Graham Greene Reads Bourgeois Christianity

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We warrin’ on bourgeois Anglicanism like it’s 1689.

In The North American Anglican, Brian Miller has some brief thoughts, ‘Praying to Themselves’, about Graham Greene and a passage in his Orient Express.

In this short piece’s second part he says, ‘Graham wants us to think about what happens when religious bodies undertake the effort to update and modernize religious texts.’ Greene, he says, shows us how an attempt at relevance in fact makes the Church accessible only to a select group, weakening or destroying the ‘common prayer’ that the English world and the Latin world once enjoyed. Replacing the language of Zion, therefore, is a fool’s errand. That second part is well done.

The first part, however, is strange. It may make full sense only to a bourgeois audience, for it is perhaps only to a bourgeois audience that it seems necessary. To those with a bourgeois sense of Christianity, Mr Miller notes that Graham Greene ‘had notorious communist sympathies’ but was nevertheless a devout Romanist. ‘Catholic and Communist’, he says, ‘seem oxymoronic.’ He then quotes the ‘conservative’ William F. Buckley interviewed in The Paris Review:

Graham Greene always struck me as being at war with himself. He had impulses that he sometimes examined with a compulsive sense to dissect them, as though only an autopsy would do to dissect their nature. He was a Christian more or less malgré soi. He was a Christian because he couldn’t quite prevent it.

But Mr Miller can see in the Greene passage in view that, ‘far from being a contradiction, the communist and the conservative Christian impulses are perfectly aligned in that they both speak a universal moral language that seeks to transcend the matters of every-day life.’ Maybe, just maybe, William F. Buckley was wrong about Graham Greene, and Buckley was the one at war with himself. Buckley attempts to read Greene, but through that Orient Express passage he instead is read by Greene.

Buckley, eat your heart out. The contradiction is between Christianity and Whig conservatism.

Decrees of the Church to Be Kept as Wisdom

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A high churchman’s conviction that holds the old decrees and customs of the Church in high regard is not unreformed, nor among the Reformed churches is such a conviction unique to Anglicans. Thus says Girolamo Zanchi in De Religione Christiana Fides:

For I beleeve that the thinges which were decreed and received of the fathers, by common consent of them all gathered together in the name of the Lord, without anie contradiction of holie scriptures, that they also (though they bee not of equall authoritie with the scriptures) come from the Holie ghost.

He speaks similarly in his Operum Theologicorum, intended to be a Protestant ‘summa’ modelled after that of St Thomas Aquinas, in the section on the traditions of the church:

Thesis 3. Moreover, just as political laws have their origin in natural law, so, too, the traditions of the church have their origin both from the Holy Spirit (as in the case of the apostles) and from the written Word of God (as in the case of the holy bishops and synods).

[…]

Thesis 4. Therefore, as long as these traditions are either consistent with Scripture or at least not contradictory to it, they are truly the traditions of the Church and must be accepted. And we ought to obey and honor them.

Thus did the fathers of the Council of Jerusalem speak, as St Luke records by the Holy Spirit in the Acts of the Apostles:

Forasmuch as we have heard, that certain which went out from us have troubled you with words, subverting your souls, saying, Ye must be circumcised, and keep the law: to whom we gave no such commandment: it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us [emphasis mine], to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things; that ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well.

Therefore, such decrees received from the Holy Ghost, consonant with what he breathes out in the holy Scriptures, are also reverently to be kept until altered under the law of Scripture, and of nature, by duly appointed authority.

Decrees and recognition of adiaphora

Yet reverence for what we have received is not always simple. St Paul tells the Corinthians,

Now as touching things offered unto idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth. And if any man think that he knoweth any thing, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know. But if any man love God, the same is known of him. As concerning therefore the eating of those things that are offered in sacrifice unto idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is none other God but one. For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many, and lords many,) but to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him.

