of Jesus or a sacrifice that makes present the self-offering of Jesus on Calvary. As Pope Benedict shows, the understanding of the Eucharist as a wedding banquet combines both of these notions into one: 

The Eucharist is both a wedding supper and a wedding sacrifice. It is the “marriage supper of the Lamb” (Revelation 19:9), whose sacrificial love for the Church is expressed by the gift of his body and blood in the Upper Room and on Calvary. In other words, the Eucharist is a “nuptial sacrament” of both the Last Supper and the cross (Benedict XVI, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Sacrament of Charity [Sacramentum Caritatis], no. 27).

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Dr Pusey on the Psalms - Dr George Westhaver (from the Church Observer)

If there is something that really annoys me, something that leaves me feeling cheated at Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer, it is the growing practice of truncating the Psalmody of the Office. I have discovered this even at Sung Evensong in some of our great cathedrals, at the very time when many Christians of less liturgical traditions are rediscovering the power of the Psalter, as well as its Christological sense. The archive of this blog already contains a wonderful piece by Thomas Merton on the use of the Psalms in our daily prayer. Today I share with you an important article on Dr Pusey and the Psalms, written by Dr George Westhaver, Principal of Pusey House. It was published in the Easter edition of the Church Observer, the Church Union magazine.   

EVEN if his role as a leader of the Oxford movement was more than a decade away, the year 1828 was a momentous one for the young Edward Bouverie Pusey. In that year, at the age of only 28, Pusey became the Regius Professor of Hebrew at the University of Oxford. Also in 1828, and after ten years of delay and frustration due to the scruples of two sets of parents, Pusey was finally able to marry Maria Baker. In the same year he was ordained both deacon and priest and became a Canon of Christ Church Cathedral.

The combination of these events is particularly fitting. For Pusey the prayers which described his marriage to Maria Baker as symbolic of the mystical union of Christ and the Church were not pious utterances to be left behind on the wedding day, but expressive of the basic reality which shaped his life and guided his work both in the University and in the Church. The union of the human and divine in Christ, the communion of the body of Christ with her Head, and the gift of the real and ineffable presence of the same risen and ascended Lord in the apparently weak symbols of bread and wine were for Pusey different aspects of one and the same mystery.

In the Incarnation, in the Church, and in the Sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion, “Christ dwelleth in us and we in Him; whereby He is one with us, and we with Him”. Pusey struggled to adequately express this fundamental idea: “This is the comfort of the penitent, the joy of the faithful, the Paradise of the holy, the Heaven of those whose conversation is in Heaven ... spiritual peace, kindled hope, assured faith, burning thankfulness, that our Lord Jesus Christ, not in figure, but in reality, although a spiritual reality, does give Himself to us, does come to be in us.”

The prominence which Pusey gave in his sermons to the Incarnation, the Church, and the Sacraments also shaped his understanding of the Bible. For Pusey, the importance of the Bible extended beyond the information it conveyed, beyond even its role, in the bosom of the Church, as a teacher of saving doctrine.

Pusey also taught that the Bible has a kind of sacramental power by which it can serve as an instrument of communion, a means of participation in the divine life. In other words, the Bible does not just teach about the Incarnation, but rather, these “earthly words ... are full of the Word” and so communicate life to the members of his Body, the Church.

In particular, Pusey emphasised the importance of reading and praying the Psalms. He argued that both the New Testament and the writings of the early centuries of the Church encourage us to see the person and the work of Christ as the primary subject matter of the psalms.

For Pusey, finding Christ in the psalms means seeing how the whole of the Old Testament, the struggles and trials of the people of Israel, their hopes and failures, were prophetic both of what Christ accomplished and taught by his Incarnation, and of his manner of presence in his body through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

If the Holy Spirit illumined David and Moses and the authors of the psalms, if the psalms have any place in the Bible, then the Spirit which inspires them testifies of Christ. This testimony is never incidental or secondary, it is the most important thing. This approach builds on the words of the Risen Christ to his disciples on the first Easter day when he told them that his teaching and work was prophesied in the psalms as well as in the law and the prophets (Luke 24.44).

However much modern approaches have changed the way people understand the Bible and the psalms, the prominence of the psalms in Christian worships, and especially the selection of psalms for particular days of the Christian Calendar, arises from this traditional approach which Pusey represents.

