Thursday 28 February 2013

Miserere: James MacMillan

“A very good horse to ride; but to ride somewhere.”

So said Matthew Arnold, in turn quoted by Roger Scruton in a thoughtful article in Prospect magazine on the future direction of political conservatism in Britain. Of course, British Conservatism has always been notoriously (or famously, depending on one's point of view) pragmatic, even dismissive and suspicious of anything which could be categorised as 'ideology'. 
However, one of the concerns of those who are broadly 'religious conservatives' (very inaccurate shorthand, as the theological and ethical aims, particularly of orthodox 'catholics,' are in many ways different, but it will have to do for now) with their modern political counterparts is, in Scruton's words, that the latter seem now to advocate  "a new kind of conservatism which conserves nothing, changes everything, and is guided by the very same rhetoric of equality and human rights that shapes the left-liberal agenda." - and, we could add, a secularist liberal-left agenda at that. That is a very far cry from the traditional Tory, essentially socially conservative, battle cry of Church and Crown: it's not even an attempt to update it in a way which would make sense to contemporary society. 
Little, then, seems to be left of traditional conservatism except an adherence to free market economics (and in its degenerate form, corporatism)  and social utilitarianism, things which, of course, are historically  nineteenth century 'liberal' views rather than anything which could be said to lie at the heart of conservative philosophy. The Conservative Party seems now in the strange position of being entirely dependent upon a culture which is inimical to its traditional core values and forced to adopt in perpetuity the agenda of its opponents. 
Here are two excerpts from the article, which is a (not totally unsympathetic) critique of the arguments of a group of Tory modernisers:
"...On this point the contributors to Tory Modernisation 2.0 are uncertain. What is it, in the end, that they wish to hold on to: the nation, the Union, the family, the free economy, the freedom of the individual? Their discussions veer constantly away from the places where this question can be asked. The tone is for the most part secular, utilitarian and disenchanted. Religion is off the agenda; so too is national sovereignty. The loss of our legal autonomy to Europe is barely mentioned. The family is there, sort of—but gay marriage is above it on the agenda. The contributors are serious people, troubled by the obvious fact that the old sources of social sentiment, to which we might appeal in building a civil society that is not just another name for the state, are drying up. But—with the exception of Willetts and d’Ancona—they show little or no familiarity with the tradition of conservative thinking. Modernisation seems to mean looking at the world as though it began this morning. The result is interesting in its way: but it would be better described as the “postmodernisation” of the Tory party. And I doubt that the electorate would vote for a postmodern Tory party..."
"...This leads me back to philosophy. What, in the end, does a conservative seek to conserve, and why? If you can answer those questions you can address the practical corollary: how? The answer is implicit in the arguments of the five MPs. They are seeking to conserve a country and its institutions, in the face of internal and external threats. They do not believe that Britain can flourish, either economically or morally, under the present weight of welfare dependency, or with an education system that puts equality ahead of knowledge as its goal. They believe that British business must be freed from excessive regulation if it is to function properly, and that the free economy is an asset that we should value as much as we value freedom generally. They point to all the areas, from policing to healthcare, in which regulation is defeating initiative, and tired old policies are holding us back. And I find nothing to disagree with in their diagnoses. However, their argument raises a question that it does not answer: just what is this country, this Britain, that they wish to conserve? ..."
The full article can be found here

Wednesday 27 February 2013

Not just an Anglican problem, then

Understandably, with the focus of attention directed to recent events in Rome, this news story has been substantially overlooked - particularly (to no one's great surprise) by the secular media: one of the largest members of the Lutheran World Federation — the 6.1 million member EECMY — has broken fellowship with the Church of Sweden and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, raising the possibility of a "north - south" division along the same geographical and theological lines which now, de facto, divide the Anglican Communion. At the centre of the gathering storm, and the immediate cause for this split, is the acceptance of same-sex marriage by the ELCA and the Church of Sweden. 
It is understood that third world Lutheran bodies are seeking wider fellowship with the more biblically orthodox  LCMS, the confessional Lutherans of the Missouri Synod. These developments themselves and the longer term implications and possibilities of this kind of realignment are ... interesting, shall we say?
A full report from George Conger [here]

Back in the fractured world of Anglicanism, it has been announced that the Presiding Bishop of the U.S. Episcopal Church has been invited and will attend the enthronement of the new Archbishop of Canterbury [here] - immediately raising questions as to the attendance of primates from Anglicanism's Global South.

"I want everyone to feel the joy of being Christian"

Even for those outside the fold, papal audiences are fascinating events; in St Peter's Square we see the Catholic Church in perhaps its most vibrant and its most universal aspect. 
I witnessed an outdoor audience in the autumn of the first year of Pope Benedict's pontificate, and it's an occasion I will never forget - even if it was somewhat marred afterwards by overhearing (the words were so loud one couldn't help but overhear) the highly critical, uninformed and somewhat offensive remarks of an elderly Anglican female cleric standing near me.

