Gregory the Great, Bishop of Rome, 604 | For All the Saints

One of the most important bishops of Rome and most influential writers of the Middle Ages, Gregory the First is one of only two popes (the other being Leo the First), to have been given the epithet “the Great.”

Source: Gregory the Great, Bishop of Rome, 604 | For All the Saints

Indeed! But his greatest significance to Anglicans is his role as “the Apostle to the English,” for his zealous concern for their conversion to Christianity, culminating in his sending of the monk Augustine (who would become known as St. Augustine of Canterbury, the first Archbishop of Canterbury, having received the pallium from Gregory himself) as a missisonary / evangelist, with his companions.

It is said that Pope Gregory was inspired to his concern for the Anglo-Saxon people of England by encountering a group of English children or youth on sale as slaves in the Roman market around the year 573. He is said to have remarked on their beauty as being like that of angels, whereupon he was told that they were in fact Angles – causing him to say, Non Angli, sed angeli: “Not Angles, but angels.”

He originally planned to go to England himself, but when he was instead elected Pope, decided to send Augustine in 597 AD. And the rest is, as they say, history…

One of Gregory’s most notable achievements was the conversion of the Anglo-Saxons. He personally took the lead in the whole process, sending Augustine, prior of his own monastery of Saint Andrew’s on the Caelian Hill, and a number of fellow monks to southeastern Britain, to the Jutish kingdom of Kent, where they achieved within a few years the conversion of the people and of their king, Ethelbert. Gregory continue personally to guide the mission in matters that perplexed Augustine by sending a supporting group of missionaries, along with liturgical vessels, books, and vestments, in 601; and by writing to Ethelbert and his Christian queen, Bertha on various matters. The close relationship between Rome and the English Church was continued by Gregory’s successors, and in many ways the Church in England was closer to the papacy than the Church in Gaul was. The first Life of Gregory was written in England, and from the biographies written by the Venerable Bede, Aldhelm, and the anonymous biographer of Whitby come eulogies of Gregory as “the apostle of the English”, “our father and apostle in Christ”, and “he from who we have received the Christian faith, he who will present the English people to the Lord on the Day of Judgment as their teacher and apostle.”

Indeed, we have St. Gregory the Great to thank for the very existence of the Ecclesia Anglicana (Anglican, or English, Church)!

Prince Harry carries out a reading at the Iraq & Afghanistan Memorial

HRH Prince Harry reads at the Iraq and Afghanistan Memorial service [9 March 2017] which has been held in London’s Horse Guards Parade.

It was attended by many members of the Royal Family yesterday and is a dedication to military and civilian personnel who served over the past 25 years.

His Royal Highness read from the book of Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 at the service which was followed by an unveiling of the memorial in Victoria Embankment Gardens by The Queen and a reception for around 2,000 military and civilian personnel, their families and the charities which support the.

Prince Harry has undertaken two tours of Afghanistan in 2007 and 2012.

Among the many skills and abilities His Royal Highness possesses is being an excellent reader! Not a surprise, of course, but gratifying (as someone who very much enjoys reading Scripture lessons as part of my ecclesiastical duties) to see and hear, nonetheless.

Royal Family honour UK Armed Forces as Queen unveils Iraq and Afghanistan Memorial – Royal Central

The Queen unveiled a memorial in London [on Thursday, 9 March 2017], recognising the Armed Forces contribution in the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts.

Source: Royal Family honour UK Armed Forces as Queen unveils Iraq and Afghanistan Memorial – Royal Central

The stone sculpture, in Victoria Embankment Gardens, features a large, two-sided bronze medallion depicting the memorial’s theme of “duty and service”. Its creator, sculptor Paul Day, said it gave “equal prominence to the civilian and military contributions.” Alongside Forces personnel, the memorial honours those involved in humanitarian efforts in the region and those families and individuals supporting troops back at home.

The 25-year conflict in the Gulf and the Middle East saw over 680 service personnel killed and many more wounded between 1990 and 2015. British troops left Iraq in 2009 and final operations ceased in Afghanistan, five years later, in 2015.

Many of the royals have served in the Armed Forces, have a link to them through patronages or hold honorary ranks. Prince Harry — whose 10-year career with the Army saw him serve twice in Afghanistan — made a reading at the service, from the book of Ecclesiastes 3:1-8. The Prince left the Army in 2015 and has since been an advocate for service personnel and veterans’ welfare.

