Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Christmas Eve Fast, et al.

Although it is not in the '79 American book, traditionally Christmas Eve is a day of fasting for Anglicans, as this calendar from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer shows. The fast ends with either the First Evening Prayer, or the first mass of Christmas (whichever comes first).  


This was one of a number of fasts throughout the year.
If there is a day of fast on any other Major Feast, there is no fast (except for the communion fast), but there is still a degree of abstinence. Such days were traditionally fish days, fish not usually being eaten on fast days.  

The Pre-Reformation Church also observed abstinence throughout Advent and Lent, including the Sundays, with Fish on the Rose Sundays, i.e., Gaudete (III Advent) and Laetare (IX Lent).  

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Puritanism:
Fear of Sex, Fear of the Material Order, and Fear of Worship

Our society seems addicted to two very destructive fixations, which I hinted at in my previous post: namely the desire for wealth and the desire for power.  These manifest themselves in materialism and bureaucracy.  While I understand the concerns of the commentator to the previous post, I do not think these things are inevitable.  The worldly-wise may think so:  As Chesterton says "The wise men know what wicked things | Are written on the sky" (The Ballad of the White Horse).  However, I have hope.  As Russell Kirk is fond of pointing out, no cause is ever lost, because no cause is ever won.  There is victory, but there is no finally victory here, where the only perfection is that of the wayfarer, and our continued hope is manifest in our ability to continue striving.

What we can do, what is needful to our striving, is to analyze, diagnose, apply remedies, and do what we can to bring some health to our souls, and to our own little community, and to the community of man.  Much of this consists in putting ourselves in the way of God, in short, of cultivating sacredness, for sacredness is precisely openness to God.  Therefore let us begin with some analysis.

As I look at the history of the West, of Christian society, one problem in particular seems to take center stage, one that has finally erupted with full force in our time, and that is our inability to deal with human sexuality.  In fact, a theme emerges starting in the early Middle Ages, and reaching increasing force, and that theme is a real fear of sex, and especially of the male libido.  It becomes strongly apparent in the writings of the high Middle Ages, starting with Peter Damian, and also in other writers on the moral life who are otherwise well considered and rational, for instance Thomas Aquinas.  In particular, the Sin of Sodom comes to be seen, not as the Scriptures and the early Church saw it, as violence against the stranger (which may likely have included rape) but as anal sex per se, and the word "sodomy" was coined to describe it.  Anal sex is, in fact, elsewhere condemned by the Torah, but which rabbinical commentators do not relate to the story of Sodom.  This mediaeval redefinition of the sin of Sodomy was later expanded by moral writers, but not by canonists, to include any kind of non-procreative sexuality.  Thus "masturbation" (meaning to defile with the hand) came eventually to be included under the moralists' definition of Sodomy.

The Medieval Latin Church, and, following it, the Greek Church, came to see any kind of sexual activity which was not procreative as sinful. Even sexual intercourse of a man with his wife for the purpose of avoiding fornication was seen to be venially sinful.  Self-pleasuring, homosexuality, and sexual activity between married couples not ending in intercourse was mortally sinful, as they still are in the teaching of the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches today.  The basis of these prohibitions was claimed to be Scripture, i.e., the Bible, but Scripture as expressing natural law.  By natural law, one means that these activities were contrary to how human beings were created to function, when functioning in a manner healthful to individuals and to human society.

Now, as Christians we should make a presumption that something which has been held, or apparently held, by most of the churches throughout history is in fact correct.  However, this teaching is accompanied by some serious problems that an honest analysis must face, and which may force their re-examination. The first, and I think, most telling, is the paranoia surrounding sexual matters, and the consequent inability to discuss them analytically and rationally.

There is in mediaeval texts a reluctance to name sexual sins, especially those associated with homosexuality, as if even to name them would let something uncontrollable out of its box.  These texts were written by celibates, which may explain this.  However, such an inability to name it reveals a neurotic inability to deal rationally with it.  There is further in these texts a despising of our "animal" nature.  It is indeed clear in some places that the goal is to become angelic, that is, for all practical purposes, free from our animal nature.  This represents a serious theological problem, given the Christian teaching regarding the goodness of the material order, and the resurrection of the body.

Consequent to this first problem is the increasing inability to deal with sexual language, imagery, and concepts when they occur in Scripture and the liturgy. One gets the sense, reading objections in the later Middle Ages to the translation of the Bible into the vernacular, that this is in part motivated by a fear that the laity will have to deal with, among other things, that there are a lot of sexual allusions in the Bible and in the liturgy.  That these might, by God's providence, be precisely in Scripture so as to give the faithful a means of facing their sexuality, dealing with it, and offering up their sexuality for sanctification is very far from consideration.

In light of this, an interesting thing happens at the Reformation.  The Bible and and the liturgy were translated into the vernacular, but then people began to realize, with some shock, that there was sex in the Bible.  Let me take an obvious example.  The Canticle, Benedictus, used in Lauds, and also in Anglican Morning Prayer, contains the phrase "The Lord, God of Israel...has raised up a horn of salvation to us, in the house of His Servant David" (1549 BCP, spelling modernized).  Any one who studies the Hebrew Scriptures should realize that "horn" is a standard, and rather common, term for the male member, and also associated with the begetting of children.  Used in the New Testament context, it means that the Christ is the "horn" who begets new children in the order of salvation.  It is, in fact, the only reference to our Lord by a part of his body in the New Testament (a fact which rather puts such devotions as those to the Sacred Heart in perspective).  However, the Reformers seem quickly to have realized that they had violated a sexual taboo, and thus altered the text to "mighty salvation" in subsequent editions of the Book of Common Prayer, even though that meant, in fact, obscuring the meaning of the original text.

This is not the only case of this. While for instance, the Authorized (i.e., "King James") version of the Bible is relatively explicit in its sexual (and other bodily) references, subsequent editions of the Scriptures and the liturgy move further and further away from literal translation precisely to avoid these things, culminating in many current "inclusive" translations, which seem bent on avoiding sexual references—especially references to maleness and male sexuality—altogether.

At the same time that this process of avoiding sexuality was gaining steam, another was also another going on, and that is the rise of what we may call Puritanism with regards to the liturgy and Christian art. Perhaps the first sign of this was the Cistercian movement, some of whose early promoters practiced a super asceticism, destructive to bodily health.  These "reform" movements grew in force, and contributed greatly to the iconoclasm of the Reformation.  In particular, religious emotions, and the material and bodily elements in Christian worship were attacked.  Was this because they aroused forbidden sexual feelings?

Certainly it is the case that the language of Scripture and of the liturgy plays on the erotic, and uses it as a means of approaching God.  In the time since the Reformation, precisely those elements in Christian life which involved worship and sexuality have been increasingly marginalized or removed.  There have been attempts to restore worship, of which I can take the Oxford Movement as a good example.  But this was met with powerful resistance in Victorian times, and, I suspect, one reason was the Victorian inability to deal with the erotic, especially as related to religion.

