Monday, May 30, 2016

Is Anglicanism defined by the Reformation or by catholicity?

"One fact that certainly emerges from recent discussions is that the one thing which it was impossible for anyone to achieve, except by a sheer miracle, in the sixteenth or seventeenth centuries [in the West] was a balanced or primitive view of any theological question.  Passions were too high and the legacy of the Middle Ages was too oppressive for that.  The suggestion which has been made in some circles recently that the Church of England, by its 'appeal to history', is committed without question to the ecclesiology and sacramental theology of the classical post-Reformation Anglican divines, and indeed even to their ecclesiastical polity, amounts to little more than a demand that it shall be permanently wrong.  That the divines in question were right in in appealing to Scripture and the Fathers, we may gladly admit.  That they always made that appeal correctly we may surely be allowed to doubt.  As a recent writer has remarked, the 'Anglican appeal to history' is one thing; the 'appeal to Anglican history' is another."
—Fr. Eric Mascall in The Recovery of Unity (Longmans, 1958; p. 122–123)

As Fr. Mascall makes clear, the important thing about the post-Reformation divines was their methodology, namely the appeal to Scripture as the deposit of faith, and to the early Fathers as sure interpreters of it.  It is their methodology, and not their conclusions which are important, and they themselves would fault us for forsaking the former for the sake of some of the latter.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Sermon for the Feast of St. Augustine (Preached at Church of the Advent, Boston)

"Then Jesus said to Simon, ‘Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.'"

+ In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and Of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Today we commemorate St. Augustine of Canterbury, whose feast would have been celebrated yesterday, but for the greater feast of Corpus Christi.  However, because of his great importance for us, as I shall explain, St. Augustine cannot be omitted, and thus is moved to today.  Today, and the three days which come before, constitute, in fact, a happy coincidence of four feasts for Anglo-Catholics.  On Tuesday we celebrated Jackson Kemper, the great missionary bishop, who, among other achievements, founded my seminary, Nashotah House.  On Wednesday we celebrated St. Bede, the great scholar monk and theologian who is the founder and patron of what would become the Anglican theological method based on Scripture and the Church Fathers.  Yesterday we celebrated the great gift of Christ's Body, Corpus Christi, given to us in the Holy Eucharist, whereby receiving His Body we are increasingly incorporated into Christ.  And today, as if summing up all these themes for us, we have St. Augustine, the first Archbishop of Canterbury, the Apostle to the English, and thus the real founder of the Anglican Church.

St. Augustine was sent by Pope St. Gregory the Great to evangelize the English people.  It is true that Christianity had been in Britain a long time before St. Augustine, but the British Christians had, for reasons we can well understand, not proven the best missionaries for the pagan Anglo-Saxon invaders, hence the mission of St. Augustine, which founded a church precisely for them.  This Anglican missionary effort has persevered throughout the ages, was brought to this country, and is well exemplified by Bp. Jackson Kemper.

When St. Gregory sent Augustine, Augustine brought three things with him.  First, and important for us, he brought the Roman Liturgy, the mass, including the venerable Roman Canon, and the Roman office.  These two together constitute the first Anglican liturgy.  The second thing he brought was Benedictine spirituality, as Augustine and his companions were Benedictine monks.  Benedictine spirituality has been a keynote of Anglican spirituality ever since.  The third thing he brought was the doctrine and theology of the Roman Church, a theology of which St. Gregory the Great was a master.  It is that Biblical-Patristic theology that we find in St. Bede, and which is a defining characteristic of Anglican theology, as exemplified by the great theologians of the Oxford Movement.

Our own Bishops trace their succession back to St. Augustine of Canterbury, to St. Gregory the Great, and back to St. Peter, whom our Lord commanded to fish for men.  The Anglican theologian, Fr. Eric Mascall, points out that Apostolic succession is not a dead thing, but a living thing.  Just as the membership of the church is not diminished by death, so too the membership of the episcopate is not diminished by death.  St. Augustine, now before the throne of God in heaven, is alive and at work in our church today by the power of the Holy Spirit given to him at his consecration to the episcopate.  He is at work through the bishops consecrated in succession to him, through the priests ordained by those bishops, such as your humble preacher, and the the gift of the Holy Spirit given to the faithful by those bishops at your confirmation.  And not only us St. Augustine at work in us, but St. Gregory the Great, St. Peter, and all the faithful bishops in their succession.  They are here today with us, sharing in the worship of this holy mass, and here, where we are increasingly incorporated into Christ, is that work more and more brought to perfection in us.

