Friday, May 30, 2008

Some Notes for the Feast of Corpus Christi (mostly for St Matthias')

The Feast
The Feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, or Corpus Christi, was first instituted in the diocese of Liège in 1246 in response to the petitions of Juliana of Liège, an Augustinian nun. It was popularly felt that a feast solely in honour of the Holy Eucharist was needed in addition to the day of its institution, Maundy Thursday, which has other, less joyful associations. In 1264 Pope Urban IV made it a feast for the whole western church. The feast was appointed for the Thursday after Trinity Sunday. In recent years it has been kept on the Sunday next following the feast.
At the Reformation the English Book of Common Prayer abolished the feast of Corpus Christ, most likely because of its association with the doctrine of transubstantiation, but it was one of the elements reclaimed by the Catholic revival in Anglicanism.. In the new service book Common Worship, the Church of England provides that “The Thursday after Trinity Sunday may be observed as ‘The Day of Thanksgiving for the Institution of Holy Communion’ (Corpus Christi)”. The American Prayer Book provides a collect “of the Holy Eucharist, Especially suited for Thursdays”. No provision for this feast is made in the Canadian Book of Alternative Services, but it is kept by many Canadian parishes, and propers are provided in the annual McCausland’s Order of Divine Service, though this is not an official liturgical publication of the Church.
The Notes on the Readings provided were for the wrong year and have been removed. I apologize for any inconvenience.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

May 29th

I've often thought it might be fun to do a "This Day in History" series (or at least a good mental exercise), but the information is readily available on Wikipedia and various websites. Even sticking to dates I find curious or significant would get to be more of a chore quite quickly. From time to time there are days worthy of notice, and May 29th is one of them.
On this day happened what I feel were one of the saddest and one of the happiest events in history.

In 1453 Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Turks. The armies of the Sultan Mehmed II Fatih captured Constantinople after a siege; the last Roman Emperor in the east, Constantine XI Palaeologus, died in the battle. We add nothing to these bare facts.

In 1660 Charles II returned to England, entering London on his birthday. John Evelyn wrote in his Dairy:

This day, his Majesty, Charles the Second came to London, after a sad and long exile and calamitous suffering both of the King and the Church, being seventeen years. This was also his birth-day, and with a triumph of above 20,000 horse and foot, brandishing their swords, and shouting with inexpressible joy; the ways strewed with flowers, the bells ringing, the streets hung with tapestry, fountains running with wine; the Mayor, Aldermen, and all the Companies, in their liveries, chains of silver, gold, and velvet; the windows and balconies, all set with ladies; trumpets, music and myriads of people flocking, even so far as from Rochester, so as they were seven hours in passing the city, even from two in the afternoon till nine at night.
I stood in the Strand and beheld it, and blessed God. And all this was done without one drop of blood shed, and by that very army which rebelled against him; but it was the Lord’s doing, for such a restoration was never mentioned in any history, ancient or modern, since the return of the Jews from their Babylonish captivity; nor so joyful a day and so bright ever seen in this nation, this happening when to expect or effect it was past all human policy.

Here is a smattering of other things, sublime and ridiculous, that happened on 29 May:
1886 - Chemist John Pemberton places his first advertisement for Coca-Cola, the ad appearing in the Atlanta Journal.
1913 - Igor Stravinsky's ballet score The Rite of Spring is premiered in Paris.
1942 - Bing Crosby, the Ken Darby Singers and the John Scott Trotter Orchestra record Irving Berlin's White Christmas, the best-selling Christmas album in history, for Decca Records in Los Angeles.
1950 - St. Roch, first ship to circumnavigate North America, arrives in Halifax, Nova Scotia .
1953 - Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay are the first people to reach the summit of Mount Everest, on Tenzing Norgay's (adopted) 39th birthday.
1982 First visit of a Roman Pope (John Paul II) to Canterbury Cathedral.

People born today include the writers G. K. Chesterton and T. H White, the composer Eric Korngold, and President J. F. Kennedy. For a list of other birthdays and of people who died on May 29th, and other events on this day, see :

