Tuesday, 31 May 2011

The Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

During those days Mary set out and travelled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, "Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled."

"Therefore it is an excellent and fruitful custom of holy Church that we should sing Mary’s hymn at the time of evening prayer. By meditating upon the incarnation, our devotion is kindled, and by remembering the example of God’s Mother, we are encouraged to lead a life of virtue. Such virtues are best achieved in the evening. We are weary after the day’s work and worn out by our distractions. The time for rest is near, and our minds are ready for contemplation."
St Bede the Venerable - from today's Office of Readings

Monday, 30 May 2011

Shakespeare's Catholicism

Fr Z  believes Shakespeare was a Catholic. I've always thought, at least from the time I studied Hamlet at school, that he was certainly not a Protestant. The Archbishop of Canterbury, speaking at the Hay Festival, also seems to agree, at least up to a point.

Between them, Fr Peter Milward, Joseph Pearce and Claire Asquith have made a more than solid, if necessarily circumstantial case (without clear documentary evidence how could it be otherwise?) for establishing Shakespeare's continuing adherence to the old religion of England.
But the thought of a Catholic Shakespeare is only surprising if we forget the Catholic allegiance of a large proportion (if not an actual majority) of the population of Elizabethan England. It was only with the propaganda disaster following the Gunpowder Plot that English opinion became reconciled to the final victory of the politics and theology of the Reformation, and even then remained bitterly divided as to its interpretation and significance, as the events leading to the Civil War prove. The religious affiliations and theological sympathies of the time were much more fluid and complicated than we have traditionally been led to believe. As always, the victors write the history.

But Archbishop Williams is surely right when he says that it's impossible to understand much of Shakespeare without a knowledge of the Christian theology of grace and redemption but he was, perhaps, with respect, a little off-beam when he said that even if Shakespeare were a practising Christian he was neither a particularly nice man nor a saint. Well, that's not really the point; few of us are other than sinners in search of God's mercy, forgiveness and redemption.

Bank holiday!

Yet another (curiously named) Bank Holiday today and it's more than living up to the reputation they have of producing wet and miserable weather. For historical / religious reasons (it's the elephant in the room again - the Reformation) we have very few national, public holidays in Britain; strangely, it seems that a high proportion of them have fallen in May this year, the next not occurring until the end of August.

This particular holiday, of course, is part of the old "Whitsun" long weekend, divorced from its real significance and renamed the "Spring Bank Holiday"  - by what we laughingly call a 'Conservative' government - some decades  ago.
I like to think that if we had real "holidays" (that is, related  to an actual celebration of something - preferably religious) the weather wouldn't be so cruel to us.

And on the subject of the nomenclature of our statutory holidays, religion may not be exactly popular in aggressively secularised Britian, but it's surely more popular than ....the banks?

"That Whitsun, I was late getting away:

Not till about
One-twenty on the sunlit Saturday
Did my three-quarters-empty train pull out,
All windows down, all cushions hot, all sense
Of being in a hurry gone. We ran
Behind the backs of houses, crossed a street
Of blinding windscreens, smelt the fish-dock; thence
The river’s level drifting breadth began,
Where sky and Lincolnshire and water meet......"

 From Philip Larkin's 'The Whitsun Weddings'

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Rogation and the essential difference

"Rogation Sunday" - yes, we still observe these things in the countryside where they are theologically important and pastorally relevant.  After the abnormally dry spring, the British weather being what it is, the blessing of crops and fields after mass took place in a steady drizzle and a rising wind. No photos unfortunately!

“The Country Parson is a Lover of old Customes... Particularly, he loves Procession, and maintains it, because there are contained therein four manifest advantages. First, a blessing of God for the fruits of the field: Secondly, justice in the Preservation of bounds : Thirdly, Charity in loving walking, and neighbourly accompanying one another, with reconciling of differences at that time, if there be any : Fourthly, Mercy in releeving the poor by a liberall distribution and largesse, which at that time is, or ought to be used’
        George Herbert

On an unrelated subject, Fr Sean Finnegan makes an interesting point at Vale Adurni. Read it all  here
It is also an explanation as to why traditional Anglo-Catholics find themselves so isolated in contemporary Anglican polity and find it so hard to engage in any meaningful way with most liberals and evangelicals (neither of whom really do either ontology or ecclesiology) on the subject of women's ordination. They simply don't - or perhaps even can't -  understand where we are coming from.