What has happened in the last century or so is the collapse of the old sexual mores.  But these have not been replaced by an ordered sexuality based on a nuanced and thought out approach to natural law and the role of sexuality in the economy of redemption.  Rather there is still an inability to deal with sexuality on a rational basis, but this is now accompanied by a large degree of irresponsible sexual acting out, mostly, it must be said, heterosexual acting out, with very destructive consequences, most obviously the taking of innocent human life.  At the same time, there has been an unprecedented attack on the liturgy, especially in the Roman Catholic Church following the Second Vatican Council.   Part of the latter appears to be an a assault on a liturgical system which was seen as being sexually repressive.  This is ironic, as in fact the ancient Roman liturgy preserves the greatest wealth of sexual imagery, and thus the greatest possibility of putting our sexuality in God's hands.  Nonetheless, these two things, the inability to deal with human sexuality, and the assault on the liturgy and the whole concept of the sacred, do very much appear to go together.  We now live in a time where we as a society actually suffer from a great fear of worship, indeed, an inability to settle down, create sacred space, and have an attitude of openness ad worship towards God.  We suffer as well, despite our attempts at Sexual Revolution, from an utter inability to face our sexuality in its wholeness, and a fear of male sexuality especially.  That these two extremely destructive societal neuroses, destructive indeed of our civilization, are related, and that their mutual resolution lies in a common solution, I no longer have any doubt.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Finding God in a World of Distraction


I ask myself what the chief obstacle to Christian renewal is, and I come back to the same issue, avoidance.  We want to avoid dealing with what matters, and so—we indulge in distractions.  And the distraction helps us to avoid doing the basics, the things that matter.  Thus our parochial, religious, and secular life becomes consumed with busy-ness, a series of distractions so engrossing that we can avoid the reality of God.

Distraction as religion can take many forms.  It can involve sitting on boards, and going to meetings (a favorite for up-and-coming clergy.)  It can take on the mask of an “evangelism”, that is really nothing more than secular marketing dressed up to look Christian, whose sole purpose is to fill pews and increase a church’s income.  It can take the guise of social activism.  It can also take the form of a “defending the faith”, that is nothing more than rabble rousing and, often secular, politics—a confession: this is one of my favorite distractions. Or, it can take the form of Church Reform, constantly changing things to make them better (usually without having seriously tried the "old ways")—this is a favorite avoidance tactic of the Puritan, both of right and left, and by far the most destructive kind of avoidance and distraction.

Furthermore, our present society is well engineered to promote such distractions. There is first the morning commute and rush.  We throw on our clothes, get the kids off to school, grab a bite  on the way or at work, drive like maniacs, listen to news that is designed to get us stirred up against “them”, attend meetings or have a constant flow of people take up our day, grab a bite at lunch, more meetings, drive a stressful commute home, pick up the kids at daycare or after school activities, grab takeout, and collapse in front of the TV or computer, until we fall asleep, then drag ourselves of to bed and start over.  Clergy and people in professional ministry are as prone to this as everybody else.  And for all of us, it is a way of living in which there is practically no time set aside for rest, for peace, for reflection—for God.

How do we escape this?  How do we make time for God?  It seems to me first of all that we need to do all in our power so as to engineer and organize our lives so as to make room for what is most important.  Anything we can do to reduce our commute, make it easier to have time for God, make it easier to get to church, and make it easier to relax is going to be worth the effort.  If we want to pray regularly, then we need to make it a priority, and make time for it: the time will not make itself.  If we want to have that encounter with God in Scripture through a prayerful reading of the Bible, then we need to make time for it.  If we want to get to mass or common prayer during the week, then we need to make it easy to do so, and make time for it.  If we want to examine our conscience before God, so that we may overcome our vices and live a life more pleasing to him, then we need to make time for it.  Churches, if we want people to have an encounter with God, then we need to make sure there is accessible sacred space for prayer and reflection, and it would help to have Bibles and prayer books easily available.  And we need to make sure our services are sacred times and provide space for that encounter.  If we need more physical exercise, and practically all of us do, then we need to make it convenient for ourselves, and make time for it.  If we want to sit down and have a family meal, then we need to make time for it.

In short, if we wish to grow closer to God, then we must make an effort, and that often includes giving up things that are of secondary importance, especially our distractions and addictions.  And if we want God, we must trust that if we put him first, he will provide all we need, not all we need to keep up with the Joneses, not all we need to satisfy our earthly appetites, perhaps not all we need to survive in this world, for none of us gets out of it alive.  But he will give us all we need to find him, and with him, what more do we need.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Why, as a Christian, I like Hallowe'en.

Christopher Lee as Dracula

Many of my fellow Christians get worked up over the dangers of Hallowe'en.  I personally have always liked it, for the same reason that I really like old horror movies, that is, about 1970 or before.  (After that, with special effects, they often strike me as a delight in violence and blood that is deeply disturbing.) Let me explain why.

Part of the danger we face nowadays is that we avoid the evil of evil.  Sometimes we romanticize and play down evil, like, it seems to me, the Twilight series does.  Or we are paranoid about it thus giving it power over us, like some of my fellow Christians do by trying to ban Hallowe'en altogether.  Or we delight in it per se, as it seems to me the modern gore and violence movies do. 

Essential to the old horror movies (and to the universe of good story) are stories with real villains and real heroes.  Everyone knew that vampires were bad things, that you shouldn't let them in the door, and that they (like evil generally) were deceptive.  They were dangerous, they made a good story, but they also were an object of fun.  Who wasn't delighted when the sun burned Dracula up?

During the Jewish feast of Purim, Jews tell the story of God delivering his people as found in the book of Esther. They hiss whenever Haman is mentioned, dress up in costumes, celebrate their deliverance from Haman and other persecutors of God's people, and mock Haman and his ilk.  It seems to me that this is the way we should approach Hallowe'en.  It is both a celebration of our deliverance from death and evil in Christ, and also a way of mocking the evil one and his minions, from whose power Christ has delivered us.  We should delight as we do it, remembering as St. Thomas More said, that “The devil … that proud spirit … cannot endure to be mocked.” 

We should not, however, diminish the evils of the world, or their real danger to us.  Stories, and play, and dressing up, are not only ways of making fun, but also ways of helping us to face reality.  They are ways of reminding ourselves, and our children, that there are real perils in the world.  As C.S. Lewis said:

"… Since it is so likely that [children] will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage. Otherwise you are making their destiny not brighter but darker. Nor do most of us find that violence and bloodshed, in a story, produce any haunting dread in the minds of children. As far as that goes, I side impenitently with the human race against the modern reformer. Let there be wicked kings and beheadings, battles and dungeons, giants and dragons, and let villains be soundly killed at the end of the book. …"


So, let there be vampires!  And let the story end with the hero pulling aside the curtain so that they can be vanquished by the sun.  

Friday, October 16, 2015

How Can We Renew Our Churches?



The chief concern of my fellow Christians these days seems to be survival, the survival of Christianity, the survival of our churches.  Indeed, I do not doubt that one of the chief concerns of those at the Synod of the family in Rome over admission of the divorced and remarried to communion is getting such persons back in the pews, and preventing the hemorrhaging of people off of the church roles (with the consequent loss of the church tax).  It is hard not to be a little cynical when one observes clergy, and others of us whose livelihood depends on the church, worried about these things.  And indeed, when one sees some of the tactics employed to get people into church, and contributing, the cynicism seems even more justified.  I would suggest that focussing on the problem, especially in this way, namely getting people back into the pews and contributing, is not only counterproductive, but will inevitably result making matters much worse.  If we really wish renewal it will involve looking both at the roots of the present problems and addressing them and also in re-engaging precisely those things which make for spiritual health and life.  Below I will outline what I think this should include. 

