A Good Place for Lent

Over the years, I’ve noticed that some people take a break for Lent on social media.  Some of that is to avoid the dumpster fire that social media is and has been for a long time, and that’s understandable.  On the flip side, some want to take a break from putting out content and concentrating on what they’re supposed to be concentrating on.

I’ve always had trouble doing that, for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that stuff happens during Lent and some of it needs to be commented upon.  (Some doesn’t.)  But I think the best thing to do is to put out stuff that is edifying, uplifting and makes for introspection.  The one site that I can guarantee does that all year around is the Bossuet Project.  The heart of the project is translating Bossuet’s Elevations on the Mysteries and, in addition to the elevations already there, during Lent this year I’ll be putting up “Elevations on Prophecies,” which deal with the subject in the Old Testament and how it relates to the new.

You can subscribe to the Bossuet Project by clicking the link on the right hand side of any page.  Blessings!

At Least George Conger Permits a Rummage Sale

This interesting tidbit came out during the last episode of Anglicans Unscripted:

For people raised at Bethesda-by-the-Sea in the 1960’s and 1970’s (as George and I were) this has some historical import: in 1968 the Vestry was highly disparaging of Bethesda’s rummage sale, which ultimately led to its end.  That in turn led to the founding of the ongoing rummage sale that is now The Church Mouse resale shop, a process described in my piece A State of Being.

As a side note, in a letter dated 1 May 1968 my father scolded William G. Cluett, Bethesda’s Vestry Senior Warden, as follows:

It is my understanding that the Vestry of Bethesda decided that it will defray the costs incurred by St. Mary’s Guild in preparation for the “Rummage Mart”.  Enclosed in our invoice No 403 covering the printing previously done which has been forwarded to you separately.  Originally it had been my intention to donate this printed matter to the Guild, but the expressed attitude of you and the Vestry precludes this at this time.

Aside from the above mentioned matter, I have learned of the rude and summary manner employed by yourself in dismissing the “Rummage Mart” and the ladies involved therein, one of which was my wife.

I do not question the authority of the Vestry in this matter, but I take personal exception to the attitude and manner directly to my wife.  I shall expect at an early time an apology to my wife.

My father’s relationship with the Episcopal Church in general and Bethesda in particular was never the best, but this incident did a lot to trash it and to make our home something less than an “ideal Christian” one.  It’s a lesson that’s relevant today.  Our ministers get much of the credit (or blame) for making our churches welcoming to people who are new or on the fringes, but lay people–especially powerful ones such as the Cluetts–can and do have an enormous impact of their own.

The Faults We Share on Left and Right

Tim Fountain makes an interesting observation along these lines:

And, as is a fault for Americans today on both the left and the right, they conflate the church and government. Whether it be the Trump is our new King Cyrus movement or the Christian Socialists, there is the belief that holding control of government will produce the Spirit filled body of Christ described in 1 Corinthians 12. Voices on the right and the left assert that people can be coerced by a central authority into “building the Kingdom of God on earth.”

I’m glad Tim came out with this; it’s an observation I’ve wanted to make for a long time but haven’t gotten around to doing.  As was the case with, for example, same-sex civil marriage, left and right mindlessly make the same assumption about the grave importance of our government, and then proceed to fight over it.  There’s nothing particularly Christian about putting the government first the way we do, in fact quite the contrary is the reality.  But set that forth in either camp and the stack-blowing that follows is drearily predictable.

And while were on this piece of Tim’s, he makes another observation:

The article spends some time with two young left wing podcasters, one of whom now identifies as a communist Catholic, and the other as a communist Episcopalian.

These two denominations are natural draws for elite leftists, as both are big on hierarchy. Rome’s history with this needs little reiteration, but it is worth noting that the Episcopal Church has imposed and embraced the term recently, hand in hand with historically high numbers of punished dissenters, property seizures, litigation, more power invested in unaccountable “Executive Committees” and the like, and high minded branding with “tolerance and diversity” while actually declining in active participants and becoming more monochromatic by most demographic markers.

