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For if that which was done away was glorious, much more that which remaineth is glorious.

Tuesday, 13 November 2018

Per quem haec omnia

Per quem hæc omnia, Domine, semper bona creas, santificas, vivificas, benedicis, et præstas nobis.

Through whom, O Lord, thou dost alway create all these good things, dost sanctify, quicken, bless, and bestow them upon us.

This prayer comes just before the concluding doxology in the Roman Canon. Jungmann and a few other scholars I have read seem agreed that it originally followed on a blessing of some kind - possibly produce on various feasts or seasons of the year - that once concluded the Eucharistic prayer. The idea was to bring the gifts offered for blessing into proximity to the gifts offered for the holy sacrifice. The "good things" that the Lord creates, makes holy etc. include both the offered bread and wine and the additional things brought for blessing.

What has puzzled me on hearing the words for the last five years every Sunday is their order. Why does bless come after sanctify, for example? And why does vivify come in between those two? Is there a reason for the sequence? On casting around to find a rationale, it might help to think of the context of (1) creation and (2) eucharistia or thanksgiving. We (1) take the things of creation, (2) offer them with thanksgiving, and then God raises them to another level.

Take (1) creation first of all. In the original account God creates: "In the beginning God created"; then makes living things (days 3, 5 & 6); with blessings of fecundity following on day 5 (the blessing of fish and birds) and day 6 (the blessing of mankind, male and female); and then bestows plants for food. The obvious creation order is therefore creas, vivificas, benedicis, præstas nobis. The sanctifying is done last, on day 7, the Sabbath, which God both blesses and sanctifies. The idea is that in the Sabbath rest (a rest from the work of creation) God is making holy the day of completion and enjoyment and therefore making holy the completed and perfectly ordered cosmos. The sanctifying comes at the end, after the bestowal and blessing and all the rest: whereas in the Roman Canon it is the second term.

However the context (2) of the Eucharist is different. Here the world is being re-made, re-created. The divine Image is being impressed on creation in a new and higher way.

First, creas. The new creation is begun on the eve of the Sabbath, with the pouring of the water and blood from Christ's side. We enter this moment of Christ's death in baptism, washing away our sin and dying, unmaking the old corrupted creation. Bread and wine - made from grinding down and crushing up the stuff of the old creation - are also an image of this moment, the bread being Christ's dead body and the wine the blood that has poured from his side.

Then (sanctificas) the Sabbath is the day when we have entered into the mystery of the death of Christ, beneath the waters of baptism, when the Spirit is hovering over the darkness of inchoate existence, ready to give it new life. In the Eucharist one can draw an analogy with the Spirit fluttering above the offerings that have been set apart as holy things, ready to impregnate them with the life of God.

Vivificas: in the original creation order the Word generates light, the land emerges from the sea, and life germinates and breeds upon it. This life is of two kinds: plants bearing seeds (from which we make bread) and trees bearing fruit (from which we make wine). In the new creation, the resurrection of Christ generates the divine light of faith, and with him the Church emerges from the grave and the waters of baptism, just as the dry land rises out of the sea. The bread and wine, the seed-bearing and fruit-bearing substance of the old creation, are now re-made in Christ, and given new life as the Bread of Life and Cup of Everlasting Salvation.

The blessing (benedicas) of the fish, birds, and then Man in the creation week is a benediction to be fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth. In the setting of the new creation the fish that multiply to fill the sea are the people of God who increase in faith, and in number, filling the nations. But there is an additional blessing given to Man who is also to exercised dominion over all creation. In the blessing of the new creation, Christ the last Adam weds his Bride, the Church; and so in the Eucharist the mystery of the making one flesh of Christ and his Bride is accomplished. The Church gives birth to many sons and daughters, and with her Lord produces the fruit of goodness, and rules the healthy but bestial parts of human nature. The blessing is ultimately a nuptial blessing, a blessing of the Supper of the Lamb and the Bride, and issues in God's committal of all things in heaven and earth to Christ's rule, and the nations to the rule of Christ's people.

Præstas nobis: the bestowal of the seed and fruit bearing plants upon mankind for food in the original creation is taken up to a new height of grace in the new creation, in which the divine life is given to us as bread and wine. This is a giving not just of life and nourishment, but is the pouring into us of the very life of God, in which we become partakers of the divine nature and everything else besides. He who delivered up for us his own Son, "how shall he not with Him also give us all things?"

