Monday, December 30, 2013

A Year-End Post to Gladden the Heart

As 2013 draws to a close, this Facebook post from "Exit 6", a brewpub in Cottleville, Missouri -- not far from where Christopher Johnson hangs out, so he ought to know it -- just brings a heap of joy to this old lawyer's heart:

Sometimes lawyers just get too high and mighty for their own good, and it takes the common man to bring them down a notch or two. Next time you're there, CJ, please hoist one to them from the Curmudgeon!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Don't Forget the Christmas Posts

Christmas has been the occasion for a number of posts in the past, in which I discuss the scientific and astronomical evidence for the Star of Bethlehem, the real date of the Nativity and Herod's subsequent death, and the virgin birth of Jesus as the rarest ever of rare XX-males.

Rather than repost them, here is the index page where you may find them all linked.

And here is the link to one of my favorite musical meditations on the miracle of Christmas.

Enjoy, and have a very holy and merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Everlasting God and Changing Man

Once again, the Bible is under attack from this secular age.

Those who express its message most clearly bear the brunt of it, but at the same time, they are precisely the ones best able to bear the brunt of it, because of their clear understanding of the inherent authority of Holy Scripture, and consequently of the place it has in their daily lives. For them, there can never be any question of retreat, or of backpedaling.

For Christians -- committed Christians, that is -- accept the authority of Scripture.

What does that mean? Let us unpack the statement a bit. (My apologies for the seemingly elementary stuff that follows, but given the media brouhaha over one man's understanding of the Bible, it seems best to leave nothing for assumption, or presupposition.)

Why does Holy Scripture have authority for Christians?

Because Christians view Scripture as God's Word. In short, Scripture has authority because God's Holy Spirit is behind it.

And just what does that mean -- "The Holy Spirit is behind Scripture" -- or, as 2 Tim. 3:16 has it, "All Scripture is God-breathed ..."?

It means that, in the words of our Catechism and Ordinal, "Holy Scriptures ... contain all things necessary to salvation": that God's Holy Spirit speaks to us through His Holy Scriptures, and that our reception of His Holy Word leads us to right belief in Jesus Christ our savior, which is necessary to our salvation at the end times.

All right -- we have established that Holy Scripture derives its authority from the fact that the Holy Spirit (God) is behind it. But who interprets Scripture?

That is on its face a simple, but in reality a deeply complex, question. Let us first examine what "interpret" means in that context, by asking just who is doing the interpreting.

First of all, we may all agree that humans -- "Man", in the Biblical sense -- interpret Scripture, because all of God's other creatures are incapable of doing so. (Which fact points to an inescapable truth about the differences between Man and animals in God's creation.)

And what is also true about humans (again, as opposed to animals), according to Scripture?

Humans are, according to Scripture and tradition, fallen beings who have been made in God's image -- meaning that they have a God-given capacity to receive and understand His Holy Word, but also that their instincts and desires lead them away from the truths of Scripture.

And that points up a constant danger about humans interpreting Scripture.

To interpret Scripture is, after all, nothing less than to make the Word of God meaningful to one's fellow humans -- to allow them to see it in context, to apply its lessons to their daily lives, and to be able to employ it as a guide to their own faith, and thus to their ultimate salvation.

But if Man is the one interpreting Scripture (and only Man can do so), then Man has to be certain that his interpretation is faithful to God's purpose in giving us Holy Scripture, and not fashioned to advance one of Man's special interests or desires that go hand in hand with his being a fallen creature.

How can Man accomplish this difficult and risky task?

First and foremost, by constantly acknowledging and submitting to the triune God's authority that speaks through Scripture.

This means that Man may never presume, in matters of Scripture, to speak on his own "authority."

How does Man distinguish God's authority from his own? The answer is very simple.

Man has to get his ego out of the way in order to allow the Holy Spirit to speak through him. It is all too easy to pretend, like the "Wizard of Oz", to speak from behind a curtain that hides the fact that it is Man, and not God, who is speaking. Indeed, one aspect of Man's fallenness is his desire to to be seen by other men as on a par with God (see, e.g., Gen. 3:5, 11:4).