The chief cause of the collapse of Christianity that we are now undergoing is doubtless our failure to deal in a honest, rational, and scriptural way with human sexuality.  The things which burst upon us with the Sexual Revolution were undermining our churches long before.  Of the Sexual Revolution, I am reminded of Fr. Thomas Hopko's comment that there has not been  a Sexual Revolution, merely a "copulation explosion."  A Sexual Revolution, he said, would have us discovering anew our God-given sexuality, and entering more deeply into the mystery of it, and into an understanding of its role in God's plan for a redeemed humanity.  This is not what has happened. 

Any renewal of our churches must address the question of human sexuality, and it must do so in a new way, that is a significantly different way from how we have been doing things.  We cannot keep doing the things we have done in the past, and expect different results.  Right now we have two equally untenable positions duking it out with each other.   One uncritically asserts a series of moral prohibitions passed down from the previous generation, without examining their rationale or discerning their roots.  Nor can we adopt a laissez-faire attitude towards sexuality, blessing whatever comes along.  It must be a true sexual revolution.  In order to be a true sexual revolution it must be grounded in human nature and right reason, including the principle of natural justice or natural law.  It must also be well founded on Scripture and on the Christian vision of human life and the human body, as being created good, as being subject to the fall, as being redeemed, and as being destined for resurrection.  In order for it to be a true sexual revolution, there must be an unprecedented honesty about our present sexual state, including what went wrong both before and after the so-called Sexual Revolution.  And, most importantly, there must be an offering to God of our sexuality, and a prayerful invitation to Him to enter what is perhaps the most embarrassing part of our lives for us.  None of this will be easy.

Nor is this the whole story for spiritual renewal.  It is neither all that is required, nor can the addressing of our sexuality be done in a vacuum.  Church renewal must include a renewal in our spirituality and worship, and also a renewal in our approach to leading the moral life, and these two are related.  Probably the chief obstacle to our approaching God in worship is our inability to face our own sin.  Indeed we seem to go to great lengths to avoid this, and much of the activism in the life of our churches seems to me a way of avoiding examining our consciences, praying, and offering to God our repentance.  Perhaps, just as we believe that our sexuality is something too embarrassing to offer to God, so likewise we are so ashamed of our sins, and so unbelieving in the free gift of forgiveness and salvation prepared for us in the Atonemenment, in the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus, in the fact that God does forgive, that we cannot face them.  So, instead of engaging in the disciplines of the Christian life—daily prayer and worship, reading of Scripture, Christian meditation, examination of conscience, and confession, including sacramental confession—we create programs, engage in social ministries, put on social events, or have teaching and classes on subjects other than basic Christian doctrine and ascetics—all good things, but not a substitute for the basics, which alone can make a real difference.

Spiritual renewal has to include a renewal of the basics of life, for us Anglicans, as these are set forth in the Book of Common Prayer.  Chief among these is renewal of our worship, worship as an occasion for a real encounter with God.  This used to be true of both "low" and "high" Anglican worship, but it seems like we are falling to much to the tendency to use even our worship to avoid God.  It tends to degenerate into either into a worship of ourselves and "community", or it becomes a matter of inducing an emotional high that is either sub-rational, or even anti-rational.  These are precisely trends which Christian worship, which is worship of the Logos, the divine rationality, must avoid.  Christian worship is not dry worship, but neither is it irrational.  A liturgy without doctrinal and rational content is not Christian worship, it is not the sobria ebrietas, the sober intoxication, which is characteristic of the Holy Spirit, who is the Spirit of the Logos, but it becomes rather a kind of dangerous surrender to irrational forces which can destroy us.  Nor is a turning towards ourselves as an object of worship anything but the creation of an idol, a god without substance, which only leaves us feeling empty and desperate.

Finally spiritual renewal must be a renewal in ascetics, in the disciplines of the Christian life.  Christianity is about being a disciple of Jesus, and as the word indicates, discipleship means discipline.  We cannot merit our salvation or God's forgiveness, but being on the path of salvation means that we must allow God's grace to work within us, to change us, and that is where ascesis, or Christian discipline, come in.  Chief among these in our time has to be the cultivation of silence, of attentiveness to God.  This is always true, but it is especially true for us because in our society "the greatest menace to our capacity for contemplation is the incessant fabrication of tawdry empty stimuli which kill the receptivity of the soul", as Josef Pieper says.  That is, we live in a society, which, having turned its back on God, is constantly in frenetic motion so as to avoid him, and which thus creates all kinds of noise so as to make silence impossible.  Our first great task then is to cultivate precisely those things which will make the soul more receptive, and to remove those things—including not least our own sins and vices, that is bad habits—that impede or kill off that receptivity.  This means among other things the creation and preservation of sacred times and spaces where the world of busy-ness, including the world of busy-ness in the name of religion, cannot intrude.

If there is renewal, God will do it.  We cannot do it for him.  But renewal cannot happen if we are unwilling to face ourselves as God created us, including our sexuality.  Renewal cannot happen if we do not make room for God in our souls by dealing with those things which close us off from God. Renewal most importantly cannot happen if we are unprepared, created as we are by God, to face him, who is ultimately lovely, and real, and good, and to fall down before Him as alone worthy of our worship, adoration, and praise.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Good things about being an Anglican (at least a High Church one)


I offer the following list, not as an example of how “we are better than you”, but as things we have for which I am grateful, and which I commend to others, including my fellow Anglicans, who may be tempted to forget what we have.

1. Actual worship of God: especially, following Jesus’ command, worshiping together on the Lord’s Days and Major Feasts, with Scripture being proclaimed, and the Eucharist being celebrated using the elements commanded by our Lord, namely bread and wine, and following our Lord’s example, sharing the sacrament of Christ’s Blood from a common cup with my fellow Christians, kneeling reverently before God’s altar.

2. Praying together with psalms and readings from the Bible twice daily, most often with others, using Daily Morning and Evening Prayer as appointed by the Prayer Book.

3. Having the essential services throughout the year all together in one book, the Book of Common Prayer (and if it is bound with the Bible, you have all you need!)

4. Having a version of my own language, English, which is also in a sacred register (in Rite I), like the liturgical language of Jewish Temple Worship, and the early Christian liturgies.

5. The tradition of having a church which is a sacred public space, open for prayer, and designed for an encounter with God.

6. Having doctrinal principles which serve as a corrective against the folly of those in power, including a misguided majority:  Scripture is understood as the Word of God written, and the essential test-stone of doctrine, understanding that both right reason and tradition are essential for a proper understanding of Scripture.  As a corollary, accepting that revealed truth is something accessible to every human intellect, and thus bound by no one Christian’s (ultimately subjective) infallibility, nor to the limited understanding and experience of a particular church.  Thus we can benefit from a true sense of catholicity, and the ability to read and learn from whatever is good in non-Anglican theology — Eastern Orthodox, Roman, Catholic, or Protestant — without the need to apologize for doing so.