Today's general audience will have been more memorable than most for those who were present:
".... I feel I carry everyone in prayer, in a present that is God’s, where I recall every meeting, every voyage, every pastoral visit. I gather everyone and every thing in prayerful recollection, in order to entrust them to the Lord: in order that we might have full knowledge of His will, with every wisdom and spiritual understanding, and in order that we might comport ourselves in a manner that is worthy of Him, of His, bearing fruit in every good work (cf. Col 1:9-10).
At this time, I have within myself a great trust [in God], because I know – all of us know – that the Gospel’s word of truth is the strength of the Church: it is her life. The Gospel purifies and renews: it bears fruit wherever the community of believers hears and welcomes the grace of God in truth and lives in charity. This is my faith, this is my joy.
When, almost eight years ago, on April 19th, [2005], I agreed to take on the Petrine ministry, I held steadfast in this certainty, which has always accompanied me. In that moment, as I have already stated several times, the words that resounded in my heart were: “Lord, what do you ask of me? It a great weight that You place on my shoulders, but, if You ask me, at your word I will throw out the nets, sure that you will guide me” – and the Lord really has guided me. He has been close to me: daily could I feel His presence. [These years] have been a stretch of the Church’s pilgrim way, which has seen moments joy and light, but also difficult moments. I have felt like St. Peter with the Apostles in the boat on the Sea of ​​Galilee: the Lord has given us many days of sunshine and gentle breeze, days in which the catch has been abundant; [then] there have been times when the seas were rough and the wind against us, as in the whole history of the Church it has ever been - and the Lord seemed to sleep. Nevertheless, I always knew that the Lord is in the barque, that the barque of the Church is not mine, not ours, but His - and He shall not let her sink. It is He, who steers her: to be sure, he does so also through men of His choosing, for He desired that it be so. This was and is a certainty that nothing can tarnish. It is for this reason, that today my heart is filled with gratitude to God, for never did He leave me or the Church without His consolation, His light, His love.
We are in the Year of Faith, which I desired in order to strengthen our own faith in God in a context that seems to push faith more and more toward the margins of life. I would like to invite everyone to renew firm trust in the Lord. I would like that we all, entrust ourselves as children to the arms of God, and rest assured that those arms support us and us to walk every day, even in times of struggle. I would like everyone to feel loved by the God who gave His Son for us and showed us His boundless love. I want everyone to feel the joy of being Christian. In a beautiful prayer to be recited daily in the morning says, “I adore you, my God, I love you with all my heart. I thank You for having created me, for having made me a Christian.” Yes, we are happy for the gift of faith: it is the most precious good, that no one can take from us! Let us thank God for this every day, with prayer and with a coherent Christian life. God loves us, but He also expects that we love Him!"  
Full text here]

With these words a great theologian and teacher prepares to leave the public stage...

Tuesday 26 February 2013

Hypocrisy is now the only sin ...?

Our culture is mired in scandal, with yet more revelations to come according to some commentators. 
Yet contemporary western society, which delights in the unmasking of sexual hypocrisy wherever it can be found, whether individual or, arguably, institutional, is the most overtly sexualised (and sexually politicised) in history, from the images with which we are bombarded through television and cinema screens, the internet, and advertising of all kinds, even to the 'sex and relationships' education given to our children. 
In that sense we are all complicit in the overwhelming hypocrisy embedded in our somewhat less than grown-up culture. We (sometimes quite literally) parade our 'openness,' yet at the same time long for the security and innocence which we feel we, and those for whom we are responsible, have lost. The removal of boundaries and previously accepted taboos, particularly for the more vulnerable, do not necessarily make us more safe, but quite the reverse. We are in the painful process of discovering, I suspect, that we can't have it both ways, and that traditional Christian morality has more to recommend it than its sniggering detractors have alleged.
Sex has been around for a long time; one might think we would have become used to all its hypocrisies and contradictions by now and be, well, less shockable and at the same time more realistic, both in the way we view those who fail to live up to the high standards we rightly expect of them (though often not of ourselves) and, most importantly, in safeguarding those who are the powerless victims of such unacceptable behaviour.
Although, if we are silly enough to buy into the self-serving, 'progressive' (generationally exceptionalist - 'we're the only honest generation') myth that sex was 'invented in 1963' ....

Here are some sane comments from Brendan O'Neill in The Telegraph:
"...Consider how every sex scandal gets politicised, turned from something that exposes the moral depravity of one individual or a group of individuals into something which calls into question the entire culture and belief systems of institutions. So those of an anti-Catholic persuasion – ie virtually the entire English establishment – have turned the child abuse scandal in the Catholic Church into a platform for attacking Catholicism itself. Everything from Catholic beliefs on sex and marriage to the existence of closed-off confessional booths has been made into part of the problem by abuse-watchers. That is, a scandal which exposed, rightfully, the wicked behaviour of some priests has been refashioned as a tool of ideological warfare against the Catholic faith, against a strain of theology that the Protestant-minded atheists of the literary and commentating sets have always found repulsive.....                                                                                                                           ..........I am not interested in defending any of these institutions currently being buried by sex shocks. But I am concerned at how accusations of sexual wickedness have replaced political, moral or theological critiques to become the No1 shortcut to getting one over on people or groups you don't like. This leads both to an exaggeration of how depraved our era is (since the more sexually disgusting you can make a person or organisation look, the more likely you are to finish them off), and to a spectacularly dishonest form of political discourse. Now, instead of saying what is on our minds about the Lib Dems or the BBC or whoever, instead of putting forward serious, searing critiques of things that rub us up the wrong way, we line up behind any whispered claim of sexual nastiness and hope that it will do our dirty work for us." 
Read it all here (I'm sorry to be so pedantic, but shouldn't the Telegraph headline read 'bored with' not 'bored of? - I see they have now changed the heading!) But he's right, far from the tolerant, inclusive society we pride ourselves in being, we simply regard sex as another political weapon. It's this politicisation (and the consequent reduction in the 'private' sphere of activity allowed to us) which is the distinctive mark of the modern age and a true enemy of human freedom.

The inescapable fact is that all human beings, whatever our vocation and status may be, have a tendency to sin and,  as we are reminded in this season of Lent, there is no 'solution' to our own inevitable expressions of hypocrisy except through prayer, the grace of the Sacraments and the radical conversion of heart and mind. The Christian faith, in stark contrast to the merciless and prurient judgementalism of modern society, also tells us it is never too late to begin or to start afresh.


Those who are fascinated by the events now unfolding in Rome (and who isn't?) will be interested to hear the solution to the novel problem of how to address a pope in retirement - and what he will wear!
See here

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

And in a strange but not untypical demonstration of establishment priorities, the new Archbishop of Canterbury is, according to custom following his formal election, introduced to the House of Lords [here] - before his enthronement.

Time for a caption competition?

Monday 25 February 2013

De profundis clamavi

It has been a cold and  bitter beginning to Lent, bringing with it the prospect of a prolonged end to a dark winter. The news today is full of gloom, uncertainty and (forgive my cynicism) appropriately timed allegations of inappropriate behaviour. 

It would be easy to fall into depression and despair, to lose our sense of proportion and to forget what the faith of the Church teaches us both about our recalcitrant human nature and the sure sacramental remedies for sin and alienation. 

