A Mediaeval Penitential on Separation, Fornication, and Penance

From the Penitential of Finnian of Clonard, on divorce and remarriage and penance:

42. We declare against separating a wife from her husband; but if she has left him, [we declare] that she remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband according to the Apostle.

43. If a man’s wife commits fornication and cohabits with another man, he ought not to take another wife while his wife is alive.

44. If perchance she is converted to penance, it is becoming to receive her, if she has fully and freely sought this, but he shall not give her a dowry, and she shall go into service to her former husband; as long as he is in the body she shall make amends in the place of a male or a female slave, in all piety and subjection.

45. So also a woman, if she has been sent away by her husband, must not mate with another man so long as her former husband is in the body; but she should wait for him, unmarried, in all patient chastity, in the hope that God may perchance put patience in the heart of her husband. But the penance of these persons is this – that is, of a man or woman who has committed fornication: they shall do penance for an entire year on an allowance of bread and water separately and shall not sleep in the same bed.

This seems quite sensible, in keeping with what the Lord commands against remarrying after divorce.

Pluralism and Tolerance in a Protestant Union

Photograph by Andrea Kirkby.

Photograph by Andrea Kirkby.

As Scotland prepares to vote to stay with the United Kingdom or to forsake it, my friend Andrew Carter has written a beautiful post praising what the Union represents and lamenting the gradual death of the country it holds together. The country so united, he says, has through the union of several cultural-linguistic groups become a place for the world, as broad as the great empire at whose head it once stood:

Because the Scots, English and Welsh have all had to make room for each other under the umbrella ‘British’, then there’s enough inherent flexibility in it for others to join in too. Migrants and their children and grandchildren from the Caribbean or the subcontinent aren’t asked to give up their separate identities at the door but, like everyone else in Britain, is invited to keep it and be British as well. Because I’m already English and British, it doesn’t matter if my neighbours want to be British and Pakistani: we’re both British and we both live on the same street.

Unlike France, say, Britain does not require that other loyalties and preferences be stript away. In Britain, one can be a Jew or a Gypsy and not be buried under a pile of nationalism. It is certainly true that Britain is comparatively very tolerant of foreigners and their practices, and that in time even what has been foreign becomes a feature of the native whole. The British monarchy itself – unlike that of France in this respect – has been subject to a great deal of rulers related by blood but new to the country. As I have written before, ‘Fais comme chez toi’ is a modus operandi foreign to France; but Britain, having taken William of Orange from the Netherlands, has later taken the house of Hanover and then the house of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, the house (renamed Windsor) that reigns today. As part of the Protestant kindred, its ruling house gave its daughters to Protestant nations on the continent, and in return the British nation took foreign husbands, to be tended by foreign dynasties. Through the historical reality of dynastic marriage with continental rulers, the Protestant faith has made Britain a tolerant union, embracing in its fold a multitude of peoples under one king and his law.

This tolerance is older than the Act of Union 1707. When Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes, many of the Huguenots who fled France went to Britain. Not surprisingly, they were able to prosper there. Under the Bishop of London, they spoke French in their ‘strangers’ churches’, not molested but rather supported by a bishop of high authority, not excluded but embraced within the fold of the Church of England. And this had been the case since the first Protestant refugees had arrived from the Reformed churches of the continent. The success of the Union between Scotland and England was only one step – albeit a major step – in the growth of a country whose constitution and identity could take in plurality.

The Toleration Act 1689 extended toleration to religious dissenters who would take the oaths of allegiance and of supremacy. As long as the doctrine of Rome kept her adherents from taking these oaths, they had no part in this toleration; but the Romanists would later make gains as the threat of Jacobite claims to the throne died down, and as the Bishop of Rome became readier from 1766 onward to acknowledge the Protestant line of the British succession.

Finally, in the nineteenth century, it was the true spirit of Protestantism that impelled a gradual emancipation of the Roman Catholics. Having needed under other conditions to protect itself by force from the domination of the Bishop of Rome, the Protestant faith had also made it plausible not only to tolerate the Romanists but even allow them a voice in the election of Parliament, provided that those who represented them in Parliament affirmed their own loyalty to the Hanoverian king and his heirs. So a relief act, passed in Ireland in 1793, enacted

that such parts of all oaths as are required to be taken by persons in order to qualify themselves for voting at elections for members to serve in parliament, as import to deny that the person taking the same is a papist or married to a papist, or educates his children in the popish religion, shall not hereafter be required to be taken by any voter, but shall be omitted by the person administering the same; and that it shall not be necessary, in order to entitle a papist, or person professing the popish or Roman Catholic religion to vote at an election of members to serve in parliament, that he should at, or previous to his voting, take the oaths of allegiance and abjuration….

After the Act of Union 1800, even Spencer Perceval, an Evangelical implacably opposed to new concessions to the Romanists, denied that his opposition was a matter fixed directly by principle: he wished ‘to be distinctly understood, that if there should be such an alteration in the affairs of the world, or in the nature of this religion itself … then, consistently with what I have done and am now doing, I may assent to the propriety of adopting some measure for the purpose of granting what the Catholics may then seek’. Though an alteration in the Romish religion was not to be, an alteration in the affairs of the world came with the fall of Napoleon a few years after Perceval’s death. In short, as the Roman Catholics became increasingly able to take peaceable part in the governing of the country, the prudential barriers to their participation fell; and so, through Protestant principles, they took more and more an active part in public affairs in the House of Commons and in high office.

