Thursday, September 21, 2017

On the 225th Anniversary of the First French Republic

The Triumph of the Guillotine in Hell
by Nicolas Antoine Taunay, 1795.

On this day in 1792, the National Assembly decreed the abolition of the Kingdom of France. What followed was the execution of the King and Queen, the destruction of the churches, the Terror, 23 years of war that devastated France and Europe, and a spate of revolutionary movements that led to violence, war, the rise of brutal totalitarian regimes of both the right and left throughout the world, and genocide and mass murder on a scale unimaginable to the pre-revolutionary world.

But it seems that something has happened that has never happened before: though we know not just when, or why, or how, or where.

Men have left GOD not for other gods, they say, but for no god; and this has never happened before
That men both deny gods and worship gods, professing first Reason,
And then Money, and Power, and what they call Life, or Race, or Dialectic.
The Church disowned, the tower overthrown, the bells upturned, what have we to do
But stand with empty hands and palms turned upwards.
— From The Rock, by T.S. Eliot

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

On the Nature of Marriage in Judaeo-Christian Law, with thoughts on the question of "Gay Marriage"

I have been meaning to write on the question of marriage for sometime, but this piece, "The Return of Clandestine Marriage?",  in the Living Church especially brought the matter to my attention.*

​I am glad that the author of the linked piece, Fr. Howard, is addressing these issues, but I think that there are some problems revealed here, the chief of them being that we seem unable to reason back to first principles with regard to marriage.  Thus we end up talking past each other.

The first problem is that we seem totally to have forgotten the origins of Judaeo-Christian marriage. As an examination of Scripture, and of rabbinical, patristic, and other writing shows, in Jewish and Christian thought, marriage exists, as a life-long covenant between a man and a woman, in fulfillment of God's commandment in Gen. 1:28 to "be fruitful and multiply." This is the first of the 613 commandments in the Torah. It imposes a duty to marry and have children on all who are able. (There is no moral blame, however, for those who are unable to marry, or for a husband and wife who are unable to have children.) This is why, in Judaeo-Christian thought, marriage is between a man and a woman—in order to sanctify human natural reproduction and its consequences, and ensure that children are brought up safely, healthily, and with a reverence for God and his commandments.

Similarly any argument for marriage based on natural law has as the chief goal is the welfare of the offspring of persons. (Non-persons, slaves, etc., are denied in many societies the rights associated with marriage, one of the many unjust consequences of depersonalizing and dehumanizing institutions like slavery.) In short, in both natural law theory and Judaeo-Christian thought, marriage is not chiefly about the two persons who marry, but about safeguarding the welfare of the children conceived by them, all other ends being secondary and subordinate to that.  Such a perspective understands that there is no substitute for the natural family as created by God, and that children are best raised by their natural parents, for whom the natural bonds of affection serve as a support for responsible child-rearing.  (There are other factors which may come into play, such as the death of parents, or abusive parents or parents otherwise unable to fulfill their parental duties, which is, for instance, why adoption becomes a necessity, but these is no way negate the unique benefits of the natural family.)

In Christian thought, one may be relieved of the duty to have natural children if one devotes one's self to to the higher duty of a life of prayer and witness to the Gospel, and in fact, for those who are called to it, such is considered a higher form of life, because the Gospel, while it does not destroy nature, does raise it to a higher level.  This is so that such persons may have spiritual children, that is children who are reborn in Christ. Thus the end of marriage, the begetting of children and their raising up in the reverence and knowledge of God and of his commandments is fulfilled, but in another way.

If one wishes to form a familial covenant with another person but not for the purpose of raising natural children, then not marriage, but some other form of familial covenant is called for. One can become family by birth.  One also becomes family by marriage.  However, other than marriage, there are three ways one can enter into into a life-long covenant by (1) by solemn profession into a religious community, (2) by paternal adoption (parents adopt a child), or (3) by fraternal adoption, i.e., two persons adopt each other as brother or sister. There is ample precedent for liturgical rites for all of these.** One of these, entry into religious life, is exclusive of marriage, the other two are not.  In all cases, for Christians to enter into these covenants, there is a moral requirement that they do so in order to assist in the raising of children in the Lord.  In the case of religious life this may is done by witness to the Gospel, and in the case of fraternal adoption (and even occasionally by religious communities) this is can not only be done by common witness to the Gospel, but also possibly by serving as an aunt or uncle to an adopted sister or brother's natural or adopted children, or by co-adoption of children.  The familial obligation in Genesis 1:28 is thus still fulfilled.

It is assumed is by Fr. Howard that the state presupposes an institution called marriage. I am not a legal scholar, and am happy to be corrected by legal scholars, but it seems evident that this is no longer true. Marriage in civil law in this country has become a contractual arrangement between two person that provides certain benefits defined in positive law. It no longer bears any intrinsic relation to marriage in either natural law or Christian teaching. We might wish it otherwise, but this is a fact. Given this fact, we not only may use it, but indeed may have a duty to use this institution in positive law in such a way as to bring people justice, while at the same time carefully distinguishing it from marriage in both Judaeo-Christian and natural law.

What then do we make of the Obergefell decision of the Supreme Court of the United States?  As I was taught, every law must be interpreted in accordance with the good toward which it was directed.  Many are quite justifiably concerned that this decision implicitly defines marriage in a way substantially different from natural law (and thus from Judaeo-Christian law).  However, the law was directed at remedying injustice at persons of the same sex who live together as family.  Insofar as the decision does that, then it would be morally permissible for such persons, as a matter of securing justice, to enter into a civil marriage for the benefits and legal protection that it provides to them.  However, they would have a moral obligation, probably best done by the form of ceremony used, to clearly distinguish this from marriage in natural and Judaeo-Christian law.

As far as the sacrament of marriage is concerned, there are some who feel it unjust that marriage should be a sacrament and that other forms of familial covenant should not be.  I would note that in the list of sacraments which the churches have come up with over the centuries, marriage is not always included, and that sometimes other forms of familial covenant, especially entry into religious life, are included.  I can see no fundamental theological reason why marriage should be a sacrament, and other rites not be, and even before the debate over the homosexuality, this was the opinion of may theologians (Fr. Thomas Hopko comes chiefly to mind).  

We are in the midst of trying to figure many of these questions out, so I would be hesitant to judge the actions taken by others.  However, I think that in the future, we should be very careful in our churches to distinguish marriage, which is based on a divine commandment in both natural and positive divine law, and other forms of familial covenant.  If such a covenant is not between a man and a woman for the purpose of begetting offspring, in short if it is not in fulfillment of the divine commandment in Gen 1:28, then it should not be called a marriage. To do so risks serious moral and spiritual damage: in particular, from the sin of blasphemy, for claiming that God has ordained something as "marriage" which he has not, and also the sin of sacrilege, for mimicking a sacred rite with something which is not that rite. To continue to celebrate as marriages things that are not would be especially troubling since there is no historical or theological reason to do so, and the Tradition of the Church provides other rites that do fulfill our needs, as I have outlined above.

I have deliberately limited the scope of this essay to definition of marriage and its relation to other forms of familial covenant, but, as far as the related question of chastity, which is the habitual use of right reason, and habitual action in accordance with right reason, this is something which all are morally bound to pursue.  The question, not for this essay but for further consideration is, what is chastity?  The assumption of many seems to be that within marriage any kind of sexual activity is permissible, and outside of marriage a complete denial of one's sexuality is necessary.   However, this is not in accordance with right reason or the Tradition. Heretofore the debate over what is marriage and the failure to clearly state the tradition with regards to it, has in fact been so framed as to make a rational discussion of chastity (a different if closely related question) impossible, when such a discussion of chastity is very much needed, both inside and outside of marriage.

*My insights are especially prompted by a sermon I recently preached on the question of adultery, being a sin against marriage, in that seriously risks denying children of the love and care of a parent, since the natural bonds and affections of a father for the children he begets, an aid to his raking care and responsibility for them, may be compromised.  

* The last, fraternal adoption has become the subject of much debate, as Prof. John Boswell used it in his discussion of same-sex unions, but the fact of its existence as a form of familial covenant different from marriage, predating Christianity, and existing in the Church from antiquity, is not in doubt.  There is also Scriptural precedent for it, n.b. the covenant between David and Jonathan (which included their offspring), and also our Lord committing his mother to St. John's care.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

​ On Slavery, Secession, and the Morality of Confederate War Memorials

​What no no one (of whom I know) has tired to do, but what it seems to me needful is to analyze the moral question of removing Confederate War memorials in general. The claim is made that since the war was fought to preserve slavery, that all these should be removed. Let us examine this moral assertion.