7. A polity in which no one is supposed to have absolute authority, not the bishop, not the lay leadership, not the clergy, not General Convention (although all, especially the last, have tried to assert it.)  This is particularly  true, I think, for Episcopalians, whose traditions of American republicanism in the past served as a check on the abuse of power.  Thus we have a tradition of subsidiarity, something which also serves as a check on bureaucracy.  We can also be free from the temptation to worship those in top positions, i.e., no cult of personality surrounding our clergy or religious leadership. (Although we are sometimes tempted to worship the institution, which is itself a dangerous form of idolatry.)

8. Following ancient Judaism and the early Christians, an appreciation of art of all kinds, including depiction of the natural world and the human figure, including our Lord, as an aid to worship, which rightly understands idolatry as any human construct, including intellectual constructs, which takes the place of God, who, while known from his works, in his essence is incomprehensible.

9. A sense of Christian community — including hospitality, graciousness, charity, and mercy — which begins right after the Eucharist in coffee hour,  and extends to feeding the hungry, visiting the sick, and all the other works of mercy in a remarkable way.

10. It might be objected that Anglicanism is a mess, to which I would respond that practically all of Christianity is a mess: there is no system of Church governance which relieves people from the need to be faithful faithful or good, or which can prevent them from sinning, including those in the highest positions.  What Anglicanism gives is the ability to actually ask the question, not about who is in authority and how his decisions are to be interpreted, but about what is actually true and right and the will of God, as well as a comprehensive ascetical and pastoral system, a system of prayer and discipleship, not just for religious or clergy, but for the ordinary Christian to live and witness to the Gospel.

With all these gifts, if we do not use them it is no one’s fault but our own.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

When "Christian Ethics" Go Terribly Wrong

A taboo is a prohibition which is absolute, absolute in a way that it cannot be discussed rationally.  So, for instance, some words become taboo.  It used to be that words discussing human sexuality were taboo.  Nowadays racial epithets are taboo, so taboo that we cannot use them even in a discussion of their origin, meaning, and why they are taboo.  (You will note that in order to avoid this taboo, I am not even mentioning an example of such a word.)  In our society taboos represent ideological absolutes.  That is, they represent ideological principles that must be accepted, and cannot be discussed or analyzed rationally.  In religious we call the embracing of such ideological absolutes fundamentalism.  Fundamentalism is problematic because it shortcuts human reason.  This attempt to bypass human reason is, as I have discussed in previous posts, usually destructive of our humanity, or the humanity of others.

There are two such taboos in our society into which I constantly run head on, one on the "right", and the other on the "left" of our political discourse.  On the right is the issue of homosexuality.  Those on the right not only assume that homosexuality is wrong, but are unable to discuss it rationally.  That is, they are unable to discuss or examine the origins of this moral prohibition, why it might be wrong, and what ancients texts prohibiting actually might mean in context.  It must be said in their favor that this difficulty is not helped by the great deal of poor scholarship attempting to question this prohibition.  However, the taboo is most unhelpful in trying to understand the question in accordance with right reason.

The second taboo, into which I run, on the "left", has to do with abortion.  I recently had a friend who just assumed that because of my Liberal stance on so many political issues that I must be behind "abortion rights".  The idea that I, in fact, was not, was not only a matter of great distress to her, but utterly incomprehensible.  She was unable to consider that a woman's autonomous "right to her own body" was not so broad as to include killing another human life within her.  Nor could she be drawn into a rational discussion of the issues and moral principles involved.  The notion of any restriction being placed on this autonomy was taboo.  This experience I had was, I have found, not unusual, not at all unusual.

I realize that I have by now lost most of my readers.  Most of us in live communities, and perhaps most importantly, religious communities, where at least one of these taboos is strongly enforced.  Many of us have internalized these taboos.  Thus there are those to whom any dissent from the premise that homosexuality is intrinsically disordered, and all homosexual activity a mortal sin, is so absolute that no further discussion of the issue is possible.  There are also those whose notion of a woman's absolute autonomy over her own body is so inflexible that the idea of any discussing of why abortion might be wrong is impermissible.  If you are of either camp, there is nothing further I can say to you.  If, however, you are in any way interested in promoting reasoning together how we might be able to address these issues in a rational way, please read on.  I think this can be a useful discussion, because, among other reasons, it seems to me that these two taboos are in fact related.

Let us talk a bit about homosexuality first.  I recently read James Neill's book, "The Origins and Role of Same-Sex Relations in Human Societies".  First I must say that this is not a great book. It does not contain significant original scholarship, and there are parts, such as where he discusses Scripture, where his sources are very poor scholarship.  Occasionally he makes significant mistakes, a few of which are rather amusing (such as "'homo' is Latin for 'same'").  Also, there are some lacunae, things omitted, such as dealing with the health effects of certain sexual behaviors. However, it is a useful book in that it is a decent summary of the state of scholarship, and where that scholarship is good, for example, in the biological and anthropological origins of homosexuality, then it is a good resource for understanding the matter.  In terms of Scripture, it also gives, while not good exegesis, nevertheless a decent basis for understanding the world in which the Bible was written, and therefore for understanding how Hebrew and Christian morality differed from that of the surrounding society.  Now I knew most of this, and indeed the essential points of the argument, before I read Neill's book.  However, his book provided a good summary, as well as a list of references, so I recommend it to you.

I am not an advocate of primitivism, or of Rousseau's notion of the noble savage. Human sin — theologically a failure to do that which is pleasing to God, philosophically a failure to act in accordance with right reason (cf. Aquinas, Summa Theologica Ia IIae q. 163) — is a constant factor in a fallen world.  Nonetheless, so called "primitive" societies can and do tell us something about how human nature works itself out, something that our cultural prejudices can blind us to when we examine only our own culture.

How then do animals, and primitive human societies, regulate reproduction in such a way as will contribute to the prospering of the species?  In particular, how do they regulate the very strong sex drive of males, especially younger males, and the concomitant high aggression, in a beneficial way?  How do human societies, in particular, where child rearing is a long process requiring a large degree of familial and societal cohesion, ensure stable family and social structures, which could easily be destroyed by unregulated libido and aggression?  In short, how do they avoid what are now social problems which plague us: unwanted pregnancies of people who are insufficiently ready or mature to have and raise children, violence and aggression among young men, and unstable family structures with absent fathers?  How do they deal with the violence that is the result of a lack of social cohesion and an inability to deal with male aggression, often an aggression consequent upon a failure to deal with male libido?

In most species males are separated out from family groups at puberty in such a way as to prevent their aggression and libido from being destructive to females and pre-pubescent offspring.  They often gather in male-only groups, where homosexual behavior serves as a sexual release, and also can serve as a form of group cohesion.  Only when males are able successfully to compete for a mate do they start heterosexual activity, and then often the homosexual activity does not stop.  The closer one gets to Homo Sapiens, the greater the frequency of homosexuality, and its importance for the good functioning of the species.  There are a number of reason why this is the case.  Male Homo sapiens have a relatively constant sex drive, unlike other species where the sex drive is more closely timed to seasons or times in life.  As a result, the human male reproductive system works best when there is frequent ejaculation (4–5 times per week on average).  Also the need for social cohesion between males is greater among social animals, of whom homo sapiens is the most social.