"And when he was come into the house, his disciples asked him privately, Why could not we cast him out? And he said unto them, This kind can come forth by nothing, but by prayer and fasting." (St Mark 9. 28-29 in the Authorised Version) 

What follows is perhaps an appropriate penitential psalm for the culture which surrounds us and, whether we like it or not, we form a part and which forms a part of us. 
The Gospel calls us to continual repentance and conversion of heart, yet we can only begin, not with the scandals and failings of others, but with our own sinfulness and failures of love and charity if we are to become, like the Saints, through God's grace and mercy, the change which changes the world.  

De profundis clamavi by Orlando de Lassus, sung by the Christ Church Cathedral Choir, Oxford, under the direction of Stephen Darlington

Sunday 24 February 2013

Pope Benedict: 'The primacy of prayer...'

In his last Sunday Angelus,  Pope Benedict, after speaking of today's Gospel of the Transfiguration, went on to say:
"...We can draw a very important lesson from meditating on this passage of the Gospel. First, the primacy of prayer, without which all the work of the apostolate and of charity is reduced to activism. In Lent we learn to give proper time to prayer, both personal and communal, which gives breath to our spiritual life. In addition, to pray is not to isolate oneself from the world and its contradictions, as Peter wanted on Tabor, instead prayer leads us back to the path, to action. "The Christian life - I wrote in my Message for Lent - consists in continuously scaling the mountain to meet God and then coming back down, bearing the love and strength drawn from him, so as to serve our brothers and sisters with God’s own love ."
Dear brothers and sisters, I feel that this Word of God is particularly directed at me, at this point in my life. The Lord is calling me to "climb the mountain", to devote myself even more to prayer and meditation. But this does not mean abandoning the Church, indeed, if God is asking me to do this it is so that I can continue to serve the Church with the same dedication and the same love with which I have done thus far, but in a way that is better suited to my age and my strength. Let us invoke the intercession of the Virgin Mary: may she always help us all to follow the Lord Jesus in prayer and works of charity."
The full text is here 

In the last few days of his pontificate we are being taught something vital here, by word and example, by a pope who will be remembered as one of the great teachers of the faith, one whose words will continue to inspire us. 
There is a widespread feeling that these are highly significant days for all Christians.

Saturday 23 February 2013

A Lent Prose

Hear us, O Lord, have mercy upon us: 
for we have sinned against thee.

To thee, Redeemer, on thy throne of glory: 
lift we our weeping eyes in holy pleadings: 
listen, O Jesu, to our supplications.

Hear us, O Lord, have mercy upon us:
for we have sinned against thee.

O thou chief cornerstone, right hand of the Father: 
way of salvation, gate of life celestial: 
cleanse thou our sinful souls from all defilement. 

Hear us, O Lord, have mercy upon us:
 for we have sinned against thee.

God, we implore thee, in thy glory seated: 
bow down and hearken to thy weeping children: 
pity and pardon all our grievous trespasses. 

Hear us, O Lord, have mercy upon us:
 for we have sinned against thee.

Sins oft committed, now we lay before thee: 
with true contrition, now no more we veil them: 
grant us, Redeemer, loving absolution. 

Hear us, O Lord, have mercy upon us: 
for we have sinned against thee.

Innocent captive, taken unresisting: 
falsely accused, and for us sinners sentenced, 
save us, we pray thee, Jesu, our Redeemer.

Hear us, O Lord, have mercy upon us:
 for we have sinned against thee.

[The English Hymnal 736]

Friday 22 February 2013

Chillingly Orwellian

I have to admit I have a certain problem with any kind of 'motivational speaking' (even some of the religious kind) and I know it's never a good idea to make potentially uninformed comments about the domestic politics of a foreign country, but the following video, whatever its motivation, comes over as deeply sinister and chillingly Orwellian in its methodology. This is compulsory 'cultural sensitivity' training for those who work for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Any similarities with the sort of thing (including 'gender awareness' and 'diversity and equality' training) now being advocated and implemented for Anglican clergy and ordinands in Britain are purely coincidental.
Can this sort of approach ever be justified in a free society? (Or, let's say it, could it ever be justified in a Church which has any remaining grasp on true Christian orthodoxy?)
Thanks to A Conservative Blog for Peace for this link:

Every heresy under the sun

There's a warning here addressed to modern evangelicals about the worrying prevalence of Marcionism among their ranks. Before anyone starts feeling smug, however, here is a link to a list of early heresies (not exhaustive but enough to be going on with.) They are easy enough to spot in today's Church, and I challenge anyone to find an example that isn't doing the rounds, and not only in the places we have come to expect. 
Before anyone comments that these things don't really matter, that surely we've moved on from these rather infantile boundaries and uncharitable forms of condemnation,  take a good look at contemporary theological education (and theological colleges - no names... although it's very tempting...) and its effects on the Church and see for yourself why we are the poorer for not insisting everyone has a good grounding in patristics.
“If heretics no longer horrify us today, as they once did our forefathers, is it certain that it is because there is more charity in our hearts? Or would it not too often be, perhaps, without our daring to say so, because the bone of contention, that is to say, the very substance of our faith, no longer interests us? Men of too familiar and too passive a faith, perhaps for us dogmas are no longer the Mystery on which we live, the Mystery which is to be accomplished in us. Consequently then, heresy no longer shocks us; at least, it no longer convulses us like something trying to tear the soul of our souls away from us.... And that is why we have no trouble in being kind to heretics, and no repugnance in rubbing shoulders with them... It is not always charity, alas, which has grown greater, or which has become more enlightened: it is often faith, the taste for the things of eternity, which has grown less...”
Henri de Lubac: Further Paradoxes (Newman Press 1958) and reprinted in Paradoxes of Faith (Ignatius Press 1987)

Censorship at the BBC

Many are commenting on the BBC's decision to "redact" some of the evidence presented to its internal Pollard Enquiry into the Jimmy Savile affair, even more on the asinine presentation the news was given on this morning's Today Programme [here]
A broadly sympathetic report from The Guardian here , a somewhat more critical view from The Telegraph here.
 This is the evidence given by the veteran and formidable broadcaster and political interviewer, Jeremy Paxman - we should be grateful at least some of it is readable.

