To Esfahān

Let us to Esfahān, you and I;
For you, my love, have widened my whole world,
And in that city let us wondering buy
The richest cloths humanity’s unfurled.
There let us die, and there be opened up,
And there our bodies vault the heavens’ blue
With arching harmony in every cup
That we pour out and richly drink anew.
Oh, taste the spirits of this alchemy,
Where city opens city, dreams to stitch
Together in a fearful tapestry,
Exquisitely bathing us in rose and saffron rich.
They say there, Esfahān nesf-e jahān ast;*
So let’s together, halves made whole and honest.

* Persian: ‘Esfahān is half the world.’

Aside

Emily Post, in Etiquette (1922):

People do not greet each other in church, except at a wedding. At weddings people do speak to friends sitting near them, but in a low tone of voice. It would be shocking to enter a church and hear a babel of voices! Ordinarily in church if a friend happens to catch your eye, you smile, but never actually bow. If you go to a church not your own and a stranger offers you a seat in her pew, you should, on leaving, turn to her and say: ‘Thank you.’ But you do not greet anyone until you are out on the church steps, when you naturally speak to your friends. ‘Hello’ should not be said on this occasion because it is too ‘familiar’ for the solemnity of church surroundings.

One might still greet people, I think, in the narthex afore the worship space, unless there was no well-defined narthex. As a man of high-church sensibilities – and it seems Mrs Post shares my sentiments – I do rather dislike talking in church, though it seems only right to speak when spoken to, however quietly. In a low-church parish it can be harder to know what to do, when everyone talks in church. I suppose one can move quietly into the pew and be in prayer until the service starts.

The Humour’s Sip

Photograph by HORIZON (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

The dew drops from the heavens, delicate
Woven like water painting destiny
Across the sky; but I am desolate,
Still starved, thirsting for drunken harmony.

Oh, long have I been kept the taste of wine
From knowing, long delirious for want,
And starving, darkened, I cannot divine
Why I have seen but flickers, but a taunt.

Thou leavest what is thine for me; but thine own
Real presence thou still cloudest from my tongue,
A honeycomb whose sweetness to be known
Has mocked my craving to brought round young.

How art thou in me, yet I have thee not?
O one and only, art thou in my flesh,
My spirit in thine? If my heart forgot
His life, ’tis thou wilt open it afresh.

Inventor Rutili

In Easter Vigils, this very fitting hymn should be heard more when the fire is lit for the Paschal candle:

Baptistic Evangelicalism and High-Church Moves

Photograph by Matthew Kirkland (CC BY-NC 2.0).

Responding to reports in the media of ‘high-church’ moves away from Baptistic evangelicalism, Albert Mohler attributes such moves to ignorance of the biblical message in Baptist churches and calls upon Baptist churches to improve their biblical teaching. Some who have, so to speak, left the Baptist fold have objected to his words. I am one of those Christians, I suppose, who have made the move that so troubles Dr Mohler about the future of the Baptist churches. As any regular reader of this blog discovers soon enough, I am a moderately high-church evangelical Anglican. But I think I stand somewhere in between Dr Mohler and his detractors.

If Baptist theology is in error – and I believe it is – then of course I hope that its errors will perish from the earth, and only its good points remain. If Anglican theology is in error – though I believe it fundamentally is not – then I hope the good Lord will extirpate its errors from his holy Church. Whatever one thinks of diversity of practice, doctrinal contradiction within the Church, if truth matters, is not good. Like many Protestants, I value toleration; but this is not to displace the præmium I place on truth. And I think the Anglican way is to seek unity in doctrine: the Church of England’s Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion were written ‘for the avoidance of diversities of opinions and for the establishing of consent concerning true religion’. For it is not sense – it is nonsense – to desire diversity for its own sake. Such a desire, in the matter of the service of God, is a desire for incohærence and finally dissolution. So I shall feign no affection for what I regard as error, and instead I pray, and I hope Baptists pray, that God, knowing what he himself has taught, may unite the Church in the truth and reform whatever is in error.

If I am a Christian before I am an Anglican, then I also hope that Dr Mohler and other Baptists are Christians before they are Baptists, and that they would accept and even welcome the decline of Baptist theology, and the diminution of the Baptist identity, if the Baptists should be in error. But if the Baptists are right, it is the duty of other Christians to join themselves to the truth even if that means the extinction of their confessional identity. I will not deal, therefore, with any wringing of hands over declining numbers in this or that sect, whether Anglican, Baptist, or Romanist, and instead I shall deal only with, inasmuch as I understand it, the truth.