Monday, May 26, 2008

Tales From the Slippery Slope VII: Dancing on the Heads of Pins

The weather was so fine this Sunday that I went down to Alicubi straightway after mass, hoping that some of my friends might be on the deck behind The Slippery Slope enjoying the day and the river. With this and that I hadn’t made it out much in the past few weeks, and was looking forward to a good talk. When I got to the Slope, I found that the doors were open onto the deck, and a brilliant light and a fresh breeze were pouring into a pub that was unusally dark and empty. David was there alone, holding the fort. He looked up as I came in, and noticed my puzzled expression. We spoke almost at once.
“Hello,” he said, sounding relieved. “Don’t worry, they should be here in a few minutes”
“Hello. Where is everyone?” I said, and then waited.
“At the meeting.”
“What meeting, I said”
“The meeting to save the lookout,” said David. “What other meetings are there in Alicubi?”
I should tell you about the lookout. Over the stone bridge from the main part of town and up a hill to the right, juts out some rock, from which there is a pleasant view of the town. Sometime in the 1800s someone — who it was is forgotten — built a structure on the edge of the rock from the windows of old buildings, giving the general effect of a poor cousin to Mackenzie King’s ruins in Gatineau Park. Opinion in the town was that the view was lovely, but the structure hideous. It was known officially (and always in lowercase) as ‘the lookout’; Tom Chillingworth dubbed it ‘the Appalling Belvedere’. Every couple of years some public minded individual objected to it on grounds of aesthetics or safety, and a public meeting was held, where inertia always won.
Just then Canon Hawker, Tom, John Strype, and Keith the landlord came in, laughing.
They all greeted me and Keith said, “Alicubi has once again demonstrated that it has community spirit. We may blindly trust the municipality in everything else, but we will always defend the Appalling Belvedere. David, help me get these fine gentlemen their drinks. I may need you on the bar for a while if business picks up.”
We got our pints and went to a nice table on the deck, and talked as the river flowed past. A few of the public spirited people of Alicubi began to wander in, and the pub grew more cheerful.
“A normal meeting?” I asked, “What was the complaint this time?”
“They thought it was ugly. And it was quite normal,” said John, “except that somebody was rude to the good Canon.”
“Indeed yes,” said Hawker, “I was patiently explaining that while the lookout is truly ugly, we could be sure that anything else that was put up would be worse, and some fellow asked why he should listen to a man who debates angels on the heads of pins. He really made very little sense.” After a pause he said to Tom Chillingworth, “Did you know, Tom, that what is probably the earliest instance of that canard is in a book by a namesake of yours?”
“No, I didn’t”, said Tom
Hawker went on, “I have always been intrigued by the fact that though it is often said that mediaeval theologians used to debate how many angels could dance on the head of a pin, or more correctly, the point of a needle, no one seemed to know where the charge came from. But recently I found both the earliest known instance and an older joke that might have something to do with it. Perhaps the joke, short as it is can be our story for today.”
“What about my namesake?” asked Tom.
“As we all know, there is no instance in known mediaeval philosophy or theology of this question being debated. St Thomas does ask in the Summa "whether several angels can be in the same place at the same time", but that doesn’t sound as silly (the answer is no, by the way).[1] I found a reference online from the Australian Mathematical Society Gazette, of all places, which cited the preface to William Chillingworth’s Religion of Protestants a Safe Way to Salvation (1638). In this passage Chillingworth is replying to a Roman opponent says that to charge that divines of the Church of England have only a superficial talent in philosophy, far below the standard of the ‘school divinity’, is to say ‘because they dispute not eternally — utrum chimera bombinans in vacuo, possit comedere secundas intentiones[2] — whether a million of angels may not sit upon a needle’s point …. therefore they have no deep knowledge …’"
“Well!” said Tom, “that doesn’t really help much, does it? The quip about angels seems to be a quotation or a commonplace, like the bombinating chimera of Rabelais. So where did my namesake get it?”
“That I don’t know,” answered the Canon, “but there is a story in A Hundred Merry Tales, which is obviously working on the same idea. That collection was published in about 1525, more than a century before Chillingworth. It was told then to make the point that you can’t preach to the stupid.”
The Story of the Friar that Preached what men’s souls were
A friar was in the pulpit preaching the word of God, and among other matters spoke of men’s souls. He said that the soul was so subtle that a thousand souls might dance on the space of the nail of a man’s finger. A merry conceited fellow of small devotion in the congregation answered back: “Master Doctor, if a thousand souls may dance on a man’s nail, I pray you then, where shall the piper stand?”
"Then the moral is given: that 'by this tale a man may see, that it is but folly to show or to teach virtue to them, that have no pleasure nor mind thereto.' Not very helpful, really. And I suppose it doesn’t really get us any further towards knowing who first made the dig against scholastics.
I said, "At any rate, the joke is obviously connected with the angel quip, and shows that a similar point was floating around early in the sixteenth century. I suppose we keep looking."
"Just so," said Hawker, and we called David over to ask what Mike was cooking for dinner.

[1] ST I.lii. 3
[2] “Whether a Chimera making a nuisance of itself in a vacuum is able to consume the indirect objects of thought” Rabelais, Pantagruel, cap vii

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Some Notes for the Patronal Festival of Saint Matthias


In the Western Church the feast of Saint Matthias was traditionally kept on 24 February, a date which frequently falls in Lent. For this reason his feast was transferred by the Roman Church in recent liturgical revisions to 14 May, “so as to celebrate it in Eastertide close to the Solemnity of the Ascension" (The Roman Calendar, 1969). Revised Angican Calendars have tended to follow this practice, with the result that at St Matthias’, Bellwoods, this year the Patronal Festival has fallen into conflict with Trinity Sunday and Corpus Christi, which is why we are keeping our Patronal Festival two Sundays after the feast rather than one.

Almost nothing is known of St Matthias. It might even be said that he is more obscure than SS Simon and Jude, as they are mentioned in the Gospels, and Jude has to be distinguished from Judas Iscariot! Perhaps he is most important because his election to the apostolate shows the way the that Church would continue to choose its pastors and guides, by bringing forward members as the Spirit led.

Our Patron Saint’s name is the Greek form of Mattathias, Hebrew Mattithiah, signifying "gift of Yahweh." The late mediaeval Golden Legend says “Matthias in Hebrew is as much to say as given to our Lord, or a gift of our Lord, or else humble or little.” St Matthias is certainly humble in terms of personal fame! He is not mentioned in the Gospels, but according to Acts 1.21 was one of the disciples of Jesus, and had been with Him from His baptism by John to the Ascension. Indeed the lack of definite information has led some people to identify him with this or that little-known figure, including Nathaniel, Barnabas, and even Zacchaeus. The Syriac version of the historian Eusebius apparently calls him ‘Tolmai’ for some reason.

St Matthias is only mentioned in the New Testament in Acts 1.21-26, when he was one of the two disciples selected as candidates to fill the place among the Twelve Apostles left by Judas. After prayer lots were cast and Matthias was chosen. There is a charming note in the life of St Matthias in the Golden Legend that “the holy Saint Denis saith that the lot was a ray and a shining which came and shone upon him.” Nothing else is said of him in the canonical scriptures.

