Tuesday, March 06, 2018

Defence of the Seven Sacraments: Week 3 - Baptism and Confirmation




Baptism is possibly the one sacrament where Catholic and Lutheran doctrine is closest. Luther’s chapter here is milder than some other parts of his treatise. Luther is far more vicious about baptism when confronting Anabaptists. (Luther advocated the death penalty for Anabaptists for being open blasphemers. His preferred method was drowning.) 

Luther says . . . 3.1 “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who according to the riches of His mercy has preserved in His Church this sacrament at least, untouched and untainted by the ordinances of men, and has made it free to all nations and every estate of mankind, nor suffered it to be oppressed by the filthy and godless monsters of greed and superstition.”

In contrast to all the “tearing down” with the Eucharist, Luther is more prone to praise baptism. But Henry begins his critique noting a lack of balance: “Nor does he praise any one of the Sacraments, unless to the Prejudice of another; for he so much extols Baptism, that he depresses Penance: Though he has treated of Baptism itself after such a Manner, that it had been better he had not touched it at all.” (pg 173)



St Jerome makes the analogy of penance as the "second" gangway plank to reboard the ship of the Church. Luther asserts that infant baptism was providential because adult baptism would be more prone to superstition. But since adults don’t remember their baptism, they also have a tendency to forget it.

3.2 “But Satan, though he could not quench the power of baptism in little children, nevertheless succeeded in quenching it in all adults, so that scarcely anyone calls to mind their baptism and still fewer glory in it. So many other ways have they discovered of ridding themselves of their sins and of reaching heaven. The source of these false opinions is that dangerous saying of St. Jerome's – either unhappily phrased or wrongly interpreted – which he terms penance 'the second plank' after the shipwreck, as if baptism were not penance. Accordingly, when men fall into sin, they despair of 'the first plank,' which is the ship, as though it had gone under, and fasten all their faith on the second plank, that is, penance. This has produced those endless burdens of vows, religious works, satisfactions, pilgrimages, indulgences, and sects, from this has arisen that flood of books, questions, opinions and human traditions, which the world cannot contain. So that this tyranny plays worse havoc with the Church of God than any tyrant ever did with the Jewish people or with any other nation under heaven.” What is the object of faith for Luther? Does Luther end up having faith in baptism more than faith in God?

3.4 “Now, the first thing in baptism to be considered is the divine promise, which says: 'He that believes and is baptized shall be saved.' This promise must be set far above all the glitter of works, vows, religious orders, and whatever man has added to it. For on it all our salvation depends. We must consider this promise, exercise our faith in it and never doubt that we are saved when we are baptized. For unless this faith be present or be conferred in baptism, we gain nothing from baptism. No, it becomes a hindrance to us, not only in the moment of its reception, but all the days of our life. For such lack of faith calls God's promise a lie, and this is the blackest of all sins. When we try to exercise this faith, we shall at once perceive how difficult it is to believe this promise of God. For our human weakness, conscious of its sins, finds nothing more difficult to believe than that it is saved or will be saved. Yet unless it does believe this, it cannot be saved, because it does not believe the truth of God that promises salvation.”

3.5 “This message should have been persistently impressed upon the people and this promise diligently repeated to them. Their baptism should have been called again and again to their mind, and faith constantly awakened and nourished.” 

3.7 "The children of Israel, whenever they repented of their sins, turned their thoughts first of all to the exodus from Egypt, and, remembering this, returned to God Who had brought them out. This memory and this refuge were many times impressed upon them by Moses, and afterward repeated by David. How much rather ought we to call to mind our exodus from Egypt, and, remembering, turn back again to Him Who led us forth through the washing of regeneration, which we are bidden remember for this very purpose. And this we can do most fittingly in the sacrament of bread and wine."

Henry’s response about faith and good works leads right into the once saved, always saved issue: “And having in many Words shown what this Faith is, he afterwards extols the Riches of Faith, to the End he may render us poor of good Works, without which (as St. James saith ) Faith is altogether dead. But Luther so much commends Faith to us, as not only to permit us to abstain from good Works; but also encourages us to commit any Kind of Action, how bad soever:”

3.8 "See, how rich therefore is a Christian, the one who is baptized! Even if he wants to, he cannot lose his salvation, however much he sin, unless he will not believe. For no sin can condemn him save unbelief alone. All other sins – so long as the faith in God's promise made in baptism returns or remains –all other sins, I say, are immediately blotted out through that same faith, or rather through the truth of God, because He cannot deny Himself. . . .

3.9 "Again, how perilous, no, how false it is to suppose that penance is the second plank after the shipwreck! How harmful an error it is to believe that the power of baptism is broken, and the ship has foundered, because we have sinned! . . . If one be able somehow to return to the ship, it is not on any plank but in the good ship herself that he is carried to life."

Henry answers that infidelity is no special sin compared with so many others: “What Christian Ears can with Patience hear the pestilentious hissing of this Serpent, by which he extols Baptism, for no other end, but to depress Penance, and establish the Grace of Baptism for a free Liberty of Sinning?” . . . “He denies sin to be the shipwreck of faith” 

Henry’s logic: “Therefore since Faith becomes dead by wicked Works, why can it not be said, that he suffers Ship-wreck who falls from the Grace of God, into the Hands of the Devil?” (p 174) . . . “Has St. Jerome written wickedly in this? Does the whole Church follow an impious Opinion, for not believing Luther, that Christians are safe enough by Faith alone, in the midst of their Sins, without Penance?” . . . “After this, he so magnifies Faith, that he seems almost to intimate, that Faith alone is sufficient without the Sacrament. For in the meanwhile, he deprives the Sacrament of Grace; he says, ‘that the Sacrament itself profits nothing;’ denies that the Sacraments confer any Grace; or that they are effectual Signs of Grace; or that the Sacraments of the Evangelical Law differ in any Kind from those of the Mosaical Law, as touching the Efficacy of Grace:” 

Luther had stated: 3.17 “. . . it is an error to hold that the sacraments of the New Law differ from those of the Old Law in the effectiveness of their signifying. The signifying of both is equally effective. The same God Who now saves me by baptism saved Abel by his sacrifice, Noah by the rainbow, Abraham by circumcision, and all the others by their respective signs."

3.19 "Even so it is not baptism that justifies or benefits anyone, but it is faith in the word of promise, to which baptism is added. This faith justifies, and fulfils that which baptism signifies."

Henry responded by quoting Hugo of St Victor and Augustine and the OT (p 175) Then Henry summarizes his critique. Luther asks for too much on the part of the recipient of baptism, almost making it a subjective work (the trap of wondering if one has believed enough). “He promised Remission of Sins, and Grace from the Sacrament itself, to all those who should but only present themselves, and desire it: For an undoubted and certain Faith, is a very great Thing, which happens not always, nor to every Body” (p 177).

Henry looks for balance: “But as I do not think, that Faith alone, without the Sacrament, is sufficient for him who may receive it; so neither can the Sacrament suffice him without Faith; but that both ought to concur and co-operate with their Power” (p 177).  Luther’s concentration on faith ends up being a cover for a life of wicked living.

Luther stated: 3.27 "This glorious liberty of ours, and this understanding of baptism have been carried captive in our day. And whom have we to thank for this but the Roman pontiff with his despotism? . . . 

3.28 “Therefore I say: neither the pope nor a bishop nor any other man has the right to impose a single syllable of law upon a Christian man without his consent. If he does, it is done in the spirit of tyranny. Therefore the prayers, fasts, donations, and whatever else the pope decrees and demands in all of his decretals, as numerous as they are evil, he demands and decrees without any right whatever. He sins against the liberty of the Church whenever he attempts any such thing.”

Henry responds: “I only ask this, That if none, either Man or Angel, can appoint any Law among Christians, why does the Apostle institute for us so many Laws . . . If the Apostles did, of themselves, beside the especial Command of our Lord, appoint so many Things to be observed by Christians, why may not those who succeed them, do the same for the Good of the People?” (p 178-9).

Luther stated: 3.31 “We must know and strongly affirm that the making of such laws is unjust, that we will bear and rejoice in this injustice. We will be careful neither to justify the tyrant nor complain against his tyranny.”

Henry sees hypocrisy in Luther, since Luther was quick to invoke the power of the state on the church’s behalf. “If Luther is of Opinion, that People ought not to obey; why does he say they must obey? If he thinks they ought to obey, why is not he himself obedient? Why does this Quack juggle thus? Why does he thus reproachfully raise himself against the Bishop of Rome, whom he says we ought to obey?” (p 179).

Luther’s infamous tirade: 3.31 “Nevertheless, since few know this glory of baptism and the blessedness of Christian liberty, and cannot know them because of the tyranny of the pope, I for one will walk away from it all and redeem my conscience by bringing this charge against the pope and all his papists: Unless they will abolish their laws and traditions, and restore to Christ's churches their liberty and have it taught among them, they are guilty of all the souls that perish under this miserable captivity, and the papacy is truly the kingdom of Babylon, yes, the kingdom of the real Antichrist! For who is  the man of sin and the son of perdition but he that with his doctrines and his laws increases sins and the perdition of souls in the Church, while he sits in the Church as if he were God? All this the papal tyranny has fulfilled, and more than fulfilled, these many centuries. It has extinguished faith, obscured the sacraments and oppressed the Gospel. But its own laws, which are not only impious and sacrilegious, but even barbarous and foolish, it has enjoined and multiplied world without end.” 