Even if we supposed that Baptist readings of Scripture were true, it could not be denied that actual Baptist churches tended to lack the fullness of the faith. This lack is what Dr Mohler calls a want of grounding in the Christian faith. Even if I allow that Baptist doctrine is the closest to that of the Bible, I can safely say that Baptists are weak in catechesis, patristics, and æsthetics. These weaknesses are extrinsic to Baptist doctrine, and it is certainly possible that the loss of cradle Baptists (if such a term be allowed) to non-Baptist denominations is due to them. It is nothing but commendable for Southern Baptists, led by Dr Mohler, to supply what is now lacking in Baptist practice. It would be a boon to the whole Church, not just to the Baptists, for Baptist churches to better teach the fundamental doctrines of the catholic faith, to use the testimony of the early church fathers to teach the doctrine of the Scriptures, and to use a more dignified mode of worship that, rather than making people feel upbeat, impressed upon Christians a deeper sense of the transcendent majesty of God.

A lack of these things is indeed a bad reason to have people leave their Baptist churches, and weaknesses extrinsic to Baptist identity are indeed bad reasons to turn to new theology, and so Baptist churches should make every effort to supply the defect. For instance, a revival of the Charleston tradition of worship might be in order. If reforms in Baptist churches lead Christians to reject the consumerist’s approach to worship and to church life in general, such change is cause for any Christian to rejoice. If Baptists are not driven into Anglican or Romanist churches by the triviality of many Baptist churches today, nor attracted to cæremonially more elaborate churches by sensuous trivialities, there is nothing for a Christian to object to, unless his loyalty is rather to a tribe than to the true body of Christ. The adoption of biblical principles that are not opposed to Baptist theology is an unequivocal good. A call to such growth, such as it is, requires no rejoinder.

As an Anglican, however, I believe that Baptist theology also suffers from some intrinsic weaknesses. I find it ‘obtuse’, as Alex Wilgus puts it, to hold that every turn to Anglicanism, a tradition intrinsically better grounded in the substance of biblical teaching and the history of the Church, is due almost wholly to a lack of grounding in the Christian faith. In the Christian and Missionary Alliance church in which I was brought up in the faith, even if there was some silliness, catechesis was not fluff. In our youth group, we went over a brief survey of church history which included the East-West schism, Luther, and the founding of the Christian and Missionary Alliance by A. B. Simpson. Another week, we even learned a little about Epicureanism and Stoicism. Clearly, it was not a youth group designed to entertain intellectual slouches. What drew me from general evangelicalism to the Reformed tradition and later to the Anglican tradition in particular was that in these traditions I saw the biblical principles I already knew articulated more robustly, and more cohærently, than general evangelicalism could account for. I think, given how gradually I moved in my doctrinal beliefs, that ignorance cannot take the credit for my move to Anglicanism; nor did I ever quite lose my faith and have to find it again in some new thing. As Derek Rishmawy reports for himself, my evangelical story isn’t so bad. There was a time when I thought otherwise, but ultimately I have better reasons for being Anglican than teenage angst and the reading of Michael Spencer’s Internet Monk blog. Being Reformed and Anglican, I have only deepened in my evangelical commitments.

Dr Mohler is on the side of the angels if he wants Baptist churches to deepen their commitment to biblical teaching. But to do that, I think, those churches ought to consider becoming Anglican.

Every Christian a Bible Study Leader

Photograph by Mark Grapengater (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

Most everyone fears a lack of manpower in the ministry of the Church – by which people usually mean insufficient manpower for their houses of worship to run their programmes. The Christian’s priority, however, must be the furtherance of the gospel and training in righteousness in its many aspects, not the success or even the survival of a particular temple. Even success, after all, we must measure not by the standard of numbers, money, and power but by that of faithfulness to the Great Commission that Christ gave just before he ascended into heaven to procure for us the means for us to fulfil this commission, namely the comfort (i.e. the empowerment) of the Holy Ghost. And it is the Holy Ghost, not the glory of this world, that fills us and our work with the glory of God. What counts, then, is not the apparent success of ‘official’ ministry but the adoption among the people of wise ways and the work of the people of God.

To this end, I am beginning to think everyone who leads a Bible study should be trying to teach the group participants to study the Bible themselves and, soon enough, to lead their own Bible studies. We Bible study leaders pose questions, but by what considerations are those questions raised in the first place? Are we teaching the study methodology of observation, interpretation, and application? And are we alerting our group participants to the iterative process that study sometimes involves? The process should be an integral part of the guidance Bible study leaders give. ‘We seem to be unsure whether the text means A or B. Can anyone think of any particular kind of observation that might shed light on this sentence’s true meaning?’ This kind of dialectical training teaches people both to understand holy Scripture more accurately and to examine ideas in the light of holy Scripture. To study the Bible is to think carefully about the biblical text and about human life (including one’s own) and to put one’s thoughts under the judgement of holy Scripture. This kind of judgement must be exercised by every Christian as well as he is able: for a man lacking in judgement is unable to do the will of God conscientiously, and is subject rather to prejudice than to reason, but the word of God clearly teaches that one must use reason and wisdom to judge what is good and true.

