Deep wisdom from Judaism

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Below is the full text of Rabbi Sachs’ speech delivered at the Humanum Colloquium in Rome which won him a standing ovation. It is worth the time it takes to read it:

I want this morning to begin our conversation by one way of telling the story of the most beautiful idea in the history of civilization: the idea of the love that brings new life into the world. There are of course many ways of telling the story, and this is just one. But to me it is a story of seven key moments, each of them surprising and unexpected.

The first, according to a report in the press on 20th October of this year, took place in a lake in Scotland 385 million years ago. It was then, according to this new discovery, that two fish came together to perform the first instance of sexual reproduction known to science. Until then all life had propagated itself asexually, by cell division,
budding, fragmentation or parthenogenesis, all of which are far simpler and more economical than the division of life into male and female, each with a different role in creating and sustaining life.

When we consider, even in the animal kingdom, how much effort and energy the coming together of male and female takes, in terms of displays, courtship rituals, rivalries and violence, it is astonishing that sexual reproduction ever happened at all. Biologists are still not quite sure why it did. Some say to offer protection against parasites, or immunities against disease. Others say it’s simply that the meeting of opposites generates diversity. But one way or another, the fish in Scotland discovered something new and beautiful that’s been copied ever since by virtually all advanced forms of life. Life begins when male and female meet and embrace.

The second unexpected development was the unique challenge posed to Homo sapiens by two factors: we stood upright, which constricted the female pelvis, and we had bigger brains – a 300 per cent increase – which meant larger heads. The result was that
human babies had to be born more prematurely than any other species, and so needed parental protection for much longer. This made parenting more demanding among humans than any other species, the work of two people rather than one. Hence the very rare phenomenon among mammals, of pair bonding, unlike other species where the male contribution tends to end with the act of impregnation. Among most primates, fathers don’t even recognise their children let alone care for them. Elsewhere in the animal kingdom motherhood is almost universal but fatherhood is rare.

So what emerged along with the human person was the union of the biological mother and father to care for their child. Thus far nature, but then came culture, and the third surprise It seems that among hunter gatherers, pair bonding was the norm. Then came agriculture, and economic surplus, and cities and civilisation, and for the first time sharp inequalities began to emerge between rich and poor, powerful and powerless. The great ziggurats of Mesopotamia and pyramids of ancient Egypt, with their broad base and narrow top, were monumental statements in stone of a hierarchical society in which the few had power over the many. And the most obvious expression of power among alpha males whether human or primate, is to dominate access to fertile women and thus maximise the handing on of your genes to the next generation. Hence polygamy, which exists in 95 per cent of mammal species and 75 per cent of cultures known to anthropology. Polygamy is the ultimate expression of inequality because it means that many males never get the chance to have a wife and child. And sexual envy has been, throughout history, among animals as well as humans, a prime driver of violence.

That is what makes the first chapter of Genesis so revolutionary with its statement that every human being, regardless of class, colour, culture or creed, is in the image and likeness of God himself. We know that in the ancient world it was rulers, kings, emperors and pharaohs who were held to be in the image of God. So what Genesis was saying was that we are all royalty. We each have equal dignity in the kingdom of faith under the sovereignty of God.

From this it follows that we each have an equal right to form a marriage and have children, which is why, regardless of how we read the story of Adam and Eve – and there are differences between Jewish and Christian readings – the norm presupposed by that story is: one woman, one man. Or as the Bible itself says: “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.”

Monogamy did not immediately become the norm, even within the world of the Bible. But many of its most famous stories, about the tension between Sarah and Hagar, or Leah and Rachel and their children, or David and Bathsheba, or Solomon’s many wives, are all critiques that point the way to monogamy. And there is a deep connection between monotheism and monogamy, just as there is, in the opposite direction, between idolatry and adultery. Monotheism and monogamy are about the all-embracing relationship between I and Thou, myself and one other, be it a human, or the divine, Other.

What makes the emergence of monogamy unusual is that it is normally the case that the values of a society are those imposed on it by the ruling class. And the ruling class in any hierarchical society stands to gain from promiscuity and polygamy, both of which multiply the chances of my genes being handed on to the next generation. From monogamy the rich and powerful lose and the poor and powerless gain. So the return of monogamy goes against the normal grain of social change and was a real triumph for the equal dignity of all. Every bride and every groom are royalty; every home a palace when furnished with love.

The fourth remarkable development was the way this transformed the moral life. We’ve all become familiar with the work of evolutionary biologists using computer simulations and the iterated prisoners’ dilemma to explain why reciprocal altruism exists
among all social animals. We behave to others as we would wish them to behave to us, and we respond to them as they respond to us. As C S Lewis pointed out in his book The Abolition of Man, reciprocity is the Golden Rule shared by all the great civilizations.

What was new and remarkable in the Hebrew Bible was the idea that love, not just fairness, is the driving principle of the moral life. Three loves. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul and all your might.” “Love your neighbour as yourself.” And, repeated no less than 36 times in the Mosaic books, “Love the stranger because you know what it feels like to be a stranger.” Or to put it another way: just as God created the natural world in love and forgiveness, so we are charged with creating the social world in love and forgiveness. And that love is a flame lit in marriage and the
family. Morality is the love between husband and wife, parent and child, extended outward to the world.

The fifth development shaped the entire structure of Jewish experience. In ancient Israel an originally secular form of agreement, called a covenant, was taken and transformed into a new way of thinking about the relationship between God and humanity, in the case of Noah, and between God and a people in the case of Abraham
and later the Israelites at Mount Sinai. A covenant is like a marriage. It is a mutual pledge of loyalty and trust between two or more people, each respecting the dignity and integrity of the other, to work together to achieve together what neither can achieve
alone. And there is one thing even God cannot achieve alone, which is to live within the human heart. That needs us.