Anthropological and historical research show that the pattern found in other animals in fact occurs in homo sapiens.  The patterns in primitive human societies, when boys hit puberty, is that they are segregated from their mothers and families.  They engage in homosexual activities with their peers and often have a mentor and lover who instructs them in the skills required to be a man in their community.  When they are deemed mature enough, they are allowed to court and marry.  Often after marriage they will continue a sexual relationship with other men, as a means of relieving sexual tension, and also of avoiding adultery with other women.  In this way, human homosexuality serves the functions of regulating the libido, and thus of diminishing aggression.  Diminishing aggression and the emotional bonds formed with other men promotes social cohesion among men, and also diminishes conflict over women.  The sexual relationship with a mentor also serves an educational function to help each man become a good man in his society.

Anyone who has studied, for instance, Greek society will see the clear parallels between the primitive societies which were the subjects of anthropological research and Greek society.  Certain societies, for instance those where polygamy is practiced, and certain more advanced societies, such as Chinese society and Roman society, where slavery and other power structures become enmeshed with issues of sexual behavior, present particular problems.  However, one sees the same sets of concerns and issues being worked out.  Ancient Hebrew society appears not to have been significantly different from other ancient societies, except that certain sexual activities and sexual activities between persons related to each other in certain ways was prohibited.  These prohibitions do not appear to be significantly different from those found in some other ancient societies.  The writers of the New Testament assume the Hebraic prohibitions.

The earliest evidence for what we think of as being traditional Christian sexual morality occurs some time after the New Testament was written.  Because of this it is assumed that the New Testament and the Hebrew Scriptures (the Christian Old Testament) say certain things about sexual morality which in fact are not clear from the texts themselves.  One can often depend on subsequent tradition for determining the meaning of biblical texts, but in this case the tradition itself is conflicted, especially on the subject of homosexuality.  However, as one might expect, the legal sources, rabbinical and canonical, provide a clear picture of the strict meaning of biblical texts which is in conflict with a more popular understanding.  In particular, what is more popularly understood by later generations as a prohibition against all homosexual activity is in fact seen by these sources as a prohibition on anal sex (something Neil, sadly, does not discuss). 

What happened in Christianity is that there began to be in late antiquity a very restrictive understanding of permissible sexual activity, an understanding that prohibited all sexual activity as sinful which was not either deliberately procreative in nature or which was not at least possibly procreative.  Sexual activity in the latter category, namely sexual intercourse between married persons was allowed, but discouraged, as a means of sexual release to avoid sexual sin.  Desire for sexual activity per se was seen as being sinful.  This was certainly the consensus view in Western Christianity by the end of the Middle Ages, and remained so among both Protestants (many of whom who were suspicious of celibacy as being an occasion for sexual sin) and Roman Catholics.  These two were thus in essential agreement about what sexual morality consisted of at the time of the Reformation.  The notion, promoted by the likes of Christopher West, that sexual desire (except for the desire to beget children) was a good thing is in fact quite recent in modern Roman Catholicism. 

One of the things that happened in the way of enforcing this consensus on the Western Church was that homosexuality was especially stigmatized.  This appears first among vowed celibates, as it was probably a temptation to which they were more subject.  The demonization of homosexual desire and activity became prevalent about the 13th century, and was directed both against clerics, and also against the military nobility, the class who preserved ancient structure of homosexual behavior as it was originally found in human society.  The effects of this were however, not so much to promote the ideals of churchmen, but rather, by a kind of default, to promote heterosexual behavior.  Thus, for instance, towns in the Middle Ages are known to have founded or promoted brothels, so that young men would have a non-homosexual outlet.  Amongst royalty and nobility adultery, especially the keeping of mistresses, becomes much more common after the demonization of homosexuality.  Churchman often tolerated such things, as being preferable to homosexual behavior.  Here we begin to see how the way in which human societies naturally regulated libido in a socially beneficial way begins to fall apart. 

As Neill outlines, the contact of primitive societies with Westernized society in the 20th century provides a good example, with change occurring in decades as opposed to centuries, of what happens when the natural means of regulating human sexual behavior are overturned.  Many of these societies, upon coming into contact with a Modern society that strongly disapproved of homosexuality, were forced to abandon their traditional homosexual practices.  The consequence in these societies is unmistakable and clear.  There has been a great increase in pregnancies out of wedlock, in teen pregnancy, in adultery (meaning between a man and a woman not his wife, or vice versa) and in divorce and single parent families, all things which are not taking place in our own society.  There has also been, in an attempt to address some of these issues, the importation of contraceptives, some of which have very negative effects, and in abortions, things which were not hitherto required in those societies.  Thus we see how an attempt to introduce “Christian” ethics into these societies, has been quite destructive, and productive of effects which most devout Christians would deplore.   


In future posts I will attempt to explore further what I think is a better base for an ethics and morality based in natural law, and also a scripturally based ethics, would look like, as well as exploring some of the theological issues involved.  I will also examine why these things involve, not rational moral discourse, but taboos.  I recommend, if you have not done so, that you do read Neill’s work.  

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Faith vs. Reason (Scripture, Tradition, and Reason: Conclusion)


“Reason is the greatest enemy that faith has: it never comes to the aid of spiritual things, but — more frequently than not — struggles against the divine Word, treating with contempt all that emanates from God.” — Martin Luther, Tischreden (1569)
"Fides quaerens intellectum"  (Faith seeking understanding.) — St. Anselm
What is the relation between faith and reason?  Is there one?  In the previous posts on Scripture, Tradition, and Reason I have discussed the importance of reason in interpreting revelation, a revelation that at some level be accepted on faith.  But someone will no doubt object, "How can you know anything from faith?"

I would respond with a question, "How can you know anything without faith?" Because knowing something requires, first of all, an implicit faith, a trust, in the means of knowing.  It requires faith in one's own intellect and reason, and indeed in intellect and reason themselves.  It requires faith in one's senses, in sight hearing, taste, touch, and smell.  It requires faith in other people who write and talk. Sometimes that faith proves misplaced, and then reason helps us to know who and what is trustworthy, and who or what is not. But still, knowledge requires the exercise of faith, and thus faith becomes a means of knowing. 

Our knowledge of the physical realm is what Aristotle called "physics".  How we know what we know, what we can deduce about being from the physical realm, and what we can know by the exercise of reason on the non-sensory objects of our intellect, Aristotle called "metaphysics."   Now there have been philosophers who have tried to dispense with metaphysics.  The problem here, as the reader should see, is that the very exercise to dispense with it must be of necessity an exercise in the thing itself. Metaphysics is not something from which you can escape.  And denying the role of faith by denying metaphysics is something that will not work. 

We have good reason to have faith in natural science, with its means of knowing.  However, natural science is not the only basis of our knowing, both for practical, and for metaphysical reasons. As examples, I know my friend in a way that cannot be entirely explained by natural science, and I know that an exercise in pure mathematics has a given solution, even though there is no sensory phenomenon which will prove it.

Things also happen, which our reason tells us make sense, and really did happen, but whose causation we cannot explain.  That this should be so is not surprising.  Our senses are limited, as is our knowledge of the world around us.  Then, even ordinary things, which we may be able to explain on a scientific level quite satisfactorily, nonetheless bring us a sense of wonder, and access parts of us which a dry rationality cannot.  In either case, sometimes we have an experience, of beauty, of a transcendent meaning, or of a transcendent purpose, which raise us out of ourselves in ways we cannot imagine could have happened.  Some of this we would certainly categorize as religious experience, that is of a super-human reality, or more narrowly, of a transcendent and uncreated beauty, reality, and goodness.  Faith in this kind of experience as a form of knowing is religious faith. 