In order to do so, each Christian needs to develop in himself, as much as he can, the skills of biblically informed reason and wisdom; and thus he must be able to do his own Bible study. Nor is it even sense for the clergy to be the ones doing all discipleship and teaching those who are unlettered in the substance of the faith. If the word of God is to reach the nations with any urgency, the entire Church must do the work of showing how to love and serve God. Therefore, if the whole world must be taught to understand the word of God, the whole Church must be in the business of teaching the world to understand the word of God. Indeed, is not the whole Church the body of Christ, and are we not all fashioned anew into the image of God? Yes, we all. So, to fulfil the duty of God’s election, we are all in some fashion to be Bible study leaders. Some, of course, will be more skilled in testing ideas, and some more learned in theology, and some more accurate in fine points of grammar; and naturally people will turn to them for help in their areas of superior expertise, but even then it is not a matter of blind trust but of prudence referred to the more developed gifts of others. Not all are called to protect the sheep, but to beware of wolves all are called.

But indeed some are called to guard the Church. Elders, or presbyters, as publicly acknowledged shepherds in the Church, charged with the sacred duty of publicly defending the doctrine of the faith, should not (by quantity) do most of the Church’s teaching, but they should be training the people to continually to teach, defend, and stand firm in the faith. Publicly recognized for a certain duty, and not only for some knowledge, they teach with the most prophetic auctoritas, and their grave and sober judgements are not lightly cast away, even if others exceed them in learning or intellectual acuity. Elders are, therefore, both seated near the centre and standing at the boundaries, and called teachers par excellence.

These qualifications notwithstanding, the truth is that the whole Church is to be an assembly of Bible study leaders, because the whole Church is called to lead the nations to the truth to which all Christians have entrusted themselves. And the call to discern this truth is not the preserve of the most wise, the most learned, the most brilliant, but the privilege and the duty of all. For both the natural gift of human reason and the supernatural gift of the Holy Ghost are given to all, and both must be used by all. As St Paul asks, Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? Or again, Do you not know that we are to judge angels? Yes, we know that all the saints must judge. Such is the republic with Christ at its head as everlasting King: for Christ says, Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment. And as St Paul also says, the unbeliever who comes in among the Church may be judged by all: If all prophesy, and there come in one that believeth not, or one unlearned, he is convinced of all, he is judged of all. And all this is to fulfil what was spoken by the prophet Joel:

And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams: and on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy: and I will shew wonders in heaven above, and signs in the earth beneath; blood, and fire, and vapour of smoke: the sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before that great and notable day of the Lord come: and it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.

So be it in the whole Church, that the Lord’s glory may be seen by all flesh. Amen.

Mulan Complained to the Enemy

唧唧復唧唧,木蘭當戶織。不聞機杼聲,唯聞女歎息。問女何所思,問女何所憶。女亦無所思,女亦無所憶。

Apparently there is some ruckus about a live-action Mulan film being made by Disney and the titular character potentially being played by a White woman. This is the sort of thing, evidently, that fires up the American-born East Asians.

I simply have no preference. If we knew our own value, we would not need it affirmed by Disney (!). Have we sunk so low, have we so fallen in our own estimation, as to wait around for the White media to affirm our dignity, taking umbrage when they fail to do so? Are we not masters of our own fate, not needing the White man to tell us what we are worth? As I see it, demanding that the White masters throw us this bone is a distraction from the actual reins of power. Therefore, I will not play the game.

Will we for once step out of the capitalist framework? The very fact that our families are eating this stuff up already means we are acknowledging such masters. There are higher powers than the Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, Democratic (WEIRD) oligarchy. There are ways of greater humanity, and greater dignity, than bringing our complaints before those who need not be our masters. There is a God, and in his natural order the family has real authority, authority that cannot be taken away by big money. I trust that, given power from on high, we can do what God wills, and we need fear no opposition from the oligarchs. Their power is an excuse, and their system a deception, and by the power of God they need not be paid any honour. Gods? They will fall like Dagon before the face of the living God.