I think that there is no doubt that the states seceded to preserve slavery. This was morally wrong. But the burden of fighting a just war falls on the aggressor. If the Union had explicitly decided to invade the South to free the slaves, then we would have to discuss that case for a just war. But the Union explicitly fought to keep the states in the Union, which get arguably had a legal right to leave to secede. Thus is so much the case that after the War they had to back off from trying Jefferson Davis because that would mean litigating succession. They would have had to have a surety which they did not possess about the legality of secession to have invaded the South on those grounds.

If the Union was engaged in an unjust war, the the seceded Southern states had to right not only of self-defense, but to act cooperatively in self-defense. In that case we cannot say that soldiers who fought for the Confederacy fought to defend slavery. They fought to defend themselves against unjust aggression, as many of them said. The fact that some persons said they were defending slavery does not change this; it would be unjust to the Confederate soldiery as a whole to generalize from this. To make such a generalization is be a sin of calumny against the Confederate soldier.

Now the question of war memorials is a difficult one. And not that I am talkoing about War memorials here, not memorials to politicians like Jefferson Davis. Now, soldiers (and other lawful combatants like sailors) are not held guilty of the policies of their government unless they personally engage in violations of the laws of war. So, even when a belligerent has engaged in an unjust war, one cannot usually question the morality of war memorials who sole purpose was to honor veterans. However, the case becomes even clearer in the case where people are engaged in a just war, and even stronger when that war was one of self-defense. Now I do not go here into individual cases, as circumstances alter cases, but I think that we can say with certainty that the proposition that all memorials to Confederate soldiers should be removed is thus not morally justifiable, and that to remove them would be to participate in a sin of calumny against the dead, and would in many cases also be a sin of sacrilege, since very many of these are funerary monuments.

Further, the attempt to fight racism in this fashion would be the employment of unjust means, and thus cannot but have the effect of undermining that fight. To proceed as many now wish to do would be thus to commit injustice, and, like all injustice, such injustice will have serious and deleterious consequences on our society.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Why we Need to Understand Robert E. Lee

I think people fail, in the fog of controversy, to understand Lee, and his moral reasoning in doing what he did. We owe him and ourselves, especially now, a duty of justice to understand him rightly, and therefore, we must, it we are to understand him, carefully examine his motives and actions from the principle of as objective a moral philosophy as we can muster.

From his perspective, although it was a decision with which he disagreed and for reason which he deplored, Virginia had a legal right to secede from the Union. Further, the reason given by the Union for waging the war was not the abolition of slavery, but to keep the states in the Union. Thus Lee reasoned that the war was being fought on unjust grounds. He had previously served in the Army of the United States in a war that he later concluded was unjust, that against Mexico, and, while this was not explicit in his reasoning, I think that one can detect an unwillingness to repeat that mistake.

Given that his home, Virginia, was the object of unjust aggression, Lee perceived it his duty to fight in her defense. Many other Southerners, I would say most of those who fought, fought not out of a love of slavery or for secessionist principles (which is not to say that they did not approve of those things), but chiefly to defend their home.

Further, during the war, the Union pursued unjust policies contrary to the laws of war, most obviously in Georgia. There were also occasions when Confederate forces violated the laws of wa, but the question here is the moral justification for Southerners, and especially Lee, to fight against unjust aggression. If the Union had sought to abolish slavery by just means, then the story of this conflict and its aftermath, if the conflict had happened, would have been very different. I certainly think slavery would have been abolished, and that in doing so we would have avoided much of the violence and injustice against blacks that happened during Reconstruction and the Jim Crow period, and that the odds for a peaceful and prosperous black community, fully enjoying the freedoms guaranteed by our Constitution would have been much greater. However, the result of Northern policy, strategy, and tactics was to provoke the reaction in the South after the war and to enable the partisans of racism — injustice begets injustice.

In Lee's case, while he certainly had imperfections and faults, in this matter I can find no flaw in his moral reasoning. He was a man of profound faith, and of lively, informed, and reasoned conscience, who exercised that conscience to the best of his ability. These are qualities that are admirable as they are rare, and the reason I so highly hold Lee.

The problem that we have in our own day is that we increasingly think that a presumably just cause justifies unjust means: thus we commit injustice on a greater and greater scale, and think ourselves righteous for doing so---and then we quickly condemn and demonize those who question our failed moral reasoning.

I think one reason for this is the temptation to think that we are each of us responsible for all the evils in the world, and thus must act on some grand scale to solve them all. The ridiculousnes of this should be self-evident, but it is a temptation that is hard to resist in our world with its politics and media, and it is fuelled by a quite proper moral outrage at the evils that we see. But we are not God, and this temptation to play God is very destructive, and always ends badly.

The fact is that, like Lee, we are responsible for keeping the commandments to love God in our neightbor, according to our circumstances and ability. We need to remind ourselves of that, and thus do the best we can to do our duty in the circumstances that we are given. It is to remind ourselves of this that we very much do need the example of Lee, and others like him, and also why he is very much a figure from the study of which we can profit in our time.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Newman 's Birthday

Today is the Natalitia (Heavenly Birthday) of John Henry Newman

90. The Pillar of the Cloud

LEAD, Kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom
          Lead Thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home—
          Lead Thou me on!
Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene—one step enough for me.

I was not ever thus, nor pray'd that Thou
          Shouldst lead me on.
I loved to choose and see my path, but now
          Lead Thou me on!
I loved the garish day, and, spite of fears,
Pride ruled my will: remember not past years.

So long Thy power hath blest me, sure it still
          Will lead me on,
O'er moor and fen, o'er crag and torrent, till
          The night is gone;
And with the morn those angel faces smile
Which I have loved long since, and lost awhile.

At Sea.
June 16, 1833.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Why our Society is Sick

I was doing more thinking about the article I read yesterday, "Why Do we Murder the Beautiful Friendship of Boys."  Two quotes stuck in my mind:

"Boys know by late adolescence that their close male friendships, and even their emotional acuity, put them at risk of being labeled girly, immature, or gay. "

"Behind the drumbeat message that real men are stoic and detached, is the brutal fist of homophobia, ready to crush any boy who might show too much of the wrong kind of emotions."

So, to sum up, we pretty much have a society of men (including many gay men 😟) who cannot reconcile being male with "emotional acuity" or close supportive friendship, or an appreciation for beauty, or, and here's the real kicker, the kind of spirituality that sees Eros and romance as a way to God.  So if one is male, one either gives up on being male (how self-destructive is that?), or one has to prove one's maleness by sexual acting out, objectifying other persons, and being a jerk. If one is not male, then males are just evil and need to be beaten down and maleness destroyed.

No wonder nuclear war seems closer these days.

Friday, August 4, 2017


I have begun collecting stories of the Caddo, the people who lived in my part of East Texas before whites like us came.  This is the first.


In a village there lived a cannibal at that time and the people called him Snow-Bird-with-White-Wings. He had a handsome son, who would not marry any of his own tribe. The father named his son Braveness because he was very brave in hunting. Whenever he went out to hunt he brought home many kinds of game that he had killed. Many of the young girls tried to win him as a husband, but Braveness would pay no attention to any of them. One night he decided to go hunting the next day. Early the next morning he started out toward the west. While he was going along looking and watching for wild animals he saw some one sitting ahead of him under a small elm tree. He approached the person and saw that it was a woman. She called him to come where she was, and he obeyed and saw that she was very beautiful and very young. She told him that she knew he was coming there and so she had come to meet him. He listened eagerly to hear what she had to say. She asked him if she could stay with him, and if he would take her to his home and let her become his wife. He told her that he would take her to his home, but that she must ask his parents if she could stay with him. They started for his home at once, and when they arrived the girl asked the old people to let her become the young man’s wife, and they consented. After that the young man had some one to love and they lived happily for a long time; but one time while they were alone she asked him if he would do whatever she said, and he finally said that he would. She asked him to go with her to her home and told him that they would return again some day.