It is also all too easy to put oneself on a par with the Holy Spirit, and to claim that (through oneself) "the Holy Spirit is doing a new thing ..." -- with the obligatory reference to John 16:12-13. Again, given that both God and His purpose for Man are unchanging, there can be no "things" that are new (i.e., not previously taught in Scripture), but only a newer and deeper understanding of God's Word that is inspired through the Holy Spirit.

We said earlier that "Man has to be certain that his interpretation is faithful to God's purpose in giving us Holy Scripture" -- how can fallen Man manage to understand God's purpose in giving us Holy Scripture?

Again, to ask the question is to answer it: God's purpose -- the only purpose -- for His gift of Holy Scripture to Man is so that Man may be saved from Hell through belief in Jesus Christ, by faithful application of His Holy Word. Anything that misleads, or detracts from that purpose, cannot be from God -- but is from (the fallen side of) Man.

The next question to ask is this: can God's purpose for Holy Scripture ever change with time?

Again, the answer is simple -- but so easily avoided by Man's desire to be important in his own right, and not through his bearing God's image. Since God does not change, but is the essence of all that is permanent and unchanging, then His purpose, both in giving us Holy Scripture and in all other things, cannot change with time.

But Man changes with time, and Man then falls into the trap of thinking that because he changes, so God must change -- and so, therefore, must God's purposes for Man.

It should be obvious by now that such a notion is not of the Holy Spirit, but solely of (fallen) Man. Reject it utterly: God's purpose for Holy Scripture does not, and cannot, ever change.

Notice also the right relation of Jesus Christ to Holy Scripture: after God gave His only Son, that all who believe in him may not perish, but have life everlasting -- after that was accomplished, God then saw to it that we would have a complete Holy Scripture -- the record of the presaging of His only Son over the centuries, and then of His eventual incarnation and mission upon Earth, in fulfillment of the centuries of presaging -- all for Man's salvation, mediated through the Holy Spirit and God-breathed Scripture.

The formula for salvation can therefore no more change with time than can God Himself.

Now let us apply a particular test to our conclusions thus far, and see how they hold up.

The age-old question of slavery in the Bible is raised again and again today as an example of how Man's (!) interpretations of Scripture change to suit the times. Supposedly (the argument goes) God's purpose for Holy Scripture in the time of Jesus and His disciples was, among other things, to support and reinforce the institution of slavery in the Roman Empire, and that we (fallen, but still more enlightened) 21st-century humans have come to see that God's purpose has changed, so that Holy Scripture no longer supports slavery -- or at least, no longer may be interpreted to do so.

Again, though, it is not God (or the Holy Spirit) who has changed since the first century A.D., but Man.

That is, Romans saw nothing particularly wrong with slavery, while we (enlightened) Christians of today see that slavery is demeaning, inhuman, and, well -- un-Christian.

But the Bible did not change between Roman times and now -- the text of the Bible (as near as we can establish it) has remained the same through the centuries. As has God's purpose for it.

What has changed is Man's interpretation of it. Formerly, some Christians in Roman times (as well as Christians even as late as up to the American Civil War) might have read St. Paul to endorse their view of slavery, while now Christians read St. Paul as urging us to transcend slavery, and accept that "in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female, for you all are one in Christ Jesus ..." (Gal. 3:28).

That does not mean that first-century Christians' reading of the words of St. Paul was always in accordance with God's purpose for His Holy Scriptures -- even if we could transport ourselves back in time and witness firsthand how they each interpreted his words. Again: neither Scripture nor God's purpose for it has  changed between St. Paul's time and today. What has certainly changed is Man's interpretation and application of Scripture.

Was the Bible "less right" or "less true" in St.Paul's day than in our own? How could it be, since its words have remained the same? To make such an accusation is to accuse Man, and not the Bible.

The Bible's message was there all along -- and that is why it would have been wrong then, and wrong now, to interpret the words of St. Paul as reflecting God's favor upon the institution of slavery. ("Wrong" in the sense of "not in accordance with Holy Scripture".)

The lesson to draw from all this, therefore, is not that Man's changing interpretation must accordingly be more trustworthy as we approach the present times. As noted at the outset: Man is fallen. That means he alone, and on his own, can never be trustworthy. What is trustworthy, has always been trustworthy, and will forever be trustworthy, is God's Holy Word.