The reason for this prayer's inverting of the original creation order (of God's first blessing and then sanctifying the whole at the Sabbath completion of his work) is because the Eucharist is a feast of the new creation: the order of re-making and restoration is necessarily different than that of creation. In the new creation God first makes his Son holy, and then through him restores and blesses and pours out gifts on the whole. In authoring the new creation the divine irony reaches a glorious height: God sets the new creation in motion by dying, by taking into himself the old and dragging it into death; he continues by sanctifying not the whole creation but its corpse; he then animates this with his own divine life, presents it as a King in marriage to the fallen world, and through that nuptial rite bestows his own life to the new world.

Thursday, 18 October 2018

The Abomination of Desolation

The case for the so-called "preterist" view of New Testament prophecy - the apocalyptic passages of the Gospels, a smattering of references to figures such as the "man of sin" in Paul, and the Revelation of St John - seems very plausible to me. The fall of Jerusalem was epoch-ending, startlingly violent, and ushered in a new heaven and earth: the Age of the Church and reign of Christ. If the fall of Jerusalem and the Temple's destruction is the coming Event for the early Church before A.D. 70, this gives a new angle on the apparent importance of the figure of James, the "brother of the Lord".  He is the one chosen to play a particular role in Jerusalem (by a specific post-resurrection appearance of Christ), possibly even as the righteous one who will be "taken out of the way". His murder at the hands of the Temple authorities removes the righteous figure from spiritual Sodom and precipitates the final destruction. This important but time-limited role allotted to James, to herald the coming destruction of Jerusalem, might explain why the Gospels apparently ignore him and concentrate instead on Peter and the twelve Apostles in the Gospel texts. James's prominent role as one of the three "pillars" of the Church with Peter and John was not meant to be a perpetual office or function in the Church.

As with Old Testament prophecy that seems to refer on its face to immediate dynastic concerns of the Kings, but has within it an excess of meaning and reference that only finds it fulfilment in Christ, so also the New Testament prophecies of the fall of Jerusalem carry a dual signification. Their expectation is met in part in the coming of the Age of the Messiah with the fall of the old apostate Temple, but the passages in the Gospels and Revelation are overloaded and burdened with a meaning that cannot be simply placed within the cataclysm of A.D. 70.

As such, I wonder if we should meditate on the significance of the abomination of desolation and the taking away of the sacrifice, and Christ's advice to flee to the hills. The original prophecy of Daniel referred to the desecration of the Temple by Antiochus Epiphanes, aided by the priests who had gone over to his side. The Temple sacrifices did not in fact cease, but were null and void because of the unholy alliance of the apostate priesthood with a religion that was not the religion of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Likewise, the second iteration of Daniel's prophecy, reworked in the Gospels, refers not to the literal cessation of a daily sacrifice, but to the abomination of continuing void Temple sacrifices, because the final Sacrifice of the Cross had come. On both occasions - in Daniel and in the Gospels - the advice to flee to the mountains was quite literal.

A pattern is re-emerging in the Church which can be discerned to fit the narrative of these prior prophecies. An apostate priesthood is accommodating the religion of their Antiochus, the Spirit of this Age, and re-framing the worship and teaching of the Church to its liking. Could a corrupted faith and an apostate priesthood invalidate the sacraments, so that for God they are abominable, no longer a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving? And could there come a point at which the faithful should forsake the apostate City and flee to the hills - meaning that they should leave behind the apostate worship in expectation of Christ's appearing?

If this is a possibility, then I hope and pray that when the moment comes that the way will be clear and our duty plain.

Friday, 28 September 2018

The Dreaded Door

Most people have been part of an institution - a school, a place of work, a family - in which there is a fear of a certain person or the consequences of breaking a particular set of rules. The walk down that corridor to the study door is invested with such a sense of dread or importance, that the entire social structure of the institution - its gossip, its unwritten rules and taboos, the unhallowed thrills of petty rule-breaking and the prim complicity of tale-telling - is innervated in all its tissues by this central brain.

One day, one catches a glimpse of a happy soul who does not give a fig for any of it. A person, not from mere self-asserting rebelliousness, but whose nerves are not attuned to the networks of the institution, who acts and behaves as if the motive-force behind everyone else's speech and act and silence isn't important. Someone without fear of that corridor and the study door. This can be shocking, and produce hatred from those whose authority depends on fear, or those who feed off it. But it can also be tremendously liberating, a breaking of a spell, and bring a lightness of soul and spirit to those who lack their bravery. It doesn't necessarily destroy the power of the person in authority, and the way of doing things that has grown up around them, but smashing a bit of the glass can mean a lot for the sanity of those who can now draw breath from the air outside the institution's sealed windows.