A few days after, they started to her home and she led the way. After they had gone a long way they came to high hills, and all at once she stopped and turned around and looked at her husband and said: “You have promised me that you will do anything that I say.” “Yes,” said he. “Well,” said she, “my home is on the other side of this large hill which is before us. I will tell you when we get to my mother. I know there will be many people coming there to see who you are, and they will bother you and try to get you angry, but do not get angry at any of them. The young men will try to kill you in some way. Listen to what I am about to tell you. I was just like you when I met you. I knew you, but you did not know me. I was the one who made you come there to find me. I have said that some of the young men will try to get you angry, and when they get you angry at them one of them will jump on you, and when they see that you are going to try to fight, they will all get after you and will not let you go until they have killed you. They are jealous of you. The reason is that I have refused many of them when they have asked me. I have told you what to do when we get there, and now I want you to lay down on the ground and roll over twice.” The man did, and when he arose he had changed into a Buffalo. The woman sat there watching him for a moment; then she did the same thing and became a Buffalo. They started on climbing the high hill, and when they reached the top of the hill the Buffalo man looked down toward the west. He saw thousands and thousands of Buffalo. Then the woman told him that they were her people. When the herd saw these two coming they began to move to one certain place, as though to wait there and see who was coming. The woman kept on leading Braveness. He followed her until she came to an old Buffalo cow and then they stopped, and Braveness knew that she was the mother of his beautiful wife. They stayed there for a long time. Every now and then four or five of the young Buffalo would come around and bother Braveness, and so they decided to go back again to Braveness’ home. On the way they stopped at the place where they had turned themselves into Buffalo. The Buffalo woman told him to do the same thing that he had done before, and so he rolled over twice and became as he was before, and then she did the same. While they were going she told him not to mention the transformation or her people to any one. When they reached home his father, Snow-Bird-with-White-Wings, asked him where he had been, and he told his father that he had been hunting and then had gone down to his wife’s home, and his father did not ask him any more questions.

They stayed at home about one year, and then they made up their minds to go again and see the woman’s mother. After they had been living with the Buffalo a long time his wife told him that the old people were talking about killing him; that they were going to have a foot race and that they intended that he should run in this foot race. When he heard all this he was worried and did not know what to do. That night he could not sleep, and he went out to take a long walk. He went a long way and walked very slowly. He heard some one calling, but could not see the person, for it was a very dark night. The unknown person said to him: “You are very young, but you must remember you cannot beat those Buffalo running without my help, and I know what they are going to do with you when the race is over. If they beat you running they are going to kill you, and so I am going to help you to win. If I do it there are others who will also help you. If you win the race they will let you have this woman all to yourself and will not bother you any more.” Then the unknown person told Braveness to hold out his hand, and when he did this the unknown person placed a small medicine root in it and said: “At the start you will leave them a long way behind, but finally some one of them will catch up with you, but he will not stay with you long. Remember, whenever he comes up with you, to throw this medicine down behind you and you will leave him again a long way behind. Then some one else will catch up with you again, and here is another medicine to throw behind you when the second man overtakes you. This medicine is mud, and you must throw it down when they come too close to you. Soon after you have thrown the mud you will be near the stopping place; there I will meet you.”

The next day was the day of the race. At about sunrise Braveness saw the Buffalo coming in from all directions to see the race. While he stood watching them, an old Buffalo came and told him that the young Buffalo would like to have him run in a foot race with them. He went with the old man to the place where the runners started. When the young Buffalo saw him coming they all made fun of him. When he joined them they lined up for the race. Braveness placed himself in their midst and they started. Braveness left the Buffalo a long way behind at the start, and they had to run long and hard before they could come near him. When he saw them gaining on him he threw the root behind him that the unknown person had given him. He was almost winded and thought he could not run any more, when he saw that he was far ahead of all of them again. The next time it took them longer to come up to him, but finally he gave out, and then one of the Buffalo began to gain on him. When the Buffalo was about to catch up, Braveness threw the mud, his last medicine, down behind him and soon he was far ahead again. He knew that he had used all of his medicine, and he knew not what would happen to him next, but he kept on running. When he was nearing the goal, he could hear the others coming close behind him, for some of them were gaining on him and he was giving out. He did not know what to do, but just as one of the Buffalo was about to catch up with him, a heavy wind came up and greatly assisted and kept the Buffalo far behind him until he crossed the goal and won the race. Because wind had helped him at the last moment, he knew that it was wind that had talked to him and had given him the medicine and thus saved his life. After the race he stayed with the Buffalo people for a long time and no one ever molested him again.

Finally he and his wife went back to live with his people. They had one child, and when it was about one year old they decided to go again to see the wife’s people, so that her parents might see their grandson. They went and remained with the Buffalo three years, and then they returned to Braveness’ home. The child’s mother would not let him go out and play with the other boys, for she was afraid he might do things that he ought not to do; but one time, while she was cooking dinner, the boy slipped away from her and went down where the other boys were playing. When he joined them they began to play that they were Buffalo. The little boy began to play with them. He laid down to roll like a Buffalo, and when he rolled over twice he got up a real Buffalo calf, and the boys began to run from him. Just at this time his mother had missed him and she looked down where the boys were playing. She saw them running and thought something must be wrong. She went to see what the trouble was and there she found her son changed into a Buffalo calf. She took him and ran down the hill, and then she dropped down on the hill and became a Buffalo, and then ran away before her husband came back from hunting. When he came back he could not find his wife or his son, and then some one told him what had happened while he was gone. At first he could not believe what he heard, but soon he went down to the place where they had rolled and saw their tracks, and then he believed the story. He never heard of them again.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

"Those whom the gods destroy, they first make mad"

I was wondering about the origin of

"Those whom the gods destroy, they first make mad."

Apparently, it is a translation of the Neo-Latin

"Deus quos vult perdere, dementat prius."

And this is recorded in the late 17th century as a gloss on a line by a scholiast on Sophocles, (quoted in the 2nd century AD by Athenagoras)

"Όταν ὁ δαίμων ἀνδρὶ πορσύνῃ κακά,
τὸν νοῦν ἔβλαψε πρῶτον."

"But when the daimon plots against a man,
He first inflicts some hurt upon his mind."


Wednesday, July 26, 2017



Might it gives, marvels effects:
Fleetness o'er earth, and flight of birds;
Reckons millions, and reveals secrets,
Lightens the sunless, and lessens pain,
Feeds in plenty, and fancies dress,
Makes heard music over many miles,
and paints pictures through the pathless void.

It deceives the sight, and darkens minds,
Arouses men's desire, and increases thirst,
bends men's wills, and breaks their resolves;
Frenzies folk, and frightens foes;
kills without care, and creates carnage,
sears the foes, and makes cinders of cities,
It promises power, and power it gives :
It promises pleasure, and pleasure it gives,
And awakens desire, and adds to lust,
And fills while it empties, and so frustrates fullness.

It poisons its practitioners, and perverts passion,
Devours their souls, and decays sense.
Cuts off love, and kills compassion,
It rouses wrath, and requires innocent blood.
Power demands sacrifice, as the price of power.

It poisons the places where its practitioners dwell.
It fouls the air; and fumes the firmament,
It darkens the sun, and it dims the stars;
It poisons the water, and it pollutes the earth.

The Sorcerer drowns hope, and he devours life,
He lusts in despair, and he leaves death.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

The Barrow-Wight's Curse

Cold be hand and heart and bone,
and cold be sleep under stone:
never more to wake on stony bed,
never, till the Sun fails and the Moon is dead.

In the black wind the stars shall die,
and still on gold here let them lie,
till the dark lord lifts his hand
over dead sea and withered land.

— The Fellowship of the Ring - Book 1, Ch. 8 "Fog on the Barrow-downs"

Barrow wights inhabit the tombs of Kings who tried to take it all with them, hence the amount of wealth in the tomb.  Thus they fell prey to the sin of greed, which, I think, leaves them open to the likes of the wights.  The hobbits are likewise doomed to lie on wealth until the world fails.  The effect on greed (and other sin) is the destruction of the cosmos, and of the earth "dead sea and withered land".

When the hobbits are freed by Bombadil, their clothes and erecting on them is all lost.  Indeed they are naked.  But there is a certain joy in that, in that they are free to lie naked in the sun.  Sometimes defeating greed mean being willing to lose our property, and there can be a freedom in that, which includes the enjoyment of all that God freely provides, like sunlight.

