Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Sadness suffused with hope

Photo: St Mary's Priory Church, Abergavenny 

Today was a day of great sadness for many of us, although one suffused with the light and hope of the resurrection.
Fr (Dean) Jeremy Winston's funeral mass was held at St Woolos' Cathedral, Newport at 1 p.m. today. Full report here]
The numbers present, taking part in the offering of the holy sacrifice of the altar for the repose of his soul, spoke more eloquently than any words...
May he rest in peace.






Apologies for a distinct lack of posts in recent days, due to computer crashes...





Sunday, 27 November 2011

The two faces of the season



Bargain hunters go mad in a shopping mall. An American video clip, but we have no cause to feel superior...
Consumer culture and the free market is only as moral as those who operate it and live in it.

Meanwhile....



The Palestria Mattin Responsory sung by the choir of St Paul's Cathedral - that little word irony again.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Advent begins



Almighty God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Music for the feast day of St Cecilia

'What passion cannot Music raise and quell'  from Handel's Ode for St Cecilia's Day, a setting of words by John Dryden 



Today we ask Blessed Cecilia to pray for all musicians, living and departed.

Monday, 21 November 2011

One - and only one - further comment on Anglo-Catholics continuing to use Roman liturgies.
I still think the traditional justification for using the Roman Rite (just) holds good
(see a previous post), given this is merely a 'corrected' translation of the same Latin original.* 
But if those who are using it have definitively rejected any vision of reunion with Peter, then we have a new situation altogether. I suppose, liturgically, those who fall into that category should immediately start to grapple with the verbose but doctrinally minimalist ambiguities of Common Worship.

But, theologically, it really is coming to a choice between the urgent reunion of the once undivided Catholic Church and the liberal synagogue, although the latter may well be theistically too conservative for many of our fellow Anglicans.

*Merely? Given the changes, of course, much more significant in terms of liturgical culture than 'merely,' and much more significant for those used to a more dignified and reverent liturgical language.

Dean Jeremy Winston

We were all profoundly shocked this morning to hear of the tragically early death of
Fr Jeremy Winston SSC, the newly-installed Dean of Monmouth. He will be mourned by all who knew him and whose lives were touched by him, and by the Church he loved and loyally served as a priest with so much dedication and ability.
Please pray for the repose of his soul, and for all those who mourn him.
May he rest in peace and may light perpetual shine upon him



Herbert Howells' setting of Prudentius' great poem, in the English translation by Helen Waddell  

Anticipation and balance

There's an excellent post here by Fr Dwight Longenecker on Advent and the commercial nastiness that dominates society at this time of year. Many issues are dividing Christians today, surely this is something we can all agree upon.

Womans Hour ('Celebrating, informing and entertaining women') the BBC this morning gave us a predictably tame but nevertheless fascinating interview on the subject of women bishops in the Church of England. [here] What was so interesting was that the spokesperson from WATCH (there was, of course, no representative of those opposed) appeared far less strident than the programme's presenter, who gave us the usual condescending secular incredulity that people (some even women!) could be so backward as to resist the inevitable advent of women's ordination . 'This is the 21st Century' - thanks for the forensic interviewing technique, Jane!
The fact that Rachel Weir, chair of WATCH, was able to present her case so calmly and  reasonably is not a good sign. The writing on the wall is now positively bellowing at us.

"...if we are prepared for that conflict, that the combat may have truces but never a peace."

Monday reflection:

"...for we must know in advance, if we are prepared for that conflict, that the combat may have truces but never a peace. If we take the widest and widest view of a Cause, there is no such thing as a Lost cause because there is no such thing as a Gained Cause. We fight for lost causes because we know that our defeat and dismay may be the preface to our successors' victory, though that victory itself will be temporary; we fight rather to keep something alive than in the expectation  that anything will triumph..."

T.S. Eliot: from 'Francis Herbert Bradley' (1927)


After a foggy night, a wet November morning by the banks of the Wye -
the first part of Leoš Janáček's 'In the Mists' played by Rudolf Firkušný




Sunday, 20 November 2011

For the last week of the Church's year, some Anglo-Catholic patrimony from a vanished world...

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Anglican Bishops and Roman liturgy

Extracts from the recent comments of the Bishop of London, Richard Chartres [here] concerning the new translation of the Roman Missal are all over the web at the moment. [Full text here]
Many Anglo-Catholics, Anglo-Papalists particularly, of course, have used the English translation of the Roman Missal since the 1970s after it was first introduced - many parishes abandoning the English Missal in order to come into line with the current practice of the Western Church. Due to the particular nature of the English Reformation, and the liturgical changes, they would argue, which were forced upon an unwilling Church in the sixteenth century, there have always been those Anglicans, Dom Gregory Dix included, who have laid claim to the Latin Rite liturgy as part of their legitimate heritage. It wouldn't seem a wholly unreasonable step for those who have not yet joined the Ordinariate (an open-ended process, as everyone agrees) to use the new, corrected translation, rather than continue to use a version not now authorised by anyone.
Having said that, coming from the Church in Wales, I don't have an axe to grind either geographically or liturgically in this, but, as regards Bishop Chartres' specific comments, it would seem a curious time pastorally, when many clergy and their families are suffering from the extreme stress of facing a highly uncertain future while they wait for the synodical process to play out , to take the opportunity to, shall we say, stick the episcopal boot in.
He won't persecute, but he disapproves. I'm afraid, for the Catholic Movement, episcopal disapproval has long gone with the territory. We have learned to live with it.

