I see that Pope Francis is in hot water again: first they didn’t like his encyclical on our common home, the earth; then they did not like his encyclical on us all being brothers (and sisters); and now, depending on which mistranslation (or not) you choose to believe, they don’t like his comments on civil unions, or is it civil coexistence? The “they” in question are the super-Catholics on social media who can, literally answer the rhetorical question: ‘Is the Pope a Catholic?’ with the answer ‘no’!
Now, I ought to admit I have what the English call ‘form’ on this. A few years back when I admitted that, after some thinking about it, I had decided to attend the wedding of a lesbian friend, there were some here who thought that was a bad thing to have done. For me it was an expression of friendship. It may be a generational thing. I don’t know how many people in their sixties and over have friends who are gay or lesbian, but for people my age (“thirty erm something …”) it’s not uncommon, and Abi happened to have been a friend since childhood. I think this was the sort of thing the Pope may have been talking about. It’s not necessarily about his approving gay marriage, I am sure he doesn’t because Roman Catholic doctrine forbids it, it’s probably more about how we react to our gay and lesbian friends in what the Pope calls ‘civil society.’
It’s a good question, and it’s good that he is raising it. Certainly where I used to work, and where my other half works, there are plenty of people who are gay, and it would be invidious, as the Catholic Church acknowledges, to subject them to any form of discrimination in everyday life. That’s separate from the fraught issue of gay marriage, and whilst gay people may feel offended by the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, they know what that teaching is, and just as with other sexual acts which are not ‘open to life’ they make a choice. I suspect if every man who had ever masturbated, fancied a woman not his wife and had sex without benefit of marriage, or without the intention of being “open to life” ceased going to Church, attendance would fall dramatically, and maybe it’s worth remembering that. The media goes on, as gay people tend to, about homosexuality as though the Church taught only about that, it’s teaching on the theology of the body goes much further and covers much more – but we hear little of that. But I lost sight of the last press report banging on about sex outside marriage or contraception. Motes and beams come to mind for some reason.
If the Pope was talking about how we treat each other in civil society, then his words are surely in line with Roman Catholic teaching? If they were what some hold them to have been, then that’s a matter for those in his Church. We Anglicans, after all, have our own problems on this one.
I totally “get” why some get het up on this theme, but gay people are not going to get back in the closet any time soon, nor are they going away, and nor are they all atheists or agnostic. In the long history of Christianity the length of time that gay and lesbian people have been able to be open about their sexuality without legal consequences is a short one, and the Church tends to have time scales rather more lengthy.
There have always been Christians who have been homosexual, the problem seems to be that some Christians were more comfortable when they were in the closet and are uncomfortable now they are out of it. But for Christians who are homosexual, there is a cross to be carried, and they want to be in the Church for who they are, not what their sexual preference is, and indeed, for many, their sexuality is very much a secondary issue, however much it seems to preoccupy some others.
After all, what are we really going to do in the modern world? Are we going to excluded all remarried and divorced people from the eucharist? Are we going to ostracise the money-lenders? Should we think again about stoning? Those lacking in sin, can, of course, be first to begin to lessen the pile of stones. For the rest of us, well we might just want to think about what Pope Francis is really saying, which seems to be that we are all human, all sinners, and that in terms of civil society, let’s not discriminate against people who want to have sex with people of their own gender. Naturally, since there would be zero clickbait headlines in any of that, the MSM prefer to big it up. I do wish they’d stop … but that, as they say, is another story. Enjoy your Saturday!
One of our best historians, Tom Holland, whose book on the influence of Christianity, Dominion, is well-worth reading (and would make an excellent Christmas present), has written a moving account of his return to the Church of England here. It speaks for itself, and I hope that readers here who have not come across it will be edified by it.
One of the things which struck me was something which has been nagging at the back of my mind for a while, one of those things which, until you suddenly realise what it was, baffles you and can be vaguely irritating, and that is the power of a good sermon. It made me stop and think about the last time I heard a good sermon, and unless one counts (which I am inclined to) listening to Rowan Williams in a church, then I can’t remember. That’s not to say I have not heard interesting sermons which made some good points, but it is to say that what I would call a “good” sermon does more than that.
I usually read sermons after Morning Prayer, and have recently finished those by Austin Farrer, which I would highly recommend; he knew how to pitch a sermon. My usual standby is, of course, Newman’s Sermons Parochial and Plain which can all be found on the internet here. There is a vigour and a charism about them which makes them as compelling now as when they were delivered. In the past here I have included some of by Pusey, which can be a little hard going and, much more than Newman’s, are of their time. For those, like me, who like a good meaty sermon, these, by Gervase Charmley of Bethel, Hanley, I recommend, and they bear hearing more than once, which is usually the sign of a good sermon. My latest reading is Preaching, Radical & Orthodox, which I have recently begun, and which I also heartily recommend.
