Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Just Another Vatican Scandal?

"Between ourselves, these are two things that I have always observed to be in singular accord: supercelestial thoughts and subterranean conduct..." 
Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592)

Is it just another Vatican scandal? Or does the current "Vatileaks" episode portend events of much greater import than a butler stealing his employer's documents for financial advantage? Those old enough to remember the Banco Ambrosiano scandal of the 1980s will not be surprised to learn that money seems again to be at the heart of this scandal, while professional Vatican watchers believe the leaks flowing from high levels in the Vatican are the first covert operations in a war for the control and reform of the Vatican and the Papacy and thus the RC church. In particular, they are aimed at  forcing Benedict to remove Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Bertone (# 2 in the Vatican after the Pope, pictured with Benedict XVI) who is reported to be stymieing  attempts to reform the Pope's bank, the Institute for Works of Religion (a Google search will turn up the history - some of it quite unsavoury - of this institution) and bring it into line with international ethical standards in banking (ironic, eh?).

If Bertone can be replaced with a figure more sympathetic to reform, the thinking reportedly goes, his replacement can build influence among the cardinals and, upon the death of Benedict, the next papal conclave will likely elect a reforming Pope to match him. The implications of that could be far-reaching, even world-historical in their significance, and they would certainly re-shape the Christian landscape, so to speak, in which we all must live. But we should not for a moment think that these developments would be entirely for the good. Yes, Rome needs a clean-up, but there are powerful liberal forces within Roman Catholicism who have been largely denied influence under Ratzinger/Benedict and who, in power, would likely take Roman Catholicism even further from historic Christianity than it is now:
"According to expert Bruno Bartoloni, the “Vatileaks” scandal may be the last straw for many in an institution dogged by bad governance and corruption. “This scandal has enormous consequences, it will create unease and exasperation among the cardinals,” he said.
“They want to find someone who can do a serious clean up. But in cleaning up, they risk starting a revolution,” he added."
Read the AFP story here.
           
If the commentator is proven correct (and at present that's a big if, but he presumably has sources inside the Vatican), it will not be the first time a reform of the Catholic Church has arisen from the stench of the Pope's finances. You might want to keep a weather eye on Rome for the time being. Meanwhile, I note that Benedict XVI seems to be getting frailer with each passing month. The 85 year old pontiff's mind may be alert, but his body is failing; he cannot now even walk up the aisle of St Peter's without assistance. If there are indeed reform conspirators within the walls of the Vatican, they may not have much time to effect their plan.

Monday, 21 May 2012

A Prayer for These Times: Lord Jesus Christ With Us Abide

Thanks to Pr Paul McCain and Dr John Kleinig I am now able to post the full text of Selnecker's hymn (see previous post)  in English as it appeared in the Missouri Synod's The Lutheran Hymnal and in a more modern translation. As Pr McCain noted in his comment, this hymn was a favourite of Dr Sasse (and it is also a favourite of his student, Dr Kleinig). Thanks Paul & John and the others who helped me locate the full text of this powerful hymn, previously unknown to me. The magnificent window at left is found in Christ Church, Eltham, London.  




 "Lord Jesus Christ, With Us Abide"
by Nikolaus Selnecker, 1532-1592
Translated by composite

1. Lord Jesus Christ, with us abide,
For round us falls the eventide;
Nor let Thy Word, that heavenly light,
For us be ever veiled in night.

2. In these last days of sore distress
Grant us, dear Lord, true steadfastness
That pure we keep, till life is spent,
Thy holy Word and Sacrament.

3. Lord Jesus, help, Thy Church uphold,
For we are sluggish, thoughtless, cold.
Oh, prosper well Thy Word of grace
And spread its truth in every place!

4. Oh, keep us in Thy Word, we pray;
The guile and rage of Satan stay!
Oh, may Thy mercy never cease!
Give concord, patience, courage, peace.

5. O God, how sin's dread works abound!
Throughout the earth no rest is found,
And falsehood's spirit wide has spread,
And error boldly rears its head.

