Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Lamentation Over Schism

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Lord, have mercy.

John 17: 21 That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.
"Let unity, the greatest good of all goods, be your preoccupation." - St. Ignatius of Antioch (Letter to St. Polycarp)
In every friendship hearts grow and entwine themselves together, so that the two hearts seem to make only one heart with only a common thought. That is why separation is so painful; it is not so much two hearts separating, but one being torn asunder.” Fulton J. Sheen

Excerpts from Principium Unitatis (Dr. Bryan Cross)

Seeing Schism as Schism

When a sin becomes sufficiently commonplace, we tend to lose the ability to see it for what it is. It becomes merely something that 'everyone does.' We lose sight of its evil, and take it for granted. It blends into the background of our daily lives. And when we no longer see it as evil, we no longer labor to eliminate it. We refer it to fallen 'human nature,' whose only cure is the Second Coming. We might even mock those who work against it, treating them as foolish idealists.

What is true of sin in general is also true of schism. The fact of schism has become so commonplace that very few recognize it for what it is. It is as if schism simply disappeared, one of those evils of long ago, but one which has no referent or application among us today. It disappeared by becoming ubiquitous and ordinary. We swept schism under the rug of diversity, making the fact of division the new unity. 

We think nothing of there being Catholic, Orthodox, Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Reformed, Anglican, Pentecostal, Independent, Seventh Day Adventists, ... etc., etc., buildings on each block. We look at them and think that's the way it is supposed to be. We do not think, "Wow, look at all the schism." That's not how we see. Schism is so normal that we don't see it as schism.

The first step in overcoming an evil is recognizing it as an evil. And the first step in overcoming schism, is seeing it for what it is, seeing our divisions as divisions. May God give us the eyes to see.

Settling for division as though it were unity

One of the most common conversations I have with Protestants has to do with unity. I am asked why Protestants are not permitted to receive the Eucharist in the Catholic Church, and why the Catholic Church does not allow Catholics to receive communion in Protestant services. I explain that the Eucharist is a sign of unity, and so because from the point of view of the Catholic Church, Protestants are in schism from the Church, therefore for Protestants to receive the Eucharist in the Catholic Church, or for Catholics to receive communion with Protestants, would be a lie. In response, the Protestant usually says that Protestants do not see themselves as being in schism or divided from Catholics, but that we are all united in Christ; we all love Jesus and share belief in the essentials of Christianity.

I respond by explaining that there are two different conceptions of unity in use here, because there are two different conceptions of what it is that Christ founded. Protestants generally believe that the church that Christ founded is a spiritual, invisible entity, though some of its members (i.e. those who are still living in this present life) are visible. In the general Protestant mindset, anyone who has faith in Christ is a member of the one church that Christ founded. Protestants generally do not believe that Christ founded a visible, hierarchically organized Body, or that if He did, such a Body is still around. This Protestant conception of the church as invisible arose in the 16th century. It does away with the very possibility of schism.

The Catholic Church for two thousand years has believed and taught that Christ founded a visible, hierarchically organized Body. This notion of the Church as a visible, hierarchically organized Body has implications for what it means to be in unity. In the Protestant conception of the church as a spiritual, invisible entity, what counts as 'the essentials' is ultimately up to each person to decide. But given the Catholic conception of the Church as a visible hierarchically organized Body, what counts as 'the essentials' is determined definitively by the Church authorities. And what these authorities have determined to be essential includes much more than the lowest common denominator of Evangelicalism. 

Therefore, from the Catholic point of view, Protestants are not in union with the Church regarding the essentials of Christianity, not only doctrinally, but also regarding the sacraments. From the point of view of the Catholic Church, for example, Protestants do not have a valid Eucharist, because Protestantism has not preserved apostolic succession. And likewise, for this same reason, from the point of view of the Catholic Church, Protestant ministers do not have valid ordinations.

These two conceptions of the Church, one visible, and the other invisible, also have different implications for what it means to be united in one Body. If what Christ founded is invisible, but has visible members, then the only thing necessary to be fully united to this invisible entity is faith in Christ. The notion of schism is then reduced to a deficiency in love, insofar as one person having faith in Christ fails to love sufficiently another person having faith in Christ. Unity and schism are then fundamentally spiritual. 

