Thursday, December 29, 2011


                Lately, I have been pondering the term orthodoxy, as it seems to be bandied about quite regularly.  It has become quite a shibboleth used in the various “camps” within the Church.  On one side stand “the orthodox” who use the term to self-identify and mark their distinction from the others, the “heretics.”  This brand of “orthodoxy”, often behaves as if “orthodoxy” were somehow correct knowledge, and that our primary obligation is hold the right “belief” or knowledge.  The other “camp” uses the term “orthodox(y)” to show how rigid and “unfree” the other side really is.  For them, “orthodoxy” is a stricture from which we must be loosed, and is closely bound to personal behavior. This of course, is a broad brush and made without reference to the Orthodox (think Eastern Christianity).

                It is interesting that both sides make, in my mind, a fundamental error in tying “orthodoxy” to either knowledge or behavior as a primary meaning.  While I know that traditional usage indicates a meaning of correct doctrine, it must be stated that the term, in English, is of 17th Century origin, and most reference works in their etymology take a variant read of the second part of the word.

                The term, as we have it, is a compound word resulting from the combination of two Greek roots, ortho, and doxa (although some etymologies use dokein).  Ortho, as you might guess, does indeed mean correct, straight, or right.  Some of you may have had the experience of visiting an orthodontist (one who corrects your teeth, rather painfully I might add), or wearing orthotic devices.    Doxa, on the other hand is not so easy to translate.  In fact, it appears that the difficulty of translating this word, has led to the use of a related, but inexact, term dokein, to make the definition.  Dokein, does indeed carry the definition of “believe, think”, but to acquire the requisite “x” sound it would have to be either future or aorist.  The simpler word to use, and one that most etymologies reference is doxa.  This term denotes “glory, splendor, radiance, and honor”.  This is what we read in John 1:14, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.”

                I would argue, then, that “orthodoxy” is not primarily about belief, but about worship.  We are to give, to ascribe, the correct glory, splendor, radiance, honor to the Triune God.  This right glory giving occurs in our liturgy, and to assist us in so doing we have been given a set of guidelines.  The Creeds, then, list out the essential points that direct our giving correct honor to God.

                Of course, one cannot escape orthopisty (correct faith) or orthopraxy (correct action), but they are not primary.  Instead, they flow and develop from orthodoxy.  I have heard said, somewhere, “we become what we worship.”  Orthodoxy, then, is the first step of catechesis, of learning the faith, of becoming.   

We are hearing quite a bit about mission in the Church today. Of course, we are to be involved in evangelism, poverty alleviation, education, health care, and a myriad other tasks, but these derive from our being representatives of God.  How can we be representatives of God if we do not know the Triune God?  That begins in our worship, the liturgy; the mission of the Church is rooted, nay begun, in her worship, and then carried forth into the world.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

This Holy Night

The church is quiet now between services, and I am enjoying a nice cuppa and reflecting on the cosmic significance of this night.

It has become oh so popular for the culture to constantly harp that "this isn't really the night, and it was originally a pagan holiday that the church co opted or 'baptized'."  My initial response to these metaphorically challenged individuals is "who cares?"  First, according to Luke, the shepherds were told at night that Jesus was born, but it did not say which night.  It was probably even in the spring, but to focus on such "historical" details misses a much bigger theological point.

Now, the feast of Christmas was not a co opted pagan holiday.  The Romans did not institute a celebration of the Sun until Aurelian did so in 274 AD, in hopes of reviving the flagging Empire.  Dr. William Tighe has written an excellent refutation of the commonly held error that Christian's stole the pagan holiday.

This night, also, points the way to another night, the darkness of Good Friday.  The lights we light at late Mass, where the opening verses of John are read, is symbolic of the Isaiahic light to the nations, the birth of the Messiah, "the light of the world", and the Resurrection.  This connection was made early, with the belief, as Dr. Tighe puts it, of the Integral Age.  This held that the date of a prophet's death coincided with the date of their birth or conception.  So when the Western Church, albeit mistakenly, calculated the date of Jesus' death to 25 March 29, the conclusion was that Jesus was born on 25 December, exactly nine months later.  For the Church, therefore, this is not about "historical fact", but theological fact. The birth of Jesus cannot be separated from the Crucifixion and Resurrection.

Finally, even the town in which Jesus is born has deep theological meaning.  Bethlehem, in Hebrew, means "house of bread."  Jesus calls himself, in John's Gospel, the bread of life, in the Eucharist we repeat Jesus' words over the bread, "Take, eat, this is my body which is given for you."  Theologically, the only bread we really need to really live, was born in the town known as the House of Bread.

