Some Old/New Advent and Christmas Resources

For many churches, it’s time to think about the Advent/Christmas season. Maybe you’ve already started. Maybe you’re dealing with serious questions, like…should I ask N to light the Advent wreath after he/she almost burned the church down last year? Or perhaps…is there a reason why the congregation mouths the sermons I’m preaching, they are after all the same ones I’ve been doing for the last several years.

Seriously, the Advent/Christmas season is a great season not only to celebrate the incarnation and birth of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, but also to present the Gospel to people who normally don’t darken the doors of your church. But how to do so on a path so well worn and trod?

One way is to use the Biblical story of the coming of Our Lord as a way to illustrate various parts of the Christian life. That was done masterfully by the French bishop Jaques Bénigne Bossuet in his Elevations on the Mysteries. I have spent the last seven years (off and on, mostly off) translating this work into English, and it’s now translated and being posted. The “Advent/Christmas” parts that are completely posted are as follows:

Currently coming out twice a week are the elevations on “The Presentation of Jesus Christ in the Temple, and the Purification of the Holy Virgin.” These should be done by Christmas; if you’re interested, you can subscribe to the blog for these and the rest of the elevations that are to be posted.

I trust these are a blessing and useful to you.

Nazir-Ali Swims the Tiber

As fellow swimmer Gavin Ashenden notes:

It has been announced that Michael Nazir-Ali, former Bishop of Rochester, has left Anglicanism and become a Roman Catholic.

He was received into full communion with the Roman Catholic Church, entering the ordinariate on his name day, the feast of St Michael, two weeks ago.

This is without doubt one of the most politically and theologically significant changes of allegiance in the Christian world for some time.

The problem here–and it’s one I pointed out with Ashenden himself–is that the current Occupant of St. Peter is gunning, one way or another, to remake Roman Catholicism into the image and likeness of the Anglicanism Nazir-Ali left. It was a good move for me a half century ago; now, not so much.

Given that Francis is putting the squeeze on the Tridentine Mass people, if some of same traditionalists decide that the Ordinariate is a reasonable alternative to the “hippy-dippy” Novus Ordo Mass, he’ll put the squeeze on them too. People like Ashenden and Nazir-Ali haven’t quite grasped that Roman Catholicism was just one bull away from going over the same cliff they’re trying to dodge, and some think that bull is either out or impending.

It’s not a happy situation to be in, but it’s where we are, and any amount of projection that it’s something else will only bring temporary relief.

Winning the Lost is Better Than Counting Them

Recently I commented on a post by Dr. Larry Chapp on his back and forth with Ralph Martin on the number of people who will end up in Hell. My response to this was as follows, from Bossuet’s Elevations:

As far as the number of people who are going to Hell, probably the best response comes from the great Bossuet, Elevations on the Mysteries, XVI ,5:

“It is commonly believed that there were three, because of the three presents which they offered. The Church does not say and why does it matter to us to know? It is enough that we know that they were of a number known to God, of the few, of the little flock that God chooses. Look at the vast expanse of the Orient and that of the whole universe. God first calls only this small number; and, when the number of those who serve him is increased, this number, though great in itself, will be small in comparison with the infinite number of those who perish. Why? O man! Who are you, to question God and ask the reason for his advice? Take advantage of the grace offered to you, and leave to God the knowledge of his counsels and the causes of his judgments. You are tempted to disbelief at the sight of the few who have been saved, and you quickly reject the remedy presented to you. Like a foolish patient who, in a large hospital where a doctor would come to him with an infallible remedy, instead of abandoning himself to his direction, he would look to the right and left what he would do with others. Unhappy man, think of your salvation, without showing off your crazy and prideful curiosity over the rest of the sick. Did the Magi say in their hearts: let us not go, because why also does not God call all men? They went, they saw, they worshipped, they offered their presents: they were saved.”

To which Dr. Chapp replied:

If I believed that to be a true expression of Christian Revelation, I would cease being a Christian.

My reaction to that: “Huh?”

You learn very early online that people not understanding something doesn’t stop them from responding to it, and vehemently in many cases. I try to avoid that but sometimes my responders/trolls get the best of me. Let’s see if we can make this best of this mystery.

First, if Dr. Chapp were more familiar with Ralph Martin and the whole Catholic Charismatic Renewal, he would have more ammo to make his own response. Martin’s idea that most people go to Hell is a piece with the remnant theology that dominated the Renewal. It led to the covenant communities and ultimately to the Sword of the Spirit, which Martin himself, realizing that they were over the top, fell out with. I’ve come back at Martin myself and won’t go further with that.