So given the Protestant conception of the church as spiritual, it follows that if we love Jesus and love one another, we are in full communion, no matter to which religious organization or congregation we belong. By contrast, given the Catholic notion of the Church as a visible hierarchically organized Body, it follows that in order to be in full communion with the Church, one must not only believe the faith taught by that hierarchy, one must be under the authority of that hierarchy.

Some Protestants do claim to believe in a visible Church. But by that they mean that there are many local congregations each with its own visible hierarchy (e.g. head pastor, assistant pastor, deacons, etc.), and that every Christian should be a member of one such local congregation. 

According to these Protestants, these local congregations need not be part of one catholic (i.e. universal) visible hierarchy. Rather, these local congregations that are each visible hierarchically organized bodies are invisibly united to each other by sharing the same basic faith in Christ and love for Christ. One problem with this position is that its claim that visible hierarchical unity is essential at the local level, but not at any higher level, is arbitrary. 

If the local church needs a hierarchical organization, then so does the universal Church. But if the universal Church does not need hierarchical organization, then neither does the local congregation. Another problem is that this claim reduces either to the position that Christ founded many Churches, and thus has many Bodies and many Brides, or that the Church Christ founded is itself a spiritual, invisible entity, though some of its members, both individual persons and visible local congregations, are visible.

This is why there is no middle position between the teaching of the Catholic Church that Christ founded one universal, visible, and hierarchically organized Body to which all Christians should belong in full communion, and the Protestant notion that the Church Christ founded is fundamentally an invisible spiritual entity to which all those having faith in Christ already belong, regardless of where and with whom they worship. 

This is also why a Protestant conception of the Church entails apathy about the present disunity of all Christians. Most Protestants see the fact that there is a different denomination represented on every street corner as normal, or even healthy. The very idea that there should be only one Christian institution in every city and all over the world, is completely outside their imaginative horizon, let alone the intended goal of any ecumenical endeavors they might undertake. 

In the general Protestant mindset, since by our faith in Christ we are already in full communion with each other, there is no reason to pursue any further unity. The pursuit of unity is, according to this notion, merely the attempt to help us all acknowledge what is already true, i.e. that we all are already in full communion. From this Protestant point of view, ecumenicism is at most an exercise in provoking a corporate self-awareness and enlightenment.

In the Catholic mindset, by contrast, ecumenicism is about healing actual divisions, reconciling those separated from the Church by actual (not merely mental) schisms. How? By reconciling them with the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church that Christ founded. That notion sounds arrogant to most Protestants, precisely because for Protestants the Church is invisible; no institution has any more claim to being the true Church than does any other. That would be true if all visibly organized bodies were founded by mere men. But it isn't true if one visible hierarchically organized Body was founded by the God-man, Jesus Christ. 

Catholics believe that Christ founded precisely that, and gave its keys to Peter. For the Protestant, to believe in Christ is already to be reconciled to His Church. But given the Catholic conception of the Church, to be fully united to Christ, one must be fully united with and incorporated into the visible and hierarchically organized Church that Christ founded.

To our Protestant brothers and sisters we say, "Your vision of the unity Christ intended the Church to have is too small; you've settled for division as though it were unity." The problem is worse than that. The notion that the Church is invisible performatively denies Christ's incarnation, by treating the Body of Christ as though it were something invisible, as I explained here

Moreover, our visible divisions testify falsely to the world that God is divided, and thus deprive the world of what Christ wants to give it: an embodied vision of the unity and love within the Trinity. Christ's prayer in John 17 requires visible unity among His followers, because through our unity with one another the world is supposed to see the unity of the Son with the Father. 

The Church as the Body of Christ is to continue Christ's mission of despoiling the principalities and powers (Col 2:15) of the prisoners they held captive, as He did when He descended into Hades (Eph 4:9) after saying "It is finished." Of this mission Christ tells us that the gates of Hades will not prevail; they will not withstand the Church in her mission (Matt 16:18). This is our mission, now, and we need to be standing together in full communion to complete it.

Lord Jesus, in your divine mercy, may this schism that now separates Catholics and Protestants be healed. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Reformation Sunday 2011: How Would Protestants Know When to Return?

Imagine that the Occupy Wall Street protest continued for years, during which time the community of protesters divided into different factions, each with different beliefs, different demands, and different leaders. But the protests continued for so long that the protesters eventually built makeshift shanties and lived in them, and had children. These children grew up in the protesting communities, and then they too had children, who also grew up in the same communities of protesters, still encamped in the Wall Street district. 

