Saturday, 31 December 2011

December turned to May.

For the end of the Christmas Octave:

                               Quentin Massys-The Virgin and Child (1529)
                                                         Musée du Louvre

What sweeter music can we bring

Than a carol, for to sing
The birth of this our heavenly King?
Awake the voice! Awake the string!

Dark and dull night, fly hence away,
And give the honour to this day
That sees December turned to May.

Why does the chilling winter's morn
Smile, like a field beset with corn?
Or smell like a meadow newly shorn
Thus on the sudden? Come and see
The cause, why things thus fragrant be:

'Tis he is born. whose quickening birth
Gives life and lustre, public mirth,
To heaven and the under-earth.

We see him come, and know him ours,
Who, with his sunshine and his showers,
Turns all the patient ground to flowers.

The darling of the world is come,
And fit it is, we find a room
To welcome him, to welcome him.

The nobler part of all the house here, is the heart.
Which we will give him: and bequeath
This holly, and this ivy wreath.
To do him honour. who's our King,
And Lord of all this revelling.

Robert Herrick

"This day that sees December turned to May" - an appropriate sentiment perhaps for the end of the Christmas Octave; May is, after all, Mary's month.
Meteorologically, rather than metaphorically or theologically, it may not seem like May, but the weather outside is doing a fair impersonation of early spring; in the garden daffodil bulbs are shooting, we have  roses still in bloom, feverfew and snapdragons in flower and even, in a sheltered spot, a tobacco plant (nicotiana) producing highly scented flowers. It's very strange, if not unwelcome, weather for New Year's Eve, but tomorrow we will enjoy its upside down nature even more as in our liturgies we honour the Holy Mother of God, whose role in the mystery of our salvation turns the world on its head.
Another new year, who knows what it will bring?

Happy New Year!

Friday, 30 December 2011

Thursday, 29 December 2011

St Thomas of Canterbury .... dramatic interpretations

I know I'm probably in a minority of one, but I've always been more than a little disappointed with Peter Glenville's film, 'Becket,' for various reasons, Anouilh's invention of the saint's Saxon origins being among them. Great actors though O'Toole and Burton undoubtedly were, neither seems really to get under the skin of the character he is portraying, the result being that the film seems too stagey, with something indefinable missing. As I say - I'm probably in a very small minority....
Nevertheless, I'll stick to T.S. Eliot and Murder in the Cathedral.
This is the incomparable Paul Schofield delivering Becket's Christmas sermon from the play:

Verbum Caro Factum Est

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

The same was in the beginning with God.
All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.
In him was life; and the life was the light of men.
And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.
The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe.
He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light.
That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.
He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not.
He came unto his own, and his own received him not.
But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God,
even to them that believe on his name:
Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man,
but of God.
And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us,
and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,
full of grace and truth.

Sunday, 25 December 2011

Christmas Day:

A modern setting of the traditional English carol, The Holly & the Ivy, by Matthew Owens: sung by the Choir of Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge: [Or is it? See comment]

'Our Saviour, dearly-beloved, was born today: let us be glad. For there is no proper place for sadness, when we keep the birthday of the Life, which destroys the fear of mortality and brings to us the joy of promised eternity. No one is kept from sharing in this happiness. There is for all one common measure of joy, because as our Lord the destroyer of sin and death finds none free from charge, so is He come to free us all. Let the saint exult in that he draws near to victory. Let the sinner be glad in that he is invited to pardon. Let the gentile take courage in that he is called to life.'
Pope St Leo the Great

In contrast to all the strange and ill-thought-through theories of pagan influence on the early Church's celebrations, there's a good article here on the origins and date of Christmas - from Standing on My Head

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Christmas Eve

A holy & blessed Christmas to all who visit Let Nothing You Dismay.

The next day or so is going to be rather busy in the parishes, so there will be few posts other than some seasonal music.

This is Siegfried Karg-Elert's (1877 - 1933) short work for organ, based on Adeste Fideles - I love its sense of anticipation.
Merry Christmas!

Fewer Christians in England & Wales, says report

The BBC has taken great delight in reporting on its Radio 4 midnight news bulletin (Christmas Eve - thanks for that!) that a latest social trends report says that fewer people in England & Wales are prepared to describe themselves as Christians, and that those who do don't necessarily equate that with a definite religious belief.