So pass down to our children the virtues and the values of our Chinese fathers. Without Disney, how many Chinese Americans are even hearing about 木蘭 (Mulan)? How many know even a single line of the 木蘭辭 (Ballad of Mulan)? I see no reason that we have to depend on the so-called mainstream media to form our children, for whose formation we have a God-given trust. Aye, Disney is popular, but no one has to go with it simply because it sells with other folk. I imagine a day when Chinese children are able to say to other children, ‘Let me tell you the original story of Mulan.’ This requires no great expenditure of money to rival that of Disney, but it does require effort and learning. Rome was not built in a day, and neither will the control of the international oligarchs be broken in a day. Nevertheless, I trust you can see that there are things ordinary folk can do even with their limited funds. The Black folk began to resist their oppression when at least some of them saw their own value in the eyes of God and needed no White man to tell them what they had heard from God. As weak as our spirits are today, were we in the Blacks’ position then, we would never have started.

Trying to harness the propaganda machine for our own interests, in response to its perceived injustice, is a fool’s errand. Such effort to ‘work within the system’ may seem practical, but the propaganda machine is not subject to good uses. No, far better to reject it entirely and take responsibility for our own lives than to accept masters who have no right. Those Asians who do the latter, their vision is too small, and they do not see that too small a vision here is doomed to fail for lack of resistance to the institutions by which the oligarchs maintain themselves. Noise does not make up for timidity; being coöpted into the mainstream achieves nothing of consequence.

Of course, we must not neglect that we have more than a century and a half of shame, shame that we bring with us when we immigrate to America. We feel that we must assimilate. We feel that we must do – and do well – what the White folk do. That this is true to some extent I cannot deny: I myself took pains to master English grammar and become at least passingly familiar with Latin. But there it is. We do not see, or we feign an inability to see, that today’s prevailing culture in America is degenerate. Even as we urge our sons and daughters not to fall to the level of matching the Whites in learning and in sexual morals, we acquiesce to the voices of those who would teach our children to do just that. But why should we listen to the voices that have taught America to become decadent? Have we not enough shame in our own condition, that we must also bring upon our names the shame that marks the ungodly?

Virtue is more than conformity. It is like the lotus rising out of a pool of filth, pure in the midst of defilement. In a midst of a decadent people, will we gain any strength worth having by taking up the most debased customs and relying on the most corrupt institutions? To think so is not prudent, nor is it wise to entrust ourselves to those who serve these gods. They have their day today, and then their time will come tomorrow. It does us no favours to join our destinies to that of the wicked. To throw in our lot with them is a gamble that a sense of caution will have us recoil from.

If there be any stigma for the non-White, look at the stigmata of Jesus Christ; behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto his sorrow; yet by the will of God, and in spite of the will of man, he was raised from the dead on the third day. See how meek he was, how he submitted to the perfect will of God, to suffer and die and be buried and descend to the place of the dead; and yet how strong he was in the face of the ungodly, that he did not stint to say, when asked whether he was the Christ, I am: and ye shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven. Or see how his Church, after this example, and with his Holy Spirit, also bled for his holy Name – how, after his resurrection, all of the Apostles but one gave up his life for the sake of the gospel. It is not a want of power but a want of conviction that makes Chinese Americans fear stigma. The complaints they make to the powers that be are only a game of make-believe that those powers have set up themselves. If Chinese Americans believed their own words, they would join themselves to Christ and fear nothing, and no fear of man would keep them from using critical judgement against the devices of the unjust; for in the gospel is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith.

Having eyes to see, we are able to judge what is degenerate and reject what is decadent. We see that the proper centre of the home is not the television but the altar. We see that the proper executive authority of the home is not the state or the corporations but the father. We see that the proper use of the home is not the mere consumption of goods but the training of human persons in industry and, more than that, in righteousness. It is here, and not with the instruments of propaganda, that formation begins. It was with the slaves, and not with the White masters, that beliefs and practices were passed down to affirm the worth and dignity of the Black man. It is through the work of fathers and mothers, not the choices of Disney, that Chinese Americans will find again their humanity from the Most High God.

The American Empire in East Asia

When your empire has commitments to four protectorates in the Pacific Rim (viz. the Republic of China, Japan, the Republic of Korea, and the Philippines), dissolving or even reducing those imperial commitments is no simple matter. It requires much negotiation, especially in the face of another imperial power to the west that threatens with its œconomic clout, backed by its military might, to exploit those lands surrounding it and make a joke of their sovereignty. Even as far away as Africa, we see what it does; how much more will it do close to home? The American empire, however unpleasant, is what we have, and changing the current arrangement takes much more care than simply withdrawing in the space of five years. Change has to be incremental, and must itself be modest to avoid destroying the peace of the whole region.