Luther on Confirmation: 5.2 “I do not say this because I condemn the seven sacraments, but because I deny that they can be proved from the Scriptures. . . . For, in order that there be a sacrament, there is required above all things a word of divine promise, whereby faith, may be trained. But we read nowhere that Christ ever gave a promise concerning confirmation, although He laid hands on many.” 

5.3 “Hence it is sufficient to regard confirmation as a certain churchly rite or sacramental ceremony, similar to other ceremonies, such as the blessing of holy water and the like. For if every other creature is sanctified by the word and by prayer, (1 Timothy 4:4 ff.) why should not much rather man be sanctified by the same means? Still, these things cannot be called sacraments of faith, because there is no divine promise connected with them, neither do they save; but sacraments do save those who believe the divine promise.”

Henry responds by opening his chapter with: “Luther is so far from admitting Confirmation to be a Sacrament, that, on the Contrary, he says, he admires what the Church’s Intention was in making it one.” Henry points out that not all words of Jesus were included in the New Testament, so Luther's argument is an argument from ignorance. Henry also returns to his oft repeated point that it's hard to believe the church, following ancient tradition, could be so wrong for so long, throughout the world until Luther came along.

Henry explained: "I do not think that any Person, who has the least Spark of Faith in him, can be persuaded, that Christ, who prayed for St. Peter, that his Faith should not fail; who placed his Church on a firm Rock; should suffer her, for so many Ages, to be bound by vain Signs of corporal Things, under an erroneous Confidence of their being divine Sacraments." (p 196).

Prayers from the Prayer Book rite of Baptism resemble Henry's quote from Pope Melchiades ("In Baptism we are regenerated to Life, after Baptism we are confirmed for the Combat; for Confirmation arms and instructs us against the Agonies of this World"):

ALMIGHTY and everlasting God, who of thy great mercy didst save Noah and his family in the ark from perishing by water; and also didst safely lead the children of Israel thy people through the Red Sea, figuring thereby thy holy Baptism; and by the Baptism of thy well-beloved Son Jesus Christ, in the river Jordan, didst sanctify Water to the mystical washing away of sin: We beseech thee, for thine infinite mercies, that thou wilt mercifully look upon this Child; wash him and sanctify him with the Holy Ghost; that he, being delivered from thy wrath, may be received into the ark of Christ's Church; and being steadfast in faith, joyful through hope, and rooted in charity, may so pass the waves of this troublesome world, that finally he may come to the land of everlasting life, there to reign with thee world without end, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. . . . 

WE receive this Child into the Congregation of Christ's flock, and do sign him with the sign of the Cross, in token that hereafter he shall not be ashamed to confess the faith of Christ crucified, and manfully to fight under his banner against sin, the world, and the devil, and to continue Christ's faithful soldier and servant unto his life's end. Amen.

Thursday, March 01, 2018

Defence of the Seven Sacraments: Week 2 - The Sacrament of the Altar

In his treatise The Babylonian Captivity of the Church, Martin Luther wrote:

“I now know for certain that the papacy is the kingdom of Babylon and the power of Nimrod, the mighty hunter (Gen 10:8-9).” 

“All three [sacraments] have been subjected to a miserable captivity by the Roman Curia, and the church has been robbed of her liberty.”


Luther on Communion in one kind: “2.21 The first captivity of this sacrament, therefore, concerns its substance or completeness, of which we have been deprived by the despotism of Rome. Not that they sin against Christ, who use the one kind, for Christ did not command the use of either kind, but left it to every one's free will, when He said: ‘As often as you do this, do it in remembrance of me.’ But they sin who forbid the giving of both kinds to such as desire to exercise this free will.”

Luther on Transubstantiation: “2.23 The second captivity of this sacrament is less grievous so far as the conscience is concerned, yet the very gravest danger threatens the man who would attack it, to say nothing of condemning it.”

He called the term “a monstrous word and a monstrous idea” and notes that it was not used by the fathers until the philosophy of Aristotle returned about 1200. For Luther, belief in the corporeal presence of Christ in the Sacrament is not the issue; the question was about whether the substance of the bread and wine do or do not remain. “For my part, if I cannot fathom how the bread is the body of Christ, I will take my reason captive to the obedience of Christ, and clinging simply to His word, firmly believe not only that the body of Christ is in the bread, but that the bread is the body of Christ.”

Luther took an incarnational approach to the Real Presence (later termed “consubstantiation” or Christ present “in, with, and under” the bread and wine). “2.36 Therefore it is with the sacrament even as it is with Christ. In order that divinity may dwell in Him, it is not necessary that the human nature be transubstantiated and divinity be contained under its accidents. But both natures are there in their entirety, and it is truly said, This man is God, and This God is man. . . . in order that the real body and the real blood of Christ may be present in the sacrament, it is not necessary that the bread and wine be transubstantiated and Christ be contained under their accidents. But both remain there together.” 

Luther on the Mass as Sacrifice and Work: “2.37 The third captivity of this sacrament is that most wicked abuse of all, in consequence of which there is today no more generally accepted and firmly believed opinion in the Church than this – that the mass is a good work and a sacrifice. This abuse has brought an endless host of others in its wake.”

Luther responds that instead of being a sacrifice and work, the Mass is a testament received by faith. It is a sacramental seal of a promise. The Words of institution are there to be meditated upon (not to be used in hushed reverence). Rome has perverted the sacrament into idolatry. “This misery of ours, what is it but a device of Satan to remove every trace of the mass out of the Church? although he is meanwhile at work filling every nook and corner on earth with masses, that is, abuses and mockeries of God's testament, and burdening the world more and more heavily with grievous sins of idolatry, to its deeper condemnation. For what worse idolatry can there be than to abuse God's promises with perverse opinions and to neglect or extinguish faith in them?” . . . “There is no doubt, therefore, that in our day all priests and monks, together with all their bishops and superiors, are idolaters and in a most perilous state, by reason of this ignorance, abuse and mockery of the mass, or sacrament, or testament of God.”

“We learn from this that in every promise of God two things are presented to us – the word and the sign – so that we are to understand the word to be the testament, but the sign to be the sacrament. Thus, in the mass, the word of Christ is the testament, and the bread and wine are the sacrament. And as there is greater power in the word than in the sign, so there is greater power in the testament than in the sacrament.” 

“What godless audacity is it, therefore, when we who are to receive the testament of God come as those who would perform a good work for Him! This ignorance of the testament, this captivity of the sacrament – are they not too sad for tears? When we ought to be grateful for benefits received, we come in our pride to give that which we ought to take, mocking with unheard-of perversity the mercy of the Giver by giving as a work the thing we receive as a gift. So the testator, instead of being the dispenser of His own goods, becomes the recipient of ours. What sacrilege!”

What is the Mass supposed to be about? Luther describes it thus:


Henry VIII responds in his Defence of the Seven Sacraments:


The Church Fathers were not just emphatic that it is Christ, they were also emphatic that it is no longer bread and wine.


Luther’s goal is to tear down and rebuild.


Development of Communion in one kind (by about 1200s): The main concern was reverence and spillage.

(1) private domestic Communion, a portion of Eucharistic bread brought home;

(2) in the Communion of the sick, which was usually the Host alone; 

(3) in the Communion of children, usually under the species of wine alone;

(4) in the Communion with the Host alone at the Mass of the Presanctified;

(5) the practice of the intinctio panis, i.e. the dipping of the Host in the Precious Blood and serving it on a spoon.

(6) Development of Communion outside of (High) Mass as normative

The Council of Lambeth (1281) directed that wine is to be received by the priest alone, and non-consecrated wine (an ablution cup) is to be received by the faithful.

Background on the Bohemian Schism: (Luther fled to Bohemia) The Bohemian Brethren are a link in a chain of sects beginning with Wyclif (1324-84) and coming down to the present day. The ideas of the Englishman found favour with Hus, and Bohemia proved a better soil for their growth than England. Both Wyclif and Hus were moved by a sincere desire to reform the Church of their times; both failed and, without intending it, became the fathers of new heretical bodies — the Lollards and the Hussites. These were forerunners of Protestantism. One of their tenants was insistence on communion under both kinds for salvation (from John 6:53-56 “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me and I in him.”)

The Council of Basle granted (1433) the use of the chalice to the Calixtines of Bohemia under certain conditions, the chief of which was acknowledgment of Christ's integral presence under either kind. This concession, which had never been approved by any pope, was positively revoked in 1462 by the Nuncio Fantini on the order of Pius II. 

Theological issue involved in Communion under one Kind--Concomitance. The Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ form one indivisible Person, and must be found together. That virtue or force which unites the body to the blood, and vice versa, in the Eucharist, is known in Catholic theology under the term concomitance.

Common Sense Henry retorts: This is an effort for Luther to turn the laity against the clergy First Luther laments that a council did not authorize it, then he decries the bishops for not making the reform without a council. The Fathers and general Christian consent had no problem with it. Exposes Luther’s contradiction. He says Christ commands it, but then insists that it be a matter of personal liberty.