Howbeit there is not in every man that knowledge: for some with conscience of the idol unto this hour eat it as a thing offered unto an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled. But meat commendeth us not to God: for neither, if we eat, are we the better; neither, if we eat not, are we the worse. But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock to them that are weak. For if any man see thee which hast knowledge sit at meat in the idol’s temple, shall not the conscience of him which is weak be emboldened to eat those things which are offered to idols; and through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died? But when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ. Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend.

If what St Paul teaches is as true as the words of the Apostolic Decree recorded by St Luke, then the matter seems less simple than that decrees of the Church should be obeyed religiously, as a matter of religion strictly. To acknowledge this complexity we are forced all the more if, as historians believe, 1 Corinthians was written a few years after the Apostolic Decree was sent out. Here, the Council of Jerusalem’s decree to abstain from meats (i.e., in today’s English, foods) offered to idols is not the basis of St Paul’s argument at all, though he should know of it. Instead, he treats an idol as nothing in itself: As concerning therefore the eating of those things that are offered in sacrifice unto idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world. Thus, that some food has been sacrificed to idols is also nothing in itself: it is the weak conscience that is defiled by eating what has been offered to idols. But meat commendeth us not to God: for neither, if we eat, are we the better; neither, if we eat not, are we the worse. The matter in itself St Paul as adiaphoron, a thing indifferent.

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But it makes little sense that a decree recorded many years after in Acts should be nothing to St Paul writing to the Corinthians. After all, the Council of Jerusalem was summoned in the first place because of his disputation against Judaizers in the Church, and at this council he and Barnabas declared what miracles and wonders God had wrought among the Gentiles by them. The letter promulgating the Apostolic Decree was sent with them at least ‘unto the brethren which are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia’, and there is no reason to suppose that the decree’s compass would have excluded the Gentiles of Corinth. There is no room for doubt that St Paul knew of the decree and followed it in his ministry to the Gentiles.

St Paul’s way of arguing for adhærence to the Apostolic Decree, then, is instructive. Nowhere is his persuasion of this sort:

 The Church has ruled against eating what is offered to idols.
 What the Church has ruled, the Corinthians should obey.
 The Corinthians should not eat what is offered to idols.

Instead, he recognizes a basic Christian freedom but urges the Corinthians of ‘stronger’ consciences to take heed lest by any means their liberty become a stumbling-block to those of ‘weaker’ consciences. Otherwise, when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ. How St Paul argues for the Apostolic Decree is how Richard Hooker, writing fifteen centuries later, argues for the reformed Church of England’s episcopacy, liturgy, and canons. On the Apostolic Decree, he can easily be read in The Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, particularly in book 4; on the settlement of the Church of England as it then stood, throughout the eight books. ‘The end which is aimed at in setting down the outward form of all religious actions’, Hooker says, ‘is the edification of the Church.’ It is not, then, a mere matter of obedience to divinely ordained authority, as if any arbitrary judgement can be taken for that of the Holy Ghost, but a matter of submitting to an intelligible wisdom.

Bless, O Lord, This Ring?

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In PECUSA’s 1928 Book of Common Prayer, the order of solemnization of holy matrimony specifies that the priest may say, before delivering the ring to the man, ‘Bless, O Lord, this Ring, that he who gives it and she who wears it may abide in thy peace, and continue in thy favour, unto their life’s end; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.’ The North American Anglican has published my short piece on whether to bless a ring or its wearer. Check it out. What do you think?

ChristBol Defended Ethically on Just War, Subsidiarity, and Wealth

OrthodoxPolitics has replied to my more recent defence of ChristBol, which addresses a comment of his, on three points:

  1. Just war and aggression;
  2. Subsidiarity and sovereignty;
  3. Redistribution and commonality of wealth.

Just war

Following the order we have used in the earlier parts of our exchange, I shall begin with just war. Continue reading

‘Doubtful Novelties’ in Church Names

Walker Rumble, in a printing history series, tells us about great Episcopalian printer Daniel Berkeley Updike. About names of churches he says,

Berkeley Updike and Harold Brown thought Episcopalians named and dedicated their churches inappropriately and in a slipshod manner. Nomenclature became thoughtless and frivolous, and things got worse with spreading evangelical congregations. According to Updike and Brown, ‘the names of our Lord, and of the Apostles and Saints of the New Testament’ – traditional sources – were ‘quite sufficient’. Names such as ‘Heavenly Rest’ or ‘House of Prayer’ were as ‘meaningless’ as ‘Precious Blood’ or ‘Bread of Life’. These were ‘fanciful names’. If we demand variety, ‘let us have at least no doubtful novelties.’