The Corporation is clearly acting on the considered advice of its lawyers, but can you imagine the (quite justified) howls of outrage from the BBC if any other organisation - even for 'legal reasons' - had tried to present a report into its involvement in historic child sex abuse in this way?
We should expect from such a respected (and publicly-funded) national broadcaster the standards it so loudly proclaims it possesses, and the transparency it demands of others - no more, no less.

Choosing the right tools for the job?

Much has been made of the decision of the new Archbishop of Canterbury to appoint a "Director of Reconciliation" in an attempt to achieve something which has eluded his immediate predecessors on the Throne of St Augustine, namely the healing of the rifts within the Anglican Communion.
VirtueOnline reports these comments from 'African sources' which may cause him to reconsider what seems to be the developing strategy: 
"At the heart of our Anglican difficulties is not relationship breakdown, but the undisciplined descent into moral and doctrinal incoherence. It is nonsense for the Archbishop of Canterbury to appoint a 'Director of Reconciliation' while at the same time the House of Bishops of which he is chairman embraces a policy which allows de facto gay bishops thus further alienating those very Global South Primates he wants, presumably, to reconcile."
David Virtue goes on to comment:
....In fact, the title "Director of Reconciliation" gives the game away. Reconciliation is a central part of any Archbishop or Bishop's ministry as an extension of gospel ministry. The appointment of a "specialist" implies that reconciliation is now seen as a matter of technique and particular skills, rather than something that is essentially theological. Therefore it is not about gospel ministry at all.
Until the issue of false teaching is addressed, as identified by the Jerusalem Statement and the Declaration of 2008, there is no theological way to heal the tear in the fabric of the Communion. There must be a willingness to repent of false teaching and reconciliation strategies which avoid this question earn the scathing rebuke of Jeremiah, "they treated my people's wound superficially, telling them, 'Peace, peace,' but there is no peace'." Jeremiah 6:4).
Although there is a new Archbishop of Canterbury, the underlying strategy of Lambeth Palace remains exactly the same - to conflate doctrinal breakdown with relationship breakdown. Obviously the two are connected, but to see everything as soluble by technique is a recipe for short term thinking and theological superficiality.
The leader of the Anglican Church of Canada had a "just say no" message to new Archbishop of Canterbury-elect Justin Welby in discussions on the Anglican Church in North America when the two men met recently.
Archbishop Hiltz is petrified that the new evangelical archbishop will recognize Archbishop Robert Duncan and the Anglican Church in North America as an emerging province thus diluting the influence of both the ACoC and The Episcopal Church USA. He and Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori both maintain their jurisdictions are the sole legitimate expressions of Anglicanism in North America.....
Read the full article here 

The new Archbishop will need all the intellect and personal relationship skills with which he is credited even to attempt to square this particular circle> He won't be helped if he continues (again, like his predecessors) to be the prisoner of those who patronisingly (there is another word, but I won't use it) pour scorn on the biblically orthodox Global South's supposed primitive 'fundamentalism' while themselves holding intolerantly fundamentalist liberal views which not only many of their fellow Anglicans but also our Orthodox and Roman Catholic ecumenical partners (not themselves conspicuously lacking in theological sophistication) regard as inimical to the Christian tradition.
Archbishop Welby needs our prayers.

Thursday 21 February 2013

Summing up the theology of the Pope

On Fr Ray Blake's blog is this link to the estimable Fr Stephen Wang, who was asked by the BBC to sum up Pope Benedict's theology in 150 words (given the acres of verbiage devoted to other subjects on their website that seems ridiculously stingy.) As Fr Wang says, he couldn't quite achieve that, but here is what he did produce and it is a reminder of why, whatever our tradition, we will be always indebted to the present occupant of the See of St Peter:
"The key to Pope Benedict’s theology is the idea of ‘connection’ or ‘continuity’.
How do you preserve the fundamental connections between faith and reason, between the past and the present, between the human and the divine? How do you avoid a rupture that would betray the Christian vision and impoverish everyday life?
His first encyclical letter surprised everyone by being a meditation on love. The joy of human love (‘eros’ or erotic love) leads us to a deeper, sacrificial love (‘agape’), that finds its true fulfilment in the love of Jesus Christ on the Cross. The human and the divine connect; they are not in opposition.
The worship of the Church, whatever new forms it takes, needs to connect with its two thousand year history. The moral values of the Church, even if they are expressed in new ways, need to be rooted in the wisdom of the Bible and the Christian tradition. And Catholic teaching, which is always developing, should never betray the sure faith that has been handed down through the centuries.
He believed in renewal and reform, but always in continuity with the past.
He called on Catholics to deepen their faith, through studying the Catechism. He encouraged the secularised West not to become trapped in a ‘dictatorship of relativism’ – where everything is allowed but nothing has any meaning.
For Pope Benedict, Christianity is a revealed religion, not something we create for ourselves. It surprises and startles us. No wonder that his last published work was about discovering the face of God in Jesus Christ, the child of Bethlehem."

New bells for old

A new peal of nine bells for the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris has been blessed by Cardinal Vingts-Trois earlier this month.
The existing peal, giving a familiar, evocative but distinctly unmelodious sound, will be replaced next month; they date from 1856 and were themselves installed as replacements for those removed and destroyed in the Revolution. 
The new peal will ring out for the first time over the roofs of the city on Palm Sunday. 
The full story (with some fascinating photos) is on the Cathedral's website [here]

No longer will the inhabitants of Paris hear (or suffer, depending on your point of view) this:

More religion-lite

As they might say across the pond - go check this out. 
The curious liturgically and theologically illiterate phenomenon of 'Ashes to Go' [here]
What it is it all about? You tell me; like much of the activity in the contemporary Anglican / Episcopal world it's a mystery, but not a particularly profound one. 
Unfortunately for the practitioners of these inane stunts, the world knows desperation when it sees it. You might as well take a hosepipe and spray random passers-by and call it baptism, or hand out consecrated Hosts at a snack bar. 
But in the make-believe world of inclusivity actually having to believe something is just another unnecessary man-made barrier.
Give it time...