Therefore let us thank God for the gifts of St. Augustine, for the liturgy, theology, and spirituality of our Anglican tradition, and let us open ourselves to the Holy Spirit, that He may make us worthy successors to St. Augustine, that that same Spirit may let St. Augustine work through us, so that we may, like him, be fishers of men in our time.  Amen.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

A Short Homily on the Ascension

A Short Homily Preached in St. Bede’s Chapel
on the Feast of the Ascension
May 5, 2016
Fr. Michael LaRue

Acts 1:8 “You will receive power, after the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and Judaea, and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
+In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

The Ascension is, of all feasts in my lifetime, the one with which we seem to have the most problem.  It is a feast which is shunted off and minimalized (the great majority  of our poor brethren in the Roman Communion in this country cannot even celebrate it on the day).  Why is this?  I think the reason is this passage, the last of Jesus’ Resurrection appearances and the account of his going into Heaven (that is, of going from us and into that place where he is fully in the presence of God his Father). We have a hard time, because this passage [Acts 1:1-11], and the whole thing that it discusses, Resurrection and Ascension, just seem incredible.

Can we believe it?  That is, can we believe that Jesus rose bodily from the dead, that he was visible, touchable, that he ate with his disciples, and finally that he rose up, in their view, and out of their sight, to go to a place which — as we would put it — does not exist in this physical universe.  If we are to believe his testimony, St. Luke certainly believed so, and went to great lengths to find out whether this it is true. Our problem in believing this comes, I believe, from the fact that  the Bible has been so misused in our time that we have a hard time trusting it.  But I do not think that the misuse of Scripture is a good reason for rejecting Scripture — and I think there are good reasons for accepting it.

I do not have time in this short homily to go over all the arguments, but I will cite a couple.  Bishop J.A.T. Robinson, not a person noted as a great conservative, wrestled with these same problems, and came to the conclusion that Acts (like, as he contends, the rest of the New Testament) must have been written fairly early, certainly before the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D. Commenting on this, Fr. Eric Mascall points out that, therefore, Luke’s claim to have examined the evidence and talked to the witnesses becomes even more credible. 

 From another perspective, let us take Fr. Reginald Fuller, from whom I had the pleasure of learning, who was not only not a fundamentalist, but who was a student of the best known of the higher critics, Rudolf Bultmann. He demonstrated that according to the most rigorous application of the historico-critical method, the Resurrection appearances belong to the eariest layer of the Kerygma, that is of the Church’s preaching.  In short, according to Bultmann’s own method, the Resurrection cannot be demythologized as Bultmann wished.  I have given us two reasons why I think we must face the historicity of the Resurrection.  If you want a fuller argument, I would recommend reading Bp. N.T. Wright’s works on this subject.  

This leaves us with two choices.  Either we accept that the Resurrection appearances happened, or, if we reject the possibility of the bodily Resurrection and Ascension on a priori grounds,  we have the problem of a sizeable number of people sharing the same set of inexplicable mass hallucinations.  

It is not easy for many to accept, but if we accept the almost incredible fact of the Resurrection and Ascension, and the witness of Christians throughout almost two millennia to the transforming power of the Risen Jesus, then we have consequences from today’s passage to deal with.  We cannot minimalize this feast and what it has to say to us, as we have done.  We cannot allow ourselves to have a comfortable Jesus of our own imaginings, who walks only with us, and just for us.  We cannot have a Jesus in our pockets.  We have a Jesus who reigns, who is Lord and King not just of our lives, not of an earthly Israel, but of the whole cosmos.  

We have a Lord, according to today’s passage, who teaches us commandments, commandments that he expects us to follow.  And we are not powerless to follow these commandments.  We have a Lord, according to today’s passage, who gives power to those who trust in Him.  Think about that.  There is, if Christianity is true, there nothing more empowering than being a follower of Jesus the Christ, because we have power, and not any power, but the power of God, the Holy Spirit living in us.  And this power is to be his witnesses, to the ends of the earth.  

So why we standing here gawking?  We have work to do.