Over the course of these generations, however, these communities of protesters forgot what it was that they were protesting. They even forgot that they were protesting. Life in the shanties in Wall Street was what these subsequent generations had always known. 

They did not even know that they had inherited a protesting way of life, separated from the rest of society. When asked by a reporter what Wall Street would have to change in order to get them to return home, they looked at him confusedly, and responded, “We are home; this is home.” They no longer had any intention to ‘return to society’ upon achieving some political or economic reform. For them, camping out on Wall Street was life as normal, and those with whom they had grown up camping simply were their society.

What if Protestantism in its present form is the fractured remains of a Catholic protest movement that began in 1517, but which has long since forgotten not only what it was protesting, but that it was formed by Catholics, in protest over conditions and practices within the Catholic Church? What if Protestantism has forgotten that its original intention was to return to full communion with the Catholic Church when certain conditions were satisfied?

During the week approaching Reformation Sunday last year those questions prompted me to write, “Trueman and Prolegomena to “How would Protestants know when to return?”.” 

I included the term ‘prolegomena’ because before discussing the conditions under which Protestants can return to full communion with the Catholic Church, Protestants (and Catholics) must first recover the memory of our history, not only our shared history as one Church prior to the sixteenth century, but also the history by which we came to be divided during that century. 

Recovering that history shows not only that the early Protestants never intended to form a perpetual schism from the Catholic Church, but also helps us remember that Protestant communities are by their history, communities in exile from the Catholic Church, and thereby by that history ordered toward eventual reconciliation and reunion with the Catholic Church. 

According to that history Protestantism began as a protest movement initially made up of Catholics protesting the Catholic Church and seeking to reform her; it was never intended to remain perpetually in schism from her.1 Semper Reformanda does not translate as “perpetually in schism.” Hence in “Trueman and Prolegomena” I quoted Protestant professor of historical theology Carl Trueman, who wrote:

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[W]e [Protestants] need good, solid reasons for not being Catholic; not being a Catholic should, in others words, be a positive act of will and commitment, something we need to get out of bed determined to do each and every day.

Yet even among those Protestants who retain the memory of Protestantism’s origin as a Catholic protest movement, Reformation Day is typically viewed as a day of celebration. On Reformation Sunday of 2009, we posted a 1995 Reformation Day sermon by the Protestant theologian Stanley Hauerwas, named by Timemagazine as America’s best theologian. A few weeks ago I had a chance to talk with Hauerwas in person, and he said that he still affirms every word of that sermon. In that sermon Hauerwas says:

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After all, the very name ‘Protestantism’ is meant to denote a reform movement of protest within the Church Catholic. When Protestantism becomes an end in itself, which it certainly has through the mainstream denominations in America, it becomes anathema. If we no longer have broken hearts at the church’s division, then we cannot help but unfaithfully celebrate Reformation Sunday.

Tomorrow will be celebrated by many Protestants as “Reformation Sunday.” To be sure, part of what Protestants celebrate on Reformation Day are what they believe to be the truths upheld and preserved within Protestantism. But without careful qualification, celebrating “Reformation Day” while remaining separated from the Catholic Church is a kind of performative contradiction, because it implies that separation, not reform, is the ultimate goal of the protest. 

Celebrating Reformation Day can be for that reason like celebrating a divorce, or more accurately, celebrating estrangement from our mother and from all our brothers and sisters who remain in her bosom, when in truth Christ calls us all to full communion and prays that we would be one. 

Moreover celebrating what is a division can blind the celebrants to the evil of that continuing division, just as celebrating divorce could blind children to its evil, or celebrating abortion could blind the celebrants to its evil.

But Reformation Day can be approached differently. It should be an annual reminder of the continuation of the evil in our midst that is the Protestant-Catholic division, a division that causes scandal to the rest of the world regarding the identity and efficacy of Christ’s gospel. In that respect, Reformation Day is a day to ask ourselves the following question:

What have I done, since the last Reformation Day, to help bring reconciliation between Protestants and Catholics?