Well, surprise, surprise! After decades of being force fed with this by the educational system, the media and even sections of the Church, it's hardly surprising that some people have swallowed it whole. The advertising industry (not to mention the greatest exponents of black propaganda) works on precisely this principle.
As Noel Coward said, in another context, in his play Private Lives, " Extraordinary how potent cheap music is."
[Link when it becomes available - now here ]

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Donkeys: the stable and the cross

In total contrast to the last few years, we are having a remarkably warm spell of weather in the run up to Christmas;  the thermometer registered 14 degrees (Celsius) here yesterday - on the 'shortest' day of the year.
This is the time when in the great Austin Farrer's words, "Advent brings Christmas, judgement runs out into mercy."  The mass readings and the offices over the next days fully reflect this. The Lord is at hand.

Here is a pre-Christmas photo of a group of donkeys on one of the farms in the parish. We stopped this morning as we were passing to wish them a Merry Christmas!
I can't see donkeys without calling to mind that poem of Chesterton, which, if read at this time of year, cuts across the ever present danger of sentimentality and reminds us of the aim and purpose of the Lord's Incarnation. The stable and the cross cannot be separated:

Fools! For I also had my hour;
One far fierce hour and sweet:
There was a shout about my ears,
And palms before my feet.

"Neither in literature nor in history has the donkey figured as other than an ambassador of peace and healing. It was on a swift donkey that the Shunamite woman rode in search of Elisha for the healing of her son; a donkey carried the Mother of the Saviour in the time of her need, bore the child to safety in the days of his infancy, and carried him in triumph on His entry into Jerusalem."
Fr Bernard Walke: 'Twenty Years at St Hilary'

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Now it's the Gospel according to Tesco

So, the British supermarket giant, Tesco, who many of us have suspected for a while of seeking world domination of the retail trade, has (through the words of one of its senior executives) seen fit to pontificate on moral theology and the 'evil' of those who uphold traditional Christian teaching on sexuality and the definition of 'marriage.' Whatever our views may be on the latter, surely this is a step too far.... one might have thought.....
Whatever happened to the customer is always right? They must be very confident of their market share at a time of economic recession. I look forward to the Tesco view on the relationship between God and mammon.  Although, from a store which puts up its Christmas trees on 31st October......
It will have to be Waitrose after all, despite the extra miles in the car.
See Fr Ray Blake's blog [here] for the full story

Shoot 'em!

While the Prime Minister calls (selectively) for a return to the Christian values which are the foundation of our society, the Inspectorate of Constabulary in a report published today states that police officers could 'lawfully' have shot arsonists in some cases during the summer rioting in England, [See here]

Mob violence, riots, and now advocacy of the use of live weapons in response - another nail in the coffin of the civilised Britain we used to know and love? This recommendation itself is symptomatic enough.
Welcome to the modern world. Thus we have made it.

Monday, 19 December 2011

Two deaths and a demolition attempt

Two contrasting recent deaths:
The appalling and forgettable North Korean dynastic communist dictator, Kim Jong- il, and the impressive and courageous Czech playwright, anti-communist dissident and democratic politician, Vaclav Havel.
A post here at  contrasting the reaction to the deaths of Vaclav Havel and Christopher Hitchens.

Liberal historical revisionism, Dickens & M.R. James:
It was interesting to hear on  'Start the Week,' BBC Radio's  Monday morning Andrew Marr programme, Canon Giles Fraser, giving his best impersonation of the uber-modern jolly, flippant Anglican Vicar, complete with Blair-like estuary English, being given a little bit of a lesson on the significance of evil and the complications of an alienated human nature by writers Susan Hill and Clare Tomalin in a discussion on the greatest of ghost story writers, M.R. James.
But it serves Giles Fraser right for his all-too-predictable theologically liberal stuff earlier in the programme about the Emperor Constantine having hijacked the Faith and corrupted its early purity (a plug for an upcoming demolition job on the origins of Christmas, to be broadcast - of course - by the BBC on Christmas Day) - not to mention his positively uncomprehending and outrageously 'Spartist' comments on the Nicene Creed. What is the ecclesial purpose of  a Creed again - please? Contrast this with the long-standing Anglican (Catholic) tradition that true social concern and doctrinal orthodox must go hand in hand.
Yet more very Establishment anti-establishment views. Interesting? Not so very much.
Although I do agree with him that Christianity has to be about Salvation (although we do need to define that: whether we like it or not, we're back to creeds again) and not just mere moralism.
 Listen here

Just nostalgia?