So the Hebrew word emunah, wrongly translated as faith, really means faithfulness, fidelity, loyalty, steadfastness, not walking away even when the going gets tough, trusting the other and honouring the other’s trust in us. What covenant did, and we see this in almost all the prophets, was to understand the relationship between us and God in terms of the relationship between bride and groom, wife and husband. Love thus became not only the basis of morality but also of theology. In Judaism faith is a marriage. Rarely was this more beautifully stated than by Hosea when he said in the name of God:

I will betroth you to me forever;
I will betroth you in righteousness and justice, love and compassion.
I will betroth you in faithfulness, and you will know the Lord.

Jewish men say those words every weekday morning as we wind the strap of our tefillin around our finger like a wedding ring. Each morning we renew our marriage with God.

This led to a sixth and quite subtle idea that truth, beauty, goodness, and life itself, do not exist in any one person or entity but in the “between,” what Martin Buber called Das Zwischenmenschliche, the interpersonal, the counterpoint of speaking and listening, giving and receiving. Throughout the Hebrew Bible and the rabbinic literature,
the vehicle of truth is conversation. In revelation God speaks and asks us to listen. In prayer we speak and ask God to listen. There is never only one voice. In the Bible the prophets argue with God. In the Talmud rabbis argue with one another. In fact I sometimes think the reason God chose the Jewish people was because He loves a good argument. Judaism is a conversation scored for many voices, never more passionately than in the Song of Songs, a duet between a woman and a man, the beloved and her lover, that Rabbi Akiva called the holy of holies of religious literature.

The prophet Malachi calls the male priest the guardian of the law of truth. The book of Proverbs says of the woman of worth that “the law of loving kindness is on her tongue.” It is that conversation between male and female voices, between truth and love,
justice and mercy, law and forgiveness, that frames the spiritual life. In biblical times each Jew had to give a half shekel to the Temple to remind us that we are only half. There are some cultures that teach that we are nothing. There are others that teach that we are everything. The Jewish view is that we are half and we need to open ourselves to another if we are to become whole.

All this led to the seventh outcome, that in Judaism the home and the family became the central setting of the life of faith. In the only verse in the Hebrew Bible to explain why God chose Abraham, He says: “I have known him so that he will instruct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just.” Abraham was chosen not to rule an empire, command an army, perform miracles or deliver prophecies, but simply to be a parent. In one of the most famous lines in Judaism, which we say every day and night, Moses commands, “You shall teach these things repeatedly to your children, speaking of them when you sit in your house or when you walk on the way, when you lie down and when you rise up.” Parents are to be educators, education is the conversation between the generations, and the first school is the home.

So Jews became an intensely family oriented people, and it was this that saved us from tragedy. After the destruction of the Second Temple in the year 70, Jews were scattered throughout the world, everywhere a minority, everywhere without rights, suffering some of the worst persecutions ever known by a people and yet Jews survived because they never lost three things: their sense of family, their sense of community and their faith.

And they were renewed every week especially on Shabbat, the day of rest when we give our marriages and families what they most need and are most starved of in the contemporary world, namely time. I once produced a television documentary for the BBC on the state of family life in Britain, and I took the person who was then Britain’s leading expert on child care, Penelope Leach, to a Jewish primary school on a Friday morning. There she saw the children enacting in advance what they would see that evening around the family table. There were the five year old mother and father blessing the five year old children with the five year old grandparents looking on. She was fascinated by this whole institution, and she asked the children what they most enjoyed about the Sabbath. One five year old boy turned to her and said, “It’s the only night of the week when daddy doesn’t have to rush off.” As we walked away from the school when the filming was over she turned to me and said, “Chief Rabbi, that Sabbath of yours is saving their parents’ marriages.”

So that is one way of telling the story, a Jewish way, beginning with the birth of sexual reproduction, then the unique demands of human parenting, then the eventual triumph of monogamy as a fundamental statement of human equality, followed by the
way marriage shaped our vision of the moral and religious life as based on love and covenant and faithfulness, even to the point of thinking of truth as a conversation between lover and beloved. Marriage and the family are where faith finds its home and
where the Divine Presence lives in the love between husband and wife, parent and child. What then has changed? Here’s one way of putting it. I wrote a book a few years ago about religion and science and I summarised the difference between them in two sentences. “Science takes things apart to see how they work. Religion puts things together to see what they mean.” And that’s a way of thinking about culture also. Does it put things together or does it take things apart?

What made the traditional family remarkable, a work of high religious art, is what it brought together: sexual drive, physical desire, friendship, companionship, emotional kinship and love, the begetting of children and their protection and care, their early education and induction into an identity and a history. Seldom has any institution woven together so many different drives and desires, roles and responsibilities. It made sense of the world and gave it a human face, the face of love.

For a whole variety of reasons, some to do with medical developments like birth control, in vitro fertilisation and other genetic interventions, some to do with moral change like the idea that we are free to do whatever we like so long as it does not harm
others, some to do with a transfer of responsibilities from the individual to the state, and other and more profound changes in the culture of the West, almost everything that marriage once brought together has now been split apart. Sex has been divorced from
love, love from commitment, marriage from having children, and having children from responsibility for their care.

The result is that in Britain in 2012, 47.5 per cent of children were born outside marriage, expected to become a majority in 2016. Fewer people are marrying, those who are, are marrying later, and 42 per cent of marriages end in divorce. Nor is cohabitation a
substitute for marriage. The average length of cohabitation in Britain and the United States is less than two years. The result is a sharp increase among young people of eating disorders, drug and alcohol abuse, stress related syndromes, depression and actual and
attempted suicides. The collapse of marriage has created a new form of poverty concentrated among single parent families, and of these, the main burden is born by women, who in 2011 headed 92 per cent of single parent households. In Britain today more than a million children will grow up with no contact whatsoever with their fathers.