6. The haughty spirits, Lord, restrain
Who o'er Thy Church with might would reign
And always set forth something new,
Devised to change Thy doctrine true.

7. And since the cause and glory, Lord,
Are Thine, not ours, to us afford
Thy help and strength and constancy.
With all our heart we trust in Thee.

8. A trusty weapon is Thy Word,
Thy Church's buckler, shield and sword.
Oh, let us in its power confide
That we may seek no other guide!

9. Oh, grant that in Thy holy Word
We here may live and die, dear Lord;
And when our journey endeth here,
Receive us into glory there.

The Lutheran Hymnal
Hymn #292
Text: Luke 24:29
Author: Nikolaus Selnecker et al., 1611
Translated by: composite
Titled: "Ach bleib bei uns, Herr Jesu Christ"
Tune: "Ach bleib bei uns"
1st Published in: Geistliche Lieder
Town: Leipzig,1589

 LH 260 Lord Jesus Christ, with us abide
Tune: Ach bleib bei uns

1 Lord Jesus Christ, with us abide,
for round us falls the eventide;
let not your word, that heavenly light,
for us be ever veiled in night.

2 In these last days of sore distress
grant us, O Lord, true steadfastness,
that pure we keep, till life is spent,
your holy word and sacrament.

3 Lord Jesus, help, your church uphold,
for we are sluggish, thoughtless, cold;
endue your word with power and grace,
and spread its truth in every place.

4 In this your word keep us, we pray;
the guile and rage of Satan stay!
Give to your church your boundless grace,
give concord, patience, courage, peace.

5 O God, how sin's dread works abound!
Throughout the earth no rest is found,
for error now has widely spread,
and falsehood boldly rears its head.

6 Restrain, O Lord, the human pride
that seeks to thrust your truth aside
or with some man-made thought and things
would dim the words Your Spirit sings.

7 And since the glory and the cause,
Lord Jesus, are not ours, but yours,
grant us your strength and keep us true,
that we may always trust in you.

8 A sure defence, Lord, is your word,
your church's buckler, shield, and sword;
in its great power let us confide,
that we may seek no other guide.

9 Lord Jesus Christ, your blessing give,
that in your word we always live,
and when our life is ended here
we may in heaven your glory share.

Friday, 18 May 2012

A Prayer for These Times: Keep Us Ever True To Thee

I came across the following lines while reading Robert Preus's The Theology of Post-Reformation Lutheranism last night and thought it would make a good prayer for these times (also, preachers, relevant to this Sunday's Gospel, I would think) :

And ever is there something new
Devised to change Thy doctrines true;
Lord Jesus! as Thou still dost reign,
These vain, presumptuous minds restrain;

And as the cause and glory, Lord,
Are Thine, not ours, do Thou afford
Us help and strength and constancy,
And keep us ever true to Thee.

They are hymn stanzas by Nikolaus Selnecker, but I'm yet to find the full hymn (perhaps a reader knows it? maybe it appeared in this translation in a 20th C. hymnal of the Missouri Synod or Preus's old "little Norwegian synod" Update - hymn found!). I've known of Selnecker to date only as one of the authors of the Formula of Concord and an early representative of Lutheran orthodoxy, but he was evidently a hymn writer and church musician as well. From Wiki: "Nikolaus Selnecker (or Selneccer) (December 5, 1532, Hersbruck – May 24, 1592, Leipzig) was a German musician and theologian. He is now known mainly as a hymn writer. He is also known as one of the principal authors of the Formula of Concord along with Jakob Andreä and Martin Chemnitz.
At a young age he was an organist in Nuremberg. He studied under Melanchthon at the University of Wittenberg, graduating M. A. in 1554. Later he was a court preacher and musician at Dresden."