If the answer is ‘nothing,’ then by our inaction we are in actuality perpetuating the schism which has continued now for almost five hundred years. Reformation Day ought therefore be a day in which Protestants are reminded to enter into authentic and charitable dialogue with Catholics, and Catholics are reminded to enter into such dialogue with Protestants, in order to put this schism behind us as a tragic event in Church history, through which God can nevertheless bring good. 

The lot of those who despair over the possibility of reconciliation is to die without seeing it. However, that generation which in faith truly believes that with God nothing is impossible will live to see it, and will be graced with the everlasting privilege of being the instruments through which this reconciliation is accomplished.

Having recollected our memory of our history, and a shared understanding of the early Protestants’ intention to reform the Catholic Church, not to form a schism from the Catholic Church, each Protestant faces the following question: How would I as a Protestant know when to return? No one Protestant can answer that question for all Protestants, because no one Protestant has the authority to speak for all Protestants. Each Protestant therefore must answer that question for him or herself.

But at the same time, the Protestant is faced with a second-order question and a second-order problem. The problem is that if we survey a thousand Protestants, and ask each what the Catholic Church would have to change, in order for him or her to stop protesting and be reconciled to the Catholic Church, we get almost a thousand different answers. 

When the Protestant reflects on his own act of setting conditions that the Catholic Church must meet in order for him to return to full communion with her, he is faced with an awareness that because each Protestant has a different set of conditions for return, and because he has no unique authority above that of all other Protestants to speak for all other Protestants, his very approach makes Protestant-Catholic reconciliation impossible. 

That’s because even if (per impossible) the Catholic Church could abandon her own doctrine and adopt a Protestant doctrine, the Church could not possibly adopt and simultaneously hold the incompatible Protestant positions on any particular theological question.2

The Protestant who reflects on this cannot but notice that to approach reconciliation this way is to fall into ecclesial consumerism, as each person demands that the Church conform to his own interpretation of Scripture before he will submit to her. 

Implicit in the very nature of an “I won’t return unless the Church does x” condition for reconciliation is a denial of ecclesial authority, a denial that not only presumes precisely what is in question between Protestants and the Catholic Church with respect to the existence of magisterial authority, but implicitly exercises that magisterial authority. So the second-order question is this: How can a Protestant pursue an end to the Protestant-Catholic schism without falling into ecclesial consumerism?

If, as Neal and I argued in “Solo Scriptura, Sola Scriptura, and the Question of Interpretive Authority,” to make conformity to one’s own interpretation a condition for submission is performatively to make oneself one’s own authority, the Protestant’s very act of laying out a list of conditions for reunion with the Catholic Church is not a theologically neutral act. In this act the Protestant intrinsically arrogates to himself an interpretive authority exceeding that of the magisterium of the Catholic Church. 

He is therefore confronted not only with the changes he wants to see in the Catholic Church, but with the realization that if he sets conditions that the Catholic Church must satisfy in order for him to return to full communion with her, he is performatively arrogating to himself ultimate interpretive authority, and seeking to conform the Church to the image of his own interpretation of Scripture. 

So the question I invite our Protestant readers to answer is not “What would the Catholic Church have to change in order for me to return to her?” but rather, “What does the multiplicity of Protestant answers to that question reveal about both the prospects and presuppositions of that approach to Protestant-Catholic reconciliation?


1.So long as Protestants redefine schism from the Church as heresy, that memory will remain hidden.
2.See, for example, the various Protestant notions of justification in the recent book Justification: Five Views

The Church and the Second Century Gnostics

Marcion displaying his canon
We saw already in our discussion of St. Polycarp how the Apostle John, around the age of ninety (between 97 and 101 AD), had fled from the bath-house in Ephesus when he learned that Cerinthus was inside it, saying, "Let us fly, lest even the bath-house fall down, because Cerinthus, the enemy of the truth, is within." (Adv haer. 3.3.4

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We have also seen St. Polycarp's opposition to Marcion, when in about the year 154 AD they happened to meet in Rome. Marcion asked St. Polycarp, "Do you know me?" (Notice that Marcion's focus is on himself, and his own fame.) St. Polycarp, not one to mince words at the age of eighty-five, and not having attended Dale Carnegie, replied, "I do know you, the first-born of Satan."