In sum, the evidence that man's interpretation of Holy Scripture has changed between the first and the twenty-first centuries attests to nothing other than Man's changeability over time. And that changeability, it must be stressed, is due to Man's fallen nature.

One may be thankful for some of the changes in Man's understandings of Scripture -- we no longer feel compelled to burn people at the stake for heresy, to take just one example. But in our cockiness, we imagine that all of our differences from earlier ages has to do with an indefinable notion of "progress" -- that in some unmeasurable way, Christians alive today are "better", "more advanced", "more enlightened" -- you supply your own term -- than those of bygone days.

Nothing could be further from the truth, given Man's changeability over time. There is no Biblical guaranty that Man will become less sinful as time goes on. Each age has to find its own way to the proper reception of God's Holy Word. All of the present evidence, indeed, is that Man just finds ever newer ways in which to stray from the path God has always intended for him.

Thus whenever you read a sentence like "St. Paul could never have understood the modern-day concept of sexual orientation," simply ask the basic question: who is asserting that as "truth"? The answer in every case, I guarantee you, will not be a citation to God's unchanging and Spirit-breathed Word, but instead will trace back to the "authority" of some mortal and fallen Man, who expresses the conceit that he "understands" more than St. Paul ever did -- and thereby promptly demonstrates his fallenness.

And why focus the question on St. Paul's understanding of the issue, anyway? St. Paul, though a saint, was a fallen man, just like all of us. True, he had a personal encounter with the risen Christ -- and so in that sense, his words may be taken as "closer to the source" of their derivation.

What St. Paul wrote is Holy Scripture! His words, therefore, need no other authority than that they are, for Christians, God-breathed -- that is, the Holy Spirit is behind them. And given that truism, we should be focusing, not so much on what St. Paul "intended" by writing them, as rather on what God purposes for us to receive in reading or hearing them.

And not just us today -- but Christians in the first, second, third and fourth centuries, and continuing right up until today, and onward until the Second Coming. God's purpose in giving us access to Paul's words is eternal and unchanging -- we interpret them at our peril if we detract thereby in the slightest from that constant purpose.

And so that must be our litmus test in judging whether a given interpretation of Holy Scripture "comes from the Holy Spirit", or "comes from Man." As noted, only Man can interpret Holy Scripture, but in doing so, Man has to get out of the way, and with the help of the Holy Spirit, allow God's purpose for Man to come through.

It is illogical, therefore, to contend that the Holy Spirit meant (through Paul) the same eternally purposed words to be applicable only to a distinct point in time, namely, the first-century world of temple prostitutes. That would be to say (for Christians) that He meant Paul's words in a different sense, for a different time. Such differing senses are of Man's creation, because the Holy Spirit does not change His message with time. If the hearer of the same message reacts differently, then it is the hearer who is responsible for the differences, if the message comes from the same triune God.

This is the great fallacy that underlies all of the present divisions in the Church over "sexuality."

If man's sexuality has evolved from the first century -- and let us grant, for the sake of argument only, that it may have -- then that fact of change is no reason to jettison the concept of "God's Word", and to substitute in its place "Man's current reading of God's Word."

If man's sexuality evolved as supposed, then God must have foreseen and anticipated that evolution -- otherwise, God is not God Eternal. And that is the main point: God is the same God -- for first-century Roman Christians who had slaves, for Spanish priests of the Inquisition who burned heretics, and for Christians today who urge all kinds of sexual license outside of Christian marriage. God still speaks the same timeless words, and it is futile (and self-contradictory) to suppose that He spoke them less clearly at an earlier time, or with less purpose, than He still speaks them today.*

The present-day revisionist interpretations of Holy Scripture's passages dealing with sexuality thus fail to pass the test of being consistent with the unfailing, eternal purpose for Christians that must infuse those passages. They are fashioned so as to apply differently to the same words in different times. They diminish the constancy of God's Word to serve changing Man, and thus attempt to evade Man's necessary submission to God's eternal purpose for him.

In sum: the failures of Christians regarding slavery are not the failures of the Bible -- they are the failures of Man. Likewise, the failures of Christians regarding sexuality are not the failures (or inadequacies) of the Bible -- they are again the failures of fallen Man.