In the words of CS Lewis, "...the Church exists for nothing else but to draw men into Christ, to make them little Christs.  If they are not doing that, all the cathedrals, clergy, missions, sermons, even the Bible itself, are simply a waste of time.  God became man for no other purpose.  It is even doubtful, you know, whether the whole universe was created for any other purpose."  (Mere Christianity, Harper, San Francisco, 2001, 199)

This is a cosmic night.  Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Juan de la Cruz (John of the Cross)

Today, in the Episcopal Church, is the provisional feast day of St. John of the Cross.  The following Biography is from the Christian Classics Ethereal Library sponsored by Calvin College.

St. John of the Cross - (1542-1591), Spanish mystic, Carmelite friar and priest
Born in Spain in 1542, John learned the importance of self-sacrificing love from his parents. His father gave up wealth, status, and comfort when he married a weaver's daughter and was disowned by his noble family. After his father died, his mother kept the destitute family together as they wandered homeless in search of work. These were the examples of sacrifice that John followed with his own great love -- God.
When the family finally found work, John still went hungry in the middle of the wealthiest city in Spain. At fourteen, John took a job caring for hospital patients who suffered from incurable diseases and madness. It was out of this poverty and suffering, that John learned to search for beauty and happiness not in the world, but in God.
After John joined the Carmelite order, Saint Teresa of Avila asked him to help her reform movement. John supported her belief that the order should return to its life of prayer. But many Carmelites felt threatened by this reform, and some members of John's own order kidnapped him. He was locked in a cell six feet by ten feet and beaten three times a week by the monks. There was only one tiny window high up near the ceiling. Yet in that unbearable dark, cold, and desolation, his love and faith were like fire and light. He had nothing left but God -- and God brought John his greatest joys in that tiny cell.
After nine months, John escaped by unscrewing the lock on his door and creeping past the guard. Taking only the mystical poetry he had written in his cell, he climbed out a window using a rope made of strips of blankets. With no idea where he was, he followed a dog to civilization. He hid from pursuers in a convent infirmary where he read his poetry to the nuns. From then on his life was devoted to sharing and explaining his experience of God's love.
His life of poverty and persecution could have produced a bitter cynic. Instead it gave birth to a compassionate mystic, who lived by the beliefs that "Who has ever seen people persuaded to love God by harshness?" and "Where there is no love, put love -- and you will find love."
John left us many books of practical advice on spiritual growth and prayer that are just as relevant today as they were then. These books include: Ascent of Mount Carmel , Dark Night of the Soul and A Spiritual Canticle of the Soul and the Bridegroom Christ .

The following is from his work, Ascent of Mount Carmel, available at the CCEL in electronic format.
The reason for which it is necessary for the soul, in order to attain to Divine union with God, to pass through this dark night of mortification of the desires and denial of pleasures in all things, is because all the affections which it has for creatures are pure darkness in the eyes of God, and, when the soul is clothed in these affections, it has no capacity for being enlightened and possessed by the pure and simple light of God, if it first cast them not from it; for light cannot agree with darkness; since, as Saint John says: Tenebroe eam non comprehenderunt. (St. John i, 5). That is: The darkness could not receive the light.
The Collect of the Day

Judge eternal, throned in splendor, you gave Juan de la Cruz strength of purpose and mystical faith that sustained him even through the dark night of the soul: Shen your light on all who love you, in unity with Jeus Christ our Savior; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. 

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Santa Lucia

Today is the commemoration of St. Lucy. Lucy, or Lucia, was martyred at Syracuse, Sicily in the persecutions under Diocletian (303-304).  Her tomb may still be found in the catacombs of Syracuse, and her commemoration spread quickly in the Church.

She is remembered for her purity and gentleness and is associated with light.  Her feast is celebrated as both a church and secular commemoration in Scandanavia. 

So, for St. Lucy's day here is Enrico Caruso singing Santa Lucia.
Ok, so the song is about boats and an island in the Bay of Naples.  On the other hand, it contains Santa Lucia and is quite lovely.  And, if, like me, you do not know Italian, just pretend it is about the Saint.  That's what I do.

The Collect for St. Lucy

Loving God, for the salvaiton of all you gave Jesus Christ as light to a world in darkness: Illumine us, with your daughter Lucy, with the light of Christ, that by the merits of his passion we may be led to eternal life; through the same Jesus Christ, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Ambrose Bishop of Milan

His commemoration is held on December 7.