One question, put to me by a friend, was whether sermons were the same as homilies? I tend to think not, but that may simply be because I find an eight to ten minute talk a little like an hors d’ouvre without a main course.
It is tempting to say that it is the style of the preacher which creates the impact, but by common testimony neither Newman nor Farrer were great showmen. However, there can be no doubt that a great presentation can enhance a good sermon, and here one of those mentioned by Tom Holland stands out for me, and that is Fr Marcus Walker, the Rector of Great St Bartholemew’s in London, whose sermons, though on the short side, do indeed raise one’s thoughts – and mood. Some of them can be found here, and will, I hope, edify others as they have myself and Tom Holland.
In the beginning was the Word, and it is good to be reminded by Tom Holland of the part the spoken word can play in bringing us to Christ.
And if you enjoyed Fr Marcus’ sermons, or would like to help maintain Great St Bart’s, there’s a link here towards restoration.
I was moved by one of the comments on my last post, the link from Scoop to a friend’s blog wherein the latter, a recent convert to Rome, lamented both the state of the current Pope and the Church, but expressed his joy at being in the right Church, the one founded by Jesus. I felt his pain, as I feel that of Scoop. It can’t be easy to be an orthodox Catholic at the moment. It’s a feeling which I know drove some Anglicans out of the Church of England into Rome, some via the Ordinariate.
I have a sense from those I know that those in the Ordinariate are happier than those who converted and joined their local Catholic congregation, though would be delighted to be wrong on this, as I know, from personal experience, how bitterly awful it can be when you and your church seem constantly at odds, and I can well understand why people change church. But I have also observed how often it does not bring what the person converting hoped it would bring.
At the centre of much of this is the question of the Pope. If you sincerely come to believe that the only Catholic Church is the one headed by the Pope, then the Tiber must be crossed, though quite what you do if you conclude Pope Francis isn’t the Pope, I am not sure. I guess wait out the storm and hope for better days. But, outside the Roman tradition, no one else believes that the one infallible mark of being the Catholic Church is recognising the Bishop of Rome as the supreme authority. It was not so in the Church of the Fathers, and not all the selective cherry-picking of quotations will ever make it so. It would be hard to convict the Eastern or non-Chalcedonian Orthodox of a love of novelty, and neither of them holds the Bishop of Rome in that role. My own Church takes the same view.
I am a Catholic in so far as the Church to which I belong recognises the historic Creeds and the Councils of the undivided Church, and it adheres to the ancient orders of the Church – deacon, priest and bishop. For those who feel that these orders can never be held by women then the Orthodox Church or the Roman Church is the place to be. For those, such as myself, who are unconvinced that such a view is based on more than a patriachal insistence on reading Scripture in that way, the Anglican Communion is the place to be.
Is it perfect? No more than any other Church. But the idea that unless you are communion with the Bishop of Rome you are bound to hell is a confection of late origin, designed by Rome to strengthen its hand against Constantinople. This insistence by Rome helped shatter the unity of the early Church, just as Rome’s insistence on having its own way shattered the unity of the Western Church. This, naturally, is not how Rome reads it, but it is how all the other Catholic Churches read it. It may, of course, be that Rome alone is correct, but its own openness to ecumenism since the Seconf Vativan Council suggests a willingness to move beyond old disputes, which many of us welcome. No-one is happy to see the Bishop of Rome separated out from the other Apostolic Churches, though I doubt anyone much thinks that the way to union is easy, or near.
I can do no more by way of concluding with what that great Christian, Bishop Lancelot Andrewes wrote about the Church of England’s fundational beliefs:
One canon reduced to writing by God himself, two testaments, three creeds, four general councils, five centuries, and the series of Fathers in that period – the centuries that is, before Constantine, and two after, determine the boundary of our faith.
Andrewes introduced two other related features which became characteristic of Anglicanism and which differentiated it from both Rome and Geneva – a reserve about points of doctrine which are not central, and a freedom of private judgement outside these central articles of faith. If you want to make windows into men’s souls, fine, but I have to say that I prefer the Anglican way.
I was struck by a letter in the latest edition of the Prayer Book Society magazine which decried the idea that Anglicanism could be associated with “compromise” and that the latter could be a good thing. The erudite writer quoted Lady Thatcher and Lord Edward Cecil. I understand that point of view. They both seem to have thought of compromise as giving up what you believed and persuading others to do the same so you ended up with the lowest common denominator – something C451 brought up in his moving post on the Reformation Martyrs yesterday. But that Thatcher/Cecil view is itself a caricature; it also ignores the history of the Church of England.