If we are supposed to do the Eucharist just like Jesus did it, why stop at insisting on Communion in both kinds. What about . . . children before first communion? Why not always communicate after supper? How can he add water to the wine when there only tradition to support it? Henry points out how practices evolve in the church under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and Christian consent (change to morning Mass, to fasting Mass, to communion in one kind). Luther’s insistence on personal liberty, even to the point of not having to receive communion at Easter, goes too far.


Transubstantiation—a change of substance? Or a new incarnation? Luther’s current view is consubstantiation. How do we know that will stay his view. Luther admits his thinking has changed three times already.


Interpretive Key: 

“. . . We confess he took Bread, and blessed it; But that he gave Bread to his Disciples, after he had made it his Body, we flatly deny; and the Evangelists do not say he did . . . [Institution narratives] . . . In all these Words of the Evangelists, I see none, where, after the Consecration, the Sacrament is called Bread and Wine; but only Body and Blood. They say, That Christ took Bread in his Hands., which we all confess; but when the Apostles received it, it was not called Bread, but Body. Yet Luther endeavours to rest the Words of the Gospel, by his own Interpretation. Take, eat; this, that is, this Bread, (says he, which he had taken and broken,) is my Body. This is Luther’s Interpretation; not Christ’s Words, nor the Sense of his Words.” (pg 151) 


“As for what Luther argues, or rather trifles, to shew the Simplicity of his own Faith; when of the Wine, Christ does not say, Hoc, est Sanguis meus, but, Hic, est Sanguis meus: I wonder why it should enter into any Man’s Mind to write thus: For who sees not that this makes Nothing at all for him, nay, rather, does it not make against him? It had seemed more for his Purpose, if Christ had said, Hoc est Sanguis meus: For then he might have had some Colour at least, whereby he might have referred the Article of Demonstrating to the Wine. But now, though Wine is of the neuter Gender; yet Christ did not say Hoc, but Hic est Sanguis meus. And though Bread is of the masculine Gender, yet, notwithstanding, he says, Hoc est Corpus meum, not Hic; that it may appear, by both Articles, that he did not mean to give either Bread or Wine, but his own Body and Blood. 

“. . . because Bread and Body are of different Genders in the Latin; he that translated it from the Greek should have joined the Article with Panis, if he had not found that the Evangelical Demonstration was made of the Body. Moreover, when Luther confesseth that the same Difference of Gender is in the Greek, he might easily know that when the Evangelists writ in Greek, they would have put in the Article relating to the Bread, if they had not known our Lord’s Mind; but they were willing to teach the Christians, by the Article relating to the Body, that, in the Communion, Christ did not give Bread to his Disciples, but his Body.” 

Wherefore, when Luther, to serve his own Turn, interprets the Words of Christ, ‘take, and eat, this is my Body,’ that is, this Bread he had taken; not I, but Christ himself teacheth us to understand the Contrary, to wit, That what was given them, and seemed to be Bread, was not Bread, but his own Body; if the Evangelists have rightly delivered us the Words of Christ: For otherwise he should say, not Hoc, that it might be expounded for Hic, but, more properly, Hic Panis est Corpus meum: By which Saying he might teach his Disciples, what Luther now teaches to the whole Church, to wit, That in the Eucharist the Body of Christ, and the Bread are together. But our Saviour spoke after that Manner, that he might plainly manifest, that only his Body is in the Sacrament, and no Bread.” (pg 152-153)

In other words, Jesus knew what he was talking about, and we have his plain words!





What is in a word? Luther says, ‘This Doctrine of Transubstantiation, is risen in the Church within these three Hundred Years; whereas before, for above twelve Hundred Years, from Christ’s Birth, the Church had true Faith: Yet all this while was there not any Mention made of this prodigious (as he calls it) Word Transubstantiation.’ 

If he strives thus only about the Word, I suppose none will trouble him to believe Transubstantiation; if he will but believe, that the Bread is changed into the Flesh, and the Wine into the Blood; and that Nothing remains of the Bread and Wine but the Species; which, in one Word, is the Meaning of those who put in the Word Transubstantiation. Henry goes into a series of proofs from the Fathers: Hugo of St Victor, Eusebius, Augustine, Gregory of Nyssa, Theophilus, Cyril of Jerusalem, Ambrose of Milan. Henry contends that no Fathers would have made use of the metaphor of the iron and fire for the Real Presence. Pg 158 “That Opinion of Luther is therefore false, as it is against the public Faith, not only of this Time, but also of all Ages: Nor does he free from Captivity those who believe him; but, drawing them from the Liberty of Faith, that is, from a safe Hold, (as he himself confesses) he captivates them, leading them into a Precipice, into inaccessible, uncertain, doubtful and dangerous Ways: And he that loves Danger, shall perish therein.” (pg 155)


Luther “examines the Lord’s Supper, and ponders the Words which Christ used in the Institution of the Sacrament of the Mass: And, having found in them the Word Testament, (as if a Thing very obscure,) he begins to triumph, as though he had conquered his Enemies” (pg 159).

On page 162, Henry educates us: Christ is our great high priest who offers the eternal sacrifice for us and he has given us this memorial to proclaim his death (i.e., sacrifice) until his return.

“If Luther should argue that the Priest cannot offer, because Christ did not offer in his Supper, let him remember his own Words, That a Testament involves in it the Death of the Testator; therefore has no Force or Power, nor is in its full Perfection; till the Testator be dead. Wherefore, not only those Things which Christ did first at his Supper, do belong to the Testament, but also his Oblation on the Cross: For on the Cross he consummated the Sacrifice which he began in the Supper: And therefore the Commemoration of the whole Thing, to wit, of the Consecration in the Supper, and the Oblation on the Cross, is celebrated, and represented together in the Sacrament of the Mass; so that it is, the Death that is more truly represented than the Supper. And therefore, the Apostle, when writing to the Corinthians, in these Words, As often as ye shall eat this Bread, and drink this Cup, adds, not the Supper of our Lord, but ye shall declare our Lord’s Death.” (Pg 163).

“And if Christ did any Work, I am certain none will doubt of its being a good Work: For if the Woman, who poured the Ointment upon his Head, wrought a good Work in that, who doubts of his performing a good Work, when he gave his Body for our Nourishment, and offered it in Sacrifice to God? If this cannot be denied, unless by him who intends to trifle in so serious a Matter, neither can it also be denied that the Priest worketh a good Work in the Mass; seeing that in the Mass he does nothing else but what Christ did in his last Supper, and on the Cross; for this is declared in Christ’s own Words, Do this in Commemoration of me.” (Pg 165)

Luther vs the Fathers “It is a Wonder that, of so many holy Fathers, of so many Eyes which have read the Gospel in the Church for so many Ages, none was ever so quick-sighted, as to perceive a Thing so apparent; and that at this present Time they are all so blind, as not to discern what Luther (though he points it out with his Finger,) brags so clearly to see himself! Is not Luther rather mistaken, and thinks himself to see something, which in Reality he sees not, or endeavours to shew us with his Finger, that which is no-where to be found? For pray what Sort of Proof is that where he undertakes to teach ‘that Mass is no Sacrifice, because it is a Promise;’ as if Promise and Sacrifice were as repugnant together as Heat and Cold?” Pg 169

“I suppose that none will believe him, unless he first shews that he has read another Gospel different from that the holy Fathers ever read, or that in reading the same, he has been more diligent than they, or has better understood it; or finally, that he is more careful about Faith, than ever any Man before him was.” 

Conclusion: if Luther has his way, the use of the Sacrament of the Altar will shrivel up in the common practice of the Lutheran faith, and that’s exactly what we saw in the rise of pietism—Word to the neglect of Sacrament. 

“These are the excellent Promises of Luther; this is that spacious Liberty he promises to all those who forsake the Catholic Church to follow him, viz. That they may be freed at last from the Use and Faith of the Sacrament!” (Pg 172).

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Defence of the Seven Sacraments: Week 1 - Introduction




King Henry VIII is an enigma. He was not supposed to the King, but the Archbishop of Canterbury. Tudor dynasty was young and shaky, a male heir would make it secure. He has theological training, devout, attended Mass usually multiple times a day, regular confessor, made pilgrimage, creeped to the cross on Good Friday, fought Protestantism, given title “Defender of the Faith”, died with the host on his tongue . . . and yet . . . he carried on an affair with the Boleyns (product of the church in his time), was willing to use absolute power (executions), was weak-willed, was very lustful, began young and vigorous but then likely suffered from syphilis and diabetes, dissolved the monasteries and gave their property to the nobility, broke up the communion of the church in the West, and promoted and fostered Protestantism.

From Belloc's chapter on Henry: 
"Though so much else was at work, it will be seen that if Henry had not weakly allowed himself to be captured by Anne Boleyn, and then allowed himself to be pushed into the extreme position of breaking with the Papacy rather than disappoint the woman who had infatuated him, England would be Catholic to-day; and if England had remained Catholic the Reformation elsewhere would certainly have died out. 

"He it was who started the ball rolling. He did not intend the results which ultimately followed, nor even the results which followed immediately within his own lifetime, still less the results which followed after his death. It was a passionate, foolish, ill-considered blunder — and was a very good example of the truth that evil comes upon the world through men's blind sins much more than through their calculation. 

