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.