With the aid of a long reading list from C451 (for which many thanks!) I have been occupying my enforced leisure time by catching up on the history of my own church. Being of an Anglo-Catholic persuasion and a fangirl of the Oxford Movement, I had taken on board its view that the Church of England was the reformed Catholic Church in these islands. That’s still what I see, but I can also see there was another side to it, and that there was a strong reformed element which wanted to be almost Calvinist. That did not happen, though it might have done, and it is unwise and inaccurate to ignore the strong Protestant element in the Church.
How then, you might wonder, did the Catholic and Protestant elements come to coexist. I am not an historian, though I wish C451 would attempt the task for us, but in large measure it was to do with being an Established Church. That great woman, Elizabeth I, loved elements of the old Catholic school, especially the liturgy and music. She also, with good reason, feared the misogynistic and republican elements in the the sort of Protestantism favoured north of the border by that ghastly man John Knox. She feared also the effects of religious strife, seeing elsewhere how it divided kingdoms and made them weaker. Being by far the most intelligent person ever to have sat on the English throne, she used her royal authority to ensure that reasonable men and women of faith could find a home in the Church. She declined to make windows into men’s souls.
That did not mean that at times of peril such as the Aramda, she would not take action against those whose religious allegiance threatened her throne, but it did mean she was willing to have a Prayer Book which many of the more Protestant wing thought Popish, whist accommodating herself to the absence of incense and Marian veneration in a way the more Catholic wing found not to its taste. This is something of a simplification, but it’s how I read it. It all came a bit unstuck under the Stuarts who (with the exception of Charles II) could never see a compromise which might have allowed them to keep their throne without chucking it, and their throne, aside, but after 1662, settled down.
Compromise? Yes, I think so, and I don’t think it’s a bad thing or a sign you lack principles to acknowledge that others can hold different ones and then try to find, in Christian charity, whether there is a common way forward. I recommend it, not least to those friends and former bloggers here who scream into the void their vitriol at their own Pope. The Anglican way can seem. I know, not least to men of bold spirit, a little “wet”. As an avowed “wet” woman, I am fine with it. We stand on foundations laid by the first five centuries and on reason and scripture. We have come a long way, and there’s a long way yet to go until His kingdom comes !
As an undergraduate and then a graduate, this was a view which greeted me most days as I went about my studies. On this day there would be flowers and other tributes laid here. Occasionally a tourist would ask me what it was about, and some of them seemed none the wiser (though at least they were better-informed) when I told them it marked the site of the burning of an Archbishop of Canterbury and two other bishops of the Church of England. On one occasion only did I get an answer which surprises me, less now than it did then: “They took the Faith seriously back then, not like now!” It has not ceased to shock me – no one who toils in the blogosphere could be shocked – but it saddens me, not because I am some milquetoast who wants us all to “lurve” one another, but because it brings to mind Byron’s comment in “Don Juan” about “Christians have burned each other, quite persuaded, that all the Apostles would have done as they did.” God is the only just judge, and anyone who thinks that burning someone to death is a sign of how seriously they take their faith should pause and ponder what Jesus might have meant when he said that “For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again”. [Matt. 7:2].
In addition to Bishops Ridley and Latimer, whose burning was on this day in 1555, the more famous Archbishop Cranmer was burned on the same spot six months later, which is why today, in the Church of England calendar is called the memorial of the “Reformations Martyrs”. There were, as any historian can tells you, plenty of Catholic martyrs too, although, perhaps tellingly, it took until 2008 for a small plaque to be erected on Holywell Street in memory of four Roman Catholics — Thomas Belson, Humphrey Prichard, and the priests Richard Yaxley, and George Nichols — who were hanged, drawn, and quartered there in 1589, and beatified as martyrs in 1987. When a memorial was dedicated in 2009 to 23 Catholic and Protestant “Martyrs of the Reformation” in the University Church of St Mary the Virgin, Oxford, there were complaints that this was not what those who had been martyred would have wanted. Perhaps those complaining would have preferred another public burning of a “heretic”, which might well have been what those who were martyred would have wanted?
Violence begat violence, and and whatever one’s view of the English Reformation, and it remains a hotly contested field of scholarship, it was marked by a level of cruelty which to most of us does no service to the name of Jesus or to our common faith, for make no mistake, divided as we are by ecclsiology and history, Anglican or “Roman” Catholic, we share one faith, even as we share a sorry history of intra-communal violence.
None of this is to denigrate the martyrs on both sides, they were men (and women) who paid the ultimate price to stand by their beliefs, but we do their memory no service by continuing to dig ditches and erect barbed-wire to defend positions which a century of ecumenical dialogue has shown need no such defences. As Churchill put it in another context: “Jaw Jaw is better than War War.”
