The Bible says …


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The phrase “Bible believing Christians,” has always seemed either tautological or an attempt at oneupmanship. All Christians “believe” the Bible. But of course, those who self-identify with that description tend to use it to emphasise their orthodoxy. It is perhaps at that last constituency that Steve Chalke aimed when he wrote:

We were once told the Bible is very clear; the earth is flat, slavery is legitimate, leadership is male, divorce equals exclusion, the earth is only 6,000yrs old etc. Now those immature readings of scripture have been dumped. So why do some still use it to exclude LGBT+ people?

Twitter 14/04/23

But as many have pointed out, this is not quite the case. In the first place, the Bible nowhere states that the earth is flat, neither does it endorse slavery, and there are examples of female leadership in Scripture. In response, Chalke attempted to clarify that: “I’m talking about the immature understanding of the Bible by sections of the church.” In fact, what he is really talking about is the understanding of the Bible held at the time according to the conventional wisdom of the age. One can see why he might not have wanted to go that far, as what he is actually arguing is that we should update our understanding of the Bible to bring it in line with the conventional wisdom of our own time. That would, however, raise the question of why should be believe that contemporary understandings are any more valid that those he thinks were the product of “immature” readings? Is it really the case that we are wiser than our forbears? More knowledgeable, perhaps, but wiser?

Leviticus 18:22 is the “clobber” passage par excellence, the one clear example in the Old Testament: “Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination.” A recent article in the Journal of Theological Studies (to be found, alas, behind a pay wall unless you have access via your college or university) Jan Joosten suggests, after a close analysis of the Hebrew, that:

The blanket condemnation of male–male intercourse is a Fremdkörper [lit. “a foreign body” i.e. an addition] in the Hebrew Bible and the Ancient Near East. In contrast, the ‘protection’ of the union of man and wife as the paradigmatic form of human relationships is ubiquitous in the Hebrew Bible. The prohibition of adultery is reiterated many times and in many forms. On the new interpretation, Lev. 18:22 participates in this protection. One could say it comes to close a legal loophole. The law is formulated in a male-centred perspective: sex with a married woman is forbidden. But what about sex with a married man? This is not covered by the prohibition of adultery. But it is covered in our verses

JTS April 2020

As Joosten adds:

The law still stands at some distance from modern mentalities. The effect of Lev. 18:22, on the new reading, is to strengthen the value of the heterosexual couple as a paradigm for human relationships in general: the rights of a woman to her man’s sexuality are given precedence over occasional sexual encounters between men. Homosexual relations are relegated to the realm beyond marriage. This view of human sexuality falls short of contemporary demands for equal rights for same-sex relationships.

JTS April 2020

But of course, that would say nothing about male homosexual intercourse with a non-married man, and it has nothing to say at all about lesbian relationships. In short, a close and scholarly reading does not close down the argument in the way that “Bible-believing Christians,” think it does.

And that is before one gets to the context, where arguments rage over whether the ancient world knew close, loving, same sex relationships. But what is clear is that many legal systems regarded such relationships with disfavour, and used codes of law based on a particular reading of the dominant religious texts to justify it. We are back to the inescapable fact that we cannot interpret some parts of the Bible out of context. Modern progressives think the old readings were wrong; one suspects that the successors of the moderns will find some of their readings equally wrong.

That is why the teachings of the Church and of tradition matter. We can attempt to read these things by ourselves, and of course in very many areas there are consensus readings. But we should, perhaps, at least be aware that when we subject the Bible to whatever our needs in the culture war might be, we are doing just that – searching for a justification for a position we already hold.




