Today is celebrated by some Protestant Christians as “Reformation Day,” in memory of the fact that Martin Luther nailed his “95 Theses” to the church door at Wittenberg on 31 October 1517, sparking the Protestant Reformation. But what of that Reformation? While the title of this essay is rather click-bait-y, it raises some excellent points:
“Whether someone sides with Catholic or Protestant theology, the Reformation is not something that ought to be celebrated, but much rather commemorated… I may not be an expert historian, but my learnings have led me to believe that neither Catholics nor Protestants have the higher moral ground in the outcome of such a travesty. I believe all Christians can benefit from refraining from boasting in a movement that was motivated by the thoughts and actions of mere men.”
And which has led to untold death, destruction, division, and polarization in the centuries since. I tend to view the Reformation as a (possibly, on the assumption that Rome was incapable of reforming itself, apart from the resulting revolution – an assumption which is neither provable nor disprovable at this juncture) necessary evil, in light of some very real late-medieval errors and abuses on the part of the Roman Church. That said, the idea that it was a triumph of faith, reason, and theological precision in direct contradistinction to “Popish superstition” and apostasy is a lot harder to defend, if one looks at the matter in more detail.
Particularly onerous to me is the implication – and, at times, outright assertion – on the part of some Protestants that the Holy Spirit had in effect abandoned the Church for a period of a thousand years, from the end of the 5th century to the beginning of the 16th. And of course, the Reformation enshrined the principle of individual interpretation, the dismantling of tradition, and the devaluation of the authority found in the consensus fidelium, which led – via a trajectory clearly traceable from the Reformation through the “Enlightenment” – to the contemporary marginalization of the Church(es) and the Christian faith itself, in our present era.
So, no, I do not “celebrate” the Reformation. I tip my hat to it; I recognize the value in some of its accomplishments, and in what some of its leaders said and did. But I don’t deify it, I don’t idolize it, and I don’t let myself be blinded to its shadow side.
However noble such aims as “human fraternity” and “world peace” may be, they cannot be promoted at the cost of relativizing the truth of the uniqueness of Jesus Christ and of His Church and of undermining the first Commandment of the Decalogue.
While I am not of the Roman Catholic observance, it cannot be denied or ignored that those who are members of that communion comprise half of all Christians in the world, and just a bit under a fifth (16%) of the global population. Therefore what the Roman Catholic Church – and its Supreme Pontiff – says or does has tremendous significance, both among Christians and indeed on a global scale.
Unfortunately, the current Bishop of Rome, speaking with the prestige and moral authority that comes with the See of Peter, has been saying and doing some very concerning things of late: things that have been causing great disquiet to Christians both within and outside Roman Catholicism.
God bless Bishop Athanasius Schneider – Auxiliary Bishop of Astana, Kazakhstan, and one of the leading voices for Catholic orthodoxy in the Roman Church today – and all those who are attempting to obtain clarity on these matters! He comments,
“The problem is of the utmost seriousness, because under the rhetorically beautiful and intellectually seductive phrase ‘Human Fraternity,’ men in the Church today are in fact promoting the neglect of the first Commandment of the Decalogue and the betrayal of the core of the Gospel.
“However noble such aims as ‘human fraternity’ and ‘world peace’ may be, they cannot be promoted at the cost of relativizing the truth of the uniqueness of Jesus Christ and of His Church and of undermining the first Commandment of the Decalogue.
“The Abu Dhabi document on ‘Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together’ and the ‘Higher Committee’ tasked with implementing it are somewhat like a beautifully decorated cake that contains a harmful substance. Sooner or later, almost without noticing it, it will weaken the body’s immune system…
“A peace that is an inner-worldly and purely human reality will fail. For… ‘the peace of Christ is not nourished on the things of earth, but on those of heaven. Nor could it well be otherwise, since it is Jesus Christ Who has revealed to the world the existence of spiritual values and has obtained for them their due appreciation…’
“God created men for heaven. God created all men to know Jesus Christ, to have supernatural life in Him and to achieve eternal life. To lead all men to Jesus Christ and to eternal life is, therefore, the most important mission of the Church.”
All those things that orthodox Catholics desire for themselves and their children, namely, a persevering faith, a willingness to make heroic sacrifice, a sense of belonging within the flow of history, a scriptural mindset and an awareness of judgment, all flow from the sense of wonder at the Person of the God-Man. Prior to any great renewal of the Church, the faithful must be taught to stand adoring and incensing in the interior temple.
— an anonymous Roman Catholic student (link to source here)
As I have commented elsewhere, on other issues, what is here said about (Roman) Catholics can also be said about Anglicans, and indeed about Christians in general. We sometimes – and I am certainly guilty of this myself – confuse the outward manifestations with the inward realities.
Those manifestations are not unimportant: we live in “the real world,” the world of physicality and sensory impressions, the world of human emotions, needs, and relationships. We are not living in some sort of sterile, theoretical, pseudo-gnostic world of spirit and imagination, or the world of Platonic Forms. The desires described above are not for material items, but they are certainly for human needs, and are not to be despised.