For the Protestant religion, unlike the sects of Rome or Mecca, takes pluralism as an ideal and views the participation of religious dissenters as a matter of prudence. If dissenters are able and willing to uphold the constitution, and to do no harm to the religious settlement that makes it work, they can be everything but king or lord bishop. Scots Episcopalians, Irish Romanists, and Jewish Pharisees are all fully part of the British nation because the state has made its peace with them; some have suggested that the same is happening now with the Muslim communities. But, as Andrew has said, the secession or the effective withdrawal of Scotland from the Union spells the end of Britain as we know it, casting a shadow over the place of the South Asian Muslims (I think the notion of Pakistani Britons is a little imprecise unless we mean dual citizens such as Bp Michael Nazir-Ali). And especially if either a Yes vote or a No vote would leave rancour in Nationalist and Unionist hearts, with no confidence in the reality of Britain, and a God who is dead because we have killed him, then perhaps Britain will have died. But Britain has a special place in the world. I hope it lives.

Preparations for Holy Communion

Photograph by Peter Owen.

Photograph by Peter Owen.

I think the ceremonies in and around the Prayer Book services should be to the point. The people of God are to lose no time in putting their hearts into what God requires, and to this end all else should be subservient. The things God requires are all provided for by the Prayer Book, and so there is nothing essential to be added to the Prayer Book. Everything else is either a practical circumstance or a momentary devotion that helps the ministers and the whole congregation worship freely. Call it what you will, Anglicans; I call it the regulative principle of BCP worship.

In particular, I wish to write about the preparations for the office of Holy Communion, because it is this office that is most often encumbered by a number of extraneous things. Clutter, my friends, is not dignity. Noble simplicity is dignity. In this interest I shall try to spell out a dignified way to do the things the Prayer Book does not directly address, with ceremony that does not try to be picturesque, but only does the necessary.

In order for the service to happen, of course, the ministers must enter. It is fitting that, for this greatest of services, they enter by what is called the long way: not from the side, as for Morning and Evening Prayer, but from the back where the baptismal font usually is. And in order that their entrance by the long way may not be in a dreadful silence, a silence that the Church of England has not commended even for the church service for the burial of the dead, it is only sense that an Introit should be sung. The Introit psalm to be sung should be, unless for good reason, the one listed in the 1549 Prayer Book, in order that such things may not be left to the whims of individual ministers.

The elements should be brought in with the Introit and procession. Otherwise, if the song is accompanying nothing, the people are left sitting to wait for the music to end, and the elements are brought in awkwardly before or after that song. It makes far more sense to sing an Introit to beautify the bringing in of the elements and by God’s word to stir up the people to devotion as the preparation is made. It matters little whether the Introit be sung by a choir or by the people themselves in antiphonal fashion: what matters is that the preparation be one, to signal clearly and succinctly that the Holy Communion office is about to begin.

According to the infamous John Purchas, ‘At plain service the elements are placed upon the Credence by the clerk who serves; at solemn service by the assistant priest.’ If the celebrant priest bear the chalice and paten together, then the Gospeller can hold the cruets of wine and water, and the Epistoller the canister of bread. The celebrant arriving before the holy Table stands closest to it; the Gospeller, a step behind on the right; the Epistoller, two steps behind on the left. Once they have all given a polite nod toward the Table, the priest goes first to the Credence with the chalice and paten, then the Gospeller with the cruets, and last of all the Epistoller with the canister. So all three ministers are then at the Credence.

Once the Introit has ended, the Gospeller and Epistoller may begin the Litany, if it has not already been said. I think the best practice, when the Litany is so appended to the Holy Communion office, is for the celebrant to finish the Litany with O God, merciful Father &c., the people giving their Amen. In a short space for silent prayer, he may then say on his knees (in the words of the Rt Rev. Samuel Seabury),

O gracious and merciful God, Thou supreme Being, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost, look down from heaven, the throne of thy essential glory, upon me thy unworthy creature, with the eyes of thy covenanted mercy and compassion: O Lord my God, I disclaim all merit, I renounce all righteousness of my own, either inherent in my nature, or acquired by my own industry: And I fly for refuge, for pardon and sanctification, to the righteousness of thy Christ: For his sake, for the sake of the blessed Jesus, the Son of thy covenanted love, whom Thou hast set forth to be a propitiation for fallen man, and in whom alone Thou art well pleased, have mercy upon me, receive my prayers, pardon my infirmities, strengthen my weak resolutions, guide my steps to thy holy altar, and there feed me with the meat which perisheth not, but endureth to everlasting life. Amen.

The silence marks a definite break. Then, rising and taking his stand at the north end of the Table, the celebrant begins the Holy Communion office with the Lord’s Prayer.

What do you think? How successfully does this execution accomplish the ends I think it our duty to serve?

Black Cloaks as Penitential Copes for Deacons and Subdeacons

Red cope, Watts and Co.

Churches do not often want to pay for large sets of copes covering their deacons (gospellers) and subdeacons (epistollers). Sometimes the best and easiest thing is for these deacons and subdeacons not to wear copes, but sometimes it seems desirable to put an accent on the liturgical themes of the particular service being said, themes brought out when the priest prays the Collect of the Day.