The entire argument for allowing the consecration of persons in a same-sex union as bishops or priests is not based upon the traditional interpretation of Holy Scripture -- because that interpretation was based on Scripture itself: a bishop, for example, "must be above reproach, the husband of one wife ..." (1 Tim. 3:2).

The argument instead has to depend upon that interpretation having changed over the centuries -- but then the argument depends, as shown above, on Man's changeability, and not on God's.

All of the ink being spilled in the secular media about the "outmoded messages" and "current irrelevance" of the Bible is, therefore, nothing new under the sun. In his fallen propensities, Man seems with each generation to have to re-learn, and re-acknowledge (which is the true sense, by the way, of "re-ligio" -- "a binding again [to]") the authority of Holy Scripture.

The bottom line is this: Christian Man, being a fallen creature, often discerns but feebly God's eternal purpose for him, through his contemporary interpretations of Holy Scripture. All such attempts to discern God's purpose must proceed from the understanding that Man's discernment is fallible, and may be in need of (severe) correction at any point in time.

At the same time, however, Christian Man may take comfort that God's purpose for him is unchanging and eternal. Therefore, if he is not clearly receiving God's message for him through Holy Scripture just now, he may know that he must keep trying, and keep submitting himself to its authority, in hope for a better and deeper relation to it in the future. Remember: God's Holy Word does not change -- only Man himself does.

Whether or not such later understanding of Holy Scripture is truly "better" may be evaluated by an objective test: does it continue to cohere with God's eternal purpose for mankind -- as reflected through St. Paul and the other New Testament authors, and as reflected through the words and life of God's only Son?

And by that objective test, any argument for the interpretation of Holy Scripture which depends for its validity on the assumption that the Holy Spirit meant differently in an earlier age than He means today, or that He spoke in days past with a lesser understanding of Man than as Man has evolved to the present time, is per se invalid: it contradicts and demeans -- for Man's sake -- God's unchanging aspect.

*And let us not, please, drag out the old "shellfish" canard in supposed refutation of this point. Once again, God's words in the Pentateuch remain the same today as they were when first recorded (allowing for human errors of transcription) -- and there are still men and women who follow them just as strictly today. Only they do not call themselves Christians, because they do not recognize the New Testament as Holy Scripture. Jesus' atoning sacrifice, and the doctrine of salvation which it gave to the world, established once and for all time a different path for Christians to follow. By the same token, the stakes for Christians have increased: Hell is a greater horror than Sheol.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Night Thoughts Away from Home during Christmas Season

Nightfall finds me in a strange town, where I've never stayed before, in need of lodging as I travel. It is the Episcopal Church (USA) litigation (a term which should be an oxymoron, but which sadly isn't) that brings me here, just ten days before Christmas.

What a contrast! The town is full of lights, decorations, music and good cheer. Families are out with their children, taking in the sights, shopping for gifts, and sipping hot mulled cider while nibbling on gingerbread. But I am here alone, en route to a preliminary skirmish before the battle royal in mere weeks that will decide the fate of thousands -- at least at this first (trial court) stage.

I share readily in the town's festive mood, smiling at perfect strangers and wishing them all "Merry Christmas." What is it about Christmas that brings out the best in friends and strangers alike?

First of all, no one wants to be a dour old Scrooge -- or if they do, the rest just chuckle at them, and refuse to let sourpusses spoil the season's cheer.

Second, the good cheer is contagious, like nothing else in the world. It builds and builds as it travels through the streets, sweeping up all in its wake. And once one catches it -- well, one would have to be a real Scrooge to resist its power and charm.

But third and most magic of all, it is at Christmas when humans show that they are -- every one -- made in God's image. The lights, the trees, the gifts and decoration, the laughter and joys -- they are the outward and visible signs of God's most precious gift to us, which is ours to savor every day of our earthly lives, whether we appreciate it or not.

For it was freely given -- and for the sake of that great gift, God sent His only Son to dwell among us so that we might have the hope of eternal life with Him Who made us in his very image. What could make us more complete? What more ever could we have asked for, in our wildest imagination?