This is creating a divide within societies the like of which has not been seen since Disraeli spoke of “two nations” a century and a half ago. Those who are privileged to grow up in stable loving association with the two people who brought them into being will, on average, be healthier physically and emotionally. They will do better at school and at work. They will have more successful relationships, be happier and live longer.

And yes, there are many exceptions. But the injustice of it all cries out to heaven. It will go down in history as one of the tragic instances of what Friedrich Hayek called “the fatal conceit” that somehow we know better than the wisdom of the ages, and can defy the lessons of biology and history. No one surely wants to go back to the narrow prejudices of the past.

This week, in Britain, a new film opens, telling the story of one of the great minds of the twentieth century, Alan Turing, the Cambridge mathematician who laid the philosophical foundations of computing and artificial intelligence, and helped win the war by breaking the German naval code Enigma. After the war, Turing was arrested and tried for homosexual behaviour, underwent chemically induced castration, and died at the age of 41 by cyanide poisoning, thought by many to have committed suicide. That is a world to which we should never return.

But our compassion for those who choose to live differently should not inhibit us from being advocates for the single most humanising institution in history. The family, man, woman, and child, is not one lifestyle choice among many. It is the best means we have yet discovered for nurturing future generations and enabling children to grow in a matrix of stability and love. It is where we learn the delicate choreography of relationship and how to handle the inevitable conflicts within any human group. It is where we first take the risk of giving and receiving love. It is where one generation passes on its values to the next, ensuring the continuity of a civilization. For any society, the family is the crucible of its future, and for the sake of our children’s future, we must be its defenders.

Since this is a religious gathering, let me, if I may, end with a piece of biblical exegesis. The story of the first family, the first man and woman in the garden of Eden, is not generally regarded as a success. Whether or not we believe in original sin, it did not end happily. After many years of studying the text I want to suggest a different reading.

The story ends with three verses that seem to have no connection with one another. No sequence. No logic. In Genesis 3: 19 God says to the man: “By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.” Then in the next verse we read: “The
man named his wife Eve, because she was the mother of all life.” And in the next, “The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them.”

What is the connection here? Why did God telling the man that he was mortal lead him to give his wife a new name? And why did that act seem to change God’s attitude to both of them, so that He performed an act of tenderness, by making them clothes, almost as if He had partially forgiven them? Let me also add that the Hebrew
word for “skin” is almost indistinguishable from the Hebrew word for “light,” so that Rabbi Meir, the great sage of the early second century, read the text as saying that God made for them “garments of light.” What did he mean?

If we read the text carefully, we see that until now the first man had given his wife a purely generic name. He called her ishah, woman. Recall what he said when he first saw her: “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called woman for she was taken from man.” For him she was a type, not a person. He
gave her a noun, not a name. What is more he defines her as a derivative of himself: something taken from man. She is not yet for him someone other, a person in her own right. She is merely a kind of reflection of himself.

As long as the man thought he was immortal, he ultimately needed no one else. But now he knew he was mortal. He would one day die and return to dust. There was only one way in which something of him would live on after his death. That would be if he had a child. But he could not have a child on his own. For that he needed his wife.
She alone could give birth. She alone could mitigate his mortality. And not because she was like him but precisely because she was unlike him. At that moment she ceased to be, for him, a type, and became a person in her own right. And a person has a proper name.
That is what he gave her: the name Chavah, “Eve,” meaning, “giver of life.”

At that moment, as they were about to leave Eden and face the world as we know it, a place of darkness, Adam gave his wife the first gift of love, a personal name. And at that moment, God responded to them both in love, and made them garments to clothe their nakedness, or as Rabbi Meir put it, “garments of light.”

And so it has been ever since, that when a man and woman turn to one another in a bond of faithfulness, God robes them in garments of light, and we come as close as we will ever get to God himself, bringing new life into being, turning the prose of biology into the poetry of the human spirit, redeeming the darkness of the world by the radiance of love.

Stunning series of short films

The family is in crisis in the modern world. A situation which has led to the forming of an international colloquium, entitled humanum, whose aim is to bring together leaders and scholars from religions across the globe, to examine and propose anew the beauty of the realitionship between the man and the woman.

The aim is to encourage a global solidarity, in the work of strengthening the nuptial relationship, both for the good of the spouses themselves and for the good of all who depend upon them. Something in the interest of every child on earth. 

The group have been meeting in Rome and Pope Francis delivered the following talk at the start of the conference. Tomorrow I will share part 2 of the video series and also provide the excellent speech given by Britain’s most senior Rabbi, Jonathan Sachs. 

Dear brothers and sisters,

I warmly greet you. I thank Cardinal Muller for his words with which he introduced our meeting. I would like to begin by sharing with you a reflection on the title of your colloquium. You must admit that “complementarity” does not roll lightly off the tongue! Yet it is a word into which many meanings are compressed. It refers to situations where one of two things adds to, completes, or fulfills a lack in the other. But complementarity is much more than that. Yet complementarity is more than this. Christians find its deepest meaning in the first Letter to the Corinthians where Saint Paul tells us that the Spirit has endowed each of us with different gifts so that-just as the human body’s members work together for the good of the whole-everyone’s gifts can work together for the benefit of each. (cf. 1 Cor. 12). To reflect upon “complementarity” is nothing less than to ponder the dynamic harmonies at the heart of all Creation. This is a big word, harmony. All complementarities were made by our Creator, so the Author of harmony achieves this harmony.