At the same time, Pusey’s emphasis on the psalms as prophetic of Christ does not mean that one denies the significance of the context in which they were written. Rather, the more we know about the authors of the psalms and the historical events which they describe, the more we will understand the particular way in which they reveal or speak of Christ and the Christian life also. While sometimes the psalms seem to be without any form or comeliness that we should see Christ in them (Isaiah 53.2), by the light of the Resurrection and the work of the Holy Spirit we recognize their profound beauty and truth.

Hearing Christ in the psalms is a form of recognising the risen body of our Lord which is changed and made both more real and spiritual by the resurrection, but it is not destroyed. It is also because of this transfiguration of meaning that the Christian can read the curses of the psalms as expressions of the Christians struggle against sin, as words which reveal the character of love and the voice of Christ.

Pusey’s interpretation of Psalm 40 exemplifies this approach: “I waited patiently for the Lord: and he inclined unto me, and heard my calling. He brought me also out of the horrible pit, out of the mire and day: and set my feet upon a rock, and ordered my goings. (Ps 40.1-2)” He finds in this psalm the prayer of the Son who waited patiently on the Father and who was raised on the third day from the pit of hell.

Pusey also finds here a description of the risen life of the Christian, how the Father “out of the mire and prison house of sin, raised us in Christ, and in Him, our Rock, gave us power to stand firmly, and in Him directed our steps toward himself”. The psalm which speaks of the Head also speaks of the Body: “Since then”, argues Pusey, “He has taken our nature, and joined it to Himself it is nothing strange but rather in harmony therewith, that the words wherein He speaks, should so include us, as at times to belong to us rather than to Himself.”

In this Pusey draws on a principle which he found in St Augustine and in his fusion of Christ’s description of marriage with St Paul’s interpretation of the union of man and woman as symbolizing the bond between Christ and the Church:“If therefore He Himself hath said, they are no more twain, but one flesh, what wonder if, as they are but one flesh, they should have but one tongue, and the same as being but one flesh, the Head and the Body”.

Pusey also emphasizes that the Psalms served as the prayers of Christ during the time of his earthly ministry: ‘“Thou shalt not leave my soul in hell: neither shalt Thou suffer Thy Holy One to see corruption” (Ps. 16.11). While Old Testament prophecy reveals what the Incarnate Son would accomplish and the Gospels describe his acts or communicate his teaching, “the Psalms (to speak reverently) shadow forth to us a reality beyond all thought, the thoughts with which He communed with his Father”’.

The psalms which both speak of the Head and serve as his prayers have a kind of “sacramental force as being used in Him, and being his words in us, addressed to the Father as the words of the Son”. Sharing in Son’s communication with the Father by praying the Psalms is a sacramental reading by which the members of the Body grow in holiness and, Pusey adds, are “fitted to receive the mind of the Spirit”.

Pusey is well known for teaching that the Incarnation, the union of Christ and his Church and the communion of the life of Christ through the sacraments were different aspects of the same reality. He also described the Old Testament, and in particular the Psalms, as possessing a “mysterious virtue”, a power analogous to the “holy mysteries”, to the sacraments, to serve as a means of communion as well as a form of revelation.

One might challenge the ardour of his language and the precise form of his argument. At the same time, we can learn from him the great privilege of praying the psalms in Christian worship and expect to find there not only the prayers of our own hearts, but also to hear and encounter the risen and ascended Lord.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Stratford Caldecott R.I.P. Some great words . . .

On July 17, Stratford Caldecott, the British Catholic theologian, author and editor died after a lengthy and painful struggle with cancer aged just 60. With his wife, Léonie, he  was the founder of Second Spring, a journal of faith and culture, and also co-editor of Magnificat UK. A member of the editorial board of the International Theological Journal Communio, he was the author of a number of books, including: Beauty in the Word: Rethinking the Foundations of Education, Beauty for Truth’s Sake: On the Re-enchantment of Education and The Power of the Ring: The Spiritual Vision Behind the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. He was the G.K. Chesterton Research Fellow at Benet’s Hall, Oxford, and received an honorary doctorate in Theology from the John Paul II Institute in Washington, D.C. 

Read more about him HERE.

Back in 1996 he co-ordinated an international conference of the Centre for Faith and Culture held at Westminster College, Oxford, on the subject of renewing the Church’s liturgical prayer. The papers were subsequently published. The paragraphs below are part of his summing up. Rich in beauty, profound in their understanding of God’s way with us, as well as of the nature of our response, they  are “vintage” Stratford Caldecott. I share them with you in the hope that you will be inspired to read his books. May he rest in peace.