Looking at you, c4so diocese. With a diocese name like that, how can you avoid frivolous names for parish churches?

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But Chinese churches should also take note. Such names as Mr Updike cited are not out of the ordinary for a Chinese church, and their frivolous novelty is no less than it was in 1892, the year that he and Harold Brown published On the Dedications of American Churches. Many evangelical Chinese churches, trying to signal their orthodox evangelical credentials, have chosen novelties to shout their decency, and in so doing have negated their own orthodoxy.

It is far better, as Mr Updike says, to take ‘the names of our Lord, and of the Apostles and Saints of the New Testament’ – among whom, I take it, he includes saints who are not mentioned in the pages of New Testament, but who lived and died in the New Testament. It is no novelty, after all, to name a church after a local martyr or a saint from another place whose influence is felt as far as the church to be named. Thus might a church in Edinburgh be named after St Cuthbert, who lies buried in Durham, or a church in Vancouver’s Chinatown after St Robert Morrison, translator of the Scriptures into Chinese. These are names that concretely draw the Christian’s heart to the life of Christ, or to his life in a particular saint.

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The Cathedral Church of St John the Evangelist, Hong Kong.

The more our churches seek to differentiate ourselves from the whole work of the Holy Ghost on earth, by taking vain names, the more we separate ourselves from the Church. May the Lord’s blessing rest upon the churches devoted to the glory of his Name.

Russian and Uyghur for the Children

When I was in high school, I had autistic dreams of having my children natively speak an analytic language, an agglutinative language, and a fusional language. As a Chinese American, I thought Chinese would work well for analytic and Latin for fusional; for agglutinative, Finnish. Even at that time, of course, I knew that it would not be practical, as Romantic as it might be, for the son of a Chinaman to speak Mohawk.

I take for granted that, if I marry and God give me children, they should speak Cantonese, Mandarin, English, and (if possible) my grandfather’s mother tongue, Taishanese; Latin also remains eminently good and useful. In addition to these languages of Chinese and Christian heritage, though, I hope they can speak Russian and Uyghur.

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For that hope, I have my reasons: (1) Eurasian bloc integration and (2) the Back to Jerusalem movement. The two are related, and of this I shall say more later.

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The Iceberg of Latin Literature

My friend has made a great Latin meme. Go bump it if you have Facebook, and #MakeLatinGreatAgain. Syke! Latin’s already great.

Introduction to Family Devotions

Reproduced below is the introduction to Family Devotions, from the Book of Common Prayer: With prayers at the communion, from bishops Taylor, Ken, and Beveridge, compiled by Thomas Stephen in 1841. Since this Mr Stephen was also the author of The Confession of Faith of the Church of England in the Thirty-nine Articles, and in the piece below refers to the prayer of ‘the Reformed Catholic Church’, we can well be assured of his commitment to the scriptural piety that is the standard of the Church of England.

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An established religion is as necessary and useful in a family, which is a little kingdom, as in the state. In both, the voluntary system is pernicious, and will not be found to work well; for what is left to the good pleasure of every man’s own discretion will perhaps be left entirely undone. The learned and pious Dr. Doddridge has very justly remarked – ‘that, if any had rather that a family should be prayerless than that a well chosen form should be gravely and solemnly read in it, I think he judges as absurdly as if he would rather see them starving to death, than fed out of a dish whose materials or shape are disagreeable to him.’ Many, from early prejudice, object to forms of prayer; and many, on the other hand, are incapable of conducting their family devotions without a form. Set forms of prayer have many advantages; but, of all forms, the Book of Common Prayer is incomparably the best. Eloquence is a gift of God which few men possess; neither is it necessary in divine worship. Aaron was a most eloquent man, and had the gift of a fine and ready utterance; yet Moses, who was ‘slow of speech and of a slow tongue’, was appointed to instruct him what to say. It is not, therefore, eloquence, but faith and repentance, with obedience and humility, that are necessary in our devotions. Continue reading