Our civilization is caught up in a cycle of greed and despair.  If we go on as we are there will be nothing but dead sea and withered land.  And we may find our souls caught, lying on our useless wealth, in a land of cold and darkness and death.  Can free ourselves from our curse?  Like the hobbits we cannot do so without help — and there will be a price.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The Dragon Unchained

I saw the Dragon unchained,
The links broken by a thousand blows of the greed of men,
Then His claw marks
On the wall of the building opposite.
The people went mad and fought each other.
Then His fire consumed all,
And his tail reduced the inflammable to rubble.

The mantle of the white lady covered me,
And his fire could not pierce it,
Nor cloud her calm face.
But all about me was desolation,
And drawn despairing faces.

And then all was quiet,
And I saw Death.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Angels, Ghosts, Good and Bad Spirits

I have a great deal of sympathy with Cole Sear, one of the lead characters in Sixth Sense. I certainly don't claim to me a medium, and would view with suspicion anyone who made such a claim, but I have been having run-ins with ghosts and spirits since childhood. I have since a young age known what they were, and have had no problem distinguishing them from the tangible living.

Ghosts can be very frightening, and sometimes used to really upset me. I learned many years ago that the best thing to do is to pray for the dead I encounter, which certainly resolves any fear or upset I have, and also tends to calm the ghosts. As for other spirits, well they are not all good, and whether a particular one is can be hard to say sometimes. I talked to my pastoral theology professor, Fr. Caldwell, many many times time all about this, and he gave me the best piece of advice that I have ever had. When confronted by a spirit, make the sign of the cross, look to God and say "Speak Lord, for thy servant heareth.", then look to the spirit and say "What do you have to say to me, Sir?" That puts the bad spirits in rather a bind, as they are by nature God's servants, and cannot help but be so, even if they do not want to. Also, he taught me that it was important to treat them all with respect, as God's creatures, hence the "sir". With a really threatening spirit the St. Michael's prayer always helps. Could all of this be explained psychologically? I suspect most of it could, as could the benefits of the approaches I outline above. Certainly there is a psychological component to it. 

Do I think that I am special in this? No. I suspect stuff like this happens to many people, although they (1) may not recognize it, or (2) work hard to avoid it. In any case I do not recommend inviting such experiences, such as holding seances. Inviting it is very dangerous! But if such experiences happen, neither should you freak out. And don't omit to pray for your departed loved ones and the departed in the place where you are.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

The Tyranny of First Names

My sermon was on not misusing God's name this morning. Thinking about misusing names, I am reminded that I was taught in Linguistics in college that languages, even, if not especially, the most "primitive" use honorifics when people address each other. Even "primitive" societies can have very elaborate systems for doing this. It is how our species uses language to treat each other with respect, to negotiate social boundaries that make for peace, and social cohesion, and to show members of family and society that they are valued.

In English we have Mister, Missus, and other titles. First names and nicknames only are historically reserved for close intimates, siblings, cousins, and close personal friend. However, it is also used when addressing children, the lowest class of servants, and slaves, and is used among those groups when addressing each other. For instance, not long ago, Whites in the South, when addressing Blacks used first names (but not vice versa). Such groups of persons are either considered not to be responsible members of society, or, even worse, as in the case of slaves, non-persons.

The coarseness of our current language, and the fact that we use, even insist, on first names, tells me, not that we are suddenly on terms of close intimacy with the whole world, but that we are on close terms with no one—rather that we now see ourselves as having lost human respect, and indeed our right to be treated as persons. It is a sign of our common slavery to bureaucracy and ideology, to the state, large corporations, and the materialist ideology that seeks to dehumanize all of us.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

A Timely question: Is Anger a Sin?

Our society seems overwhelmed by anger these days.  A Christian must ask, is anger a sin? I recently again ran across this quote, attributed to St. John Chrysostom, which I had first encountered in Leon Podles' work: “He who is not angry, whereas he has cause to be, sins. For unreasonable patience is the hotbed of many vices, it fosters negligence, and incites not only the wicked but the good to do wrong.”

But is this sound Christian teaching?

​To begin with, this quote is not actually Chrysostom, but is from a work attributed to him, the Opus Imperfectum, now known to have been written by an Arian (i.e., heretical) presbyter. Now St. Thomas Aquinas says that anger is the natural response to perceived injustice, and thus far I agree. So if our perception of injustice is correct, we will properly experience anger when faced with injustice. This initial feeling of anger is not sin. BUT Scripture and the fathers tell us that entertaining it is sin:

Our Lord tells us, (Matt. 5:22) "ἐγὼ δὲ λέγω ὑμῖν ὅτι πᾶς ὁ ὀργιζόμενος τῷ ἀδελφῷ αὐτοῦ ἔνοχος ἔσται τῇ κρίσει", "I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother is liable for judgement." And St. James tells us, (James 1:20) "ὀργὴ γὰρ ἀνδρὸς δικαιοσύνην θεοῦ οὐκ ἐργάζεται." "The anger of man does not work the righteousness of God." And the real St. John Chrysostom says of anger,
Anger is no different than madness – it is a temporary demon; or rather it is worse than having a demon; for one who has a demon may be excused, but the angry man deserves ten thousand punishments, voluntarily casting himself into the pit of destruction, and before the hell which is to come suffering punishment from this already, by bringing a certain restless turmoil and never silent storm of fury, through all the night and through all the day, upon the reasonings of his soul. — (Hom. on St. John’s Gospel, XLVIII.3).
So what then are we to do with this healthy human response to anger, if being angry is so dangerous? People often quote Ephesians 4:6 "Be angry, and sin not.", but this is a quote from the Septuagint version of the psalms, and meant to be taken in context, as Fr. Thomas Hopko pointed out in a lecture I once heard: Ps. 4:5 (LXX version) "ὀργίζεσθε, καὶ μὴ ἁμαρτάνετε· ἃ λέγετε ἐν ταῖς καρδίαις ὑμῶν, ἐπὶ ταῖς κοίταις ὑμῶν κατανύγητε." Be ye angry, but sin not. Speak in your hearts, keep silence [a stunned silence, possibly also related to the notion of compunction or self examination] upon your beds."  So we are not to act on our anger, but penitently to go into our bedchamber and in the silence of our hearts bring it to God.

Ascetically this means, as St. Maximus the Confessor says, “Cleanse your mind from anger, remembrance of evil and shameful thoughts, and then you will find out how Christ dwells in you.” I believe it is Dionysius the [pseudo-]Areopagite who says that anger cleansed is transformed into zeal or love for holy things, by which we grow more strongly attached to them. Thus, when we acquired the habit of putting our anger into Gods hands, we grow more steadfast in the faith. When we have thus cleansed our anger, the the Holy Spirit can act in us to promote and defend holy things out of charity —not out of an angry desire to harm others.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

The Cross

The Cross frees me from destructive striving.
Without fear I see the spirits.
Without terror I hear the voices of the dead.
I see the sun on the leaf of the live oak;
I hear the the bluejay;
And I know with a wordless knowing.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

July 4, 2017

So I have "Patriots" amongst my ancestors, including the brother of a signer of the Declaration of Independence, and at least one, Isaac LaRue III, who, I suspect, was a "Loyalist" (having had land taken by the Continental Army and decamping to Kentucky).

 I admire the virtues of the founding fathers, among whom John Adams is my favorite, followed by Washington, but they were not perfect—while not thinking that I in good conscience could have forsworn my oath to the King.

I think people ought to rule themselves, but am aware that the Revolution did not benefit Native Americans in this respect at all—and then there's slavery, and its great expansion in the decades after the American Revolution.

I love my home, and these United States their land and people's, and I love all the good things we got from our British inheritance, but, like love for family, it's complicated. I pray, as is my duty, for these United States today, on this 191st anniversary of Independence.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The Perpetual Virginity of Mary as Anglican Dogma

Paolo de Matteis' Annunciation, 1712

I have been asked what the references were for the perpetual virginity of Our Lady being Anglican dogma. To begin with, the Act of Supremacy of 1559, affirms the First four General Councils, and gives authority to prosecute for heresy those who deny their dogmatic decrees.