Here's something to cheer us up: it's not, of course, to be regarded in any way as a comment on the above:

For Saturday



More Paul Mealor (see here): his setting of the Stabat Mater

Friday, 18 November 2011

Scruton on Eliot

Roger Scruton on the enduring cultural significance of T. S. Eliot:

"...For Eliot, words had begun to lose their precision—not in spite of science, but because of it; not in spite of the loss of true religious belief, but because of it; not in spite of the proliferation of technical terms, but because of it. Our modern ways of speaking no longer enable us to "take a word and derive the world from it": on the contrary, they veil the world, since they convey no lived response to it. They are mere counters in a game of cliché, designed to fill up the silence, to conceal the void which has come upon us as the old gods have departed from their haunts among us.
That is why modern ways of thinking are not, as a rule, orthodoxies, but heresies—a heresy being a truth that has been exaggerated into falsehood, a truth in which we have taken refuge, so to speak, investing in it all our unexamined anxieties and expecting from it answers to questions which we have not troubled ourselves to understand. In the philosophies that prevail in modern life—utilitarianism, pragmatism, behaviorism—we find that "words have a habit of changing their meaning. . .or else they are made, in a most ruthless and piratical manner, to walk the plank." The same is true, Eliot implies, whenever the humanist heresy takes over: whenever we treat man as God, and so believe that our thoughts and our words need be measured by no other standard but themselves..."
Read it all here

Thursday, 17 November 2011

BBC bias again

This is from an article on the Catholic Herald website. Read it in full here:

"...Because over the last few decades, the Corporation has become a mouthpiece for the sort of people it employs: young, trendy Lefties, disproportionately gay and from ethic minorities, who see nothing to be learned from institutions, from history, and from religion in particular. (Unless it’s Islam, of course. I’ve lost count of the number of gushing documentaries about the Prophet Mohammed churned out over the last few years, replete with “authentic” pronunciation of Arabic terms and the occasional “peace be upon him” thrown in for good measure.)..."
Personally I don't think the BBC has a specific anti-religious agenda - I've always found their religious broadcasting personnel a joy to work with. The problem is one of corporate ethos - a matter of clear institutional bias. The kind of people the Corporation tends to employ, nationally if not always in the regions, as presenters, production staff and managers, if not part of a well heeled, well-connected metropolitan elite sharing a common set of unquestioned liberal values, tend to be heavily weighted in favour of ethnic minorities or those with minority sexual preferences. There are very clear taboos as to who or what may be subject to criticism, leaving the Christian faith, those whose political views are right of centre, and those who are unfashionable enough not to share the prevailing social liberalism as among the only acceptable targets.  There seems to be a complete lack of concern (not, I think, awareness) that there may be people out there who share neither the Corporation's views nor it's values. It approaches the level of contempt.
I don't watch much television, but the radio 'comedy' output these days, to take a random example, seems to consist almost exclusively of distinctively unfunny and angry left-wing rants masquerading as humour, some so 'right on' as to be acutely embarrassing. It was a surprise to discover the other night a programme whose ruling conceit (this was Stephen Fry, after all) was a cringe-makingly-written love affair between two 'gay' horses - not any old horses, of course, but those of the Duke of Wellington and the Emperor Napoleon. A real find.

None of this constant churning out of one-sided propaganda would matter very much, of course, if we, the listeners and viewers, had a choice. But the fact is that the BBC has a virtual monopoly of our 'serious' nationwide radio broadcasting and, to a lesser but still significant extent, on what remains of 'serious' television output. Not only that, but we are all paying for it through the licence fee.  It's one thing to have our opinions and beliefs constantly mocked and pilloried, it's another when they are doing it with our money.
The irony is, of course, that the BBC is a superlative broadcaster; but it could be much better at fulfilling its public commission without the bias, without sacrificing anything other than its tendency to self-indulgence.

The culture wars in action

Two faces of the contemporary and very broad American Lutheran tradition here and here, from separate and irreconcilable jurisdictions.  It's hard to recognise them as stemming from the same historical source; but as Anglicans, we recognise the all-too-familiar dissonance of theological 'diversity.'
We all know it can never be 'both and...' - it's really 'either or...'  Credal orthodoxy and (to put it as charitably as I can) any significant departures from that doctrinal standard cannot ultimately co-exist.
For many of the churches owing either their foundation or their separate existence to the Reformation, (however long it has taken for some of them to make up their minds about that -see here) these culture wars are not going to end well.
Whether they will inevitably result in (with all the best will in the world) the kind of paganism in a chasuble we see in the second video (and even more explicitly, if possible, here) is an interesting issue. Sadly, without any kind of universally accepted authority or achievable ecumenical goals, it would seem by far the most likely outcome in an individualistic and atomised culture so inimical to orthodox faith and ever more coercively insistent on celebrating the subjective victimhood of its socially approved minorities.
We keep returning to this: short-term or long-term, for the 'orthodox' survivors of this western ecclesial catastrophe, the call to unity with Peter seems irresistible. "Gather up the fragments so that none may be lost..."