On the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in 2017, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York spoke in the spirit of the fruits of ecumenical dialogue when they spoke firts of the “blessings” of the Reformation:
Amongst much else, these would include clear proclamation of the gospel of grace, the availability of the Bible to all in their own language, and the recognition of the calling of lay people to serve God in the world and in the Church
but also of the:
the lasting damage done five centuries ago to the unity of the Church, in defiance of the clear command of Jesus Christ to unity in love. Those turbulent years saw Christian people pitted against each other, such that many suffered persecution, and even death, at the hands of others claiming to know the same Lord.
Much has been done to try to overcome the resulting legacy of mistrust, and indeed it can seem at times as those the most intense warfare is the internecine sort, where Catholics can be vitriolic about their own Pope and about those Catholics who are vitriolic about him. Maybe we really do learn nothing from history?
The Reformers in the sixteenth century, like later reformers within the Catholic Church, wanted to draw us back to what is at the heart of our faith, and that is the love of God for us, manifested through His Son, Jesus Christ who died for us that we should have life eternal. It is easy, which is why it is done so often, to mock ecumenism as a search for the lowest common denominator, and it may, or may not, be significant that this tendency is often to be found among converts, but properly understood, it is a search for the highest common factor – that the love and sacrifice Jesus made for all who would receive Him, can be made manifest in this vale of tears where we see Him as through a glass darkly, but where the scars of sin run vivid red and orange in the flames which consumed the martyrs.
Today’s Gospel can be shocking on first reading and provides a perfect example of why we need guidance in reading Scriptures. Matthew 22.15-22 seems, on the surface, to provide all the reinforcement one might need to justify an almost vengeful reading of God’s nature. When those invited refuse the invitation, the King gets so angry that he sends his army to destroy those who have refused him. Then, having brought in those found in the highways and the byways, he picks on one poor man who has not dressed up and gets him thrown out. How, you might ask, can the poor man be all dressed up when he wasn’t even expecting to be invited to a wedding?
St Jerome, as so often, guides our feet to where they should be. He tells us, in his commentary on Matthew that the ‘wedding garments’ are ‘the Lord’s commands and the works that are fulfilled from the Law and the Gospel.’ If we have responded to God’s invitation then we have signed up to having ourselves changed – we have put on the ‘new Adam’ (or indeed the ‘new Eve’). The King asks the man why he has not done this and the man does not answer. He wishes to accept God’s invitation on his own terms, not God’s.
We see here the true meaning – and how correct it is. Initially God chose the Jews, but many of those rejected him, and so the invitation was thrown out to us all. In Christ there is no more ‘Jew’ nor ‘Gentile’, though we see from Acts how hard many of the Jewish religious establishment found it to accept Paul’s message. But so many of us are ‘too busy’ to take up the invitation. We have more important things to do; and even when some of us take it up, we think to do so on our own terms. We’re busy people. God loves us, but leaves us, as any father will, to make our own choice about whether that love is reciprocated.
St Augustine is clear that the proper wedding garment is the charity that is the fruit of our faith: ‘the garment required is in the heart, not on the body.’ (Sermon 90:4; 90:6) As St Paul tells us, we can do all manner of good things, but if we do not have ‘charity’ then they are of no avail. It is we who are rejecting God, not the other way around. We are warned here of the consequences of our actions, or rather, inactions.
The Good News is that there is time for us to change. The bad news is all around us, namely that so few of us do that. But before we get all censorious and risk being self-righteouss, let each one of us search her heart and ask what we have done and are doing to witness to the truth that is in us? Does the way we behave, does the way our church behave, suggest to others that the invitation is worth taking up? Are we, indeed, dressed in the ‘wedding garment’ or have we turned up on our own terms, expecting to be accepted on our terms?
A year ago today I stood about a hundred feet from Pope Francis as he declared that Cardinal John Henry Newman was now officially canonised. It was a wonderful moment, and it was significant that in addition to our own Cardinal Nichols being there with our own bishops, there was a high-powered delegation from the Anglican Church. Newman, at one time the great champion of the idea of the Via Media, remains a figure as admired by Anglicans as by Catholics.
This moment was one which Newman himself not only could not have foreseen, but which he never thought could happen as he had, in his own words, “nothing of the saint” about him. His own estimation was based on a shrewd knowledge of himself, but as we all do, he saw through his own eyes and not those of God. God decided otherwise.
Newman began as an evangelical Anglican and ended as a Cardinal of the Catholic Church, but from beginning to end he was a man who divided opinion. From his earliest memories he was a Christian, and he underwent what we might call a conversion experience in early adolescence. At Oxford he soon became a divisive figure. To the undergraduates, his sermons and indeed his very presence, at the University Church of St Mary was an event in itself; it is said that some Colleges changed the times of dining to try to lure students away from his siren-like presence.