One solution is to adopt a bit of the dress of the Order of Preachers, or the Dominicans. Instead of the Dominican’s tunic and scapular, an Anglican deacon or subdeacon might just as easily wear a standard cassock; and then, over the surplice, a black cappa. The Angiola Leone painting below depicts Dominic, at left, meeting with Francis of Assisi, at right (cf. a man of the Trinitarian order):

Just imagine, instead of the white tunic and scapular, a white surplice with full sleeves. Or again, look at Pius XII, before his becoming Bishop of Rome, wearing a cappa magna with a white rochet underneath:

The cloak is too long, and the rochet should be a surplice, longer with fuller sleeves, but the outfit mechanics are the same. Make the cloak black like a Dominican’s cloak, and you basically have what I mean for funerals and services in Lent. At these times, having the deacon and the subdeacon wear copes could be too elaborate, too festal. But the plain Dominican cloak is both simple and dignified, lending to the service both chastity and gravity. So, while the priest is wearing a cope (which may be black or its secondary manifestations in bluish or brownish tones, or even red for Passiontide) throw a black cloak over this surpliced server:

This use of the black cloak is a simple way to enrich the vesture of the ministers, enabling churches to better set the tone of certain services. The colours of ecclesiastical vesture may be only as important as whether to wear red in a Chinese event, but it is also as important as that. Perhaps black cloaks will prove useful for helping people learn and pray.

Adding Cool Stuff to Liturgy

‘Paying Respects’, photograph by Peter Thoeny.

Many who are attracted to traditions of Christian worship that use a richer set of gestures and ornaments like the symbolism of these things. Often they believe these traditions to be superior for that very reason to those which are sparser. I disagree. There are some who mistakenly think unintelligible symbolism makes worship deeper and more mysterious. More mysterious, maybe. Deeper, no. Unintelligible signs – signs whose meaning no one can agree on, and whose effect is not rational – are useless to Christian worship, which relies not only on a relationship but also on the historicity of certain events and the truth of certain doctrines. But even symbolism as a system of conscious signification has its own hazards. The danger, not least in our own time, is that symbols cloud rather than enlighten the mind. As John Barach says,

Another term for this ‘pursuit of the cool’ might be the one Alexander Schmemann uses: mysteriological piety. In the mystery religions, people performed certain rituals because those rituals would create a sense of something ‘special,’ something mysterious, something transcendent, or whatever.

The early church fell into this kind of piety when, for instance, it stopped doing baptisms immediately upon conversion or upon the birth of a covenant child and instead made Easter the day for baptisms. Why? Because baptism symbolizes death and resurrection and wouldn’t it make it more special to be baptized on the day we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection? Wouldn’t that make the symbol all that much more glorious, meaningful, and (if I may say it) ‘cool’?

Of course, there may be a much more prosaic reason for baptizing adults on Easter Day: grouping converts together makes it easier to catechize them – that is, to train them to take part in the sacraments with the faith required – without a disproportionate expenditure of time and energy. If a day must be chosen on which to be baptized, then, Easter Day is not a bad day for it, when the day’s significance is only a secondary consideration.

Likewise, the primary purpose of incense in connexion with worship is to adorn the service fittingly with an atmosphere of festivity, as one does with flowers and banners. The presence of incense may inspire certain meditations, just as one might meditate on the life of an ant – and to encourage such reflection is good and biblical – but it is not right that Christians should so elevate the role of incense that it ever becomes a focal point of public worship. For the same reason I have written against paying too much attention to candles. It is better to attend to what must happen. For example, says G. W. O. Addleshaw,

Before the Consecration Prayer the priest arranges the elements, symbolizing, as Beveridge puts it, ‘God’s eternal purpose, and determinate counsel, to send His Son into the world, and to offer Him up as a sacrifice for the sins of mankind’.

Such pious reflections are not distracting. But when the people are in danger of paying too much heed to things of indifference, their teachers must expound what the word of God tells us and, if necessary, dispense with the things by which the people lead themselves astray.

At no point may we be suffered to serve rituals. Rituals are to be used, and only their moral principles served. The chaste way to use rituals is to observe them as the fitting way to do what is good and godly, not reaching beyond our stations but showing honour to those to whom it is due. Ritual teaches us also that the word of God rules all things and its truth can be known in all things upon further reflection. But Jesus Christ has taught that the true worshippers of the Father now worship in spirit and in truth. The true schismatics are they that reject other Christians for differences in ceremony and ornaments. These things are a matter of prudence but not marks of the true Church. Baptists are not heretics for not using set forms of worship, but are schismatics for accounting them unbaptized who have not been completely immersed in water. Those also are schismatics who will not tolerate chasubles being worn by Lutheran priests who preach the gospel purely, or who insist that those who do not mix water into their chalices of wine have not validly consecrated the Lord’s Supper. In each church God requires discipline and obedience, but in no church does he despise the mere use or disuse of what his word has not settled as divine law.

If I see a child in church and remember that the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these, or if I see an image of a great saint and thank God for the faithfulness and courage shown by that saint, I have not worshipped God by unlawful means. But if I think my church closer to God for having images and incense, and I even think it a matter of orthodoxy to have and bow down to icons, then I have sinned and broken the Second Commandment. And so despising the rest of the Church, I then have dishonoured my Father and my Mother and borne false witness against my neighbour. So too if I call them false Christians who have images of stained glass in their church windows, or if I call them childish fools who sing Christmas songs during Advent.

And the carnal mind, the one that delights in sensuous pleasure and not the righteousness of God, is seeking always to replace the truth of God’s word with incense and fog machines, to worship God by means that he has not appointed. Such worship the holy Scriptures condemn. Those who devise new ways to worship God, and add things to tickle their fancies, face his righteous indignation for showing contempt for the primacy of his revealed will. They might as well be heretics who preached God’s gospel only to those they judged to be the elect. But the spiritual mind, the one that loves the ways of God, is respectful of human tradition but mindful of the higher claims of the Kingdom of God and all his righteousness; and such a heart will see God.

