Friday 31 May 2013


For today's Feast of the Visitation: the great Magnificat BWV 243 by J.S. Bach
Ton Koopman conducting the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra and Choir 

Thursday 30 May 2013

The Salisbury by-pass

No comment, only to say that in the Orthodox and Roman Catholic traditions such episcopal disloyalty (in, (in)appropriately enough, a letter to a secular newspaper) both to the tradition of the ages and to the contemporary 'catholic' consensus fidelium would rightly lead to resignation.

Whatever one thinks of the Bishop of Salisbury's argument, and Anglican opinions clearly now differ widely and irreconcilably on this as on other matters, it is simply not the role of a bishop to question - publicly and in a secular forum - what has been received and handed on, in what would appear to be a flagrant attempt to bounce the Church of England into a change in its theological stance; there are other ways of making known and even advocating what is, after all,  just a personal opinion on the subject of same-sex marriage ...

Other comment from Fr Alexander Lucie-Smith at the Catholic Herald here (exploding the intellectually lazy slavery myth peddled in the letter) and from Peter Ould [here], asking how Bishop Holtam's argument does not also apply to the legalisation and coercive approval by the State of polygamy.

For Corpus Christi

Whether we have celebrated it today or are transferring the Solemnity to Sunday ..

More Anglo-Catholic patrimony for children from Enid Chadwick's My Book of the Church's Year

And an excellent improvisation on Adoro te devote ...

Tuesday 28 May 2013

Latest European Court decision

from 'Thinking Anglicans'
"The European Court of Human Rights has today announced that it has rejected the applicants’ request in Eweida and Others v the United Kingdom for referral to the Grand Chamber. This means that the Chamber judgement is now final."
But perhaps those ever-so-thoughtful 'Anglicans' who post and comment on that site (note the use there of the term 'swivel-eyed' - where have we come across that recently?) should reflect that any restrictions which employers, for reasons known to themselves, should seek to impose on the display of religious symbols should apply equally to those of other faith communities, despite their own requirements. 
Surely, that would be equitable even to self-hating Christians, seemingly ashamed of their history and their heritage, who loudly extol the benefits of secularism à la française  - or is it, more probably, à la Harman
But should it be a matter for the secular courts, national or supranational,  to decide what is or is not 'necessary' for Christian believers who, for whatever reason - admirable or, indeed,  otherwise - seek to advertise their religious identity?

The ECHR Chamber decision is downloadable (as a pdf file) here

"What's the point of being a Christian if, in the end, everyone is saved?"

"People who ask that should listen to themselves. What's the point in being first rather than last in serving the Lord whom you love? What's the point of being found rather than lost? What's the point of knowing the truth rather than living in ignorance? What's the point of being welcomed home by the waiting father rather than languishing by the pig sties? What's the point? The question answers itself.
But, just in case we do not get the point, Jesus makes it very explicit. One day Jesus is calling people to leave all and follow him. Then Peter - wonderful Peter, whom you can count on to say the dumb things we are all prone to say - burst out with, ' Lo, we have left everything and followed you>" What's the point? he wanted to know. What do we get in return? And Jesus answered , "Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time ..... with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life." And then Jesus adds once again, "But many that are first will be last, and the last first."
The point is that in this life and in the world to come, those who follow Jesus will receive everything they want, if what they want is to follow Jesus. If, on the other hand, following Jesus is not what they want, then the answer to Peter's question - and the question of so many others - is that there is no point in following Jesus. Living in the way, the truth and the life is - for those who know Christ as the way, the truth and the life - self-evidently preferable to the alternative, which is being lost, ignorant and dead. No offense intended, but people who have to ask why that is the case probably wouldn't understand. Those who presume to think that they and others of like religious doctrine, experience or way of life are the first and will therefore be both the first and the last in line for salvation have not, one fears, understood the generosity of the Lord of the the vineyard. Nor do they take as seriously as we all should the sin of presumption.
Is it possible that many, even the great majority of all the people who have ever lived will be eternally damned? I do not know how we could answer that question definitively in the negative. There is also no way that our minds can reconcile that possibility with what the Bible says about the mercy of God and his redemptive purposes for the whole creation. The prospect of even one person being eternally damned should fill us with immeasurable sorrow. We must hope that it is not so..."
Richard John Neuhaus: from Death on a Friday Afternoon ( Basic Books 2000)

The Devil and Pope Francis, and the problem with comboxes

A good article here from Dr William Oddie on Pope Francis' habit of talking about the Devil -  not an optional extra for Christians nor a form of theological dualism: 
"....People who write at all regularly about the Church keep one eye on the website of Sandro Magister, who is not only well-informed about events in Vatican City, but is also a regular source of perceptive comment on what’s going on.
Quite a few writers have spotted and quoted from his recent piece “Francis and the Devil”, in which he begins with the stand first “He refers to him continually. He combats him without respite. He does not believe him to be a myth, but a real person, the most insidious enemy of the Church”, and he goes on to point out how rarely we hear of the subject, despite its centrality to the biblical witness: “In the preaching of Pope Francis”, begins Magister, “there is one subject that returns with surprising frequency: the devil. It is a frequency on a par with that with which the same subject recurs in the New Testament (My emphasis). But in spite of this, the surprise remains. If for no other reason than that with his continual references to the devil, pope Jorge Mario Bergoglio parts ways with the current preaching in the Church, which is silent about the devil or reduces him to a metaphor.”
But why, why, why? The existence of Satan and all his angels, ever since I became a Christian, has seemed to me self-evident; that prayer we all say after Mass in the Usus Antiquior (in other words that practising Catholics without exception once said regularly) for me has a particular and vivid credibility: “Holy Michael Archangel, defend us in the day of battle; be our safeguard against the wickedness of the devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray: and do thou, Prince of the heavenly host, by the power of God thrust down to hell Satan and all wicked spirits, who wander through the world for the ruin of souls.”
This is no Catholic invention: it is fundamental to the New Testament vision of the world and therefore to the Christian faith...."