In spite of my distrust of the Japanese nationalist right wing, in order for the United States to pursue a more modest foreign policy, I call for the rearmament of Japan. Rarely has a nation gone 70 years without responsibility for its own defence, and today’s abnormal continuation of a once-expedient constitutional arrangement has virtually forced us to play the guarantor to Japan’s sovereignty. For such a large nation with such a large œconomy to take no military part in maintaining its own sovereignty, so many years after the Second World War, is an aberration as inexpedient for us as it is degrading for that nation. If it must defend its own interests, as every nation must, let it build up a capable army and navy, and let us depart.

For the other three protectorates, the situation is more complex. Each has its own armed forces, but none can maintain its own interests without the backing of the Americans. The Republic of China on Taiwan, at least, needs to strengthen its forces, both in ships and in home defence. It is hard to say what measures the three protectorates would need to defend their interests against aggression from the Chinese mainland. Nevertheless, the United States should be resolved to find ways to reduce its military commitment and help these protectorates establish their own defence.

A Few Thoughts This Easter Weekend

It has been a while since I last wrote a stream-of-consciousness post. At least, I like to think I have most of my posts organized with tighter structure. But sometimes it is good, I think, to use a looser writing style. Who knows? It might yield some aphorisms like those of Pascal and Nietzsche.

While I listen to Bach now, I remember that this is probably the first Easter Sunday on which I have missed church. Funny that my missing church services on Easter Day is due largely to my having attended a Good Friday service.

And Good Friday was a day when I had declared, for various reasons, Taedet animam meam vitæ meæ. But Job is not suicidal when he says that. And I am not even Job. I have a good family and friends who care and who have godly counsels. No, I am not wanting in good things, for the Lord is my shepherd.

And though I may once in a while be tempted to become a priest, I resist that vain desire. To enter the presbyterate for a house of delusion is not blessed by God. For now, I can rest content with what I can do as a layman. And anyway, even if I became a cleric, I would, in order to impose no burden on the Church respecting money, have to hold other gainful employment, even if it were not a career.

But I wonder, is it a middle-class obsession to have a career with a clear cursus honorum? Clearly, tradesmen have also had careers. But perhaps it is a uniquely capitalist middle-class thing to feel the need to have a career in order to know one’s place in life.

Only, I also know not whether I shall ever marry. ’Tis not the time to think about marriage, and (as my father points out) thinking about whether it will ever be the time is also thinking about marriage, so I shall leave off thinking about that one.

A tendency is a tendency; what matters is what we do with what we are given. May the Lord grant me the grace to follow him with all that I am, all that he has made me. It will all be clear in his time, and at the resurrection of the dead he will tell all, and it will be gloriously clear.

Yesterday was the Clear Brightness Festival. I even thought I would go up to the graveyard to sweep the ancestral tombs and cut the grass a little. But, again, what befell me on Good Friday has prevented my doing so. Wednesday will be the anniversary of my grandfather’s death; perhaps by then I shall be able to drive again. We shall see.

In any case, I think it a remarkable coïncidence that the day on which the Chinese swept the tombs was Holy Saturday, just before Easter Day, the day of our Lord’s resurrection. Remember that the dead will rise in Christ.

Against the Intended Project at King’s College

Dat sacrilege doe. I find this project at King’s College, Cambridge, to be exceedingly ill conceived, and not merely because I am a nostalgic Romantic (though by temperament I am sometimes that, too). What seems destined to be attempted there overthrows all sense of order and harmony in nature.

It is not that I hate all modern architecture. I am not opposed even to all Brutalist constructions. I believe that even a Brutalist building, which features exposed concrete, can fit sensitively into its environs. Some of the designs of Tange Kenzō, for example, fit into the fabric of Japan without departing from Japanese tradition entirely.

But the tower now enterprised upon blocks qi like none other. Not content to sit patiently before the chapel, it must erect itself taller than the chapel, destroying the famous view between the chapel and the river.

Read the matter for yourself. It is irreverent. It is wicked. It must, for the sake of decency, be replaced with a more modest tower.

And it is April Fools.

The Alien and Sedition Acts According to Prudence

After many years, I am now of the opinion that the Alien and Sedition Acts were good and sensible, and moreover are to be preferred to the situation that now obtains: a surveillance state coupled with a professedly liberal want of prejudice and a corresponding support for abstract individual rights. Of such hypocrisies the very Pharisee was destitute. Instead I would see a forthright admission that, though nature and nature’s God have endowed man with certain unalienable rights, these rights take various shapes, and prudence requires that the treatment of these rights be in concord with the common good and with the circumstances in which we labour, not least with the fact of our corrupted human nature. If we cannot allow this fact freely, experience at last will force it upon us.