Photograph by Vladimir Kramer.

Photograph by Vladimir Kramer.

Eliot and Benedictine Renewal

York Minster. Photograph by Gary Ullah.

Mars Hill Audio has brought to our attention some things T. S. Eliot wrote in The Idea of a Christian Society (London: Faber & Faber, Ltd., 1940), and Rod Dreher wonders aloud what Eliot would say about what some conservative Christians are calling the Benedict Option. Not being too well versed in the details of Eliot’s political thought, I cannot say what Eliot would say. Nevertheless, I have elected to provide some commentary on the passages of Eliot that Mars Hill Audio has posted.

It is clear that Eliot in The Idea of a Christian Society is actually advocating something that secularists today are sure to call intolerant and oppressive: a Christian society. Sharing Eliot’s commitment to the idea of a Christian society, I think myself at least a sympathetic reader, able to think along the lines of what Eliot says while here and there clarifying what I believe to be at least the basic impulse of his thought. Opponents of the very idea of a Christian society, though they may have important insights of their own, are unlikely to give the charitable reading that Eliot’s ideas require.

First, I think it necesssary to identify the basic outlines of the Christian order Eliot lived in and saw to be disappearing in the face of late Liberalism. This Anglo-American public order still exists, though unlawfully subverted. In the United Kingdom this order is explicitly Christian but constantly challenged by politicians who also want to replace the sovereignty of the crown with the sovereignty of a foreign body; in the United States it is Christian but (through a commonsensical but flawed view of common sense) forgetful of its own Christian nature. In fact, this order, however else it has been explained, depends on a Protestant distinction of the eternal kingdom and the temporal kingdom, both under the rule of Christ, one secretly and the other manifestly, one ultimately and one proximately. The distinction itself allows and even calls for religious toleration, but the rule of Christ sets certain boundaries and refuses to countenance, say, the enforcement of sharia law for apostasy from Islam. Likewise, the kind of secularity so maintained, affirming the power of the layman to make sound and godly judgement independent of the will of clerics, denies the supremacy of the Bishop of Rome. This Protestant order is one that Eliot himself basically supported in his reflections on the Lambeth Conference of 1930 – he specifically distanced the Anglican way from the Roman even as he criticized the lack of clarity in the bishops’ resolution on contraception. To withdraw from long-term effort to maintain (and not just to make anew) this essentially Protestant public order, especially for those of us who are committed to living as American citizens, is either (1) to capitulate to secularist thought within our churches or (2) to advocate an adversarial relation between church and state as intrinsic and healthy when such a relation is in fact extrinsically imposed and disordered. With that said, let us see what Eliot says.

That Liberalism may be a tendency towards something very different from itself, is a possibility in its nature. For it is something which tends to release energy rather than to accumulate it, to relax, rather than to fortify. It is a movement not so much defined by its end, as by its starting point; away from, rather than towards, something definite. Our point of departure is more real to us than our destination; and the destination is likely to present a very different picture when arrived at, from the vaguer image formed in imagination. By destroying traditional social habits of the people, by dissolving their natural collective consciousness into individual constituents, by licensing the opinions of the most foolish, by substituting instruction for education, by encouraging cleverness rather than wisdom, the upstart rather than the qualified, by fostering a notion of getting on to which the alternative is a hopeless apathy, Liberalism can prepare the way for that which is its own negation: the artificial, mechanised or brutalised control which is a desperate remedy for chaos.

Liberalism is vague about its ends: it is ‘not so much defined by its end, as by its starting point; away from, rather than towards, something definite’. It leaves ends in the hands of a very wide range of individual actors but has few principles of inclusion and exclusion. Liberalism calls for amnesia about the history of the fundamental principles it rests upon, and so it forgets itself in a Lethean sip: lacking standards for its own maintenance, it is beholden to its own destruction.

The Liberal notion that religion was a matter of private belief and of conduct in private life, and that there is no reason why Christians should not be able to accommodate themselves to any world which treats them good-naturedly, is becoming less and less tenable. This notion would seem to have become accepted gradually, as a false inference from the subdivision of English Christianity into sects, and the happy results of universal toleration. The reason why members of different communions have been able to rub along together is that in the greater part of the ordinary business of life they have shared the same assumptions about behaviour.

A system with no public creed loses its moral principles, and a system without moral principles is hopelessly unable to adjudicate the limits of acceptable ‘private’ behaviour – the very concept of private behaviour depends on the existence of a legal distinction – or even, indeed, to remember either why it should govern at all or why it should not attempt to govern all. As Eliot says, the desperate remedy for the former is artificial, mechanized, or brutalized control. Ironically, in the name of free expression, Mozilla has ousted Brendan Eich for exercising free speech that the company found undesirable for its own interests. And so on. Increasingly, to justify itself, the secularist shadow of the old Liberalism accuses Christianity of the cruelty and illiberality of which it is itself the driving force. In fact – something most have now forgotten – Christianity, as worked out by early modern jurists distilling the principles of the legal order according to the truth of holy Scripture, is what drove our cherished freedom to develop as it did. Today, in some quarters, secularism has given rise to new assumptions about behaviour, sometimes antithetical to those of the old order; and this novus ordo is a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

The problem of leading a Christian life in a non-Christian society is now very present to us, and it is a very different problem from that of the accommodation between an Established Church and dissenters. It is not merely the problem of a minority in a society of individuals holding an alien belief. It is the problem constituted by our implication in a network of institutions from which we cannot dissociate ourselves: institutions the operation of which appears no longer neutral, but non-Christian.