For those of us who have grown up in Britain, there's no escaping Christmas nostalgia. It's part of us, whether we like it or not. Our French friends think Christmas in Britain is massively over hyped, and I find myself largely in agreement with them - it's too commercial, it goes on for ever and we celebrate it too early. Of course, this may be because Christmas is now all we have in terms of a truly common, national celebration, largely due to the consequences of Tudor monarchical greed, and distinctly damp weather (although, having said that, Orthodox Russia manages its yearly celebrations fairly well, with a far more inhospitable climate.) As we sink further into secularist banality, Easter has lost its hold on the popular imagination, being for most people simply a marking of the change of seasons and the opportunity to eat masses of guilt-free chocolate.

This is Peter Hitchens waxing lyrical (for the most part) on the traditional English Christmas:

"Of course, like most children in countries where Christmas is celebrated, I was from my earliest childhood thrilled by the promise of presents, the exhilarating, intoxicating smell of the pine tree in the house, the rich foods and the feeling that this was above all others a special time of year...
In fact I much preferred the weeks before Christmas, the strange light in the sky (the melodramatic, suspenseful nature of late December English weather is perfectly described in John Masefield’s enchanting book ‘The Box of Delights’) , the carol singing, the stirring of the pudding (the Church of England has now abolished ‘Stir-Up Sunday, in its incessant effort to get rid of everything about the Church that anybody actually likes. The prayer for that day contains an exhortation to ‘Stir up, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people’ and refers to ‘plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works’, and that Sunday, a month before Christmas, was also in many homes the traditional date for stirring of puddings. I have never been sure if this is an accident, or a light-hearted insertion by a jolly Bishop centuries ago) ...
So for me the season is one of darkness illuminated with carols sung by lamplight, the sun low in the sky, and a promise, never entirely fulfilled on the day itself, of something wonderful to come. That sticks, when all else falls away..."

Read it all [here]
That resonates.
For those of us who grew up in rather more robustly ecclesiastically observant families, we would have to add to our childhood memories the Advent season's hymns, collects, and propers, a building sense of anticipation culminating in the decoration of the Christmas tree (while in the background the radio broadcast the service of Nine Lessons and Carols from King's Cambridge), followed by early stints serving at the altar at Midnight Mass and Christmas Day, not to mention the feasts of the Christmas Octave. Not for us the contemporary and lazy anticipation of  Christmas from the beginning of December.

But above all, what remains in my mind is the stability of it all. As children (yes, we were fortunate) we felt safe, loved and secure; it's one of the reasons Nick Clegg, the British deputy prime minister, gets the 1950s and 60s * so completely wrong -  not that he is old enough to remember them. [See here]

[*My own recollection, as a young child, of the 'sixties' in provincial Britain, is that nothing much had changed; the disastrous political and social legacy of that decade only really began to be felt by most people in the 1970s, which, for those of us at school then and beginning to be aware of the wider world, was a dark, depressing and dangerous decade, with the constant threat of economic collapse, political instability and a descent into chaos.]

"We mostly spend those lives conjugating three verbs..."

Monday reflection:

"When we consider our situation like that, when we lift our eyes from the crowded by-pass to the eternal hills; then, how much the personal and practical things we have to deal with are enriched. What meaning and coherence come into our scattered lives. We mostly spend those lives conjugating three verbs: to Want, to Have, and to Do. Craving, clutching, and fussing, on the material, political, social, emotional, intellectual—even on the religious—plane, we are kept in perpetual unrest: forgetting that none of these verbs have any ultimate significance, except so far as they are transcended by and included in, the fundamental verb, to Be: and that Being, not wanting, having and doing, is the essence of a spiritual life. But now, with this widening of the horizon, our personal ups and downs, desires, cravings, efforts, are seen in scale; as small and transitory spiritual facts, within a vast, abiding spiritual world, and lit by a steady spiritual light. And at once a new coherence comes into our existence, a new tranquillity and release. Like a chalet in the Alps, that homely existence gains atmosphere, dignity, significance from the greatness of the sky above it and the background of the everlasting hills.