What came to worry the Dons was Newman’s developing view that the Anglican Church was the via media, the middle way, between their own Church and Rome. Newman, like Keble and Pusey, genuinely believed that what the Reformation had done was to purge the Church in England of the abuses and corruptions that had developed across the centuries, and in particular, allowed it to escape from the control of cabals of corruption around the Pope of the day (a not unfamiliar theme among Catholics in our own time).
But where Keble and Pusey continued to hold this view, and helped lead a Catholic revival in the Church of England, Newman’s scholarship led him to follow the inexorable logic of history. Studying the Arian controversy of the fourth century, he came to realise that the “reasonable” semi-Arians, who took a moderate position between Arius and St Athanasius were the spiritual forebears of the Anglicans. Their position was sensible, moderate and nuanced, but it was not that of Anthansius and therefore, not that of the universal church. So, he converted.
The conversion cost him much in worldy terms. He left his beloved Oxford, never to return. In a society where anti-Catholicism was rife, Newman incurred deep suspicion and distrust by his move. He made himself an outcast from his old social circles, but failed to acquire satisfactory replacements. Catholicism, despite an impressive intellectual history, was not, in the days of Pius IX, a welcoming environment for an intellectual theologican. Converts can be unpleasantly susprised to find that their new home is not altogether welcome. It is not simply the suspicion that often attaches to someone who “switches teams”, it is also a matter of culture. It is interesting that it was another convert, Manning, who complained that Newman remained essentially an English gentleman Oxford Don. Manning was a smoother operator, a skilled bureaucrat who both saw the opportunities offered to one of his skills, and who was, partly for that reason, more easily welcomed into the nascent English Catholic hierarchy. Newman never quite “fitted”, and his new Church was, to be frank, even more useless than his old one in finding a use for him.
And yet, for all that, quality will out. Newman was not only one of the finest writers of English prose, he was the finest English theological intellect since at least Lancelot Andrewes, and possibly ever. He will one day be a Doctor of the Church. It is, ironically, in part the way in which he bore the frustrations and difficulties of his new Church which show how deep his faith was. There were constant runours that he would revert, to which he responded by saying that he never:
had one moment’s wavering of trust in the Catholic Church ever since I was received into her fold. I hold, and ever have held, that her Sovereign Pontiff is the centre of unity and the Vicar of Christ. And I ever have had, and have still, an unclouded faith in her creed and in all its articles; a supreme satisfaction in her worship, discipline and teaching
As I stood in the Italian sunshine on that October morning a year ago, I reflected on how wonderful God’s Providence is. Newman may have thought that, in the end, he had not accomplished that ‘definite work’ for which God had marked him out, but in reality, the process had hardly begun. Newman’s influence on the Church has been profound and will long outlast his earthly fame.
There are many times when I wonder about the utility of social media, but more and more I am inclined to value it for what I find there which I am not certain that I should find anywhere else – certainly nowhere else so readily. Included in this category, indeed very high up it, is the Akenside Institute for English Spirituality, which was founded by Fr Matthew Dallman. I have been meaning to write about the Institute for some time, but am prompted into action by Jessica’s recent posts on the Book of Common Prayer. The Institute’s mission is “the rediscovery of Orthodox Catholic reality in Prayer Book parish life.”
Both parts of this statement are important. Rather than summarise what is clearly a well-wrought statement, let me quote in full:
“Orthodox Catholic reality” means according to and corresponding with the Church, through the theological virtues/habits (Faith, Hope and Charity), Sacraments and sacramentality, devotion to Our Lady and the Saints, holy icons, mystagogy, culture, imagination, doctrine, moral theology, practice, and discernment, inclusively.
“Prayer Book parish life” recognizes that English spirituality is rooted in, and is only truly apprehended within the context of, a parish ordered by the Book of Common Prayer: in the pastoral relationships between parish priest and congregation as well as the domesticity of the parish as an ascetical organism that reaches into the homes of the parishioners, and out into their neighborhoods
This comes together as a total way of life—that is, the English School of Catholic spirituality being a member of the glorious family of spiritual schools. English spirituality begins in the present and looks both ways; to the wisdom of the past and to future development.
This statement recognises something important which often gets overlooked in discussions, which is that whatever one’s view of the Church of England, it inherited and/or continued a tradition which began in these islands under the Romans. When St Augustine arrived in A.D. 595, Christianity had already been here for about four hundred years. The Venerable Bede, who certainly had a horse in the race, naturally emphasised the “victory” of the successors of St Augustine, but that did not mean that the patrimony of those who had kept the flame of the faith alove in these islands was lost; rather it was incorporated. That, indeed, has been the way of Christianity in these islands.