Wednesday, 16 November 2011

We have all become 'non-conformists' now

It's a curiously over-prescriptive society which in one week both attempts to authorise CCTV in taxis to record passengers' conversations (see the post below) and to call for the banning of cigarette smoking in private vehicles on some fairly flimsy 'scientific evidence' (see here)
I'm not a smoker and I don't very often travel in a taxi, but I am afraid that the noose tightening around the throat of other people's liberties may one day soon be extended to mine.
How long will it be, on this kind of reasoning, before it is suggested that children be removed from traditionally believing Christian families because of the possible damage to their psychological health by being exposed to dangerously counter-cultural values?
I admit it's an extreme example (although there is already significant legal confusion between a robust proclamation of the moral theology of the Pauline epistles and criminal hate-speech), but given the almost complete reversal of our social mores over the last decade or so, and the wholesale rejection and constant (and tax-payer funded) ridiculing of the Christian Church's teaching on so many matters, it's not entirely inconceivable.
The current obsession with the enforcement of 'equality' is, of course, no such thing. Equal treatment and tolerance don't form part of the present agenda which simply involves the replacement by legal sanction of one set of values with another.
We are in grave danger of confusing the merely currently unfashionable with the criminally reprehensible, whether it is our views on sexuality, our right to smoke cigarettes or, if we wish, even to eat deep-fried Mars bars. Whatever the liberal myths concerning the so-called claustrophobic atmosphere of the 1950s, we have never been so socially conformist as we are now.
The question for Christians is how to proclaim the Gospel of the love of God in Christ in a pluralistic society which seems to be now turning from pluralism to the strict conformism of the new equality. But the issues which divide us from the surrounding culture also divide us from many of our fellow Christians. We believe them to be wrong, we may believe them to be heading along a path which will lead to the abandonment of the Gospel altogether; we can't doubt their sincerity, even if we increasingly find it impossible to go along with them.
 For those traditional sacramental Christians, conservative but tolerant and with a view of human nature which stresses both the results of the Fall  and our original righteousness, the imperative as we've said before, in the face of those forces in our world which are inimical to the Faith, is unity and how best we can co-operate with God in order to achieve it.



Paul Mealor: Locus Iste

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Taxi!

                                                               On second thoughts...........

Oxford City Council (of all places) plans to install CCTV cameras in the city's licensed taxi cabs in order to record all conversations. [report here from the BBC] A spokesman when questioned in a radio interview merely stated that the council had consulted the relevant human rights legislation and the current CCTV guidelines and found that its proposal contravened neither. It's strange how for the modern British bureaucrat simply checking the letter of the 'appropriate' regulations has replaced the need for all other conscious thought.
Another example of the need to make the study of our history a compulsory part of the school curriculum.
"I 'ad that George Orwell in the back of the cab the other day"

"Without the traditional Catholic voice and presence the Church of England would be less than itself...."

Several blogs today [ here and here ] feature the comments of the Archbishop of Canterbury following the consecration of the new bishops of Ebbsfleet and Richborough in June. His words are very encouraging to those who are able to envisage a continuing future for Anglo-Catholics in the Church of England.
As yet, highly welcome as Archbishop Williams' sentiments are, they are only at present warm words and should be treated with a degree of caution; in a synodically governed and episcopally led body they will remain just warm words until the General Synod votes. There are various views in circulation as to the outcome of that [see here and the comments on Peter Ould's post]
From this vantage point it's difficult to have any great confidence that a synodical majority in favour of women bishops will at the same time allow the setting up of the Society model on which so many are now basing their hopes for survival.

Meanwhile, those of us in Wales can only observe the contrast between these very warm episcopal words and no words at all, and ponder how the province of the Church in Wales, from which Archbishop Rowan was translated to Canterbury, is already "less than itself....." and likely to remain so.

Monday, 14 November 2011

"The great majority of us are required to live a life of constant, systematic duplicity..."

Monday reflection:

"The great majority of us are required to live a life of constant, systematic duplicity. Your health is bound to be affected if, day by day, you say the opposite of what you feel, if you grovel before what you dislike and rejoice at what brings you nothing but misfortune. Our nervous system isn't just a fiction, it's a part of our physical body, and our soul exists in space and is inside us, like the teeth in our mouth. It can't be for ever violated with impunity."
Boris Pasternak: 'Doctor Zhivago'

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Remembrance Sunday

It wasn't all that long ago, when I was growing up in the 1970s (a rather grim era in Britain, when, in Private Eye's terminology, the 'Dave Spart' tendency seemed to hold sway in the State rather than, as today, just in parts of the Church) that we were assured that Remembrance Day would soon be a thing of the past, it had nothing to say to the coming generation and merely encouraged a wallowing in our imperial past. It glorified war, they said, forgetting that it has something vital to say about the preservation of our ancient freedoms. Some people were still saying that sort of thing in the mid-1980s when I was ordained. How times have changed!
In our country parish at the Mass offered today for the fallen in war, we were joined by the last surviving parishioner who fought (with the Parachute Regiment) in the Second World War. Three miles away the civic Remembrance Service included a parade by soldiers of 1st Rifles, some of whose comrades are currently deployed in Afghanistan. Whatever the rights and wrongs of our involvement in the wars waged by and on behalf of 'liberal democracy,' it now appears to be beyond doubt that any scepticism about the observance of Remembrance Sunday and Armistice Day has disappeared. It’s now part of our experience, too. The victims of war are not people from a rapidly receding past: they are among us, they are our neighbours and friends, they are members of the regiment stationed down the road.
At the altar all our memories, all our sufferings, all our gratitude, all our hopes for the future come together in the offering of the sacrifice of Calvary. This is the greatest act of remembrance and of Christian charity that we can perform both for those who have died, and for ourselves, here only because they were prepared to lay down their lives for the people most dear to them.