The people of our time are helpless, distracted and rebellious, unable to interpret that which is happening, and full of apprehension about that which is to come, largely because they have lost this sure hold on the eternal; which gives to each life meaning and direction, and with meaning and direction gives steadiness. I do not mean by this a mere escape from our problems and dangers, a slinking away from the actual to enjoy the eternal. I mean an acceptance and living out of the actual, in its homeliest details and its utmost demands, in the light of the eternal; and with that peculiar sense of ultimate security which only a hold on the eternal brings. When the vivid reality which is meant by these rather abstract words is truly possessed by us, when that which is unchanging in ourselves is given its chance, and emerges from the stream of succession to recognise its true home and goal, which is God—then, though much suffering may, indeed will, remain; apprehension, confusion, instability, despair, will cease."
Evelyn Underhill: 'The Spiritual Life'

Fog in channel, continent's Christians isolated

THE Bishop of Guildford, the Rt Revd Christopher Hill, who chairs the House of Bishops’ Europe Panel, said on Wednesday that it would be “disastrous” for Britain to become “isolated from the rest of Europe”. He was speaking after the Prime Minister blocked changes to the Lisbon Treaty at a summit in Brussels last week.

Report and comment here and here 

As someone has commented to me, this is presumably why over the past 20 years Bishop Hill and his Anglican episcopal colleagues have pursued policies which have caused the Church of England to become isolated from the major Christian body on the Continent? I can't say fairer than that - except perhaps to add,  isolated from the second largest Christian body in Europe, too. (See here).
Yet another example of establishment myopia; let's not be too cruel and call it hypocrisy - it is nearly Christmas, after all.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

The Gospel according to Dave

The Prime Minister's address at Christ Church, Oxford [here] is broadly very welcome indeed. The squeals of the ideological secularists (fundamentalists by another name) can be heard throughout the land.
Yet...... how does he reconcile his words with the 'equality agenda' his government (actually, H.M. the Queen's Government, but never mind) seems to be actively pursuing - another price to be paid for coalition politics?
The tenor of the address has too much of 'Christianity as the social cement of the nation' about it for my liking, but it's better than nothing. And better by far than any utterance made by his two immediate predecessors.

Update: perhaps we can't blame the Coalition: see [here]

O Sapientia

O Wisdom, coming forth from the mouth of the Most High,
and reaching mightily from one end of the earth to the other,
ordering all things well:
Come and teach us the way of prudence.

O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodisti, 
attingens a fine usque ad finem fortiter,
suaviter disponensque omnia:
veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.

Friday, 16 December 2011

Deposited ecumenical texts?

A booklet of significant texts in the [ongoing? downgraded?] dialogue between Anglicans and Roman Catholics can be ordered or downloaded [link here] from the Anglican Centre in Rome.

"The ecumenical pilgrimage is one of discoveries. Some are painful discoveries of how we are viewed by others or how we have hurt and harmed others: this requires of all of us the healing of memories.
Our joyful discoveries are what we have in common and what others can offer us.”
Thus writes Bishop Stephen Platten, the Chairman of the Anglican Centre in Rome, in his introduction to a booklet of texts significant in Anglican – Roman Catholic Relations, ranging from King James I, via Lambeth Conferences and Vatican II, up to the present day. The booklet is part of the Anglican Centre’s work of building friendly and informed relations, and helps to put the new ARCIC III conversations into context..."
Whether or not we think, in the wake of unilateral innovations by Anglican provinces, we can place any hope whatsoever in the future of 'official' ecumenical dialogue between the Anglican Communion and Rome, this is well worth reading - even if only as a matter of historical interest or what might have been had things turned out differently. Some have said that agreements and past achievements are always 'in the bank' to be dusted down and withdrawn to be used in the future. Sadly, as things are, it seems unlikely that this particular bank will have many customers - always with the ultimate proviso that "with God all things are possible."

Not the Church Times...