It is fitting that you have gathered here in this international colloquium to explore the complementarity of man and woman. This complementarity is a root of marriage and family. For the family grounded in marriage is the first school where we learn to appreciate our own and others’ gifts, and where we begin to acquire the arts of cooperative living. For most of us, the family provides the principal place where we can aspire to greatness as we strive to realize our full capacity for virtue and charity. At the same time, as we know, families give rise to tensions: between egoism and altruism, reason and passion, immediate desires and long-range goals. But families also provide frameworks for resolving such tensions. This is important. When we speak of complementarity between man and woman in this context, let us not confuse that term with the simplistic idea that all the roles and relations of the two sexes are fixed in a single, static pattern. Complementarity will take many forms as each man and woman brings his or her distinctive contributions to their marriage and to the formation of their children — his or her personal richness, personal charisma. Complementarity becomes a great wealth. It is not just a good thing but it is also beautiful.

We know that today marriage and the family are in crisis. We now live in a culture of the temporary, in which more and more people are simply giving up on marriage as a public commitment. This revolution in manners and morals has often flown the flag of freedom, but in fact it has brought spiritual and material devastation to countless human beings, especially the poorest and most vulnerable.

Evidence is mounting that the decline of the marriage culture is associated with increased poverty and a host of other social ills, disproportionately affecting women, children and the elderly. It is always they who suffer the most in this crisis.

The crisis in the family has produced an ecological crisis, for social environments, like natural environments, need protection. And although the human race has come to understand the need to address conditions that menace our natural environments, we have been slower to recognize that our fragile social environments are under threat as well, slower in our culture, and also in our Catholic Church. It is therefore essential that we foster a new human ecology.

It is necessary first topromote the fundamental pillars that govern a nation: its non-material goods. The family is the foundation of co-existence and a remedy against social fragmentation. Children have a right to grow up in a family with a father and a mother capable of creating a suitable environment for the child’s development and emotional maturity. That is why I stressed in the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium that the contribution of marriage to society is “indispensable”; that it “transcends the feelings and momentary needs of the couple.” (n. 66) And that is why I am grateful to you for your Colloquium’s emphasis on the benefits that marriage can provide to children, the spouses themselves, and to society.

In these days, as you embark on a reflection on the beauty of complementarity between man and woman in marriage, I urge you to lift up yet another truth about marriage: that permanent commitment to solidarity, fidelity and fruitful love responds to the deepest longings of the human heart. I urge you to bear in mind especially the young people, who represent our future. Commit yourselves, so that our youth do not give themselves over to the poisonous environment of the temporary, but rather be revolutionaries with the courage to seek true and lasting love, going against the common pattern.

Do not fall into the trap of being swayed by political notion. Family is an anthropological fact – a socially and culturally related fact. We cannot qualify it based on ideological notions or concepts important only at one time in history. We can’t think of conservative or progressive notions. Family is a family. It can’t be qualified by ideological notions. Family is per se. It is a strength per se.

I pray that your colloquium will be an inspiration to all who seek to support and strengthen the union of man and woman in marriage as a unique, natural, fundamental and beautiful good for persons, communities, and whole societies.

I wish to confirm according to the wishes of the Lord, that in September of 2015, I will go to Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families. Thank you for your prayers with which you accompany my service to the Church. Bless you from my heart.

He shall not be moved!

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God bless Arnold Abbott. Earlier this week I shared my horror that this poor Christian man had been arrested by a heavy handed state simply for feeding the poor. Something now illegal in American States where petty authorities claim they are better equipped than volunteers for the task. The same authorities, as it happens, who also have a conflicting desire to smarten up neighbourhoods and remove the vagrant element.

Arnold Abbot is far from convinced that the State actually cares for homeless people. Having fed the homeless for most of his adult life he passionately believes that volunteer help is not just necessary but better. And so, after his latest arrest, he went straight back onto the streets to feed the homeless. Go Arnold! He was then fingerprinted and arrested again, the police having to endure the jeers and scorn of a watching crowd

Here is a photograph of the ‘criminal’ involved in his crime. Preparing food for the homeless. What a joke that this man has been arrested many times this month when so many real crimes do not get investigated at all these days.

Arnold Abbott

Those who imagine such heavy handedness could not happen in this country might want to reflect on this news. It would seem that it is very much in vogue to outlaw homelessness and soup kitchens. It really is appalling. What sort of callous and cold hearted people make decisions like this and go after kind hearted pensioners. I would like to throw them onto the streets at the mercy of Mr. Abbot. They might then understand just what important work he performs.

It strikes me Western liberal elites are growing ever more arrogant in their understanding of what it means to serve an electorate. Of course we need government to organise certain affairs but they have no right whatsoever to dictate our lives. What business of government who we choose to feed and spend money on?  Go and do a real job Western politicians and stop interfering in our lives!

Here is the video of his arrest. Watch the nasty Christian extremists being rounded up! Were I the policeman I would want to hang my head in utter shame. In fact I would refuse to arrest a frail pensioner and a priest and go looking for some real criminals. The bible says “by their fruits shall ye know them”…that doesn’t reflect very well on modern secular governments does it?

Why can’t Catholics follow suit?

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Yesterday the Church of England finally voted through legislation to allow women to be bishops. The picture above shows the Royal Seal of Approval. It is a move which demonstrates a radically different understanding of holy orders from that of historic and normative Christianity. It is is another move then that pushes Anglicanism in the liberal protestant direction. Which is why Archbishop Longley, Catholic representative on ARCIC, lamented  the decision as another hurdle being placed on the road to unity.

It is helpful to remind Catholics why we could never follow suit. For doubtless the liberal press will delight in proclaiming this a great moment for equality and demand a crusty old Rome gets with the programme. Do not be fooled by the rhetoric. Rome is not being “old fashioned” or “intolerant” by refusing to walk down this road. Rather it is standing by teaching with sound theological justification.