" . . . even for the betrothal it was necessary to get a dispensation from the Pope of the day, Julius II, because Catherine had been (nominally at least) the wife of the boy's brother. It was a disputed point among theologians whether the Pope could or could not give a dispensation for marriage with a deceased brother's wife; morally, of course, it did not matter in this case because the marriage between young Prince Arthur and' Catherine had only been a nominal one, but the point was to prove of enormous importance in the future. 

" . . . Now let me describe the character of this young fellow, upon whom so much was to depend. His leading characteristic was an inability to withstand impulse; he was passionate for having his own way — which is almost the opposite of having strength of will. He was easily dominated, always being managed by one person or another in succession, from this beginning of his fife to the end of it, but being managed — not bullied or directly controlled. 

"It is exceedingly important to understand this chief point about him because a misjudgment of it has warped much the greater part of historical appreciation upon him. Because he was a big man who blustered and had fits of rage and was exaggeratedly eager to follow appetite and whim he had been given the false appearance of a powerful figure. Power he had, but it was only the political power which the mood of the time gave to whoever might be monarch. He had no personal power of character. He did not control others by their respect for his tenacity, still less by any feeling that he was wise and just and still less by any feeling that he was of strong fiber. 

"On the contrary, all those who managed him, one after the other — except his wife — despised him, and soon came to carry on as though they could do what they liked on condition that they flattered him. They managed public affairs while he followed his appetites or private interests. That was true of the whole series of those who "ran" him: Wolsey, Anne Boleyn, Thomas Cromwell, and, at the end, his brother-in-law Seymour. The only exception was that admirable wife of his who, through the simplicity of her character and her strong affection as well as from her sense of duty, treated him with respect. But her influence over him was, perhaps on that very account, soon lost. 

"As might be expected with a nature of this kind, he revolted against each manager one after the other. He felt he was being "run" by each in turn, grew peevish about it, had explosions of anger and would in a fit of passion get rid of them. Getting rid of them often meant, under the despotic conditions of that day, putting them to death. That is how he suddenly broke with Wolsey, that is how he broke with Anne Boleyn, that is how he broke with Thomas Cromwell — who had all three done what they willed with him, acting independently of him, showing their contempt for him in private and ultimately rousing his fury. Every woman (except his first wife Catherine) with whom he had to deal treated him pretty soon with contempt, and that is a most significant test of a man's value. 

" . . . though he was intelligent, in the sense of being able to follow a logical process clearly or to draw up a consecutive plan or to analyse intellectual propositions such as are presented by theological or political discussion, he was a bad judge of men. He could see indeed well enough that this man or that was working hard and producing results, but he blundered badly whenever he tried to frame a foreign policy for himself; also he was very hesitant — perhaps because he half consciously recognized his incompetence in dealing with a complicated situation. 

"He would put off a decision, advance towards a certain end and then draw back, half determining to give up objects towards which he was bent, and the main lines of action during his reign were always undertaken by somebody else. 

"It was Wolsey who conducted his early foreign policy entirely; it was Cromwell who later worked his breach with Rome; it was Seymour who, at the end of his life, determined what sort of will he should leave and how the succession to his throne should be arranged. He was emotional after a fashion, and especially sensitive to music; he was even a good practical musician himself and something of a poet and he composed a few songs which are not without merit, as well as other set pieces of harmony, notably two Masses to which are given his name but which are perhaps from his own hand. 

"He was very vain — vain of his looks, and of his athletics in early life; exceedingly touchy about his dignity and his majesty as a King. His feelings were here in comic contrast with the way in which he was always being got the better of by other people, until the moment when the regular explosion against their control arrived. It was this vanity which made him fall a victim to more than one woman, but it also prevented his being completely infatuated by them save in the one case of Anne Boleyn. 

" . . . he did have a fixed emotional attachment to the practices of the Faith, and he never got out of what may be called the atmosphere of these practices. He had a constant devotion to the Sacrament of the Altar and no little of his severity appeared in his treatment of anyone who denied the Real Presence. He insisted on the celibacy of the clergy, on the maintenance of full ritual in the liturgy and all ecclesiastical discipline under the episcopacy, which he formally maintained."




1491—Henry Tudor is born; as the second-born son, he is prepared for a career in the Church.

1502—Arthur, Prince of Wales, dies, leaving Henry Tudor as the heir to the throne of England.

1504—Henry VII, still desiring a Spanish alliance, arranges a marriage between his son and Arthur’s widow, Catherine of Aragon; though Catharine swore that her marriage had not been consummated, an additional papal dispensation of affinity (see Leviticus 18:16) is sought to remove all doubt regarding the legitimacy of the marriage; Pope Julius II grants the dispensation.

1509—Henry VIII, becomes king after the death of his father, Henry VII.

1515—Thomas Wolsey, Archbishop of York, is made a Cardinal by the pope and Lord Chancellor of England by the king.

1517—Martin Luther nails his “95 Theses” debating indulgences on the church door at Wittenberg; the Protestant Reformation begins.

1520—Martin Luther writes his essay “The Babylonian Captivity of the Church,” his most hostile treatment of the papacy (labeling the pope the “antichrist”) and the Catholic teaching on the sacraments.

1521—Henry VIII publishes his treatise “Defence of the Seven Sacraments” as a rebuttal of Luther’s “Babylonian Captivity.” King Henry  receives the title “Defender of the Faith” from Pope Leo X for his work.

1522—Martin Luther writes his reply to King Henry VIII. In this year, Henry begins an affair with Mary Boleyn.

1525—At the entreaty of Christian, King of Denmark, Luther apologizes to Henry. The King also becomes interested in an annulment of his marriage and begins pursuing Anne Boleyn.

1526—Sir Thomas More writes a reply to Luther’s response to Henry VIII, entitled “Vindicatio Henrici VIII. a calumniis Lutheri” by “Gulielmus Rosseus.”

1529—Henry VIII dismisses Cardinal Wolsey as Lord Chancellor for failing to obtain the Pope’s annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon; Sir Thomas More appointed Lord Chancellor; Henry VIII summons the “Reformation Parliament” which begins to cut ties with the Church of Rome.

1530—Cardinal Wolsey dies; the “Reformation Parliament” reinstates præmunire charges, outlawing legal appeals to the Roman Curia; reformer William Tyndale is executed; his final words are, “Lord, open the King of England’s eyes.”

1532—The “Reformation Parliament” curtails church taxes sent abroad to Rome; Sir Thomas More resigns over the question of Henry VIII’s annulment.

1533—All legal appeals to Rome are outlawed by the “Reformation Parliament”; the Boleyn family chaplain, Thomas Cranmer, is appointed Archbishop of Canterbury and grants the annulment of the king’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon; Henry VIII marries Anne Boleyn and is excommunicated by Pope Clement VII.

1534—The “Reformation Parliament” passes the Act of Supremacy: as no foreign bishop has jurisdiction within the realm, Henry VIII is declared the “supreme head” of the Church of England.

1535—Sir Thomas More and John Cardinal Fisher, Bishop Rochester, are beheaded for failing to take the Oath of Supremacy.

1536—Concluding the “Reformation Parliament,” all papal authority in England is outlawed; Anne Boleyn is beheaded; Henry VIII marries Jane Seymour; the dissolution of monasteries in England begins under the direction of Thomas Cromwell and is completed in 1539.

1537—Jane Seymour dies after bearing a son, the future King Edward VI.

1539—Parliament passes the king’s “Six Articles” of Religion, outlawing Protestant religious opinions on key issues; Glastonbury Abbey is dissolved; the buildings are torched and looted by the king’s men.

1540—Henry VIII marries Anne of Cleves following negotiations by Thomas Cromwell; as it was not consummated, Henry’s marriage to Anne of Cleves is annulled and he marries Catherine Howard; Thomas Cromwell executed on charge of treason.

1542—Catherine Howard is executed.

1543—Henry VIII marries Catherine Parr; alliance forms between Henry and Charles V (Holy Roman Emperor) against Scotland and France.

1544—The first liturgical texts in English are issued (the only ones issued in Henry’s reign); the Exhortation and Litany were composed by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer.

1547—Henry dies; under the Act of Succession, his sole surviving son, becomes King Edward VI; as he is too young to rule (nine years old), Edward Seymor acts as Lord Protector of the Realm.

1548—Archbishop Thomas Cranmer introduces an English communion rite, to be inserted in the Latin Mass just before receiving Communion.

1549—The first Book of Common Prayer, mostly written by Cranmer, is issued and its use is required in all English churches; resistance comes from Cornwall.

1552—A new Prayer Book, revised along Protestant lines, is issued.

1553—Upon the death of Edward VI, Henry’s first daughter Mary is crowned Queen of England; she restores both the Latin liturgy and communion with the Church of Rome.

1558—Upon the death of Mary I, Henry’s second daughter Elizabeth (by Anne Boleyn) is crowned Queen of England; papal jurisdiction is denied, the Queen being proclaimed “Supreme Governor” of the English Church, and the Prayer Book is restored.