This touches on the business of Anglican/Episcopal people employing Critical Theory.  With Roman Catholics the situation is more complicated, but with the Episcopal Church he’s spot on: the more radical the denomination postures, the whiter and more elite its demographics get, as it they aren’t both already.  That’s an important difference between Christians and SJW types.  Christians are first concerned with the salvation of their own souls and the conduct of their own lives.  SJW’s are concerned with their self-righteous beliefs and their imperative to shove them down other people’s throats, using the government as a weapon and oblivious to unintended consequences.  But Our Lord anticipated that too:

Take care not to perform your religious duties in public in order to be seen by others; if you do, your Father who is in Heaven has no reward for you. Therefore, when you do acts of charity, do not have a trumpet blown in front of you, as hypocrites do in the Synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. There, I tell you, is their reward! But, when you do acts of charity, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, So that your charity may be secret; and your Father, who sees what is in secret, will recompense you. And, when you pray, you are not to behave as hypocrites do. They like to pray standing in the Synagogues and at the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. There, I tell you, is their reward! But, when one of you prays, let him go into his own room, shut the door, and pray to his Father who dwells in secret; and his Father, who sees what is secret, will recompense him. (Matthew 6:1-6 TCNT)

The ACNA should take note as it wrestles with the advocates of Critical Theory.  And for those of you who advocate for it…the first thing you should do if your church is too white or has a membership with too high an average AGI: join a church more to your conviction, and then worry the rest of us about our situation.

And why do you look at the straw in your brother’s eye, while you pay no attention at all to the beam in yours? How will you say to your brother ‘Let me take out the straw from your eye,’ when all the time there is a beam in your own? Hypocrite! Take out the beam from your own eye first, and then you will see clearly how to take out the straw from your brother’s. (Matthew 7:3-5 TCNT)

 

So Really, Why did Christ Come and Die for Us?

The recent Twitter storm (it doesn’t take much) over Canon Theologian Emily Hunter McGowin’s opining on why Jesus came and died for us (the “soteriological question,” to put things more formally) and the reaction thereto got me to thinking about this.  It’s tempting to pass over it as another Anglican food fight, but the question is too important to ignore.  Rather than repeat the assertions and rebuttals from both sides (I’m not sure I understand completely what’s going on here) I’ll set forth my thinking on this subject, which I’m sure will not be to everyone’s taste. My years buried in Aquinas forces me to put something forth which has some intellectual coherence past proof texting.  So here goes…

We have two types of beings in the universe: uncreated and created beings.  God is uncreated.  We are not.  He is entire, self-existent, infinite and finite.  We are imperfect and finite.  I explain this in some detail here.  His goodness, which is an integral part of his being, is likewise entire and perfect.  (Remember this one? ‘”Why ask me about goodness?” answered Jesus. “There is but One who is good. If you want to enter the Life, keep the commandments.”‘ (Matthew 19:17 TCNT) Ours isn’t.  Based on this difference alone, we are infinitely inferior to God and thus are unable to be acceptable to him or to even be in fellowship with him.  The Fall was an inevitable product of our nature, as is the sin that follows.  And that has to be accounted for too: ‘For all have sinned, and all fall short of God’s glorious ideal…’ (Romans 3:23 TCNT).

So what is to be done?  God’s answer was to do the job himself, by sending his Son Jesus Christ, who is uncreated God, to come into the world as a man, die for us on the Cross, and rise for us.  In doing this–which was strictly voluntary, an act of love–he accomplishes two things.  The first is that he assumed to himself our sins (he has none) and thus incurred any penalty due to the breakage of God’s law.  The second–and this is a point that much of Protestant doctrine misses–is that we, in accepting this assumption of sin as our own, allow Jesus Christ to come in and dwell within us, with his uncreated goodness.  That last enables us to have continuing fellowship with the Father and ultimately eternal life.

This is part of the background for the gospel presentation featured on this site:

Let me make a few of comments about some of the issues associated with this.

First, if this is penal substitution, then so be it.  That’s well attested in Patristic literature (not all of it, but a good deal.)  I’ve never been sure about whether it is or not.  I’m more inclined to look at it as the Son going on the difficult mission of reconciliation, doing what is optimal and works to bring God and people back together.

Second, penal substitution is associated with anger in God.  I’ve discussed this issue elsewhere.

Third, I’ve never liked the idea that we had to be totally depraved to miss being able to have fellowship with God.  I think that’s like saying that a student has to have a zero to fail a course when a 59 will do the job nicely, at my institution at least.

I could discuss other topics but, as Origen would say, this post having reached a sufficient length, we will bring it to a close.

Are Anglican Ministers Successors to the Apostles?