But if we focus on them too closely, we can lose sight of their Source and Sustainer: the Incarnate Logos (Word) of God, who became Man – Incarnated – in Jesus of Nazareth, who we call the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One of God, the only-begotten Son of the Father; and thus, One Who is in fact God Himself, the Second Person of the Trinity.
And Him should we indeed stand incensing (“Welcome as incense-smoke let my prayer rise up before thee [O Lord],” Psalm 141:2) and adoring, in the inward Temple of our hearts, our minds, our spirits. By Him alone can we obtain those other things, worthy though they are, that we desire; for through Him alone all things were made, and have their being (John 1:3, Nicene Creed)
Thanks be to God, for the gift of Himself, in the Person of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ!
Jonathan Aigner often has good things to say, and this is no exception. As he accurately notes,
“It’s time to stop mimicking pop culture. It’s time for us to learn how to sing and make music again, instead of allowing others to do it for us. It’s time to rediscover the proper place of music in corporate worship. It’s time to end the Hillsongization, dethrone our jesusy American Idols, and once again foster creative beauty and artistry, especially in our children. It’s time to make worship about the work of the people once again, not just a good show and an hour of vegging out.”
Amen. Follow the link for five excellent reasons why the worship industry is leading Christians down the wrong path, and why boycotting it is not only a good idea, but may be essential for the faith – or at least, for the faith of Christians who have been caught up in it.
It is interesting where one’s wanderings in the Steppes of Cyberia can take one! From following links on Holy Tradition and the priesthood, I found myself struck by a passage which speaks to one of the great issues – and traditional / orthodox Christians would assert, evils – of our time: abortion. This, even though abortion is not mentioned in this context.
In her essay, “What is Holy Tradition?” in her blog, Just Genesis, anthropologist, scholar, and former Episcopal priest (one uses that word with caution, and she herself has rejected it, when applied to women) Alice Lindsey writes (this is long, but please bear with me – it’s important to set the context),
“The whole fabric of Holy Tradition is one with the Pleromic Blood of Jesus Christ. No where is this more evident than in the institution of the priesthood which is essentially the Messiah Priesthood. The Messianic Priesthood is unlike any other religious institution. It at once makes distinctions in its binary character and brings unity through its power to redeem and cleanse. It makes distinction between God and humanity and it makes distinction between male and female. The distinction in both cases addresses the primeval universal anxiety toward blood, an anxiety which many cultural anthropologists have observed.
“Underlying the priesthood is the belief that humans must give an accounting to God, especially for the shedding of blood. The priesthood is intrinsically linked to blood. The priest is the functionary who addresses the guilt and dread that accompany the shedding of blood.
“There are two types of blood anxiety: blood shed by killing and blood related to menstruation and birthing. To archaic peoples both types were regarded as powerful and potentially dangerous, requiring priestly ministry to deal with bloodguilt through animal sacrifice and to deal with blood contamination through purification rites.
“Not a single female in the Bible served in a priestly role. We can argue a case for women deacons, but the deacon is not intrinsically linked to blood. Despite the efforts of many to create an egalitarian reality, we find no basis in Tradition or Scripture upon which to argue for women priests. The Bible does not say that women can be priests because the binary distinctions that frame the biblical worldview make “woman priest” ontologically impossible.
“The Scriptures do not forbid women priests because the very idea of women sacrificing animals in the Temple was beyond imagination. It would have been regarded as an affront to the Divine order.
“It was a bloody business when a priest sacrificed a lamb, so much so that the carcasses were burned outside the walls. It was a bloody business giving birth to children, so much so that the birthing hut was set outside the community. In the ancient… worldview from which Holy Tradition emerges, the two bloods were ordained for different purposes and could never share the same space. C.S. Lewis presents the grotesqueness of women priests in his depiction of the savage slaying of Aslan by the White Witch.If you wonder why the image is so troubling, consider that woman was made to bring forth life, not to take it“ [emphasis added].
“If you wonder why the image is so troubling, consider that woman was made to bring forth life, not to take it.”
That is it in a nutshell, I think. Why is abortion so abhorrent to many of us? Why is it so troubling, even to people who support it, that they have to build defenses around their belief that it’s really okay, after all – defenses like “reproductive rights,” and “my body, my choice” – or conversely, “I had to do it, I had no choice”?
To those outside the pro-abortion movement, those have a hollow, desperate sound: abortion is the antithesis of reproduction; I have already discussed how there is more than just the woman’s body to consider; and there are always choices. They sound like justifications, rationalizations, after the fact – and they are.
Woman was made to bring forth life, not to take it.
This is why abortion is not only wrong, or sad, or “a shame,” but – on a visceral, and even metaphysical, level – abhorrent and evil: because it goes against the very nature and purpose of womanhood as such. Woman alone can conceive a child, bear it in her womb as it develops, and bring it forth to life.