The former arrangement of toleration is tenable. It can, subject to prudence, contain Papalists, Jews, and Muslims who can play by the Protestant rules. It is not by chance that the Jews, expelled from England in 1290, were allowed to return in 1656 under Protestant rulers. Even in the Middle Ages they had lived in England as direct subjects of the king, under a royal charter renewed by every successive king, and so lived outside the jurisdiction of the clergy. Such residents a Christian state can contain; the people it cannot contain is those who will neither feel bound to tell the truth under oath nor submit to a common law. Thus both Papalists and Muslims, subject to a foreign ruler and inimical to the Protestant king, often appeared dangerous to the civic order and to the religion that both gave life to this order and grew within it, and their admission to full participation in public life depended on their submitting to the easy yoke of a Protestant polity.

As the Protestant order is gradually dismantled, however, and as society’s institutions are oriented to ends antithetical to those of orthodox Christianity, the institutions first malfunction and then appear increasingly anti-Christian. There never was a sustainable neutrality without some kind of discernable centre, but now neutrality is a front for tyranny and the destruction of virtue.

And as for the Christian who is not conscious of his dilemma – and he is in the majority – he is becoming more and more de-Christianised by all sorts of unconscious pressure: paganism holds all the most valuable advertising space. Anything like Christian traditions transmitted from generation to generation within the family must disappear, and the small body of Christians will consist entirely of adult recruits.

It is not at all surprising that, in these circumstances, even the Church tends to be Baptistic and often declines, in the name of freedom, even to teach its children the faith. Assaulted by pagan thought, Christians are failing to fulfil the charge Moses gave to the sons of the covenant: Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD: And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates. In mainland China, such failure is mandated by the Communist Party, which forbids evangelism to children under 18; in these United States, it often happens by choice. I used to think it good myself. But God has his own ideas about faithful witness, and in this case he has defied me and challenged me to change my mind.

In these times it is all the more important that the Christians baptize their children, that they may be children of the Church. As Jews in Germany have been pressured not to circumcise their sons, based on the practice’s alleged cruelty, so it is likely that Christians will be pressured not to baptize their children. In time, baptism may become a sign of resistance, as it always was latently. This is not a reason to begin baptizing infants, but it is a reason not to give up the practice. What children the pagans claim on secularist pretences, the Church should claim in the name of the true God, in light of his promises.

But it is not enough to claim our own children, even though that may be hard enough. We need, as Moses commands and Christ confirms, to teach our children to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. For the promise, which is for us and our children, is made at the end of the book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. As Genesis shows the generations of Adam, of Noah, of Shem, of Terah, of Isaac son of Abraham, and of Jacob, so Matthew shows the generation of Jesus Christ and, through him, of those whom God did foreknow and also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. As God’s covenant with the generations is evident in the Old Testament, so it is in the New. Therefore it is a more pressing task than it ever was to pass on the faith whom God has elected to enjoy his covenant mercies. Our children are to die and be raised with Christ, for which resurrection their old selves must daily be mortified, that their souls may be invisibly raised in this life and their bodies be raised on the Last Day. For this purpose we need to use the catechisms to teach the tradition of the faith, not only in intellectual assent (though that is needful) but also in daily martyrdom.

What is more, the Church is to call to judgement not only those who are already her own but also those who may be promised by God’s election, and not only them but also the whole world. This she can do only in persuasion, not by force; but she must act as if she is free to do so regardless of what others say, and those who will listen she must guide in every way of godliness. This is her manifest destiny in every kingdom of the world: The kingdom of this world is become the Kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ; and He shall reign for ever and ever. Hallelujah! Whether in Handel’s Messiah or elsewhere, this is our duty, to declare the God whose glory the stones would proclaim if we were silent.

What is often assumed, and it is a principle that I wish to oppose, is the principle of live-and-let-live. It is assumed that if the State leaves the Church alone, and to some extent protects it from molestation, then the Church has no right to interfere with the organization of society, or with the conduct of those who deny its beliefs. It is assumed that any such interference would be the oppression of the majority by a minority. Christians must take a very different view of their duty.

Is the state God? It is Christ who reigns over all, in heaven and on earth. By the majesty of his providence he makes and unmakes kings. An unjust king the Church is to unmake by martyrdom, and the Holy Ghost will undo that king either by converting him through temporal woe into eternal riches or by converting his temporal riches into eternal woe.

But before suggesting how the Church should interfere with the World, we must try to answer the question, why should it interfere with the World?

And here, on secularist premises, the Church should never interfere with the world, because God is not allowed to perform miracles. And what the state has forbidden, let God fear to transgress. A little problematic, I’m afraid, is the way in which Jesus of Nazareth broke the seal of the stone covering his tomb when he rose from the dead.

It must be said bluntly that between the Church and the World there is no permanent modus-vivendi possible. We may unconsciously draw a false analogy between the position of the Church in a secular society and the position of a dissenting sect in a Christian society. The situation is very different. A dissenting minority in a Christian society can persist because of the fundamental beliefs it has in common with that society, because of a common morality and of common grounds of Christian action. Where there is a different morality there is conflict. I do not mean that the Church exists primarily for the propagation of Christian morality: morality is a means and not an end. The Church exists for the glory of God and the sanctification of souls: Christian morality is part of the means by which these ends are to be attained. But because Christian morals are based on fixed beliefs which cannot change they also are essentially unchanging: while the beliefs and in consequence the morality of the secular world can change from individual to individual, or from generation to generation, or from nation to nation. To accept two ways of life in the same society, one for the Christian and another for the rest, would be for the Church to abandon its task of evangelising the world. For the more alien the non-Christian world becomes, the more difficult becomes its conversion.