Grant them eternal rest, O Lord, and let light perpetual shine upon them






.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Hymns old & already dated?

The English Hymnal & New English Hymnal: neither insanely inclusive nor full of dreadful ditties

One of undisputed gifts of the Anglican patrimony to the wider Church is its hymnody, drawing on on a wide variety of sources and traditions and often expressing in a few short lines an remarkable richness of doctrinal teaching, particularly perhaps in terms of eucharistic theology.
Yet, visiting other parishes from time to time, it would seem that this tradition is, if not actually threatened with extinction, then subject to the same kind of revisionism which casts such a blight on our ecclesial life.

Many modern hymnals try at least to include a selection of 'traditional' hymnody alongside the regrettable, trite and subjective, doctrine-free choruses or 'worship songs'. For the most part they are fairly unexceptional selections, although it’s very clear that most (with very few exceptions) of the more modern compositions will happily fade as quickly as a polyester chasuble exposed to direct sunlight.

Of course, to a certain extent, that was also true of many of the hymns selected for nineteenth and early twentieth century hymnals, included but rapidly forgotten. But for someone brought up in the English Hymnal tradition, it’s hard to be anything other than critical of hymn books which are put together in alphabetical order rather than in the familiar and more liturgically user- friendly arrangement of times and seasons.
But the very worst aspect of many of these recent productions is their attempt to ‘improve’ and update traditional, well-loved hymns. I’m not only thinking about such obvious monstrosities as ‘Onward Christian Pilgrims’ or the alternative version of ‘For all the saints,’ which have been altered to exclude all references to warfare. A note to those similarly tempted: please look up the meaning of the word ‘metaphor.’ We can be grateful that St Paul didn’t have a similar confusion about the nature of verbal imagery with regard to spiritual warfare. Too complex an idea for our modern minds to cope with? Some obviously have thought so.
Above all, what surely should be unacceptable to everyone whose ideology hasn't driven them insane is the attempt to rewrite the language of hymns, some of which can be regarded as poetry in its own right, in order to make it gender inclusive and acceptable to the prevailing culture. One of the worst culprits in this regard seems to be Kevin Mayhew's 'Hymns Old and New, Complete Anglican edition'.  I’m thinking here about two recent examples I've come across, Robert Bridges' 'All my hope on God is founded’ and John Keble's ‘Blest are the pure in heart.’ There is absolutely no ambiguity as to their authors’ meaning; the changes which have been made represent an alarmingly totalitarian literary dishonesty (if you don't like the past, airbrush out the bits you object to) and have been made purely on ideological grounds; * moreover, the ‘improvements’ subtly, and not so subtly, alter meanings, and are in many cases unutterably banal, the proud work of the heirs of Dr Bowdler.
In some instances this approach has even been extended to the words of familiar Christmas carols, with predictable results, almost always ending up causing total chaos as people, particularly the occasional seasonal worshippers, mercifully unattuned to ecclesiastical fashion, simply stop singing in bemusement, if not in outright exasperation.
The solution? When I have had to sing hymns in the newspeak versions, I simply sing the original words very loudly; I know it’s not very edifying behaviour, and it does nothing to dispel a growing reputation – at least to those standing next to me - for being difficult and eccentric. Oh well... as they say, that ship has already sailed.

* a little like that over-used expression in some quarters, ‘sisters and brothers.’ There’s nothing inherently wrong with it at all, even if it does jar somewhat on the ears of native English speakers; but we know only too well the theological agenda which underlies the words.

This is 'All my hope on God is founded' - the words are not the inclusive 'dynamic equivalents'

Friday, 11 November 2011

Sloppy stereotypes

We could be in the days of Queen Victoria. Journalistic religio-racial stereotyping here from The Daily Telegraph: the myth of  hard-working northern Protestants versus shiftless, lazy Catholics / Orthodox from the South, the sort of people who are always going to confession (as if) and who know how to have a good time.
Sorry, no.
"The Protestant north" hardly describes the reality of modern Germany and quite fails to take into account the fact that much of western Germany, the old Federal Republic, the powerhouse of European economic recovery after World War Two, is traditionally Catholic, not Protestant at all. (It also doesn't quite explain the economic success of northern Italy either) We have to look elsewhere than our historical prejudices for the real causes of the present crisis in the Euro-zone.

11th November

One of a moving series of modern photographs by Michael St Maur Shiel
of the former First World War battlefields. [See here]


The second movement, lento moderato, of the 3rd Symphony of Ralph Vaughan Williams, a work often described as the composer's 'war requiem.'

 