Men cannot do this thing; only women can. Therefore childbirth (and I know individual women have other marvelous abilities, and I also know that some women for a variety of reasons simply cannot have children; but we are talking on an ontological level, here – the level of beingness) is of the essence of woman, in a way it is not and cannot be of men, obviously, or even of humanity as a whole.
Woman was made to bring forth life.
Those women who elect to have an abortion (elective abortions being defined as those that are not medically necessary to save the life of the mother, the latter of which is a very small percentage of all abortions, on the order of 1% or less) – whatever struggles and psycho-emotional agony they may have gone through to reach that point, and I do not wish to minimize the very real struggles of many women, who may feel themselves pressured toward abortion by circumstance, by society, or by their “significant other” – are in a very real sense rejecting the most defining characteristic of womanhood itself, the ability to bear a child and give birth to him or her.
In effect, by her decision and action, the woman who chooses abortion – although it is the abortionist who actually does the deed – is choosing (by Lindsey’s categories, above) to function in the role of priest… but of a priest of Moloch, the biblical Phoenician deity who demanded child-sacrifice.
This is not only an individual act of violence and cruelty against the most innocent and defenseless among us, but – on a metaphysical level – it is an inversion of, and offense against, the cosmic order itself, and thereby an offense against the God who created that order (and who also taught us, “thou shalt not kill,” and “love thy neighbor as thyself”).
No wonder it is greeted with unease, at best, and often (and rightly) abhorrence, by many – frequently including the woman herself!
When a woman, whose natural role (inter alia, but also preeminently, since she alone can do this) is to bring forth life, chooses instead to kill it, not only is her own world turned upside down, but so, metaphysically, is the cosmic order itself. Is it any wonder, then, that a culture and society which not only accepts, but is expected to “affirm” and even “celebrate” such actions (638,169 in 2015, and nearly 45.7 million between 1970 and 2015, per the CDC), also seems topsy-turvy?
On a metaphysical level, as well as a socio-cultural one, it is!
Now, this does not come as any surprise to me! I have long believed that science and religion, properly understood, are not and cannot be in opposition to one another – except in the sense defined by British physicist Sir William Bragg:
“From religion comes a man’s purpose; from science, his power to achieve it. Sometimes people ask if religion and science are not opposed to one another. They are: in the sense that the thumb and fingers of my hands are opposed to one another. It is an opposition by means of which anything can be grasped.”
— Sir William Bragg, in Sir Kerr Grant, The Life and Work of Sir William Bragg (1952), 43.
Indeed, it seems to be physicists who, among scientists, are most prone to adopt a theistic worldview. It may be that those whose life’s work leads them to ponder the secrets of the cosmos itself are more inclined to discover that one of those secrets is the secret of design. And design, of course, requires a Designer…
Unless, of course, one is so dead-set against the notion that one comes off sounding strident and silly in one’s opposition, as (for example) Richard Dawkins does, to anyone who is not among his defenders… but I digress!
Michio Kaku, who as the linked post notes, “has made a name for himself as a world-leading theoretical physicist unafraid to speak his mind,” has dropped a bit of a bombshell:
“I have concluded that we are in a world made by rules created by an intelligence,” Kaku said, as quoted by the Geophilosophical Association of Anthropological and Cultural Studies. “To me it is clear that we exist in a plan which is governed by rules that were created, shaped by a universal intelligence and not by chance…
“The final resolution could be that God is a mathematician,” says Kaku. “The mind of God, we believe, is cosmic music. The music of strings resonating through 11-dimensional hyperspace.”
I must say, I like that image!
When I consider thy heavens, even the work of thy fingers; the moon and the stars which thou hast ordained;
What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?
O Lord our Governor, how excellent is thy Name in all the world!
Percy (Percival) Dearmer (1867-1936) was an English priest and liturgist who was and is best known as the author of The Parson’s Handbook, a liturgical manual for clergy of the Church of England. His appointments included:
• Vicar of St. Mary the Virgin, Primrose Hill, 1901-1915
• Professor of Ecclesiastical Art, King’s College, London, 1919-1936
• Canon of Westminster Abbey, 1931-1936
Although on the Anglo-Catholic side of the Anglican liturgical spectrum, he was decidedly not an ultramontanist (Romanist), favoring, rather, ritual forms drawn from the pre-Reformation “English Use.” Wikipedia notes that he also had a strong influence on the music of the church and, with Ralph Vaughan Williams and Martin Shaw, is credited with the revival and spread of traditional and medieval English musical forms.
As the title of “The Parson’s Handbook” indicates, he had a strong concern for the parochial; that is, the ordinary, day-to-day spiritual and religious life of ordinary Christians, and found (as many have, both before and after him) the classical Prayer Book pattern – the core of Anglican tradition – to be an excellent model and aid for growth in holiness.
[As I prepare to post this, it occurs to me that I may have posted it, or parts of it, earlier; but if so, no matter! If I have, it’s been a while, and this is the sort of thing that one needs to revisit from time to time, if one is even the least bit serious about what Martin Thornton called “Christian Proficiency.” I hope some may find it helpful!]