I think that Roman Catholics need to start asking themselves very serious questions about the organisational neural networks that govern the behaviour of the clergy and laity. There are a series of unnatural constraining rules, equivalent to the walk down the corridor to the study.

"First among equals" is a bit of a fiction with regards to the Pope. Why should the theological interests and personality traits of any particular Pope be regarded as particularly healthy, or what is needed just at that moment for the Church, reinforced by an encyclical production line? Why should the bishops just resign at a certain age because a previous Pope made up an arbitrary rule that they should? Why (having realised that a Pope can formally teach an awful pile of rubbish without support in tradition e.g. on the death penalty from John Paul II onwards) can Catholics not extend this critique to various doctrines recently proclaimed as necessary to salvation that were previously open to theological debate with Catholicism? Because, I think, part of the fear of the study door down that corridor is not only about doctrinal infallibility. It is enshrined in a whole tone of voice and practical understanding of "obedience" that is abusive. In other words the relationship is governed by an abusive pattern in which the lawgiver and superior is not expected by his subjects to give reasons for his rules, is obeyed implicitly and never defied publicly, and where natural reason (not to mention prior custom) is not allowed a place in deciding what is a sensible rule and what is an imposition. And this feeds into the idea of hierarchical obedience that governs relations throughout the whole organisation.

"Obedience to the bishop" can mean supinely and silently accepting the dictates of the person above you as the will of Christ even when you know that they are acting from malice or stupidity and are out to humiliate you or control your life in an inhumanly invasive way.

It is this kind of atmosphere that was a necessary condition for the scandals that have beset Catholicism - I don't say it is the only cause, but rather a necessary part of the background atmosphere - and have come to such belated prominence. What one can see being played out at present is how the Vatican's position as a state, its rules of diplomatic silence, and so on, are reinforcing and perpetuating this atmosphere of abusive authority at the top of Catholicism.

It won't be enough to address the abuse crisis by tackling the sins of McCarrick and his ilk. It won't be enough to force an early resignation from the Pope. It won't be enough for entire compromised regions to have mass episcopal resignations and to have uncompromised replacements put into office. It won't be enough to have a bunch of bishops who don't stand on ceremony and are good pastors. Part of the immunity of the papal office lies in the social and political norms that govern its exercise, and that lend a particular colour to the dogmatic pronouncements about infallibility and being supreme governor and all the rest.

(1) As long as the Pope lies outside any worldly jurisdiction as ruler of an independent Vatican state, the paradigm of the papacy - and its radical difference from "mere" episcopacy, of which it is supposed to be the full exercise and nothing more - will not change very much in the imagination of the faithful and clergy, and therefore nothing much will change in their mutual relationship. For our relations are defined by mutual perception and the constraint that this imaginal web gives to praxis. An untouchable Pope who stands apart from any law will continue to be seen as beyond and above challenge.

(2) As long as the legacy of papal pronouncements from 1854-1950 goes without a proper deconstruction by a broad Catholic consensus, and is put firmly in its place as in part an excess and in part a plain contradiction of apostolic Christian tradition, nothing much will change in the beliefs of the faithful and clergy about what the papal office is and can do. It will always seem as something that stands in judgement over and above Scripture and apostolic tradition, and is therefore above critique in a way that even Holy Scripture is not.

And so the potential and conditions for an abusive relation will continue as a pattern for the whole Catholic communion to follow, to manifest itself in some other time and place in some other way. All that one can ask in this situation is the courage to state clearly what one believes even if one can change nothing: to be able to walk down the corridor and through the door without hesitation and without fear, and to say without rancour to the person behind the desk: my parents will be coming to pick me up some day, and I'll be leaving behind all of these silly rules. In my real home we have a different life, and that's who I am: "for here we have no continuing city, but seek one to come".

Sunday, 23 September 2018

What a Load of Bollocks

Tendentious, hypocritical, deceitful, uncharitable, prideful.

Read this article The Catacomb Option of Rod Dreher on Rorate Caeli.

Tendentious, because the author is not engaging with Dreher's thought, just moving to a foregone conclusion, that Dreher must have nothing good to say because he is wicked apostate cut off from the source of grace. (Dreher was Catholic and became Orthodox in 2006.)

Hypocritical, because I believe that Rorate Caeli supports and is sympathetic to the Society of St Pius X, who (like the Orthodox) are technically "schismatic", i.e. are outside the canonical jurisdiction of the bishop of Rome.