Here's a short excerpt from Fr Finnegan's post:

".....To a Catholic mind, the question is not just a moral one, but an ontological one. Priesthood and a fortiori Episcopacy are about more than just headship or leadership. This is because we believe that sacraments actually do what they say on the tin, and we ask not just 'may' or 'should' somebody do it, but 'can' they do it? To make a priest you have to do more than simply putting a vestment on and calling them a priest; a bishop is more than a pointy hat and a curly stick....."

Friday, 27 May 2011

Compare and contrast

I've been struck by the differences between the Westminster Hall addresses of U.S. President Obama a few days ago and that of Pope Benedict during his State Visit last September. Somewhat empty and cliché-ridden political rhetoric as opposed to substantial and serious analysis?
Judge for yourselves:

and also:

For those more comfortable with the written word, full transcripts of the two addresses can be found at the New Statesman here and the BBC here

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Theology at Oxford? Or anywhere?

Thanks to 'SAC' for this from Ruth Gledhill:

"See my story in The Times today, we report: 'For more than 800 years, the University of Oxford has led the world in the study of the divine. For centuries, it has sat alongside Cambridge as the leading centre for the study of the Bible. Now academics are considering a proposal to rebrand theology at Oxford as “religious studies” because of the growing demand from students who wish to study Islam, Hinduism and Judaism as well as Christianity. The requirement to have an A level in religious studies to study religion at Oxford is also to be dropped.' Oliver Kamm in his commentary says: 'Oxford’s Faculty of Theology insists that its core subject matter of biblical studies, doctrine and church history remains intact. But it is hard to avoid inferring that the faculty’s ferment is further evidence of the cultural decline of Christianity. That decline is an accomplished fact. Oxford’s faculty would be right to acknowledge it by changing its name and radically revising its subject matter.'Below I reproduce the original review and the faculty board response. The next important meeting will be in October...."

There are many reasons for this predictable but catastrophic state of affairs, the decline of "cultural Christianity" being only one. But the problem for the (Anglican) Church is starkly apparent, having relied for so long on largely secularised university faculties for the theological education of its ordinands, alongside the more "practical" approach to clergy formation of the theological colleges.
Now at a time when the faith has never faced so many intellectual challenges to the credibility of its message, one would have thought that prospective clergy more than ever needed a half-way decent theological education.
Ironically this is taking place at a time when Anglicans in the U.K. seem to be engaged in the process of scrapping residential theological colleges along with the very last vestiges of any kind of theological, priestly "formation" which have survived the domination of sociology and psychology in contemporary seminary or "ministry training" curricula.
There was a time - a while ago now -  when the Anglican clergy (let me make it clear:  it was a grossly unfair prejudice even then) somewhat looked down on the educational achievements of their (Roman) Catholic counterparts, but that was in the days of a 'secular' classical education followed by a grounding in Hebrew and New Testament Greek and a familiarity with the writings of the Church Fathers.
The day will come (if it hasn't already arrived) when prospective clerical converts from "Canterbury" to Rome will have to go back to school, not only to iron out the obvious differences in theological approach between their traditions and to supply any 'juridical' deficiencies, but simply because of the inadequacies of their education, full stop.
But surely from whatever standpoint one is approaching this, it certainly doesn't augur well for the prospects of any of the remaining traditions of Anglicanism in Britain being able to provide a serious, philosophically and intellectually capable defence of the Christian faith. We are going to have to look elsewhere for that as well.


Tuesday, 24 May 2011

"...either incoherent or dishonest"

The extract below is by the Revd. John Richardson, from a conservative evangelical perspective, writing about the situation facing traditionalists in the C of E. Of course, he is summing up what many on the Anglo-Catholic wing have been saying for a very long time; but the more time goes by, the greater is the realisation that it makes no difference what is said, the proponents of change have the votes. End of subject. Welcome to 21st Century Anglicanism, which, despite the heading of this post, seems to have finally deserted incoherence and ambiguity - or, if you prefer, "comprehensiveness" - in favour of a more brutal and revisionist clarity.
Yet it's on this premise (a clear declaration of our Church's new stance, even if dishonestly engineered) that those hoping to remain within established Anglican structures will be forced to plan their strategy, and it's on this basis (how can it now be otherwise?) that the direction of the Church will be decided - something worth bearing in mind when thinking of the future.