From time to time I make the mistake of looking into the comment boxes of other, more popular, blogs; with certain honourable exceptions they seem dominated by a mixture of single-issue obsessives and the positively deranged. (These people have the vote?  ¡Viva la democracia! )  
At the moment there's a particular tendency among the God-haters out there, when they are not making silly references to "sky fairies" and the like, to gloat over the alleged fact that those with left-wing views are "more intelligent" than conservatives. 
A reasonable definition of intelligence (probably rather better than the ability to pass IQ tests) is both a certain openness to the consideration of differing opinions and other people's expression of them and the ability to argue one's own corner coherently. Why, then, is the contemporary liberal-left (across the spectrum - political, ecclesial, academic, cultural) so afraid of the views of those who disagree with them that they try, by means of the fashionable demonising descriptions they love to hurl at their opponents - misogynist, homophobe, islamophobe et al -  to restrict and close down debate rather than encourage it? Until recently 'progressives' loved to decry censorship in all its forms; now it is de rigeur.
The modern left, with its ever expanding rights agenda and concomitant affirmation of a culture of self-defined victimhood, must not be allowed to continue its well-nigh total control over the legitimacy of public discourse; that way lies the extinction of creative expression - in other words,  the triumph of totalitarianism. A civilised, open and tolerant 'public square' comes about as a result of the courteous but resolute clash of ideas...

Monday 27 May 2013

Michael Ramsey on St Augustine of Canterbury

We live in unsubtle and tendentious times. Despite the promise of the recent past, Christian divisions remain as profound and intractable as ever they were; it seems that "the ruler of this world" is forever devising new ways in which he tries to separate us one from another. 
The following words are from, in some ways, a kinder, more hopeful era, yet they stand as a witness to what is best in a tradition which appears to have changed beyond recognition ....
"....Today we have all come to Canterbury with hearts full of thankfulness for place, a man and a history. This place means very much to us as we think of St. Augustine and his monks coming here from Thanet with the Cross borne before them, preaching the Gospel to king and people, and inaugurating a history which includes not only the English Church in its continuity through the centuries but a family of Churches of many countries and races which still see in Canterbury a symbol and a bond.   Today we thank God for all this, and for the witness within Christendom of a tradition of ordered liberty and scriptural Catholicity which the name Anglican has been used to describe. Thanks be to God for his great goodness.
No part of the early history is more interesting than the questions which St. Augustine sent to Pope Gregory about some of his perplexities and the answers which the Pope gave to him. One of the matters which bothered St. Augustine was the variety of customs in different Churches, and Pope Gregory told him that if he found anything in the Gallican or the Roman or in any other Church acceptable to Almighty God he should adopt it in England, because - and here comes the great principle - "things are not to be loved for the sake of places, but places for the sake of good things". "Non pro locis res, sed pro bonis rebus loca amanda sunt". How suggestive, how far reaching, is this principle, how applicable to other issues and other times. "Non pro locis res, sed pro bonis rebus loca." The local, the limited, the particular is to be cherished by Christian people not for any nostalgic attachment to it for its own sake, but always for the real thing which it represents and conveys, the thing which is catholic, essential, lasting. So our love for Canterbury melts into our love for Christ whose shrine Canterbury is; our love for what is Anglican is a little piece of our love for one Holy, Catholic, Apostolic Church; the love of any of us for our own heritage in country, culture, religious experience or theological insight, all subserves the supreme thing -- the reality of God who draws men and women and children into union with himself in the fellowship of his Son. Not things for the sake of places, but places for the sake of good things: let that be a guiding principle, and the good things which concern us are what the apostolic writer calls the things which are not shaken ...".
[Archbishop Michael Ramsey speaking at the opening of the 1968 Lambeth Conference ]

Sunday 26 May 2013

Firmly I believe and truly

More music for Trinity Sunday : Bl John Henry Newman's words from The Dream of Gerontius sung here to the tune Shipston (a Warwickshire folk tune arranged by  Ralph Vaughan Williams for inclusion in the English Hymnal) - the Choir of  Trinity College, Cambridge under Richard Marlow.

Saturday 25 May 2013

Gloria tibi Trinitas

The great Missa Gloria tibi Trinitas by John Taverner (c1490-1545): sung in full by the Choir of Christ Church Oxford, directed by Andrew Darlington
The work is based around the plainsong cantus firmus  of the first psalm antiphon of First Vespers of the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity

"Gloria Tibi Trinitas, aequalis, una Deitas et ante omnia saecula, et nunc et in perpetuum."

Friday 24 May 2013


It's highly revealing of the instinctive attitudes of the British media that following the murder of a serviceman by two Islamist thugs that they ask whether Muslim communities feel endangered.... 
One needs to ask whether our broadcasters' view of the general public reveals a unreasonable, unthinking  and prejudiced contempt and disregard for the restraint and decency of those, lower in the 'social  order,'  who do not automatically share their liberal opinions ...

Ars moriendi

This is well worth reading - a post [here] on what is,  in our modern culture,  the lost art of a good death. 
Comment and a link to the original article in The Telegraph from Fr Stephen Wang of Allen Hall, Chelsea.
What can we do more to prepare our people for the inevitable but almost now unsayable fact of death?