Clearly, here, Eliot is not about a retreat to personal or even subcultural commitment. No, he means business when he says accepting a Christian and a non-Christian way of life in the same society is giving up the whole task of evangelism. People like to separate Christianity and culture, but in so doing they separate Christ and real life. It may suit them well enough to retreat into a cloud of incense with no doctrinal or practical substance, but that is not Christianity.

Here, the risk that the Benedict option poses is this: in today’s world, those who advocate it may lose their nerve and make it another capitalistic option on offer. This is particularly so because a monastic community can be joined or not joined. Those outside, people may argue, are free to live their impious lives while those inside say the Office seven times a day and complete the Psalter once a week. So said Noah, I’m sure, as the pagans drowned. A Benedictine spirituality works only if it can succeed in leavening the larger society in which Christians practise it.

What I commend to the Church, the best version of the Benedict option, is the Cranmer option. As some have noted, Thomas Cranmer’s reform of the Daily Office of prayers turned the monastery inside out. As monks became secular divines serving the Church of England’s parishes and dioceses, they took Benedictine spirituality to the layman. For domestic life, the father of the family took the place of the abbot, and many divines were then themselves heads of families. As Eliot knew, this family-based spirituality flowered in the community of Little Gidding. Common to both the Benedictine monastery and the Book of Common Prayer is a threefold ascetic system (i.e. a system of discipline) uniting prayer and life: Holy Communion, concerning and by faith effecting union with Christ; the Daily Office, dedicated especially to the praise of the Father; and private devotion (especially recollection of God’s presence), given to keeping in step with the Spirit. ‘Whatever the acknowledged intention of the compilers,’ Martin Thornton says, the Prayer Book ‘can and does add up to an ascetical system of brilliant simplicity. … About one-sixth of the Prayer Book deals with sacraments and rites for the occasional necessities of life, including, of course, the initiatory sacraments. All the rest – five-sixths – is concerned with Holy Communion and the Office; and nothing else whatsoever. It is more rigidly ascetical than the Rule of St Benedict!’ More Benedictine than Benedict, yet more accessible to the life and calling of the ordinary Christian, the Anglican system is a gift to the Church’s learning and witness, providing a framework for ordinary Christians to live a disciplined life together.

Characteristic of this Anglican spirituality, says Thornton, ‘is the insistence that prayer, worship, and life itself, are grounded upon dogmatic fact, that in everyday religious experience head and heart are wedded. English Christianity has constantly rejected the ecstatic, spectacular, and baroque, not because they are “Roman”, or because of “superstition” and “enthusiasm”, or even because “one should not go too far” – they are but passing manifestations – but because of this deep-rooted ascetical principle, of which our saints and teachers will never let go.’ In this way, Anglican spirituality already suggests what Opus Dei aspires to, and it would be only natural that it gave rise to a Protestant way of life that looked like Opus Dei, emphasizing a spirituality practised where people already are; for others, it would be practical to actually live and work at church. Either way, prayer and worship would both shape and be adapted to daily life, and doctrine would be in our affections and our morals, and it would become inconceivable to live human life without the fellowship of Christ. So the Church maintains its integrity, by calling all men to submit to the already existing rule of Christ: this Christ is risen from the dead and ascended into heaven, and today his gospel demands obedience. The public claims that Islam makes – submission to Allah – are not lacking in the gospel of Jesus Christ, who holds all authority in heaven and on earth.

Indeed, the Anglican insistence on public recognition of public truth, kingly recognition of a kingly truth, is its true strength in the face of secularism. A good Anglican is willing to submit the outward governance of the Church to a pious ruler, and even to submit in what is lawful to a disobedient Christian ruler, but never does he submit to make his faith a private affair or to pander it out to the highest bidder. The gospel is not bought or sold: it simply rules. To this gospel Felix, Festus, Agrippa, and Caesar himself must all – if not today, then at the Last Day – bow at the holy Name of Jesus. To the Anglican, it is impossible for man to create such a magistracy as can be without reference to God, or such a society as can have no need for God. Every man must believe for himself, and every king must bow for his nation.

The Church is not merely for the elect – in other words, those whose temperament brings them to that belief and that behaviour. Nor does it allow us to be Christian in some social relations and non-Christian in others. It wants everybody, and it wants each individual whole. It therefore must struggle for a condition of society which will give the maximum of opportunity for us to lead wholly Christian lives, and the maximum of opportunity for others to become Christians. It maintains the paradox that while we are each responsible for our own souls, we are all responsible for all other souls, who are, like us, on their way to a future state of heaven or hell. And – another paradox – as the Christian attitude towards peace, happiness and well-being of peoples is that they are a means and not an end in themselves, Christians are more deeply committed to realising these ideals than are those who regards them as ends to themselves.