Where the canonical sources fail us, the legends more than make up for. The Synopsis of Dorotheus of Tyre (c. 300?) reports that “Matthias preached the Gospel to barbarians and cannibals in the interior of Ethiopia, at the harbour of the sea of Hyssus, at the mouth of the river Phasis. He died at Sebastopolis, and was buried there, near the Temple of the Sun.” Ethiopia here was really Colchis on the Black Sea, where Jason and the Argonauts went to win the Golden Fleece. Sebastopolis, by the way, is the modern Sukhumi, capital of Abkhazia. The fourteenth century Greek historian Nicephorus says that Matthias preached the Gospel in Judaea and then in Ethiopia, (this also meant Colchis), where he was crucified; his grave is shown there in the ruins of a Roman fortress. Other sources simply put his mission in "the city of the cannibals" in Ethiopia, which may or may not mean Colchis.
A different tradition was that Matthias was stoned at Jerusalem and then beheaded with an axe. This tradition gained the most popularity in the Latin Church, and was included in the Golden Legend. There we learn that Matthias was a native of Bethlehem, where he was trained in the Law and the Prophets. After he had been elected to the apostolate, he preached in Jerusalem and worked miracles of healing in the name of Jesus. For this he was accused before the high priest (at least that what I take the Legend to mean by “the Bishop of Jerusalem”), but refused to answer, saying, “to be a Christian is nothing criminal but it is a glorious life”. Offered a chance to repent, Matthias said “God forbid that I should repent of the truth that I have truly found, and become an apostate” (was he perhaps thinking of Judas whom he had replaced?). He returned to preaching by word and example, converting many, until finally his enemies got two false witnesses to accuse him, and the flase witnesses cast the first stones against him. Matthias “prayed that the stones might be buried that the false witnesses had cast upon him, for to bear witness against them that stoned him,” and in the end they beheaded him with an axe, in the Roman manner. He died commending his spirit to God.
Finally we should note a tradition that St Matthias died of old age. Hippolytus of Rome (d. 235) said that “Matthias, who was one of the seventy, was numbered along with the eleven apostles, and preached in Jerusalem, and fell asleep and was buried there.”
These stories have no historical value, although the words “to be a Christian is nothing criminal but it is a glorious life” are well worth remembering. It is very likely that he never went to the country we call Ethiopia.
The First Reading: Acts 1.15-26
The account of the election of Matthias to the apostleship presents us with certain historical difficulties which we cannot treat in any detail here. Since we have no other account, we cannot check the accuracy of the one we do have. However, the fact that neither Barsabbas nor Matthias is ever mentioned again would appear to confirm the fact that a choice was made to fill Judas’ place: it is hard to see any motive for inventing a story in honour of one who is not mentioned again in the historical tradition.
Notice that St Peter takes the lead among among the Twelve and the wider community, as he was to do on the day of Pentecost (2.14) and as he had done in response to the Lord’s question, “Who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16.16; Luke 9.20).
The concern of the Apostles to complete the number is interesting; for the institution of Twelve Apostles was not maintained in the Church. There is no account of a further election when St James the brother of John was executed (Acts 12:2). This is a matter we cannot enter into here.
Verses 18-19, in which Peter appears to narrate the death of Judas are another problem. It is strange that a person speaking in Jerusalem to Jerusalemites would refer to “the dwellers at Jerusalem” as if he were hundreds of miles away, or translate “Akeldama” for people who spoke Aramaic. It has been suggested that St Luke, to whom the book of Acts is ascribed, might well have inserted these details for Theophilus (see 1.1), and perhaps the verses shouldbe printed in parentheses. Then there is the problem that this account differs from the one in Matthew 27.3-8, about which we can only note here that two tradiitons of Judas’ end had developed before the Gospels were written down, and urge readers to examine the various commentaries.
The choice between Barsabbas and Matthias was made by casting lots, not ballots: voting by ballot was not a Jewish custom; the mthod of discerning the Lord’s will in the Old Testament was by lot. Moreover a ballot would not harmonize with thr prayer “show which of these two thou hast chosen”. What they did was to give each candidate a tablet, bearing his name, to place in the urn; and that which fell out, on the urn being shaken, determined which was successful. This is the only known occasion on which the early Church used lots to ascertain God’s will; it is not stated by what method of choice was used when the Twelve told he brethren to “pick out from among you” the seven to assist in the service(6.3-5).
Psalm 15.
As the first reading tells of the choice of Matthias, who has been steadfast from the beginning, to take the the place of Judas, who turned away to his own place, a contrast between the just and unjust, the faithful and the enemy, and the fruitful and unfruitful branches runs through the rest of the readings. Psalm 15 is a liturgy for admission to the temple. The question is posed in verse 1: who is worthy to enter the congregation? Verses 2-7 answer it: only the one with the moral qualities required. The description of what this persoan does not do establishes the contreast with the wicked.
Some cross-references. Ps 24.3-6 is a parallel to Ps 15. On verse 2, see Isaiah 33.15 On v. 5 (He has sworn to do no wrong, and does not go back on his word), see Ps 24:4. The BAS version of this verse is flat and seemingly uninspired compared to that in the Prayer Book Psalter (He that sweareth unto his neighbour and disappointeth him not, though it were to his own hindrance); another translation from the Hebrew gives: “he swears to [his own] hurt and does not retract” [from The Judaica Press Complete Tanach, which may be found at].
Again, v. 6 seems a trifle weak, rendering “who does not put out his money at interest” [RSV] with “he does not give his money in hope of gain”. The Biblical teaching about usury (see Exodus 22.35, Leviticus 25.35-37) is not always clear, and it has been a thorny issue for centuries. Nonetheless we need to make sure that it continues to be a problem for us.
This is a psalm well-suited for use in examnation of conscience.
The Epistle: Philippians 3.13b-21. (For some reason the lectionary in the BAS and For All the Saints gives this reading as 3:13b-22; Philippians 3 has only 21 verses).
St Paul has just finished a glorious passage [3.4-12] in which he recounts his reasons for confidence in the Lord, culminating in the exclamation that though he has not yet achieved the goal, the resurrection from the dead, he can say “I press on to make it my own, becasue Christ Jesus has made me his own”. Nw he calls on his hearers and readers to imitate him in pressing toward the goal of God’s call in Christ (see Romans 5.2). This is the sign of a mature Christian, holding fast to the faith. It is at this point that we meet the contrast: there are those who do not strive for the upward call. There is some disagreement as to just who the “many” are. Some refer to verses 2-4 of this chapter and a ‘circumcision party” in the early church that demanded fill adherence to old law. In this case the references to the “belly” would be to the dietary laws and to “their glory is their shame” to circumcision; others disagree, seeing in the “belly” rather general greed and selfishness, and in “shame” perhaps teh general dissolutness of life that St Paul saw as rampant in the Gentile world. This is a question on which I can only refer you to the variety of Bible commentaries for a variety of answers. For this feast, and in the context of its readings, the “many” include all who having been Christians turn away to seek salvation somewhaere or in something other than the cross of Jesus. They must be Christians who have fallen away or pose a split in the community; otherwise Paul would have no reason to mention them “with tears”. In the last verses he recalls his readers and hearers to “the upward call” and the promise of life in Christ.

The Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to Saint John, 15.1-6-16
With Judas’ end in mind, the contrast between the branches of the Christ-vine that bear fruit and the ones that do not, and the warning to all his disciples of the fate of the unfruitful branch might be uppermost in our minds as we read this passage from St John. Like the one who is fit to enter the tabernacle, and like the mature Christian imitating St Paul, the fruitful branches will abide in Christ’s love, and.their joy will be complete. However, the last words of this passage reflect clearly the election of Matthias: “You did not choose me, but I chose you, and appointed you, that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you shall ask the Father in my name, he will give you.” For if Matthias had followed Christ from the baptism of John, he was called by Christ; he was sent out with the seventy to proclaim the good news. When a new apostle was needed, the choice was put into the hands of the Lord. Nowhere do we hear of Matthias applying for the position. Through the voice of the brethren, and then by the lot, it was the Spirit of Christ that chose him. Where he went and where he preached is of little importance, as long as he remained faithful (though if he did go to the real Ethiopia it would be pretty cool). I doubt that I need to suggest how we may apply all this to our own lives and callings