St Martin of Tours

                                                St Martin & the Beggar by El Greco

"Accordingly, at a certain period, when he had nothing except his arms and his simple military dress, in the middle of winter, a winter which had shown itself more severe than ordinary, so that the extreme cold was proving fatal to many, he happened to meet at the gate of the city of Amiens a poor man destitute of clothing. He was entreating those that passed by to have compassion upon him, but all passed the wretched man without notice, when Martin, that man full of God, recognized that a being to whom others showed no pity, was, in that respect, left to him. Yet, what should he do? He had nothing except the cloak in which he was clad, for he had already parted with the rest of his garments for similar purposes. Taking, therefore, his sword with which he was girt, he divided his cloak into two equal parts, and gave one part to the poor man, while he again clothed himself with the remainder. Upon this, some of the by-standers laughed, because he was now an unsightly object, and stood out as but partly dressed. Many, however, who were of sounder understanding, groaned deeply because they themselves had done nothing similar. They especially felt this, because, being possessed of more than Martin, they could have clothed the poor man without reducing themselves to nakedness. In the following night, when Martin had resigned himself to sleep, he had a vision of Christ arrayed in that part of his cloak with which he had clothed the poor man. He contemplated the Lord with the greatest attention, and was told to own as his the robe which he had given. Ere long, he heard Jesus saying with a clear voice to the multitude of angels standing round -- "Martin, who is still but a catechumen, clothed me with this robe." The Lord, truly mindful of his own words (who had said when on earth -- "Inasmuch as ye have done these things to one of the least of these, ye have done them unto me"), declared that he himself had been clothed in that poor man; and to confirm the testimony he bore to so good a deed, he condescended to show him himself in that very dress which the poor man had received. After this vision the sainted man was not puffed up with human glory, but, acknowledging the goodness of God in what had been done, and being now of the age of twenty years, he hastened to receive baptism. He did not, however, all at once, retire from military service, yielding to the entreaties of his tribune, whom he admitted to be his familiar tent-companion. For the tribune promised that, after the period of his office had expired, he too would retire from the world. Martin, kept back by the expectation of this event, continued, although but in name, to act the part of a soldier, for nearly two years after he had received baptism."
from the Life of St Martin by Sulpicius Severus (c. 360 - 420-25)


Thursday, 10 November 2011

'Peter has spoken through Leo'

"....By this means Eutyches, who seemed to be deserving of honour under the title of Presbyter, is now shown to be exceedingly thoughtless and sadly inexperienced, so that to him also we may apply the prophet’s words, “He refused to understand in order to act well:  he meditated unrighteousness on his bed.”  What, indeed, is more unrighteous than to entertain ungodly thoughts, and not to yield to persons wiser and more learned?  But into this folly do they fall who, when hindered by some obscurity from apprehending the truth, have recourse, not to the words of the Prophets, not to the letters of the Apostles, nor to the authority of the Gospels, but to themselves; and become teachers of error, just because they have not been disciples of the truth.  For what learning has he received from the sacred pages of the New and the Old Testament, who does not so much as understand the very beginning of the Creed?  And that which, all the world over, is uttered by the voices of all applicants for regeneration, is still not grasped by the mind of this aged man.  If, then, he knew not what he ought to think about the Incarnation of the Word of God, and was not willing, for the sake of obtaining the light of intelligence, to make laborious search through the whole extent of the Holy Scriptures, he should at least have received with heedful attention that general Confession common to all, whereby the whole body of the faithful profess that they “believe in God the Father Almighty, and in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord, who was born of the Holy Ghost and the Virgin Mary.”  By which three clauses the engines of almost all heretics are shattered.  For when God is believed to be both “Almighty” and “Father,” it is proved that the Son is everlasting together with himself, differing in nothing from the Father, because he was born as “God from God,” Almighty from Almighty, Coeternal from Eternal; not later in time, not inferior in power, not unlike him in glory, not divided from him in essence, but the same Only-begotten and Everlasting Son of an Everlasting Parent was “born of the Holy Ghost and the Virgin Mary.”  This birth in time in no way detracted from, in no way added to, that divine and everlasting birth; but expended itself wholly in the work of restoring man, who had been deceived; so that it might both overcome death, and by its power “destroy the devil who had the power of death.”  For we could not have overcome the author of sin and of death, unless he who could neither be contaminated by sin, nor detained by death, had taken upon himself our nature, and made it his own.  For, in fact, he was “conceived of the Holy Ghost” within the womb of a Virgin Mother, who bore him as she had conceived him, without loss of virginity..."
from the 'Tome' * of Pope St Leo the Great, translated by William Bright.
("Select Sermons of S. Leo the Great on the Incarnation with his XXVIIIth Epistle called the “Tome.”  London, 1886)

* The letter sent by Pope Leo I in the year 449 to the beleaguered Patriarch of Constantinople, Flavianus, concerning the Church's teaching about the person of Christ. The letter affirms that Christ has two natures, human and divine, united in the one divine Person of the Son of God. At the Council of Chalcedon, two years later, the Tome was acclaimed as expressing the settled mind of the Church concerning the doctrine of the Incarnation with the declaration, "Peter has spoken through Leo."

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Nostalgia

for the days of leisurely railway journeys - and for when one didn't have to take out a mortgage in order to travel on them. And for the very small boy who, leaning out of the signal box window at Cwmffrwd Halt, took the token from the driver of the last (steam) train to travel on the Eastern Valley line of Monmouthshire before it was closed.

All Saints of Wales

Almighty God, who dost call thine elect from every nation,
and dost show forth thy glory in their lives:
grant that, following the example of the Saints of Wales
and strengthened by their fellowship,
we may be fruitful in good works to the glory of thy Name;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

[The Collect for the Saints of Wales from the Church in Wales Prayer Book of 1984]


"Near Devauden, in Gwent, there stands on an isolated hump the tiny church of the Holy Cross at Kilgwrrwg, where the hermit Gwrrwg established his cell........ It is the most tranquil place in the world. A circular churchyard surrounds the building, there is an ancient crooked cross among the trees, a wooden boot-remover stands in the porch, for it can be a muddy clamber up there, and through the roof the ivy creeps. The Church is lit only by candles, from a candelabra in the chancel, and it stands in absolute silence, far from all traffic in a bowl of the low Gwent hills, looking westward to the distant outlines of the Black Mountains, Pen-y-Fal and Holy Skirrid..."
          from The Matter of Wales by Jan Morris (O.U.P. 1984)

The great unmentionable

The conspiracy of silence in today's Britain surrounding the Christian faith of those in the public eye, the late Sir Jimmy Savile's devout Catholicism being the most recent example. Charitable work is fine, but there's to be no mention of the religious motivation behind it - from William Oddie [here]

Monday, 7 November 2011

Boring?