In a recent Spectator article, Dan Hitchens raises an issue our own Nicholas has in his comments – will the Church of England hold together? On a wider sphere, will the Anglican communion? If we go further and look at what has been happening in Germany over the “Synodical way” which may well involve the German Bishops moving in what might (without too much mischief) be called an Anglican point of view – that is to accommodating same-sex marriage and the idea of women being priests, we witness the same phenomenon. On top of these epiphenomena of the culture wars, comes the further complication of “imperialism,” and “cultural superiority.” Churches (both Anglican and Catholic) in Africa and other parts of what used to be called “the Third World,” are markedly more conservative and traditional on such issues – which raises the question from which many liberals shy away – is the attempt to advance issues of such concern in the West a form of cultural imperialism which ignores local cultural norms?

It is, of course, a sign of the times in which we live, and its culture, that the issues which divide Christians should be same-sex marriage, and other, gender-related problems. But that should not surprise us. The Church(es) have always argued, and the idea of some perfect era of unity is a myth. From the arguments in the earliest church over the nature of Christ, through to the schisms produced in the fifth and eleventh centuries by Christological arguments, to those caused in the sixteenth century by the question of authority, and to more recent ones over interpretation of doctrine, Christians have seldom managed to live at peace with each other or the spirit of the age. Naturally, Christian leaders want “unity,” but there is always, in that, the danger pointed to by Hitchens in his piece:

Where did it all go wrong? How in the past ten years have the divisions in Anglicanism and Catholicism only deepened under two leaders once championed as unifiers? Both men have sometimes spoken as though the truth is a secondary matter for Christians, less important than a spirit of inclusivity, and have acted as though, with enough cheerfulness, common sense and bureaucratic reform, some middle path could be found. 

Spectator, 8/4/23

The search for some “middle way,” in politics or other areas of secular life is generally regarded as a good idea, but when it comes to Christianity there can be a problem. Jesus is either Lord, or He is not; He is either the Way, the Truth and the Life, or He is not. The test here, for Christians, is whether any “compromise,” is about that issue of supreme importance; on that there is no “middle way.” But before we agree to agree, let us ask a few awkward questions.

The Christian Churches themselves are divided, and despite all attempts at ecumenism, they are no more united now than when such efforts began. Indeed one might almost be tempted to say Christians are no more united now than they were in its early days. But what the Anglican Church has learned, and what, I think the Roman Catholic Church under Pope Francis is trying to learn, is the art of “disagreeing with courtesy” over “inessentials,” while trying to agree on “essentials.”

That, of course, in itself, raises the issues of what is an is not an “essential.” We have “Bible believing” Christians asserting that their own interpretation of Scripture is more reliable and authoritative than that of the Church which gave them that Bible, as though Christians in other Churches do not also use reason to interpret. But to perch on a one-legged stool is to risk the iron entering into the soul. That same tradition which tells us what the Bible is, provides invaluable resources in its interpretation. That same Church which gave us the Bible is an invaluable guide in helping us to understand it. If “I” am essential to my own understanding of Scripture, I am not self-sufficient. Original Sin (the one Christian teaching that can be verified by a look in the mirror) means I will go wrong, left to my own reason; Tradition and the Church will help keep me on the right path.

Is that, then, a “middle way?” It inevitably involves my wrestling with my own assumptions. How much easier it would be to surround myself with my own infallible interpretations. I could just have stopped thinking about topics such as women’s ordination. But how much would I have missed? The female Anglican priests I have met have shown all the signs of being good fruit and added so much to the ministry of the Anglican Church. I don’t want, here, to rehearse the old arguments – those who wish to rest on certain intepretations of a few texts and on tradition will do so, as is their right. But to argue from that, that those who take the other position are some kind of “heretic,” is to ignore the way in which the Holy Spirit is working in the Anglican Church. If, “by their fruits shall ye know them,” has anything to be said for it, then it is hard to argue that the experience of women priests suggests that the Anglicans (and others) took a wrong turn.

The way the Church of England dealt with that issue could almost be a case study in how to find a middle way – and annoy those who do not want one. Those clergy who objected were allowed to have a bishop of their own who agreed with their position, but all ordinands had to agree that women could be priests. Some objected to the whole thing and left, some objected to any allowance being made and stayed and noisily objected, allowing those who stayed to have a nice argument with them. Neither extreme was happy, but then that is the nature of extremes.