If religious experience provides us with some form of knowledge, then it is as accessible to reason as any other form of knowledge: there is no such thing as knowledge derived from religious faith which is super-rational, even if the object of that knowledge may transcend the limits of our reason.*  God gave us our reason as essential to our knowing.  Any attempt therefore, to know something by religious faith without employing reason (as suggested by Martin Luther in the quote above) is to try to act contrary to our God-given nature, and the results of this cannot but be destructive.  I would suggest that religious fundamentalism, which has proved so destructive in our history, is a result of just such an attempt.

Christian faith is based on a particular religious experience, namely that of Jesus' disciples who experienced him as bodily risen from the dead after he had been executed by crucifixion.  The Bible, the Christian religious scriptures, includes the testimony of the disciples to this experience.  Now, if historical science is at all trustworthy, then we can say that history tells us that the disciples truly did believe that Jesus had died, and that they had seen him alive, in the flesh, able to be seen and touched, able to function bodily, such as eating in their presence.  This was an experience that deeply changed them.  It was such that they were happy to give their lives in order to bear testimony to it, and many of them did.  Since then many Christians throughout the centuries have given such testimony, and have engaged in many selfless acts of love for their fellows because of this testimony.  Christian faith is based upon putting trust in this witness, and in the God whom we believe to be its cause, and whom we trust we know through this common experience of Jesus' resurrection. 

*One useful point that theologian David Brown makes (in his book, The Divine Trinity) is that if Christians accept Christian religious experience as a source of knowledge, they must also accept the religious experience of others as a source of knowledge (which does not mean we have to accept the theological or philosophical conclusions they draw from this experience). 

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Name Day


Today is my name day, the Feast of St. Michael the Archangel.

My parents could not have a child. They decided to adopt, and Fr. Holliday (of St. Matthias' Episcopal Church in Athens) told them to ask for the intercession of St. Michael the Archangel to get the right baby. So they did, and very soon received news that I was available for adoption. I was baptized on Easter afternoon, and they named me Michael in thanksgiving.

I have always felt a special responsibility to fight for God's truth and love because of that.

Interestingly, I was born on St. Matthias' Day, who was the patron saint of my home parish.

Friday, September 18, 2015

The Rev'd Dr. Edward Bouverie Pusey

E. B. Pusey
22 August 1800 – 16 September 1882
From Pusey's Sermon, The Entire Absolution of the Penitent

It is mostly through searching pain, some stunning blow or sharp piercing stroke without, or strong inward mental fear and agony, that the sinner is deadened to the world, and made alive to God. Suspended life cannot flow again without deep pain. "No one," says St. Augustine, "chooseth a new life, but who repenteth him of the old." "Man must long to become what he hath not been, hate what he hath been." What is repentance, but, out of love to God, to will from the heart all undone which has offended Him, with a strong purpose never more to offend Him? Yet we cannot wish undone, what we do not hate; and so the first dealing of God with the soul mostly is, to make it condemn itself, to place itself before the sinner’s face, being before him all which he had hitherto striven to put behind his back and hide from himself, and by a lightning-flash to pierce his darkness and shew him the pit of hell which yawns beneath his feet. "If we would judge ourselves," says Holy Scripture, "we should not be judged."

Full Text on Project Canterbury: The Entire Absolution of the Penitent

Prayer:

Well done, good and faithful servant, † because thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things, saith the Lord.

V. The Lord guided the righteous in right paths.
R. And showed him the kingdom of God.

Grant unto us, O God, that in all time of our testing we may know thy presence and obey thy will; that, following the example of thy servant Edward Bouverie Pusey, we may with integrity and courage accomplish what thou givest us to do, and endure what thou givest us to bear; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


H/t St. Bede's Breviary

Thursday, September 17, 2015

The Original Prayer of Humble Access,
in Latin and English


Non accedimus ad hanc mensam tuam, O misericors Domine, fiducia justitiæ nostræ, sed in multitudine miserationum tuarum. Neque enim sumus digni, ut colligamus micas de mensa tua. Sed tu es idem Dominus, cujus semper proprium fuit misereri. Concede igitur, misericors Domine, ut sic edamus Carnem Filii tui, et bibamus ejus Sanguinem in his Sacris Mysteriis, ut nostra corpora peccatis inquinata munda fiant perceptione Sacratissimi Corporis sui, et nostræ animæ laventur in Præcioso Sanguine suo: ut perpetuo habitemus in eo, et ipse in nobis. Amen.
— from the Liber Precum Publicarum of 1560

We do not presume to come to this thy Table (O merciful Lord) trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies. We be not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table. But thou art the same Lord, whose property is always to have mercy: Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the Flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his Blood, in these holy Mysteries, that we may continually dwell in him, and he in us, that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his Body, and our souls washed through his most precious Blood. Amen.
— from the 1549 Book of Common Prayer

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

A Place for Prayer

If you came this way,
Taking any route, starting from anywhere,
At any time or at any season,
It would always be the same: you would have to put off
Sense and notion. You are not here to verify,
Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity
Or carry report. You are here to kneel
Where prayer has been valid. And prayer is more
Than an order of words, the conscious occupation
Of the praying mind, or the sound of the voice praying.
And what the dead had no speech for, when living,
They can tell you, being dead: the communication
Of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living.
Here, the intersection of the timeless moment
Is England and nowhere. Never and always.
— T.S. Eliot, from Little Gidding

St. Bede's Chapel
at Autry House across from Rice University
Today is the 15th anniversary of reinstituted Morning Prayer in St. Bede's Chapel a Autry House (now part of Palmer Church). Morning Prayer had been prayed for many years, until about 1990. On September 16, 2000 it was reinstated, and has been said every weekday (with very few exceptions for holidays) ever since. Among other things, we pray daily for the needs of the Rice Community, and the Texas Medical Center. (See: AutryHouse.org)

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Mechanical Religion vs. the Cure of Souls

Rogier van der Weyden, The Seven Sacraments
Altarpiece, ca. 1455
I am reading, with delight and interest, Oliver Sack's biography, "On the Move." I recommend it for a number of reasons, but for me the most important insight is how being a good physician is not a mechanical application of medicines and therapies to a set of symptoms and a diagnosis, but rather involves a personal contact, listening to people's stories, and personal relationship over a long period of time.  In an age where medicine becomes increasingly bureaucratic and impersonal, and where medical education is more a more like technical training, it serves as a useful reminder that medicine is an art, intrinsic to which is the unique relation between persons.  Every patient is different, and needs to be treated as such, and as a person, with whom the physician is in relation.

In ministry there is a very similar problem to the problem of a mechanical approach in medicine.  In my experience it takes two forms, which often coexist.  The first is religious legalism.  This is the idea that a set of laws, regulations, or ideological principles are the backbone of religion, and must be applied without regards to persons.  I can cite two good examples of this.  