Georg Mylius, a Wittenberg professor, had this to say about him at his funeral, “He was not a weathervane or a rubberneck on the doctrine of the Christian religion, nor was he a reed, which the wind blows here and there, nor a man in impressible clothing, who would let himself be moved to all changes in religious matters for the sake of lordly favor and worldly glory, but he has remained true and faithful to a simply known and confessed truth during his lifetime and continues till his death.”
Diberlius. Realencyklopaedie. P.187, courtesy the biography at Studium Excitare.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Mr Steinbeck Goes to Church

As I was tidying the library in the old manse on my day off John Steinbeck's Travels With Charley (the Nobel Prize winning novelist's account of his 1960 trek across America at age 58 (about the time the pic at left was taken), undertaken in a utility truck with a camper mounted on the back (christened 'Rocinante' after Don Quixote's mount) and accompanied  by his dog, Charley) fell to the floor, whereupon I opened it at this passage, would you believe:

"Sunday morning, in a Vermont town, my last day in New England, I shaved, dressed in a suit, polished my shoes, whited my sepulcher, and looked for a church to attend. Several I eliminated for reasons I do not now remember, but on seeing a John Knox church I drove into a side street and parked Rocinante out of sight, gave Charley his instructions about watching the truck, and took my way with dignity to a church of blindingly white ship lap. I took my seat in the rear of the spotless, polished place of worship. The prayers were to the point, directing the attention of the Almighty to certain weaknesses and undivine tendencies I know to be mine and could only suppose were shared by others gathered there.
 The service did my heart and I hope my soul some good. It had been a long time since I had heard such an approach. It is our practice now, at least in the large cities, to find from our psychiatric priesthood that our sins aren’t really sins at all but accidents that are set in motion by forces beyond our control. There was no such nonsense in this church. The minister, a man of iron with tool steel eyes and a delivery like a pneumatic drill, opened up with prayer and reassured us that we were a pretty sorry lot. And he was right. We didn’t amount to much to start with, and due to our own tawdry efforts we had been slipping ever since.
 Then, having softened us up, he went into a glorious sermon, a fire-and- brimstone sermon. Having proved that we, or perhaps only I, were no damn good, he painted with cool certainty what was likely to happen to us if we didn’t make some basic reorganizations for which he didn’t hold out much hope. He spoke of hell as an expert, not that mush-mush hell of these soft days, but a well stoked-white-hot hell served by technicians of the first order.
 This reverend brought it to a point where we could understand it, a good hard coal fire, plenty of draft, and a squad of open hearth devils who put their hearts into their work, and their work was me. I began to feel good all over. For some years now God has been a pal to us, practicing togetherness, and that causes the same emptiness a father does playing softball with his son. But this Vermont God cared enough about me to go to a lot of trouble kicking the hell out of me."

From John Steinbeck, Travels With Charley (Penguin, 2000) pp60-61.

Upon finishing the passage I immediately thought of a sermon I once heard about 12 years ago which went to great lengths to stress that "God was not a head-kicker". I remain unconvinced of the thesis to this day, because I know that I daily need to have my head kicked - not literally, of course; what I mean to say is that I need to have the old Adam "kicked" out of me by repentance! I take it that's what Steinbeck felt too, "feeling good" upon hearing the Law after hearing too much mealy-mouthed "God is your pal" sermonising. Only the full-on, no holds barred preaching of the Law and the Hell our transgressing of it deserves can straiten us up and bring us to the point of true repentance.
Then I thought of CFW Walther's Thesis VI from his Law & Gospel: "In the second place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when the Law is not preached in its full sternness and the Gospel not in its full sweetness..."
The Vermont preacher certainly seems to have brought the Law to bear upon his hearers "in its full sternness", but whether he went on to proclaim Christ in his "full sweetness" as the answer to the terrified sinner's predicament we don't know, since Steinbeck doesn't tell us, apart from mentioning that the preacher "didn't hold out much hope" for his listeners' reform.
While Steinbeck writes that "the reverend brought it to a point where we could understand it", what exactly, I wonder, did the Preacher say that Steinbeck heard as a message of doom "if we didn't make some basic reorganizations for which he didn't hold out much hope"? Was the Preacher leading his listeners to acknowledge their spiritual poverty and deadness apart from God's enlivening grace? What a preacher thinks he says clearly is not always what is actually heard and digested by those in the pulpit, as every experienced preacher can attest; this ought to drive preachers to strive for ever clearer and simpler communication when the Gospel is presented - in matters of spiritual life and death there is no place for waffling or weaseling.Or was this Preacher at the "John Knox" church (doubtless Presbyterian) too far sold on Calvinistic total depravity after years of unrewarding pulpit labour, so that even Christ could not redeem a congregation so obviously of the unelect?
After winding up his account of going to church in Vermont in a somewhat ironic tone, Steinbeck does say he went to church every Sunday after that, at least whilst engaged in his trans-continental peregrinations, although he never again encountered a pulpiteer of the quality of the Vermont preacher, who "forged a religion designed to last, not predigested obsolescence". Whatever the initial impact upon Steinbeck of the "hellfire and brimstone" preacher at the John Knox church in Vermont was, it didn't take. Steinbeck wrote his doctor just before his death of heart failure some eight years later that he was convinced nothing of him would survive his passing. If John Steinbeck was indeed shaken to his core by the Law that Sunday morn, it's a great tragedy that he never heard the Gospel.  Preachers, take note: "the Word of God is not rightly divided when the Law is not preached in its full sternness and the Gospel not in its full sweetness..." .  