We have yet to see whether the Cornonation will be an example of finding a middle way acceptable to most. But to assume, at this point, with just rumour to go on, that the Archbishop will compromise on the essential – that Christ is Lord – is more a product of suspicion and fear than of inside knowledge. When we see the Liturgy, we shall know more

The Crown


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The subject of the Coronation is one that is close to the heart of any patriot. It is no accident that those who want revolutionary change focus on wanting an end to the Monarchy. It is the Monarch who represents this kindgom in a long traditon, broken only once, which goes back to the very creation of the English realm. The Coronation is a sacred occasion. If there was any question of it not being an Anglican ceremony then I should be one of the first to give vent to a protest. Change is a difficult topic for anyone of conservative leanings.

Back in the early 1830s the Conservative Party was formed by the events which surrounded the Emancipation of Catholics in 1829, and those which led to the Reform Act of 1832. The Duke of Wellington, Prime Minister from 1828 to 1830, pressed the King into passing the Catholic Emancipation Bill because of the danger of war in Ireland. He disliked the whole idea of admitting Catholics to the franchise, but did so as the lesser of two evils. It made him, and his deputy, Sir Robert Peel, take a hard line on further reforms to the political system, which eventually led to the return of a Whig Government under Earl Grey which passed a reform act more far-reaching than any Tory had wanted. Wellington, and other “diehards” had, indeed, in parliamentary terms, died. Sir Robert Peel drew a lesson from this, which was that change was constant and that the job of a Conservative was to ensure that it should not be directed by liberals, and that it should be moderate, and in line with the best interests of the country – as viewed from a Conservative point of view.

That tension dominated the “Conservatives” as Peel’s party became known, for the rest of the century. Disraeli even went so far as to pass a quite radical (for the times) Reform Act on 1867 rather than let Gladstone and the Liberals control the process. Controversial at the time, it was later seen as a masterstroke. His successor, Salisbury, took that view that as it was not in the interests of his own class that reform should happen, there should be as little of it as possible. Other Conservative leaders have seen it differently. But all of them took the view that the cornerstone of the arch of the Nation was the monarch.

The Monarchy itself is a study in how conservative institutions can survive. Where, in countries such as Germany and Russia change was resisted, it came in revolutionary fashion; no British monarch has made that mistake. Those who say that a Monarchy is an outdated relic in a democracy miss an important point. This nation is not a democracy, it is a Constitutional Monarchy with a government, elected by the people, acting on delegated powers from the monarch. The ability of the Monarchy to adapt, to move from feudalism towards parliamentary participation, and though to full universal franchise, is a sign of its success. And that success was not accidental, neither was it achieved by digging last ditches. As someone ought to have commented, last ditches are foul places, people die in them – so do ideas and nations.

In seeking to reach out to other faiths, King Charles is doing his part to adapt the institution he heads to the times in which we live. One may, or may not, regret it, but this nation is not identical with the one that witnessed the last Coronation. In making moves which recognise that, King Charles is both strengthening the Monarchy, and bearing witness to the importance of faith. Our Christian faith is under attack, we have enemies enough, without adding to them men and women of other faiths who recognise that the Coronation is a Christian occasion which can invite them to attend. It is not as though Pachamama is being invited, after all.




According to some sources, King Charles III and the Archbishop of Canterbury are at odds over the role “other faiths” might play in the Cornonation next month. The well-known Catholic religious commentator, Catherine Pepinster has written:

“Is it wise for the Christianity of the Coronation – an ancient ceremony dating back more than 1,000 years – to be diluted so that, in the name of diversity, other faiths are included? Anglican canon law effectively rules out representatives of other faiths being actively involved in services if those faiths do not accept the Holy Trinity of Christian doctrine – the Father, Son and Holy Ghost.”