The Week of Trinity Sunday, 18 May 2008.
The CRTC and the Internet
There has been much in the news recently about threats to the internet. This comment in Andrew Coyne's Blog has particular reference to Canada:

Keep your eyes on this post; new items (if there are any) will be added.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Noticed Before Breakfast

Proposed Reductions of Speed Limits in Britain
The London Times reported today that
the speed limit on thousands of residential roads will be reduced to 20mph under government moves designed to cut road deaths by a third over the next decade.
Jim Fitzpatrick, the Road Safety Minister, told The Times that the government would consider setting a challenging target for cutting road deaths. “We get some criticism for not being ambitious enough,” he said, conceding that measuring deaths alone, rather than together with serious injuries, would provide absolute clarity.
One of the main ways of achieving the target, he said, would be to reduce the speed of traffic on residential roads.
It was also reported that

The minister quoted a Transport Research Laboratory study of 250 20mph schemes across Britain, which found that, after the limit was reduced, crashes fell by 60 per cent, child casualties by 67 per cent and average speeds by 9mph.
He said that his department was conducting a further study of the benefits of 20mph zones to persuade local authorities to introduce them more quickly.

[This item was found at:
This item caught my attention because just the other day I read the text of a radio talk that Max Beerbohm delivered on the BBC on April 26 1936, called “Speed”. Max Beerbohm was a great caricaturist and a fine writer, but he has seldom been called a prophet. His talk on speed could have been delivered today as a comment on the British Government’s new plans, and to that degree seems prophetic. Addressing the point that “speed itself is no danger, Beerbohm said

A cannon-ball fired from a canon is not in itself dangerous. It is dangerous only if you happen to be in the way of it. You would like to step out of its way; but there is no time for you to do so. Perhaps it would like to stop short of you; but it can’t; it is going too fast. That is what motorists are doing even when in ‘built-up areas’ they obey the speed limit of thirty miles an hour. They are going too fast. It would be unreasonable to expect them to impose on themselves a speed-limit of twenty miles an hour. But this is the limit which should — and sooner or later will be — imposed on them. Whether this slowing-down of traffic will cause a great or a small loss of national income, is, I am told, a point on which expert economists are not agreed. What is certain in that it will save a vast number of lives. (‘Speed’, in Mainly on the Air, 2nd edition, London: Heinemann, 1957, p. 20)

Seventy-two years is indeed “sooner or later."
Beerbohm made a comment earlier in the talk that should also be taken to heart. If people in his day felt shame about abuses and barbarities of the past, he asked, What do you think posterity will think of this age?

‘Perhaps,’ you will say, ‘posterity will be worse than we are.’ Well, then, let us set a good example to posterity. Let us persuade our legislators that we are shocked by the present state of things. Let us suggest to them that they may lose votes if they are not as shocked as we are. Let us insinuate that tests far more exacting than the present tests should be imposed on anyone who desires a licence to drive a motor-car. Let us whisper that the system by which a motorist can insure himself against loss by his own carelessness is not a very good system. Let us, slightly raising our voices, demand that a driver convicted of dangerous driving should be liable to a much longer term of imprisonment than he is now. Let us—but this is all merely tinkering with the problem. The main root of the mischief is that great fetish of ours, Speed. (p. 19.)

No further comment seems necessary.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Some notes for the First Sunday after Pentecost, commonly called Trinity Sunday (principally for St Matthias')

The Doctrine of the Trinity
Eric Mascall once wrote that the Trinity is not a doctrine, though there is a doctrine of the Trinity. The Trinity is the living God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Now the doctrine about the Trinity is easily stated: we need only quote the Quicunque Vult, commonly called the Athanasian Creed:

And the Catholic Faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity, neither confounding the Persons, nor dividing the
For there is one Person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Ghost.
But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is all one, the Glory equal, the Majesty co-eternal.
Such as the Father is, such is the Son, and such is the Holy Ghost. …

So the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Ghost is God.
And yet they are not three Gods, but one God.
So likewise the Father is Lord, the Son Lord, and the Holy Ghost Lord.
And yet not three Lords, but one Lord.
For like as we are compelled by the Christian verity to acknowledge every Person by himself to be both God and Lord,
So are we forbidden by the Catholic Religion, to say, There be
three Gods, or three Lords.
The Father is made of none, neither created, nor begotten.
The Son is of the Father alone, not made, nor created, but begotten.
The Holy Ghost is of the Father and of the Son, neither made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding.
So there is one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three Sons; one Holy Ghost, not three Holy Ghosts.
And in this Trinity none is afore, or after other; none is greater, or less than another;
But the whole three Persons are co-eternal together and co-equal.
So that in all things, as is aforesaid, the Unity in Trinity and the Trinity in Unity is to be worshipped.
Easily stated it may be, but a whole life can be spent contemplating what it means. The Trinity is not a doctrine we are called to know about but the living God whom we are invited to know. A Christian is baptized in the name of the Holy Trinity and signed with the sign of the Cross; at the time of death, the Christian is sent from the world in the name of the Holy Trinity (BAS, p. 564). The whole Christian life is marked “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”, and our hope is for the fulfilment of that life in eternity.
In many parts of Scripture, as in today’s reading from Genesis, or in the Gospel account of the Baptism of the Lord, we meet a revelation of the Three Persons who are One God working in creation, salvation, renewal and sanctification. The full meaning of this revelation is a mystery that leaves all human wisdom lagging behind. Nonetheless, God gave us our minds and calls us to use them in knowing and loving him. It is irresponsible to avoid thinking about our life and calling. Eric Mascall puts all this in balance. Speaking of the “simple faithful” he suggests that
… through participation in the tradition of Christian life and worship, they have come to experience God as he is. There is a knowledge by ‘connaturality’through faith and love’ which is more intimate than merely conceptual knowledge, and it is vital that intellectuals should remember this. Nevertheless, when intellectual issues are raised they must be faced, and it is disreputable for the intellectual to put on the mask of the charcoal-burner whenever he finds himself in a corner [The Triune God, 1986, p. 26].
(Blaise Pascal referred to simple Christian as the “charcoal-burner”.)