".........The present Anglican position, therefore, must be deemed either incoherent or dishonest. It is incoherent to declare that a viewpoint lacks either justification or support and then to declare that, nevertheless, it is on a par with the truth. Alternatively, it is dishonest to be saying that everyone will be treated equally when, in fact, there is self-evidently no possibility that this will be the case.
Those of us who have hoped the Church of England’s governing bodies would honour the commitments given since 1993 have probably not been clear enough ourselves about the realities of the situation. But we have taken heart from the fact that ‘incoherence’ is what the Church of England does so well.
Unfortunately, as the recent creation of the Ordinariate suggests, it is something which even the Church of England can only do for so long if the pressures become great enough.
And alongside incoherence we have had dishonesty — I refer to the exclusion of traditionalists from senior office, at first doubtless in response to subtle pressures, but now openly and overtly. Yet as with the pressures for Anglo-Catholics, this can only be maintained for so long, and the proposed legislation reflects the need to ‘move on’.
It is a principle in law that equal parties should be treated equally. Anyone reading the draft Bishops and Priests (Consecration and Ordination of Women) Measure will see that it establishes two classes of Anglican — those who will simply be able to go about their church business from year to year without the need to justify their continuance, and those who will regularly have to review and revise their arrangements with the institution.
Those accepting of women bishops will never be asked to consider whether they might be wrong. Those who are not will constantly be having to justify their position to themselves and to others.
Surely no secular legislator would allow such a situation! But in the Church it seems we can — and why not, when one point of view has neither a basis nor a constituency?"
Read it all here

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Jumping the gun ....again

Well, we're still here!
There was an entertaining post by Fr Dwight Longenecker [here] a few days ago about the American fundamentalist who has predicted the end of the world and 'the Rapture' (I was actually in my 40s before I'd even heard of that one, poor sheltered Anglo-Catholic that I am) for 6 p.m. today. Well, putting U.S. time zones on one side, I think that's a deadline we can safely ignore.
But Fr Longenecker went on to say this:
"The proponent of sola Scriptura will argue that not everyone is quite as looped as he is. Maybe not, but their methodology and foundational assumptions are the same. Whether it is a sophisticated Episcopalian liberal theologian or a conservative and sensible Presbyterian pastor or a left wing New Testament scholar or a snake handler or Mr.Camping--they've all got no more authority than each other because for each of them its just them and their Bible."

Fair comment if a little sweeping, one might think - at least its true for those (relatively few?) who really do consistently adhere to sola Scriptura. But the "sophisticated Episcopal liberal theologian?" No.  I don't think anyone could accuse them of taking the Bible that seriously - that's part of the charm of Anglican liberals in an odd sort of way. But it's their ultimate tragedy, too, (and ours) that the absence of a final appeal to scriptural authority isn't compensated for by an acceptance of that of the living community of faith (aka the Church's magisterium?), either. I'll stop now before someone accuses me of turning into some kind of modernist.

I will lift up mine eyes

Lunch a few days ago at a rather nice country house hotel surrounded by the hills of the Brecon Beacons:

I'm not sure about the rather alarming notice by the hotel's outdoor swimming pool, but at least the scenery gives me an excuse for some patrimony:

Friday, 20 May 2011


There was yet another radio programme a few mornings ago which, in an piece about National Dying Awareness Week (yes, there is such a thing,) gave the rich and opinionated a chance to air their somewhat predictable views on the subject of the desirability of assisted suicide. One waits in vain for a favourable discussion in this kind of context of the Christian origins of the hospice movement and the advances which have been made in the palliative care of the dying, although the Bishop of Manchester in a broadcast Sunday service a few weeks ago did, rather courageously I thought, try to redress the balance.
Add to this Professor Stephen Hawking's recent widely reported oracular pronouncement on the subject of life after death - "a fairy story for people afraid of the dark." (not exactly his area of expertise one might think) and we have a steady drip of information and comment designed, we might be forgiven for thinking, to undermine even further our society's traditional view of the nature of human life and its sanctity.

Curiously, we live in an age where television and radio confer a "reality" and plausibility to the views of those who appear on them, denied to those who don't.
It is a serious issue for those societies governed as representative democracies (and one which is hardly ever discussed) as to how far the unelected and wildly unrepresentative broadcasting media's uber-liberal and anti-religious stance on virtually everything has contributed, particularly among the young, to the sea change in social values and attitudes we have seen over the last few generations.
It's not, of course, a matter of the dissemination  of outright propaganda but the all-pervasive assumption that these are the only views a decent, compassionate human being could possibly hold, and we see it almost everywhere from news bulletins and analysis to comedy shows and cultural magazine programmes. In fact, it's so much a part of the fabric of our broadcasting it's incredibly easy to forget it's there at all.
By such devious means a civilisation is encouraged to die, assisted by the shallow fashionistas of the mass media.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011


Having been brought up in one of those traditional Anglican households where fish on Friday was de rigeur (as a result I still have a pang of guilt whenever I eat meat on a Friday,) it was very welcome news to see that the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales are, later in the year, to revive the practice of the Friday abstinence from meat.
Perhaps as a gesture of ecumenical solidarity, we Catholic-minded Anglicans who are still waiting in various ways for our future to be determined should also return to the discipline - if we haven't done so already. My guess is that on the part of many of us who are what we might call provisional Anglicans, those "who are here while we are here," there will be quite a lot of "shadowing" of these renewed  practices of the Universal Church - in all kinds of ways - as our brothers and sisters in the parishes of the Ordinariate establish themselves as part of the religious fabric of these islands.