Who were these persons: Cerinthus, Marcion, Valentinus, Cerdo, etc.? They were gnostics who were trying to infiltrate the Church. We know little about Cerinthus. He was a contemporary of the Apostle John, and was said to have come to Ephesus from Egypt, and if not a Jew then at least circumcised. Cerdo and Valentinus arrived in Rome during the time that St. Hyginus was bishop of Rome (136 - 140 AD). 

Marcion arrived in Rome around 140 AD. Valentinus was from Egypt. Cerdo was from Syria. Marcion was from Pontus. Why did they come to Rome? Because they understood (as Simon the Sorcerer had understood) that this was the place most efficiently to spread their beliefs. All three of these who came to Rome sought to become the bishop of Rome, in order to take control of the Church.

Cerdo at one point confessed his errors to the church at Rome, and was readmitted into the Church. But, at some point later (we don't know when) he was excommunicated by the church at Rome.

We know more about the case of Marcion. Marcion's father was a bishop of Sinope in Pontus. Marcion was born around 110 AD, and was made a bishop (but not the diocesan bishop) in his home town. 

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He was eventually expelled from his own church by his father, when he committed a grave sin with a virgin. He traveled to Rome, arriving sometime around 140 AD, probably to attempt to ascend to the bishop's seat when St. Hyginus vacated it. In 140 AD, however, St. Pius I (said to be the brother of Hermas who wrote "Shepherd of Hermas") was elected to take St. Hyginus's place as bishop of the church at Rome; he served as bishop until about 155 AD. 

In 144 AD Marcion was excommunicated from the church at Rome by St. Pius I. Marcion then started his own 'church', with its own bishops, priests, and deacons. This 'church' spread far and wide and endured, apparently, even into the Middle Ages. (cf. C.E. 'Marcionites') Marcion died around 160 AD. St. Justin Martyr, who died around 165 AD, refers in at least one place to Marcion as still living. Tertullian's work "Against Marcion" explains and refutes Marcion's teachings.

When it was time to elect a successor to St. Pius I (about 155 AD), it seems that Valentinus tried to win this election. Tertullian tells us this:
[BOQ] Valentinus had expected to become a bishop, because he was an able man both in genius and eloquence. Being indignant, however, that another obtained the dignity by reason of a claim which confessorship had given him, he broke with the church of the true faith. Just like those (restless) spirits which, when roused by ambition, are usually inflamed with the desire of revenge, he applied himself with all his might to exterminate the truth; and finding the clue of a certain old opinion, he marked out a path for himself with the subtlety of a serpent.[EOQ] (Against the Valentinians, 4)

Valentinus failed to attain the episcopal chair at Rome, and instead St. Anicetus was selected as bishop of Rome. It seems that about this time Valentinus was excommunicated by the church at Rome, whereupon he went to Cyprus and died around 160-161.

What did the gnostics teach? Among other things, they taught that Christ did not have a real body, and did not suffer. (They were, in this respect, docetic.) We can already see in the epistles of St. John the direct rejection of gnosticism. (1 John 4:2; 2 John 1:7) Cerinthus's Christology was as follows:
[BOQ] Cerinthus distinguished between Jesus and Christ. Jesus was mere man, though eminent in holiness. He suffered and died and was raised from the dead, or, as some say Cerinthus taught, He will be raised from the dead at the Last Day and all men will rise with Him. At the moment of baptism, Christ or the Holy Ghost was sent by the Highest God, and dwelt in Jesus teaching Him, what not even the angels knew, the Unknown God. This union between Jesus and Christ continues till the Passion, when Jesus suffers alone and Christ returns to heaven.[EOQ] ('Cerinthus' in the Catholic Encylopedia)

Gnosticism separates matter and spirit, human and divine. In this way, it denies the *incarnation*. That is significant for multiple reasons, about which I have written in "The Gnostic Roots of Heresy". 

We saw already in St. Ignatius (Ep. ad. Smyrnaeans, 7) that the docetists abstained from (or only minimally received) the Eucharist, precisely because for them, as docetists, the Eucharist could not truly be the Body and Blood of Christ. But here I want to point out one very important *ecclesial* implication of gnosticism.

One Ecclesial Implication

If Christ did not have an actual material body, then the Church per se, i.e. the Body of Christ, cannot be visible. If the gnostics were right, then the Church per se is only spiritual and invisible, and that visible thing that is falsely called the Church is merely an earthly, human-made political body, just as the physical body of Jesus the son of Mary was (according to the gnostics who admitted that there was a human Jesus) *merely* human. 