Think for a moment: those who do not (yet) know God, and Jesus Christ as their Savior, have no reason to be merry at Christmas -- yet many are anyway, without asking or trying to divine the reason. But what you and I know, and they may not (yet), is that it does not take Christmas to let out the best in us. For Christians, the joy and good cheer is there at any time we wish to celebrate our having been made in God's image.

God loves us! Through His Son, we are saved! That is good news for any day of the year, no matter how bleak or empty it may appear to someone on the outside, or (like Scrooge at the start of Dickens' story) on the fringe looking in.

So -- especially in this season -- I hope those of you who delight in the Gospel will be extra-sensitive to those who could use some of the Good News. There is no magic recipe, for each of us shares what we know in the way we do best. In the same way, you will choose the opportunity when it seems just right for the other person -- after all, you were born for this moment! The point is to see God's image in the other, and to let that spark of recognition kindle your God-engraven heart as you recognize one of His own, in need of His Good News.

As for me, tomorrow I must put on the armor of light and sally forth to combat. Even secular warriors, however, withdraw from the front to be with their loved ones at Christmas. So do not extend your sympathies: in just a few days I shall be back by my own hearth, in the bosom of my extended family, and celebrate with them the most holy message of Christmas -- the best part of which is that it is all year round.

God bless us, every one!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Fr. Hunwicke on the Anglican Flaw

One blogger to whom I have long linked at the right (under "LiturgiCannon") is Fr. John Hunwicke, formerly the rector of St. Thomas' in Oxford, and now incardinated in the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham. He is an unimpeachable scholar of Church Latin and Greek, and is a constant source of new insights regarding our common liturgy (Catholic and Anglican).

In a recent post, Fr. Hunwicke has, as usual, pierced to the heart of the matter -- the "matter" being the currently disordered state of the Anglican Communion. The amazing part is that he wrote and first published the post in 2010, when he was still a priest in the Church of England. I hope he will not mind if I quote here for you the salient parts (omitting the scholarly backup; all italics are in the original), but be sure to go to his own blog and absorb the whole thing, on his own terms and presentation. My point here is to highlight his incidental insight into the problems which currently beset our Anglican Communion -- thanks to ECUSA and the Anglican Church of Canada.