The First Reading, Genesis 1:1-2:4a. Among the myths of the ancient Near East can be found many variations on a common account of the world’s origin. the creation story in Genesis is clearly part of this world agreeing in many details, such as the sequence of events. The places where the Hebrew account differs from others in the tradition tells us how the people of Israel thought of God, and we believe, are points where we especially learn what God wants us to know from these stories. To learn how the Genesis account differs from a Mesopotamian creation story, see the “Clippings” section in the Revised Common Lectionary notes for Trinity Sunday
Why do we read this passage on Trinity Sunday? Quite simply, to keep us from thinking that the Trinity somehow begins in the New Testament. It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking of the Persons of the Trinity as a kind of committee or team taking turns in the work of creation, salvation, and sanctification. But this is to think of them as three Gods and not one. Christian theology holds that the Persons work together in all these things. So we see as it were in retrospect in the first three verses of Genesis the three Persons united in the work. This understanding is undergirded by the opening verses of John’s Gospel, which speak of God creating all things through the Word. A further vestige of the Trinity has traditionally been seen in verse 26, the plural “Let us make”. Modern scholars place less emphasis on this, but I agree with Robert Farrar Capon:
In the old days, when theologians were less uptight about their respectability in the eyes of biblical critics, the odd majestic plural of that fateful "Let us make" was always taken as one of the Old Testament evidences for the doctrine of the Trinity. Nowadays you lose your union card if you do things like that, but I still think it's nice. You don't have to be dead earnest about it all and work up a theory that the Jewish writer who put the first chapter of Genesis together was some kind of crypto-Christian, or that the Holy Spirit was deliberately trying to Tell Us Something.
Psalm 8
is a psalm of praise of God as creator and of mankind as the head of creation. Does not seem to contain an obvious trinitarian reference, but retrospectively, we cannot read of “the son of man” without thinking of Christ, or to his being made a little lower than the angels without thinking of the incarnation. .It is for this reason perhaps that the liturgical psalter has retained the translation “son of man” in verse 5, where some contemporary versions opt for “mortals”. As Haslam notes at RCL, this is not just being “politically correct” His note shows that this is not simply a question of inclusive or exclusive language in the modern sense. He writes:
The Hebrew, ben ‘adam, literally son of proto-human, is a Jewish idiom meaning mortal or human being. Some scholars consider Son of Man, as used in the New Testament, to be a Christian technical term. [NOAB] Ben ‘adam can also be translated as “children of earth". Before Eve was created Adam was of no gender; he was simply “earth-creature”, a literal translation; after the rib was removed they became man and woman. So ben ‘adam is more inclusive, referring back to the pre-gendered humanity.
The Epistle, 2 Corinthians 13:11-13.
In this reading we have Paul’s fervent wish for the congregation iin Corinth. He mentions the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, God related to us and for our salvation. The order, “Lord Jesus Christ … God … Holy Spirit,” is significant: the grace of Christ expresses and leads one toward the love of God, and the love of God when actualized through the Spirit, produces communion with God and with one another. Compare to this the trintarian formula in 1 Corinthians 12.4-5: “Spirit … Lord … God.” In calling Jesus “Lord” (Greek, Κύριος) the first Christians, who were Jews, named him as God, for this word was used in translations of the Hebrew Scriptures to render the divine name YHWH (often incorrectly rendered as “Jehovah”). For converts from paganism, the same word was used of their deities.
Although there is no formal doctrinal statement of the Trinity in the New Testament, triadic or trinitarian formulas like the one in today’s epistle reading run through it as a golden thread. Such passages include Rom 5.1-4, 8:9-11, 14-17, 15:16 and 30; 1 Cor 2:6-16, 8:6; 2 Cor 1.21-22; Phil 3:3; Eph 4:5-7; 1 Thess 1:2-7; Titus 3:4-6; Heb 9:14 1 Peter 1.2; 1 John 4:13-14, 5:5-12.

The Holy Gospel.
St Matthew 28:16-20 is the conclusion of the Gospel, narrating Jesus’s final command and promise to his disciples, known as the Great Commission. As Haslam puts it, the Lord Jesus “now sends out his followers to “all nations” (v. 19, not just Israel) to: baptise in the possession and protection (“name”) of the Trinity, and to carry on his teaching ministry. To help in this daunting task, he is, and will be, with them until the Kingdom of God comes fully.” This passage is read today because of the form of the command, to baptize “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Tales From the Slippery Slope VI: The Justice of Trajan

We’ve missed a few Thursdays recently at The Slippery Slope. Lots of things have come up, such as Ascension Day and the Opera, and this week we all met on Sunday to celebrate a birthday. John Strype turned fifty. Keith closed the pub so that he could sit down and join in. John and his wife Gal were there. (Gal hates her name, by the way. In a clear sign of insanity, and for no apparent reason, her parents called her Galathea. One day she read Tolkien's Farmer Giles of Ham; early on in that story a cow named Galathea is troden on and squashed by a giant. This was bad enough, but when she learned that Galathea means Goddess of Milk she was furious. I’ve never had the nerve to ask Gal if she has a middle name, and even less nerve to ask why she never changed it.) Their son Brad was there too, nervously fiddling with his cellpone in case he was needed at Remains to be Seen, the family funeral parlour. There was Canon Hawker, a little exhausted from the Pentecost mass, Tom from the bookstore, Susan from Vanity of Vanities. Mike and David were going to join in when the dinner was cooked and served. Even Mark from Simpson’s Hardware came. (He seems to have finally heard Hawker’s gossip story[1] and started watching what he said.)
It was a grey and somewhat chilly day; the great windows overlooking the river were closed, and the fire blazed. The atmosphere was warm and convivial. David brought in a rich cream of mushroom soup, sat down beside Mike; after the Canon said grace we all began to eat. The soup was followed by a chicken casserole with carrots, parsnips and turnips, boiled potatoes, and green peas with butter and a touch of lemon. For desert there was, of course cake. After a rousing chorus of Happy Birthday we all sat back to enjoy a glass of port, and Keith said, “I ran across a story that you might like. I found it in Dante, and then tracked some other versions on Google. I suppose you all know it, but you might like to hear it again.
Tom said, “For my part I don't mind hearing a story again. And I suppose that if you were tracking down versions of the story, you’ve gone some way to making it your own.”
“Right,” said Keith. “and anyway, that’s what you all seem to do. Well then, if you’re all sitting comfortably, then I’ll begin.”