Thursday 23 May 2013


Despite our sympathy with the vast and peaceful majority of British Muslims, we do need to talk about the problem of Islamism in our midst. 
There's a good article here from Alan Johnson in The Telegraph:
"........First, we are frightened to talk freely.Not, hitherto, because we fear that our throats will be slit, although since the Rushdie Affair that fear has produced much artistic self-censorship, as the artist Grayson Perry once had the courage to admit. No, intellectual self-censorship begins elsewhere, in the fear of losing one's place in the warmth of the tribe, huddled together by the fire. We fear that if we look too closely or think too clearly, or talk too much about the problem of Islamism, and the connections as well as the separations between it and Islam, then we will be sent into the cold – shunned by colleagues, not invited to this dinner party, or that conference. We may even face social death itself by being called "Islamophobic". The university today is a stultifyingly conformist institution, reminiscent of those old Soviet-era "cultural associations". The standard version, the line, is policed rigorously. And the only accredited language in which people are allowed to speak is full of well-rehearsed evasions and apologias and exculpatory frameworks.                              Second, we are ignorant of what to talk about.In our intellectual culture religion is a mystery. That's why the commentators mostly refuse to believe religion, any religion, can have anything to do with terrorism. So they either translate terrorists screaming "Allahu Akbar!" into something they can understand – economics, foreign policy, identity – or just change the subject altogether, writing instead (not as well) about the dangers of a racist backlash, the threat of the loss of civil liberties, and so on........                                                                                                                             The last reason for our reticence about talking about Islam and Islamism is the best one. We are frightened of giving comfort to those who would exploit the actions of radical Islamists to attack ordinary Muslims. We worry that if we link this terrorist murder to big words like Islam and Islamism then we will unleash reaction, encourage the EDL and BNP, and the victims will be ordinary Muslims. And that is a good impulse which should condition how we talk about Islam and Islamism. But it should no longer determine whether we talk about Islam and Islamism. It's all too late for that....."
And, to say the unsayable in our culture: throughout history it has not prevented it, but it is relatively easy to tell when Christians, by their language and their behaviour, betray their faith and their Lord, particularly when they claim to be acting in his name: Christ preached a message of reconciliation between God and man, he never took up the sword, never took a life and, willingly, was given over into the power of his enemies - giving his life as a ransom for many.... 

Condemnation of Woolwich murder

ICN has this report, important in the context of this morning's news that at least one 'far right' group, the BNP  (itself, given its essentially fascist / racialist philosophy,  as inimical to our civic freedoms as militant Islam) is attempting to make political capital out of the Woolwich atrocity:
"Representatives from nine faith groups issued a statement last night, following the attack in Woolwich in which a young soldier was savagely killed in the street by two men.
They said: "We, as representatives of many of London's faith communities,  deplore the terrible attack that has taken place today in Woolwich.
All of our religions exalt the sanctity of human life and no grievance could justify such a barbaric assault that has cost a young man his life. Terrorism has no place on our streets. We pray for the victim of this attack and his family, and call for Londoners to stand together at this time.
We will redouble our efforts to work for peace, love, understanding and hope." [a full report of the statement from the Faiths Forum for London is here]
Whatever our view of the origins and essential character of Islam - and Christians cannot but argue that it is in grave error -  it is in no sane person's interests for murderous Islamist militants and 'Koranic fundamentalists' to succeed in driving a wedge between the peaceful majority of British Muslims and the representative institutions and traditional Christian values of our society, ironically with whose ethos many Muslims are far more in tune than the majority of our secularists and liberals.

Wednesday 22 May 2013

C of E House of Bishops Statement on Women in the Episcopate

Latest statement from the House of Bishop, May 2013.
"On May 21 2013 the House of Bishops released the following statement on Women in the Episcopate.
"At its meeting in York the House of Bishops of the Church of England has committed itself to publishing new ways forward to enable women to become bishops.
"In its discussion on the issue of women in the episcopate, the House received and approved for publication the report from the Working Group on Women in the Episcopate which was set up on 11 December to prepare new legislative proposals following the General Synod's rejection of the last legislation on 20 November 2012.
"The report of the Working Group presented four new options as a way forward and proposed that the General Synod should consider those options at its meeting in July. The Working Group also proposed a timetable which would involve the legislation starting its formal stages in the Synod in November and receiving Final Approval in 2015.
"The House of Bishops has agreed that the report of the Working Group should be published with a separate report from the Archbishops on behalf of the House setting out the House's recommendations to the General Synod.  The House has also asked the Business Committee of the General Synod to arrange for a substantial amount of time to be available at the General Synod in July for facilitated conversations in small groups before the Synod comes to a decision on the way forward.
"The House also approved the necessary changes in its standing orders to ensure the attendance of senior women clergy at its meetings. These changes were proposed following the House's decision at its meeting in December to ensure the participation of senior female clergy in its meetings until such time as there are six female members of the house, following the admission of women to the episcopate." [The full statement is here]
At least the long discredited fiction has been dropped that, even where the principle of legislation has been given general approval, 'final' General Synod votes, on the detail of legislation, are somehow guided by the Holy Spirit and express the will of God for the Church. 
Clearly and unambiguously this latest Statement tells us that this issue has already been decided. There can be no turning back. The synodical process is simply there to engineer the ecclesial and, conveniently, the secular, establishment's desired result.  
We have reached, on that,  a certain agreement at last...

Terrorist attack in London

A serving British soldier has been hacked to death in the street this afternoon near Woolwich Barracks in London.  Reports suggest he was attacked in the street by two individuals carrying machetes and invoking the name 'Allah'; they were later shot by police officers.
Government sources are now reporting the murder as a suspected Islamist terrorist incident.
The news in more detail and (warning) some shockingly graphic eyewitness reports  here and here 
It's hard to take in the sickening violence of all this, but our first reaction should be to pray for the family of the soldier and for the repose of his soul, and for all who witnessed this most horrific attack.

Tuesday 21 May 2013

Scott Fitzgerald

Fitzgerald is in the news, mainly, of course, because of the commercial hype surrounding a recent film release. 
But The Great Gatsby as the definitive American novel? 
As a novelist, in terms of narrative and the psychological treatment and development of character, or simple readability, Fitzgerald isn't a patch on Henry James or even Edith Wharton, or for that matter Melville, Flannery O'Connor, Willa Cather and a host of others - his concerns are just ... once again ... fashionable...


Our heartfelt prayers for those injured and whose lives have been shattered, for those who mourn the loss of loved ones and for the souls of those who have died in the Moore, Oklahoma tornado

O God, merciful and compassionate, 
who art ever ready to hear the prayers of those who put their trust in thee; 
Graciously hearken to us who call upon thee, and grant us thy help in this our need; 
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

A strange regression

We are about to witness a strange development in our history.
For the first time since the conversion of England ( the Romano-Celts in the west, the people of what was to become Wales, already adhered to the faith) under St Augustine of Canterbury and his successors, laws will now be passed defining the nature of all marriages and family relationships, and what will be taught about them coercively * to the nation's children, which will run directly counter to the teachings of the Christian Church.
Welcome back to the wonderful pagan Anglo-Saxon world of Woden and Thor; it's lucky we already have days of the week named after them. 