"Whose Sins ye forgive, shall be forgiven unto them, and whosoever Sins ye retain, shall be retained. (Jn 20:22). By which Words, if it is manifest that any Priest has Power to absolve Men from Sins, and take away eternal Punishment due thereunto; who will not judge it ridiculous, that the Prince of all Priests should be denied the taking away of temporal Punishment?"

Joining things

An inexpansive free verse.

I tried to join the Masons because it was free
But then I discovered I had to buy my apron.
(I didn’t know they baked their own bricks.)
The Communist party looked good at first,
But in the end, there were too many red flags.
I didn’t have enough pride to join the Lion’s Club.
I was too much of a square to join the Rotary Club.
I was a little too ordinary to be one of the Odd Fellows.
Should I lodge with the Moose or the Elk?
As a hunter, I was accustomed to shooting them both.
I was getting a little too old for the YMCA.
It turns out the Red Men were just a bunch of white guys.
The Knights of Columbus only held daytime meetings.
I had more in common with the emcees than the Jaycees.
I figured I didn’t really wanna be in Kiwanis.
(Plus, I didn’t have the key to the club anyway.)
When I just couldn’t decide what I wanted to be,
I figured I was content being little old me.

Monday, November 13, 2017

ACNA, Part 1: the Bishops


I wanted to collect some thoughts on the issue in light of the recent conclusion of the theological study and it's consideration by the bishops. It may be useful to you as well. I initially did a column in my parish's Sunday bulletin, and I also did a video version on Youtube. These are further thoughts. To begin, here is the bishops' statement of September 7, 2017:

Having gratefully received and thoroughly considered the five-year study by the Theological Task Force on Holy Orders, we acknowledge that there are differing principles of ecclesiology and hermeneutics that are acceptable within Anglicanism that may lead to divergent conclusions regarding women’s ordination to the priesthood. However, we also acknowledge that this practice is a recent innovation to Apostolic Tradition and Catholic Order. We agree that there is insufficient scriptural warrant to accept women’s ordination to the priesthood as standard practice throughout the Province. However, we continue to acknowledge that individual dioceses have constitutional authority to ordain women to the priesthood.

I was pleasantly surprised by the statement. It was far more than I was expecting (I was expecting a total white-wash). And yet, here they go on record with the acknowledgement that the Scriptural support for this innovation is lacking and that the only justification for it is our own man-made church law.

But I have been disappointed by the responses of various traditionalist groups about the bishops' statement. The reason is that they all seem to fall for a distraction, focusing on the canons of ACNA and the task of amending them to make the male presbyterate the standard throughout the province. Focusing one's energies on the legislative process at this point seems to me to be a great mistake. It's a fruitless endeavor, a non-starter. Or more accurately, it's the wrong place to start. The real place to start is with the bishops. It's all about the bishops. 

Case in point: the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth. This diocese became (in)famous for being one of the last holdouts when it came to the ordination of women spreading as a standard practice throughout the dioceses of the Episcopal Church in the 1980s. One by one, dioceses began the practice. But not Fort Worth (and neither Quincy nor San Joaquin). 

It may surprise you to learn that in all that time, there was discussion about the issue in the diocese, but no motions on the convention floor to change the canons to allow for the ordination of women. Why? Simply because there was never any canon that prohibited it in the first place. It was never a problem that had to be addressed by canons. There's still no canon prohibiting the ordination of women in Fort Worth. Because it's all about the bishops.

It's true that there was never a majority of popular support among the diocesan clergy and laity for such an innovation in Holy Orders, but then there wasn't in Dallas either when Donis Patterson was elected bishop in 1983. Helen Parmley reported in the Dallas Morning News that a survey done by the search committee to elect a new bishop for Dallas in 1983 indicated that most of the laity in the diocese wanted their new bishop to take negative stands on the ordination of women, charismatic renewal, and homosexual ministries. Donis Patterson ordained female priests in Dallas. While over on the Fort Worth side, Donald Davies, Clarence Pope, and Jack Iker did not. Again, it's all about the bishops.

It's all about the bishops because they are the ones charged with the responsibility above all to guard the faith, order, and unity of the Catholic Church. Their role is to teach the truth and to expose and drive away error (and the practices it leads to). 

What needs to happen in ACNA is for the bishops to first exercise their role as teachers of the faith. There needs to be a moratorium on the practice put in place. No canonical changes are needed, because it's all about the bishops. They are the ones who ordain or don't ordain. The rest of us are only to call them to faithfulness in their teaching responsibility.

If a moratorium is not doable, then at least a minority of the bishops and the dioceses that engage in the aberrant practice could be contained in a sub-province of ACNA with it's own standards and practices. The ACNA would be faithful to scripture and the apostolic tradition. It would be a church, and a church in communion with itself. It would also have a sub-province of Christians in the Anglican way who (like Apollos) can be taught the whole council of God and nurtured in the tradition of the ancient Fathers.

After 5 or 10 years, most of the female clergy (less than 1% of the total clergy in ACNA) will be retiring anyway. Even without a moratorium, new ordinands are trending more and more male. So in time, it will become more and more of a non-issue in a practical sense. But the important part is for the bishops to come to a common mind. Again, it's all about the bishops.

Then, when it's clearly a thing of the past, the constitution and canons can be cleaned up at a provincial assembly.

Sunday, May 07, 2017

Considering the Benedict Option

I'm still not sure about the wisdom of the approach. It's basically about whether engagement with the world or riding out the storm is the better approach. I need more digestion of these ideas, but I'm glad we're having the conversation.

This article from Crisis Magazine is a very good argument in favor of the Benedict Option. The term was inspired by the last line of this passage from Alasdair MacIntyre's "After Virtue":

“A crucial turning point in . . . history occurred when men
and women of good will turned aside from the task of shoring up the Roman imperium and ceased to identify the continuation of civility and moral community with the maintenance of that imperium. What they set themselves to achieve instead—often not recognizing fully what they were doing—was the construction of new forms of community within which the moral life could be sustained so that both morality and civility might survive the coming ages of barbarism and darkness. If my account of our moral condition is correct [one characterized by moral incoherence and unsettlable moral disputes in the modern world], we ought to conclude that for some time now we too have reached that turning point. What matters at this stage is the construction of local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the new dark ages which are already upon us. And if the tradition of the virtues was able to survive the horrors of the last dark ages, we are not entirely without grounds for hope. This time however the barbarians are not waiting beyond the frontiers; they have already been governing us for quite some time. And it is our lack of consciousness of this that constitutes part of our predicament. We are waiting not for a Godot, but for another—doubtless very different—St. Benedict.”

Sunday, April 02, 2017

Our Mission to Muslims, Week 5

A question and answer follow up with Jay Smith on his presentation on Islam.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Our Mission to Muslims, Week 4

This week, we watched the video below of apologist Jay Smith examining how the Qur'an and Muhammad hold up in the light of critical scholarship.



The BBC documentary from Tom Holland's work that Jay Smith referenced is below.



The audio version of Tom Holland's book In the Shadow of the Sword is below.









Our Mission to Muslims, Week 3

The Muslim view of God

The substance of Islamic theology is summed up in six articles of faith: Belief in Allah as the one true God, belief in Angels, belief in Scriptures (Taurat, Gospel and Quran), belief in the Prophets, belief in the Day of Judgment, and belief in God's predestination. There is a Friday Sabbath and Muslims observe Jewish dietary laws. Muslims have a fatalistic outlook on history. They believe that Allah dictated everything that will happen and that history unfolds accordingly. This comes from the Muslim’s view of God’s absolute sovereignty.

The Shahada is the central profession of faith (“There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his prophet”). The praise Allahu-Akbar (“God is great!”) is central to prayer. Allah is the Arabic name for “God,” although in pre-Isalmic Arabia, Allah was the name of the god of the moon (one of many idols, Al-ilah or “THE god”) who was married to the sun goddess and had three daughters who were stars. Muslims deny that Allah was originally a pagan deity within a pantheon and assert that Allah was originally viewed as the one God of Abraham and that early monotheism was corrupted by polytheism and later restored by Muhammad.

"Say, He is God, the One and Only; God, the Eternal, Absolute; He begetteth not, nor is He begotten; And there is none like unto Him" (Surah 112:1-4). Islam asserts that God is one, eternal, absolute, and utterly transcendent. He is not a trinity, does not have a son, and there is none like him. Allah created all things and the purpose of life is to worship him. He is personal, but not intimate. God is utterly holy and just, who punishes us for our sins. He is also gracious and merciful and forgiving, but does not have feelings toward mankind (including love—the idea that “God is love” is foreign to the Muslim mind). Allah offers salvation based on repentance and good works. He has mercy if the good outweighs the bad on the scales at Judgment Day, but even then, salvation is deterministic—he saves whom he saves and damns whom he damns. Allah wills everything that happens. Sin is not really cleansed or pardoned as much as overlooked. Allah is to be worshiped and feared as served as a master.

Allah created man from a blood clot and he also created angels. These messengers do not have free will. They serve as the intermediaries between God and man. There are no formal clergy (imam is the one who leads the prayers), but some imams are paid teachers.

Jinn are creatures who are hidden fire spirits. They have physical form, angelic abilities, and free will. Iblis is the Arabic word for “Satan.” In Islam, he is not a fallen angel, but a jinn.