No, not the glorious spoof from the 1980s, which used to be online somewhere, but which I can't now find  ... but Jezebel's Trumpet itself, as John Hunwicke's blog always called it.
A few years ago I gave up reading it - for the same reason I've stopped listening to the BBC's Sunday programme (which has a similar slant) - because it ruined the weekend, and going to the altar for the parish mass in either a fury or a state of depression wasn't doing me - or anyone else - any good whatsoever.
Anyway, it's the courageous mouthpiece now, not of the Anglo-Catholics who founded it, but of the very liberal C of E establishment. Peter Mullen [here] prefers the Beano; I can't disagree.

If winter comes....

After one of the warmest autumns on record (the first real frost here was in early December), winter has arrived. This morning we awoke to see the fields on the hills above the village and the cliffs of the Wyndcliffe covered with the first snowfall of the season. The still-flowering geraniums in the hanging baskets and the roses in the border look distinctly sorry for themselves now.

As winter closes in, and Advent is about to gather pace, news today of more friends joining (or about to join) the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham. As ever, our prayers go with them, as theirs continue to be said for us who still remain.
Slightly disturbingly, the web is full of reports and comment this morning about the direction and the future of the Ordinariate itself. I will resolutely make no comment; those who are involved directly can best speak about the accuracy, or otherwise, of the reports, and be able to separate information from disinformation. 
Of course, as we know, not everyone, neither Anglican nor Roman Catholic,  wishes Pope Benedict's  project well, and some - on this side of the Tiber ( I can't comment on the other bank),  and certainly on this side of the Severn - would be very glad to be rid of traditional Anglo-Catholicism; frankly they would prefer it to die out altogether than have any future, either where it now is, or transplanted into an at least potentially friendlier climate...

On that subject, it's usually unremarked upon these days (I wonder why?)  how the 'Catholic' legacy of Anglicanism, particularly that of its early to mid- twentieth century heyday, has penetrated so deeply into its liturgies. I was in the congregation at my daughter's school's end-of-term carol service yesterday, and the words of Eric Milner-White's beautiful and remarkable bidding prayer resounded around the ancient building with, I suspect, very few picking up on its theological or ecclesial implications.
Unfortunately, perhaps because in happier times the church housed a religious community, most of my fellow parents seemed to have taken a vow of silence: the singing - of the 'modernised' carols - was barely audible, despite the abbey being pretty full. In partial compensation, the playing of the organ was glorious, the carol service ending with the Widor Toccata
So, is this the future of the Church of England - desperately trying to minister to the embarrassedly indifferent and the completely uninterested, having stripped its message of anything that might have the power to convert?
It seems more and more that many in our rapidly changing western culture have simply lost the capacity for belief and worship. It's winter in more ways than one.
Yet I refuse to end on a pessimistic note; as any residual Christian influence fades away from society in this long-drawn-out twilight of the ages of faith, the opportunity will present itself, perhaps to a smaller and reinvigorated Church, to proclaim again the message of the Word made Flesh.
To put it another way, "If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?"

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Evelyn Underhill on St John of the Cross

In her book 'Mysticism'  Evelyn Underhill famously described St John of the Cross, whose feast day falls today, as "at once the sanest of saints and the most penetrating of psychologists."
This is from another work, 'The Spiritual Life' published in 1936, containing some encouraging words this Advent, when, for some of us, many things seem so fragile and impermanent:  
"St. John of the Cross, in a famous and beautiful poem, described the beginning of the journey of his soul to God:

“In an obscure night
Fevered by Love’s anxiety
O hapless, happy plight
I went, none seeing me,
Forth from my house, where all things
quiet be”

Not many of us could say that. Yet there is no real occasion for tumult, strain, conflict, anxiety, once we have reached the living conviction that God is All. All takes place within Him. He alone matters, He alone is. Our spiritual life is His affair; because, whatever we may think to the contrary, it is really produced by His steady attraction, and our humble and self forgetful response to it. It consists in being drawn, at His pace and in His way, to the place where He wants us to be; not the place we fancied for ourselves.
Some people may seem to us to go to God by a moving staircase; where they can assist matters a bit by their own efforts, but much gets done for them and progress does not cease. Some appear to be whisked past us in a lift; whilst we find ourselves on a steep flight of stairs with a bend at the top, so that we cannot see how much farther we have to go. But none of this really matters; what matters is the conviction that all are moving towards God, and, in that journey, accompanied, supported, checked and fed by God. Since our dependence on Him is absolute, and our desire is that His Will shall be done, this great desire can gradually swallow up, neutralise all our small self-centred desires. When that happens life, inner and outer, becomes one single, various act of adoration and self-giving; one undivided response of the creature to the demand and pressure of Creative Love."