    

The Fathers on the Historicity of Adam and Eve II : Various Excerpts from Early Fathers

A reminder to readers that I am examining the claim of a Roman Catholic correspondent who wrote in defence of Cardinal Pell's allegorical interpretation of the account of Adam and Eve (see my last post). This correspondent claimed that the Fathers of the Church provided a precedent for such allegorising. We've already seen that the great Augustine laid it down as a rule of interpretation that whatever figurative meanings might be attached to elements of the narrative concerning the creation of the first man and woman and their fall into sin, as narrated in Genesis 2-3, the historicity of Adam and Eve was a fundamental belief. I'll now present some evidence that the Fathers followed Augustine's rule. What follows is not an exhaustive compilation of the Father's writings on the subject, but is a fair survey of the literature.

First we look at the history of patristic interpretation leading up to Augustine. Proceeding more or less in chronological order, we begin - appropriately enough - with Clement of Rome, whom tradition names as the first Pope of Rome, and whom Tertullian describes as having been consecrated to that position by the Holy Apostle Peter himself; he may also be the Clement mentioned in Phil.4:3:


"Let us then draw near to Him with holiness of spirit, lifting up pure and undefiled hands unto Him, loving our gracious and merciful Father, who has made us partakers in the blessings of His elect. For thus it is written, “When the Most High divided the nations, when He scattered the sons of Adam, He fixed the bounds of the nations according to the number of the angels of God." Clement of Rome, 1st Epistle, chapter 29 [c.AD96]
 
 "Ye see, beloved, how great and wonderful a thing is love, and that there is no declaring its perfection. Who is fit to be found in it, except such as God has vouchsafed to render so? Let us pray, therefore, and implore of His mercy, that we may live blameless in love, free from all human partialities for one above another. All the generations from Adam even unto this day have passed away; but those who, through the grace of God, have been made perfect in love, now possess a place among the godly, and shall be made manifest at the revelation of the kingdom of Christ." Clement of Rome, 1st Epistle, ch 50 [c. AD96].

"For they maintain that the Saviour assumed an animal body, formed in accordance with a special dispensation by an unspeakable providence, so as to become visible and palpable. But flesh is that which was of old formed for Adam by God out of the dust, and it is this that John has declared the Word of God became. Thus is their primary and first-begotten Ogdoad brought to nought." Ireneaus of Lyons, Against Heresies, Book I, ch 9 [c. AD180]
 "Because he was still an infant in age, Adam was not yet able to receive knowledge worthily. For even nowadays when a child is born he is not at once able to eat bread...it would have been the same with Adam. The reason God commanded him not to eat of knowledge was not because Gid begrudged him, as some suppose. Rather, He wished to test Adam, to see whether he would obey His commandment." Theophilus, Bishop of Antioch, Ad Autolychum, [c AD180]; (incidentally, Theophilus was the first to use the term Triad in reference to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit).