Which is to underline an important point that is worth your memorising. Rome is not against Women Bishops due to its beliefs about women but because of its beliefs about bishops! Which is to say it has very good theological justification for believing that gender is not insignificant to the this vocation but revelatory. Let us explore some of the theological reasons today:

1. Jesus fully valued, respected and upheld women. He called them into ministry as his disciples. Yet Jesus chose no women ‘apostles’. Even after Judas Mary Magdalene, chosen as ‘first witness to the resurrection’, the most obvious replacement, was not selected. The task fell to Matthias instead. Surely this is not accidental.

Supporters of women’s ordination counter this by suggesting Jesus was limited by the wisdom of his age. A dubious claim. After all Christ was ever willing to defy convention. He countered pharisaic teaching where necessary. Furthermore the pagan world of his day was awash with female priests. They were not an alien concept. Jesus could easily have followed such example. The evidence says he chose not to.

2. St Paul taught that women were equal to men (‘In Christ…there is no male or female, slave or free’) Yet also taught that their role in life was  different. (Forbidding women to have ‘ liturgical authority’ in Church.) This suggests how St Paul interpreted the fact that Christ appointed no women apostles.

3. There were no women bishops or presbyters in the early Church. This indicates St Paul’s take was not just his own “sexist” opinion. But the consensus among all the Apostles- handed down to their successors.

4. In the 3rd century, a group known as Montanists formed. Their teaching was rejected as heretical because they questioned the reliability of Tradition. (Montanists wished to change things due to “new revelations of the Spirit”.- sound familiar?) What ultimately condemned them was a desire to ordain women. This further proves that ‘male-only priesthood’ was the authentic teaching of the Early Church. (It also assures us that the issue is hardly new – as we are led to believe!!!)

5. The earliest Canon Law forbade women’s ordination. These canons were endorsed by the Council of Nicaea (who gave us ‘The Creed’ in 325.) To endorse women priests we must assume the council of Nicaea gave wrongful teaching on matters of holy orders. Is this tenable?

6. One can only argue Scripture endorses women priests, by attributing St Paul’s teaching against them as;

a) wrongful personal opinion –or-

b) applicable only to his time and place.

However there’s a right and wrong way to interpret Scripture. The traditional way is to endorse scripture where clear – and mould our lives accordingly. Choosing our preferred interpretation, making scripture say what we wish to hear, is most definitely not right. Therefore S. Paul’s teaching is hard to dismiss.

7. Secularism promotes gender as interchangeable whereas the Church upholds the celebration of our different natures- leading to a Christian belief that we were created equal but different. We see this clearly in Mother Theresa and Pope John Paul. Both witnessed to Christ with equal integrity – but by different callings- as man and woman. One the priest -Peter- the other the beloved disciple -Magdalene. Both equal yet utterly distinct. A mirroring of created order in which man and woman must work together with their different gifts and natures. The world promotes gender as insignificant in choice of partner, vocation, etc..

8. This difference in role leads us to the Mass. At the Eucharist the priest stands ‘in persona Christi’. “The person of Christ”. (hence Orthodox priests have beards and long hair!) Christ cannot be ‘sacramentally’ represented by a woman because Christ’s ‘maleness’ is not incidental- its revelatory. (It tells us something about God) It would be silly on stage to cast a man in the role of Mary. It seems equally silly at Mass to ask a woman to stand in the place of Christ. He was a man- and there is not avoiding that fact

9. Jesus is bound to his role as Father not mother. This revelation of a ‘male God’ says something subtle yet profound. We see this in the following:

Pagan religion used priestesses to promote the ‘mother god’ who gives birth to creation. (Hence nature worship) But Judaism challenged this- making God life giver instead- revealing a separateness to created order. Nature created by him not of him. The priest ‘in persona Christi’ symbolises this at a deep, unconscious level. A woman priest leads us back to the pagan understanding of the feminine divine. (And its interesting how –where women have been ordained- a more earthy, pagan spiritually seems to have arisen.)

10. Scripture teaches that Christ’s relationship with his people is signified by the imagery of Christ as groom and His bride the Church. This is cemented in both the marriage ceremony and mass! It follows that we- the bride of Christ must open ourselves to our groom in order to be impregnated by his Word. We then ‘give birth’ to fruits of the Spirit. At the Eucharist created order is echoed. Marriage and the Mass tell us about our relationship with God. Alas a female priest confuses this image of ‘Christ and bride’ at a subtle yet profound level.

11. Mother Church (feminine not masculine) has always taught that changes to belief and practice can only be accepted when backed by scripture, reason and tradition. All three -not just one. If something cannot be proved by all 3 then we lack authority to adopt it. So even if modern ‘reason’ suggests women’s ordination to be correct – it cannot be accepted- unless equally revealed by Scripture and tradition. (Which it is patently not).

12. All arguments in favour of women priests return to the Secular argument for ‘inclusivity’– which itself stems from a misguided definition of man and woman as same and interchangeable. Orthodox Christians prefer to uphold the divine revelation of ‘equal but different’. I am yet to hear a convincing theological argument in favour of women priests. Pro arguments appeal powerfully to the heart-but are entirely sociological and based on the secular concept. This is not the right starting point for a believer who is called to use scripture to discern what God teaches regarding creation.

13. God does not do U-turns. Why would the Holy Spirit teach that women’s ordination is wrong through scripture and the teachings of the early church – only to declare such practice valid in the 21st Century? Does the present Synod of the C of E know better than Jesus? God is surely the same yesterday, today and forever! We should be wary when we consider that the cry to ordain women – a so-called ‘revelation of the Spirit’ has only really arisen alongside the rise of the radical feminist theory in the last Century. Surely God would have been more impressive ‘revealing’ this in the 1st Century? Unless of course this is a case of society wagging the tail of the church – and not Mother Churches true teaching on matters of gender, equality, role and function.