* There is every reason to suppose that this Canadian scenario will also be our experience in Britain; 'live and let live' doesn't seem to form any part of the philosophy of 'equality' campaigners on either side of the Atlantic.

[On a related point, here is a link to a letter written to a community of Carmelite nuns in Argentina by the then Cardinal Bergoglio, when the same issue came before that country's legislature: it may also serve to dispel a few prevalent myths about the present occupant of the Chair of St Peter ]

Monday 20 May 2013

Mrs Jefferts-Schori does it again

If only to remind us that her career discipline is oceanography, Katherine Jefferts-Schori puts her foot in it again - big time!
Report from Anglican Ink [full story and comment here if you can face it]
 We live with the continuing tension between holier impulses that encourage us to see the image of God in all human beings and the reality that some of us choose not to see that glimpse of the divine, and instead use other people as means to an end.  We’re seeing something similar right now in the changing attitudes and laws about same-sex relationships, as many people come to recognize that different is not the same thing as wrong.  For many people, it can be difficult to see God at work in the world around us, particularly if God is doing something unexpected.
There are some remarkable examples of that kind of blindness in the readings we heard this morning, and slavery is wrapped up in a lot of it.  Paul is annoyed at the slave girl who keeps pursuing him, telling the world that he and his companions are slaves of God.  She is quite right.  She’s telling the same truth Paul and others claim for themselves. But Paul is annoyed, perhaps for being put in his place, and he responds by depriving her of her gift of spiritual awareness.  Paul can’t abide something he won’t see as beautiful or holy, so he tries to destroy it.  It gets him thrown in prison.  That’s pretty much where he’s put himself by his own refusal to recognize that she, too, shares in God’s nature, just as much as he does – maybe more so!  The amazing thing is that during that long night in jail he remembers that he might find God there – so he and his cellmates spend the night praying and singing hymns.
An earthquake opens the doors and sets them free, and now Paul and his friends most definitely discern the presence of God.  The jailer doesn’t – he thinks his end is at hand.  This time, Paul remembers who he is and that all his neighbors are reflections of God, and he reaches out to his frightened captor.  This time Paul acts with compassion rather than annoyance, and as a result the company of Jesus’ friends expands to include a whole new household.  It makes me wonder what would have happened to that slave girl if Paul had seen the spirit of God in her..."
Full text [here]
So, a big slap on the wrist for St Paul, then, clearly not signed up sufficiently to the equality and diversity programme as applied to those suffering from demonic possession, not to mention his gross interference with the property rights of those who traffic in slaves and employ forced labour - see, we can all be up-to-date if we try.... even if we don't all make a fetish out of the UN Millennium Development Goals.

As we have come to expect from this particular quarter (this latest address of KJS might even elicit a yawn were it not so execrably theologically illiterate) it's not exactly what one might call an orthodox exegesis ..... setting one's self up as judge over the example and witness of the apostles seldom achieves that end. 
The first rule of homiletics is that if you have to twist a text in order to make it fit your preconceived argument, then choose another text...

Hilariously, the TEC 'Presiding Bishop's' address was given in Curaçao; had she been drinking some beforehand, I wonder? That would be a charitable explanation...
All this, of course,  will help the ecumenical process no end; I would love to be a fly on the wall when they come across reports of her sermon in the Moscow Patriarchate....

But back to Chapter 16 of the Acts of the Apostles: I much prefer this interpretation:; it's a good retelling of the story, and it doesn't do violence to the Scriptural text, or to the Faith itself. 

Ordinary Time: Salve Regina - Peter Philips

To mark the beginning of  'Ordinary Time,'  a setting by the Tudor composer Peter Philips of the traditional Marian anthem for the end of compline.

Sung by The Tudor Consort, directed by Peter Wallis

We've remarked before about the abrupt transition after Pentecost from Eastertide to Ordinary Time in the modern calendars - we have from the Ascension to pray for and anticipate the gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church at Pentecost,  but only have a day in which to celebrate and reflect upon it in the liturgy. 
'Fr Hunwicke's' (Tufton Books / Church Union) Ordo suggests a way of recapturing the spirit (sorry) of the old  Octave of Pentecost, at least as regards the daily mass.

The Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham

The Holy House at the Anglican Shrine

An address given at St Vladimir's Seminary, New York by Bishop Keith Ackerman SSC [On a audio link here]
Highly recommended (thanks to Bishop David Chislett's blog, Streams of the River]

Sunday 19 May 2013

There's sensitivity and there's cultural suicide

From the (almost local) Bristol Post:
"The flag of St George will not be flying over Radstock any time soon after town councillors decided it was inappropriate because of its links with campaigns against Islam hundreds of years ago...."Read it all here
Well, if that 's the case, then we should consider a complete ban on the crescent symbol of Islam, if only because of its 'links' with the Muslim campaign to subjugate Western Europe in the eighth century. It puts the (in comparison)  rather feeble later attempts to recapture and then defend the Christian holy places in Palestine into perspective.   
Emir Abd er Rahman's  campaign was only halted by the victory of Charles Martel's Frankish army near the city of Poitiers (actually closer to Tours) in 732 - not that far from Radstock, when one thinks of the distance already covered by the advancing Arabs.
If there is anything worse than a politically correct fool, it's one without any knowledge of history. Given the existence of local elections, I suppose the people of Radstock get what they deserve...

Appropriate sensitivity to the faith of religious minorities is simply part of a charitable Christian concern for their welfare, and of a duty to maintain and defend the essentially tolerant civilisation of the West - something has been learned from the mistakes of the past; however, self-hatred born of ignorance leading to cultural suicide is another matter altogether.

The statue of Charles Martel in the Palace of Versailles

Robert Herrick: Litany to the Holy Spirit

Litany to the Holy Spirit
IN the hour of my distress,  
When temptations me oppress,  
And when I my sins confess,  
      Sweet Spirit, comfort me!  

When I lie within my bed,          
Sick in heart and sick in head,  
And with doubts discomforted,  
      Sweet Spirit, comfort me!  

When the house doth sigh and weep,  
And the world is drown'd in sleep,   
Yet mine eyes the watch do keep,  
      Sweet Spirit, comfort me!  