In case you missed it, this is Mark Shea on the subject of heresy:

"...Don’t get me wrong. Heresy is stupefyingly boring. Just off the top of your head, which would you call the more interesting story even if you didn’t believe it: that the Creator of the entire universe became a human being on an out of the way planet in the spiral arm of the Milky Way galaxy, performed miraculous deeds, changed lives and hearts, encountered opposition from the Powers that Be, was betrayed, arrested, subjected to a kangaroo court and murdered in the most heinous way imaginable, rose from the dead, ascended to heaven, and now offers eternal ecstasy to the miserable species that killed him, or,

Jesus was a dead rabbi with a girlfriend. Jesus said that niceness was nice. Jesus was pretty much indistinguishable from a commentator on TV who urges bromides about gender equality and tariff reform..."
Read it all here  -  particularly if you're a fan of G.K. Chesterton








"

Be frightened,be very frightened

 Why is it that our news organisations now seem intent on causing panic at every opportunity? In the last week we have been presented with deadly mutations of the 'flu virus, a coming 'Siberian' winter and even an asteroid on collision course with Earth, each of course exaggerated out of all proportion. Are we really so jaded as a society that we need this kind of constant hyped-up excitement posing as information? News presented as titillation and entertainment seems to be order of the day - it's hardly surprising some people view the worship of the Church as 'boring' - it's not high octane enough for our over-stimulated senses. The 'ritualised passion' of the Mass requires a clear head and a mind and body attuned to reflection.
But the story of the boy who cried wolf springs to mind; when there is a genuine emergency, no one will believe it.

**********
Truly frightening were the reports of the fatal pile-up on the M5 motorway near Taunton - a terrible tragedy. Two of those killed were faithful communicants and well known to me from my title parish, the parish in which I served after my diaconal ordination. Please pray for the souls of all those killed and especially for Pam and Tony Adams. [report here] 
We don't yet know the cause of Friday's crash (thick smoke from nearby Bonfire Night celebrations, rather than seasonal fog or excessive speed seems to be the most likely explanation), but if you regularly travel on the British motorway system in bad weather, you will probably agree that it's surprising these multiple collisions are not much more frequent. Slow down in poor visibility and you will be overtaken by large numbers of those, presumably confident of the strength of their headlights and the speed of their reactions, who plough on regardless at speeds of 80 or 90 mph or more, ignoring the risk to themselves and other more careful drivers.  Madness.

St Willibrord

St Willibrord (c. 658 – 7 November 739) is honoured today with an optional memoria, or lesser commemoration, in the Anglican & Roman calendars. He was an Anglo-Saxon from Northumbria, a monastic disciple of St Wilfrid, who was sent to bring the Gospel to the pagan tribes of Frisia. He is counted as the first Bishop of Utrecht.
He has also been adopted as the patron of the relationship between Anglicans and (most of) the Old Catholic Churches of the Union of Utrecht  [here] who broke with Rome after the definition of papal infallibility at the First Vatican Council.

 I'm sorry to harp on about this, but, having recently been taken to task, from a protestant perspective, over a perceived preoccupation with ecclesiology at the expense of 'genuine' faith, the history of those Churches which are still members of the Union of Utrecht would seem to bear out the observation we have making here that once you remove the central teaching authority of the Church and the surrounding society becomes 'post-christian,' (or neo-pagan, whatever you prefer) the conditions are created where a synodically-governed ecclesial body loses its grip on doctrinal orthodoxy, apostolic order and moral theology. The presenting symptom (as the Polish National Catholic Church recognised in 2003 when it left the Union) is always the ordination of women.
Just saying...

"The glory of worship is to elicit the grace of humility"

Monday reflection


"… The danger of ‘service,’ as an ideal, is that it fosters the spirit of patronage: the glory of worship is to elicit the grace of humility. Without humility there can be no service worth the name; patronizing service is self-destructive - it may be the greatest of all disservices. Hence to serve his fellows at all - to avoid doing them harm greater even than the good he proposed to confer on them - a man must find a place for worship in his life. The truth is not that worship (as the advocate of action allowed us to assert) will help him to serve better. The alternative lies not between service of a better and worse kind; it lies between service and no service at all. If we would attempt to do good with any sure hope that it will prove good and not evil, we must act in the spirit of humility; and worship alone can make us humble. There is no other course…"

"…. It is not likely that such a apologia would satisfy the heroes of Christian saintliness whose ideals have been considered in preceding chapters. With a faith which the modern world finds it hard to share, they started from the conviction that the life of heaven would be more akin to adoration rather than to labour. ‘Ubi non praevenit rem desiderium’ is their definition of heaven; and where desire and achievement are simultaneous, there is no longer any place for effort, as we understand it. But there is still, and always, a place for contemplation. Service here on earth is no more than a preparation for the contemplation of heaven, and in heaven contemplation is the only service required of the redeemed. In earthly worship man does not merely secure for service than which alone can make it serviceable; he anticipates the essential and all-engrossing activity of eternal life."