"But—as is congruous with the goodness of God, and with His equity, as the Fashioner of mankind—He gave to all nations the selfsame law, which at definite and stated times He enjoined should be observed, when He willed, and through whom He willed, and as He willed. For in the beginning of the world He gave to Adam himself and Eve a law, that they were not to eat of the fruit of the tree planted in the midst of paradise; but that, if they did contrariwise, by death they were to die. Which law had continued enough for them, had it been kept. For in this law given to Adam we recognise in embryo all the precepts which afterwards sprouted forth when given through Moses; that is, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God from thy whole heart and out of thy whole soul; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself; Thou shalt not kill; Thou shalt not commit adultery; Thou shalt not steal; False witness thou shalt not utter; Honour thy father and mother; and, That which is another’s, shalt thou not covet. For the primordial law was given to Adam and Eve in paradise, as the womb of all the precepts of God. In short, if they had loved the Lord their God, they would not have contravened His precept; if they had habitually loved their neighbour—that is, themselves—they would not have believed the persuasion of the serpent, and thus would not have committed murder upon themselves, by falling from immortality, by contravening God’s precept; from theft also they would have abstained, if they had not stealthily tasted of the fruit of the tree, nor had been anxious to skulk beneath a tree to escape the view of the Lord their God; nor would they have been made partners with the falsehood-asseverating devil, by believing him that they would be “like God;” and thus they would not have offended God either, as their Father, who had fashioned them from clay of the earth, as out of the womb of a mother; if they had not coveted another’s, they would not have tasted of the unlawful fruit." Tertullian, A Reply to the Jews, Chapter 2 [A pre-Montanist writing, c. AD200]
 "Before the Law, Adam spoke prophetically concerning the woman and the naming of the creatures." Clement of Alexandria [cAD195] Clement was founder of the famous catechetical school in Alexandria where the "allegorical method" of interpreting the scriptures began.
 "Jesus delivered from the lowest Hades the first man of the earth when that man was lost and bound by the chains of death." Hippolytus, Refutation of all Heresies (attributed.) [c AD205] .

As can be seen from these quotes, the early Fathers, the earliest of whom probably had direct contact with the Apostles, are likely to embarrass the sophisticated modern (or post-modern) theologian with their frank acceptance of the historicity of the Biblical narrative concerning Adam and Eve and the Fall into sin. Some might aver that the early Fathers were naive in their historical and epistemological presuppositions, and that the later, more philosophically sophisticated Fathers, corrected their views. Such is not the case, at least as far as I can see; the historicity of Adam and Eve is the consistent teaching of the early church, as I hope to show in the next post.         

Thursday, 10 May 2012

The Fathers on the Historicity of Adam & Eve: Augustine

When the Old Testament strikes a leak, the water inevitably seeps into the New Testament.
Norman Nagel (Australian Lutheran theologian).

Recently a Roman Catholic correspondent of this blog suggested that the recent public revisionism of Cardinal Pell on the historicity of Adam and Eve (see a recent post) could be justified in light of the approach of the Fathers of the Church this subject. In the back of this correspondent's mind, I deduced, was the belief that the allegorical method of Biblical interpretation practiced by some of the Fathers who were associated with or influenced by the Alexandrian school of Biblical interpretation led them to espouse the view that Adam and Eve are not intended by the Biblical author to be taken literally but figuratively, as is proposed by Cardinal Pell and - let us not hesitate to admit it - very many modern theologians. This modern view has been adopted principally, it would seem, because it is thought that science has rendered an historical  interpretation of the Biblical narrative of Genesis 2-3 obsolete; a figurative first human couple, then, is thought to be a way of preserving Christian doctrine from the corrosive acids of scientific discovery.   