Wednesday 20 February 2013

Hatred - of various kinds

What is it about so much of the left and its often irresponsible glorification of violence? 
One has only to scratch the surface of the views of some of those who align themselves with the political left, and who are prepared at the drop of a hat to hold forth at length about injustice, and the need for universal equality and human rights, to reveal under an often charming and civilised exterior an almost insane personal hatred of their political and ideological opponents. 
See here for comment (by Lord Tebbit, in the 1980s a government minster who was himself seriously injured and his wife crippled for life in the Brighton bombing - he is admirably restrained in his response) on the Labour candidate at Eastleigh's publicly declared regret that Mrs Thatcher hadn't been murdered by the IRA. 
It all reminds me of a story from Thomas Merton's autobiography 'The Seven Storey Mountain' where, in his brief pre-conversion flirtation with communism, he visits an affluent apartment in New York with sweeping views over the streets below and one of his young companions exclaims, 'what a place for a machine gun nest' - something most of us, indeed like Merton himself, rapidly grow out of -  thank God!

And while we are on the subject of hatred, here is George Conger's take on the modern day British version of Pravda (The Guardian/BBC - they're not one and the same? Really?) and its loathing of all things Catholic. Their candidate for the papacy? Someone who isn't a Catholic at all. What price bears and woods now....?

And, lastly, the Welsh Secretary, David Jones has become the latest target of the explosive wrath of the inclusive brethren (and sisterhood, to be appropriately inclusive) by daring to voice concerns over the possible effects of the current change in the marriage laws here and throughout western society - a comment on the predictable fracas here
Argument, robust disagreement is a necessary part of life - the problems begin when the list of things one is not permitted by the State nor allowed by social pressure to disagree upon becomes inordinately long and inevitably conflicts with other, necessary freedoms of expression. The 'right' not to be offended should come fairly low (if it appears at all) on our list of priorities, whoever we are, whatever we believe, whatever our preference in terms of sexual partners may be.
Also from Anglican Mainstream - the social commentator Brendan O'Neill before a House of Commons Committee discussing the Government's same-sex marriage legislation. [here]
He is, of course, right; the legislative uncoupling (if I can put it that way) of marriage from its ancient societal role in the nurture of children, and its redefinition in law as simply an expression of  romantic love between two people of either sex has clear dangers of even further eroding the looser, informal community of which the family is (or was) the strongest basic unit, and a consequent extension of the role and reach of the State into our already atomised lives. We have seen the catastrophic effects of this trend already and the thinking behind the current 'reforms' will most likely only serve to consolidate them.
"..If you read the Government’s consultation paper on same-sex marriage, it does not mention family, children or community, except when it twice talks about the transgender community. It does not mention the fundamental things that marriage was originally bound up with, which was about managing and organising the renewal of generations and interaction between generations. So I think you are right to say that you are elevating a bourgeois view of marriage, which is marriage as companionship, and which is marriage, as Cameron’s Government describes it, between two people.For a great number of people out there, beyond your old couple, there are millions of people for whom marriage is about more than two people. It is about family, children and a community. It is about binding yourself together, not only to an individual, but to society itself. I think it is perfectly reasonable for you to pay attention to the old couple who came to see you. I think it is unreasonable for politicians to redefine marriage, as it is understood by millions of people, for the benefit of themselves and small groups of people out there..." 

Tuesday 19 February 2013

The future shape of the Church

"...The church will become small and will have to start afresh more or less from the beginning.
She will no longer be able to inhabit many of the edifices she built in prosperity. As the number of her adherents diminishes . . . she will lose many of her social privileges. . . As a small society, [the Church] will make much bigger demands on the initiative of her individual members....
It will be hard-going for the Church, for the process of crystallization and clarification will cost her much valuable energy. It will make her poor and cause her to become the Church of the meek . . . The process will be long and wearisome as was the road from the false progressivism on the eve of the French Revolution — when a bishop might be thought smart if he made fun of dogmas and even insinuated that the existence of God was by no means certain . . . But when the trial of this sifting is past, a great power will flow from a more spiritualised and simplified Church. Men in a totally planned world will find themselves unspeakably lonely. If they have completely lost sight of God, they will feel the whole horror of their poverty. Then they will discover the little flock of believers as something wholly new. They will discover it as a hope that is meant for them, an answer for which they have always been searching in secret.
And so it seems certain to me that the Church is facing very hard times. The real crisis has scarcely begun. We will have to count on terrific upheavals. But I am equally certain about what will remain at the end: not the Church of the political cult, which is dead already, but the Church of faith. She may well no longer be the dominant social power to the extent that she was until recently; but she will enjoy a fresh blossoming and be seen as man's home, where he will find life and hope beyond death...."
As many have pointed out, this is a stark and daunting vision but, as we would expect, not one devoid of hope - these are the remarkably consistent thoughts of Pope Benedict, originally published as a series of lectures as long ago as 1969 and available now in 'Faith and the Future' [here] It is  clear that he has had no cause substantially to revise his assessment of the necessary future direction of the Church.
It would seem from our experience in the 'separated' Anglican provinces (which can now barely lay claim to the designation 'Communion,') that the choice for the Church is to conform to the surrounding culture and face a slow death by assimilation, by offering no distinctive vision, or to embrace our marginalisation as the price of remaining faithful, and, as Pope Benedict argues, "to start afresh more or less from the beginning."
We have tried the route of eagerly (or even reluctantly) embracing every passing fashion in order to remain relevant and accessible; the temptation to be both 'in' and 'of' the world has led to precipitate decline and an unprecedented degree of demoralisation of clergy and laity alike. 
Perhaps the time has at last arrived to acknowledge the need for affirmative and radical Catholic orthodoxy. But in the peculiar circumstances of Anglicanism in the west, with our hierarchies fully and irrevocably signed up to theological and ethical revisionism,  this 'return to the sources' can only begin from the ground up, that is at parish or 'pastoral area' level, and in the face of a great deal of opposition from all quarters. We could do worse, making allowances for the rapid way the world has 'moved on,' than begin here or even (or do I mean most particularly?) here.