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

New source of Anglican news and comment

For those from all traditions who do their best to keep up with Anglican developments (and haven't yet completely despaired of the point of all that), another news service has been launched to compete with the 'official' sources such as ACNS and ENS (TEC's mouthpiece in the United States)
Named 'Anglican Ink.' it will feature longer articles from an 'orthodox' perspective than currently appear on other sites. The link [here] can also be found in the blog list to the right of this blog. We wish them well.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

For Gaudete Sunday

Henry Purcell's 'Rejoice in the Lord Alway' in the setting for choir and orchestra - Kings College, Cambridge.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Angelus ad Virginem

Angelus ad  Virginem subintrans in conclave
Virginis formidinem demulcens inquit: 'Ave!'
Ave, Regina virginum, caeli terraeque Dominum
concipies et paries intacta salutem hominum,
tu porta caeli facta medela criminum.

Quomodo conciperem quae virum non cognovi?
Qualiter infringerem quod firma mente vovi?
Spiritus Sancti gratia perficiet haec omnia;
ne timeas, sed gaudeas, secura quod castimonia
manebit in te pura Dei potentia.

Ad haec virgo nobilis respondens inquit ei:
Ancilla sum humilis omnipotentis Dei.
Tibi caelesti nuntio, tanti secreti conscio
consentiens et cupiens videre factum quod audio;
parata sum parere Dei consilio.

[Angelus disparuit, et statim puellaris
uterus intumuit vi partus virginalis.
quo circumdatus utero novum mensium numero;
post exiit, et iniit conflictum, affligens humero;
Crucem qua dedit ictum hosti mortifero.]

Eia Mater Domini, quae pacem reddidisti
Angelis et homini, cum Christum genuisti:
tuum exora Filium ut se nobis propitium
exhibeat et deleat peccata: praestans auxilium
vita frui beata post hoc exsilium.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

The Immaculate Conception

"The importance of the doctrine will be more clearly seen when we consider what the presence of original sin in the soul implies. It implies the absence of that holiness 'without which no man shall see the Lord,' a state of separation from God, the loss of supernatural grace with the consequent incapacity to know, love, and serve God and to attain to union with Him. It does not imply the total corruption of human nauture, but only a loss or privation of what human nature needs for its perfection. Now it is clear from the words of the Archangel at the Annunciation, 'Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women,' that our Lady was not then in a state either of original or actual sin. For fullness of grace and sin cannot exist at once in the soul, neither does God dwell in the soul which is in a state of sin. There has never been any real question in the Church of the sinlessness of Mary from her birth..."                              

Bede Frost (Anglican Benedictine monk of Nashdom):
'The Mystery of Mary' (Mowbray, 1938)

Ave Maria: the setting by the sixteenth century English composer Robert Parsons,
sung by The Sixteen

A suicidal lack of clarity

No one (I hope) would seek to defend tasteless and insensitive remarks about those who commit suicide, particularly if they refer to specific cases and individuals. Yet the outcry over the recent attention seeking remarks by Jeremy Clarkson (yes, him again) about those who throw themselves in front of trains, and the twittered comments of a professional footballer in the wake of the tragic death of the manager Gary Speed, gives rise to very serious concerns. It would seem that one is now required not only to feel acutely sorry for the mental state of the person who feels driven to suicide, but in some way to respect the choice itself.

The Church does not for the most part fall into this trap; while our attitude to those who commit suicide is that that we withhold premature judgements about the eternal destiny of  individuals with often overwhelming pressures upon them, the act itself is always morally and societally wrong and,theologically, a rejection of the love and mercy of God.
Anyone who has ever known or ministered to families of those who have committed suicide, all of whom remain life-long victims, knows their utter desperation, despair, horror and guilt, the consequences of which can last for generations. To say that suicide is an act of selfishness is simply a description of the familial and social destruction left in its wake. It is not for us to condemn but to have compassion and pray for the souls of those who have resorted to suicide, but neither is it ours as a society or a Church to excuse.