Whatever the we may think of the merits or otherwise of such an approach to Holy Scripture, my first thought in response to my correspondent was that anyone who thinks that a figurative view of Adam and Eve was widely held by the Fathers has not read deeply in their works and is probably only familiar with them through the secondary writings of their modern interpreters (who inevitably come to the Fathers with their own agendas). I cannot, off the top of my head, think of a single church Father who would have entertained the figurative view of Adam and Eve as his mature position (there may be such, I grant, but if so I think they would be the proverbial exceptions that prove the rule - I'm not claiming to be an authority, mind you, but I have at least read widely in the Father's writings on the subject over the course of many years: let the evidence speak for itself is all I say!).  Typical of the Fathers, I would contend, is the view expressed by Augustine in his City of God:             

"...some allegorize all that concerns Paradise itself, where the first humans, the parents of the human race, are, according to the truth of holy Scripture, recorded to have been; and they understand all its trees and fruit-bearing plants as virtues and habits of life, …as if they had no existence in the external world, but were only so spoken of or related for the sake of spiritual meanings. As if there could not be a real terrestrial Paradise! ...No  one, then, denies that Paradise may signify the life of the blessed; its four rivers, the four virtues, prudence, fortitude, temperance, and justice; its trees, all useful knowledge; its fruits, the customs of the godly; its tree of life, wisdom herself, the mother of all good; and the tree of the knowledge of good …and evil, the experience of a broken commandment.. .These and similar allegorical interpretations may be suitably put upon Paradise without giving offence to any one, provided we believe the truth of the story as a faithful record of historical fact."

Augustine, City of God, Book XIII.XXI [italics mine]

This excerpt is particularly useful for our purpose because Augustine, discussing allegorical interpretation as it was practiced by some of his contemporaries, explicitly states that the literal, historical sense remains foundational and is to be understood as setting forth historical fact. Augustine's approach was to hold sway into the Middle Ages and be reiterated by Thomas Aquinas in his great synthesis of medieval theology, the Summa. I will post further patristic and medieval quotations on this subject in the weeks to come, but for now I am proposing that Augustine's approach was typical of the Fathers and became normative for the medieval church and also for Roman Catholic movement which later came into being on the doctrinal basis established  by the Council of Trent. This history of interpretation presents a particular problem for our modern-day Roman Catholic revisionists, including Card. Pell and my correspondent, as I shall also hope to show with reference to some official teachings of the Roman Catholic magisterium, the official teaching office of the RC church, which show that the Roman church has historically understood a historical Adam and Eve to be essential to the integrity of Christian doctrine (I hope the import of the Nagel quote will become clear as these posts proceed).  

Why the focus on Roman Catholicism? Does not Luther have something to say on this subject? Yes, of course! Indeed,  Luther's theology of creation as expressed in his sermons and lectures on Genesis is probably the richest example of creation theology in the history of the church (it is understandable but regrettable nonetheless that Luther's re-discovery of the scriptural doctrine of justification which constituted his "theological Copernican revolution", has all but eclipsed awareness of his creation theology outside the Lutheran Church). But the writings of a Luther or an Augustine, however helpful and enlightening we may find them to be, are themselves to be judged by Holy Scripture, which is the only infallible norm and judge of doctrine. Roman Catholicism, in contrast to this position of the Lutheran Reformation, makes the unique claim among the churches to be the sole divinely appointed, infallible interpreter and teacher of Holy Scripture for all humankind, and this claim is pointed to by Lutheran converts to Roman Catholicism as the solution for the doctrinal confusion they believe inevitably results from the Lutheran practice of sola scriptura. This is a momentous claim which one must decide for or against! But, as I hope to show, not even Roman Catholic cardinals in practice take the Roman claim to be the infallible interpreter of scripture seriously in their heart of hearts - or, at least, so it would seem if Cardinal Pell serves as any kind of example! 

        

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Happy 350th Birthday BCP!


Today (2nd May, when I wrote this) marks the official 350th anniversary of the historic service book of the Church of England, the Book of Common Prayer (1662).