Daily Mail 11/4/23

With all due respect to Ms Pepinster, I am not sure she is an authority on Anglican canon law, so we shall see about that aspect of the matter. But the King has raised, as was his wont as Prince of Wales, an interesting question when it comes to “faiths.”

The title “defender of the faith,” was given to Henry VIII by the Pope for his defence of the faith against Lutheran assaults, and it has been retained by all subsequent monarchs. The late Queen, whose life of service provides abundant evidence of the way her faith inspired her, took the view that being defender of the Christian faith did not mean excluding other faiths. It has been pointed out by some critics that no other faith would allow the presence of other religions at their sacred events, but is that a good reason to imitate a bad example? Christianity is for all who will receive it, and how will they do that if we shut ourselves off in our own little solipsism? Is it not rather a sign of strength that the King is confident enough in his own faith and that of the Church of which he is supreme governor, that he wants other faiths to have some sort of presence at the Cornonation?

We must always beware of hypothesising ahead of the facts – not least as that is a common trope of the “culture wars.” Other faith leaders have made sensible comments:

Sir Iqbal Sacranie, the former founding Secretary-General of the Muslim Council of Britain, said: ‘It is appropriate the formal ritualistic prayers of the Coronation ought to be Anglican as the King is from the Anglican faith. But the presence of other faith leaders will signify the importance that the King represents all the faith communities in the Kingdom.’ Pradip Gajjar, a Hindu leader, said: ‘This is a Christian ceremony for a Christian King. I don’t see a problem with that.’

Nor should Christians see a problem with the King’s Coronation making appropriate acknowledgement of the other faiths practices by those over whom he rules. The key word is, of course, “appropriate”. But, the lurid imagination of the critics aside, is there any reason to suppose that the King, the Archbishop and those who advise them, would do anything against canon law? Of course, to some, the idea, put forward by the then Prince Charles back in 2015, that he saw himself as ‘defender of all faiths,” is anathema, but in the unlikely event that they migh stop to think, a moment’s reflection might suggest that in an age marked, in the West, by an aggressive secularism, people of all faiths have a common interest. They may not agree of the nature of God, but they do agree on rejecting the simple binaries of post-Enlightenment thought. They agree with Hamlet’s words to Horation “There are more things on heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” 

A cornonation, the first (and for some of us probably the last) many of us will have seen in our lifetime, is a mystical event. The annointing of the Monarch with Holy Oil was considered so sacred that a veil was drawn over it at Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation; it will be interesting to see how it will be handled this time. But it is entirely appropriate that a Christian monarch should wish other faiths to be represented at such a time. 




Photo by Nikko Tan on

It has been a long time since I have written regularly here. First, the demands of my post as Provost suggested that, given the propensity of the permanently offended to run to my university to complain about my temerity in having views with which they disagreed, it might be an idea not to feed them; and then the demands which Covid put on those I love, left but little time for reflection.

Yet, time there was, but that time I put to other uses. I found in the daily office of the Church a peace which was unavailable elsewhere; it was much needed. It as a reminder, in case one as attached to regular ritual as myself needed one, of the importance of the daily offices. This was particularly so in the dry seasons, when prayer was hard and I was far enough away from God for it to seem that He was far away from me. It was a reminder that wherever I was, He was always there.

That the world has changed over the last few years is a truism, change it eternal. That said, there is something more than that at work. That world which many of us in the West took for granted, an order underpinned by American wealth and military strength, has seldom seemed so threatened. The external threats are clear enough. The rising power of China; the brutality of Putin; and the fragility of the Western alliance. But internally, too, we have done much to undermine our own order. In the rush to criticise “the West”, too often what has been forgotten are the benefits of a civilisation which, for all its faults, abolished phenomena such as slavery, child labour, and lawlessness in international relations. But we are where we are.

It is easy enough to rail at what others call “progress”, but which seems, to an older man, to deserve another name. But that invites an uncomfortable question – how far are those with a grievance justified, not in wanting whatever it is they want, but in feeling aggrieved. How far have we followed Christ’s commandment to love one another as He has loved us?