14. If God wants women priests and bishops- he wants them for the whole church. I cannot accept that the Church of England- which makes up only a tiny fraction of global Christianity- has authority to make such immense decisions alone. Only when Rome and Constantinople agree – can we possibly proclaim the ordination of women as a decision from God. Yet Rome and Constantinople remain utterly opposed. Subsequently the Anglican place within mainstream Christianity is now seriously undermined. It has become a major stumbling block on the path to Church unity.

Here then are the main reasons as to why Pope Francis claimed “the door was closed” on such innovation within the Catholic church. We must now pray for those Anglicans waking up to a very different body to the one they were baptised in. And we must prepare room for all those who come to realise that orthodoxy is now something that, by definition, must exist elsewhere.

Faith: active not passive

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This morning we had healthy attendance across the two main services. The Gospel for the day was the parable of the talents. Here is the sermon that was preached:

Vatican II taught that “clericalism” is bad. That situation in which the laity are dormant and only the priest is active. The church cannot function like this. It needs empowered laity. But sadly that point has been lost where people have misunderstood the warning imagining  the laity should somehow assume the function of the clergy.

Where this confusion took hold anti-clerical attitudes arose. We might consider  parishes where priests are ruled over by the laity,  infantilised so that they no longer hold spiritual authority. Father sits idle at communion whilst the laity administer in his place. As though they are ordinary, not extra-ordinary, ministers. A show of lay  power to diminish not support the priesthood.

It is wrong headed. After all creating faux-priests out of the laity does not negate clericalism- but adds to it. And we find the problem, I think, wherever the church has become complacent and inward looking. Where all there is to do is promote people to the altar because the wider mission of the church beyond its walls has been forgotten. Where church has become a club. Where there is no hunger for souls because nobody really believes in hell. Where, as the Gospel for today put it, talents are buried and not put to use.

Then, all that is left for the moribund parish (which is being hollowed out from within) is what Pope Benedict XVI described as ”horizontal worship” – a parish in which the community celebrates self in place of God. Where everyone demands applause and a place up front.

To rectify this problem, to counter this type of clericalism, we must understand what priests are actually for- and what the laity is actually for. A healthy church being one in which Priests administer the sacraments and preach the word of God so that the laity is equipped for evangelisation. The priests tending altars from which the people are sent out into the world to bear fruit for Christ.

Under this model combatting clericalism does not mean swanning around the altar humming the ditties of Paul Inwood. It means you stop acting like a passenger expecting priests to do the things you the laity are called by God to do. It is about embracing your vocation as laity not my vocation as priest. Visiting the sick, raising funds, caring for buildings, feeding the hungry, providing catechesis, raising devout families, bringing souls to Christ. You don’t need a dog collar for these. BECAUSE THIS IS THE VOCATION OF THE LAITY.

What a harvest we might yield if priests were actually freed to live out their spiritual vocations. Priests tending the altars from which you are sent into the world. Priests sustaining in prayer the actions that you, the laity, are about. Be honest- we prefer clericalism. The model in which the priest is paid to do it all for us. So that we can be a little lazy where mission is concerned. But it is only when a congregation starts to become the Church on Monday instead of just going to Church on Sunday –that true evangelism begins. Only then does a church become what God intends it to be.

I once met a minister who punched his parish database into a computer and highlighted an anomaly. Across the map were dots relating to members. And he noticed that ALL who had joined within five years were clustered around two streets. Why? Because every new member had been invited by the same person. Yes, just one lady took seriously the need to evangelise. She alone invited people to Mass. So, inevitably, her neighbours became the growth. One woman doing 100% of evangelisation in that parish. Shame on every other member. The point of the parable this morning surely?

So ask; when did you last bring someone to Mass? When did you befriend the new faces at Mass. If you are looking at your boots – kick yourself. You don’t yet have a missionary heart. Evangelism isn’t rocket science. If everyone brought one person to mass next Sunday- our congregation would double overnight. People will come if invited and are made to feel welcome. But we are not good at inviting. We don’t always care enough it seems to me. And if that is true of us as a church that is growing, how much worse must it be where there is decline year on year?

And I afraid it does come down to you the laity. We priests are lousy evangelists. When I share my faith people roll their eyes. Of course Father thinks that…More powerful the testimony of the office colleague. Your status as a normal person empowers you for mission in a way priests can only dream of. We are seen as weird by the general public. Many of us are weird! So that puts you in the driving seat for growth. God has given you your talent. Now get out there and make it work.

When did kindness become illegal?

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Arnold Abbot is a bit of a hero. He is not the man sleeping in the photograph above but a compassionate 90 year old who has spent much of his life helping people like the man in the photograph above. A Christian whose faith compels him to reach out to the poor.  A man with a lifetime habit of feeding the homeless as a way of recognising the human dignity in each and every one of them.

So why did Arnold Abbot recently spend time in a police station being fingerprinted and threatened with jail? Unbelievably it was for the reasons given above. He was feeding the homeless as part of a non-profit organisation called ‘love they neighbour’. Which got him into trouble because Fort Lauderdale, where he lives, is just one of several authorities in America who have made it an offence to feed the homeless. The reason given that it is for the secular authorities themselves to do this work, not the Christians. Which has left many in the church suspecting this is a policy designed to further alienate the church and dampen the good it does within society. Who knows?

What I do know is that such laws are draconian and outrageous. What is the State that it should dictate such petty and outlandish law? Who are the authorities to imagine they exist to boss decent men like Arnold Abbot around rather than serve the community? Big state is always bad news for little people. Fortunately Abbot is made of stern stuff and when people voiced concern for the jail time he now faces he simply replied: “I appreciate all of your concern for my safety, but I have faced the Klu Klux Klan on many occasions, and I have no fear of spending the night in a Fort Lauderdale jail. I thank you all, and I pray that and we all stay strong. We shall prevail!”