Islam teaches that all of God's prophets preached the message of Islam—submission to the will of God. The Quran mentions the names of numerous figures considered prophets in Islam, including Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses and Jesus. Isa is the Arabic version of “Jesus” in Greek or “Joshua” in Hebrew. He is seen as a prophet, not the Son of God. He was Virgin-born of Mary, was sinless, did healings and other miracles, did not die on the cross, was assumed into heaven and will return at the Day of Judgment. Both Jesus and Mary are highly esteemed.

Islam teaches the general resurrection of the dead at Judgment Day. Muslims believe all mankind will be judged on their good and bad deeds and consigned to Jannah (paradise) or Jahannam (hell).


Who is Muhammad?

Muslims believe in the prophets of the Bible (and believe Jesus was one of them) and see Muhammad as the final prophet. “Peace be upon him” is an expression of reverence that Muslims will always use about God’s prophets, and especially about Muhammad.

Muhammad was born in 570 in Mecca into the Quraysh tribe, which ruled the city and served as custodians of the Ka’abah. The branch of the family Muhammad was born into was impoverished. His father died before Muhammad was born and his mother died when he was six. The orphan first went to live with wealthy grandparents, then a wealthy uncle, then to a poor uncle. Many of his family never accepted him as a prophet.

His first visions were in his youth. He claimed an angel has opened his stomach, stirred his innards, and sealed him back up. He worked in the caravan trade and gained a reputation for being trustworthy. At 25, he met and married a wealthy Christian widow of 40 named Khadija and began a life of leisure. In 610, Muhammad was visited at by Gabriel in a cave who called on him to “recite.” He doubted the authenticity of the experience, but his wife encouraged him to pursue his call as a prophet. Muhammad asserted the claim of his family deity Allah to be not just the supreme god of the pantheon, but the only God. He called himself a prophet to appeal to Jews and an apostle to appeal to Christians. He found his audience hostile. Merchants felt that this undermining of the pagan deities at the Ka’abah was bad for business. At first he modified his preaching to appeal to the Quraysh by saying that Allah’s daughters could be worshiped as well. This concession to pagans was later rescinded and claimed that it was not a true revelation from Allah, but from Satan (hence, the “Satanic verses”).

Muhammad’s first wife died in 619 and growing hostility forced him to flee to Medina in 622. This is the Hijra (migration) and the beginning of the Muslim era. On the way, Muhammad preached to the jinns and converted them. He turned to raiding caravans and found Jews to be lucrative targets. His Muslim band defeated the Quraysh at the Battle of Badr. After some setbacks and more attacks, he conquered the city of Mecca in 630 and cleansed the Ka’abah of idols and made it the center of Muslim worship. Muhammad was poisoned by a Jewish woman and died in 632, and without having provided for a successor.

Although the Qur’an forbids more than 4 wives, Muhammad married 22 times. He had two sons who died in infancy and four daughter, only one of which (Fatima) outlived him. She was revered as one of the greatest women who ever lived. Muhammad's marriages after the death of Khajida were contracted mostly for political or humanitarian reasons. The women were either widows of Muslims killed in battle and had been left without a protector, or belonged to important families or clans whom it was necessary to honor and strengthen alliances with. Most controversial was Aisha who was 6 when betrothed and 9 when the marriage was consummated. She became known as Muhammad's favorite wife in Sunni tradition, survived him by decades and was instrumental in helping assemble the scattered sayings of Muhammad that form the Hadith literature for the Sunni branch of Islam.


What is the Qur’an?

Muslims have three sources of doctrine and practice:

1. The Qur’an (or sometimes “Koran”) is the sacred scripture. The word means “recitation.” The Muslim view of scripture is not the same as Christian. We believe in the inspiration of the Bible by God. Muslims believe in the dictation of Allah’s words to Muhammad through the angel Jibreel (Gabriel). They believe there is an “original” copy in heaven and that the earthly dictation corresponds exactly.

2. The Sunna is the collection of written tradition from the time of Muhammad. It is composed of several volumes of Hadith ( “stories”) which are the sayings and biographical stories of Muhammad that are not the dictated recitations from God. They are the next standard for doctrine and practice among Sunnis (less for Shi’ites).

3. Ijma is the sacred tradition, deemed authoritative only by Sunnis, and not by Shi’ites. It is the consensus of imams, commentators, and legal scholars of Sharia.

The Qur’an is written in units of chapters and verses. The 114 chapters (called Surah) are numbered and also have names (like “The Cow”, “The Jinn”, “Clots of Blood”) which are arranged from longest to shortest, rather than in any chronological or narrative order.

Roughly speaking, the surahs from the first half of the Qur’an are the later revelations from Medina, when Muhammad had risen to power and deal with government and ethics. The more violent passages occur here (Surah 9 most of all). The earlier revelations from Mecca, where Muhammad was powerless and persecuted, occur are placed in the second half of the Qur’an. The more peaceful passages occur here. They talk about judgment and doctrine.

Muslims believe that God gave revelation before the Qur’an (i.e., the Torah and Gospel), but it was corrupted, and the revelations given to Muhammad sets the record straight. The Qur’an does not have much narrative like the Bible, but is a chaotic collection of sayings and stories with many contradictions. The Islamic view of revelation has the principle of abrogation when dealing with conflicting revelation—later verses always cancel out the earlier ones, even within the Qur’an (e.g., Surah 2:106 - “If We abrogate a verse or cause it to be forgotten, We will replace it by a better one or one similar. Did you not know that God has power over all things?” c.f., Hebrews 13:8 – “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and today, and for ever.” ).

Curiously, although the Islam asserts that Christians and Jews have distorted God’s revelation, the Qur’an testifies to the veracity of the Bible itself and even says to go to the Christians and Jews for help to understand God’s revelations. “If you doubt what We have revealed to you, ask those who have read the Scriptures [i.e., the Bible] before you. The truth has come to you from your Lord: therefore do not doubt it” (Surah 10:94). Also, Surah 4:136 commands the Muslim to “have faith in God and His apostle, in the book He has revealed to his apostle, and in the Scriptures He formerly revealed.” It instructs the Muslim not to argue with the Christians, but to simply assert that God has added to his former revelation.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Altar Guild talk on Sacred Space


Creation of Paradise

To my mind, the best image to illustrate God’s creation is the reliquary. It is so beautiful, we might be forgiven for missing the point. It is only a beautiful display case for something more important. It is a means of setting apart what lies within for special veneration.

God created the heavens and the earth, the sun and moon and stars in their courses. He separated the dry lands from the seas, and brought forth life upon the earth. Genesis 2:8 – “And the Lord God planted a garden in the East, in Eden; and there he placed the man whom he had formed.”

This vast reliquary was a magnificent way to carve out a sacred place for the creature that bore most uniquely the image of the Creator.


The Garden of Eden by Thomas Cole 

God has created this sacred space as a dwelling-place for both the human and the divine. They walked together in fellowship in the garden in the cool of the day. The garden was a place of man’s priestly labor—Adam was to tend the garden (Gen 2:15), to cultivate the place where heaven and earth overlapped. Eden was sacred space. It is no wonder that temples throughout the ancient world were richly decorated with images of the garden. The very word “paradise” comes from the Persian term for a walled garden.

(I'm heavily indebted to Andrew Gould for his post about gardens in this section.)

The vision of paradise as an idyllic walled garden is exceedingly ancient and universal. For thousands of years, palaces have been built around courtyard gardens, and the ancient kings lived out their reigns in an artificial landscape of ideal beauty – an icon of the natural world transfigured into paradise.

There is a very old belief that any garden represents a restoration of Eden, and from the earliest times palace gardens have specifically imitated certain characteristics of Eden. The garden was always square. A fountain at the center poured forth water into four channels that radiated outward in the cardinal directions – an image of the four rivers of paradise referenced in Genesis 2:10-14. It is the preeminent image of human longing.
 The Bible begins in a garden and it ends with a garden. The New Jerusalem in Revelation 21 is the ideal joining of garden and city, where all things being restored, heaven and earth again overlap and God and man walk together in fellowship once more in the cool of the day. In the New Jerusalem, there is a walled city, a river of life issuing from the throne as it was in Eden. There are fruit bearing trees which bring life and healing to the nations. This is God’s image of how he intended life to be lived. The garden is more than a place; it is also a way of life and a state of the soul.

Is it any wonder that at the climax of the salvation story, we again find the setting of a garden. Jesus agonizes with his vocation in the Garden of Gethsemane, choosing to embrace the chalice of suffering. And at the end of his passion, he is laid to rest in a tomb in a garden. And the garden is where he first sets foot in his resurrected body.

The garden includes water and plants, but what makes it different from pure nature is the cultivation. Nature is harnessed and brought into order. This is reminiscent of the work of creation where things like earth and sea are cleanly divided. The wall is just as much an important feature as the vegetation. Although no wall is explicitly mentioned in Genesis 2, the very fact that an angel guards the way back into paradise implies the existence of a barrier and a gateway.