The BCP (first edition 1549, revised in 1552 and again in 1662) bears the imprint of significant Lutheran influence, not only from Myles Coverdale's translation of the Psalter and the Augsburg Confession's influence upon the theology of the 39 Articles appended to most editions, but also in the liturgical language and forms (the inclusion of  Luther's Morning Prayer, for e.g.; one of Thomas Cranmer's liturgical sources was the Lutheran theologian Andreas Osiander, whose niece he married), although Calvinist influence was also apparent in the 1552 revision. In turn the BCP influenced Lutheran liturgies in English-speaking lands, including Australia, where at least one Lutheran congregation (St Stephen's, Adelaide) used modified versions of the BCP services after switching to English (c WWI) until the Lutheran Common Service was introduced via American Lutheranism.

The 1662 edition of the BCP remains the official service book of the Church of England and local varations exist wherever Anglicanism has taken root - although modern service orders have increasingly replaced BCP usage, but that's another subject. I have to confess that the BCP is one of my "desert island books"; as a child the Authorised Version of the Bible and the BCP were the only two books we had in the house, my almae matres studiorum, so to speak, as I spent a lot of time pouring over both and trying to determine the date of Easter decades into the future via the tables of Golden Numbers and Dominical Letters in the BCP - very useful if one were actually to be stranded on a desert island ! I still use the BCP for personal devotions, but don't spread that around :0)

An on-line version of the 1662 BCP can be found here.

Here's an article from Ecumenical News International:   
(ENInews). "Ashes to ashes, dust to dust." "All the deceits of the world, the flesh and the devil." "Read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest."

Shakespeare? The King James Bible? Close -- the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, the liturgical and literary masterpiece that (next to the previous two sources) has helped shape the English language and marks its 350th anniversary this year.

St. Paul's Cathedral in London celebrates the occasion on 2 May with a special service of evensong, or evening prayer, from the 1662 volume, often shortened to the BCP or Prayer Book. Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams is to attend, along with members of Prayer Book societies in Australia, Canada and the U.K. that are dedicated to keeping the work alive.

"I hope and pray that people in Britain and around the English-speaking world realize the importance of this great work," Prudence Dailey, Chair of the Prayer Book Society in the U.K., told ENInews.

The service is the flagship of a nationwide series of events that includes an exhibit at Lambeth Palace Library that acknowledges the 60th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II's coronation, looking at the relationship between the monarchy and the Prayer Book. It includes a copy of the first Prayer Book, published in 1549, and the copy used at Queen Victoria's wedding.

The anniversary actually refers to the revised edition that still stands as the official doctrinal standard of the Church of England and most other churches in the worldwide Anglican Communion.

After Henry VIII's break with the Roman Catholic Church, Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer set out to replace the Latin missal with a book of liturgical services and prayers in English that would also incorporate theological changes, such as less prominence for saints.

The Prayer Book now appears in many variants in the 77-million member Anglican Communion and has influence the liturgical texts of other denominations.

It has proved "very adaptable over the centuries and has been used in many contexts. Many people do prefer the less convoluted language of modern services but the influence of the old Prayer Book permeates the new versions, with many prayers incorporated with minimal changes," the Rev. Gordon Jeanes, a former lecturer in church history at the University of Wales, who appeared at a symposium on the BCP last March at the British Academy in London, told ENInews.

The book's language -- another phrase is "till death us do part" from the marriage service -- resonates even today, said Bishop Stephen Platten of Wakefield (Yorkshire), chair of the Church of England's Liturgical Commission. "Even in an apparently secular world, large numbers come to have their children christened or baptized. The cadences of the Prayer Book have become part of a treasury of prayers and reflections that have helped to fashion people's lives," he told ENInews.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Roman Catholic Catholic Church Kicks Own Goal

Hypocrisy may deceive the cleverest of men, but the least wide-awake child recognises it and is revolted by it, however ingeniously it may be disguised.
Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910)