Saturday 16 February 2013

The Fast as Taught by Holy Lore

The traditional evening office hymn for the first two weeks of Lent, Ex more docti mystico, in the English translation by John Mason Neale, sung here by the choir of Ely Cathedral - patrimony

'Fascism, 'socialism' and the Christian faith: let's put the record straight

It has become the great unmentionable now that, due to the imposition of the 'equalities agenda,' the left seems to have achieved a large degree of cultural and social hegemony in the west, even among those who should know better and have no axe to grind, but the totalitarian fascist movements which arose on the continent of Europe following the carnage of the Great War, the disastrous Versailles peace settlement and economic catastrophe of the 1920s and early 30s were indisputably at least partially socialist and wholly collectivist in their inspiration.
I'm not sure why such a obvious statement of fact can still cause so much offence among some of those who describe themselves as democratic socialists, but it does. I suppose here we are mainly talking about not the intelligent left, but the historically illiterate 'Twitterati' - who seem, tragically, to include among their number those who now run the British Conservative Party. 
Why does it matter? Because not telling the truth about the past always matters. We're back to the nightmare vision of George Orwell again: 
“He who controls the past controls the future. 
He who controls the present controls the past.” 
Of course, to acknowledge Hitler and Mussolini's dependence on a warped  form of socialist ideology with added elements of radical Teutonic or Roman paganism, does tend to deprive the same group of historical illiterates of the opportunity of branding all their opponents on the traditional, democratic right - in true 1960s style - as 'fascists.' 
But, of course, we know that fascism and Nazism  were not right wing, conservative ideologies at all and least of all, despite their initial, respectable camouflage, did they spring from the mainstream culture of western Christendom. The 1937 encyclical, Mit Brennender Sorge of Pope Pius XI (worth reading in full) made that very clear indeed:
 "..Such is the rush of present-day life that it severs from the divine foundation of Revelation, not only morality, but also the theoretical and practical rights. We are especially referring to what is called the natural law, written by the Creator's hand on the tablet of the heart (Rom. ii. 14) and which reason, not blinded by sin or passion, can easily read. It is in the light of the commands of this natural law, that all positive law, whoever be the lawgiver, can be gauged in its moral content, and hence, in the authority it wields over conscience. Human laws in flagrant contradiction with the natural law are vitiated with a taint which no force, no power can mend. In the light of this principle one must judge the axiom, that "right is common utility," a proposition which may be given a correct significance, it means that what is morally indefensible, can never contribute to the good of the people. But ancient paganism acknowledged that the axiom, to be entirely true, must be reversed and be made to say: "Nothing can be useful, if it is not at the same time morally good" (Cicero, De Off. ii. 30). Emancipated from this oral rule, the principle would in international law carry a perpetual state of war between nations; for it ignores in national life, by confusion of right and utility, the basic fact that man as a person possesses rights he holds from God, and which any collectivity must protect against denial, suppression or neglect. To overlook this truth is to forget that the real common good ultimately takes its measure from man's nature, which balances personal rights and social obligations, and from the purpose of society, established for the benefit of human nature. Society, was intended by the Creator for the full development of individual possibilities, and for the social benefits, which by a give and take process, every one can claim for his own sake and that of others. Higher and more general values, which collectivity alone can provide, also derive from the Creator for the good of man, and for the full development, natural and supernatural, and the realization of his perfection. To neglect this order is to shake the pillars on which society rests, and to compromise social tranquillity, security and existence..."
Read it all: in very different political circumstances it still speaks to us powerfully today... 

Friday 15 February 2013

'The Legacy of Pope Benedict XVI'

Many thanks to the always thoughtful and insightful  The Way Out There  for this link to a video by Fr Robert Barron -  well worth watching:

Fr Levi rightly highlights the phrase about Vatican II being intended "not to modernize the Church but to Christify the modern world." I also like "affirmative orthodoxy," something we all need to take on board and to proclaim from the rooftops.

Sneaking in over the wall

George Conger [here] has this report on the latest shocking pronouncement of one of the dictators of relativism herself, the female Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church of the U.S.A., who, shall we say, is not exactly known for her rigid adherence (or adherence of any kind, perhaps) to Christian orthodoxy:
"Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori has denounced her opponents in South Carolina as terrorists and murderers, saying those who opposed her view of church order were “wolves” and false shepherds leading the flock astray.
The 26 Jan 2013 “outrageous” remarks have changed the game in the South Carolina diocesan fight, her critics charge.  What had been a dispute over property has become an ideological war with those who do not conform now being branded as evil.
Speaking to national church loyalists at a special convention held 26 Jan 2013 at Grace Church in Charleston, Bishop Jefferts Schori began her remarks with the story of a glider pilot who had entered restricted airspace in South Carolina and found himself harassed by local officials.
“I tell you that story because it’s indicative of attitudes we’ve seen here and in many other places. Somebody decides he knows the law, and oversteps whatever authority he may have to dictate the fate of others who may in fact be obeying the law, and often a law for which this local tyrant is not the judge,” she said.
“It’s not too far from that kind of attitude to citizens’ militias deciding to patrol their towns or the Mexican border for unwelcome visitors. It’s not terribly far from the state of mind evidenced in school shootings, or in those who want to arm school children, or the terrorism that takes oil workers hostage,” the presiding bishop said.
Bishop Jefferts Schori also denounced what she saw as the arbitrary and capricious usurpation of power by local church leaders stating: “Power assumed by one authority figure alone is often a recipe for abuse, tyranny, and corruption.  That’s why Jesus challenges us to think about how the shepherd acts.  The authentic ones don’t sneak over the wall in the dead of night.  They operate transparently, and they work cooperatively with the gate-keeper himself...”
From someone who, certainly in terms of the apostolic tradition, has herself 'snuck in' over the wall and, moreover, has been notable for her wolfish and unchristian love of predatory litigation, this is hypocrisy of the very worst kind. 
Pray for her and the church she leads.