A Church that prayed as it lived in the world and also lived out its prayers in the world would not be, like the Anabaptists, withdrawn into itself: instead, it would genuinely belong in this world, even as it was not of this world. Its Daily Office would frame the day, acknowledging that the day and the night belonged to God by nature and not by the will of man. Used by every layman, the Daily Office of morning and evening would be testimony of God’s objective rule in every sector. This rule of God by his Son is not a taste, not an opinion, but a verifiable fact. The public prayer of the Church points to this fact. The pagans who see it at the street corners and in the parks know it to be about fact. When the Church is praying for the good of all and speaking for the good of all and working for the good of all, the world can see that its claim to public space is not about identity politics, a piece of the pie, but about what is common to the commonwealth, the interest that concerns all.

Photograph by Sonja Langford.

For though in Holy Communion the congregation prays for ‘the whole state of Christ’s Church’, and only the Church – because the sacrament is a gift intended only for the Church – in our daily prayers and especially the Litany we pray for ‘all sorts and conditions of men’. The sacrament makes our daily prayer possible, and the object of our daily prayer is for ourselves and others to become worthy recipients of the sacrament. Thou, O God, art praised in Sion, and unto thee shall the vow be performed in Jerusalem. Thou that hearest the prayer, unto thee shall all flesh come. This is why the Lord keeps his Church militant here in the world: that we may be witnesses of his grace to us and to all men.

So the aim, we must remember, is not a self-sufficient Christian community. To leaven the world, the Church needs to work with sons of peace who are interested in the goodness of the Christian faith, rather than shaking the dust off our feet against any place outside of the Church. As Brian Miller says,

On the contrary, Eliot knew that in many ‘public causes to which we may devote ourselves, we are always likely to find ourselves allied with non-Catholics of good will.’ And, he said, that ‘there is a certain saving egotism … which prevents us from despair so long as we believe that there is anything that we can do which may possibly help to improve matters…. I hope that I have not failed to affirm that there may always be schemes, initiated by non-Christians and non-Catholic minds with purely temporal aims, to which we can give unqualified support; and by supporting them give them a firmer justification and inform them with Christian truth… we recognize this possibility in every work of slum clearance and housing reform.’

We may seek to order certain new places according more completely to the word of God, but these are places to which even the pagans must be invited to live and work. In time, schooled by the ways of God being lived out in the ordering of daily life and the learning of the seven liberal arts, they may enrol formally as catechumens to learn the Way and its virtue, which is Christ. These new, more Christian towns, in turn, are to take part as full members in the life of the larger commonwealth. To the good schemes of non-Christian minds, for the sake of the whole and the God who rules the whole, the Christians can give full support; and thereby they will affirm that these good schemes are good by the standard of the one God. Perhaps they will see that the world is under Christ and that they themselves must bow the knees of their hearts to Christ as to the supreme judge of all men.

For whom Christ has secured everlasting life, we do not know. But we know he has died and been raised for the life of the whole world. Let us take the piety of Benedict to the pagans.

Photograph by Flickr user quimby.

Martial Missions?

The recent plight of the Christians in the Middle East, first in Syria and then in Iraq, has raised for me the question of crusades. The popish doctrine of the mediæval Crusades was rightly rejected by the Reformers. As William Ellis says in his Lectures on Popery, Exhibiting the Chief Doctrines of Romanism,

But the Popes, who ultimately monopolized the power of granting indulgences, dispensed them with the most reckless prodigality, as well as for the most unhallowed purposes. They granted them for military service; promising, as in the Crusades, to those who thus forwarded their views, that all their sins should be forgiven; declaring, that to proceed to Jerusalem from devotion, should be reckoned instead of all repentance: and so powerfully did this act, that, in the first instance, according to Gibbon, six millions of human beings accepted the offer.

Without the doctrines of indulgences and papal dominium, however, the question remains even for Protestants. We understand that the temporal is not the spiritual. We know that temporal force of arms, though useful in its own way, is not the way in which the spiritual rule of Christ is advanced. Yet the Protestant conception of the two kingdoms, of Christ’s spiritual and temporal reigns, does not deny that the temporal ruler is placed in charge to serve spiritual ends and not only temporal. His ministry is not only to fatten the people up but also to look after their spiritual well-being, and this he does (if he is Christian) as a great deacon of the Church. If Christians abroad are in constant physical danger, it is no frivolous question to ask, Whether it be a missionary work for part of the Church to support another, assaulted part by force of arms.

First, however, I think I should note that the Church’s concern and outrage should not be simply because many of the victims are Christians. That such things are done to anyone, not just to Christians, is an atrocity. The same things the Islamic State (ISIS) does to Yazidis and Shiites should equally be condemned in the strongest terms, not least by the Church. In China, likewise, the savage persecution of Falun Gong adherents is no less to be condemned than the sometimes desperate persecution of nonjuring Christians who worship outside the structures approved by the Communist Party. Injustice against any person created in the image of God is something the Lord himself will redress, something against which the Church should testify.

But holy Scripture also calls Christians to love Christians especially, just as God has loved the Church especially. St Paul says in Galatians, As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith. For our Lord says also, A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another. Christians are to be marked by their love, but apparently they are particularly to be recognized by the especial love they show to other Christians. Here we are not called to love pagans less, but to love Christians more.

It seems right, then, for Christians to try especially to protect other Christians from persecution. To preserve other Christians’ lives, after all, is even more basic than relieving their poverty, an activity in which St Paul undoubtedly was involved. For this reason Protestants in Europe were often ready to support the military defence of other Protestants who were being persecuted by the Romanists. When the Thirty Years’ War broke out, Puritans in the English Parliament were eager to go to war to defend the Palatinate from the forces of popery. To defend the faith is also to defend those who bear it.