Kenneth E Kirk:  The Vision of God (1931) from Lecture VIII

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Welsh Ordinariate Exploration Day

Photo:  DW

Saturday's Ordinariate exploration day for Wales, held just over the border at Hereford's Belmont Abbey (by kind invitation of the Abbot and the community,) was, even beyond all expectations, very well attended and highly constructive.
The speakers, Mgr Keith Newton, the Ordinary, and Fr Jonathan Redvers-Harris, did much to explain the background and the implications of Pope Benedict's historic and generous offer to Anglicans in Anglicanorum Coetibus and to explain the structure and on-going development of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham and, in the process, dispel quite a few of the myths and disinformation currently in circulation.
Rather than just duplicate reports, I can do no better than commend Fr Mark Zorab's reflections on the day at his blog All Gas & Gaiters [here]
To those who may feel tempted to hurl around accusations of disloyalty about those who attended, I have just this question: what alternatives  have been offered to those who seek to live a faithful Catholic, sacramental life within the Church in Wales?
As someone remarked to me over lunch, having been refused a replacement to Bishop David Thomas as Provincial Assistant, and having been solemnly promised alternative "pastoral care," what is actually happening in some parts of the province isn't even the palliative care we were half-expecting but a cutting off of life-support altogether. It can come as no surprise that there are those who continue to reflect upon the process which has brought us to this point and who wish to continue to explore remaining options while life and hope remain.  [to be continued]

Sorry, my skateboarding days are over.

Having been compared to Bart Simpson by the MCJ [here] I feel I should just say this in some kind of defence. My poor attempt at an analysis of the causes of the “slow train-wreck” which is modern Anglicanism, was just that - an attempt at a partial analysis. What it was clearly not (but not clearly enough, obviously) was an an attempt to take refuge behind an inadequate ecclesiology as a total explanation of what has happened.
What I meant - and this is where I agree with some of Christopher Johnson's comments - is that any ecclesial body which is, in its origins, that un-catholic concept, a State Church, runs a high risk of selling out to the surrounding culture. Any church which has historically prided itself on its conformity to the cultural and political status quo risks prizing its cultural setting above its commitment to the person of Christ. Moreover, any church which is “synodically governed” (in the modern sense of permitting majority votes to decide doctrinal issues) has to recognise that heterodoxy is  always potentially only a short series of votes away. Combine the two factors and we get to where we are today. What has happened to us has taken place simply because it could. The structures, the historical mind-set and unconverted human nature itself have conspired to allow it.


Yes, the Anglo-Catholic movement (I can't speak with personal experience of the other traditions) collectively and individually over the years bears a heavy responsibility. We opted some time ago for being at ease in Sion, to accept an honoured place as just one ‘churchmanship' among many, and to be content to be an ecclesiastical 'party' (in more ways than one perhaps)  rather than to continue the battle to change the 'institution' itself. Yes, as individuals we have failed to pray enough, think enough and proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ convincingly enough. For all too long the trumpet has sounded an uncertain note; we were happy in our ecclesiastical ghetto provided we were left alone.

But how possible was the original dream? Could it be that the vision was fatally flawed from the outset, doomed not only by our personal sinfulness and unfaithfulness (although that is always a major contributing factor) but by the fact that rather than being the catholic but reformed body of our imagining we were always at heart a protestant state church (along with its various offshoots, largely the legacy of a world empire) which had certain powerful surviving Catholic elements of order and liturgy and which could not be completely ‘catholicised’ (or for that matter, as we are seeing now, led in a definitively liberal direction) without breaking asunder or experiencing a haemorrage of members? Cardinal Kasper’s request to the last Lambeth Conference to make a decision as to whether Anglicans were to be a church of the first century or of the Reformation, has, of course, now been answered in favour of the latter option. But it may, in fact, have been answered long ago and the option never available at all.
I don’t know. Whatever the truth, we are where we are. The decision in front of us personally as Anglo-Catholics (and collectively if that’s at all still possible) concerns where we go from here.
The present is what we, and God’s will, have helped to make it; but so, too, is the future.
I’ll stop before I can be compared to Cassandra or Uriah Heep - I can’t think of an equivalent cartoon character

Saturday, 5 November 2011

The Wise Virgins

Some Gospel-related Bach, arranged by William Walton, for one of the last 'green' Sundays of the year.
Tomorrow, I hope to be able to include a report of today's highly successful Ordinariate exploration day for Wales at Belmont Abbey. This Sunday's Gospel is perhaps more than a little appropriate for the situation in which we find ourselves...

Thursday, 3 November 2011

'The conscience of the nation?'

If, as many commentators, both friendly and hostile to the recent comments of the Archbishop of Canterbury, are saying today, that the Church of England is still the “conscience of the nation,” we could be forgiven for thinking that the nation’s conscience has been remarkably untroubled up to now by any serious analysis of the causes of our society’s present ills.
Yet, of course, this role is the purpose of the Church of England, the purpose of Establishment itself, certainly as the constitution has developed in modern times.
Without that role and without the necessary theological breadth to support it (to be an effective conscience it’s necessary to reflect back to society rather more than the vapid yet intolerant social and philosophical insularity of the present culture) it’s very hard to see its purpose at all.