A Reply to OrthodoxPolitics on ChristBol

In response to my post defending an irenic approach to Christian -Bol (particularly of the National Bolshevik variety), the author of the Orthodox Christian Politics blog has commented,

While I like some elements of Nazbol, there are elements of both National Socialism and Communism that are contrary to Christianity. With National Socialism, it is usually very aggressive, rather than following the principle of just war. It also has a very centralized system, violating the principle of subsidiarity. In terms of Communism, while it does a lot of good in helping the poor. It also does mass redistribution of property, but private property is a right in Christianity.

First, I shall note that National Bolshevism, despite the common nickname NazBol, is not directly related to Hitler’s National Socialism, and its exponents have never claimed ideological descent from National Socialism. The resemblance or convergence between the two, historically, was mostly in the general context of German nationalism; National Bolshevism, however, was part of the Conservative Revolutionary milieu and not of the National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP). Nevertheless, with a view to patriotic ideology’s dialectical development, I think it useful to answer some of the objections that the Orthodox Christian Politics author has expressed, so I shall not limit my remarks to the matter of Bolshevism.

Second, as I have noted in my ‘Defence of Christian -Bol’, it is with some ironic distance in the first place that I take up the name of National Bolshevik. I am not a German like Ernst Niekisch, who may be considered the father of National Bolshevism; nor am I a Russian like Eduard Limonov and Aleksandr Dugin; nor am I even of Europæan descent. I am a Chinaman, and my perspective naturally differs from that of the average Western dissident against contemporary liberalism.

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With those caveats, what follows is my reply to the Orthodox Christian Politics author’s comment:

* * *

The problems you posit for a Christian’s appropriating National Bolshevism are not insuperable, and I think as Christians we are free to take what’s healthy from movements that are not explicitly Christian, or even profess themselves opposed to Christianity as actually practised, under the judgement of holy Scripture.
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Anglican Devotion in the Family

This post is not an original, but a reproduction of a piece by the Rev. Canon Arthur Middleton, Emeritus Canon of Durham.

A bishop’s concern

In his biography, Robert Nelson recorded that before he died, Bishop George Bull (1634–1710) thought he might send his clergy a circular letter, to recommend to them some methods for promoting virtue and piety in his diocese. He died before it was sent. He wanted to promote the salvation of souls committed to his care by an increase of piety and virtue. ‘The first thing therefore that I would recommend to you, and which I do earnestly exhort you to, is to apply yourselves with great diligence to establish the practice of family devotion in all the families of your respective parishes. I need not prove to you … that nothing helpeth more to keep up a sense of religion in the minds of men, than a serious, reverent, and constant performance of this necessary duty; whereby both the glory of God is much advanced, and many blessings do also accrue to those who in this manner daily adore and praise their Creator, the lover of souls.’ He goes on to recommend some small and cheaply priced books, which explain and press this duty and include forms for the performance of it. The importance of family devotions cannot be over-estimated though what a momentous task this seems in the twenty-first century, yet fifty years ago the Roman Catholic Church in this country was engaged in a mission to their members which had the catchphrase, ‘The family that prays together stays together.’
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Rightly Dividing the Law of God

It is common to hear of the law of God, especially in the Old Testament, divided into moral, cæremonial, and civil law. And Christian students of the Old Testament, hearing of this distinction and eager to take some parts seriously while discarding other parts that they believe to be inapplicable for our time, are often quick to classify particular statutes of God as one or another of the three. But Zacharias Ursinus, in his commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism, uses the classic threefold division differently:

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Speaking of the Fourth Commandment, which of the ten is the most often cited as a reason that even the Decalogue does not apply to us today, Ursinus does not classify the commandment simply as moral or as cæremonial or as civil. Instead, he tells us that the Fourth Commandment has two parts: a commandment and a reason for it. Further, he discriminates between two parts of the commandment: ‘the one moral and perpetual, as that the Sabbath be kept holy’; and ‘the other ceremonial and temporary, as that the seventh day be kept holy’.