“Worship . . . must be a whole-body, a whole-person experience. This fuller participation can best be promoted not by the introduction of more physical activity (hymn-singing, liturgical dance, etc.) but by the greater use of the senses in liturgy, as well as a greater sensitivity to the richness of metaphor and controlled ambiguity in liturgical language. What we seem to be seeing, in general, is a growing awareness that beauty is a vital aspect of liturgical performance, conducive to ‘active participation’ in the deepest sense. The hope for a rapprochement with Eastern Orthodoxy, and the growing familiarity throughout the West with aspects of the rich Byzantine liturgical, theological and iconographic tradition (to a large extent already present within the Catholic Church through the Eastern rites), is another factor working in the same direction. The evident splendour and elaborate formality of the Oriental liturgies is not for all, but contact with it can still awaken an understanding of the original purpose of liturgy, and a longing for deep religious experience that may have been denied to those steeped in more action-oriented or secularised celebrations.

“The danger to be avoided, of course, is that of falling back into a kind of mystification. But with the vernacular safely established and the laity thoroughly aroused I personally doubt this is a serious problem. An even greater danger now comes from presenting the Mass and the prayer life of the Church as something stale and prosaic, and therefore unrelated to the work of self-transformation. When this happens, and when the purpose of the sacraments comes to be seen in ‘moralistic’ terms - as a way of inculcating good behaviour and loyalty to the Church of Rules - people vote with their feet, and flock to the New Age movement, where they will gladly fast, or spend days on their knees reciting mantras, or even learn Sanskrit, for a chance of experiencing a numinous reality beyond the ordinary. In such circumstances, the use of Latin or the reintroduction of traditional devotions to the Blessed Sacrament can help to revive the feeling that what is going on in the Mass is not a banal celebration of the community’s solidarity with itself, but the sacred enactment of a ritual with truly cosmic significance - even if the inner meaning of the words and actions does not reveal itself without the accompaniment of silent prayer:

‘What you have come to is nothing known to the senses: not a blazing fire, or a gloom turning to total darkness, or a storm; or trumpeting thunder or the great voice speaking which made everyone that heard it beg that no more should be said to them. . . . But what you have come to is Mount Zion and the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem where the millions of angels have gathered for the festival, with the whole Church in which everyone is a “first-born son” and a citizen of heaven’. (Hebrews 12:18-19, 22-23)

“The auguries are therefore good for a widespread revival of Catholic spirituality in the next century [i.e. this century] - perhaps reinvigorated by the expansion of the Church in the Third World, and the development of innumerable new movements and communities from Taizé to Focolare, from Neocatechumenate to the charismatics. Religious consciousness in general is mystical poetic, sensitive to the many-layered meanings of symbolism, aware of the correspondences and analogies which bind the universe together. Catholicism and Orthodoxy provide a home for such a consciousness by being essentially sacramental. Even their ecclesial structures exist for the sake of the sacraments and the spiritual life these are designed to nourish. For this reason, any recovery of religious sensibility must in the long run work in favour of traditional sacramental and liturgical forms, even as it enriches and transforms them.

“For a ‘sacramental Christian’, the life of Christ is distributed through the Church and throughout the liturgical year. We relive the entire cycle of his self-giving life, death, resurrection and sending of the Spirit. Time and space, drained of meaning by sin and secularism, can he resanctified by Christ’s presence, flowing through the sacramental organism of his ‘Mystical Body’. By participating in the Mass and the Church’s daily prayer, baptised believers are caught up in Christ’s sacrifice, so that all we are and do in our daily lives is given to the Father for him to raise from the dead. That fact is what energises, heals and transforms us in the common life of the Christian community.”

Stratford Caldecott, ed. Beyond the Prosaic: Renewing the Liturgical Movement (1998), 
T&T Clark Ltd, Edinburgh, pages 153-154

Monday, July 21, 2014

St Lawrence of Brindisi and the power of God's Word

Today we thank the Lord for St Lawrence of Brindisi, who is honoured as a Doctor of the Church.

He was born Caesar de Rossi at Brindisi, in the kingdom of Naples, Italy, on July 22, 1559 but took the name Lawrence when he became a Capuchin Franciscan at the age of 16. 

While a deacon, Lawrence became well-known for his powerful preaching of the Word of God, and after his ordination to the priesthood startled the whole of northern Italy with his sermons. 