The dualism implicit in the gnostic denial of the true incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ has as an implication a two-fold denial: it denies the divine character of the one visible Church, and it denies the visible character of the [one and very same] divine Church. Without the hypostatic union of the human and the divine, there is no visible divine body, and thus no visible divine Mystical Body, i.e. no visible Church. 

And if there is no visible Church, then there is no Church discipline. Marcion can start his own 'church', and make his own canon. If there is no visible Church, then the true knowledge is known 'spiritually', not by means of matter or a physical succession of bishops, not through the visible Church. If there is no visible Church, then how do we know which books are inspired? Spiritually, by a burning in our bosom, an internal witness with our spirit. 

If there is no visible Church, then how do we know who has the true interpretation of these books? Again, by an internal spiritual witness that this is their true and self-evident meaning. How do we know that we have salvation? Again, by an internal spiritual witness. The ecclesial implication of gnosticism's denial of the hypostatic union is the individualism of some form of Montanism.

To take on flesh in a true union (not just in appearance or in an extrinsic manner) is to bind oneself to the particular, to the here and now, in space and time. But the particular is known in a different way than is that which is spiritual, invisible, and universal. What is entirely spiritual cannot be known by the senses. It must be known apart from the senses. 

Hence gnosticism entails that Christ is known internally in the subjectivity of one's own heart, not through matter, and thus not through one's senses, and definitely not through a material and temporal succession of sweaty, smelly, sinful men. But the incarnation entails something altogether different. Because of the incarnation, Christ is known to us through His material body, through His physical acts in particular places and times. "He who has seen Me has seen the Father." (St. John 14:9) We come to God through His Body and Blood, not bypassing them. (St. John 6) 

Since Christ is embodied and visible in His particularity in space and time, so too the Church, as His Body, is visible in its particularity in space and time. As we come to Christ through union with that *matter* which flowed from the side of His physical body on the cross, so likewise we come to Christ through sacramental union with that same matter that pours forth daily from the side of His Body, the Church, in the Eucharist. 

The Church per se must be particular and visible in space and time because it is the Body of Christ, and because in taking on a body in His incarnation Christ was truly and permanently united with matter in all its particularity and visibility.


Take Me In, O The Wilderness

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Take me in the wilderness like a mother takes her child, 
take me in your silent and serene bosom; 
don’t scold me with your affrights 
as I fled from the hollow-hearted fornicatress of this world. 

Oh, the beautiful wilderness, cheerful oak wood, 
I love you more than royal palace and gilded chambers, 
I will walk through a beautiful vine of different flowers of yours, 
breathing with wind that sways your leafy branches. 

I will be like a wild animal, wandering all alone, 
avoiding people and this life full of sorrow and worries, 
lamenting and repenting in your deep and awesome bosom. 

My Lord, You sated me with earthy good things, 
don’t deprive me of Your Heavenly kingdom as well.

Приими мя, пустыня, Яко мати чадо свое,

В тихое и безмолвное Недро свое.
Не брани, пустыня, Страшилищи своими
Отбегшаго от лукавыя Блудницы мира сего.
прекрасная пустыня, Веселая дубравица!

Возлюбих бо тя паче Царских чертогъ
И позлащенных полатъ.
И поиду По красному твоему винограду
Различных цветець твоихъ, Дыхающе от воздуха
Малого ветрецем, Движуще у древец
Ветвие свое кудрявое.

И буду яко дикий зверь, Единъ скитаяся
и бегая человекъ И многомятежныя сея жизни,
И седя, плача и рыдая, Во глубоком и диком
Недре твоем: 
О Владыко Царю!
Насладил мя еси Земеныхо благ,
Не лиши мене И Небеснаго твоего Царствия.

As the dew unto the grass, so, Lord, art thou to me.

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1 As the bridegroom to his chosen,
as the king unto his realm,
as the keep unto the castle,
as the pilot to the helm,
so, Lord, art thou to me.

2 As the fountain in the garden,
as the candle in the dark,
as the treasure in the coffer,
as the manna in the ark,
so, Lord, art thou to me.

3 As the music at the banquet,
as the stamp unto the seal,
as the medicine to the fainting,
as the wine-cup at the meal,
so, Lord, art thou to me.