The Justice of the Emperor Trajan and the Pity of Pope Gregory
One day the emperor Trajan was leading the armies of Rome to march against the Dacians up in the Balkans; the eagles were held proudly aloft and banners waved; crowds pressed around to cheer the troops as they marched off. Sudenly a woman crying out “Grant me justice, lord!” threw herself on her knees in the road before the emperor’s horse. Trajan had to stop.
She cried again, “Grant me justice, lord; my son has been slain! I am a poor widow and can get no justice on his murderers ”
Trajan said to her, “I cannot stop now. Wait until I return, and I will give you the justice you seek.”
“And, lord, if you do not return,” returned the widow, “who will do me justice?”
“My successor will do you justice”, replied Trajan, who thought that went without saying.
The woman retorted, “Will Trajan leave to another the duty he is appointed to perform?”
Hearing this the emperor of Rome dismounted, left all his troops to cool their heals, and settled the widow’s case before he resumed the march. (One version of this story has it that he gave her his own son in place of the one she had lost and bestowed on her a rich dowry!)
Now the story doesn’t end there. A legend of Pope St Gregory the Great tells that as he was passing through the Forum one day, he saw a bas-relief carving of Trajan on horseback with a woman sadly kneeling before him.
[2] On seeing this he thought of the justice and good deed of
Trajan, and in particular his mercy towards the poor widow, which seemed to him more Christian than pagan. Sorrowing at the thought that such an excellent pagan should be damned, he began to pray and weep, until at last a voice came from heaven declaring that his prayer was answered, and Trajan freed from the pains of hell, but that he should never make such a prayer again.

Keith added, "Not everyone has been comfortable with this story. Dante has no difficulty placing Trajan in Purgatory,[3] but a later moralist insisted that, since Baptism is necessary for salvation, Trajan was brought back from Hell to life and baptized, whereupon he died again and went to Purgatory."
Canon Hawker said, "By the time this legend was retold in The Golden Legend, it was added that an angel told Gregory that because he had prayed for a pagan, he had a choice of punishment: either the pains of purgatory for two days, or sickness for the rest of his life. He chose the sickness."
We all agreed that the story was familiar, but that Keith had told it well. I said, “It sounds familiar, but I remember the widow being even bolder”.
Canon Hawker said, “Dio Cassius in the Roman History tells the same story of the Hadrian. He says that

Once, when a woman made a request of Hadrian as he passed by on a journey, he at first said to her, "I haven't time," but afterwards, when she cried out, "Then stop being emperor!" he turned about and granted her a hearing.[4]

“That’s the one I know!" I said. “I think I heard from Timothy Barnes in a class way back when I was an undergrad at Trinity.”
Canon Hawker said thoughtfully, “I wonder if any scholar has commented on the parallels with the Gospel story of the Syro-Phoneician woman who rebukes Jesus for refusing to heal her daughter? Could it be that that was what prompted Pope Gregory’s pity for Trajan?”
"That's if the legend is true,” said Susan, "or maybe the gospel story prompted the pity of whoever first told the story about Pope Gregory. I don't know if anyone's made the connection. Will, maybe sometime when you have time you can look all this up.”
“Perhaps, when I have time,” I said wryly.
After that the conversation turned to other things, and the party went on until it was nice and late and we all felt young and irresponsible, except for Mike and David who, though they are young enough to be irresponsible, pleaded that they had work the next morning and went upstairs.

[1] See Tales from the Slippery Slope: I.
[2] There is a discussion of the relation of this bas-relief to the origin of the legend in the New York Times of 7 December 1879.
[3] Purgatorio X.73-94
[4] lxix.6

Friday, May 9, 2008

Some Notes on the Readings for the Day of Pentecost (For St Matthias')

The figure shows an Eastern Orthodox icon of the Descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles. Kosmos, the allegorical figure at the bottom, symbolizes the world. [From Wikipedia]

The Day of Pentecost is the conclusion of the Easter Festival, when God sent the promised Holy Spirit on the disciples and empowered them to proclaim the risen Christ to all the world. It is in the Spirit that the risen and ascended Christ is with us, and this is why we believe that his Ascension did not take him from us. On this day we cannot forget Christ’s words from the Cross, “Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit” (Lk 23:40) or John ‘s description of his death, that “he bowed his head and gave up his spirit” (Jn 19:30). It is through the power of God's Holy Word and Spirit that Christ unites us to himself in Baptism and feeds us in the Holy Eucharist.
You will often hear Pentecost described as “the birthday of the Church”, since it was on that day that the disciples were empowered and emboldened to go out and proclaim the Gospel. But on reading the Gospel, when we hear that on the evening of the first Easter Day the risen Jesus breathed the Spirit on his disciples and gave them the authority to forgive, we might also want to call Easter the Church's birthday. Perhaps the whole Easter celebration truly marks the birthday of the Church. I will leave that for you to ponder.
In the notes this week I have tried to frame some points as questions that might spark further thought and contemplation.
The First Reading, Acts 2:1-21
After the Ascension of Christ, the disciples returned to Jerusalem as he had commanded to wait there for "the promise of the Father", the baptism with the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:4-5). According to the narrative in Luke and Acts, they waited ten days, during which time “they were continually in the temple blessing God (Luke 24:53). They also chose Matthias to fill up the number of the twelve Apostles.
In today’s reading, a new beginning is announced by the formulaic expression, “When the day of Pentecost had come”, or literally, “was completed”. Pentecost means “fiftieth” in Greek, from which we may understand that on that day the time from Passover to the feast of Weeks that was completed (Leviticus 23:15-21). As Chris Haslam points out over at the Revised Common Lectionary site, it may also be translated as “fulfilled”, for the coming of the Spirit is the fulfilment of a promise. On that day, when the disciples were all together, they experienced a manifestation of the promised Spirit which drove them out to preach boldly. As we see from the Gospel today, this is not the only time when the Spirit was given. Since the Spirit is ever poured out through Christ on God’s people, there is no use in our guessing that one was the “real” gift of the Spirit. There is so much that could be said on this passage that I will offer only some brief notes:
The disciples’ experience cannot adequately be expressed: note that the sound was “like” rushing wind, and it was tongues “as of fire” that rested on them.
The disciples were given a gift of speaking in other tongues (v. 4); later we hear that each of the crowd of Jews from all nations heard them in their own native language. This seems to be different from the gift of tongues S Paul speaks of in 1 Corinthians 14, which was an incoherent form of speech. On this line we may see the gift on the day of Pentecost as God’s proclamation that the curse of Babel has been undone (Genesis 11:1-9) and that the divided peoples of the world are to be gathered into one again in Christ. It This interpretation has been questioned: does not the cynical reaction (“they are drunk!”) rather suggest that the disciples were speaking incoherently? This is not a necessary inference: some in the crowd may just have thought that what the disciples said was raving.
The list of nations is meant to show the universality of the Gospel message. It covers the world (as seen from Jerusalem) from Persia far in the east to Rome far in the west.
The second part of the passage is the opening of St Peter’s speech (the “first Christian sermon”) in which he shows from the prophet Joel that this is the long promised outpouring of the Spirit and the sign of the salvation of the end-times. We have heard from this speech several times in the Easter season.
The alternative first reading, Numbers 11:24-30, tells how Moses chose seventy elders of the people to assist him and the Lord’s spirit was poured upon them. Although two of these elders were apart from the rest, they also received the Spirit and began to prophesy. Joshua asked Moses to stop them, but Moses replied with what is a fine prayer for Pentecost, “Would that all the Lord's people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit on them!"
Psalm 104:24-34, 35b
This Psalm is a hymn of praise to the Creator of the world. Here we see the Spirit as active in the world, creating and renewing. We are reminded that it was in the brooding of the Spirit that God created all things by his Word. On Pentecost, as we celebrate the presence of the Holy Spirit in the Church, new meaning is given to the verse, “You send forth your Spirit and they are created; * and so you renew the face of the earth.” Called into Christ’s body and ourselves renewed by the Spirit, our concern for the renewal of the earth takes on new importance. We might ask ourselves today what our role is as Christians, as people of Gd’s Spirit, in the care of God’s earth?
The Epistle, 1 Corinthians 12.3b-13.
Although Saint Paul does not mention the gift of tongues in this passage, it appears to be apt of the difficulty he is addressing in the Corinthian Church. Apparently, a group in that church so valued the gift of tongues (glossolalia) that they despised other members. Without denying the vaue of this gift of the Spirit, Paul reminded the Corinthians (and us) that no gifts of trhe Spirit are given except to build up the body, and that all the varied gifts are valuable. The Spirit is in fact more lively and varied in gifts than we can begin to imagine. This verse calls us today to discern the ministries of all and respect them. Even more, perhaps, it calls each one of us to discern what gifts we have been given for building up the body. Not all ministries are the obvious ones, some are the new oppportunities for kindness and love that arise day by day.
You might be interested in remarks made by C. S. Lewis on the phenomenon of glossolalia and the gift of Pentecost in his sermon "Transposition," which may be found in the collections They Asked for a Paper and Screwtape Proposes a Toast and other Pieces.
The Holy Gospel, John 20.19-23.
This is the account of the evening of the first appearance of the risen Lord to his disciples. which was read on Easter Day. After his appearance to Mary Magdalene who told the disciples that she had seen the Lord” (v. 18), Jesus Appears to his disciples in his resurrection body: he bears the marks of his crucifixion, yet can pass through doors; he is truly alive. Recalling his words at the Last Supper “Peace I leave with you” (14:27), he greets them with “Peace!” Then he declares that as the Father sent him, even so he sends them. The Father sent him to reconcile the world to himself. So he joins them to himself in the authority to forgive sins.
In the Anglican tradition this gift of the Spirit and the power of forgiveness has often been seen as the founding of the priestly ministry of the Church. In this view the function of all the sacraments is founded in the ministry of reconciliation and forgiveness.
Note that Jesus “breathed on” the disciples when he gave the Spirit. In Genesis we read that God breathed into the nostrils of Adam the breath of life and he became a living being (Genesis 2.7). In Jesus’ action we see the renewal of human nature that comes from the risen life and is available to all. This might suggest a link we might not have expected with the verse we noted in today's Psalm. It also reminds us that the Spirit has always been at work in the world and in human beings. How do we understand the relation of this wider work and the particular gifts within the Body of Christ?