Back in December I published a post in response to one Rev. Chris Findley on Dodging the Important Questions on Priests and the Holy Communion.  Unsurprisingly there was no response.  Who knows, Rev. Findley might still be stuck in Murfreesboro’s traffic, which is experiencing serious spillover from Nashville.  In any case, in that post I touched on an unspoken assumption in Findley’s piece: that, if we say (as he does) that “the charge of conducting the sacraments is an apostolic charge for the care of the Church,” we’re saying that those to whom it is charged are successors to the Apostles.

Is that really so?  The Roman Catholics have denied this, although I think their basis for doing so is more the result of how the Church of England came into existence and less about their stated reasons of defective transmission.  The opinion of those on the other side of the Channel has been different.  John Jewel, for example, opines as follows:

“For whereas some use to make so great a vaunt, that the Pope is only Peter’s successor, as though thereby he carried the Holy Ghost in his bosom, and cannot err, this is but a matter of nothing, and a very trifling tale. God’s grace is promised to a good mind, and to one that feareth God, not unto sees and successions. “Riches,” saith Hierom, “may make a bishop to be of more might than the rest: but all the bishops,” whosoever they be, “are the successors of the Apostles.” If so be the place and consecrating only be sufficient, why then Manasses succeeded David, and Caiaphas succeeded Aaron. And it hath been often seen, that an idol hath stand in the temple of God. In old time Archidamus the Lacedaemonian boasted much of himself, how he came of the blood of Hercules.” Jewel, Apology for the Church of England, VI

I thought that this opinion (and the authority) were impeccable, but when I set this forth during controversy my disputant, from The State to the North, thought otherwise.  Is there a way out of this dilemma?

The best way to resolve this is to consider what it really means to succeed the Apostles, and that leads to consider what the main task of those successors really is.  The main task of the Apostles’ successors is to preserve and uphold the apostolic tradition, the paradosis, as they have received it.  In the early years of the Church that task was especially crucial because the canon of the New Testament had not congealed as we know it now: the only Scriptures they had to go on at the start was the Old Testament.  That congealing more sharply defines the apostolic tradition, and by extension simplifies its transmission.  If there’s one thing Reformed Anglicans would like to see, it’s a more Scriptural view in the church.  That’s in line with this “main thing.”

Opposed to this is the Roman Catholic concept that the Apostles’ successors’ main task is to act as Christ’s representatives on earth and dispense the sacraments, and by extension grace.  That puts “binding and loosing” at the front of the Church’s agenda when, in light of Our Lord’s emphasis on servant leadership, it should be well down the list.  If we separate the whole concept of apostolic succession from the “baggage” that’s been attached to it, we can see things in a new light.

And so we come to the serious question: what happens when (and after all these centuries “when” is appropriate) the apostles’ successors “sell the pass” on the apostolic tradition?  Churches which have that succession complain about the ones that don’t, but the reality is that had the apostles’ successors stuck to their original task more faithfully, we wouldn’t have many of these breakaway groups.  (Some are so far removed from the trunk that they can’t even be described as breakaway.)  That’s the core issue facing Catholic “trads” right at the moment, but it’s been going on for a long time.

Finally, there are many things which divide the Anglican/Episcopal world these days, but one of them that doesn’t get much press is basic ecclesiology.  What is the church all about?  What part of it are we in?  Coming to some kind of common understanding on this would go a long way to solving the many other problems out there, but don’t hold your breath for a solution any time soon.

Is the “Classic” Concept of Original Sin Based on a Mistranslation?

An intriguing suggestion from J.N.D. Kelly’s Early Christian Doctrines.  First, concerning Ambrosiaster’s influential Commentary on Romans:

Ambrosiaster’s teaching is particularly note­worthy because it relies on an exegesis of Rom. 5, 12 which, though mistaken and based on a false reading, was to become the pivot of the doctrine of original sin. In the Greek St. Paul’s text runs, ‘…so death passed to all men inasmuch as (εφ ω) all sinned’; but the Old Latin version which Ambrosiaster used had the faulty translation ‘…in whom (in quo) all sinned’. Hence we find him  commenting, ‘”In whom”, that is, in Adam, “all sinned.” He said, “In whom”, in the masculine, although speaking about the woman, because his reference was to the race, not the sex. It is therefore plain that all men sinned in Adam as in a lump (quasi in massa). For Adam himself was corrupted by sin, and all whom he begat were born under sin. Thus we are all sinners from him, since we all derive from him.’ (p. 354, quote from Ambrosiaster’s Commentary on Romans, 5,12)

And Augustine:

So Augustine has no doubt of the reality of original sin. Genesis apart, he finds Scriptural proof of it in Ps. 51, Job and Eph. 2, 3, but above all in Rom. 5, 12 (where, like Ambrosi­aster, he reads ‘in whom’) and John 3, 3-5. The Church’s tradition, too, he is satisfied, is unanimously in favour of it, and he marshals an array of patristic evidence to convince Julian of Eclanum of this. The practice of baptizing infants with exorcisms and a solemn renunciation of the Devil was in his eyes proof positive that even they were infected with sin. Finally, the general wretchedness of man’s lot and his enslavement to his desires seemed to clinch the matter. Like others before him, he believed that the taint was propagated from parent to child by the physical act of generation, or rather as the result of the carnal excitement which accompanied it and was present, he noticed, in the sexual intercourse even of baptized persons. As we have seen, Augustine was divided in mind between the traducianist and various forms of the creationist theory of the soul’s origin. If the former is right, original sin passes to us directly from our parents; if the latter, the freshly created soul becomes soiled as it enters the body. (p. 363)

There are a couple of things that need to be noted about this.

First, although Kelly places the mistranslation with the Old Latin version, the Vulgate is no different.  That in part is because the Vulgate translation of the New Testament isn’t really a fresh translation (unlike the Old Testament, where Jerome did so from the original Hebrew) but a revision of the Old Latin.

Second, there’s no doubt that the Church Fathers all taught that the Fall was a disaster and left us in a sinfully impaired state.  The issue here is how that disaster has been propagated.  Ambrosiaster and Augustine were of the idea that Adam’s sin was directly passed from parent to child, based on the reading from the Old Latin.  (Ambrosiaster’s expansion into “gender-neutral” territory is an interesting aspect of his teaching.)  That has influenced many things in Christianity, from the Roman Catholic doctrine of Limbo to the insistence that infants be baptised.

As always, Bossuet has a full exposition of this idea, which you can find here.

The Intellectual Shell Game of Critical Race Theory in the Anglican/Episcopal World

Matt Kennedy’s thoughtful piece on critical race theory lays out many things very succinctly.  My purpose here is to take a look at this from another point of view.  The way Matt links current critical race theory with the class theory of Marxism connects many dots, dots which have driven many of my life decisions, especially regarding choice of church.

Let’s start with the Marxism.  Marxism teaches class warfare, and that when the proletariat achieves their revolutionary destiny we will have their dictatorship, equality, and the end of the state.  (My time in both Russia and China showed that the last is a mirage.)  In the meanwhile the aristocrats and the bourgeoisie are the exploiters of the proletariat’s surplus value, and are thus evil and worthy of overthrow.  (My time in especially Russia showed me that an economic system that doesn’t produce surplus value runs down, as theirs did.)

Before all of this informative travel, there was life in Palm Beach and the Episcopal Church.  I looked around me and realized two things.  The first is that the people around me were, in Marxist terms (and remember that the Marxists had nuclear weapons pointed at us) part of the problem.  The second is that Our Lord’s solution to this problem was for the rich young ruler to sell all and follow him.

The Episcopal Church’s answer to all of this fell seriously flat.  First, I was confronted with the “do-gooder approach” by my Episcopal prep school chaplain, which seemed inadequate.  Second, the Episcopal Church was in the throes of 1960’s social justice, where the church and its parishioners were exhorted to get into political action to change things.  Neither of these seemed much a response to either Marx or Jesus; the political action in particular was an attempt to get someone else (in this case the state) to do the work that Our Lord called us to do.  The Episcopalians remained at the “top of the heap,” which meant that the Marxist challenge went unanswered.  All of this was part but not all of the reason why I left.

Fast forward to the days of critical race theory.  Critical race theory does for Marx what Marx did for Hegel; it turns the older concept on its head.  Marx was all about economics.  Critical race theory is first an American attempt to create an oppression dialectic without having to deal with the reality of economic and class differences.  That’s because Americans have a serious blind spot to both and are too ashamed to admit that they’re on the wrong side of the divide (and it doesn’t matter which side you’re on.)

In any case, the Anglican/Episcopal world in North America is just about as unprepared to deal with critical race theory now as it was with social justice fifty years ago.  That’s because the Episcopal Church (and the ACNA isn’t much better) are overwhelmingly white, in TEC’s case more so than the Southern Baptists.  It’s really stupid to bring up “white privilege” in churches with the ethnic makeup that most Anglican/Episcopal churches in this country have.  If you want to deal with your privilege, whether it be racial, social or economic, you need to first join up with people where your privilege doesn’t mean as much.  That doesn’t happen very often.