Ursinus shows, usefully, that the common threefold division of the law is not to classify the ordinances of God as one or another of the three, but to distinguish the various aspects of each in order to find a legitimate application. He identifies the commandment’s general æquity, the underlying præcept that, when applied in the circumstances in which the commandment was delivered, yields the commandment in the form given. This is also how we ought to examine the commandments delivered to us, that we may be faithful doers of the word and not hearers only.

Thierry Baudet: The Rising Star of Dutch Politics

Why Thierry Baudet’s Forum for Democracy is good news for right-wing Holland – even Geert Wilders. By Ignyaz Degtyarov.

Thierry Baudet, leader of Forum for Democracy.

On the eve of the Dutch general elections, commentators foreign and domestic still focus on whether or not Geert Wilders’s PVV (Freedom Party) will emerge as the ‘winner’.

As we have explained in a previous article, ‘winning’ is a nebulous concept in relation to the Dutch electoral system. To recap: the Dutch political spectrum is so fragmented that it is impossible for a single party to win more than half of the 150 seats in the House of Representatives. Parties therefore have to form coalitions – also called cabinets – to obtain a governmental majority.

What this system of co-operations and compromise means for the situation at hand is that, even if the PVV ‘wins’ the elections by gaining the most seats, it will need to find at least two, but probably three other parties to form a government coalition with. All other major parties – including the right-liberal VVD of incumbent prime minister Mark Rutte – have excluded the possibility of partnering with the PVV after the March 15 elections.

At this point, the most likely scenario is that the VVD will become either the biggest or the second-biggest party, and Mark Rutte will be able to remain prime minister by forging a cabinet with several centrist and centre-left parties: D66 (progressive centrists), CDA (centrist Christian-democrats), and GroenLinks (centre-left greens).

New hope for Holland: Thierry Baudet

With Wilders’s outlook on the prime-ministership being exceptionally bleak, it is easy to lose hope. There is, after all, no realistic scenario that would end Holland’s long-standing hegemony of liberalism and its pro-immigration, pro-EU tendencies.

Enter Thierry Baudet. This 34-year-old publicist and intellectual, in the summer of 2016, reluctantly transformed his Forum For Democracy (FVD) from a think tank into a political party.
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Do Not Demand a Piece of the Unjust System

And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them. For it is a shame even to speak of those things which are done of them in secret.

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Against the gibsmedat fake socialists, who today prop up capitalism while shilling for sexual degeneracy. Sorel is right: burn it down so that the nation may be free.

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Occupy Wall Street was fundamentally for pussies, because the movement, in seeking to occupy, took for granted that Wall Street was legitimate, and that it had merely to be reformed and let more people in. Occupy it? No, burn the whole show down and abolish usury. Let the people, not the banksters, own the means of production and of their families’ livelihoods.

A Defence of Christian -Bol

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Some folk, responding to my meming up of #NazBol (an abbreviation for the somewhat ironically assumed name of National Bolshevik) and of a certain masculine and vitalistic aspect some have dubbed #ChadBol, have come to regard that ethos of political thought with some favour. In the interest of time and space – and because others do the job better – I shall not here attempt to detail what this sort of political thought and practice entails. Instead, my interest is to offer some response to those Christians who by instinct recoil from anything that, even with some ironic distance, carries the name Bolshevik.

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Tang Code of Laws, in English

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Half a year ago I found the Tang code of laws 唐律疏議 – that is, the Tang statute laws with their officially sanctioned commentary – but only in Chinese. But I have now also found a translation in English. Volume 1 treats of general principles; volume 2 treats of specific articles. At last, whenever I need to, I can cite the Tang code in English.