Provided always, and be it enacted by the authority aforesaid, that such person or persons to whom your highness, your heirs, or successors, shall hereafter by letters patents under the great seal of England give authority to have or execute any jurisdiction, power, or authority spiritual, or to visit, reform, order, or correct any errors, heresies, schisms, abuses, or enormities by virtue of this act, shall not in any wise have authority or power to order, determine, or adjudge any matter or cause to be heresy but only such as heretofore have been determined, ordered, or adjudged to be heresy by the authority of the canonical Scriptures, or by the first four general councils or any of them, or any other general council wherein the same was declared heresy by the express and plain words of the said canonical Scriptures, or such as hereafter shall be ordered, judged, or determined to be heresy by the high court of parliament of this realm, with the assent of the clergy in their convocation — anything in this act contained to the contrary notwithstanding...

This Act of 1559 is part of the Anglican formularies, as part of the legislation underlying the English Book of Common Prayer, and thus, insofar as it refers to doctrine, binding on all Anglicans. This fact was, for example, explicitly accepted by the Episcopal Church in the Preface to the first book of Common Prayer: "...this Church is far from intending to depart from the Church of England in any esential point of doctrine, discipline, or worship..." (Preface to The Book of Common Prayer...according to the Use of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America, 1789). This Preface has been printed with our Prayer Book ever since.

The Council of Chalcedon (451) is the fourth of the general councils cited in the 1559 Act of Supremacy. Among its dogmatic enactments was the setting forth of the Tome of Leo as one of its dogmatic statements. In the Tome of Leo (line 80), the following passage occurs "...missus ad beatam Mariam semper virginem angelus ait..." The line "semper virginem" (accusative of "semper virgo") means always- or ever-virgin.

Thus this dogmatic statement of an early general council affirming the perpetual virginity of our Lady, accepted by the Oriental and eastern Orthodox Churches, the Roman Catholic Church, the Lutheran and Reformed Churches, is also explicitly given as a dogma by the Anglican Churches. And thus it is an essential part of the Doctrine, Discipline, and Worship of the Episcopal Church, to which I swore before God with a solemn oath to conform.

I must say, by the way, that I was taught, and perceive, that this dogma in no way impugns the goodness of the body or of human sexuality, but rather was a necessary corrolary to an understanding of our Lady as the most sacred of human persons, being being the Mother of God the Son.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Sermon for Pentecost, 2017

O God, who on this day didst teach the hearts of thy faithful people by sending to them the light of thy Holy Spirit: Grant us by the same Spirit to have a right judgment in all things, and evermore to rejoice in his holy comfort; through the merits of Christ Jesus our Savior, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the same Spirit, one God, world without end.  Amen. 

Today is the Feast of Pentecost.  Pentecost is one of the seven Principal Feasts of our Book of Common Prayer.  It is also known as Whitsunday.  This is from the Old English Hwita Sunnandæg, or White Sunday, a term that likely refers to the white robes of the newly baptized, as Pentecost is one of the feasts of the year on which it is preferred to do baptisms.

Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday of this week are the traditional Ember Days, on which we pray for the ministry.  The prayers for these three days are found in the Collects among the those for Various Occasions (no.  15, on pp.  205–206). 

Since we are no longer in Eastertide, this Friday is a day of Special Devotion, to observed by acts of discipline and self-denial. 

We commemorate the lesser feasts of three saints in the Prayer Book this week.  Tomorrow, Monday June 5, is the feast of St.  Boniface, an Englishman and the apostle of Germany.  Friday, June 9, is the feast of St.  Columba, abbot of Iona in Scotland.  And Saturday, June 11, is the feast of St.  Ephrem of Edessa in Syria, a deacon, writer of hymns, and theologian. 

Next Sunday, June 11, is Trinity Sunday, one of our seven Principal Feasts, like Pentecost.  It is also the feast of our St.  Barnabas, the patron of this church, but he will only be commemorated, as Trinity Sunday takes precedence.

In my sermon two weeks ago, I noted four tests, given to us in Holy Scripture, by which we may discern whether something is from the Spirit of God, or from some other, ungodly, spirit.  The first test is whether it is an act of love, love of God, and love of our neighbor.  For God is love, as the first letter of John says, "Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God, and he who loves is born of God, and knows God.  He who does not love, does not know God; for God is love." So if we see that someone is genuinely motivated by what is good for others, not by a desire to condemn or control, not by a desire to be right, not by self-righteousness, then it is more likely that that person is motivated by the Spirit of God.  On the other hand, if someone is motivated by these things, and not by love, then we know that they are being moved by some other spirit.

The second question is whether the spirit in question leads us to follow God's commandments: which commandments are set forth in Holy Scripture, and apprehended by reason, in particular the principles of natural justice.  As our Lord says (John 14:15–17), "If you love me, you will keep my commandments, and I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, to be with you for ever, even the Spirit of Truth..." We see here that the Holy Spirit is a Spirit of obedience to God.  So, when we are discerning spirits, if the spirit in question leads us to love God and keep his commandments, then we may be more sure that it is the Spirit of God.  But if people claim, and indeed we hear people claiming, that they are inspired by the Holy Spirit to disregard God's commandments, or to "move beyond" them, then we may be certain that it is not the Holy Spirit.

The third test, as the passage above says, is whether the spirit under discernment is a "Spirit of truth".  This includes being a spirit of reason, for, as the philosophers say, reason is what allows us to discern truth, and the relation between truths.  Part of the work of the Holy Spirit is to inspire our minds so that we may use our reason to discern what is true, better understand it, and put particular truths in proper relation to each other and to the whole of truth.  The Holy Spirit being a Spirit of Truth means we can know that a lying spirit, one that uses falsehood, for instance as propaganda, even in a presumably good end, is not the Spirit of God.  Likewise, an irrational spirit, one that demands blind obedience, or that discourages us from using our intellect, or that says that we should just go with our feelings or emotions in spite of our reason, such an irrational spirit is not the Spirit of God.

The fourth test is whether or not a spirit is catholic The word catholic come from the Greek καθ' ὅλον /kat holon/, or "according to the whole." Why is this a test? Our Lord says to us, "The Spirit will lead you into all truth." (John 16:13).  The "you" here is plural, collective.  It refers to us in the Church as whole.  The Spirit will lead us Christians, together, as the whole Church, to discern the truth.  In this sense, the Spirit is a Spirit of unity, not of division, in that He leads us to be one in the truth. 

So, if someone has an insight into some aspect of the truth, say with regard to the Scripture; if he or she presents it charitably, with love, to his fellow Christians; if that person is willing to listen and work together to discern the truth, then it is a good sign that that person is being motivated by the Spirit.  But, if someone claims to have a monopoly on the truth, that it is peculiar to himself and his followers, is someone is more interested in being right than being charitable, then the spirit in question is not the Spirit of God, and, while the particular truths in question may have some validity despite this, we should be very careful before accepting them.  Likewise, if a Christian or group of Christians is unwilling to work charitably with others who sincerely desire to follow Christ, then we know that such a person or group is not motivated by the Spirit of God.

So, taking these four tests, we can look at ourselves and try to discern what the Spirit is calling us to do.  These past two weeks, and especially since the feast of the Ascension, we have been asking for God to renew the gift of His Spirit in us, and in this congregation.  We know that if we ask God Father something in penitence and faith, seeking to do His will, He will hear our prayer.  We cannot however, predict how or when He will act upon it, but we may be sure that He will.  In today's Epistle reading, St. Paul tells us, however, of the kinds of things we might expect as gifts of the Spirit.  These are "utterance of wisdom", "knowledge", "faith", "gifts of healing", "miracles", "prophesy", "discernment of spirits", "tongues", "the interpretation of tongues".  I don't think he meant this list to be exhaustive.  Some of these gifts, like faith, the Spirit will give to us all, although perhaps in different measure according to our need and capacity.  Others of these gifts, like miracles, the Spirit apparently gives to some, but not to all. 

Now, the thing of which we must be aware is that some of these gifts can be counterfeited by the enemy.  All of these are real gifts, but, for instance, the Enemy can counterfeit miracles to make something look like the work of God.  Our enemy can counterfeit the gifts of tongues, or of prophesy, so that it looks like something from God, but is not.  And in every movement of renewal in Church history, take for example, the Oxford Movement, of which this congregation is an heir, or the Charismatic movement, or the Social Gospel movement, all of which have things in them which seem inspired and which led people closer to Christ, what starts out as a genuine movement of the Holy Spirit, can, in some places and with some people, through our pride and sin, be taken over by the enemy, and become a counterfeit.  How do we know this is happening? We ask for the gift of spiritual discernment, and using the tests provided by Scripture, exercise that discernment. 