In 1596, he became a Superior in his order, and five years later went to Germany with Benedict of Urbino. They founded several priories throughout Europe. 

In 1602, Lawrence became the Master General of his order. He worked, preached and wrote to spread the Gospel. He also went on important peace missions to Munich and Madrid. The rulers of those places listened to him and his missions were successful. Eventually Lawrence was worn out by constant travell in difficult conditions and by the strain of his ministry. He became ill and died in 1619. But he lived and died for the Lord, and through his faithfulness many embraced the saving Gospel.

Here is the passage set for the Office of Readings today. Would that all preachers today had such confidence in the power of God's Word!

There is a spiritual life that we share with the angels of heaven and with the divine spirits, for like them we have been formed in the image and likeness of God. The bread that is necessary for living this life is the grace of the Holy Spirit and the love of God. But grace and love are nothing without faith, since without faith it is impossible to please God. And faith is not conceived unless the word of God is preached. Faith comes through hearing, and what is heard is the word of Christ. The preaching of the word of God, then, is necessary for the spiritual life, just as the planting of seed is necessary for bodily life.

Christ says: The sower went out to sow his seed. The sower goes out as a herald of justice. On some occasions we read that the herald was God, for example, when with a living voice from heaven he gave the law of justice to a whole people in the desert.

On other occasions, the herald was an angel of the Lord, as when he accused the people of transgressing the divine law at Bochim, in the place of weeping. At this all the sons of Israel, when they heard the angel’s address, became sorrowful in their hearts, lifted up their voices, and wept bitterly. Then again, Moses preached the law of the Lord to the whole people on the plains of Moab, as we read in Deuteronomy. Finally, Christ came as God and man to preach the word of the Lord, and for the same purpose he sent the apostles, just as he had sent the prophets before them.

Preaching therefore, is a duty that is apostolic, angelic, Christian, divine. The word of God is replete with manifold blessings, since it is, so to speak, a treasure of all goods. It is the source of faith, hope, charity, all virtues, all the gifts of the Holy Spirit, all the beatitudes of the Gospel, all good works, all the rewards of life, all the glory of paradise: Welcome the word that has taken root in you, with its power to save you.

For the word of God is a light to the mind and a fire to the will. It enables man to know God and to love him. And for the interior man who lives by the Spirit of God, through grace, it is bread and water, but a bread sweeter than honey and the honeycomb, a water better than wine and milk. For the soul it is a spiritual treasure of merits yielding an abundance of gold and precious stones. Against the hardness of a heart that persists in wrongdoing, it acts as a hammer. Against the world, the flesh and the devil it serves as a sword that destroys all sin.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Who gets to decide if particular developments are right?

Suppose that another Letter from the Apostle Paul to Timothy is discovered, and all the scholars agree that it is genuine. Suppose it contains some amazingly wonderful uplifting and spiritually nourishing passages, and appears not to alter seriously our existing theological paradigms. Suppose that some Christians think it should now be included in the New Testament and others say it shouldn’t be.

Who gets to decide?

The New Testament is a gift from God that we share with the rest of the Church Catholic. As a tiny minority of the Church Catholic, could the Church of England – or even a Lambeth Conference of the Anglican Communion – authorise on its own the inclusion in the NT Canon of that newly discovered Letter of Paul? 

Surely in such a basic area as the New Testament Canon our claim to be but part of the Church Catholic would impose serious constraints upon us, even if we ourselves favoured the proposed development. We simply could not say for certain ON OUR OWN that it is right.

Why is it so difficult to understand that this is exactly the issue for many Anglicans with regard to altering the male character of the ordained ministry, a gift, which like the NT Canon, we have always claimed to share with the rest of the Church Catholic?

The truth is that we cannot say for certain ON OUR OWN that it is right. 

In fact, that’s what is meant by an “open process of reception.” Even proponents of women priests and bishops sometimes admit that if this development is not in the end “received” by the great churches of East and West, then the Anglican provinces that have gone down that track will have to say, “Oops . . . sorry . . . we were wrong!” 

At the very least, the theology of “reception” morally obliges provinces with women priests and/or bishops to make “proper provision” for those who oppose the development on the basis that it is has not been discerned as right by the rest of the Church Catholic.

As part of the implementation of women bishops, the Church of England has decided to do just that. Provisions (meagre though they may seem) are being put in place that will enable those opposed on Catholic grounds to be assured in their consciences of an authentic Catholic sacramental life.