It will come as no surprise that this blog isn’t a great fan of Anglican-ism as such. For many of us this was simply the Church (part of the ‘Church Catholic’ as we believed it to be, on the quite reasonable evidence then available to us), the Church where we happened to find ourselves as an 'accident' of birth, baptism and geography.
The increasingly evident problem within Anglican-ism, detached from the moorings of Establishment * and the surviving restraints of theological, historical and liturgical memory, is that its strong internal impulses to conform to the social and intellectual norms of the bien-pensant élite - whatever those norms may be - have led it to become an almost uniformly middle-class, liberal-left, spiritual pressure group. It has neither the central magisterium of the West or the unbreakably strong, quasi-mystical, role of the living tradition of the East to be able to withstand the insidiously conformist pressures of our secularised western culture and philosophical world-view. When society itself still ahered to broadly traditional Christian beliefs and values, the real problem was not so evident, even if we were living off the riches of the past; but when, as now, that situation no longer applies, the inadequacy of our ecclesiology has become glaringly apparent.
Just look at Wales.

* The strange paradox is that it was Establishment itself (or its 'melancholy, long, withdrawing roar' in the case of Wales) which, up to the present generation, enabled the survival and even resurgence of a strong, largely anti-establishment, Catholic party within the Anglican provinces which, although never popular, did much to root Anglicans in a tradition older and wider than just that of its independent existence. It is the lack of understanding on the part of the liberal synodical majorities of the necessary restraint needed to keep such an inchoate body together which has delivered the coup de grace to traditional Anglican polity. The increasing liberal theological tendency to want to 'let it all hang out" means we can't all hang out together any more.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Dr. Williams & the British economy: don't shoot the messenger

The Archbishop of Canterbury is an easy target for those of us who now find ourselves, even to our own surprise, on the right. His 'Greenham Common' past and his membership of the Jubilee Group lend more than a touch of credibility to allegations of hard-left allegiances. But, as we know, Rowan Williams is a much more complex man, and in many ways much more conflicted in his sympathies, than the caricatures of him being currently presented by the press. Those who portray him as just a 'bearded lefty' don't do him justice at all.
And it's hard to fault his recent comments on directors' pay and bankers' bonuses which clearly arise from a deep concern for the state of our society, and a fear of the social consequences of the kind of flagrant irresponsibility being shown by some of those at the top at a time of economic hardship and, for most of us, enforced austerity.
This is the legitimate concern of an archbishop and should have the backing of those from across the political and religious spectrum - at least, up to a point.
Where we might differ is over the role of the State in trying to enforce what ought to be, in a less disordered culture, a matter of simple common decency and civic responsibility.
I have to confess to being very wary of any proposals from the Church which would lead to an increase in the power of an already over-mighty State. Christian charity itself, one could argue, is primarily a voluntarist rather than a statist virtue. Moreover, we should be wary of the intervention of the Church - however expertly advised - in the detail of economic and fiscal policy. Yet the concern of the Church for the spiritual, moral and even material welfare of society is simply part of its mission.
We are always being told (regrettably, mainly by those who do their level best to undermine the reality of it) that we should re-focus our attention on the importance of ecumenism. Perhaps we could begin (doing together what we do not need to do separately) with an agreed statement on the part of the leaders of the Christian traditions in our country (perhaps even focusing on Christ, the Gospel and the Christian tradition) concerning the state of this broken society which we have all had a hand in creating.

On a related issue, it's encouraging to see reports of sanity and a degree of steadiness returning to the life of the City of London's Anglican Cathedral. The Church - even perhaps an established church - does not have the same agenda as the State, and it's good to see that fact being made more clear and, we hope, consistently.

For All Souls Day

The Faithful Departed

Are we to mourn our dead, our beloved,
as men that have no hope

Thou, O God, art not the God of the dead,
but of the living.
In thy resurrection, O Christ, we celebrate ours.
The gift of thy life, O Holy Spirit, is not for a season,
but for ever.

As long as thou art with thy servants, thy children,
they are with thee; they lose nothing by dying.
They depart out of the world, but not out of thy family.
They vanish from our sight, but not from thy care.
One sun hath set upon them, but a greater is risen.
They are not dead; nay, it is death that hath died in them,
death that is buried in their grave.
They leave behind the mortal, to put on immortality;
theirs is entrance into healing, into rest, into glory.

Lord, thou hast made, endowed, redeemed, employed
thy children
thou canst not desert nor annihilate them,
canst not but be gracious eternally.
Thou forgettest not the dead whom we forget;
thou rewardest the benefactors we never knew.
Thou who holdest worlds in life
holdest them.

O Father, O Saviour, O Giver of Life,
by thy mercy, thine unalterable love,
Gather thy sons and daughters together unto thyself,
those who have taken thee for their strength,
those who have offered thee thanks and praise.
May they rejoice in the Jerusalem of grace and peace,
and praise thee among the choirs of the blessed,
in joy without end.

Eric Milner-White(1884–1963):
‘My God My Glory’

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

For all the Saints who from their labours rest...



O Almighty God,
who hast knit together thine elect in one communion and fellowship,
in the mystical body of thy Son Christ our Lord:
Grant us grace so to follow thy blessed Saints in all virtuous and godly living,
that we may come to those unspeakable joys,
which thou hast prepared for them that unfeignedly love thee;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

[The Book of Common Prayer 1662]

Almighty and everlasting God, who in one solemnity
hast given unto us to venerate the merits of all thy Saints:
we beseech thee; that, at the intercession of so great a multitude,
thou wouldest bestow on us, who call upon thee,
the abundance of thy mercy;
through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord,
who liveth and reigneth with thee,
in the unity of the Holy Ghost,
ever one God, world without end. AMEN.

[The English Missal]