Ah! We might say, but those, the others, they are reprehensible. Aren’t they always? Isn’t that an easy way out? And yet, and yet, how hard it can be.

Politics in both the USA and the UK has become ever more tribal, but with a worrying twist. One might, with justification, say that politicians have always tended to be “economical with the truth,” but, and not so long ago, one caught in an outright lie would resign; at the least there would be an odour of hypocrisy about it – the tribute vice paid to virtue. But now there is no tribute paid. The old joke, “how do you know the Prime Minister is lying?” lost its humour under Boris Johnson, but not its accuracy. It is rare to have a totally amoral Prime Minister. Public life must at least appear to be about something more than the personal advancement, when it does not, then cynicism sets in – and that is, perhaps the greatest threat to democracy. Kleptocracy is not a form of government that will ever command much in the way of assent. Populism is a temptation our leaders seem unable to eschew.

So, one way and another, not least with the depredations of COVID, the urge to blog was tempered with a desire to avoid pointless arguments. In tribal politics, the realm allowed to argument is narrowed. The very fact that someone dares take a different point of view can, and does, become of itself and in itself, an “offence.” Those who take “offence” most easily, are apt to be most offensive in turn – but their self-righteousness does not allow them to process that fact, indeed, it makes them even more sensitive. To engage in argument with such people is a waste of effort; one needs to have the humility to know they will not change. Others, who will listen, are a better use of time.

In such a society, it is only to be expected that the Churches will find themselves subject to the same temptations. I stopped reading anything about Pope Francis a long time ago, such is the polarising effect he has. Popes come and go, he has come, he will go. Future historians may see him as the last gasp of sixties liberalism, or a step towards a Church which allows more variation than hithertofore. In the Anglican communion, the long argument over LGBT+ rumbles on, with both sides digging in, as though the main message of Our Lord was not that we should love one another.

In such times what is one to do? But such times are, as any historian will tell you, not uncommon. What is uncommon is the long period of relative peace and prosperity which we have known for so long in the West.

A century and a half ago, Matthew Arnold wrote about the “melancholy, long, withdrawing roar” of the sea of Faith, and still the tide, at least in the West, goes out. But the West is not the world, and even here, immigrants have done something to stem that tide; an example, perhaps, of reverse colonialism in action?

In the light of the Paschal Candle, those empty pews are revealed, but so, too, is the presence of God in our hearts – if we will but seek Him there.

New Life



And so we pass from Easter Saturday to the day of the Resurrection, from a day when the world held its breath, to the day on which the true nature of Good Friday was revealed. He is Risen! He is Risen indeed!

And yet, when we examine the stories of that first Easter day we see what? We see the Apostles either puzzled or uncomprehending. How could it have been otherwise? They had not shown any great ability to understand their Master before the crucifixion, and, at least until the first Pentecost, they were no better able to do so, for the most part.

Of all the remarkable events of that first Easter day, one of the most remarkable was that it was Mary Magdalene who first recognised the Risen Lord. The unsupported word of a woman was not, in Jewish Law, admissable as testimony. Yet as so often, it was a woman who saw to the heart of things: it was the Canaanite woman (Matthew 15:21-28) who persevered in faith and received her reward; it was the Samaritan woman at the well who recognised Jesus as Messiah (John 4:28-42); so it comes as no surprise that it was another woman who was the first witness to the Resurrection.

Mary Magdalene saw her Lord. Then came the Apostles, even poor Thomas, whose perfectly understandable doubts have led to that adjective being attached to his name in perpetuity. After the denials and the hiding, the men who had sought, and so often failed to understand their Lord, were faithful even unto death. That is the call of Easter day to us all. As St John Chrysostom said in his Paschal homily:

Christ is risen! And you, o death, are annihilated!
Christ is risen! And the evil ones are cast down!
Christ is risen! And the angels rejoice!
Christ is risen! And life is liberated!
Christ is risen! And the tomb is emptied of its dead;
for Christ having risen from the dead,
is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

And what of us?