It would be easy to imagine a benign state simply wanting to ensure the job is done properly. But experience will speak of benefits delayed due to red tape and often conflicting interests for those who rule. Here is a tale from my own experience. 

When I taught in Colchester I regularly helped out at the local soup kitchen. It was handy being a teacher because the children could volunteer to stay in at lunch break and make the sandwiches. A brilliant way to involve them safely. It was in relation to my role at the soup kitchen that I once spent a most ludicrous night.

The authorities had approached us asking if we could do  a head count of those sleeping rough. They explained the desire was to help but the homeless and many who helped them were suspicious that the real motive was a desire to move such people on to another town by making the places where they took shelter, such as carparks, inaccessible. Cue my all night trek during which I quite deliberately walked all over town carefully avoiding the places where I knew our regulars would be resting.

The newspaper headlines later claimed there were few homeless people in Colchester. So be it. The homeless community was grateful. They would tell how “official help” only ever let them down, with forms they could not hope to fill in and expectations of them they could not keep. What worked for the people not yet ready to get help (which they knew existed if sober, etc) was a place where, at a set time each night, food was available without judgment or the glare of officialdom. After all many were paranoic about authorities and would simply vanish were they the ones offering food.

Pray today for the many homeless in this world. All of them people with a heart breaking story to tell. Pray too for an end to the creeping growth of sinister government in the West. What a very broken and confused society we witness when pensioners are treated like criminals for simply attempting to feed the hungry and care for people around them.

Continuity not rupture

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I came across a killer quote this week, worth sharing because it identifies the main problems regarding the modernist agenda that now threatens the very faith that comes to us from the Apostles.

“A 2000 year old church that is afraid to quote itself beyond the last 50 years is either unworthy of belief or unworthy of it’s beliefs”

How true! The quote  refers to Vatican II and emphasises that the changes of that era were intended to be a natural development of all that went before – not a complete break with the past. It was intended as a fresh expression of the unchanging faith, a movement of continuity. It was not meant to be, as the modernists have come to define it, an excuse for a new religion akin to liberal protestantism – something allowing for innovation and dissent with the faith of the ages.  A calamitous rupture.

This is a point repeatedly made by one of the few remaining survivors of the council, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. He has ever maintained that Vatican II was a great and necessary thing- only it never manifested because the documents were routinely ignored and even distorted. Hence the clear need for a New Evangelisation, a new translation of the Mass more faithful to the original, the changes we saw being effecting before health took him from the papal throne and the bell-bottomed generation took over.

In his words: “The council fathers neither could nor wished to create a new or different church. They had neither the authority nor the mandate to do so,” he writes. “That is why a hermeneutic of rupture is so absurd and is contrary to the spirit and the will of the council fathers.”

See how it is not an attack on Vatican II to criticise the modernist  agenda. Neither is it anything to do with preference for liturgical style. Any attack is aimed solely at those who behave as though Catholicism was invented in 1964. Who would act as if a divinely revealed 2000 year old deposit of faith is less informed than the current values of our reprobate Western culture.

This is how I put it on Facebook yesterday. “There is a genuine crisis in the church. A growing heresy, forged in the worldly revolutions of the 1960’s/70’s and beloved of many of that era who now occupy seats of power throughout society, including in the Curia. The nursing home and cemetery will restore sanity eventually- for the next generation have either abandoned faith or yearn for its true expression- but the question remains “how much damage can be done before then?” It is 50 years since V2 was hijacked by the modernist liberal agenda….it will take another 20 for the problems to be ironed out. Those who love the faith must hold the line and ensure we protect that which is threatened- that it may be handed down to the next generation. No matter the cost to ourselves”

Talking of Facebook I have made a decision. Rather than keep explaining how this is the real problem behind all the arguments I shall simply post a video clip. It says everything about what is presented in place of Christ by those hellbent on innovation. Is that Cardinal Kaspar I see on the spaceship?

Pembury in art

I was most interested to learn that the great English landscape painter, JMW Turner, was a frequent visitor to Pembury. Indeed he practiced his craft here producing an image in water colour and pencil, entitled:  A Watermill [Pembury], circa 1796.

Turner Watermill [Pembury]

There is some debate as to where this particular mill was in Pembury but most agree it was located in Stone Court Farm but pulled down  before the Second World War. Certainly it is not standing today.

Turner is enjoying much attention at present due to a film having been made about his life and work. How lovely that our little village on the outskirts of Tunbridge Wells should have been a part of that very rich and talented life.

Ridiculous stereotypes

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Increasingly those who would have the Church depart from Catholic teaching on matters of morality, present those of us who stand by the faith as out of touch, stuffy and hard. The most common accusation being that we are somehow lacking in compassion- conveniently leaving our detractors to claim for themselves the labels of generosity and warmth. Ultimately it is a silly political trick and utter bunkum.

One of the nicest conversations I had recently blew this nonsense away. It was held over coffee with a cradle Catholic who tells me he has found himself challenged, in a healthy way,  since arriving in Pembury the same time as the Ordinariate. Encountering faith presented without compromise has made him sit up and take notice in a way he doesn’t ever remember before. And he likes it!

For years, he tells me, he was led to believe that those espousing traditional faith were difficult, judgemental and hard. Yet the congregation he has encountered here, whilst clearly upholding the faith, are incredibly diverse and, in his words, great fun! You find people in all manner of different situations who, it seems to him, are made to feel not only welcome but loved. Did we not realise we were not conforming to media stereotype?

The second thing he mentioned was the preaching of Ordinariate clergy. He is not the first to mention this fact. Apparently, though there are obviously some great preachers in all dioceses, it is rare to have such a consistent and robust proclamation of faith from the pulpit. Recent sermons have highlighted gaps in his own understanding and formation and he now realises that his school catechesis was rather ‘selective’ to say the least.  And so it is with relish he is now embracing devotions never experienced. Such as the use of asperges to traditional chants in the penitential seasons. In short he is enjoying his faith more than ever.