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Jonathan Takes Me to the Casino

I am fond of all my nieces and nephews, and they apparently like me. Recently I have been able to spend more time with my nephew Jonathan who lives in the same Toronto neighbourhood as I, in Parkdale. Jonathan was always a nice child (you should hear his Grandmother talk about him), and has grown into a very pleasant young man, making a career in television and film, both camera work and special effects makeup. He has an great talent for the desiderata of horror films. If you want to be made up for Hallowe’en, he’s the man to call.
It’s great when Jonathan can give me a ride from Toronto to Ottawa, as he did at Christmas and for my mother’s birthday. The journey is far more pleasant than it would be by bus or even by train, and Jonathan appears to prefer my company to driving alone. From these trips I have learned how to find tunes on an iPod, and learned more about the band Pearl Jam than I had ever wanted to know.
On the way back after Christmas, we stopped at the Casino at Gananoque. This was new for me, but it seems that Jonathan likes to stop and play a game of “How Quickly Can You Lose Ten Dollars?” and then get back on the road. I won’t ask whether a nephew should lead his naïve uncle astray like this. The game seems harmless enough, and I can think of worse ways to spend ten dollars. (As it turned out I won twenty-odd dollars, and had to stop playing. This might be a game where you lose by winning, but I didn’t ask about the finer details.)
A game like that meant the visit to the Casino was barely long enough to notice. It is a bright, colourful and noisy place; the staff were nice and helpful: by all rights it should have been lively and cheerful. It wasn’t. The huge room was full of machines and solitary people who would have seemed morose had they not lacked something of the necessary enthusiasm. In short, it was one of the more depressing places I have ever been. I hasten to repeat that this was a quick visit. I only saw the Hall of Slot Machines: if there was some other room with more interesting games; I didn’t see it.
There are many things I am tempted to say about the morality of gambling, but the issue is too complicated to get into now. Gambling is one of those things about which it is difficult to make absolute moral statements. To the best of my knowledge it is never clearly condemned in Scripture. Indeed it is hard to condemn Jonathan’s game at the casino or the party of friends who go for a dinner at the racetrack and play with a set amount ($20, say) just for entertainment, without a care for winning or losing. On the other hand, gambling can be a snare, and its promises of wealth are too often a deceit. It may be that all the people I saw at the Casino were playing “How Quickly Can You Lose Ten Dollars,” but somehow I doubt it. The atmosphere I took to be morose was rather hope struggling against reason, the hope of winning this time, even against all the odds.
The worst thing about the hall of slot machines is how tedious it seemed. Horseracing can be interesting or exciting whether one bets or not: there is not much interest in watching the slot machines, and less in scratching a lottery ticket. It is rather like strong drink. One can taste a glass of wine, take pleasure in its colour and taste, and consider the talent that went into making it, but stop there, without going on to quaff huge amounts and get drunk. Or, one can meet with friends and over a pint or two of ale enjoy their company and conversation. It is very hard think of a Casino as a convivial or friendly spot.
Sure, if I’m driving with Jonathan again and he wants to stop for a quick spin at the Casino, I'll go in, but it will be to play a silly game with my nephew, not to enter the serious world of hoping that I'll win and solve all my troubles. Having won some money once I will be expecting to lose it all quickly this time, and probably win the game.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Homily for the May Festival of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Note: After Mass today, a parishoner expressed the desire to read the homily over again.
A Homily for the May Festival of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Preached before Members of the Society of Mary
St Matthias’, Bellwoods, Toronto
Saturday, 3 May, 2008