One sure way we ourselves can avoid being led astray is to ask for the greatest gift of the Spirit.  And that gift St. Paul reveals to us in the next chapter following that from today's reading, in Chapter 13.   Here St. Paul says that the greatest gift is love, or charity, that love which puts God first, and which sincerely desires the best for all of God's creatures.  Without that all the other gifts are worthless, he says.  With that, everything else has value.  So as we pray for the Spirit today, let us pray for charity, the love of God living in us, let us pray for that above all, and for the true renewal which comes from being filled with the love of God.

For What are We Praying on the Ember Days?

Today is Ember Wednesday, on which we pray for the ministry of the Church. The Tradition of the Church, from the earliest times, is that the terms "minister" and "ministry" are liturgical in meaning (that is, referring to those who "minister" the common prayer and worship for the Christian community), and, as these orders developed as an extension of the apostolic ministry, referring to the ministry of Bishops, Priests and Deacona, as well as to those, such as lectors or clerks, who assist them. John Collins, in his important work Diakonia: Re-interpreting the Ancient Sources, has been very helpful in clarifying this point for us.  This meaning is also that found in the Anglican formularies, especially the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. When the Tradition and the Formularies are agreed there can be no doubt as to what is the definitive meaning for Anglicans. The Ember Days in Pentecost- or Whitsun-Week, and the ordination which traditionally occurred on Saturday, are thus especially appropriate, given the outpouring of the Holy Spirit for which we pray at this time.

The Catechism of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer added the laity as an order of ministry, thus using ministry in a different sense from that found in the Tradition, but nonetheless a useful one. However, in the rubrics of the services, the 1979 Book retains the Traditional usage of "Minister". The Ember days are primarily thus to pray for the ordained ministry, and thus that which is their chief responsibility, the right worship of God. Secondarily, for those of us who use the 1979 Book, we also pray for all Christians in their work of witness to the Gospel.

So we pray this week for those who are to be be ordained, for those who have been ordained, for the right worship of God, and for the witness of all Christians.


Ant. And He gave some, apostles; † and some, prophets; and some evangelists; and some pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.

V. Endue thy ministers with righteousness;
R. And make thy chosen people joyful.

Almighty God, the giver of all good gifts, who of thy divine providence hast appointed various orders in thy Church: Give thy grace, we humbly beseech thee, to all who are called to any office and ministry for thy people; and so fill them with the truth of thy doctrine and clothe them with holiness of life, that they may faithfully serve before thee, to the glory of thy great Name and for the benefit of thy holy Church; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

What Does it Mean for me to Honor my Father and Mother

I have been meditating a lot lately on the Fifth Commandment: "Honor thy father and mother." I was taught that rabbinical scholars held this commandment as part of our duty to God. This was because the teachings of the law of God were handed down by parents to their children. This process is called tradition.

Now, everything we have is tradition. All that we have has been given to us, in the hope that we will cultivate it and pass it on — that is what living is about. To refuse to do this is a form of murder, ensuring that the life of those who went before does not continue in us, and of suicide, ensuring that our life does not continue by giving life to others. A culture that is opposed to tradition is destructive of this continuing life: it is and will grow ever more to be a culture of death.

As a presbyter, an elder of the Church, a father of the faith, it is my duty to pass on the most important of traditions, those having to do with the ultimate meaning and purpose of human life. This means passing on the commandments of God, just like those first addressed in Exodus: and the first commandment is to love God, first, and also my neighbor as God has loved me.  This tradition includes, in first place, the Bible, but also how the Bible has been lived out in the life of the Church, the Liturgy or Common Prayer, the writing of our spiritual elders, and the religious and cultural custom of the Christians people, and especially those in my particular Anglican tradition.  The Tradition is embodied in our culture, our religious culture especially. Of course, there is much more to it than that human culture and endeavor, because God is at work in us in all this, in particular God the Holy Spirit in us.

I have no authority to make any of this up, I have only the authority to understand, apply, and pass it on.  Nor do those in authority over me in the Church have any authority to do or make me do otherwise, for they are bound to the Tradition as I am.

Now I do this in the understanding that much of what I have to pass on is a mystery.  It is not an ideology whose meaning is fixed so that once we accept it there is no further need for thought or inquiry.  The meaning of authentic tradition is not always evident, indeed its full meaning never is.  It must be lived in, by generation after generation to be understood, and it is never exhaustive.

This Tradition is not a dead thing, though, for as this happens, the Tradition lives and grows in us, not according to our own whim, but according to its own logic. That is why it is my duty focus on that Tradition, and on what it demands, especially as set forth in my ordination oath, and to do all I can to avoid the distractions that would divert me from it, even, especially, when those distractions are promoted by those with power in the churches and in secular culture.  I was taught by my teachers, (and here Abp. Michael Ramsey comes particularly to mind), and it has been confirmed repeatedly by my own experience, that far from being stultifying or a dead end, that this faithful living out of the Tradition provides the answers that we need to the difficult problems of the day, creative and frequently surprising answers.

But, the point is, it is my job to preserve, to understand, and to pass it on, not to betray my calling and my oaths by destroying that Tradition and our culture, under the suicidal delusion that I could build a new world according to the passing fashions of the day.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

The Proper Celebration of Memorial Day (1979 BCP)

Los Angeles National Cemetery
A bronze soldier standing at parade rest is perched atop a boulder to honor Civil War soldiers, erected in 1942

Memorial Day is the Day set aside by these United States to commemorate those who have died in wartime service.  By law (36 U.S. Code § 116 - Memorial Day) the President is requested to issue a proclamation.  The day is set aside, not just for remembrance, but also as a day of "prayer for permanent peace."  The proclamation sets 11 a.m. (local time) as a time when we should prayer together, and 3 p.m. as a "National Moment of Remembrance".   We are also asked to fly the flag of the United States (at half-mast where appropriate) and to decorate the graves of the war dead.

Liturgically, how should we treat Memorial Day?

If one is using the 1979 BCP, I would propose the following:

At Morning and Evening Prayer the office is of the liturgical day (Monday after the Seventh Sunday of Easter).  One can read the following two prayers during the intercessions at Morning and Evening Prayer:

Almighty God, our heavenly Father, in whose hands are the living and the dead: We give thee thanks for all thy servants who have laid down their lives in the service of our country.  Grant to them thy mercy and the light of thy presence; and give us such a lively sense of thy righteous will, that the work which thou hast begun in them may be perfected; through
Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord. Amen.  (BCP p. 488)

Eternal God, in whose perfect kingdom no sword is drawn but the sword of righteousness, no strength known but the strength of love: So mightily spread abroad your Spirit, that all peoples may be gathered under the banner of the Prince of Peace, as children of one Father; to whom be dominion and glory, now and for ever. Amen.  (BCP p. 815)

At the Mass, I would celebrate a requiem, with the propers For the Departed, with the following options:

[INTROIT. Requiem aeternam
Ant. Rest eternal grant unto them, O Lord: and let light perpetual shine upon them. Ps. 65. Thou, O Lord, art praise in Sion, and unto thee shall the vow be performed in Jerusalem: thou that hearest the prayer, unto thee shall all flesh come. Then at once is repeated: REST eternal grant unto them, O Lord: and let light perpetual shine upon them.]

The first collect above (as allowed by the rubric on p. 202 of the BCP)

Isaiah 25:6–9

Ps. 103:13–22

1 Corinthians 15:50-58

Gradual and Tract.
R. Rest eternal grant unto them, O Lord: and let light perpetual shine upon them. V. Ps. 112. The righteous shall be had in everlasting remembrance: he will not be afraid of any evil tidings.

V. Absolve, O Lord, the souls of all the faithful departed from all the chains of their sins.
V. That by the succour of thy grace they may be found worthy to escape the avenging judgement.
V. And enjoy the bliss of everlasting life.

The Sequence Dies Irae (Hymn 468 in the Hymnal 1940) might be added here.

 John 11:21-27

OFFERTORY. O Lord Jesus Christ, King of glory, deliver the souls of all the faithful departed from the pains of hell, and from the bottomless pit: deliver them from the Lion's mouth, that hell swallow them not up, that they fall not into darkness: but let Michael the standard-bearer bring them into the holy light: Which thou didst promise of old unto Abraham, and his seed. V. We offer thee, O Lord, this sacrifice of prayer and praise: do thou receive it for the souls whose memory we this day recall: make them, O Lord, to pass from death unto life. Which thou didst promise of old unto Abraham and his seed.