And finally he remarked on the change in the profile of the congregation since the arrival of the Ordinariate in the parish. The average age of worshipper has plummeted so that today our early Mass is predominantly supported by parents with young children. A pattern not unique in Pembury as Fr. Blake pointed out in his blog.

I share this complimentary conversation- not to blow our collective trumpet (fret not Canon G there are plenty of detractors too!)- but because it highlights how our different perception of people can be face to face and on the ground, rather than online and from a distance. A point the chaps in the rugby club have alsonoted. Don’t I realise that I am not meant to be one of the lads if my online detractors are to be listened to?

So next time you hear the accusation made regarding traditionalists, that suggests they have no experience of real life or compassion to deal with it. Might  I suggest you take it with a little of this….

Salt

Ecclesiastical muck spreading…

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Earlier this week I posted about the threat to Christianity posed, across denominations, by a heretical new form of liberalism. Like a wolf in sheep’s clothing it presents itself as reasonable, a valid “up to date” expression of faith. But in truth it is unreasonable and single minded. Its purpose to overthrow conventional Christianity and make the church bend to the will of the world and embrace postmodern thinking- especially as regards the sexual revolution.

The modernist creed is relativist, pluralist and subjective rejecting the very notion of  truth. As Pope Benedict XVI warned, we must reject this new ideology out of hand and not mistake it for a valid expression of the very faith it seeks to destroy.

Today I want to explore the tactics deployed by adherents of the new modernist religion, which helped them gain a  foothold and influence in so many parishes today. For these revolutionists, who are often well intentioned if mistaken, tend to outmanoeuvre orthodox Christians because, as the Gospel for today reminds us, the children of this world are more astute in dealing with their own kind than are the children of light.’

Here then are the first two ways (others will follow in later posts) in which those who stand by the faith of the ages tend to be put onto the back foot by the modernist agenda: 

1. We are bullied into giving them space

Pope Benedict warned, as stated above, that we must not mistake the voice of dissent so as to imagine it contributes anything useful to theological debate. But the problem is that this is precisely what does tend to occur in the church today because orthodox Christians are bullied into thinking that saying no to anyone is unkind.

In an emasculated world there are few  who dare to say no. Few strong enough to resist the assaults of the devil. And even fewer equipped to differentiate between a healthy form of theological liberalism, to be welcome in debate, and that hostile voice of modernist dissent whose intent is only malice. Thus the heretical voice has gained a place at the table where it doesn’t belong. We tend to give these enemies of Christ the floor. When, in fact, we should give them two fingers.

For once inside the body the virus starts to be spread. By even possibly suggesting modernist belief is a valid expression of Christian faith we give it licence. Soon books are being written guiding minds to wrongful conclusions, sermons uttered that tone down unpopular teaching and suggest truth is divorced from mercy, synod addresses manipulated and sacred things like the confessional ignored. The game of overthrow can begin…

…and it did begin in earnest half a century ago. Amidst the inevitable confusion of change ushered in by the Second Vatican Council, adherents of the new way set to work with vigour. Reforms not present in magisterial documents were put in place as if correct. If anyone doubted just say it is the “Spirit of Vatican II’. Liturgy was dumbed down, sacred images and altar rails thrown onto skips. Ugly modernist buildings erected. Soon anything that emphasised the divine gave way to a renewed emphasis on community. After all the brave new voice of the world, not of God, was the ultimate objective.

2. Dishonest representation

The second trick is muck spreading. This happens because the modernist understands, in truth, that they are not on solid ground theologically. Most realise they choose innovation from the world over fidelity to historic faith. Which means, in theological debate, they are certain to lose. How convincing can you be when your view is endorsed by Stephen Fry and Radio 4 and not a single Saint in history…whereas your opponents stand with the Saints, the Early Fathers and Jesus as well!

So the game is to draw attention away from the healthy credentials of orthodox opponents by portraying them instead in a most negative light. Using the force of the media, and backed by the prevailing culture, you promote your cause dishonestly. Suggesting you alone posses mercy and compassion. You alone care for the sinner. You alone have forgiveness to bring. The point is that you alone must be seen as good. Implying, of course, that your opponent is bad….for when asked to choose between “good and bad” most unthinking people will fall into line.

Modernists ever present those who resist them then as being uncaring, brutish, ignorant, harsh, extreme, out of touch. It is not that someone holds an alternate legitimate view- but that their view should not even be listened to because they are a… crusty senile power lacking life and true experience, etc. A body of dinosaurs whose time is past. Always the claim is the same.

And, tragically, people fall for the lie. As if you must choose from a facile one dimensional menu.  Don’t bother listening to the arguments just tick the box. Four legs good and two legs bad* or at least the theological equivalent. Thus people are led to false conclusions. They choose not which side has the compelling case but which is most socially acceptable.

See how conventional Christianity is wrong footed? How can we compete when only the modernist view is presented in a positive light and our views consistently trashed? The debate is over before it begins. Never mind that it is the dinosaurs who actually delight in modernity- that is the generation heading for the nursing home  (cf. Kaspar). Never mind that most every young priest and person is hungry for greater fidelity not less. For until we get a fair platform on which to defend our views our voices will not be heard..

What we must do therefore is fight back. On the ground and by use of modern media. Helping the world to see our humour and humanity, our compassion and love. That we might begin to reset the stage for a more honest debate. A debate that – if all things are equal- we are certain to win. For ours is the Christian voice and not the cry of the modernist cuckoo.

*a quote from George Orwell’s Animal Farm that explores how people are manipulated into holding set views.