The Normans liked to represent themselves as straightening out the supposed laxities of the Anglo-Saxon Church, but again, did not erase what had come before them, and before very long, the Norman monarchs found themselves at odds with Rome about matters of ecclesiastical appointments. In that sense, Henry VIII was the inheritor of a long tradition; he simply took it rather further than his predecessors, though it is clear that he did not see himself as founding anything resembling a separate church. As the Akenside Institute website puts it:
The broadly Catholic and Orthodox spirituality of Anglo-Saxons grew into more uniquely English flowering through S. Anselm, English anchorites and solitaries, English Cistercians, Walter Hilton and the Canons Regular, Julian of Norwich, Margery Kempe, the author of The Cloud of Unknowing, Richard Rolle; and later in the Prayer Book era through Richard Hooker, George Herbert, Lancelot Andrewes, Jeremy Taylor, John Keble, Edward Pusey, Charles Gore, Evelyn Underhill, Father Andrew, William Temple, Michael Ramsey, Sr Penelope Lawson, Eric Mascall, Ian Ramsey, A.M. Allchin, John Macquarrie, Benedicta Ward, and others.
The Tractarians were simply reasserting the Catholic dimension of the Anglican tradition, and whilse some, like Newman, found in it a way to Rome, others, such as Keble and Pusey, found in it a way of reasserting a part of “English spirituality” which had been understated in the previous century. No one who has read Charles Gore of Keble, or Newman for that matter, can be in any doubt of the debt they owed to Hooker, Herbert and Andrewes, just as no one familiar with their writings can be in any doubt that it represents an English dimension to Catholic teaching.
One of the most important themes of what, following Martin Thornton, I am calling “English spirituality” is the idea of participation in God – as St Athanasius put it: “God became man so man might become God.” This idea of participation in God through grace is reflected in Hooker, Andrewes and in what might, for convenience be called the High Church tradition: John Keble, Edward Pusey, F. D. Maurice, B. F. Westcott, Charles Gore, William Temple, and latterly Michael Ramsey, and Rowan Williams
If we believe this then we believe that God has poured His power, goodness, and beauty into Creation: one effect of the Incarnation has been to transfigure human nature; through the sacraments we are in union with God; and, of course, the Holy Spirit never ceases to work within the Church through us.
St Athanasius was, of course, referring to 2 Peter 1.4: “that you may become partakers of the divine nature”. In the Orthodox tradition it is called “divinisation” ortheosis, and it shows the extent to which the Catholic tradition has remained a key part of the English tradition. Whatever else occurred at the Reformation, England was not severed from the Christian roots laid down here even before St Augustine.
Today is the feast day of Our Lady of Walsingham. It is my favourite site, and I am fortunate enough to live within driving distance. Jessica went on pilgrimage there in 2012, and it is worth re-reading (or reading for the first time) herehere, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here. I append, by way of introduction, her first piece.
In the Middle Ages, Walsingham – ‘England’s Nazareth’ was a Marian shrine of a size which rivalled Compostella. It owed its origin to Richeldis de Faverches the Saxon wife of a Norman lord. Richeldis had a deep faith in God and devotion to the Blessed Virgin, and was well known for her good works.
In 1061, Richeldis was privileged to have a vision of the Blessed Virgin. She was transported, in her vision, to Nazareth and saw the holy house where the Holy Family lived. Our Lady made it clear she wanted it rebuilt in England’s green and pleasant land:
“Do all this unto my special praise and honour. And all who are distressed or in need, let them seek me here in that little house you have made me in Walsingham. To all that seek me there I will give my help. And there at Walsingham in this little house shall be held in remembrance the great joy of my salutation when Saint Gabriel told me that through humility, I should become the Mother of the Son of God.”
Legend has it that when the masons attempted to build the house, the ground would not yield to their spades, but that in the morning the angels had built it – as she intended.
Skilled craftsmen were commissioned to carve a statue of Our Lady. Our Lady was enthroned on the Throne of Wisdom and crowned as the Queen of Heaven and Earth. She herself was a throne for the Christ-Child, Who was represented holding out the Gospels to the world. Her right hand pointed to Him, and He extended His arm in a double gesture of blessing and protection of His Mother. Each part of the statue was rich in symbolism, such as the seven rings on the throne standing for the Seven Sacraments, which Henry VIII defended centuries later, and the flowering lily-sceptre which she held in her right hand. It symbolised her Perpetual Virginity, and, in the teachings of the Cistercian saint, Bernard of Clairvaux, that She is the Flower of the Rod of Jesse. Miracles of healing were performed there from the start.
Every English King from Richard I to Henry VIII visited the great Shrine which grew there. In 1340 a final pilgrim chapel was built – the Slipper Chapel – so called because it was where pilgrims would remove their shoes and walk the last miles barefoot. It is dedicated to St. Catherine of Alexandria. Today it is the only part of the original shrine intact – and is the Catholic part of the modern shrine.