“Duty and service are important concepts in any civilised society, and we in this country have always valued them highly; the men and women who contributed so much to the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan were the very embodiment of those enduring principles. This memorial is for them.” — Lord Stirrup, Marshal of the Air Force and Chairman of Trustees of the Iraq and Afghanistan memorial

“Because Man is not great” – on the relationship between atheism and socialism

Throne, Altar, Liberty: The Younger Brother

The linked post is a review of The Rage Against God: How Atheism Led Me To Faith by Peter Hitchens, younger brother of Christopher Hitchens, whose paean to atheism god is not great, received a certain amount of attention several years ago. While The Rage Against God is not, as Gerry T. Neal, author of “Throne, Altar, Liberty,” points out, “a comprehensive rebuttal of the atheistic arguments his brother Christopher compiled,” a number of interesting and cogent points are found in Mr. Neal’s account thereof.

Among them is a discussion of the relationship between World War Two and the functional end of of both Empire and Christianity as applied to Britain: “The War marked the end of Britain’s being a Christian nation in anything other than name. It also marked the end of the British Empire with the United Kingdom being eclipsed as the world power by its wartime allies, the United States and the Soviet Union.”

The two are not unrelated; both represent a crisis of faith: on the one hand, faith in a transcendent sacred reality, usually referred to as God; on the other, faith in traditional social and political structures and norms, as represented by the British Empire, which had existed for several centuries at the time of WW II (and arguably, intermittently at least, for a thousand years or more previously).

As the younger Hitchens points out, “I had replaced Christianity and the Churchill cult with an elaborate socialist worldview — because I had decided that I did not wish to believe in God or in patriotism.”

And socialism, of course, is a utopian political and economic worldview and ideology which believes that we can bring about a return to Eden on our own, if only we can enact (and bring people to accept, by persuasion or, if necessary, compulsion) enough programs of social engineering. It is therefore by its very nature predisposed to be amenable to, and compatible with, atheism, although it does exist in at least nominally Christian forms.

[I shall be speaking, here, of socialism primarily in its social / cultural form, as described above — which in its more extreme manifestations is sometimes referred to as “cultural Marxism.” Critiques may be made of both socialism and capitalism as economic systems, but that is not the topic of this essay.]

Rather than accepting (in How the Irish Saved Civilization author Thomas Cahill’s idiom) that “St. Paul trumps Plato” — a clear-eyed realization that Paul’s admission that “I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do” (Romans 7:19) is far closer to the experience of most humans, most of the time, than Plato’s assumption that one who comprehends “the Good” cannot help but pursue it — socialists and atheists alike continue to believe that we can “boot-strap” ourselves into a secular analog of salvation.

Ironically, then, while secularists — both socialists and atheists — pat themselves on the back for their “rationalism” and “realism,” it can be argued that Christianity actually has a much more realistic and rational view of human nature. But despite, or perhaps because of, its more modest expectations, it has nonetheless inspired its adherents to accomplish some pretty amazing things, intellectually, artistically, and socially. It has also, of course, fallen prey to the vicissitudes of human nature.

Atheists continually try to downplay the countless ways Western civilization has benefited from Christianity and to condense Church history into the Crusades, Inquisition, and priestly child abuse. As Hitchens points out however, violence and persecution that has been conducted in the name of faith is “not because they are religious, but because Man is not great.”

That is to say, violence and persecution in the name of religion occur not because of the Christian faith, but despite it. Religion may be the justification or rationalization used, but it is not the cause. Human nature is the cause. This does not deny that Christianity has sometimes been used to justify oppression, but it places the blame where it belongs: on the human element, not the doctrine. (Of course, some religions have doctrines that encourage violence in a way that Christianity does not. The fact that the human religious impulse itself comes from God and tends toward God does not mean that all religions are morally equivalent, or theologically interchangeable. Discernment is vital.)

Similarly, in the words of Hitchens, atheists ought to

concede that Godless regimes and movements have given birth to terrible persecutions and massacres. They do not [make this concession], in my view, because in these cases the slaughter is not the result of a misunderstanding or excessive zeal. Utopia can only ever be approached across a sea of blood. This is a far greater problem for the atheist than it is for the Christian, because the atheist uses this argument to try to demonstrate that religion specifically makes things worse than they otherwise would be. On the contrary, it demonstrates that our ability to be savage to our own kind cannot be wholly prevented by religion. More important still, Atheist states have a consistent tendency to commit mass murders in the name of the greater good. [emphasis added]

Similarly, if (hopefully) less drastically, socialist states have a consistent and easily-observable tendency to enact ever-more-stringent social controls in the name of “equality” and “protecting the rights of the individual,” until you have what amounts to a “soft” totalitarianism of oppressive laws that drastically limit individual freedom in the service of ostensibly protecting individual rights.