When the passing bell doth toll,  
And the Furies in a shoal  
Come to fright a parting soul,   
      Sweet Spirit, comfort me!  

When the tapers now burn blue,  
And the comforters are few,  
And that number more than true,  
      Sweet Spirit, comfort me!   

When the priest his last hath pray'd,  
And I nod to what is said,  
'Cause my speech is now decay'd,  
      Sweet Spirit, comfort me!  

When, God knows, I'm toss'd about   
Either with despair or doubt;  
Yet before the glass be out,  
      Sweet Spirit, comfort me!  

When the tempter me pursu'th  
With the sins of all my youth,   
And half damns me with untruth,  
      Sweet Spirit, comfort me!  

When the flames and hellish cries  
Fright mine ears and fright mine eyes,  
And all terrors me surprise,   
      Sweet Spirit, comfort me!  

When the Judgment is reveal'd,  
And that open'd which was seal'd,  
When to Thee I have appeal'd,  
      Sweet Spirit, comfort me!   

Robert Herrick (1571 - 1674)

Peter Hurford's setting of Herrick's poem (the first three verses) sung here by the Boys Choir of Southwark Cathedral:

So Eastertide ends ...

Saturday 18 May 2013

'Modernisers' - by definition, those who don't know when to leave things alone...

My apologies for a very slow blogging week; the parish has been busy, not least with two funerals, the last being a packed funeral mass for a retired priest and friend. It's been an emotionally draining few days, one way or another. Are we, as clergy, allowed to admit to that...?

But, today, I couldn't resist linking to this article by Tom Chivers in The Telegraph, illustrative of  the cultural cringe which has become an obligatory reaction from almost every established institution in Britain.
"....I know, it’s startling. But this week a small group of downtrodden aristocracy wrote to The Daily Telegraph, describing the system as “outdated and manifestly unfair”. The laws of succession were recently changed to allow Royal daughters to take the throne ahead of their younger brothers, and, they say, it is time to spread equality of the sexes to the country’s hereditary titles. At the moment, daughters are excluded from inheriting most titles and estates......"
".....Now, it might be odd to claim you’re on the wrong end of the inequality seesaw when you own a decent fraction of Britain solely because your great-great-something-great grandfather killed more Danes in defence of sixth-century Wessex than yours did. The feudal system, after all, was not noted for its concern for gender politics. If you got your job because a divinely appointed monarch tapped your ancestor on the shoulder with a sword, you’re not operating under the same employment laws as the rest of us......"
".....But we shouldn’t mock. There’s something lovely about it, about the great and fantastically ancient institutions of Britain slowly turning, like liveried, velvet-bedecked oil tankers, towards modernity, while trying to keep their ancient character. The Royal family has a Twitter account. The House of Lords has started putting its debates up on YouTube. Even the Telegraph has a website these days, I gather.
Is equality for aristocrats a bridge too far? Perhaps. After all, if you take the “outdated and manifestly unfair” stuff out of nobility, it’s not clear much is left. But too late: the noble revolution has begun. To the barricades, my aristocratic sisters! Liberté, égalité, hérédité!"

The full post is here
This is the just the latest, if most bizarre, example of a trend which has been gathering pace for years - a Church which has bowdlerised its liturgy, jettisoning the numinous, sacral language of the past and sitting lightly to 'outdated' credal formularies and moral theology alike; more recently, a 'Conservative Party' which favours gay marriage and other manifestations of the equality agenda oblivious to the consequences for freedom of speech and belief; and now hereditary peers and 'feudal aristocrats' who seem, somewhat counter-intuitively, determined to 'turn towards modernity' and do away with male primogeniture.

'We shouldn't mock,' Tom Chivers argues. No, actually I think we really should.....

Tuesday 14 May 2013

General Synod Elections and beyond

The Conservative Evangelical, The Revd John Richardson has this to say on the subject of the General Synod elections in the dioceses of the Church of England:
"..Certainly, however, it bears out the prognosis of many (and a statement made to me by a leading Anglican theologian) that there has been an agenda: defeat the Anglican Covenant, get women bishops, get LGBT inclusion...." [The full post is here]
That the one should inexorably move on from the other should not be a huge surprise to anyone (as I'm sure it's not for John Richardson himself)  .......  but for goodness' sake, surely by now ......
Is there anyone who still adheres to that myopic view that what happens in the Episcopal Church of the U.S.A. has no relevance on this side of the Atlantic? As they say over there, get real!
Are there still those out there who deny the existence of a liberal agenda? Conspiracy theories on one side, there may not always have been in existence a fully organised liberal agenda (although there certainly is now)  but theological liberalism itself certainly does have a definite agenda to promote. The distinction in terms of the consequences for the life of the Church is ... academic.

The long-term question - and the most interesting one - is what a triumphant 'liberal agenda' will look like when it has completely captured the ecclesial institution and can no longer act as a parasite on the theological orthodoxy of the past... or blame it for present realities. 
Time will tell, and I suspect we will all live to see it. 


Someone asked a question with regard to yesterday's post (related to the post above in so many ways ...)  concerning the absence of our ecclesiastical leaders when it comes to defending the Christian heritage of the West: no, I certainly hadn't overlooked the prophetic witness of Pope Benedict XVI. 
His address to the assembled worthies in Westminster Hall during his visit to England and Scotland in 2010 bears repeated reading, in that he appears to understand British history far better than our elected representatives and contemporary cultural elite.
The tragedy is that on British soil, all too often in recent years any defence of the Judeo-Christian heritage, and those who adhere to it, has been left to the Chief Rabbi.  He has done a sterling job, but couldn't  someone wearing a mitre give him a hand sometimes?
Today is the Feast of St Matthias...

Monday 13 May 2013

What does this say about the state of our political culture?

In an interview (reported here in The Telegraph) Sarah Teather, a former education minister in the Coalition Government, speaks of the difficulties of being a Christian in the Liberal Democrats:
“There are an awful lot of people in my party with a strong religious faith, but there is also an aggressively secular strand amongst our activists, typical of any centre-Left party,” the MP tells the Catholic Herald.
“I sometimes describe myself to people as a liberal Catholic and a Catholic liberal. Both can be hard places to inhabit.”
Most worryingly, then,  these are difficulties experienced not by a conservative religious believer or any kind of 'traditionalist' but by someone who is a self-described 'liberal Catholic.' 