Thursday 14 February 2013

"The hermeneutic of politics"

Following on from the last post here about media reactions to his departure, this is the Pope, in the aftermath of the announcement of his intended abdication, speaking about the Second Vatican Council at which he was a peritus. 
We will all sorely miss Pope Benedict: it was not only the (Roman) Catholic Church which was profoundly affected by Vatican II. In so many ways we have seen the (entirely false) hermeneutic of the "spirit of the Council" not just advocated and discussed but put into practice more in the (western) Anglican world - and with predictably catastrophic results:
"...I would now like to add yet a third point: there was the Council of the Fathers - the true Council - but there was also the Council of the media. It was almost a Council in and of itself, and the world perceived the Council through them, through the media. So the immediately efficiently Council that got thorough to the people, was that of the media, not that of the Fathers. And while the Council of the Fathers evolved within the faith, it was a Council of the faith that sought the intellectus, that sought to understand and try to understand the signs of God at that moment, that tried to meet the challenge of God in this time to find the words for today and tomorrow. So while the whole council - as I said - moved within the faith, as fides quaerens intellectum, the Council of journalists did not, naturally, take place within the world of faith but within the categories of the media of today, that is outside of the faith, with different hermeneutics. It was a hermeneutic of politics. The media saw the Council as a political struggle, a struggle for power between different currents within the Church. It was obvious that the media would take the side of whatever faction best suited their world. There were those who sought a decentralization of the Church, power for the bishops and then, through the Word for the "people of God", the power of the people, the laity. There was this triple issue: the power of the Pope, then transferred to the power of the bishops and then the power of all ... popular sovereignty. Naturally they saw this as the part to be approved, to promulgate, to help. This was the case for the liturgy: there was no interest in the liturgy as an act of faith, but as a something to be made understandable, similar to a community activity, something profane. And we know that there was a trend, which was also historically based, that said: "Sacredness is a pagan thing, possibly even from the Old Testament. In the New Testament the only important thing is that Christ died outside: that is, outside the gates, that is, in the secular world". Sacredness ended up as profanity even in worship: worship is not worship but an act that brings people together, communal participation and thus participation as activity. And these translations, trivializing the idea of ​​the Council, were virulent in the practice of implementing the liturgical reform, born in a vision of the Council outside of its own key vision of faith. And it was so, also in the matter of Scripture: Scripture is a book, historical, to treat historically and nothing else, and so on.
And we know that this Council of the media was accessible to all. So, dominant, more efficient, this Council created many calamities, so many problems, so much misery, in reality: seminaries closed, convents closed liturgy trivialized ... and the true Council has struggled to materialize, to be realized: the virtual Council was stronger than the real Council. But the real strength of the Council was present and slowly it has emerged and is becoming the real power which is also true reform, true renewal of the Church. It seems to me that 50 years after the Council, we see how this Virtual Council is breaking down, getting lost and the true Council is emerging with all its spiritual strength. And it is our task, in this Year of Faith, starting from this Year of Faith, to work so that the true Council with the power of the Holy Spirit is realized and Church is really renewed. We hope that the Lord will help us. I, retired in prayer, will always be with you, and together we will move ahead with the Lord in certainty. The Lord is victorious. Thank you."
Read his comments in full here from Vatican Radio

The problem with 'the media's' coverage of religion

For those of us who still believe there are many more important things in our all-too-short lives than politics (ecclesiastical or secular) and its accompanying sloganising and posturing, here is an excellent piece from Dr Tim Stanley at The Telegraph about the media's reporting of religious issues. 
He has it exactly right when he complains about the journalistic propensity to see everything through the prism of politics, although it would be wonderful (if nothing short of miraculous) were, not only journalists, but also some of our more 'liberal' Anglican leaders to take on board what he says in his five point critique of 'media sins.' 
This is his conclusion:
"...Grasping all of this requires putting aside prejudice and trying to understand the mindset of the true believer. Alas, a lot of journalism tends towards aggressive critical analysis rather than empathy (it’s the nature of the beast), which leads to the kind of misunderstandings that have occurred since the Pope’s announcement. Similar mistakes are made in the treatment of Muslims, Jews and Evangelical Christians. It will be interesting to see how the media deals with the new Archbishop of Canterbury. Justin Welby is a theological evangelical operating within the mainstream Anglican tradition with politically liberal instincts. Yet I comfortably predict that all we shall ever know of him is that he doesn’t approve of gay marriage. In the politically framed view of many media commentators, religious faith is defined entirely by what position you take on gay sex. Or during it, if that’s your bag."
And for an egregious example of what Tim Stanley is complaining about, this comes from the pen of, appropriately enough, a presenter of the BBC's Sunday programme. Enough said, perhaps... 

Wednesday 13 February 2013

"Blow the trumpet in Zion;
sound the alarm on my holy mountain!
Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble,
for the day of the LORD is coming, it is near,
a day of darkness and gloom,
a day of clouds and thick darkness!
Like blackness there is spread upon the mountains
a great and powerful people;
their like has never been from of old,
nor will be again after them
through the years of all generations.

"Yet even now," says the LORD,
"return to me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
and rend your hearts and not your garments."
Return to the LORD, your God,
for he is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love,
and repents of evil.
Who knows whether he will not turn and repent,
and leave a blessing behind him,
a cereal offering and a drink offering
for the LORD, your God?
Blow the trumpet in Zion;
sanctify a fast;
call a solemn assembly;
gather the people.
Sanctify the congregation;
assemble the elders;
gather the children,
even nursing infants.
Let the bridegroom leave his room,
and the bride her chamber.
Between the vestibule and the altar
let the priests, the ministers of the LORD, weep
and say, "Spare thy people, O LORD,
and make not thy heritage a reproach,
a byword among the nations.
Why should they say among the peoples,
`Where is their God?'"

A time to keep silent

As we noted yesterday, the world is awash with speculation.
But Lent begins.

Sicut Cervus - Palestrina 

Monday 11 February 2013

The Resignation of Pope Benedict

Many of us are shocked by the news which broke this morning of Pope Benedict's impending resignation on February 28th  [the English translation of his declaration is here] 

Many traditional Anglicans, whether intending to move imminently into full communion with the See of Peter or not, have reason to be immensely grateful for his ministry, his clear proclamation and elegant and incisive defence of eternal truths and his unrivalled ability as a great teacher of the Catholic Faith. 
Anglo-Catholics particularly, among the 'separated brethren,' have felt that in Benedict XVI - at last - was someone who understood and valued our tradition.

The web is now full of comment and speculation, some of it predictably sour, but for now our deepest concern and our prayers must be for the Holy Father himself both in sickness and increasing incapacity and also in the aftermath of what must have been an agonising decision.