He begins by tracing a logical parallel between a diocese (led by a bishop) and the Church Catholic ("Universal"), led by the Church of Rome:
Recently, a fashionable Orthodox hierarch, commenting on the dialogue between Rome and the Orthodox Churches, expressed the view that, while Orthodoxy may have things to learn from Rome about a Universal Primacy, Rome had things to learn from Orthodoxy about Intermediate Primacies. How very reasonable. Everybody learns from everybody else's insights and we end up with Wholeness. The essence of Ecumenism.  
Except that it's rubbish. The New Testament - well, I mean the Pauline Letters - knows two usages of the term ekklesia. There is the local Church - the Church, let us say, in Corinth. That is how S Paul uses the term in his earlier correspondence. But, without abandoning that usage, in Colossians and Ephesians ... he writes also of the Church as a universal body. 
This is a most valuable insight into the ecclesiology of St. Paul (or in Fr. Hunwicke's British usage, "S Paul"). Now look what Fr. Hunwicke does with that distinction:
In later ecclesiology, that gives us the Local, 'Particular', Church; which means, not the Church in some country or region, but a Christian community with Bishop, Presbyterium, Diaconate, and Laos [laity]. Then there is the Universal Church; and the late, great, Dom Gregory 'Patrimony' Dix showed that the role played in the Local Church by the Bishop is closely paralleled by the role played in the Universal Church by the Church of Rome (among other evidence, he illustrated this by examining the language used in the epistles of S Ignatius of Antioch about the bishop in relation to the Local Church, in comparison with that used about the Roman Church in relation to the Universal Church). 
All right, the parallel has been drawn. But how does it mean that the traditional Eastern Orthodox Patriarchies differ in ecclesiological function from the Church of Rome? Back to Fr. Hunwicke's explanation:
The Local and the Universal Church exist as entities jure divine [by divine right]. Indeed, they are in a sense the same entity, because in the Local Church the Universal Church subsists in its entirety .... Intermediate Primacies - such as Patriarchates - do not exist by divine right. They may be given a theological rationale in terms of Incarnational Theology: that is to say, an association of local churches may laudably express forms of spirituality adapted to the instincts of particular cultural groupings (one thinks of the Eastern Churches of particular rites). And Patriarchates and Major Archbishoprics may make organisational good sense. I do not deny that and I do not refuse respect to the Patriarchates of Byzantine and Oriental Christianity. But an Archbishopric or a Patriarchate does not exist in the primary ecclesiological sense in which Universal Church and Local Church exist.
But Rome's primacy in the Church Catholic does not stem from its initial identification with the center of the Roman Empire -- it took the ascendancy of the Emperor Constantine to give rise to that claim. No, the primacy of Rome's Church rests entirely upon St. Peter -- the one disciple singled out by Jesus, upon whom He based His Church Catholic:
Dom Gregory Dix then went on to show that the belief in the Primacy of the Roman Church existed at a very early date and, when described, was seen in terms of the Petrine status of the Roman Church. He pointed out that there is no evidence in the early centuries of the notion that the Roman Church acquired its status from its location in the Imperial City. This would have been improbable; as Dix says, no other cult (not even that of Dea Roma) assigned primacy to its group in the city of Rome; and early Christianity, far from respecting the city of Rome, loathed it as the Whore of Babylon which slaughtered the Saints....  
The Roman Primacy is not the institution of Patriarch written larger. It is something sui generis or it is nothing. Now: you may not agree that Rome does have a universal Primacy. You may prove this negative to your own entire satisfaction. But you will not thereby have proved that 'Intermediate Primacies' - Patriarchates and the like - do have status jure divino. You'll have to come up with another set of arguments to establish that.
And no doubt many of us Anglicans may not agree that Rome has a "universal Primacy" -- otherwise, why do we insist on remaining Anglican (while many of us still see ourselves as "Catholic")? But one has to admit that Fr. Hunwicke has a point: there is nothing about the See of Canterbury -- or the Patriarchy of Alexandria, Jerusalem or Constantinople -- that lends to any of them the color or status of having been established by anything akin to Christ's ordination of St. Peter, the first Bishop of Rome.

So you may or may not agree with Fr. Hunwicke thus far -- and that is all right, because he is now -- may God always bless him -- happily and fully a part of the Roman Catholic Church in Great Britain. It is his next point to which I wish to draw your specific attention. Here is his lead-in (remember, it was written when Fr. Hunwicke was still an Anglican):
I for one applauded the move of John Paul II to explain that Episcopal Conferences, unlike the Universal Roman Primacy and unlike the Local Primacy of the Bishop in his own Church, do not have any existence by divine right. And I very much doubt if the papal title 'Patriarch of the West' is any older than the Byzantinising of Pope Gregory I. And so when Benedict XVI, as one of his first moves, divested himself in the Annuario Pontificio of the title 'Patriarch of the West', "Goodie", I cried, "at last we have pope who knows what he isn't"
And here is his clincher (again, emphasis is always in the original):
We Anglican Catholics know what Intermediate Primacies can lead to if left without a check or a balance. They can lead to the mess that the Anglican Communion finds itself in. They lead to the concept of the Infallible Local Synod whose heretical decisions are irreformable.  
They can lead to self-righteous schism.

"Self-righteous schism" -- there is no better term to describe the results of General Convention 2003 and the Episcopal Church (USA) since, under the unchecked apostasy of the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori. (Canadian Anglicans, you may cast your own stones here.)

The contrast between the catholicism of the Petrine Church, and the self-righteousness of ECUSA and ACoC, could not be made more stark. Pray for them both, that they may return to the catholic path of their honorable forebears.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Not Bragging, Just Informing --

The fact is that if you had read this when it posted on September 26, 2009, you would have been four years ahead of the curve on the healthcare debacle.

The surprising thing is that the media was spotting the lie back then, too -- but the story went nowhere, and their coverage soon went on to other things.

President Obama is not serious about fixing what's wrong, people -- he is just going through the motions. If you want or need private health insurance, you're going to have to track it down all by yourself (you could enlist the help of an independent broker-agent). But this government is NOT going to bring it to you on a silver platter. I have to wonder whom they are aiming to please.