Through Jesus Christ our Lord; who rose victorious from the dead, and doth comfort us with the blessed hope of everlasting life; for to thy faithful people, O Lord, life is changed, not ended; and when our mortal body doth lie in death, there is prepared for us a dwelling place eternal in the heavens...

COMMUNION. Let light eternal shine upon hem, O Lord: With thy Saints for evermore: for thou art gracious. V. Rest eternal grant unto them, O Lord: and let light perpetual shine upon them. With thy Saints for evermore: for thou art gracious.

Post Communion Prayer
Almighty God, we thank thee that in thy great love thou hast fed us with the spiritual food and drink of the Body and Blood of thy Son Jesus Christ, and hast given unto us a foretaste of thy heavenly banquet. Grant that this Sacrament
may be unto us a comfort in affliction, and a pledge of our inheritance in that kingdom where there is no death, neither sorrow nor crying, but the fullness of joy with all thy saints; through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.

One could visit the cemetery in the afternoon, and lay decorations on the grave and say appropriate prayers at 3 p.m.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Kneeling, Altar Rails, and Making a Good Communion

Holy Communion
Administered by a Priest and Deacon in the 17th Century.
Anglican practice is that the altar (a.k.a. "Holy Table", the same word used in the Byzantine Rite) is enclosed by communion rails.  This was mandated in the early 17th century as a guard against Puritan abuse of the Blessed Sacrament. In the Anglican tradition, Communion is to be received kneeling (unless one is prevented from doing so by bodily infirmity).*  

The communicant, in order to receive the sacrament, must have repented of the sins of which he or she is aware, and to have confessed them to God. The absolution given by the priest at the General Confession in Morning and Evening Prayer and in the mass is deemed sufficient, unless the person has committed notorious public sin. Confession to a priest is to be resorted to when one is in need of counsel, or when one otherwise wishes to do so, and is highly recommended.  Whenever the penitent perceives that she or he has committed mortal sin (a sin of grave matter, committed with full knowledge and deliberate consent) then for "the removal of all scruple and doubt, the assurance of parson, and the strengthening of your faith"** the penitent should seek out a priest for confession, counsel, and absolution.  When one has committed notorious public sin, then confession and repentance to the curate***  and reconciliation is necessary before admittance to Holy Communion.  

In addition to repentance and confession, the Anglican formularies require that one have faith that one is receiving the Body and Blood of Christ in the Sacrament, as it is through such faith that Christ is received. While there are many possible ways of looking at the presence of Christ in the Eucharist, a bare memorialism, that is thinking of the Eucharist as only our remembering of Christ without any actual reception of His Body and Blood in Holy Communion, is not within the bounds of Anglican theology and dogma.  Those who are unrepentant of their sins or who do not have faith that they are receiving Christ in Holy Communion do themselves great spiritual harm: "For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord's body" (I Cor. 11:29).  

Anglicans are bidden to "prepare themselves carefully"** before receiving Holy Communion.  This includes not only examining one's conscience, and some prayer time for preparation, but Anglican tradition is to fast prior to receiving the sacrament. The traditional fast was from all food and drink from midnight, but, depending on one's health, this may be modified. (My standard rule is for three hours from all solid food before receiving Communion, and for one hour before all liquids.) 

Prior to the Reformation Anglicans received Communion in one kind only, the host, and on the tongue (not however the most ancient practice, see below).  The original post-Reformation practice was to take the Sacrament of the Body of Christ from the communion plate offered by the priest, it being leavened bread and cut up into cubes by a knife, and to put it directly in one's mouth, being careful to guard against the loss of crumbs.  Aprons (esp. for ladies) or houselling cloths (white cloths attached to the altar rail and held underneath the communicant's mouth while receiving) were employed to catch any crumbs that might fall.  Later Anglican practice advocated by the Tractarians and eventually universally adopted, followed the counsel of St. Cyril of Jerusalem in his Mystical Catecheses:  The communicant is to come up to the Communion Rail, kneel down, and receive the Host on the right hand, supported by the left hand as by a "throne," and receive by lifting the palm of the hand to their mouths, and then checking, (as St. Cyril insists), that no crumb remain: "be careful that no particles fall, for what you lose would be to you as if you had lost some of your members. Tell me, if anybody had given you gold dust, would you not hold fast to it with all care, and watch lest some of it fall and be lost to you? Must you not then be even more careful with what is more precious than gold and diamonds, so that no particles are lost?"† 

Many Anglicans (especially Anglo-Catholics) also receive on the tongue, both out of reverence, and also to avoid profanation of the sacrament from dropping it.  This is also a perfectly acceptable practice.  (When administering communion in either fashion, I make sure that the paten is kept close to catch anything that falls.)  

The chalice is usually received by bringing the chalice to the mouth by gently grasping to the base while the minister holds the chalice at the knob, and tilting the cup so as to get a sip.

Following the universal tradition of the Church, and following the Anglican formularies, and the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, the proper matter for the Eucharist as ordained by Christ are wheat bread and (fermented) grape wine. One receives both Christ's Body and Blood by receiving either, but it is usual Anglican practice to receive both, and the priest must do so, and, the Anglican practice, mandated by the rubric of the 1979 BCP, is to make both species available separately.‡  If one is unable to receive either the species of the bread or the wine, one may thus receive only one, and the smallest amount of either is sufficient to receive both our Lord's Body and Blood.  If one is incapable of consuming any amount of either, then one makes what is called a "spiritual communion"  telling our Lord that one is unable to receive the sacrament, and asking for the spiritual benefits thereof, which one may be sure sure to receive under the same conditions as actual reception of the sacrament.  

The rubric requires that the Priest and other Ministers reverently consume what is left over after communion, unless some is to be reserved (for the Communion of the sick or shut-in) in a hanging pyx or tabernacle.  To do otherwise is a grave sin of sacrilege.  The only condition under which the Sacrament may be otherwise disposed of is if, for some reason, it may be polluted or poisoned and rendered undrinkable or uneatable.  Then it should be so dissolved in water as to be effectively no longer bread or wine, and poured on holy ground — down the piscinum, a special sink which drains on holy ground, is the usual practice; if there is no piscinum, then the water may be poured on the church yard.

In these times we are subject to many abuses. Disposing of the sacrament in some other way than that outlined above, attempting to consecrate something other than wheat bread or fermented wine, or attempted consecration by a person not validly ordained to the presbyterate to do so, are grave sins of blasphemy ("taking God's name in vain" by purporting to do in His name that which He has not commanded) and sacrilege (misuse or attempted misuse of sacred things). The faithful, being mindful of the damage done to their souls and the souls of others by such abuses, should absent themselves from services where such take place, and would be justified in making a formal complaint to the bishop.

An excellent summary of eucharistic doctrine employing the Anglican methodology of theology is to be found in E.L. Mascall's Corpus Christi: Essays on the Church and the Eucharist (1953), which I commend for your reading. 

*All previous prayer books, and the 1662 Book of Common Prayer (one of the Anglican formularies) mandate communion kneeling. However the present Book of the Episcopal Church has no rubric as to the position of the communicant.  The usual rule, when something is not referred to in new legislation, is to refer to previous legislation.  However, in many places, the practice of standing for communion has been so long in force that it has acquired the force of custom in canon law.  However, it must be said, in a Western context, that is it less reverent; it leads far more often to occasions of sacrilege (as I have seen many many times); and it is not the Anglican tradition.

**The Exhortation, BCP 1979, p. 316–317

***In the Anglican formularies, the term "curate" refers to the rector, vicar, priest-in-charge, or other priest with pastoral responsibility for a parish, mission, chaplaincy, or house of religion.  The Anglican formularies are the essential post-Reformation texts for doctrine discipline and worship, accepted of necessity by all Anglicans.  They are the 1662 Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England, together with the necessary canonical legislation which it assumes, especially the canons of 1608–1609, (which have greater force for us in this country, having never been replaced in the U.S., our canons being an addition thereto), the Articles of Religion, and the Ordinal, both included in the BCP 1662.  Their understanding and interpretation is dependent upon and subject first to the authority of Holy Scripture, and then to catholic tradition (catholicity being an article of the creed and an essential mark for the Church) in particular the writings of the Church Fathers.  