The first is the annulment process in the Roman Catholic Church.  I know of a case where a couple were civilly divorced.  One of the spouses filed for annulment, and the first official contact that the other spouse had from the Roman Catholic Church was a written notification of this petition, with a very invasive questionnaire.  No attempt was made herein to provide pastoral care to the respondent, and when the spouse asked for help with pastoral aspects of the case, he was told that this was purely a matter of canon law, and received no help or referral for pastoral aid in dealing with the broken relationship or the consequences on the offspring.  

The second case comes from a liberal congregation, that was noted for its "inclusivity" and "openness to all."  A visitor to that congregation, not really desiring political discourse, nonetheless found himself at a church event where the conversation turned rather sharply to politics.  When he was so foolish as to make a rather mild criticism of the democratic party's stance on an issue, it was made clear to him that his departure from strict political orthodoxy made him decidedly unwelcome.

The other way in which a "mechanical" approach to church life manifests itself is in attempts to grow or maintain congregations using consumerist or salesmanship tactics, usually masquerading under the name "evangelism."  This is so all-pervasive in our church life, that I think we have ceased to notice.  Evangelism comes to mean getting more warm bodies in pews, and getting them to give so as to support the institution.  The tools employed to do this are from marketing psychology.  They also treat people, not as persons, but as things to be manipulated for our own purposes.  Needless to say, many people sooner or realize that they have been had, and it may turn them off to church for life.

In contrast to these mechanical approaches to religion, the concept in pastoralia that corresponds to the concept of medicine as a personal relation is the idea of "cura animarum" the "cure" or "care of souls." The cure of souls sees priests as a spiritual physicians.  Like physicians, priests have medicines and therapies, and like those of physicians these have no automatic or mechanical application.  Good pastors must know their sheep, and listen to their stories.  They have principles, they have possible diagnoses, but there is no one size fits all, and preconceived categories do ever entirely match the reality—each case is unique.

Pastoralia, pastoral theology and its application, is an art.  It requires, not training, but education, and a "liberal" theological education at that, namely one that teaches priests to think theologically for themselves.  Further, it requires of priests self knowledge and spirituality maturity, especially in prayer.  The better priests learn to attend to God in prayer, the better they can attend to, listen to, their parishioners.

There is in pastoral ministry no substitute for the personal relation between priest and parishioner.  Each case is different, each story unique.  Thus, priests who attempt to impose their preconceived idea of how the case ought to look, whether on a parish or on individual parishioners, are doing their flocks a disservice. Since pastoral care is a a personal relation, the most important thing a priest can bring is a genuine love for his flock, that is genuine charity and desire for their welfare.

Further, as in physical medicine, the priest is not in charge.  It is God who is the healer, and he sets the terms.  After charity, comes humility, the humility to realize that I am not God, and that if I desire to lead others to God, frequently I must get myself, my own ego, my own projects, my own definition of priestly success, out of the way.

Monday, September 14, 2015

On the Move, by Thom Gunn

A contrast to the previous poem



On the Move
By Thom Gunn

The blue jay scuffling in the bushes follows
Some hidden purpose, and the gust of birds
That spurts across the field, the wheeling swallows,
Has nested in the trees and undergrowth.
Seeking their instinct, or their poise, or both,
One moves with an uncertain violence
Under the dust thrown by a baffled sense
Or the dull thunder of approximate words.


On motorcycles, up the road, they come:
Small, black, as flies hanging in heat, the Boys,
Until the distance throws them forth, their hum
Bulges to thunder held by calf and thigh.
In goggles, donned impersonality,
In gleaming jackets trophied with the dust,
They strap in doubt – by hiding it, robust –
And almost hear a meaning in their noise.


Exact conclusion of their hardiness
Has no shape yet, but from known whereabouts
They ride, direction where the tyres press.
They scare a flight of birds across the field:
Much that is natural, to the will must yield.
Men manufacture both machine and soul,
And use what they imperfectly control
To dare a future from the taken routes.


It is a part solution, after all.
One is not necessarily discord
On earth; or damned because, half animal,
One lacks direct instinct, because one wakes
Afloat on movement that divides and breaks.
One joins the movement in a valueless world,
Choosing it, till, both hurler and the hurled,
One moves as well, always toward, toward.


A minute holds them, who have come to go:
The self-defined, astride the created will
They burst away; the towns they travel through
Are home for neither bird nor holiness,
For birds and saints complete their purposes.
At worst, one is in motion; and at best,
Reaching no absolute, in which to rest,
One is always nearer by not keeping still.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

With Fall Coming: "I sit beside the fire and think" by J. R. R. Tolkien

I sit beside the fire and think
of all that I have seen,
of meadow-flowers and butterflies
In summers that have been;

Of yellow leaves and gossamer
in autumns that there were,
with morning mist and silver sun
and wind upon my hair.

I sit beside the fire and think
of how the world will be
when winter comes without a spring
that I shall ever see.

For still there are so many things
that I have never seen:
in every wood in every spring
there is a different green.

I sit beside the fire and think
of people long ago,
and people who will see a world
that I shall never know.

But all the while I sit and think
of times there were before,
I listen for returning feet
and voices at the door.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Fundamentalism and Liberalism (Scripture, Tradition, and Reason, Part II)

The Prologue to the Gospel of John
fr. the Codex Alexandrinus, 5th Century A.D.
We ended the previous post with a discussion of reason as the means of interpreting Scripture.  Given that it is by reason that the human intellect (or "understanding") operates, that is, by our ability to relate truths one to another, the question comes up:  Given that our reason functions to relate truth to truth, what is the relation to the truth found in Scripture to the truth that we know from other sources, and how do we relate these?  Is there a relation, or does religious truth exist in a different, unrelated realm from other kinds of truth?

The Gospel of John begins with the assertion, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word is God." There is a great deal to be said about this, but for our purpose let us look at the contention that the Word, Gr. λόγος, "logos", was God.  The word "logos" means both "word" and also "reason", that is to say, reason as the underlying rationality of all that exists.  This is a "a reason which is creative and capable of self-communication, precisely as reason."  The corollary to this is that not to act or speak in accordance with reason, "not to act 'with logos' is contrary to God's nature."*

Since it is the business of reason to relate truth to truth, and since it is in the nature of God to act in the cosmos in accordance with reason, it must then follow that reason as given to us by God can relate that truth found in God's saving revelation to us with other truth that we come to know in the cosmos.  In short, there is not a separate truth found in revelation or discovered by natural science, but rather there is one truth.  This means that if we find a conflict between natural science and revelation the fault must lie in a failure to understand one, the other, or both.

For Christians this means that we cannot interpret Scripture in such a way as to negate what we do in fact know through natural science—nor can we use natural science to negate what we, in fact, know through revelation.  Thus we cannot find a refuge from this dilemma in fundamentalism, which would negate science, nor can we honestly embrace what Newman called religious "liberalism", which denies that we can know or posit anything as objectively knowable from revelation.

This leaves us with two essential tasks. One is to apologize, meaning explain and defend, natural science to our fellow Christians who are fundamentalists.  The other is to apologize for the objectivity of that knowledge which we have from revelation, or what some would term "religious experience."  Given that most of our fellow churchgoers actually do tend to fall into either religious fundamentalism or liberalism these are no easy tasks.

In order to do this, it means for ourselves that we must interpret Scripture rationally, that is rationally harmonizing what we know from revelation with what we know from elsewhere in such way that does violence to none of our knowledge or forms of knowing.  This latter is the work of Christian theology.
To be continued...