4 As the ruby in the setting,
as the honey in the comb,
as the light within the lantern,
as the father in the home,
so, Lord, art thou to me.

5 As the sunshine in the heavens,
as the image in the glass,
as the fruit unto the fig-tree,
as the dew unto the grass,
so, Lord, art thou to me.

Johannes Tauler. As the bridegroom to his chosen
Translator: Frances Bevan;
 New Church Praise #4

Rest from longing and desire O thou weary heart!

Rest from longing and desire
O thou weary heart!
Dost thou ween thy choice has been
Not the lower but the higher,
Thine the better part?

And therefore dost thou long with bitter longing
From the day dawn to the night.
For the holiness, the rest of His beloved
Who walk with Him in white?

Thou art wearied with the striving and the yearning
For the crown that thou wouldst win;
Thou hast learnt but thine immensity of weakness,
But the mystery of thy sin.

Beloved, the Lord spake to me in comfort
When thus it was with me—
Wert thou cast all alone upon thy mantle,
All alone upon the sea—
Nought round thee but immensity of waters,
No strength in thee to swim,
How, seeing only God in Heaven above thee,
Wouldst thou cast thyself on Him?”

Therefore thank Him for thy helplessness, beloved,
And if thou needs must long,
Let it be but for the rest of utter weakness,
In the Arms for ever strong.

Long only that He make thee bare and empty—
Take all that is thine own,
Thy prowess, and thy strength, and thine endeavour,
And leave thee God alone.

In the stillness of that peace the work is ended
By Him, and not by thee;
The end of His desire and His longing
To see thee stand in stainless white before Him
Is that which needs must be.

Johannes Tauler, Rest from longing and desire
Translator: Frances Bevan (1899)
Published in 1 hymnal

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

John Henry Newman on the "National Church"

Young Newman
Henry Newman at Oxford

The Church of England is a Protestant church. It was set up for the nation of the Reformation, It is a national church precisely because the great majority of the nation wanted a religion that would be modified at the will of the nation.

Though the Church of England has been a breakwater against the doctrinal errors more fundamental than its own, none can know how long this will continue. The reason is that: nation drags its church down to its own level. Indeed, national church is the slave of the nation, because the national church is strictly a part of the nation. It must say and will say just what the nation says.

-John Henry Newman (1801-1890)

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Into Eternity (The Border of His Sanctuary)


Glorious and solemn hour,
 Thus at last to stand,
 All behind us the great desert,
 All before, the land!

Past the shadow of the valley,
 Past the weary plain;
 Past the rugged mountain pathway,
 Ne'er to be again.

And before us, ever stretching
 In its golden sheen,
 Lies the fair, the blessed country
 Where our hearts have been—

Where our hearts have been whilst wandering
 Through the desert bare;
 For the soul's adored, beloved One,
 He abideth there.

Clad in love and glory stands He
 On that glowing shore,
 There to speak the blessed welcome,
 All our journeyings o'er.

Now at last our eyes behold Him,
 At His feet we fall;
 Two and three have we adored Him,
 Now are gathered all.

All His saints from all the ages,
 Every clime and tongue,
 All together now we worship
 In a faultless song.

In the song no discord troubles
 And no weakness mars,
 Sound we loud His Name beloved
 Far beyond the stars.

That blest song, first sung in glory
 By His lips divine,
 Now, in chorus deep and endless
 All his ransomed join.

Glorious and solemn hour,
 On the verge to stand
 Of that endless day of worhsip,
 Of that blessed land!

Not our sorrow we remember,
 All is lost in bliss—
 But our shame gives deeper sweetness
 To the Father's kiss.

Shame—that all that desert journey
 Nothing more could prove
 Than the marvels of His patience,
 How divine His love.

Tale of weakness, sin, and folly,
 Tale of wandering feet—
 Tale of strength, and grace, and wisdom,
 Victory complete.

Sin and death and Satan trodden
 'Neath those feet at length,
 In the glory of His triumph,
 Greatness of His strength.

Solemn hour—thus on the margin
 Of that wondrous day,
 When the former things have vanished,
 Old things passed away.

Nothing but Himself before us,
 Every shadow past—
 Sound we loud our word of witness,
 For it is the last.

One last word of solemn warning
 To the world below—
 One loud shout, that all may hear us
 Hail Him ere we go!