How easy it is for us to get distracted, to find faults with each other, with our Church, with other Christians. But our life IS in Christ, and perhaps, on this most holy of days we can raise our eyes to Heaven and thank Him by being with each other as He would have us be?

For many of us, perhaps for most of us, the past three years have been hard, for some, the hardest ever. We have hardly begun to calculate the bitter harvest of the illness, the deaths, the isolation, the anxiety and the grief of the past three years. But today, let us remind ourselves that in dying, Our Lord took upon Himself the sharpest sorrows of which out flesh is heir, and that, in rising, he deprived death of its sting. And, just as the icon featured above, shows Him raising our first parents, Adam and Eve, we shall rise in Him. Let is renew our faith, let us give thanks, and above all, let us celebrate this Holiest of all days.

After the long, and sometimes dry journey of Lent, we are come to the place where we need to be. After three years when celebrating the Eucharist at Church with our fellows has been either impossible or difficult, we can, once again, receive Him in bread and wine. We can, once again enjoy the fellowship to which we are called. So let us do so with His joy in our hearts.

A happy Easter to all our readers.

The Epiphany



Following yonder star

The feast of the Epiphany began as an Eastern Church celebration, designed to celebrate the baptism of Christ, bu attaching to it as it did the visit of the Magi, the Western Church celebrated something of supreme importance to us – the extension of God’s salvation to the Gentiles.

There are many signs that the Gospel writers initially thought that Christ’s mission was only to the Jews: Matthew 10:5Matthew 15:26 and Mark 7:27, and some of the problems which Paul had with the Judaisers stemmed from this sense possessed by some of the earliest converts that Jesus’ mission was only to the Chosen People. Paul hammers away at this in his great Epistle to the Romans, and of course his whole mission was testimony to the fact that it was not ancestry and the law which saved, but faith in the Lord Jesus.

It is interesting that it should be Matthew alone amongst the Synoptic Gospels who mentions the Magi – as scholars are agreed that the community to which he wrote was a Jewish one.  The parallels between the story of Moses in Exodus and of this part of Christ’s life would have been very clear to the Jewish audience. But if parts of his Gospel look backwards to Jewish tradition, the story of the Magi looks forward to the final words of his Gospel:

19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.

‘All the nations’ are to be evangelised, not just the Jews. The Magi, who sincerely wish to pay homage to the real ‘King of the Jews’ is contrasted with the behaviour of the actual ‘king of the Jews’; the message is plain – from the beginning Gentiles worshipped the Christ. Their acceptance prefigures the conversion of the Gentiles.  As Paul told the Galatians‘There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.’

That was, as it remains, a truly radical message. We are all one in Christ. The things which divide us, indeed the things we use to define ourselves, are naught to Him or to those who are in Him.

It is hard  for us to recapture how radical it was to those first Jewish followers to be told that the Samaritans could be ‘saved’: the Good Samaritan and the Samaritan woman at the well both serve, as do the Magi and the Roman Centurion at the crucifixion, of the faith that would be found in the Gentiles. There have always been, and always will be, those who feel that the Gospel message is just for them and their kind, but the coming of the Magi reminds us that it is for all who will follow His star and heed the Epiphany that Jesus is Lord.

That message would get the early Christians thrown out of the Temple, it would make them outcasts in their own land – but it would pave the way for the conversion of the whole world. At this Epiphany-tide it is good to remember those Wise Men – because they prefigure us.

Like Eliot’s Magi, we cannot encounter Jesus without being changed. Our old signposts are no longer of use, and we need to follow the new ones in this new dispensation. As St Leo the Great wrote:

“the wise men do not go back the same way they had come. It was appropriate for them, now that they believed in Christ, not to walk along the paths of the former way of life, but to take a new path and refrain from the straying that had been left behind …”

Sermon 33, 6 January 443

Eliot captures perfectly that change – and the unease it brings. At that time he was, himself, a convert, and knew whereof he wrote.