It’s the very least that should be done.

The question now is: Will other Anglican provinces throughout the world – including those who have so far acted ruthlessly towards the most Catholic of their people – follow the example of the Mother Church of the Communion?

Forward in Faith North America responds to the English women bishop's vote

In the light of recent events within the Church of England, and reports regarding Forward in Faith (U.K.), the officers of Forward in Faith North America (FiFNA) hereby issues the following statement.

First, it is with deep sorrow that FiFNA acknowledges the vote by the General Synod of the Church of England to proceed with the “consecration” of women to the episcopate. This action heightens the level of difficulty for Anglicans during this period of reception, by placing more barriers before those who are seeking to live under and promote the historic priesthood and episcopate. Sadly, the autonomy of the local church, albeit provinces, has usurped the authority and unity of Ecumenical consensus and the Church catholic, exposing yet again the ecclesial deficit of our Communion that can only be addressed through the historic tools of Conciliar discernment.

For our brothers and sisters in the Church of England who maintain the worldwide majority position of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church regarding Holy Orders, we pledge our prayerful support, love, and respect. You have consistently upheld biblical and theological principles in an age of secularism. However, we are encouraged that this most unfortunate decision, has been accompanied by provisions enabling Catholic Anglicans to remain in the Church of England with integrity, and the Church of England’s stated commitment to enable them to flourish within its life and structures. Sadly, since the beginning of the ordination of women as priests in the Episcopal Church, and their subsequent consecration to the episcopate, those assurances were offered, only to be later withdrawn to faithful Catholic Anglicans (in the Episcopal Church). The many divisions, coupled with massive litigation, have produced an environment which we pray will not become your reality.

We also assure you of our prayerful support as you seek to develop “The Society” under the patronage of St. Wilfrid and St. Hilda, as the ecclesial structure for bishops, clergy, religious and parishes to live in full communion with each other within the Church of England, as you recommit yourselves to Mission. Although this became impossible in the Episcopal Church, we pray that wisdom will prevail for you in the days ahead. We also wish to thank all those who have worked tirelessly in simply restating what the Church has always believed, and in particular what became obvious to many people in Forward in Faith – the necessity of working with faithful Anglicans of various traditions that may in some ways differ from our own, for the sake of unity in Jesus Christ, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

We also reaffirm the position which FiFNA published previously concerning human sexuality, the importance of which, in many current challenges in Church life, cannot be overstated: “Under the authority of holy scripture and the tradition of the church, we affirm that sexual activity can only properly take place within the context of holy matrimony between a man and a woman. We affirm that any other type of sexual relationship is sinful regardless of context or degree of fidelity, and that the church cannot bless any type of sexual relationship outside of holy matrimony between a man and a woman. We affirm Resolution 1.10 of the 1998 Lambeth Conference as the standard for Christian sexual behavior.”

The Rt. Rev. Keith L. Ackerman, President
The Rt. Rev. William H. Ilgenfritz, Vice President
The Rev. Lawrence Bausch, Vice President

Dr. Michael W. Howell, Executive Director

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Our Lady of Mount Carmel

Mount Carmel is in a richly forested area at the southern end of a long fertile valley known from ancient times for its wine and oil production. From the summit of the mountain can be seen the shore of the Mediterranean Sea, making it a strategic site for defence of the rich land below. Stone age people dug caves into the side of the Mountain. As far as the  Scriptures are concerned, Mount Carmel is known chiefly as the site of a contest between Elijah and 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of Asherah (both false gods.) (1 Kings 8) 

The area is famous for its flower blossoms, shrubs, and fragrant herbs. The beauty of the bride in the Song of Solomon (Song of Solomon 7:5) is compared to the mountain's beauty.  On its slopes are plentiful pastures (Isaiah 33:9, Jeremiah 50:19, Amos 1:2) Through the ages, monks sheltered in the caves, as did Elijah and Elisha (1 Kings 18:19, 2 Kings 2:25.) Reference to Mt Carmel frequently suggests God’s care and generosity. The Hebrew name “karmel” means “garden land” and “a fruitful place.”