Second, the whole debate over the number who will end up in Hell is one of the most distasteful parlor games in all Christianity, especially when it’s applied individually. God only knows this. It is impossible for limited, finite creatures to have this knowledge. That’s doubtless for the best, I don’t think that we could be trusted with this information. In that respect it’s on par with the Reformed concept of election and knowing the signs thereof.

At this point I’m tempted to say that we have a point-of-view issue. My experience tells me that, with seminary academics and those trained by same, that’s a sure way of getting them to go postal on you. Irrespective of their theological framework, be it rigidly traditional (no matter what tradition you’re talking about) or whether they have drunk from the dregs of modern or post-modern thought, they’re like the fundies: their way is God’s way, and woe to the person who challenges them on that.

But that’s what we’re dealing with here. Chapp and Martin debate the number of people going to Hell; Bossuet deflects our attention from that question towards “What are you going to do about your eternal destiny?” Bossuet is not an original thinker, but he’s capable of distilling some very complex theology into a simple format, as he does in the earlier Elevations. In this case, however, he’s more in a pastoral and soul winning frame of reference. This may be alien to Chapp’s view of things, but it is what it is.

In some ways, it’s like the difference between engineers and scientists. Scientists seek to understand how things work as they are; engineers seek to use that knowledge to fix things and solve problems. Chapp is trying to take the former course, but as you might expect I prefer the latter.

And by the way, what are you doing to do about your eternal destiny?

“I did not take pen in hand to teach you the thoughts of men…”

It’s one of Bossuet’s most famous quotations, and in my opinion his best. It comes from his discussion of the nature of the Magi, some of which is here:

The Magi, are they absolute kings or dependent on a greater empire? or are they only great lords, which gave them the name of kings, according to the custom of their country? Or are they only sages, philosophers, the arbiters of religion in the empire of the Persians or, as it was called then, in that of the Parthians, or in some part of this empire which extended by all the East? Do you think I am going to resolve these doubts and satisfy your curious desires? You are wrong; I did not take pen in hand to teach you the thoughts of men; I will only tell you that they were the scholars of their country, observers of the stars, whom God takes by their attraction, rich and powerful, as their presents make it appear; if they were among those who presided over religion, God had made himself known to them, and they had renounced the worship of their country.

Bossuet, Elevations on the Mysteries, XVI, 3

Elevations on the Birth of Jesus Christ

This is a “well worn” path for the Christmas season. In addition to that, there are two distinctly Catholic (well, at least one) themes that Bossuet explores: the perpetual virginity of Mary and the poverty of Jesus as an example to his followers. The elevations here are as follows: Elevations on the Birth of Jesus […]

Elevations on the Birth of Jesus Christ

Bishop Gerry calls all Oratorians on the Feast of St. Gregory the Great to observe the 9 Character marks of faithful pastors. https://t.co/Mf70h6WPYU

Bishop Gerry calls all Oratorians on the Feast of St. Gregory the Great to observe the 9 Character marks of faithful pastors.

Bishop Gerry calls all Oratorians on the Feast of St. Gregory the Great to observe the 9 Character marks of faithful pastors. https://t.co/Mf70h6WPYU

The “Reverends Pères Jesuites” Never Change

No, they don’t:

Pope Francis and most of the bishops are, to put it mildly, not generally seen as protagonists among these communities and networks. There is real danger that the pope’s actions will push such communities, either due to manufactured martyr-complexes, a genuine sense of alienation and betrayal, or a combination of the two, into more adversarial and combative stances vis-à-vis the rest of the church, the pope, and Vatican II. There are quite strong and troubling precedents for such a possibility in the papacy’s (mis-)handling of the Jansenist crisis with heavy-handed documents like Unigenitus.

I’ve related the present attack on the TLM with the Jansenist crisis, most recently in my piece Kicking the Trads to the Curb. But I’m not the only one to make the connection.

My discovery of the Jansenist controversy was a key in confirming my decision to leave Roman Catholicism for the last time; I had been through enough “mini-Jansenist” problems with the Charismatic Renewal. It’s interesting that the Church was able to “gum” the Charismatics into submission during the pontificate of John Paul II. My guess is that the trads will put up more of a fight like the Jansenists did. In the latter case the fight persisted until the century of the French Revolution, but in many ways the suppression of the Jansenists paved the way for that cataclysmic event.