Ancient temples and palaces had their gardens, reminiscent of the ancient walled paradise where all was right with the world. It is no surprise then that churches would have their own ancient custom of the garden courtyard. The first house churches were in homes that had a central courtyard as one of the basic architectural features (think Abuello’s).
 In our diocese, St. Vincent’s cathedral has a central courtyard that has been increasingly cultivated in recent years. Holy Apostles in Fort Worth was built with this tradition of a courtyard in mind. The courtyard here at St. Alban’s is feeling more and more garden-like. It is an architectural feature that might often be missed or sometimes eliminated because of added expense, but one that I would argue holds an important place in the layout of the church building. We don’t see it often in this part of the world, but it is also a garden of rest for the departed.

To enter through the churchyard lychgate is to pass into a different world. To walk through the gardens to church amongst the resting places of the faithful departed is to begin the joyous ascent up the mountain to meet our Lord who sits enthroned in the New Jerusalem.
 In desert countries, the ancient church gardens have a marvelous separation from the surrounding landscape. A monastery in Egypt or Palestine is like an ark of paradise moored in the ocean of dry sand. In ancient times, Byzantine churches always had forecourts, and these contained fountains where the faithful washed themselves before entering. After a long journey through a landscape of desolation, we see palms rising above the high walls. Inside are flowers and birds and fragrant smells.

Even in countries with more verdant climates, the separation of the church gardens from the surroundings was considered very important. Whether by a high wall, or merely a fence with a gate, a church’s grounds were always set apart from the fallen world, and all within would radiate with the beauty of life.

Trees of the Patriarchs 

One of the main features of the garden the Bible mentions are the trees within it. Genesis 2:8-9, "And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he has formed. And out of the ground, the LORD God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil."

There is a tree of life in Eden (as there are such trees of life-giving fruit in the paradise of the New Jerusalem) and there is a tree of knowledge. Is it any wonder then that after man’s expulsion from paradise, the first place we find sacred space coming back into the scene is under the shade of a large tree? Of all places, the whisper of God would be best heard under a tree.

Pay attention to the first reading at Mass tomorrow morning. Abram is called by God in Genesis 12 to pick up roots in Haran and head out West to a land of promise. He went with his family, not knowing exactly where to go, but knowing that God would let him know when he got there. Where does Abram stop? Where does God speak to him in the promised land? 
 When Abram entered Canaan, his family stopped at Shechem. There, at a sacred terebinth tree—called the Oak of Moreh—we are told that Abram encounters God again. Now before, we are only told that the Lord “said” something to Abram. Now, Abram not only hears, but sees the God who called him to travel West. Genesis 12:7-8 – “Then the LORD appeared to Abram, and said, ‘To your descendants I will give this land.’ So he built there an altar to the LORD, who had appeared to him. . . . and there he built an altar to the LORD and called on the Name of the LORD.’” This expression about “calling on the name” indicates worship.
 We know that the ancient Canaanites worshiped at such outdoor shrines. You can see how a large tree or a grove of trees in a dry, arid place would be a natural gathering spot. Much later, the prophet Hosea spoke of Israel “sacrificing under oak, poplar, and terebinth [trees] because their shade is good” (Hosea 4:13). The pagan people erected stone pillars in such places for sacrifice, and it seems that these were probably “general use” structures. They did not belong to one congregation or people; anyone could make use of them. Think of a public park with picnic tables and grills for cookouts. And yet, Abram does not use one of these Canaanite pillars. We are explicitly told that he built his own altar there at the Oak of Moreh to sacrifice to the Lord.
Then the story takes a detour in Genesis 12. They go down to Egypt to escape a famine. When it’s over, they journey back up to the Promised Land in Genesis 13 and make camp again in the same spot—between Bethel and Ai. Again, Abram “calls upon the name of the LORD” at the altar he had built there before. After he and Lot part ways, the Bibles says, “Abram moved his tent, and came and dwelt by the oaks of Mamre, which are at Hebron; and there he built an altar to the LORD” (Genesis 13:18).

The Lord appeared to Abram again at the oaks trees in the guise of three angels who signify the divine persons of the Trinity. The Lord came to investigate the outrages in Sodom and Gomorrah. The next time we find that tree mentioned is Genesis 18, where God visits he who is now called Abraham and confirms the promise with a prophecy of a son born to Sarah.

“And the LORD appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the door of his tent in the heat of the day. He lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, three men stood in front of him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them, and bowed himself to the earth” (Genesis 18:1-2).

At first, Abram had built his own altars for sacrifice at these sacred groves of the native Canaanites. Later in Genesis 21:33, Abram (now Abraham) planted his own grove of trees at Beersheeba and used it as a place of sacrifice, to “call upon the Name of the Lord, the everlasting God.”

Need we even be reminded how the Lord first appeared to Moses? In a tree lit up with the fire of the divine Presence on a high mountain! When the people entered the Promised Land after the exodus, Joshua set up a great stone tablet of covenant laws under the oak tree of Shechem in the holy place of the Lord, where Abraham first encountered God in the Promised Land (Joshua 24:26).

In the time of the Judges, Deborah held court under “the Palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel” (Judges 4:5). The Israelites thought it fitting to bury the great Prophetess close the Lord’s dwelling, under the oak tree at Bethel. In the story of the call of Gideon in Judges 6, we read: “Now the angel of the LORD came and sat under the oak at Ophrah” and that Gideon brought his offering to the oak tree there.
Of course, as the nation takes shape, these sacred groves (which are often on hills or mountains) play less and less a part of the official religious life of the nation. Worship is consolidated in Jerusalem. Country folks still worship the God of Abraham at some of these high places, but the native pagans use them too and there is always the danger of syncretism in their religious faith. At the time of the reforms of Josiah, these high places are finally suppressed. One of the more curious details from this era comes from 2 Kings 23:7 in which all of the pagan elements are forcefully removed from the temple in Jerusalem including one operation “where the women wove hangings for the grove.” 
Graham Hancock, former reporter for the Economist gave this description of the sacred groves of the Qemant, a judaized animist group in Ethiopia: "Gnarled and massive, the acacia was so ancient that it would have been easy to believe it stood there for hundreds and perhaps even for thousands of years. . . . what made this site so different from any other place of worship I had come across in my travels—was the fact that every branch of the tree to a height of about six feet off the ground had been festooned with woven strips of vari-coloured cloth. Rustling in the wind, these waving pennants and ribbons seemed to whisper and murmur—almost as if they were seeking to impart a message" (Graham Hancock’s The Sign and the Seal, pg 247).

One thing that intrigued American poet Joyce Kilmer, is the tree’s constant and intimate communion with God. Before such a powerfully reverent creation, he can only sense his own inadequacy and weakness. We humans can produce wonderful, eloquent poetry, but what is a poem, which emerges from our frail quills; compared to the timeless wisdom embodied in a something like a tree, a simple yet infinitely complex creation wrought by the marvelous hand of God? So it is with the mystery of the Catholic Church—the marvelous Kingdom of God in paradise, in heaven, and on earth that started as the smallest of seeds in Jesus’ parable. It is a great fruitful tree which the Lord himself has created, planted, watered, and raised up to his glory. With that application in mind, let us consider again Kilmer’s words:

I think that I shall never see
A poem as lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth’s sweet flowing brest;
A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray,
A tree that may in summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain,
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.
Temple in Jerusalem

The God of Abraham "lived" on Mount Sinai. His presence was indicated with characteristic signs of theophany—smoke and fire, clouds and thunder and lightning. The mountain was set apart. No one but Moses was to set foot on the mountain.

The tablets of testimony written with the commandments of God (inscribed first with his own hand) were a portable sign of his presence. They were made of the material of the mountain and were inscribed with his will. An ark of acacia wood was made to transport them—again, materials from the mountain where the God of Abraham dwelt. When Moses put them in a box to take them to the Promised Land, it was almost as if they had put God himself in a box to take to the Promised Land. In reality, the tabernacle transported the tangible elements of that first encounter with God on the mountain.
God repeatedly “descended” to renew that encounter and make it sacred space once again. All the elements of theophany followed the Ark of the Covenant. The Ark—and the tabernacle which housed it—were God’s residence on the earth. It would make sense that God would give details instructions for the construction and operation of his residence. Again and again, Moses was told to make these things “according to the pattern shown to you on the mountain.” From the priceless gems, to the gold plating, to the fine cloth of scarlet and purple and linen vesture, the décor of the sanctuary reminds us that nothing but the finest that man has to offer is fitting for God’s dwelling place.

When the structure was complete, the Bible says: “Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting, because the cloud abode upon it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Throughout all their journeys, whenever the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the people of Israel would go onward; but if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not go onward till the day that it was taken up. For throughout all their journeys the cloud of the Lord was upon the tabernacle by day, and fire was in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel” (Exodus 40:34-38).

God’s tangible presence dwelt above the “mercy seat”—the golden lid of the Ark of the Covenant—between two winged angels bowed down in worship. This was the most sacred space on earth. The closer to this sacred space you get, the more one leaves the realm of earth and enters the realm of heaven. We can see gradations of holiness with gradations of distinction reflected in the layout, building materials, and use of the tabernacle. The closer to God, the more set apart and precious the features become.
The less holy area of the outer courtyard was open to the laity and the metal associated with its construction was bronze. Moving further inward, only the priests and Levites (who were themselves consecrated for God) were admitted to the holy place in which the items were overlaid with gold (except for the menorah which was solid gold). Further inward, the contents of the holy of holies were either plated with gold on both the inside and outside (like the ark) or were made of solid gold (like the mercy seat). The Holy of holies was off limits to everyone by the high priest, who only entered once a year to offer blood on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur). The sacredness of the entire precinct was evident from the proscription that the priests and Levites should camp in between the tabernacle and the tents of the other tribes during their sojourn in the wilderness.