Today we celebrate the foundation of the Carmelite religious order in the 12th century. Berthold, the founder of the order, is sometimes said to have been a pilgrim to the area (perhaps to cave of Elijah), sometimes he is said to have been a crusader. Tradition says that he originated in southern France and was venturing in the Holy Land when he encountered fierce soldiers.  Receiving a vision of Jesus, he went to Mount Carmel and built a small chapel there. Before long he was joined by hermits who all lived there in community in imitation of Elijah. After his death, it seems that St. Brocard became leader of the hermits eventually leading to the establishment of the Carmelite Order in the 12th century. 

In Carmelite tradition Mount Carmel is understood to have been a place of deep devotion and monastic-style prayer since the time of Elijah. So they built an actual monastery there, and it was dedicated to the the Blessed Virgin Mary, as she was “Star of the Sea” – the cloud of life that dwells over the sea promising rain and fertility (1 Kings 18:41-45). (Remember that the Mediterranean is seen from Mount Carmel and is a garden of life.) Throughout the monastery’s long history, there were periods of sadness, especially when it fell under Islamic control, becoming a mosque known as El-Maharrakah (the place of burning, referring to Elijah’s challenge to the pagan prophets.) In the 18th century, Napoleon established the location as a hospital, but this was destroyed in 1821. Funds were collected by the Carmelites, by then a worldwide order, and they restored the monastery, which is considered the order's spiritual headquarters.

As time went by, the Carmelite order built monasteries throughout Europe and other parts of the world. It is not unusual for nuns and monks to receive visions from Mary and Jesus. 

For Carmelites Our Lady is the perfect model of the life of prayer and contemplation. She primarily points Christians to Jesus, saying to each what she said to the servants at the wedding at Cana, “Do whatever he tells you.” For Carmelites, Mary is a spiritual Mother. 

Fr. Gabriel of St Mary Magdalene de’ Pazzi, OCD, wrote that devotion to Our Lady of Mount Carmel means:

"a special call to the interior life, which is preeminently a Marian life. Our Lady wants us to resemble her not only in our outward vesture but, far more, in heart and spirit. If we gaze into Mary’s soul, we shall see that grace in her has flowered into a spiritual life of incalculable wealth: a life of recollection, prayer, uninterrupted oblation to God, continual contact, and intimate union with him. Mary’s soul is a sanctuary reserved for God alone, where no human creature has ever left its trace, where love and zeal for the glory of God and the salvation of mankind reign supreme. [. . . ] Those who want to live their devotion to Our Lady of Mount Carmel to the full must follow Mary into the depths of her interior life. Carmel is the symbol of the contemplative life, the life wholly dedicated to the quest for God, wholly orientated towards intimacy with God; and the one who has best realized this highest of ideals is Our Lady herself, ‘Queen and Splendour of Carmel’.”

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Day After . . . Two important statements

Many in the Church of England are celebrating today, following final approval of the legislation to permit women to be ordained as bishops.

While recognizing this, we deeply regret the further obstacle that this decision places in the path to the full, visible unity of the whole Church.

We do, however, welcome the provision that has been made in the House of Bishops’ Declaration. It recognizes that our theological convictions about ministry and ordination remain within the spectrum of Anglican teaching and tradition. It assures us that bishops will continue to be consecrated within the Church of England who can provide episcopal ministry that accords with those theological convictions. It makes provision for parishes to gain access to that episcopal ministry by passing resolutions.

This gives us confidence in our future as catholics who are called to live out our Christian vocation in the Church of England. For this we give thanks to God.

On behalf of the Council of Bishops

Rt Revd Tony Robinson 
Bishop of Pontefract 

14/07/2014 4:50 pm

The Catholic Church remains fully committed to its dialogue with the Church of England and the Anglican Communion. For the Catholic Church, the goal of ecumenical dialogue continues to be full visible ecclesial communion.

Such full ecclesial communion embraces full communion in the episcopal office. The decision of the Church of England to admit women to the episcopate therefore sadly places a further obstacle on the path to this unity between us. Nevertheless we are committed to continuing our ecumenical dialogue, seeking deeper mutual understanding and practical cooperation wherever possible.

We note and appreciate the arrangement of pastoral provision, incorporated into the House of Bishops’ Declaration and the amending Canon passed by the General Synod, for those members of the Church of England who continue to hold to the historic understanding of the episcopate shared by the Catholic and Orthodox Churches.

At this difficult moment we affirm again the significant ecumenical progress which has been made in the decades since the Second Vatican Council and the development of firm and lasting friendships between our communities. We rejoice in these bonds of affection and will do all we can to strengthen them and seek together to witness to the Gospel in our society.