The rest of it was destroyed as part of one of the greatest acts of vandalism of the sixteenth century. In 1538 Henry VIII sent soldiers to dispossess the Augustinian Canons of Walsingham. Those who resisted were murdered on what is now called ‘Mary’s field’. The Shrine ands its buildings were gutted, the great statue of Our Lady destroyed. Sir Philip Howard’s lines from ‘The wrecks of Walsingham’ say it best:
Weep, weep, O WalsinghamWhose days are nights,Blessings turned to blasphemies,Holy deeds to despites.Sin is where Our Lady sat,Heaven turned into hell,Satan sits where Our Lord did sway,Walsingham, oh farewell!
I cannot read God’s mind but I can clearly see what He did in Scripture.
He breathed life into Adam and then made Eve from Adam; flesh of thy flesh.
He set Aaron up as being the High Priest of His first Church and even his sister was punished for thinking herself equal to Aaron.
Christ too, had many faithful and loving followers amongst women and yet not a single one was invited to His Last Supper which we Catholics see as the first ordaining of Bishops for His Church.
Christ breathes upon the 12 (men) and tells them that they can forgive sin: a type of blessing) and a very important role for the priesthood. This follows from he OT Church which passed blessings on by the laying on of hands to the first born son etc.
We see a man being ordained by the laying on of hands in order to replace Judas.
We see no other texts in the last 2000 years that the Church has ever ordained a woman as a priest or bishop.
Let’s look more closely to make sure that we are not doing what my last post suggested men have done, which is read into Scripture what they think is there, and then to use that as exegesis.
It would be equally true to say that we do not see Jesus breathing upon any men except Jewish men, and that the Apostles, in seeking a successor to Judas do not choose anyone except another Jewish man. Yet no-one would argue that only Jewish men could be ordained, so at some point something happened for which there is no scriptural warrant – that is non-Jews were “ordained.” The quotation marks are there advisedly, because the very use of the word “ordain” is a loaded one. Where, in Scripture, is the word “ordain” used about what the Apostles did? Again, as it is not there, it suggests that as tradition developed it seemed reasonable to apply that word to what happened to Matthias.
If we go back to the examples offered in earlier posts of Junia and Phoebe, I would hope to have made the case that they occupied positions of leadership and that they exercised “ministry”, which raises the interesting question of what that might have meant.
If we begin with the example of the priesthood. Let us follow Scoop’s wise advice and turn to Scripture. Surely, there we shall find something to help us, whom does Paul describe as a “priest”, and what qualifications were there? There are certainly plenty of “priests” in the Jewish Scriptures, and not only are they all men (as Scoop correctly points out with reference to Aaron and Miriam [for some reason while he gives Aaron his name, Miriam is just “his sister”]) but they are all from the tribe of Levi. Alas, here Scripture is not a great deal of help when we get to the New Testament. The word “priest” is never used, and the only use of the word “priesthood” is in Peter’s first epistle (2:5) where it refers to the priesthood of all believers.
Now it might reasonably be argued that the word “priest” is used, what else, might be said, is meant by the word “presbyter”? The answer to that is that, unless we wish to engage in the sort of circular argument which says Junia cannot be a female and an apostle, because women weren’t apostles, but if “she” becomes a “he” called Junias, the problem is neatly solved – and I suggest not going there for the reasons outlined at some length in earlier posts and by C451 – then we would have to admit that the Greek word is capable of a number of translations into English.
In Acts 14:23 and 20:7 the word is translated as “elder”, while in Acts 15:4, 6, 22-23 they are associated with the Apostles. In Philippians 1:1, Paul writes: “To all God’s holy people in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons”, but at no point is anything said about gender here, and indeed, the only person specifically identified by Paul as a deacon, is Phoebe. But, I think I already heard someone cry, “hold on a cotton-picking minute Miss Hoff, with all the Scripture you’re citing, how come you missed 1 Timothy 3:13 and Titus 1:5-9, that wouldn’t be because they totally flatten your argument?” To which my answer is, I needed to deal with the question of the words “presbyter” and “priest” before saying something about these passages. So, to work, woman!
So, what is 1 Timothy 3 about? It is describing the moral character of an “overseer/deacon/bishop”. Where does it say these orders can be held only by men? Indeed, given that we have seen that there were women deacons, and even a woman Apostle, why do we begin by assuming what it is needs to be demonstrated? It only makes sense to say that these verses “prove” that only men could hold them on two conditions: the first is that we disregard everything just said about Phobe and Junia; the second is like unto it, which is that since women could not be deacons and apostles, it follows that these passages refer to men only. But precisely where does Paul say that? Or is this yet another example of reading into the text what we want to see?