This is the statement from the Catholic Bishops. Why can't...........? Never mind.

"By the practice of penance every Catholic identifies with Christ in his death on the cross. We do so in prayer, through uniting the sufferings and sacrifices in our lives with those of Christ’s passion; in fasting, by dying to self in order to be close to Christ; in almsgiving, by demonstrating our solidarity with the sufferings of Christ in those in need. All three forms of penance form a vital part of Christian living. When this is visible in the public arena, then it is also an important act of witness.

Every Friday is set aside by the Church as a special day of penance, for it is the day of the death of our Lord. The law of the Church requires Catholics to abstain from meat on Fridays, or some other form of food, or to observe some other form of penance laid down by the Bishops' Conference.

The Bishops wish to re-establish the practice of Friday penance in the lives of the faithful as a clear and distinctive mark of their own Catholic identity. They recognise that the best habits are those which are acquired as part of a common resolve and common witness. It is important that all the faithful be united in a common celebration of Friday penance.

Respectful of this, and in accordance with the mind of the whole Church, the Bishops' Conference wishes to remind all Catholics in England and Wales of the obligation of Friday Penance. The Bishops have decided to re-establish the practice that this should be fulfilled by abstaining from meat. Those who cannot or choose not to eat meat as part of their normal diet should abstain from some other food of which they regularly partake. This is to come into effect from Friday 16 September 2011 when we will mark the anniversary of the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to the United Kingdom.

Many may wish to go beyond this simple act of common witness and mark each Friday with a time of prayer and further self-sacrifice. In all these ways we unite our sacrifices to the sacrifice of Christ, who gave up his very life for our salvation."

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Drought Conditions

It's been a glorious spring here, but also, it seems, the driest on record. Many of our rivers and streams have water levels we normally see only at the end of August after a hot summer. The farmers are desperately worried about the lack of rain this early in the year.
Meanwhile the roses and other flowering plants are blooming profusely in our gardens, giving the appearance of normality in what is a far from normal season.

Parish life goes on. Masses are said, prayers are offered, pastoral work continues. We have a roof to be restored, funds to be raised, events to be organised. But below the surface, drought conditions, and a sense of unreality such as I have never experienced before.
But strangely, neither have I felt the joy of Eastertide so intensely as now.

This is another version of Vladimir Godard's Regina Coeli, from the cycle 'Mater.' The soloist is Iva Bittova.

Friday, 13 May 2011

Regina Coeli laetare, alleluia!


My post-Easter break has been taken up with helping Kate get the garden back into some kind of order after the devastatingly cold  winter. The solution: more roses and herbs and fewer tender exotics. At least the olive trees and most of the palms have survived.

Gardens have a deep significance in the history of salvation and in the experience of God's people.

'....Saint John takes up all these experiences and gives a theological interpretation to the place when he says: "across the Kidron valley, where there was a garden" (18.1) This same highly evocative word comes back at the end of the Passion narrative: "In the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb where no one had ever been laid." (19.41) John's use of the word "garden" is an unmistakable reference to the story of Paradise and the Fall. That story, he tells us, is being resumed here. It is in the "garden" that Jesus is betrayed, but the garden is also the place of the Resurrection. It was in the garden that Jesus fully accepted the Father's will, made it his own, and thus changed the course of history.'
Pope Benedict XVI 'Jesus of Nazareth' (Vol 2)

St Mark 12:34

"....Those phenomena record a habit of desecration in which life is not celebrated by art but targeted by it. Artists can now make their reputations by constructing an original frame in which to display the human face and throw dung at it. What do we make of this, and how do we find our way back to the thing so many people long for, which is the vision of beauty? It may sound a little sentimental to speak of a “vision of beauty.” But what I mean is not some saccharine, Christmas-card image of human life but rather the elementary ways in which ideals and decencies enter our ordinary world and make themselves known, as love and charity make themselves known in Mozart’s music. There is a great hunger for beauty in our world, a hunger that our popular art fails to recognize and our serious art often defies..."

Roger Scruton

Read it all here

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Libera nos I & II : John Sheppard

John Sheppard's  sublime, luminous settings of 'Libera nos.'