Chairman of the Department for Dialogue and Unity 
Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales

Sunday, July 13, 2014

With the General Synod in mind, and the problem of the Church's "credibility" . . .

Friday, July 11, 2014

St Benedict, pray for us

It is difficult to look at the state of “Christian” Europe and the cultures derived from it without concluding that a new dark age is upon us. Now, however, according to Alisdair MacIntyre, “the barbarians are not waiting beyond the frontiers; they have already been governing us for quite some time.” Our not knowing this, MacIntyre adds, “constitutes part of our predicament.”

And so, Cardinal Ratzinger, when he was elected Pope, chose the name “Benedict”, drawing our attention to St Benedict of Nursia (whose solemnity it is today), pointing out that St Benedict and the monastic communities he founded carried the Gospel through difficult times like our own, influencing whole societies and regions, and preserving the best in the culture which would again one day flourish. Benedict’s apparently insignificant movement evolved into what Ratzinger called “the ark on which the West survived.”

While there will always be well attended shrines, cathedrals, mega-churches, and parishes propped up by trust funds or the primary and secondary schools that give them the appearance of effectiveness and usefulness, it is clear that today’s Church in western European cultures is entering a new era which will (as Ratzinger said) be characterized by the mustard seed — small groups that seem to have little significance in the world. But these small groups of Christians who are serious about real discipleship, holiness of life and evangelisation - in the manner of St Benedict and his communities - will incarnate an alternative way to the rabidly secular, individualistic patterns of living we have got used to, and pave the way for real Gospel renewal in our chaotic society entrenched in its culture of death. 

Born around 480 AD in Norcia, a town near enough to Rome to have felt the convulsive effects of its sack in 410 by Alaric, the Visigothic King (the first time in eight centuries Rome had fallen), Benedict grew up in a world whose moorings had been completely uprooted.  Less than a half-century after Alaric, the Vandals would finish the job he’d begun, leaving Rome looted and in ruins once more. We gain an idea of the upset of this period when we look at the effect on Rome’s population. According to the most conservative estimates there were just under a million people in Rome by the end of the 4th century. By 550 AD this had dwindled to a mere thirty thousand.  

Sent to Rome as a student, Benedict experienced first hand the trauma of its loss and, recoiling from its depravities, fled into the wilderness to pursue an undistracted life of union with God.

And there in a life of prayer, pondering the Scriptures, and fasting in order to gain "self-mastery", Benedict discovered the truth that would make him a great light in the darkest of ages. He saw that by drawing nearer to God and responding to those promptings of grace and love that the Lord had given him, the world he had fled was itself beginning to be transformed into a better and more wholesome place.  Benedict had become, unwittingly, an agent of renewal and regeneration.

A movement began. Others joined him who were equally thirsty for a life of transforming intimacy with God. Eventually Benedict made his way to Monte Cassino, some eighty miles to the southeast of Rome, demolished the altar of Apollo, and raised up his own altar, consecrating it to the glory of the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Here emerged the ideals of Benedictine life, enshrined in the famous Rule with its exhortation to “pray and work.”

Five years before becoming Pope Benedict XVI, Cardinal Ratzinger said about Benedict that

“turning the earth into a garden and the service of God (were) fused together and became a whole . . . Worshipping God always takes priority . . . But at the same time, it’s a matter of cultivating and renewing the earth in an ethos of worship . . . Manual labor now becomes something noble . . . an imitation of the Creator’s work.  [And] along with the new attitude toward work comes a change in our ideas about the dignity of man.”

From such a modest beginning, a handful of religious would in due course create the Christian West. In a very moving essay on St Benedict published more than sixty years ago, Whittaker Chambers wrote: 

“At the touch of his mild inspiration, the bones of a new order stirred and clothed themselves with life, drawing to itself much of what was best and most vigorous among the ruins of man and his work in the Dark Ages, and conserving and shaping its energy for that unparalleled outburst of mind and spirit in the Middle Ages.  For about the Benedictine monasteries what we, having casually lost the Christian East, now casually call the West, once before regrouped and saved itself.”

It has often been said that thanks to St Benedict and Western monasticism, the demise of classical civilization was the occasion for a new beginning - and, eventually, a nobler civilizational accomplishment.

(For Anglicans it is important to recognise the centrality of Benedict to our “patrimony.” Go HERE to read an article written on this subject by Dom Robert Hale OSB back in 1980.)