†h/t Fr. Hunwicke

‡"Opportunity is always to be given to every communicant to receive the consecrated Bread and Wine separately.  But the Sacrament may be received in both kinds simultaneously, in a manner approved by the bishop." The practice of intinction, whereby the host is dipped in the wine by a Minister, and then placed on the communicant's tongue (much less preferably, for the communicant to do this himself), is the usual way of doing this.  If proper teaching is given on the nature of the Sacrament, as given above, communicants should find this unnecessary.  However, if this is the custom of some of his people, and authorized by the bishop, then the priest should respect it, as long as it is done carefully and reverently.

Monday, May 15, 2017

When under Spiritual Attack

When under attack, especially with depression or anxiety, I find this prayer very very helpful:

St. Michael the Archangel,
defend us in battle.
Be our defense against the wickedness and snares of the Devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray,
and do thou,
O Prince of the heavenly hosts,
by the power of God,
thrust into hell Satan,
and all the evil spirits,
who prowl about the world
seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

What is the Essential Work of an Anglican Priest?

Anglican Priests and Clergy engaged in the most important of their essential works,
done according to the Book of Common Prayer
What is the work of an Anglican Priest?  The Rev. Dr. Eric Mascall describes it very well in Corpus Christi and his other works.  And he does so in a manner that bases itself entirely on the post-Reformation Anglican formularies, the Book of Common Prayer of 1662, the articles and the canons, and thus one that should thus be acceptable to all kinds of Anglicans.

​Fr. Mascall describes the essential work of a priest as "prayer, study, and pastoral work", in that order of importance. Let us first look at prayer.  In the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church in the USA, ordinands commit themselves to "persevere in prayer, both in public and in private."  The other prayer books have similar demands of ordinands.  The public prayer of the Church is her "Common Prayer" or liturgy.  The Common Prayer chiefly consists of the daily offices of Morning and Evening Prayer and the mass, a.k.a., Holy Communion or Holy Eucharist.  As the American BCP says, "The Holy Eucharist, the principal act of Christian worship on the Lord's Day and other major feasts, and Daily Morning and Evening Prayer, as set forth in this Book, are the regular services appointed for public worship in this Church." (American BCP, 1979, p. 13).  It also notes that "The leader of worship in a Christian assembly is normally a bishop or priest."  The 1662 Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England, one of the Anglican formularies, says similarly, appointing the Daily Morning and Evening Prayer, the Litany, and the Holy Communion on Sundays and major feasts.  It also includes this rubric:
And all Priests and Deacons are to say daily the Morning and Evening Prayer either privately or openly, not being let by sickness, or some other urgent cause. 
And the Curate that ministereth in every Parish-church or Chapel, being at home, and not being otherwise reasonably hindered, shall say the same in the Parish-church or Chapel where he ministereth, and shall cause a bell to be tolled thereunto a convenient time before he begin, that the people may come to hear God's Word, and to pray with him.
So, for Anglican clergy, there is an obligation to celebrate the daily office, publicly in the church if possible and required if one is a curate (possessed if a cure), the mass, and the other rites and ceremonies of the Church.  Part of the liturgical duty of the priest also includes preaching, and preparing people for and teaching them how reverently to celebrate the Common Prayer.  The obligation to pray also includes the discipline of private prayer, including, according to the tradition meditation (meditatio) issuing in comtemplation (contemplatio).

The second duty of the priest is study: Study is of Sacred Scripture, the writings of the Fathers and the Saints (including the texts of the liturgical tradition), theology generally, and of other ancillary disciplines, starting with philosophy and languages, but not excluding history, literature, and the other secular sciences, that would tend to make the priest a better minister of Christ.

These two things, prayer and study, in that order, are put first, because they form the basis of the contemplative life, and the contemplative life is both of prime value in itself, but also forms the only basis for pastoral work.

Pastoral work is dedicated to the cure of souls, in helping the life of God in Christ to flourish and grow in them. It is not to be confused with secular political action, or secular social work, which, though they may be good in themselves, and may be the proper work of some of the laity, are not the proper work of a priest.

Administration and fundraising and marketing are things Fr. Mascall cites as NOT being the proper work of the priest. At best these are ancillary, and if at all possible to be delegated to lay persons — at worst Fr. Mascall describes them as "diabolical" distractions.  In the English Book of Common Prayer, part of the Anglican formularies (and thus a doctrinal standard for all Anglicans) the following is said to the ordinand much as lieth in you, ye will apply yourselves wholly to this one thing, and draw all your cares and studies this way; and that ye will continually pray to God the Father, by the mediation of our only Saviour Jesus Christ, for the heavenly assistance of the Holy Ghost; that, by daily reading and weighing the Scriptures, ye may wax riper and stronger in your Ministry; (from "Concerning the Services of the Church")
This is the work of the Anglican priest, and if our churches are failing, then might it not be that we have failed to put first things first.

Friday, May 12, 2017

How Can We Tell if our Beliefs are Good or Bad?

How can we judge the quality of our beliefs? Is a change in belief, a conversion, good or bad? For those who believe in God, how shall we be judged?
Stefan Lochner's Last Judgement, ca. 1435
There are, I think, a few simple tests that will do the trick.

Do my beliefs make me more charitable, more loving of my neighbor, more ready and willing to do what is good for her or him? This is true of that especially annoying difficult neighbor who is on the wrong side of the political fence from me, or not of the same class, race, or background. Or do my beliefs cause me to be more hurtful or judgemental of others. Do they make me more selfish? Do they make me heedless of others and what is good for them? Do they lead me to being hurtful of others, deceiving myself that it is for their own good?

Do my beliefs make me more proud, or more humble? Do they make me realize that how very small I am in the universe, my dependency on others, and on the ultimate source of my being, or do they make me proud and self-righteous, convinced of my own superiority (and thus leading me to be uncharitable)?

Do my beliefs lead me to the truth, or do they lead me to disregard the truth? Or do I misuse the truth, using it as a weapon to hurt others? Am I, because I am convinced of the correctness of my own beliefs, willing to warp the truth in defense of my beliefs? Am I more interested in being right than in being truthful? Am I willing to admit it when I am shown to be wrong?

I see many, including many old friends, for whom a religious conversion, as opposed to making them more loving, more humble, and more truthful, tends rather to accentuate the vices and bad inclinations that they already have — it makes them worse. Sometimes I think this has not so much to do with the new beliefs they embrace (although these have consequences) as for the reasons they have done so. So it causes me to ask myself, is my faith helping me and others, or is it hurting? And the supreme test is charity, un-self-interested love, for, certainly from a Christian perspective, "without charity all our doings are nothing worth". It is our love that makes the ultimate difference.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

May 9th, First day of Summer, and St. Gregory of Nazianzus

Today, May 9th, the 7th day before the Ides of May is the first day of Summer in the old English reckoning, as well as the feast of St Gregory of Nazianzus, the Theologian

May 9, Commemoration of Gregory of Nazianzus, Bishop of Constantinople, 389

Blessed be the Name of God forever and ever, for wisdom and might are his; I thank thee, O thou God of my Fathers, who hast given us wisdom and might, in that thou hast revealed the deep and secret things

V. With my lips have I been telling of all the judgements of thy mouth.
R. I have had as great delight in the way of thy testimonies as in all manner of riches.

O Almighty God, who didst give to thy servant Gregory of Nazianzus special gifts of grace to understand and teach the truth as it is in Christ Jesus: Grant, we beseech thee, that by this teaching we may know thee, the one true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

An Anglo-Saxon calendar for May, marking the beginning of Summer on May 9th.

More here
Old English Summer

Monday, May 8, 2017

Is God our Mother?

Is God our mother? This question comes up every year about Dame Julian of Norwich, who uses, quite appropriately, motherly language to speak about our Lord.

As Bp. Stanley Atkins pointed out to us, some 30 years ago, in our course in English Spirituality, this does not mean that we refer to God as our mother. God as God, not having "body, parts, or passions" does not have biological sex either. However, as the creator and not a creature he is masculine in relation to us, his living creatures, because he acts on his creation from outside to cause it to bring forth life, as* a father begets children by the mother.

In the Incarnation God shows a father's love for us in adopting us as his children when we are united in Baptism to his Son (the incarnate Word of God). God the incarnate Son is the bridegroom of the Church, by which he begets new children. And, while as God, he remains masculine in relation to us, God the Father shows us a mother's love in giving us the mother of his son (the highest of all creatures) to be our mother.

*to be technical, as="analagous to the way in which"