Once again, we welcome members of the Society of Mary and our own parishioners who have come together to make this month of May a festival in honour of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of Jesus Christ, our Lord and our God. In praising her we fulfil her own inspired words, Behold, from henceforth, all generations shall call me blessed, but the gospel for today perhaps shows us a deeper reason for our praise and devotion, for in that most sensitive and moving scene of all the Passion narratives the dying Lord hands his mother over to the care of his beloved disciple, and gives that disciple into her care. We who are his disciples in our own day find here our ground and warrant for thinking of her as Mother of Christians and Mother of the Church. Now let us pause to listen to a little more of her inspired song:

For behold, from henceforth, all generations will call me blessed;
For he that is mighty hath magnified me, and Holy is his Name.
AT the very moment that the Lady Mary declares that she will be called blessed, she points away from herself to the God who has blessed her. Here we see the faith and the humility that make her a model for us as disciples of Christ. Here is also a fact that is often missed in the rejection or even ridicule that is offered to devotion to our Lady, and is even missed by those who so desire to call her blessed their honour becomes extravagant. But as to that, I am content to say with John Pearson, that great Anglican bishop and theologian of the seventeenth century: "We cannot bear too reverend a regard unto the Mother of our Lord, so long as we give her not that worship which is due unto the Lord Himself." The vital fact we must not miss is that every doctrine that is taught about the Blessed Virgin Mary are doctrines about the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. As she points not to herself but to her Son, our doctrines point to the saving work of God in Christ.
Now there are many points in proclaiming the doctrine of Christ where we must speak of his Mother; more than we have time for at this Mass. But let us consider only the most central doctrine of her Virginity, that Mary conceived by a miraculous act of God. We might —and ultimately do — believe this because it is revealed in Scripture, but we may not stop there: God requires us to love him not only with our hearts but with all our minds, and it is a sin to park your brain at the Church door. We must ask of any doctrine whether it is fitting and reasonable. Now all the reasons theologians give why the doctrine of the Virgin Birth is reasonable tie it to the whole of the Gospel. For example, of all the reasons Aquinas for believing that Mary was a virgin in conceiving the first is the rather simple point that “since Christ is the true and natural Son of God, it was not fitting that He should have another father than God: lest the dignity belonging to God be transferred to another.” Now what this means is that we believe first that Christ is the Son of God and second that he was conceived and born of a Virgin. The order of understanding may be put like this. We know Christ is the Son of God because he was raised from the dead. It should be an obvious fact that, had he not been raised, no one would have been interested in finding out about his birth. Thus we believe in the Virgin Birth because we believe in the Resurrection.
A little later Aquinas argues that we believe in the Virgin Birth because of the purpose of the Incarnation, which was
that human beings might be born again as sons of God, "not of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God" (Jn. 1:13), that is. of the power of God. Christ’s very conception was to appear as an exemplar of this fact. Whence Augustine says (De Sanct. Virg.): "It behoved that our Head, by a notable miracle, should be born, after the flesh, of a virgin, that He might thereby signify that His members would be born, after the Spirit, of a virgin Church."
Now that is a paragraph I could spend all day pondering. So I will conclude that the importance of believing in Mary’s Virginity is that it is part of God’s promise to us of a new birth. As the Word Incarnate, the new Adam, Christ links the old humanity with a new creation, wherefore it was fitting that it come about in this way, that he be born of a Virgin Mother.
Time will not permit me to go on to discuss in any detail the title Mother of God, something that makes some Christians nervous because they think it means she is the Mother of the Godhead or herself divine. If it meant that it would be a horrid error, and I can imagine Mary herself scolding as any good mother can scold if we were to proclaim such nonsense! For the Church declares her to be Θεοτόκος, Bearer of God, Mother of God, to vindicate the doctrine that the child of Mary is no other Person than God the Word. The doctrine was defined to avoid the error that there were two persons in Christ, and that Mary is mother only of the man, so that at most she can be called Χριστοτόκος, the "Christ-bearer". The complete Gospel faith is that the Son of God took on all of human life for our salvation. Thus this word Θεοτόκος is necessary to preserve the essential and fundamental teaching of the Gospel.
We truly honour the Lady Mary – and if an Archangel of God said to her “Hail, O favoured one, the Lord is with you” we can do no less — but in every thing we imitate her in pointing to her Son. Remember how she spoke of him at the wedding of Cana, when she said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” In the same way all our honour of, and all our doctrines about, Mary point to her Son, our Risen and Glorified Lord and Saviour,
To whom with the Father and the Holy Spirit, One God, we give glory and praise now and forever, joining our voices with the Glorious and Ever-Blessed Virgin Mary, Θεοτόκος, the Mother of God. Amen.

Friday, May 2, 2008

A Note on the Seventh Sunday of Easter

This week was even more scattered than last week, so that once again I have not had time to prepare complete notes on the readings. Nonetheless, there is one observation on this Sunday's reading from the first chapter of Acts
The first reading links the Ascension and the Day of Pentecost by concluding with the return of the apostles from the mountain to Jerusalem to wait for the promised Holy Spirit.
The Ascension is often spoken of as if Jesus went up into the sky like a balloon higher and higher until he faded from the sight of his disciples, or even derisively as if he he was a spaceman. But the account in Acts does not warrant this. We are told that Jesus “was lifted up and a cloud took him from their sight.” Indeed there is no reason to suppose a gradual ascent and disappearance. The cloud that took Jesus is the same cloud that came down on the mountain of the Transfiguration. All through the Bible the cloud is the sign of God's presence. Jesus has gone to heaven, not into the sky. (Briefly, this is why it is a mistake to think of Jesus as having "gone away".)
In this context, we might note the emphasis in the passage on seeing, which is also found in the proper prefaces for the Ascension in the Book of Common Prayer and the BAS, whic state that: Christ “after his most glorious Resurrection manifestly appeared to all his Apostles, and in their sight ascended up into heaven.” In the description of Christ’s ascension in Acts, five words of seeing are used: “As they were watching … a cloud took him out of their sight.” “While …. they were gazing up toward heaven …” "Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? …. This Jesus … will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven."
The fact that Ascension is a highly symbolic act this does not mean it was invented by the evangelist. As has been pointed out very often, if the author of Acts was clever enough to use the symbolism, then surely Christ was clever enough to act it out.
This was rather hasty, and I hope to have a more relaxed set of notes next week.