When the Ark found a permanent home in Jerusalem, David said he would not rest until a fitting residence was made for the Lord and the Ark of his presence. It was a mutually beneficial arrangement in that the palace of the king and the palace of God (the temple) were essentially a part of the same complex. David was not to live to see it accomplished; that was left to his son, King Solomon. When the temple was finished and dedicated, we find the same description of the Lord descending and taking up residence within the Holy of holies was happened with the portable tabernacle.

God was with his people, coming with them from Egypt, through the desert, and taking up residence on a new mountain called Zion in the land of promise. The New Jerusalem is also said to be a place where God can dwell in the midst of his people. When John tells us he sees the Ark in heaven as it was in the old Jerusalem, but it has become a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars upon her head. She bears a Son who rules the nations with a rod of iron. Later, it is the Lamb who dwells in the midst of his people in the New Jerusalem.

It is no wonder then that John begins his gospel with a description of Jesus becoming (as it were) the new temple. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt (literally, “tabernacle”) among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father” (John 1:14).

In his book Jesus of Nazareth (Infancy Narratives) Pope Benedict XVI wrote: “The man Jesus is the dwelling-place of the Word, the eternal divine Word, in this world. Jesus’ ‘flesh,’ his human existence, is the ‘dwelling’ or ‘tent’ of the Word: the reference to the sacred tent of Israel in the wilderness is unmistakable. Jesus is, so to speak, the tent of meeting—he is the reality for which the tent and the later Temple could only serve as signs.” As tragic an end as it was, it is fitting that the sacrificial system of the Old Covenant came to an end and the Temple of Herod was razed to the ground because Jesus is the eternal sacrifice, the New Covenant, and the living Temple of the Most High.

Facing East
The portable tabernacle in the wilderness and then the temple in Jerusalem were oriented the same as most all of the temples of the ancient world. The entrance pointed toward the east, the sunrise being a vivid symbol of the power of the deity coming into his temple. As beings of matter and spirit, it is important to recognize that we worship with both the soul and the body. Posture is a part of how we worship with the body.

Here is Father Beste at the altar of this church, leading his people in a solemn procession toward Christ in paradise, which is what the Eucharistic liturgy is all about. The common direction of clergy and people is a vivid reminder of their anticipation of, and movement toward, the paradise that awaits with the return of Christ in glory. We’ll ignore the fact that they’re technically headed in the wrong direction. It had long since become customary to consider the altar end of the church “liturgical East” no matter what the compass read. Was it a mistake to put the altar at the western end of this room? My only comment about that is to observe that if it had been put at the eastern end, the altar would not have been struck by lightning!

Do we find directionality in biblical prayer? Only in hints. In Isaiah 38, we read: “In those days Hezekiah became sick and was at the point of death. And Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz came to him, and said to him, ‘Thus says the Lord: Set your house in order; for you shall die, you shall not recover.’ Then Hezekiah turned his face to the wall, and prayed to the Lord . . .” (Isaiah 38:1-2). The King was moved to prayer when faced with his own mortality. The royal palace was just west of the temple complex. Perhaps too sick to rise from his bed, we can safely assume he thought it at least proper and expedient that he should roll over and face toward the East (even if he was facing toward a blank wall) to address God in his house.

This gesture is a little passing reminder of how important directionality in worship was to people of days past—not just in ancient times, but approaching the modern era. Even after Protestant Reformation and the Enlightenment which both served to detach spiritual matters from the physical realm, we still took the care to orient at least our churches if not ourselves when addressing God in prayer. Even the word “orientation” indicates a physical movement toward the oriens—Latin for “East.”

The one clear contradiction of this principal of praying toward the East in the Bible comes with the act of defiance that gets Daniel thrown into the lion’s den. In an effort to destroy Daniel, his enemies maneuvered to get King Darius to sign a decree stating that whoever prays to any god or man for thirty days, except to the king, shall be cast into the den of lions. The Bible says, “When Daniel knew that the document had been signed, he went to his house where he had windows in his upper chamber open toward Jerusalem; and he got down upon his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously” (Daniel 6:10).

Some scholars think that at least during the Exile, it was a common practice to face toward the temple mount for prayer, longing for the day when God’s dwelling place would be restored and his people would be brought home. Another explanation could be that by deliberately facing this way, it would be obvious that Daniel was engaging in an act of defiance toward the prohibition of worship by earthly power.

One thing we inherited from our Jewish roots of worship is this idea of direction in our posture of prayer. Like them, the earliest Christians also faced East in worship. This ancient Christian liturgical posture was traditionally interpreted as a bodily expression of the assembly’s eschatological expectation—awaiting Christ’s return in glory. Christ himself, the “Light of the world”, the “Dayspring from on High,” the “Bright Morning Star” is signified by the rising sun whose dawn marks the consummation of all things in a restored Paradise (whose type, Eden, lies “in the east“).

Perhaps nowhere is this more vividly realized architecturally than here—at Christo Rey Carmelite Monastery in San Francisco. The priest is leading the people in that liturgical procession toward paradise as all of the sudden Jesus bursts forth into this world from the Eastern horizon in his glorious return to earth. The anticipation of the parousia has been realized in the advent of his Real Presence.

St. John of Damascus explained: “When ascending into heaven, [Jesus] rose towards the East, and that is how the apostles adored him, and he will return just as they saw him ascend into heaven . . . Waiting for him, we adore him facing East. This is an unrecorded tradition passed down to us from the apostles” (On the Orthodox Faith 4:12). “Facing the Lord” in the liturgy often meant facing the tabernacle because it was there that the blessed Sacrament was reserved. Liturgically speaking, however, it is the eschatological orientation of the assembly toward the rendezvous with Christ in his new Advent which is paramount.

During the time of house churches, it was common to mark the Eastern wall of the home or courtyard with a cross, which would serve to indicate the direction of prayer during the time of worship for the community gathered at the Lord’s table. This was even before the period when the cross became a symbol commonly used in Christian circles.

The Church 
A church building is the intentional creation of sacred space, and since it is the culmination of thousands of years of tradition on worship, it brings to fulfillment those traditions in its design. In his book Church Building and Furnishing, liturgical scholar J. B. O’Connell notes repeatedly that the church building is the holiest of sanctuaries. “Apart from the sacramental presence of our Lord,” he wrote, “the church is a holy place, filled with the Divine Presence—more so than the Temple of old ever was. . . . A church by its very appearance should proclaim its character and the grandeur of its high and enduring purpose. It should not only be a church, but look like one . . . The church should have its own peculiar atmosphere, an atmosphere that is holy, hieratic, mystical, inspiring . . . that befits the perfect House of God” (pg 8-9).

Making Space Holy
It’s important to remember that you are the church, the mystical Body of Christ, you are sacred space. St Paul wrote in his First Letter to the Corinthians, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If any one destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and that temple you are” (1 Cor 4:16-17). When our Lord comes to us, may he find in our hearts a mansion prepared for himself!

For our own spiritual well-being, we have to make sacred space in our own lives. We should put forth the time and effort to turn a part of our world into Paradise—that “walled garden” where order and beauty are cultivated, and where God and man spend time together, enjoying each other’s company. It should look like paradise, like a little corner of heaven. Perhaps the use of icons, or plants, or color, or fabric, or some such means of marking territory as holy and set apart from the rest of the world can help form a sacred space in your own life and foster communion with God.

We have so many exceptions to the rules, it’s sometimes difficult to remember what the rules are. According to the ancient practice and laws of the church, only the ordained clergy may enter the chancel and sanctuary. Like the priests and Levites encamped between the tabernacle and the people, they were gathered close to wait upon the Lord.

As a part of the altar guild, it is your service to stand in for the clergy and attend to the needs of the sanctuary. What can we do to mark off that sacred space? Entering the sanctuary, if it truly is the house of God, begs us to set apart ourselves as well. The rule of silence is paramount. As much as possible, the only words spoken should be words of scripture or words of prayer. A sacredness can be imparted through proper dress. Like the acolytes, perhaps only a special outfit is used when working in the sanctuary. Perhaps the ancient practice of the veil being worn in the house of God would be appropriate. The same attire and attitude can be a way of creating sacred space in our own lives and homes. It can be a way of building that wall for our Eden—setting it apart from the world.

Like Abraham finding rest in the Promised Land, we encounter God at a tree which serves as a place of sacrifice. Let us always have an image of the crucifix to attune us to prayer—perhaps on the east side of a room, marking the direction in which to cultivate our longing for Christ’s return.

A candle or two lit at the time of prayer is a way of invoking Christ’s presence, who once lit up the burning bush on Sinai and called it holy ground, who was named as the “Light of the world”, “the Dayspring”, and the “Bright Morning Star.” May God grant you to find sanctuary in your life this Lent.