In other words, the right of individuals to freely express themselves is constrained, sometimes dramatically, in pursuit of the right of other individuals to not be “put out”… which is another way of saying, to freely express themselves.

So who decides whose rights to express themselves are more important? Why, whoever is in power at the time! Is this morality, or is it the law of the jungle? As Mr. Neal accurately notes, “Atheists such as Greg Epstein insist that man can be ‘good without God.’ Hitchens shows that apart from an external source of justice, morality among humans ultimately breaks down into ‘might makes right’.”

Or as C.S. Lewis famously put it,

“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep; his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”

So while socialism and atheism may not be identical, and may not always and necessarily co-inhabit the same person’s psyche, they are natural allies and frequent fellow-travelers. It is therefore not a surprise that post-WW II Britain – and indeed, much of Europe – has become increasingly both socialist and atheist (a process which actually began with World War One, and only accelerated after the Second World War).

But the combination is a problematic one, to say the least. As discussed previously, it leads inevitably toward the devaluing of faith: not only faith in a transcendent sacred reality, replacing it with a dubious faith in the ultimate perfectibility of human nature (against which both reason and experience counsel strongly), but faith in traditional norms and structures of society: ironically, despite the name, socialism tends to result in a radically individualistic social milieu, compared to more traditional societies.

The result is a too-frequent and perhaps inevitable breakdown of the moral and practical constraints which these traditional elements place upon the more violent and hubristic elements of human nature. As noted above, apart from an external source of justice, morality among humans ultimately breaks down into “might makes right” — an unreliable source of moral rectitude, to put it mildly!

QOTD from “Throne, Altar, Liberty,” with commentary

“We live in an age of idolatry, in which false gods have been substituted for the true God, and counterfeit goods for true goods. Our age has substituted human rights for natural law, equality for justice, and democracy for constitutional government, and we are the worse for each of these substitutions.”

Only one of several gems among this collection of “brief thoughts on assorted matters” from the author of “Throne, Altar, Liberty,” a self-described “Protestant Christian, patriotic Canadian, and a reactionary High Tory.”

red ensign

Here’s another:

“Political correctness has so rotted the minds of our politicians that Parliament is seriously considering condemning as an irrational fear and prejudice the concerns of those who consider it imprudent to admit large numbers of immigrants or asylum-seekers who adhere to the religion that converted the Arabic peoples at sword point during the life of its founder, conquered the rest of the Middle East within twenty-five years of his death, was invading Christian Europe from both sides by the end of its first century, and has behaved in the exact same way towards Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs and anyone else who had the misfortune to live in proximity to it ever since.”

And one more:

Isn’t it interesting how those who decry the mixing of religion and politics whenever a conservative evangelical, fundamentalist or traditionalist Catholic or Orthodox leader calls for pornography to be restricted, abortion to be banned, and public morality to be restored to what it was sixty years ago or otherwise expresses a right-of-centre view of public policy seem to have no objections to those wolves in shepherds’ clothing who devote all of their pulpit time to preaching the gospel of environmentalism, denouncing the evils of various sorts of prejudice and discrimination, and calling for more immigration and diversity.

And, I would add, seem to have no objection to the importation and accommodation of members of a “religion” — Islam — which is in fact an all-embracing ideology: one which makes explicit its claim to absolute dominance in every sphere of human existence, including not only religion and morality but governance, jurisprudence, military affairs, and even economics.

There is no separation of Church (mosque) and State in Islam, no “render unto Caesar,” no “my Kingdom is not of this world.” Yet anyone who raises questions about this is “racist,” “xenophobic,” “Islamophobic.” Another dangerously ironic example of the inconsistency, hypocrisy, and irrationality of the current “liberal” Left.

But as the author of “Throne, Altar, Liberty” also points out,

“Liberals, socialists, and neoconservatives are all in favour of high levels of immigration and a lackadaisical approach to border security and the enforcement of immigration law. This is because each sees the immigrants as the means to some selfish end of their own. [Liberals — in the U.S., Democrats] see a voting base that will keep them in power perpetually, [socialists] see a pathway to power in potential voters they can lure away from the [liberals] by offering more government benefits, and the neoconservatives see a supply of cheap labour. All three condemn as ‘racist’ those who want lower levels of immigration, stricter enforcement of border security and immigration laws, and an immigration policy that is based upon our own country’s needs and interests and does not seek to radically transform our country.”

It’d almost be funny, if it wasn’t so sad.