The Language Nest of Prayer

Photograph by Pedro Szekely (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

Responding to a New Yorker article about efforts to bring back dying languages, in the face of culturally dominant languages in cities and on the Internet, Rod Dreher compares the Christian faith to a language that needs ‘language nests’ where people can study their faith in an incubator setting and put it into use in daily life. I believe Christians can make every church a place to do this. Last week, after a rough start, God gave me the opportunity to walk some of my friends through part of the classic service of Evening Prayer in its Anglican form. I was able to explain something of the service’s background and priestly purpose, as well as to give some commentary on the meaning and the significance for priestly duty of some of the service’s particular parts. A habit of common prayer, I think, is the practical centre of catechesis in the Church, putting straight into practice St Peter’s theology of the Church as the temple and the holy priesthood of God:

Wherefore laying aside all malice, and all guile, and hypocrisies, and envies, and all evil speakings, as newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby: if so be ye have tasted that the Lord is gracious. To whom coming, as unto a living stone, disallowed indeed of men, but chosen of God, and precious, ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ. Wherefore also it is contained in the scripture, Behold, I lay in Sion a chief corner stone, elect, precious: and he that believeth on him shall not be confounded. Unto you therefore which believe he is precious: but unto them which be disobedient, the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the head of the corner, and a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence, even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed. But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light: which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy.

Given mercy and called away from evil, we are chosen by God to show forth his praises, to offer up spiritual sacrifices to him which are acceptable in Jesus Christ. To do this well, God also requires that we desire the milk of his holy word, that both in prayer and in other parts of our daily living (in which we pray without ceasing) he may give himself glory. This is the purpose of his word: that it may make us into a people who are ready in our daily living to give glory to God. For the Lord is in his holy temple, and from his voice comes our authority to subdue the earth to the order of his holy Name. For this reason we are to study his word, that it may be translated into the due praise of God in word and in deed – not so that we may feel close to him, but so that he, dwelling in us, may turn the whole world into a city where, as Malachi says, in every place incense shall be offered unto the Lord’s Name. Therefore, as the Psalmist says, Let my prayer be set forth before thee as incense; and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.

If this be the main purpose for which Christians gather – to come together as the holy temple of the Lord – I believe that upon the solid rock of Christ our chief cornerstone we shall not founder, we shall not be wrecked, but we shall like living stones be able to weather the storms that beat upon the temple. Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock. This is the wisdom of the Lord applied. By this word rightly used the temple shall withstand the onslaught of the pagans and not become the home of the false faith of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, which serves the false god Mammon. For the kingdom of Christ is not from this world.

And if Christians strengthen one another across imagined boundaries, meeting for the priestly act with those of ‘other churches’, who in fact belong to the same Church, the holy catholic Church of Jesus Christ, we will have and we will feel the strength of the Holy Ghost who works in all. What keeps us apart is the god Mammon, on whose demands Christians segregate around institutions to which they pay money, fancying that these are churches and congregations; but the Holy Spirit of the Lord expels such fantasies, and he bids us move and feel as one Church, regardless of the institutions of man.

On this earth we shall always need some institutions to handle money, some structure to deal with practical needs; but our orientation must be toward the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is not in buildings made by human hands, nor is it in gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man’s device. For the honour of God’s blessed and holy Name we are bound to find the Church not in things of man’s devising but in things of God’s revelation: the word of God, the sacraments, and a pure offering. When our sacrifices are to the true God and not to idols, when we direct our selves and our lives not to the demands of earthly corporations but to the Lord in prayer, we will have our faces set not backward, upon Sodom and Gomorrah, but forward, upon the heavenly Jerusalem and the life of the world to come, when earth and heaven will flee and the judgement of the Lord will reign in righteousness.

Let our language nests speak the language of Zion. Let our lives themselves be turned to the death of idols and the resurrection of the dead, that when the Lord comes again he may find faith on earth. Let us begin with the habits of prayer, that our mouths may shew forth the praise of God.

Aside

On the Sunday before Easter, since the Gospel lesson begins with Matthew 26, it is fitting that the incense used at the entrance before Holy Communion smell of spikenard.

Thou shalt graunt the kyng a long life : that his yeres may endure thoroughout all generacions.
He shall dwell before God for ever : O prepare thy lovyng mercy and faythfulnes, that they maye preserve him.

And the earth was filled with the odour of the ointment. Sanctus, sanctus, sanctus.

Chinese Church Vessels and Ornaments

A couple of years ago I commented briefly that Chinese communion vessels might be modelled after the sacrificial vessels of the Shang and Zhou dynasties. Having looked into the matter a little, I think I can make some specific recommendations for the ornaments of the Chinese church.