The Magi

Crowned: the kings in 12th-14th-century mosaics from St Mark’s Basilica, Venice

“A cold coming they had of it at this time of the year, just the worst time of the year to take a journey, and especially a long journey in. The ways deep, rhe weather sharp, the days short, the sun farthest off in the ‘very deal of winter’ … the these are the difficulties they overcame of a wearisome, riksome, troublesome, dangerous, unseasonable journey; and for all this they came”

Lancelot Andrewes, sermon for Christmas Day, 1622

“A cold coming we had of it,

Just the worst time of the year

For a journey, and such a long journey:

The ways deep and the weather sharp,

The very dead of winter.”

Eliot’s The Journey of the Magi was written in 1927, and those first lines are straight from Andrewe’s sermon. For both men that journey was a parable of our own journey to Christ. We are, as Andrewes commented, always coming: “To Christ we cannot travel travel, but weather and way and all must be fair.”

Eliot and Andrewes capture something easily missed in our tendency to sentimentalise the Nativity; the cost of discipleship. Often, maybe too often, we write as though being a Christian is a matter of coming from unbelief to belief, and liking, as we all do, a happy ending to the story, perhaps we are happy to collude, albeit unconsciously, in such a narrative. The Magi, whose coming we celebrate at the Epiphany remind us of a different – and more difficult story.

Once, and still among those locked into an older (but self-consciously ‘modern’) reading of Scripture, it was the fashion (and doubtless still is) to cast doubt upon the story and to read it as a symbol or a sign. But it is clear that the tradition goes back a long way, and a study of the Church Fathers and of the Suriac tradition, gives us no ground for that late nineteenth, mid-twentieth century pride that somehow the “moderns” knew best. Which is not to say that the way the story is commonly portrayed is accurate, either.

Because there were three gifts, we tend, as the icon pictured above does, to assume there were three Magi. Andrewes inherited the tradition, dating back as far as Justin Martyr, that they were from what is now modern Jordan, from Petra. Justin saw them as fuflfilling the Old Testament prophecies about the coming of the Messiah, and he saw in the three youths in the fiery furnace in Daniel 3, a foreshadowing of them. As the Psalmist (Psalm 72) said: “Yea, all kings shall fall down before him: all nations shall serve him.” Origen, citing Numbers 24:17  saw them (hence Andrewes taking the same view) as fulfilling the prophecy of Balaam” “there shall come a Star out of Jacob.”

The evidence suggests that the Early Church attached huge importance to the story of these visitors “from the East;” it is not hard to see why.

Christ came to save the lost sheep, and the evidence that the first Christians assumed that these were the Jews is abundant. Mark quotes Jesus as saying to the Syro-Phonecian woman:

Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children’s

bread and throw it to the dogs

Despite a lamentable contemporary tendency to read our obessions into it (the idea that Jesus was a racist is dealt with admirable by Dr Ian Paul here), this is another sign of how St Mark shows us that while Our Lord’s mission began with the Jews, it was not confined to them. The Magi serve a similar purpose.

The story of the Magi is significant because of what is tells us, not only about the Magi, but about the Jews.

Wherever the Magi originated – and there is an ancient Syriac text, The Revelation of the Magi which identifies them as being from the land of Shir – they were not Jews. Whether they were “Persians”, or from Petra (and the two are not incompatible), or whether they were descandants of Adam’s third son Seth, they were not among the Chosen People. When Herod consults the Jewish wise men, their system, their logic, their wisdom have nothing to tell him. They believe in a Messiah, but the idea of him being born outside a royal palace has not occurred to them. They are ignorant of him, and will for the most pasrt remain so. Herod is anxious, but they have nothing to tell him.