What is plain to see is that Paul is describing the moral character of people holding office in the Church. No one but a fool would read this verse literally: “A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach”. Why, because it would make a total nonsense of the Romman Catholic and Orthodox view that a bishop must be celibate. Clearly, I hear the chorus (with which I agree), this is not saying that the bishop must be married; why then do we assume that the bishop must be a “he.” The male pronouns are ones inserted, and yet we know that often, in traditional English use, “man includes woman”. Why not assume that here? Ah, I forgot, “because we know that the church never ordained woman.” How do we know? Because the Bible uses the word “he” and 1 Timothy 3 supports that – except, as I have just deminstrated, it doesn’t.
I still hear that chorus, this time thus: “Very ingenious Miss Hoff, but are you not forgetting the order used by Paul – bishops, deacons and then wives and women in general”? No, I am not, I am suggesting that given that there was a female apostle and at least one female deacon he might well be addressing both genders. The counter-argument only works if we presume what it claims to “prove” from Scripture.
Oh well, it might be argued, here is one of those feminist women arguing a novel case because of the times in which we live, it is all part of the dreadful trend that is destroying the Anglican/Catholic/Presbyterian/Lutheran Church. Clearly:
If the testimony borne in these two passages to a ministry of women in apostolic times had not been thus blotted out of our English Bible, attention would probably have been directed to the subject at an earlier date, and our English church would not have remained so long maimed in one of her hands.
Which dreadful modern feminist wrote this? That was a trick question. It was Bishop Lightfoot who was Bishop of Durham from 1879 to 1889 – he is “regarded as one of the greatest New Testament and patristic scholars of the Anglican tradition.” Lightfoot is also germane when we turn to the one question still to handle – the position of Bishop.
Lightfoot, a man steeped in Biblical history and one of the greatest Greek and Bible scholars of his day. Lightfoot did not :
regard the terms episkopos and presbyteros as entirely synonymous. He believed that the second of these had been taken over from the synagogue and was used especially to refer to the leaders of Jewish-Christian congregations, whereas episkopos was an equivalent term used mainly (if not exclusively) among the Gentiles. According to Lightfoot, the difference was one of flavour and reference, rather than one of substance, i.e., what we would now call an early example of ‘cultural contextualisation’.
A fuller discussion of the translation issues connected with the word “bishop” is offered in Loveday’s 2012 lecture in Chester, which I was lucky enough to be able to attend, and the text of which can be found here. Loveday concludes:
Overall what this shows is that most modern translators (even the Catholic JB) have virtually ruled out the possibility that there might be any bishops in the Bible, illustrating graphically how Bible translationreflects not only the changing faces of historical scholarship, but the tradition andecclesiology of the translators.
So yes, tell me firmly that the version of the Bible you use to confute me is from your tradition and accepts its traditional ecclesiology, and I will respond, of course it does, but what it does not do is what Scoop says it does, and shows there were no women bishops. It shows, depending on your ecclesiology and translation that there were no bishops in the Bible until translators put them there.
A reasonable riposte, with which I would agree, would be to argue from tradition and to say that by the time of Ignatius there clearly was a model of what has been called a monarchical bishop, but that tells us only that by the early second century women may not have been playing the role we see them playing in Paul’s epistles. What it simply cannot do is to tell us that Paul was wrong in describing women as being in positions of leadership.
Paul tells is that in being baptised into Christ there is neither Jew nor Gentile. Some in the Jerusalem Church were so cross with him that they told Peter off for saying that the old Jewish diatary laws were a dead letter, and it took a heated conference in Jerusalem to decide that despite everything the Jewish Scriptures said on the issue, Paul was correct. Paul also said that in Christ there was neither male nor female. Are we asked to believe that he did not really mean this and that what he really meant was that there is a real distinction, and that in spite of the fact that women were playing leading roles, they were barred from positions such as “bishop” which did not actually exist in Paul’s day? You might argue that there was no equivalent of the Council of Jerusalem on the issue, and you would be right. But might that not mean that no-one thought the issue a problem? Women were taking leading roles, as we have seen, so what?
In short, unless we use tradition to say you can’t have women in positions of leadership in the church, you are on shaky ground basing yourself on Scripture alone, which is why what Scoop says works for his church and for him. But if your tradition does not teach that in some quasi-mystical manner a “priest” represents Christ at Calvary and that as Christ was a man, a priest must be, then even there, your ground for denying the ordination of women is not as firm as all that.
What I wish to suggest in closing, is that none of this is anything to do with strident feminism or modernity, it is to do with there being neither male nor female in Christ, and it is to do with doing justice to the role women have played and can play in the Church. If that also involves questioning the male version of events and that makes me a feminist, then I suppose I can live with that. But it is not the result of wanting to be on trend, but to be in Spirit with the apostolic church.