Often, if one mixes the chalice of wine (a widespread and catholic usage in the Church, though in my opinion not everywhere necessary), there is need for a pair of cruets containing wine and water. For this purpose, in a Chinese church, one might use hú (壺):

Once the wine and water are mixed, we come to other vessels. Particularly if the wine is to be mixed, it is clear that the wine and the water must be mixed in a third vessel, a flagon. Here is a beautiful zūn (尊) from the Han dynasty, inlaid with gold and silver:

Easily one could imagine, instead of a rhinoceros, a ram to represent the Lamb of God, harking back to Abraham’s use of a ram instead of his own son. It would be an admirable flagon.

The jué (爵) was either used to serve wine in cups or else directly drunk from. It is roughly equivalent, therefore, to the chalice.

The jué’s distinctive shape and importance in archæological finds from early dynasties ensures that the historically informed will see the connexion between the representative sacrifice of today and the sacrifices of ancient times. It might be placed on top of a bì (璧), representing heaven in its circular form:

Ritual Bi

The dragons running the length of this and other bì might be taken to represent the cherubim and seraphim who praise the Lord unceasingly in heaven. A man’s blood is also his spirit, and above all the angels is the Holy Spirit, who by faith dwells within the believer and joins him to heaven in the blood of Christ. And by the most precious blood of Christ our souls are washed.

The guĭ (簋), formerly used for holding and serving cooked grain, can serve as the paten:

This paten might be placed on top of a cóng (琮), representing earth united with heaven by inscribing a circle within a square:

yz

The representation of earth joined to heaven has eschatological significance, for it suggests the New Jerusalem, which in the vision of St John comes down from heaven to earth. For this is the consummation of human flesh, that in the flesh of Christ it should be made incorruptible, and its bodies be the bodies of citizens in the perfect city of God. For in the Lord’s Supper our sinful bodies are made clean by the body of Christ.

It would be remiss to omit mention of the famous dĭng (鼎), once used to cook and store sacrificial meat. Since the sacrifice of meat is no longer necessary in Christian worship, today it might be see use mainly as an incense burner, a use that might have a biblical case for it.

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Aristocrats Wanted

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Not without reason, in traditional Chinese society, are the merchants the fourth class after the gentry, the farmers, and the artisans. The liberal bourgeoisie, for all its good intentions, will be the death of us all unless we can all commit to reining in its excesses and grounding its successes in the divine virtues that are the foundation of a good and lasting republic. Among those in the polis whom Plato calls the producers, the strongest are the bourgeoisie: money is power. But I cannot recommend, with the agrarians, that we deprecate commerce; it is clear to me that a nation with poor commerce is a nation impoverished not only in goods but also in imagination. Nevertheless, a class whose readiest concern is to fill the belly cannot rightly rule. For all its importance, its place is elsewhere, and modesty will give it a more fitting and comely place. As St Paul says,

Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary: and those members of the body, which we think to be less honourable, upon these we bestow more abundant honour; and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness. For our comely parts have no need: but God hath tempered the body together, having given more abundant honour to that part which lacked: that there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another.

Whether the feebler part be the enterprising merchant or the humble farmer, we must acknowledge both with honour and give neither the part of the ruler. For either one as the ruler would be a source of schism in the body politic. It is true that the Apostle was speaking of the Church and not of the civil order, but it could not escape our notice that he used the same metaphor for a group of people as Plato used in the Republic: a human body with parts. Since the Resurrection and Ascension of Christ, the philosopher-king of all the earth has been Christ himself. Greater than Solomon, he has been given for the nations of the earth. As Isaiah has foretold, the spirit of the Lord has rested upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord. What St Paul commends to the Church, then, is the end to which the Lord is both secretly and openly directing the whole of human society. The word of God we must acknowledge in its place at the top of society, as the voice of its everlasting Head, even Christ; and we must imagine that those who safeguard society and the needs of the soul are to hold greater authority than the masses.

In a review of a biography on Benjamin Disraeli by Douglas Hurd and Edward Young, Lord Lexden notes the reputation that prime minister tends to have today: ‘Disraeli is widely praised within the Conservative Party for furnishing it with a new vision, Tory democracy, that was to transform a small aristocratic organisation, run from the Carlton Club, into a mass movement following his audacious Reform Bill of 1867 which doubled the electorate by giving the vote to a significant section of the urban working class.’ But the goal, says Lord Lexden, following Hurd and Young, was not to start a mass movement but to improve aristocratic governance: ‘The task of the electorate enlarged by Disraeli’s 1867 Reform Bill – up from one million to two – was to make good aristocratic government more secure by pressing the upper classes to fulfil their duty to run the country well.’