Sheppard (who died a few weeks before Elizabeth I's coronation)  is here writing in the older polyphonic, pre-reformation style, before musical and visual beauty in the service of faith became highly suspect for (at least) a couple of generations of our national life.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Catching up

Catching up on a few news stories over the last few weeks:

News from the Ordinariate (diaconal ordinations and group news) here. The 'caravan' continues its journey.

More positive reactions to the PEV appointments from around the world from the Forward in Faith website here

While this blog has been 'absent,' the Church in Wales has commissioned a review into its organisation and structure. See here 
I make no comment except to say that, given the new ethos of the Church in Wales, the choice of Baron Harries of Pentregarth to head the review was an obvious one.

The Master of the Welsh province of SSC is to take up a new appointment as parish priest of St Augustine's Kilburn. [Here]
Our congratulations and prayers to Father Colin Amos SSC and our deep and lasting gratitude for helping to keep things together in an almost impossible situation.

And the big ecclesiastical news (it's fatally easy to forget this on this "right little, tight little island") -  the beatification of Pope John Paul II [here] from the Vatican website and here from the Catholic Herald
Excellent photos here at the Sevenoaks Ordinariate site

A round-up of comments on the death of Osama Bin Laden here
Perhaps more significant are the non-comments? [here]

This is from C.S. Lewis' 'Mere Christianity', of course only echoing the Church's tradition down the ages, but nevertheless putting it rather well:

"I imagine somebody will say, ‘Well, if one is allowed to condemn the enemy’s acts, and punish him, and kill him, what difference is left between Christian morality and the ordinary view?’ All the difference in the world. Remember, we Christians think man lives for ever. Therefore, what really matters is those little marks or twists on the central, inside part of the soul which are going to turn it, in the long run, into a heavenly or a hellish creature. We may kill if necessary, but we must not hate and enjoy hating. We may punish if necessary, but we must not enjoy it… Even while we kill and punish we must try to feel about the enemy as we feel about ourselves – to wish that he were not so bad, to hope that he may, in this world or another, be cured: in fact, to wish his good. This is what is meant in the Bible by loving him: wishing his good, not feeling fond of him nor saying he is nice when he is not."

And, on behalf of everyone here, many thanks for all the positive feed-back from the BBC Radio 4 Palm Sunday broadcast, including a very kind note of appreciation from the Archbishop of Wales, and some very nice comments from and via a former PEV. Merci à tous!

Friday, 6 May 2011

Reactions to the appointments

Prayerful and supportive reactions to the appointment of new PEVs here and here from Mgr Newton and Mgr Burnham.
Statements of welcome from Forward in Faith and the Catholic Group are on the Forward in Faith website here

The crucial comment (and the vital point for those intending to stay even pro tem) comes from the Chairman of the Catholic group:
"We look to the House of Bishops and the General Synod to amend the current draft legislation for Women Bishops so as to provide for the ongoing ministry of Bishops Jonathan Baker, Norman Banks and Martyn Jarrett, and for them to have appropriate episcopal oversight."

There is a statement of welcome here from Credo Cymru, although it is very hard to see how this news can affect the Welsh situation only in so far as it serves to highlight the present desperate predicament of traditional Anglicans in the Province.
But what do I know? I can't pretend to be 'in the loop' on any of this. There's a quotation from the West Wing T.V. series which springs to mind - "Toby, the total tonnage of what I know that you don't could stun a team of oxen in its tracks."

But here's a rhetorical question from one of the 'poor bloody infantry' for those who are in the know (and for those who are still interested) - is it now far too late to expect or even hope in Wales for the same degree of magnanimity and generosity displayed in the Church of England by the Archbishop of Canterbury? He, it should be remembered, is also a theological opponent of catholic traditionalists.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

New bishops for England

The appointment of new bishops of Ebbsfleet and Richborough has been anounced today. The statement from Forward in Faith is here

"Forward in Faith is delighted to welcome the announcement made today that the next Bishop of Ebbsfleet is to be the Revd Dr Jonathan Baker ssc, Principal of Pusey House, Oxford and Secretary of Forward in Faith, and that the next Bishop of Richborough is to be the Revd Norman Banks ssc, Vicar of Walsingham, Houghton and Barsham, Rural Dean of Burnham and Walsingham and Chaplain to Her Majesty the Queen."
Whatever our own views may be on the future and on the true theological and historical significance of the crisis facing traditional Anglo-Catholics, this news can only be welcomed by those now in the Church of England who seek to "hold and teach the catholic faith that comes to us from the apostles."