Here is a reminder of his contribution and why he will be so much missed (he speaks from two minutes, fifteen seconds into the video - the Holy Father's expression as he listens to the Speaker of the House of Commons perhaps says it all

Sunday 10 February 2013

News from the Ordinariate in Wales

It was announced at mass in the Anglican parishes of Abergavenny this morning that Fr Bernard Sixtus and a group of lay people who are 'seriously considering joining the Ordinariate' will begin 'a final stage of formation' beginning on Shrove Tuesday.
This is part of his public announcement:
"A group of people from across this part of South Wales have been meeting on a monthly basis since March 2012 to discuss this further. For those seriously considering joining the Ordinariate, a final stage of formation will now begin on Shrove Tuesday (February 12th). This will involve weekly meetings throughout Lent, as well as participation in Catholic parish life and the Mass.I am among the small group of people intending to make this journey.
It is obvious from the nature of this final stage of exploration that participation in it cannot really be combined with exercising public ministry in and on behalf of the Church in Wales. Bishop Dominic and I have thus agreed that I will be on study leave from this day (10th February) until such time as my resignation from the post of Associate Vicar of these parishes takes effect....
...May I also repeat what I said in December 2011 – namely that my decision is no reflection on what goes on in the life of these parishes. I said then: 'I would not in conscience be considering my position if I was not very seriously con­cerned about the direction the 'ship' Church in Wales as a whole is taking, but this is nothing to do with what happens here in these 'cabins'.' This holds true still: even though I have now concluded that Anglicanism is headed where I in conscience cannot go (and where Anglo-Catholics have always said it must not go), this does not mean I respect and love you, my sisters and brothers in the churches here, any less than before. As you know, I have always sought to live and serve among you as a 'catholic', committed to the fullness of the Faith. That has not changed. But I have now come to realise that there can be no true and full 'catholicity' without embracing true and full communion with the See of Peter..."
The statement in full can now be read on the St Mary's, Abergavenny website [here

As Anglo-Catholics in Wales, whatever our own decisions may ultimately turn out to be, our prayers and good wishes should go with Fr Bernard and all those who are making this journey of faith into full communion with the See of Peter. 
We must keep doors open and bridges clear... there is no room for the slightest degree of animosity among those who are agreed on so much. 
It is good to see the evident generosity of the Bishop of Monmouth in facilitating a smooth departure. However, it does completely escape me how so many of our bishops and the current establishment can regard the loss of devout and loyal traditional Anglicans with such indecent equanimity. If it's not equanimity, what are they doing to encourage us to stay?
Au revoir mais pas adieu,  j'espère ...
There is a link to the group here

Saturday 9 February 2013

Another Good Friday agreement?

There was a fascinating report (and highly revealing about the current state of things)  in The Telegraph yesterday about an Anglican priest who held secret talks with the IRA being employed to bring together the seemingly irreconcilable factions in the contemporary Church of England [here]: 
"Documents released on Friday confirmed that Canon David Porter has been leading a team of “facilitators” to help find a solution to the crisis in the Church.Canon Porter, originally from Belfast, is the director of the International Centre for Reconciliation at Coventry Cathedral, a post once held by the new Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby.
During his previous ministry in Northern Ireland he and a small group of church leaders worked for years behind the scenes preparing the way for the peace process.Uniquely, he held talks with both the IRA and loyalist paramilitaries.            
At the time the British Government was publicly denying that it was speaking to terrorists.The Church of England confirmed for the first time that the Canon and his team had been leading mediation sessions between different interest groups last week as part of a process to attempt to find a solution to the crisis over women bishops...."
All well and good; but who, I wonder (and, of course, we don't have to restrict our speculations to the male sex)  are the Gerry Adams and Martin McGuiness of the Church of England? 

Friday 8 February 2013

Taking a long walk...

Until this week posting on the blog has been a little bit less frequent, mainly because of rearranged meetings and appointments due to the wintry weather of the week before last.

Time  for blogging has been somewhat at a premium also because of beginning to organise an event for the autumn: a pilgrimage on foot (together with anyone who wants to join in...) along the Camino Francés  from St Jean Pied de Port to Santiago de Compostella.

There are many spiritual reasons for walking the Camino, perhaps the most pressing is the need to emphasise the Lord's call to unity which underlies even the bitter disputes now raging in this part of the Church. 
I have a practical reason for the pilgrimage, too: raising funds for our restoration work on the ancient church at St Arvans, something which is proving a little more complicated than we thought, and for the Macmillan cancer charity, a cause close to our hearts because of illness  within the family and of not a few of our own parishioners here.
I have until early September to get (quite a lot)  fitter..

Thursday 7 February 2013

"Participant observers": the strange concept of 'honorary bishops'

The new standing committee of the House of Bishops - apologies to Sir John Tenniel 

As reported by Anglican Mainstream, the House of Bishops of the Church of England [here] will implement changes to its future meetings so as to ensure that the magical number of eight "senior women clergy" will be allowed to participate in all meetings of the House and of its standing committee.
"...Following the discussion with the working group, the House went on to consider issues arising from its current all male membership. It decided that until such time as there are six female members of the House, following the admission of women to the episcopate, a number of senior women clergy should be given the right to attend and speak at meetings of the House as participant observers. The intention is that eight members would be elected regionally from within bishops’ senior staff teams (that include deans, archdeacons and others). The necessary change to the House’s Standing Orders will be made in May..."
We are often hectored by theological liberals (and those generally who have no idea of how a real Christian Church should conduct its decision-making) about the need for more 'democracy' in the Church. Democracy in its only civilised form includes a certain healthy and unwavering respect for structures and procedures, including the need to establish a degree of consensus on controversial issues (yes, I know, tell that to the present Government,)  something which, in turn, goes a long way to ensure respect for  the rights of everyone who participates in the process, most particularly those of minorities. It would seem that by pre-empting a new synodical vote in this way, the C of E has instead chosen the path of  'Cuban democracy,' a system where there is no chance of a vote ever going the 'wrong' way.
So, what, then, are the qualifications for being a member of the Church of England's House of Bishops? Welcome to the Alice in Wonderland world of modern Anglicanism. Welcome to the Mad Hatter's tea party.