"Church Dumps Priest Who Wed". That's the headline over a story in the Sydney Morning Herald this morning, after a Roman Catholic priest announced to the media yesterday - it was on national TV - that he had wed the woman he loves. The church, in the form of the Bishop of Parramatta (in Sydney), Anthony Fisher, acted quickly in this instance of a priestly misdeed to remove said priest from his duties overnight. I'm sure this makes perfect sense to loyal Roman Catholics and it is probably also what those of us who understand - more or less - how the Roman Catholic Church works expected: priests of the Roman rite take a vow of celibacy and the church deems that breaking that vow means a man cannot continue to exercise their priestly ministry (perhaps my RC correspondents will fill me in on the points of fine detail in canon law, exceptions for Anglicans swimming the Tiber, und so weiter).

The difficulty the RCC has made for itself by promulgating this medieval rule as church law into contemporary times is that it has long been commonly known in RC circles - and outside them - that very many priests do not keep their vow of celibacy and in fact lead double lives. I know this reality disturbs RC laity; frankly, it disturbs even me - I sympathise with Roman clergy who feel the pressures of celibacy are too much to bear but being duplicitous is no solution. For that reason I commend Fr Lee, the priest who has "come out" as married, for his honesty. The bigger question here is: to what extent do the RC hierarchy connive at this duplicity in order to preserve the veneer of priestly celibacy? It seems that having a girlfriend (or a boyfriend - informed estimates from US studies are that 20% of Catholic clergy are homosexual) is winked at, but dare to marry that girlfriend as God has ordained and the church will act very swiftly indeed to remove you from active ministry. The priest in question has apparently written a book detailing the situation in the priesthood as he knows it from the inside and is set to appear again on TV tonight. I think many priests in the Sydney archdiocese and elsewhere around the country, not least the bishops, will be very nervous as to what he may reveal.   

Then also there is the troubling fact that we now know that priests with long histories of pedophilia and hebephilia have been allowed to continue their ministries - indeed the bishops even facilitated this by moving such priests from parish to parish and protecting them from the civil authorities, taking a long time to admit their error in doing so. This makes the decisive action of the bishop in this instance, however justifiable it may be according to RC canon law, look hypocritical in the extreme. This is especially so given the other news story concerning the RCC getting headlines in Australia at the moment concerning a priest who allegedly sexually molested (including one charge of rape, I believe) several teenage girls and one boy but who was allowed by Catholic authorities to continue in ministry after they were made aware of the allegations; indeed, the priest was even permitted a celebratory Mass on the 50th anniversary of his ordination.  On the same day -yesterday - that the story of the married priest broke, TV news bulletins showed this priest being led into a police station after being arrested. Given that the Roman Catholic Church is the largest single church body in this nation and is thus seen to represent Christianity to an increasingly secularised public, what message do you think these two news stories, inevitably juxtaposed by the editors of the TV news bulletins, send? At best it's an "own goal" by the church, at worst an egregious example of churchly hypocrisy.  

What would Lutherans say on the matter, if given the opportunity? Perhaps something like this:
"There has been common complaint concerning the examples of priests who were not chaste. For that reason also Pope Pius is reported to have said that there were certain causes why marriage was taken away from priests, but that there were far weightier ones why it ought to be given back; for so Platina writes. Since, therefore, our priests were desirous to avoid these open scandals, they married wives, and taught that it was lawful for them to contract matrimony. First, because Paul says, 1 Cor. 7:2,9: To avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife. Also: It is better to marry than to burn. Secondly Christ says, Matt. 19:11: All men cannot receive this saying, where He teaches that not all men are fit to lead a single life; for God created man for procreation, Gen. 1:28. Nor is it in man's power, without a singular gift and work of God, to alter this creation. [For it is manifest, and many have confessed that no good, honest, chaste life, no Christian, sincere, upright conduct has resulted (from the attempt), but a horrible, fearful unrest and torment of conscience has been felt by many until the end.] Therefore, those who are not fit to lead a single life ought to contract matrimony. For no man's law, no vow, can annul the commandment and ordinance of God. For these reasons the priests teach that it is lawful for them to marry wives." The Augsburg Confession, Art XXIII