All of this duplicity has convinced me that critical race theory is a shell game.  Like past and present social justice, it gives its adherents an opportunity to virtue signal/feel better about themselves without significantly disturbing the reality they’re in, a reality about which they’re seriously guilty.  Just because people virtue signal about something doesn’t mean they’re serious: just look at the college admissions scandal we just went through.  That too was an attempt by what we used to call the “beautiful people” to perpetuate their own white privilege by getting their unqualified children into elite institutions.

We need to stop playing games with ourselves on this subject.  The change we really need comes from God through Jesus Christ.  Once that’s really happened we become a new race with a new blood line; our world and the way we see it and deal with it becomes different.  Anything else is a shell game which either seeks to deflect attention away from ourselves and to assuage our guilt for what we are.  We don’t need guilt reduction: we need redemption and forgiveness.

Francis Chan Bails on Bill Clinton’s Eucharistic Theology

As you see here:

“Bill Clinton’s Eucharistic Theology” is my catty description of Zwinglian theology, which posits that the Holy Communion is a mere symbol.  As I noted in my piece entitled Bill Clinton’s Eucharistic Theology: It Depends Upon What Is Is:

Until the Reformation Christianity uniformly confessed that, when Our Lord said “is” he meant “is”, up to and including the concept of transubstantiation, which Aquinas details in the Summa.

With the breakage of the Reformers we start seeing a variety of explanations of how this “is”, something that Bossuet has more fun than a human being ought to have in his History of the Variations of the Protestant Churches.  But the biggest variation, one that started with Huldreich Zwingli, basically stated that “is isn’t”; that it’s just bread from start to finish and that the Lord’s Supper is purely symbolic.  That “theology” made its way into many Evangelical churches, including the Southern Baptist Convention.

Welcome, Francis Chan.

On the Prayer Book as Constitution — Ad Orientem

The prayer book controversies, however, are an illustration of one of the banes of the English speaking world: debating substantive issues by arguing over documents. Today in the U.S. we debate many issues in our society, not on their merits, but by their constitutionality. The basic problem with the newer prayer book is that many […]

via On the Prayer Book as Constitution — Ad Orientem

The Year the 1928 Book of Common Prayer Ran Out of Gas

The release of the ACNA’s new prayer book this past year doesn’t change the fact that not everyone is happy with it, even in the ACNA.  One competitor in the field–especially amongst churches that most would classify as High Church in one form or another–is the venerable 1928 Book of Common Prayer, kept in front of everyone with the help of the 1928 Prayer Book Alliance.

As mellifluous and delightful as this book is, I think we need to admit that, in one respect at least, it ran out of gas a few years ago.  Let’s start by looking at the front matter, pp. lii-liii, reproduced below.

Pages-from-bcp-1928_lii-liii

On the left is a method of finding Easter Day.  The compilers of the Prayer Book were mindful that most parishioners–to say nothing of the clergy–would not delve into the complexities of computing Easter every year.  (Today computer languages such as PHP will do the job for you, the basis of much of the Anglican Calendar Script.)  So on the right were Easter days from 1786 (just before our Constitution was ratified and the Episcopal Church was founded) to 1899, when my great-grandfather sailed Lake Michigan.

They continued the table, and added an other one to find the other Holy Days.

Pages-from-bcp-1928_liv-lv

Note carefully in this table and the last that 1800 and 1900, although divisible by four, were not leap years, but 2000 was, another unusual aspect of the beginning of this millennium.

Alas, however, all things must come to an end, and the table ends in 2013.  That’s the year that the 1928 BCP, so to speak, runs out of gas.

I doubt seriously that the compilers of the 1928 BCP saw the tumult that was to flow through the years listed on this page, much of which is documented on this site.  I also would have been amazed if you had told me when I was growing up on this that I would be working on my PhD in 2013, let alone pursuing a PhD at all!

While were on the subject of this book, let’s consider a couple of covers, at least for this site.

No matter which prayer book you’re using–and I know, Pentecostals, that you’re sneaking to Episcopal and Anglican churches to see what it’s all about–I would like to end with the closing benediction (based on 2 Cor. 13:14) from Morning Prayer:

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Ghost, be with us all evermore. Amen.