I worry greatly that this essential lack of clarity in refusing to distinguish between the censure which should be accorded to the act and the compassion due to the actor, is tied up with the very mixed signals our society is sending out with regard to assisted suicide and the growing culture of death which we seem to be encouraging more and more by this reluctance to condemn anyone's choices, whatever they may be - providing, that is, they fit contemporary philosophical fashions.

The traditional and sensitive (but much ridiculed) coroner's verdict "while the balance of his mind was disturbed" has far more to recommed it than many people today seem to think. It's when we begin to believe it is perfectly possible and desirable for someone to take his or her own life as a clear, conscious and logical action that our culture is in desperate trouble.

For the feast day of St Ambrose:

Bach's Cantata BWV 62  for the beginning of Advent, Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland, set to the German of Martin Luther, in turn derived from the Latin hymn of the great St Ambrose of Milan: Veni Redemptor Gentium (which follows at the end of the post - below)

St Ambrose on the intimate connection between the Incarnation and the Eucharist
"But why make use of arguments? Let us use the examples He gives, and by the example of the Incarnation prove the truth of the mystery. Did the course of nature proceed as usual when the Lord Jesus was born of Mary? If we look to the usual course, a woman ordinarily conceives after connection with a man. And this body which we make is that which was born of the Virgin. Why do you seek the order of nature in the Body of Christ, seeing that the Lord Jesus Himself was born of a Virgin, not according to nature? It is the true Flesh of Christ which crucified and buried, this is then truly the Sacrament of His Body.

The Lord Jesus Himself proclaims: This is My Body (Matt 26:26). Before the blessing of the heavenly words another nature is spoken of, after the consecration the Body is signified. He Himself speaks of His Blood. Before the consecration it has another name, after it is called Blood. And you say, Amen, that is, It is true. Let the heart within confess what the mouth utters, let the soul feel what the voice speaks."

St Ambrose: On the Mysteries

And in English, translated by the Anglo-Catholic priest, John Mason Neale, 'Come thou Redeemer of the earth,' traditionally sung at the very end of Advent and the beginning of the Christmas season

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Incarnational confusions

Dr Peter Mullen is right here when he speaks of the usual suspects giving us their rather dubious interpretations of the Christmas story - the "single homeless teenage mother" thing.
"Homeless?" Well, hardly: "because there was no room for them at the inn" is a far more profundly disturbing verse than can be explained by a temporary lack of accommodation in Bethlehem. And the presence of St Joseph, the exemplary man of faith and honour, makes the other seasonal stereotype somewhat redundant too.
No, The Church's legitimate - necessary -  concern for all those in need comes not from the misinterpreted incidentals of the Christmas narrative, but from the far greater reality of the Incarnation, God's assumption of  our flesh in Jesus Christ.
But, for many of our contemporary clergy and theologians, that's just the problem isn't it.......?

Friday, 2 December 2011

Funny? It depends who's the target.

Jeremy Clarkson, British motoring journalist, middle-aged jeans-wearer, and self-confessed 'petrolhead,' has got himself into trouble with broadcast comments that public sector strikers should be taken outside and shot - in front of their families. Funny? Not very - but, of course, he has a Christmas book to sell.
But the predictable outrage from the left-leaning, selectively puritanical, commentariate (it must have been rather like this under the Commonwealth in the 1650s - the irreligious left being the new sanctimonious Roundheads) conveniently overlooks that worse things than this are said over the airwaves about Christians - of all traditions - almost on a daily basis under the guise of 'comedy.'  Let's at least be consistent, or better still, just grow up.
No prayers please, we're British:
Another attempt by organised irreligion to drive the faith from the public square - this time the National Secular Society's complaint against Devon County Council prayers. From the Daily Telegraph [here]

Lawrence Charges dropped
A little belatedly, the news that The Episcopal Church in the U.S.A. has dropped its charges against Bishop Mark Lawrence of South Carolina. An exhaustive series of links from Titusonenine here
I can't be the only only who finds the following comment from the president of TEC's disciplinary board deeply sinister and breathtakingly hypocritical in equal measure:

"Bishop Lawrence had “repeatedly stated” that he was not leaving the Episcopal Church, nor did he want South Carolina to quit the Church. He sought only a “safe place within the Church to live the Christian faith as that diocese perceives it.”In his view, Bishop Henderson stated that: “I presently take [Bishop Lawrence] at his word,” and added that he hoped the bishop would grant dissenters in his diocese the degree of latitude Bishop Lawrence hoped to receive from the national Church.'    [George Conger CEN]

And, on a more positive note, a celebration of the Anglican Patrimony of Christmas carols (but we don't sing them yet - please?) From Timotheos Prologizes [here]
The only addition I would make is that the revival of the Christmas carol was an almost entirely Tractarian / Anglo-Catholic development in the nineteenth century - part of the Catholic revival's re-enchantment of English religion, like so much of what we consider these days to be mainstream Anglican, or even just Catholic. Their uncompromising and popular restatement of orthodox faith in the Incarnation speaks for itself.

Swearing as pain relief
According to this report from the University of Keele, swearing can help relieve pain but not, apparently, if you have to resort to it on a daily basis - yet another reason these days to avoid 'official' ecclesiastical meetings.

Something for Advent:

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Keeping up appearances

There's an interesting post here from the Revd Dr Peter Mullen at the Daily Telegraph on the synodical process in England and the lies (his word) told about the protections for the traditional minority when, in all likelihood, the Act of Synod will shortly be repealed.
In Wales of course, there was no Act of Synod,  and the 'moral guarantees' given to traditionalists which, we were assured, counted for far more than constitutional provisions, were removed for the same reason as they were orginally granted, that of political expediency. A Provincial Assistant Bishop was granted by episcopal fiat when the revisionists needed synodical votes to pass their legislation. When the votes became irrelevant, the favour could be withdrawn.  Not exactly a principled stance, some might argue, but it's a good example of the stark exercise of realpolitik which, under the surface, now holds sway among us. And for the most part, life goes on; it's business as usual.
I can't think what prompted this observation, but today everything looks and sounds much the same - the vestments are as beautiful, the music as mellifluous, the incense smells as sweet as it ever did, the mitres in procession catch the declining rays of the winter afternoon sun. Everything is the same - except in apostolic essentials, and who is now left to speak about those?

Evelyn Underhill on evil, suffering and Reality

"When we consider the evil, injustice, and misery existing in the world, how can we claim that the ultimate Reality at the heart of the universe is a Spirit of peace, harmony, and infinite love? What evidence can we bring to Support such a belief? and how can we adore a God whose creation is marred by cruelty, suffering and sin?

This is, of course, the problem of evil; the crucial problem for all realistic religion. It is no use to dodge this issue, and still less use to pretend that the Church has a solution of the problem up her sleeve. I would rather say with Baron von Hügel. that Christian spirituality does not explain evil and suffering, which remain a mystery beyond the reach of the human mind, but does show us how to deal with them. It insists that something has gone wrong, and badly wrong, with the world. That world as we know it does not look like the work of the loving Father whom the Gospels call us to worship; but rather, like the work of selfish and undisciplined children who have been given wonderful material and a measure of freedom, and not used that freedom well. Yet we see in this muddled world a constant struggle for Truth, Goodness, Perfection; and all those who give themselves to that struggle—the struggle for the redemption of the world from greed, cruelty, injustice, selfish desire and their results—find themselves supported and reinforced by a spiritual power which enhances life, strengthens will, and purifies character. And they come to recognise more and more in that power the action of God. These facts are as real as the other facts, which distress and puzzle us; the apparent cruelty, injustice and futility of life. We have to account somehow for the existence of gentleness, purity, self-sacrifice, holiness, love; and how can we account for them, unless they are attributes of Reality?

Christianity shows us in the most august of all examples the violence of the clash between evil and the Holiness of God. It insists that the redemption of the world, defeating the evil that has infected it by the health-giving power of love—bringing in the Kingdom of God—is a spiritual task, in which we are all required to play a part. Once we realise this, we can accept—even though we cannot understand—the paradox that the world as we know it contains much that is evil; and yet, that its Creator is the one supreme Source and Object of the love that will triumph in the end."

The Spiritual Life (1936)

This should have been posted on Monday - my computer had other ideas!