Once more let that Name be sounded
 With a trumpet tone—
 Here, amidst the thickening darkness,
 Then, before the throne.

G.W., The Border of His Sanctuary

Monday, October 1, 2018

Hope in a Time of Darkness and Despair

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This is the season of hope. Not if you’ve been listening to the daily news, of course, but it is if you’ve been going to Mass and listening to the readings. We’ve been showered daily with hope-filled readings from the prophets — mostly Jeremiah, Isaiah, or Zechariah. There’s been a lot of the “wolf being a guest of the lamb” sort of thing; promises of “rich food and choice wines” (indeed, “juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines”); the deaf will hear and the blind will see; God will wipe away tears from every face.

With these, we’ve heard about making the lofty mountains low and filling in the valleys; promises about making the parched land exult and the steppe rejoice and bloom with abundant flowers; about turning the desert into marshland and the dry ground into springs of water; and a whole lot about people singing and shouting for joy, being glad and exulting. These are the readings we get every year at about this time. It’s Advent, and the Church thinks it is a good time to remind us that we’re to be a people “looking forward” to something – something very good.

A colleague reminded me recently, however, that all these very hopeful exclamations were made by men with good reason to view their times as not at all hopeful – whose historical situation was, to put it mildly, less than optimal. Jeremiah, Isaiah, and Zechariah all foresaw or experienced the utter defeat of Judah at the hands of her enemies and the exile of her people to an alien land.

All of them could see there was slavery and hardship in the future of a people who believed that nothing could defeat them since they were God’s “chosen,” and He had given them the “Promised Land.” And yet, there they were, on the verge of the abyss, looking over the edge, feeling the earth starting to give way beneath their feet. It would a long, hard fall. But in spite of it all, they were singing God’s praises and promising a bright future. Were they out of their minds? We don’t think so now, but it wouldn’t have been a bad bet at the time.

What is the ground of our hope? According to Thomas Aquinas, the motive or formal object of hope is God’s infinite power. We can hope because we believe that “for God all things are possible.” Fr. Benedict Ashley remarks in his wonderful book Living the Truth in Love (and repeats in his International Catholic University lectures based on the book) that “God’s mercy and promises would not be grounds for hope if God were powerless to fulfill his promises.”

Despair suggests Ashley, can be defined as “the deliberate acceptance of the thought that even God cannot save us from disaster.” Accepting this thought is to give in to what a friend of mine calls “the illusion of the powerlessness of God.” You have probably experienced the power of the illusion – the voices inside you that insist: God is not present in my suffering. He can’t “make straight” what is crooked. He can’t “right” what is “wrong.” He can’t fix what is broken. The forces of evil in the world and within us cannot be conquered.

Christian hope is the hope you have when there is no hope. In East Coker, T. S. Eliot bids his soul to:

. . .be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.

When the present is dark and the future darker, as it was for the prophets whose words of hope and joy we read in this season of Advent, it is at these times especially when we are called to walk by faith, not by sight – faith: the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen.

It would be a great mistake, however,” Fr. Ashley wisely warns, “to judge that every person who seems without hope has committed this grievous sin of despair. A very common pathological mental condition is what is called depression, which can have many causes, genetic, hormonal, or the result of severe shocks such as the death of loved ones or the traumas of wartime combat. . . .When a person is suffering from mental pathology or simply grieving over tragic losses, or suffering under the heavy burdens of life and sickness, as Job was, their temptations to despair are spiritual trials not sins. One has only to read the Psalms to see how those who truly love God and hope in him, nevertheless complain to him, and find hope very hard.”

In these trials, we become purified of every other motive except confidence in God’s almighty power: “Trust in the LORD forever!” we read in Isaiah 26:4, “for the LORD is an eternal Rock.” The word “trust” here in the Septuagint is the Greek word for “hope.” He is a strong rock; He cannot be overcome. And in that, we find hope to go forward, even in the midst of great trials and tribulations and during times of darkness.

Do you not know
or have you not heard?
The LORD is the eternal God,
Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint nor grow weary. . . .
He gives strength to the fainting;
for the weak he makes vigor abound.
Though young men faint and grow weary,
and youths stagger and fall,
They that hope in the LORD will renew their strength,
they will soar as with eagles’ wings;
They will run and not grow weary,
walk and not grow faint. (Is 40:28-31)