Deceitful, because the article insinuates without any justification that Dreher suggests abandoning a public defence of the faith out of moral cowardice: that his idea of forming strong communities of faith and prayer for mutual support is borne from a desire to shun public combat for Christian truth.

Deficient in charity, in that it states that in becoming Orthodox, Dreher "lost the faith", and has no hope of "authentic supernatural grace". (Does the author think that the Orthodox don't have faith? Don't have sacraments? Are we to be offered the author's opinion on the praxis of shared provision of the sacraments to the faithful between Orthodox and Roman clergy in the Near East until at least the seventeenth century?)

Prideful, because it says that no Catholic has anything to learn from what Dreher has written.

Wednesday, 12 September 2018

Myths About Little Gidding

Apropos a book I have just read about Nicholas Ferrar who retired from Court, high politics and business with his wider family to set up a household for prayer in an out-of-the-way farm, here are some myths about Little Gidding that need to be dismissed. (And perhaps there is a note of warning in what follows for those of us who are thinking of a similar kind of structure to live out the so-called Benedict Option.)

(1) It was a rich family buying a nice farm where they could afford to live with servants and carry on hobbies and pray together.

They were financially straightened. Only one of Nicholas's letters goes into financial detail, an exasperated response to his wastrel younger brother who lived in London. His brother was asking yet again for more money, with protestations of deep repentance for having wasted the last installment. Nicholas tells him that his mother's legacy of £180 per annum is already providing him with £40 per year, that they are hundreds of pounds in debt, and face ruin without some unexpected providence. He also details that they have only two or three servants left (the household was probably around 30 people), have cut back drastically on daily food - his nieces Mary and Anna are weighing theirs out - and that his mother can just about afford the clothes on her back. It seems to me like the letter of a man trying hard to keep his temper, who says: right, you are asking for money, let me tell you just how much we are living on here in our opulence.

(2) Nicholas retired to Little Gidding because of the collapse of the Virginia Company through the loss of James I's favour, and his elder brother's financial ruin, which left his worldly and political hopes bereft.

He received offers of a powerful Privy Council post after the Virginia Company had its charter withdrawn, as well as an offer of at least one other diplomatic post, and when his friends found out that he had received deacon's orders and was retiring to Gidding they thought they would help him out by offering him lucrative livings if he would take priest's orders. He refused all offers. There is every reason to suppose from his letters that he had conceived the plan to retire to a life of prayer years before, and the fall of the Virginia Company was the signal that he had been waiting for to leave his London life.

(3) Life there was peace and harmony, secluded and cloistered.

Three things that I read dispel this idea. (i) They were scarcely a day without a caller, because the house - although in a remote village in Huntingdonshire - was only three miles' distance from the great North Road from London to Edinburgh. Many of these callers were strangers, turned up unannounced, and included a large number of the idle curious. (ii) Nicholas's sister-in-law Bathsheba (wife of his elder brother John) was not at all happy at Little Gidding, and perhaps deserves some sympathy although she certainly managed to make John's life a misery for much of the time, and cause considerable upset. (iii) Once the little school was up and running, some nobility would send their sons there for tutoring, and there are hints in Nicholas's letters that some of these youngsters needed a firm hand and had perhaps been sent because the kindly discipline and ordered round of life at Little Gidding was felt to be what they needed to give them some self-control and moral fibre.

Wednesday, 5 September 2018

Jesus Breaks His Silence, or If The Cap Fits, Wear It

Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness. Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.

Fear them not therefore: for there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; and hid, that shall not be known.

Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword... A man's foes shall be they of his own household.

Sunday, 5 August 2018

For Loyal Irishmen

An interesting genealogy of the Royal Family from John O'Hart's Irish Pedigrees (1892). A nice touch that it takes us right back to Adam, who was (as it sayth in St Luke his Gospell) the son of God.

Historically, I think there is a fairly good claim that the most ancient lineal descent of our Royal Family runs back through the patriarchal head of the Scottish royal house, Kenneth MacAlpin, to Fergus Mor MacEarca (see no. 90 on the list) who may have been a contemporary of St Patrick, and it is anyone's guess as to where the list prior to Fergus passes over from history into myth.

My own conviction is that Conn of the Hundred Battles (born in the fifth generation after Christ, c.200), has too cool a title to be written out of history; and it is cooler still that when a debauched man called Nero was president of the EU and the legions were building their horrid motorways all over the green English countryside, Ireland was ruled by a man called Fiacha of the White Oxen.