The Magi, on the other hand, with no Scripture to guide them, and no tradition of a Messiah, show themselves open to whatever God is doing. They do not know the way, but the star guides them; the way is hard; but they take it.

In a theological system that consigned outsiders to eternal condemnation, and where a Samaritan woman could express amazement that a Jew would speak to her, Matthew shows us, as Jesus does, how the Incarnation broke down the dividing wall between cultures. As Paul told the Colossians:

Here there cannot be Greek and circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian and Scythian, slave, free man, but Christ is all, and in all

Col. 3:11

But there was, and is, a cost. Like the Magi, the Christian travels a long aand a hard road. And we might, with Eliot’s Magus, wonder iss it a birth or a death? “I had seen birth and death,” he writes, “But had thought they were different; this Birth was hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.” Dying to the old Adam is not easy. In Andrewe’s words:

With them it was but ‘we have seen’, ‘we are come’; with us it would have been ‘but we are coming’ at most. Our fashion is to see and see again, before we stir a foot, specially if it be to the worship of Christ. Come such a journey at such a time? No; but fairly have put it off to the spring of the year …

Andrewes, Christmas Day 1622

Then of course, it will be easier. But maybe even easier in the summer?

They came, and thanks to God, so can we. But will we?

Christmas Eve Almost Friends


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Well, it’s been a tough year, for all of us, our blogs, and our countries. I’ve lost dear friends, to death, and to internet silence, the vaccine madness, and I’ve dearly missed my friends on All along the Watchtower, so this Christmas Eve let’s join again in fellowship.

I was reminded today of Winston Churchill’s Christmas message in 1941 from the White House, to us all, Briton, American, and the rest of the Anglophone world. We were then engaged in a mighty endeavor to save our nations and our freedom. So it is again. (h/t Victory Girls)

24 December 1941

Washington, D.C.

I spend this anniversary and festival far from my country, far from my family, yet I cannot truthfully say that I feel far from home.  Whether it be the ties of blood on my mother’s side, or the friendships I have developed here over many years of active life, or the commanding sentiment of comradeship in the common cause of great peoples who speak the same language, who kneel at the same altars and, to a very large extent, pursue the same ideals, I cannot feel myself a stranger here in the centre and at the summit of the United States.  I feel a sense of unity and fraternal association which, added to the kindliness of your welcome,  convinces me that I have a right to sit at your fireside and share your Christmas joys.

This is a strange Christmas Eve.  Almost the whole world is locked in deadly struggle, and, with the most terrible weapons which science can devise, the nations advance upon each other.  Ill would it be for us this Christmastide if we were not sure that no greed for the land or wealth of any other people, no vulgar ambition, no morbid lust for material gain at the expense of others, had led us to the field.  Here, in the midst of war, raging and roaring over all the lands and seas, creeping nearer to our hearts and homes, here, amid all the tumult, we have tonight the peace of the spirit in each cottage home and in every generous heart.  Therefore we may cast aside for this night at least the cares and dangers which beset us, and make for the children an evening of happiness in a world of storm.  Here, then, for one night only, each home throughout the English-speaking world should be a brightly-lighted island of happiness and peace.

Let the children have their night of fun and laughter.  Let the gifts of Father Christmas delight their play.  Let us grown-ups share to the full in their unstinted pleasures before we turn again to the stern task and the formidable years that lie before us, resolved that, by our sacrifice and daring, these same children shall not be robbed of their inheritance or denied their right to live in a free and decent world.

And so, in God’s mercy, a happy Christmas to you all.”

In that same broadcast Franklin Roosevelt reminded us:

Our strongest weapon against this war is the conviction of the dignity and brotherhood of man which Christmas Day signifies—more than any other day or any other symbol.”

He continued, “Against enemies who preach the principles of hate and practice them, we set our faith in human love and in God’s care for us and all men everywhere.”

From me, Audre, and Nicholas, and all who frequent NEO

Merry Christmas to all

with our hopes and prayers for the renewal of this, one of our favorite places on the internet.