A synopsis of his life from's website:

Born the son of Aurelius Ambrosius, the imperial viceroy of Gaul,[1] Ambrose followed in his father's footsteps and became governor of Aemilia-Liguria (Northern Italy) in AD 370. He might well have remained in a political career had not dramatic events overtaken him. Ambrose had his official residence in Milan, where he was a catechumen in the church. When the bishop of the city, a pro-Arian named Auxentius died, the election of a new bishop was hotly contested by the Arian and Nicene parties within the church. The contest became so violent that Governor Ambrose was summoned to the church where the election was taking place because of reports of a riot. The story goes on to tell how someone shouted out "Bishop Ambrose!" a cry that was taken up and resulted in his being elected bishop.[2] Being only a catechumen he was hurriedly rushed through the various church orders and was ordained only eight days later, on 7th December 373.[3] Whatever the reasons for his election Ambrose proved his determination to succeed in his new position. His training and particularly his knowledge of Greek[4] set him in good stead. He devoted himself to prayer and to the study of both the Scriptures and pagan literature, rapidly becoming an accomplished preacher and writer.[5] His (sic) was able to read the works of the eastern writers in their original language and he made use of Philo, Origen, Athanasius, Didymus the Blind, Cyril of Jerusalem, Basil of Caesarea, Hippolytus of Rome and the Neoplatonist, Plotinus.[6] Ambrose is credited as being chiefly responsible for the final defeat of Arianism within the Western church.[7] Familiarity with Greek also enabled Ambrose to introduce allegorical interpretation to the western church.[8] He was deeply influenced by Philo and Origen, seeing in Scripture three levels of meaning: the literal, the moral and the allegorical, but also making use of typology.[9] His hermeneutic was of great help to Augustine, who refers to Ambrose in his Confessions, in removing his objections to the Old Testament Scriptures.[10]
From Ambrose's treatise Of the Christian Faith (Book I.VIII.54)
It is plain, therefore, that the Son is not unlike the Father, and so we may confess the more readily that He is also eternal, seeing the He Who is like the Eternal must needs be eternal. But if we say that the Father is eternal, and yet deny this of the Son, we say that the Son is unlike the Father, for the temporal differeth from the eternal. The Prophet proclaims Him eternal; the Testaments, Old and New alike, are full of witness to the Son's eternity.
And from the same treatise (Book IV.XII.169)
...For after this premised, He proceeded immediately: "I am the true Vine, and My Father is the Husbandman," that you might know that the Father is greater in so far as He dresses and tends our Lord's flesh, as the husbandman dresses and tends his vines. Father, our Lord's flesh is that which could increase in stature with age, and be wounded through suffering, to the end that the whole human race might rest guarded from the pestilent heat of the pleasures of this world, under the shadow of the Cross whereon Its limbs are spread.
Ambrose also served as a Catechist for Augustine of Hippo and his Confessions (Book V.13) tell of their first encounter.
In Milan I found your devoted servant the bishop Ambrose, who was known throughout the world as a man whom there were few to equal in goodness.  At that time his gifted tongue never tired of dispensing the richness of your corn, the joy of our oil, and the sober intoxication of your wine (references to Psalms 4.8, 44.8, 80.17. "Sober intoxication" comes from Ambrose's hymn "Splendor paternae gloriae."). Unknown to me, it was you who led me to him, so that I might knowingly be led by him to you. This man of God received me like a father and, as bishop, told me know glad he was that I had come. My heart warmed to him, not at first as a teacher of the truth, which I had quite despaired of finding in your Church, but simply as a man who showed me kindness. I listened attentively when he preached to the people, though not with proper intention....(Chapter 14) and while I was all ears to seize upon his eloquence, I also began to sense the truth of what he said, though only gradually. First of all it struck me that it was, after all, possible to vindicate his arguments. I began to believe the Catholic faith, which I had thought impossible to defend...
The Collect for St. Ambrose
O God, you gave your servant Ambrose grace eloquently to proclaim your righteousness in the great congregation, and fearlessly to bear reproach for the honor of your Name: Mercifully grant to all bishops and pastors such excellence in preaching and faithfulness in ministering your Word, that your people may be partakers with them of the glory that shall be revealed: through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Real Boxing Day (St. Nicholas 2011)

I know in the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand this is celebrated on 26 December, but I'm not referencing the Bank Holiday Act of 1871.  I am thinking about good St. Nick of Myra whose feast is celebrated today.

We all know of St. Nicholas' generosity, goodwill, and godliness, but did you know he was also a boxer?  A sort of combination of Joe Frazier and St. Francis?

Here is an interesting article with a bit more on St. Nicholas.

According to one version of his legend, after Nicholas punch/slapped the arch-heretic Arius at the Council of Nicea, he was duly stripped of his bishop's panoply and thrown in jail (you could not perform violence in front of the Emperor).  That night, he was visited by an angel and his panoply was miraculously restored.  In the morning, when Constantine came to visit, he found a fully dressed Nicholas waiting for him and this miracle helped convince the council to condemn Arianism.

Of course, that is all holy legend. Really, there is not much known about him other than that he was reverenced fairly soon after his death.  Short articles on his life may be found in the Catholic Encyclopedia or in  Christianity Today.

Now I am not one to promote or condone violence, but if you feel the urge to slap a heretic today, you might be following in the footsteps of a saint. :)  (Tongue firmly planted in cheek).

Update:  Found a website promoting an independent film on the life of St. Nicholas.  It looks intriguing and I hope it can find distribution.  You may track the movie here.