If anyone demand how a Christian can fight against a non-Christian to protect a Christian, and how a Christian so fighting can claim to love those who are not Christian, my answer cannot be better than that of Brutus:

If there be any in this assembly, any dear friend of Caesar’s, to him I say that Brutus’ love to Caesar was no less than his. If then that friend demand why Brutus rose against Caesar, this is my answer: not that I loved Caesar less, but that I loved Rome more.

It is only natural that a Christian should, not for lack of care for the whole commonwealth, but for love of Christ, take up arms for the lives of other Christians. For he knows it unjust for Christians to be killed for their faith, and he feels their deaths closer to his heart than those of pagans, because the reverence he gives to their lives is the reverence he owes to the body of Christ. Whoever will treat the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper with reverence should also revere the lives of those who believe in Christ, as surely as he receives the body of Christ in the sacrament.

So a Christian will not set his own life above the lives of his brethren. This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you. Perhaps he will even be gunned down by an Islamic State militant as he fights for his brethren in Iraq, and for the bearers of the gospel to live in that country.

Of course, the words of Christ do not demand that Christians use violent force to defend other Christians. I have, however, limited myself to supporting violence used to defend the innocent, not violence used to punish Islamist criminals. Punishment still belongs to an authority with the jurisdiction to punish. For now, it belongs to the Iraqi and Kurdish authorities, unless by utterly lawless acts they forfeit it and the restoration of order falls to the Russians or the Americans. Nevertheless, it seems lawful to form a Christian militia to protect the lives of innocent Christians and help the proper authorities restore an order that protects Yazidis and Shiites, and perhaps it is even good and wise to do so. After all, most of us would, seeing an innocent person be beaten, think it lawful to intervene in his defence; and all the more if we and the innocents are both Christian, being of the same household.

On the other hand, martyrdom has a foolish power of its own, and the folly of God is greater than the wisdom of man. It was through dying on a cross that the Son of God redeemed the world, and only then that his body was raised in glory. Likewise, for our bodies to be raised in glory, they must be sown in dishonour. To shine glorious, they are sometimes bathed in blood. Sometimes God wishes to have us die the death of martyrs, and sometimes to fight for justice to be served. Both are spiritual battles. Who knows when one is preferable to the other?

Or sometimes, when a bloody martyrdom would do no good, flight and bloodless suffering are part of the divine plan. It was in this way that the Way gained adherents outside the land of Israel. Likewise God works today in a mysterious way. Since the gospel as now known in Jesus Christ is not tied to the land of Israel, but rather turned to worship anywhere in Spirit and in truth, we too must orient ourselves not to temples made by human hands but to the human bodies and souls that bear the truth of Christ. It is they, not their buildings, that are images of Christ; and it is they who can build new buildings dedicated to the service of the Lord. Though land is important, and our bodies are attached to physical homes, in our experience of exile the strength and beauty of the Lord will appear. It is right to weep for the loss of earthly homes and the defilement of sanctuaries once used for true religion, but it is also right to accept what the Lord has dealt out. The prophet Isaiah once wrote, Thy holy cities are a wilderness, Zion is a wilderness, Jerusalem a desolation. So lament. But the prophet says this as well, as he pleads for the Lord to rend the heavens: But now, O LORD, thou art our father; we are the clay, and thou our potter; and we all are the work of thy hand. Drop, drop slow tears, but our hope is always in the Lord. From exile we know we shall return, and knowing this we can hang our harps and imprecate the righteous judgement of God upon our impenitent tormentors but also be firmly planted wherever the Lord wishes.

And in our speech the Church ought to be careful, that our words may be chaste and full of grace. Talk of international Christian solidarity can itself be a cause of anti-Christian violence. In the First World War, for example, the Ottoman Turks rightly perceived that Russia had used such solidarity talk to gain the loyalty of the Turks’ Armenian Christian subjects, and to preempt any fifth column from materializing proceeded to commit acts of genocide against the Armenians. Rejecting papalist theology about earthly dominium, and mindful that the Lord’s claims on the earth rest not upon our own military might, but upon his Spirit dwelling within his people, we may chasten our expectations of intervention of arms. What matter most are not the places, as if they were in themselves holy (was not the Temple in Jerusalem destroyed?), but the persons who confess the Almighty. If we speak of fighting, then, we should speak of lives and souls, not of places to be defended at all costs.

The Lord will give dreams and visions by his own counsels, and to these the Muslims will respond. If the Christians conduct themselves godly and wisely, their neighbours will know. Iraqi Muslims already have found themselves in sympathy with their Christian neighbours and sometimes, for the sake of the righteous, even dared to give up their own lives. O Lord, show thy mercy upon us, and grant us thy salvation. Aye, he will do this however he sees fit, and the Church must neither despair nor take it upon ourselves to make or keep a land Christian by any other means than the word of God. The sword is a handmaid only; our deeds will be in vain if our confidence be in horses and men. An army of preachers coming at Islamic State forces will only be gunned down with no mercy, but prudent force serving prudent speech can prevail.

In the end, I affirm that going to Iraq to keep Christians from being slaughtered is a godly ministry, but only if we put our trust not in princes but in the Prince of Peace. Those who will, let them go to the Middle East in response to the cries of God’s people, who daily are butchered in the holy Name of Jesus of Nazareth. Though attending to the needs of the body, their mission is not to be belittled. Their service, a service of deacons, will not be despised in the Kingdom of God, if it uphold the witness of the gospel. The ordained ministers of the word may say, Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business. But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word. And some suitable men may be appointed, full of faith and power, some to live and some to die.