*Benedict XVI, Regensburg Address. This address, which seems to have been willfully misinterpreted by many at the time of its delivery, is extremely important for the point that I am making in this post.  An English translation, which I commend for your reading, is found here.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Scripture, Tradition, and Reason: Part I

At ordination in the Episcopal Church, in response to the question "Will you be loyal to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of Christ as this Church has received them?" the ordinand makes a declaration and signs it in the presence all, which declaration includes the words "I solemnly declare that I do believe the Holy Scriptures to be the Word of God, and to contain all things necessary to salvation."

As with many such statements, as with many things in the Bible or any other text, what something actually means is not always as obvious as one might think.  As with any words it is necessary to understand certain things about the words in order to understand them.  A useful hermeneutic, or means of interpretation, was provided me by my professor of Pastoral Theology, and I share it with you now: In order to understand any speech, one must know (1) who (2) says what (3) to whom (4) about what.  That is, in any speech, there is (1) a speaker, (2) something said, (3) a hearer and (4) content.  Also, each of these four elements exists in a context which is essential for understanding it.

Let us look at some aspects of this statement in context.  In it we confess the authority of Holy Scripture. Let me explain what that means.  When we say say something is said with authority, we are saying that it is true, and one who speak with authority speaks the truth.  One who has authority is one who is able to speak, habitually, about the truth on certain subjects.  When we say that Scripture has authority, we confess that Holy Scripture is true for salvation, that it is a true word, given for the purpose of salvation.  Now truth is the correspondence between a statement and reality—when we say that a statement is true, we are saying that, for the purposes for which we are talking, that statement corresponds to something real such that we may know that something from the statement.  So in speaking this way we say that Holy Scripture is speaking in such away so that we may know the reality of salvation.

Now this authority is confessed in response to a question.  That question refers to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of Christ as received by the Church.  The authority of Scripture is not being asserted in a vacuum, but rather as part of a doctrine, discipline, and worship which is not our own creation, but has been received by us, and not as individuals, but as the Church.

Scripture is part of something received, and if it has been received it must have been "passed down." The word we commonly use that means the act of passing something down, as well as what is passed down is tradition.  That tradition includes doctrine, discipline, and worship, and the Scriptures themselves.

The human faculty by which we know the the truth is known by the the intellect (a.k.a., the understanding), which in comprehending a certain truth, apprehends the real thing to which the truth is true.  The process by which we understand truth is reason, as St. Thomas Aquinas points out: "to understand is simply to apprehend intelligible truth: and to reason is to advance from one thing understood to another, so as to know an intelligible truth" (Summa Theologica, 79,8).  It is on this basis that we say that we as Anglicans base our faith upon Scripture, Tradition, and Reason.
To be continued...

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Two Feasts Today: The Martyrs of Memphis & Fr. Charles Lowder

The "Martyrs of Memphis"

Sister Constance
née Caroline Louise Darling, b. Medway, Mass., 1846, † Sep. 9, 1878


Today Anglicans have two important commemorations.  The first is the "Martyrs of Memphis" a group of four religious sisters of the Sisters of St. Mary and two priests who died while serving the sick during the Yellow Fever epidemic in Memphis in the Summer of 1878.  They were
•Sister Constance (neé Caroline Louise Darling, b. Medway, Mass., 1846), superior of the work at Memphis, headmistress of St. Mary’s School for Girls.
•Sister Thecla, sacristan of St. Mary’s Cathedral and its school chapel, instructor in music and grammar (English and Latin)
•Sister Ruth, nurse at Trinity Infirmary, New York
•Sister Frances, a newly professed nun given charge of the Church Home orphanage
•The Rev. Charles Carroll Parsons, rector of Grace Episcopal Church, Memphis; former U.S. Army artillery commander, West Point alumnus and professor (Served with classmate Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer in Kansas, defense counsel in Custer's 1867 court-martial trial.)
•The Rev. Louis S. Schuyler, newly ordained assistant rector at Parsons' prior parish, Holy Innocents Episcopal Church, Hoboken, New Jersey.*

The Sisterhood of St. Mary was the first religious order founded in the Episcopal Church in U.S., being founded in 1865 in New York.   In 1873 a group of sister came to work at St. Mary's School at the invitation of Bp. Quintard (himself a high churchman with a passion for work among the poor and disadvantaged).

Memphis had been subject to frequent epidemics of yellow fever, but the worst occurred in the summer of 1878.  Yellow fever returned to Memphis with a vengeance in August of of 1878, and the hospitals were overwhelmed.  25,000 people evacuated the city, but the sisters stayed to take care of those who could not leave.  They went from street to street, often into houses with dying or dead inhabitants.  Eventually  all four sisters and two priests succumbed to the fever, Fr. Parsons dying first on September 5, and Sister Thecla dying last on the 12th.  Sr. Constance had died on the 9th, her last words being "Hosanna, Alleluia!"

The sacrifice of the sister did much to reconcile many Episcopalians who had theretofore been suspicious to the existence of religious life in the church, and also did much to advance the Anglo-Catholic Movement in this country.

We give thee thanks and praise, O God of compassion, for the heroic witness of Constance and her companions, who, in a time of plague and pestilence, were steadfast in their care for the sick and the dying, and loved not their own lives, even unto death. Inspire in us a like love and commitment to those in need, following the example of our Savior Jesus Christ; who with thee and the Holy Spirit liveth and reigneth, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
*From the Website of St. Mary's Episcopal Cathedral in Memphis, Constance & Her Companions


Fr. Charles Lowder


Charles Lowder was one of Newman's disciples at Oxford.  He was priested in 1844.  In 1845 he became assistant curate at St. Barnabas Pimlico, a center of the catholic revival and an advanced ritualist parish located in the slums of London. In 1855, with five other priests, he founded the Society of the Holy Cross.  In August 1856 he became rector of St. George's in the East, a mission church, where, working with the sisters of the Community of the Holy Cross, they provided schools, a prostitutes' refuge, "a hostel for homeless girls, night classes and parish clubs, an insurance scheme for dockers, coal for the poor and general poor relief."  He helped found St. Peter's London Docks in 1866, where he was first perpetual curate (priest-in-charge), and then vicar.  

A cholera epidemic broke out almost immediately after the consecration of the church.  The tireless work of Charles Lowder, the other mission priests, and the sisters in ministering to the sick earned him the respect of the nation and the love of his parishioners, who began to call him "Father," a title previously used in England only by religious clergy of the Roman Communion.  It is from this time that the title "Father" began to be used in English for secular priests. 

Fr. Lowder's personal holiness and work for the sick and the poor did much to advance the Anglo-Catholic cause, and to earn acceptance of the ritual promoted by the movement.  More importantly, the combination of charitable works, worshipful services, and a devout spirituality brought many to Christ who lived on the cruel fringes of society.  He died on September 9, 1880, and his burial was attended by hundreds of clergy and thousands of his parishioners.

O heavenly Father, Shepherd of thy people, we give thee thanks for thy servant Charles Lowder., who was faithful in the care and nurture of thy flock; and we pray that, following his example and the teaching of his holy life, we may by thy grace grow into the stature of the fullness of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

✠ Holy Martyrs of Memphis, Blessed Charles Lowder, pray for us. ✠