If even liberal Roman Catholics are now finding it hard to survive in British politics, in the party once headed by the High Church (Tractarian) Anglican, W.E. Gladstone, what does this say about the direction in which the culture of our public life is heading? 
It is now quite conceivable that in the not-too-distant future no Christian (at least one who is in any way concerned by or uncomfortable with contemporary trends over the increasingly aggressive promotion of abortion, assisted suicide, the State's redefinition of marriage and the attempted marginalisation and exclusion of those who dissent - in other words anyone who adheres to traditional Christian moral theology) will be able in good conscience to serve in any of our (current) major political parties, whether of the left or, due to Mr Cameron's bouleversement, the right. 
As for the LibDems,  trading the moral principles of Mr Gladstone for those of Dr Evan Harris seems a step in the direction of an evident intellectual and moral decline, if not of an utter degeneracy - something which should in itself invite oblivion at the ballot box (which, for other reasons, is a not impossible prospect.)

Again, we are back to the essential problem that the modern 'left' (even, it seems, the centre-left - if that is actually where the LibDems can now be said to reside) has forsaken the imperative of giving priority to policies which aim to improve the social and living conditions of the poorest in society, for the politically far easier, yet much more culturally destructive, option of pursuing the 'social Marxist' politics of sexuality and equality, increasingly the metaphorical day-glo badge of respectability for the affluent politically-aware middle classes. The right, taking its cue from Barack Obama's victory over Mitt Romney in the U.S.A., rather than on any matter of conviction, has evidently decided that the worst of all prospects is to be seen by the Twitterati as being 'on the wrong side of history,' whatever that nebulous phrase happens to mean - it was used in the 1930s to somewhat different effect.

However, one also has to ask, where has the voice of the Church been while this situation has been developing over the last couple of generations? Christians who are prepared to be open about their faith, and serious in their practice of it, are in clear danger, if current trends continue as expected, of being excluded completely from the public square in Britain - and the silence of our leaders, of all traditions, * is deafening .... 
Perhaps one now has to resign  or retire to speak about such things.

[*There are one or two honourable exceptions]

Sunday 12 May 2013

'Liturgical' introductions & all that jazz...

The parish put on a fundraiser last night in the form of a (very enjoyable) jazz concert given by the Paul Sawtell Quintet.
It's interesting  how human beings in virtually any situation need, gravitate towards and, if necessary, come to invent structure, routine, ritualised form and order (even in the relatively - if deceptively - 'free' medium of jazz )  - promoters of informality in worship, clergy who suffer from raging 'game-show host syndrome' and, of course, all budding liturgists, please note
One of the well-established  traditions of jazz is the introduction of the performers.
I hope they forgive me, but, I'm afraid I couldn't resist this example (spot the prophetic 'Private Eye' reference to David Cameron) :

And an example of the real thing, a piece by Dave Brubeck, who died at the end of last year, called Forty Days - as recommended by a friend: 
'“Forty Days” was originally composed as a part of Dave Brubeck’s oratorio, though it received its premiere by Brubeck’s quartet on the Columbia LP Time In. Initially recorded as a brisk, extended instrumental, the pianist brings to mind the wandering of Jesus Christ in the desert alone for 40 days...'

Saturday 11 May 2013

Sing We of the Blessed Mother

Sing we of the blessed Mother 
Who received the angel’s word,
And obedient to his summons 
Bore in love the infant Lord;
Sing we of the joys of Mary 
At whose breast that child was fed
Who is Son of God eternal 
And the everlasting Bread.

Sing we, too, of Mary’s sorrows, 
Of the sword that pierced her through,
When beneath the cross of Jesus 
She his weight of suffering knew,
Looked upon her Son and Saviour 
Reigning high on Calvary's tree,
Saw the price of man's redemption 
Paid to set the sinner free.

Sing again the joys of Mary 
When she saw the risen Lord,
And in prayer with Christ’s apostles, 
Waited on his promised word;
From on high the blazing glory 
Of the Spirit’s presence came,
Heavenly breath of God’s own being, 
Manifest through wind and flame.

Sing the chiefest joy of Mary 
When on earth her work was done,
And the Lord of all creation 
Brought her to his heavenly home;
Virgin Mother, Mary blessed, 
Raised on high and crowned with grace,
May your Son, the world’s redeemer, 
Grant us all to see his face.

George B. Timms 1910 - 1997

O Mary,
recall the solemn moment when Jesus,
your divine Son, dying on the Cross,
confided us to your maternal care.

You are our Mother;
we desire ever to remain your devout children.
Let us therefore feel the effects of your powerful intercession with Jesus Christ.
Make your name again glorious in Walsingham,
once renowned throughout our land by your visits,
favours, and many miracles.

Pray, Holy Mother of God,
for the conversion of England,
restoration of the sick,
consolation for the afflicted,
repentance of sinners,
peace to the departed.

O Blessed Mary, Mother of God,
Our Lady of Walsingham,
intercede for us.  Amen.

Almighty Father, giver of life and health: 
Look mercifully, we beseech thee, on the sick and suffering, 
especially those for whom our prayers are desired, 
that by thy blessing upon them and upon those who minister to them, 
they may speedily be restored to health, if it be thy gracious will, 
and give thanks to thee in thy holy Church;
 through Christ our Lord. Amen

After The Third Collect (Eric Milner-White)

Friday 10 May 2013

The rudeness of trolls

"Is it .... dead? No, I don't think so - just knocked out ..."
from Harry Potter & The Philosopher's Stone

Live by the sword and die by it, I suppose, but the rudeness of some internet trolls, particularly the anonymous or pseudonymous kind, can sometimes be hard to take, even if we pride ourselves in having developed the hide of a rhinoceros. 
Actually libellous examples of the art of 'trolling' - you know who you are - are, of course, routinely deleted, but it's always up to now been the policy here to allow most anonymous comments simply because there can be occasions when people have a very good reason for not wanting to declare their identities. 
I suppose what I really mean is we should - all - try to be more polite to one another, however sorely provoked we may consider ourselves to be ....  or however indignant we may feel in defence of others. The modern tendency towards vicarious victimhood isn't a sin, as such, but it's incredibly tiresome and leads us only into festering resentments.