An admirable end, in my opinion. Since none of Plato’s producers can run a commonwealth, the task of guarding the word of God and advancing society’s submission to it must fall primarily to those whom Plato calls the guardians. By no power of their own can they secure this submission, but they have a sacred trust: though the power to subdue the peoples is in the hands of Christ, it is the guardians who are naturally endowed with the time and ability to lead their people in righteousness. This is the class who can most readily think of other things than profit. If righteous, they can hope to draw the people to themselves with bonds of affection and trust; if decadent, they will lead the people as much astray, either by imitation or by adverse reaction, as did the kings of ancient Israel. As Mencius said King Huì of Liáng,

Why must the king speak of profit? I have only humaneness and rightness. If the king says, ‘How can I profit my state?’, the officers will say, ‘How can I profit my house?’, and the gentlemen and the common people will say, ‘How can I profit myself?’ Those above and those below will compete with one another for profit, and the state will be imperilled. One who murders the ruler over a state of ten thousand chariots surely will be from a house of a thousand chariots; one who murders the ruler over a state of a thousand chariots surely will be from a house of a hundred chariots. A share of a thousand in ten thousand or a hundred in a thousand is hardly negligible; yet, when rightness is subordinated to profit the urge to lay claim becomes irresistible.

This is the power of those who have both power and leisure. Rather than the glory of God, they can magnify their faults in the people. The people are a mirror to their guardians. Thus the guardians’ vice may be the ruin of all; but their virtue may be the happiness of all. To keep the power out of acquisitive hands, to keep it in the service of men of such moral force as the lately deceased Lee Kuan Yew, is good for both body and soul. Whatever its form, an aristocracy that will nobly answer its call is a gift to its people, and for this reason countless writers have tried to instruct their rulers especially in virtue. For Scripture as well as history tells us that, subject to the loving providence of God, virtue is the greatest gift for rulers to have. By virtue are the nations led to happiness.

Perhaps even more than the British Tories, the French legitimists were not interested in democracy, but after the July Revolution of 1830 they did appeal to popular sovereignty against the hypocritically liberal rule of the ‘citizen king’, Louis Philippe. Jeffrey Hobbs says in ‘Death in the Fields: Legitimist Réfractaires and State Violence in July Monarchy France’, Proceedings of the Western Society for French History 37 (2009), 175–86,

In order to consolidate political authority, legitimists argued, Louis-Philippe’s government violently imposed its power on provincial populations and, thereby, actively engaged in the destruction of French families. While liberals purportedly believed that popular sovereignty necessitated a strong central government from which power radiated into the provinces, legitimists contended that popular sovereignty originated in the affective bonds of the family and the local community.

Theirs was a protest, then, against a liberal despotism that served the profit of the Parisian bourgeoisie. Legitimists, who were royalists of aristocratic beliefs and hardly democrats, here challenged urban individualism and its guarantor, the central despot, by appealing to the popular sovereignty embodied in families and local communities. The Duchesse de Berry, the symbol of royalist popular sovereignty, was portrayed to represent all French families by virtue of being a mother. No longer was the humanity of Frenchmen to be symbolized by a myth of universal rights, rights that obtained for one class against the others, but rather it was to be esteemed in the truly universal but truly particular institution of family. Out of this matrix, this womb, would rulers rule. Whatever self-serving agenda may have motivated this framing of the terms of debate, the symbolism is objectively correct. And it is a reflective aristocracy, attuned to the needs of all, brought up to serve, that is best equipped under this symbolism to uphold the social order, if it will do what it does best.

If a reflective class of guardians is meant to safeguard respect for the law of God, widening the franchise in Britain was either a stroke of genius or a stroke of madness. Which it was remains to be seen. In the Britain of today, it is perhaps the widened franchise that allows the liberal bourgeois élite to be chastened by the people, particularly by working-class folk. Votes for the UK Independence Party, whatever that party’s flaws, have made for a viable alternative to the tired neoliberal consensus of the main party establishments. Perhaps, when all is said and done, the voices of ordinary people will have been enough to give a strong message of no confidence in the culture of bailouts for the City and concession of sovereign power to the unaccountable, unelected, unknown bureaucracy of the European Union. If so, let the guardians take note and remember their duty.

The fact is that statesmanship is not democratic. That power accrues to certain lineages is beyond dispute. But it is better that we have good aristocrats than bad, and that we, acknowledging the truth, set out to cultivate the most virtuous character in those who could be guardians, beholden neither to the rich nor to the poor. Such persons, even if various class interests seem incommensurable, may devote themselves to the common good and listen for the needs of all. Who knows? They may even forge one nation anew from its old shards. God save the Queen, whose majesty is an image of his own majesty in heaven, which in the Last Day will come to judge the quick and the dead. May all who are charged with keeping society acknowledge him to be the Lord and keep their bond, that he may bless us with greater obedience and godlier examples of life.