There's a passage from Cardinal Seán O'Malley's recent homily after the Boston bombings which should resonate with us all... 

"...Like Christ our Good Shepherd, we who aspire to be Jesus’ disciples and to follow His way of life, we too must work to gather the scattered, to draw people into Christ’s community. It is in His Gospel that we find the answers to the questions of life and the challenging ideals that are part of discipleship; mercy, forgiveness, self sacrifice, service, justice and truth. ..."

If we can't try to build a civilisation of life and love, who else will...?  We can begin that even by the manner in which we - honestly and robustly - disagree

One of 'the best jobs in the country?'

From Country Life [here].... A profound bow, if not a genuflection, in the direction of my famous colleague!
We look forward to reading more about this at All Gas and Gaiters...

Crisis in the Diocese of Llandaff?

The Dean of Llandaff, the Very Revd  Janet Henderson, has resigned after only two months in the post.  
Wales Online reports [here] on the alleged opposition among 'some clergy' to a female dean - one can take that with a certain (very large) pinch of salt, disinformation being the order of the day in some circles, given the regrettable but inevitable politicisation of such appointments in the contemporary Church in Wales, a province increasingly driven by a radical revisionist agenda.

It's not easy to ascertain exactly what has been happening in the Diocese of Llandaff - different people  will tell you different stories -  but it's always far more complicated than anyone is prepared to say ..... after all, there are agendas to be promoted here... and scapegoats to be found...
For instance, what does this extremely naive and at the same time politically loaded journalistic comment imply: "We have seen a blog posting by a clergyman in Wales taking issue with Dean Henderson’s appointment at the time it was announced"?

[Update: as Ancient Briton has pointed out, any attempt to link Dean Henderson's resignation to opposition to a woman holding such a post is undermined by the administrative arrangements set in motion following her resignation. 
Moreover,  as can be seen from this post, at the time of her appointment  traditionalists in Wales (not generally in positions of much influence these days) were far more concerned about the then Archdeacon Henderson's reported attitude towards provision for traditionalists in the continuing women bishops debate than in anything else.]

Whatever our theological point of view may be, this development is extremely sad on a personal level, and we should feel and, far more importantly, pray, for the Archbishop and all those most closely involved, most particularly for the former Dean herself, who - reading between the lines of  the newspaper report above - and other less public comments - has clearly been the recipient of an almost impossible legacy, one which has little or nothing  to do with the fact that she is a woman:
"The Archbishop of Wales has, with enormous sadness, accepted the resignation with immediate effect of the Very Rev’d Janet Henderson as Dean of Llandaff.  He has, in the meantime, asked the Archdeacon of Llandaff, the Venerable Peggy Jackson, as the senior member of the Chapter, to have necessary oversight of the Cathedral on his behalf, until a new Dean is appointed." [here]

Wednesday 8 May 2013

New statistics, old narratives

Some news stories following the Bank Holiday weekend.....

Latest Church of England worshipping figures [here]  a 'curate's egg' if ever there was one.  Not wholly negative but, of course, people do like going to church at Christmas - it forms part of that seasonal experience...

"Eastern imperialism" - how the new great power on the block tries to extend it's influence - it's the "economy, stupid!" [here]

From Scotland on Sunday [here] former Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, urges  evangelicals in the Church of Scotland not to walk away over the ordination of non-celibate homosexuals to the Kirk's ministry. Is there a Gaelic word for indaba?  Anyway, keep the frog talking until the water boils; it may not always be the intention, but the end result is the same....

Miranda Thelfall-Holmes ties herself in knots over the question of the two-thirds majority requirement for final synodical legislation [here] Horror of horrors, the Anglican Covenant, that doomed experiment in trying to fit brakes to a runaway vehicle, might have succeeded  ....
What about a more radical suggestion?  - Suspend synodical government altogether. To adapt the old BT commercial, it's not always good to talk ... (and its lethal to vote....)

And an interesting exchange about 'modern' traditionalism and (in the pre-reformation sense) 'conciliar Catholicism'  [here] Of appeal to those of us who are essentially  - and desperately unfashionably these days  - 'mass and office' Anglo-Catholics.

Monday 6 May 2013

Fr Alexander Schmemann on women and the priesthood.

The Russian Orthodox priest and theologian writing as long ago as 1982:
".....Three essential points, it seems to me, constitute the foundation of this answer. In the first place is the affirmation, common to all Orthodox theologians, of the impossibility of isolating the problem of women’s ordination from the totality of the Church’s Tradition, from the faith in the triune God, in the creation, fall and redemption, in the Church and the mystery of her "theandric" life. Once more the question of tradition stands at the very center and challenges us with essential questions. What is it? Is it the living memory and consciousness of the Church, the essential term of reference or criterion by which we discern the essential unbrokenness of the Church’s life and identity during her pilgrimage through history? Or is it itself a product, or a sequence of products, of history, in the light of which it is to be reevaluated, judged or rejected?
In the second place, Orthodox theology is unanimous, I am sure, in affirming that the question of women’s ordination must be seen and discussed within the scriptural doctrine of man and woman, i.e., of Christian scriptural and doctrinal anthropology, and not within the perspective of "human rights," "equality," etc. – categories whose ability to adequately express the Christian understanding of man and woman is, to say the least, questionable.
And this takes us to the third essential context: that of ecclesiology, of the understanding of the Church and the mystery of salvation. As presented today, it is the result of too many reductions. For if its root is surrender to culture, its pattern of development is shaped by clericalism. Clericalism is, on the one hand, the reduction of the Church to a power structure; and on the other hand, her reduction of that power structure to clergy. Thus, the alleged inferiority of women within secular society corresponds to their inferiority within the ecclesiastical power structure, their exclusion from the "clergy." And therefore, their liberation in secular society must correspond their liberation in the Church, i.e., their admission to the priesthood, etc.
The Church simply cannot be reduced to these categories. As long as we try to measure the ineffable mystery of her life by concepts and ideas a priori alien to her very essence, we mutilate her and her real power, glory and beauty. Her real life simply escapes us...."[here]
What is so troubling to many of us that over the intervening years since these words were written, in the headlong rush to "surrender to culture" - to embrace it, certainly, in the cause of relevance -  none of these points has ever been satisfactorily addressed by supporters of change - dismissed, yes, but seriously considered, no. 
The claims of post-modern liberalism are now regarded as such self-evident truths that to seek to question any one of their basic suppositions is, for too many in our midst, an unpardonable heresy - perhaps the only one. To surrender to culture is to refuse to think outside the narrow and, paradoxically, insular constraints of the prevailing ideology of historical progress. 

The limitations of aligning ourselves so closely with contemporary western culture  are becoming more apparent as each year passes, remembering that for us to surrender to it is to pass all control over the direction of our ecclesial life to the zeitgeist - and to jettison the insistence that the present be constantly interrogated by the true freedom represented by Holy Scripture and apostolic tradition.  Our surrender should be to  Christ alone; those who would speak to us now of 'prophetic' change in the life of the Church and who work so aggressively to promote it are perilously close to making an exclusive identification of the mind of Christ with the 'progressive' culture of the passing hour. 

"As long as we try to measure the ineffable mystery of her life by concepts and ideas a priori alien to her very essence, we mutilate her and her real power, glory and beauty. Her real life simply escapes us...."

Saturday 4 May 2013

Agni Parthene - Seeking unity in and through Mary, the Mother of God

Agni Parthene Despina, (Αγνή Παρθένε Δέσποινα) a hymn to the Mother of God, written by St. Nectarios of Aegina (translation here) and sung by Divna Ljubojević:

On a day whose feast (in whichever calendar we celebrate it, or from whatever ecclesial perspective) causes us to reflect both on the heroic witness of those who suffered for their faith and obedience, and the sad divisions which still stand in the  way of the unity which is the will of Christ for his Church, this is an excerpt from the 2005 Agreed Statement, Mary. Grace and Hope in Christ
"....Among all the saints, Mary takes her place as Theotókos: alive in Christ, she abides with the one she bore, still ‘highly favoured’ in the communion of grace and hope, the exemplar of redeemed humanity, an icon of the Church. Consequently she is believed to exercise a distinctive ministry of assisting others through her active prayer. Many Christians reading the Cana account continue to hear Mary instruct them, “Do whatever he tells you”, and are confident that she draws the attention of her son to their needs: “they have no wine” (John 2:1-12). Many experience a sense of empathy and solidarity with Mary, especially at key points when the account of her life echoes theirs, for example the acceptance of vocation, the scandal of her pregnancy, the improvised surroundings of her labour, giving birth, and fleeing as a refugee. Portrayals of Mary standing at the foot of the cross, and the traditional portrayal of her receiving the crucified body of Jesus (the Pietà), evoke the particular suffering of a mother at the death of her child. Anglicans and Roman Catholics alike are drawn to the mother of Christ, as a figure of tenderness and compassion.
72 The motherly role of Mary, first affirmed in the Gospel accounts of her relationship to Jesus, has been developed in a variety of ways. Christian believers acknowledge Mary to be the mother of God incarnate. As they ponder our Saviour’s dying word to the beloved disciple, “behold your mother” (John 19:27) they may hear an invitation to hold Mary dear as ‘mother of the faithful’: she will care for them as she cared for her son in his hour of need. Hearing Eve called “the mother of all living” (Genesis 3:20), they may come to see Mary as mother of the new humanity, active in her ministry of pointing all people to Christ, seeking the welfare of all the living. We are agreed that, while caution is needed in the use of such imagery, it is fitting to apply it to Mary, as a way of honouring her distinctive relationship to her son, and the efficacy in her of his redeeming work...."
Much of the earlier groundwork which made this agreed statement a possibility was done by the Catholic Anglican theologian, John Macquarrie:
"...In the glimpses of Mary that we have in the gospels, her standing beside her Son, and her prayers and intercessions with the apostles, are particularly striking ways in which Mary shared and supported the work of Christ - and even these are ways in which the Church as a whole can have a share in co-redemption.  But it is Mary who has come to symbolize that perfect harmony between the divine will and the human response, so that it is she who gives meaning to the expression, Corredemptrix.  But secondly there is the further context of the incarnation of the Word.  In this context, the language of co-redemption is also appropriate, but in a different way, for in this regard her contribution was unique and by its very nature could not be literally shared with anyone else.  We are thinking of her now not just as representative or pre-eminent member of the Church, but as Theotokos or Mother of God.  Mary’s willing acceptance of her indispensable role in that chain of events which constituted the incarnation and the redemption which it brought about, was necessary for the nurture of the Lord and for the creation of the Church itself.."
(John MacQuarrie, Mary For All Christians,1990)
But as so often,  perhaps it is in the essential agreement (despite some significant differences in theological language and ecclesial culture) between the great churches of East and West, of Rome and Orthodoxy, something which sheds light on all our purely western divisions, which will show us the way forward to a recovery of unity for the whole Church. The key to the healing of all our divisions is the longed-for reconciliation between East and West, that time when the Church will  begin to breathe once again 'with both lungs.' 
"...If I can unite in myself the thought and the devotion of Eastern and Western Christendom, the Greek and the Latin Fathers, the Russians with the Spanish mystics, I can prepare in myself the reunion of divided Christians. From that secret and unspoken unity in myself can eventually come a visible and manifest unity of all Christians. If we want to bring together what is divided, we can not do so by imposing the one division upon the other or absorbing one division into the other . But id we do this the union is not Christian. It is political and doomed to further conflict. We must contain all divided worlds in ourselves and transcend them in Christ. ...  from Thomas Merton: Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander (1965)

Holy Mother of God, pray for us your scattered children...

Some nostalgic patrimony: The Annunciation from a book I remember very fondly from my childhood: Enid Chadwick's My Book of the Church's Year, published by Mowbrays in the early 1960s
[Correction: that's the edition I have; the book was, in fact, first published in 1948]