The British Church for Two Thousand Years

At thousand year intervals events have occurred in these islands whose effects are impossible to remove even after millennia. The effects are malign and irremediable. Though the prophets of Israel indicate that Messiah will remediate cruelties as great as these when he appears.

Rome invaded Britain in 54 AD setting a colony here till 410 AD. The Roman Empire established a frontier across this island which was later consolidated to the wall by Hadrian. The presence of this Roman barrier affected the history of much of Britain and determined the history of the lands around it since. Rory Stewart MP in TV documentaries on this ‘Middle-land’ demonstrated the malign influence of this barrier on the economy and life of the north of England, and borders of Scotland, to this day.

(A strange feature to me of the Scotland devolution/separation question seems to be that Scotland is at least two countries; the Highlands and the Lowlands. And the Lowlands have much in common with the northern counties of England many of whose people look to Edinburgh and Scotland rather than England and London.)

Prior to the Roman colony the British king and leader of resistance to Rome, Caractacus, was taken to Rome for the emperor Claudius’s triumph*. The victims of a triumph were killed at the end of the parade in a public sacrifice. Caractacus was the only such victim spared in the history of Rome.

The reason for this unique clemency was a speech Caractacus made to the Senate. Caractacus had been betrayed to Rome. It remains true that a foreign power can gain hold of these islands only by the inhabitants being betrayed or yielding.

The legend of King Arthur, which is related around the world in folk-tales and stories, has some of its purchase upon the imagination from betrayal by a near, half-relative, Mordred. There is in this tale also longing for hope and freedom. A longing, nostalgia, for what might not have been lost had there not been betrayal.

In the tenth century the English, Saxon kingdom was an integrated society with mutual respect and cooperation between its strata. Education was promoted and was in English. The Scriptures were translated into English. Life was conducted in English.

The last Saxon king, Edward the Confessor, a Franco-phone, was pro-Norman, and loathed for his duties here. He promoted Norman friends and contacts within his country, circle, and society. There are Norman houses today that date from before 1066. He betrayed his Saxon country to the Normans.

Duke William obtained from the Pope encouragement to take Britain and impose Roman church practice on a country that was largely free of continental religion. So different from Rome was England that it took till the mid-thirteenth century to extirpate married clergy from England. British priests had always married, long before Augustine came to Canterbury in 597.

A later king, Henry II, was provoked by the Pope to destroy the Celtic church in Ireland as William’s successors had suppressed the English church, imposing Roman prelates and practice on the Irish. The story is that of another country but the malign influence of that treachery remains with us today.

Edward the Confessor was canonized. Rome would not have had a grip on the British church without him. The effects of the Norman Conquest cannot be rooted out now but its blight remains. A recent report claimed descendants of the Normans control the power and wealth of this country still1. I derive the ‘them’ and ‘us’ divide that has pervaded social and political comment in England for the last thousand years from that Norman-French take over.

Had the Franco-phone Edward loved his England more than his Norman home, history – and freedom – would have been different. The Harrying of the North of England in 1069-70 partakes of both these events; the Roman and the Norman legacy.

The theme of separation or integration into a continental power is again here a thousand years later. Maybe the same issues are at stake? And the same long legacy.

Ref 1 http://neilcummins.com/Papers/Clark_Cummins_2013.pdf accessed 10.5.16

* A triumph was a costly, public spectacle which gained its leader, by huge expenditure, publicity and popularity. The invasion of Britain may have been purposed to allow the emperor Claudius to claim a triumph and so improve his popularity. Colossians 2:15 uses the metaphor of triumph to describe Christ’s parading the principalities and powers to their imminent destruction at Calvary.

Colin Slater

We believe in one God

Exploring the Nicene creed

In this series of articles we are thinking about the important and central statements of the Christian Faith: i.e. the basics and essentials. So we begin with a brief declaration about God. That there is Only One God; one supreme being who is both Creator and Father, the source and life and power of all that we can see, touch, or feel: a 3-dimensional, living yet finite creation, with its (also finite) fourth dimension called time. But a Creator who is also the source and life of an eternal world, of which we can get only tiny fleeting glimpses with the eye of faith. It’s a world, that like God himself, is in a true sense, completely other and beyond us, yet touches us and impinges upon us as we shall see in a host of ways. This essentially is because there is yet another ‘dimension’ in creation called LOVE, which in all its depth and splendour and glory is made tangible and real in JESUS. Indeed God’s greatest strongest power is the power of Love. The power indeed which brings about and sustains ALL that there is. We shall look at this in more detail and frequently as we proceed in these articles.

There is a line in the closing scene of the powerfully religious musical “Les Miserables” which is very moving and true: “To love another person is to see the face of God”. St. John in his 1st Epistle put it like this: “… everyone who loves is born of God and knows God”. (1 John 4: 7). The world of our great Universe and Cosmos, and the eternal world of Heaven, are thus linked inseparably by their Creator. And that means that you the reader (and I the writer) are also linked in our humanity to “the life of the world to come” [the very last phrase of this Creed]. And that our Creator God and Father will never never unlink us. So though God is beyond and other, he is also in a true sense personal and knowable. We can therefore love him, and even more so be loved by him, speak to him, listen to him, and learn from him. We would expect that from any good father and mother, and God is just that in all perfection and measure, and in wisdom and endless mercy also. (See Luke 11:1-13).

However, we have still to acknowledge that even with our most enlightened human thoughts and words our understanding of God is very very limited. To begin with, as the Gospel of St John puts it “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth”. (John 4: 24).  The passage of course is saying that the nature and substance of God is not like our human nature. His is a reality that we can only think of in spiritual but nevertheless real terms. Hence we can never fully and adequately describe God. If we could it would not be God but a human creation of our human imagination! We use terms like All Goodness, All Beauty, All truth (as great theologians like St. Thomas Aquinas did): or words like All Merciful, All Compassionate, All Loving, All Holy (as the Muslim Faith does perhaps more strongly than Christianity). And these are certainly helpful and point in the right direction. And are strong clear Biblical concepts or truths. But we have only scratched the surface of the incredible depth of the wonder, mystery and majesty of the Eternal God.

All these notions speak the language of faith; and the gift of faith is a most precious gift of God, given to those who will open their hearts and minds and reason. I stress the place of the rational mind, for I want to emphasize strongly that there is no conflict or divide between the scientific mind and approach to truth and meaning, and the religious and spiritual mind with its truths, the way it seeks those truths, and the things of the spirit. The scientific mind, whose task essentially is to discover tangible observable facts and truth, concrete empirical evidence, and so forth, deals largely with the how of things; leading to invention and application, and how the worlds and things work. The religious mind and the theologian (and all deeply thinking Christians are theologians) pursue another complementary path to truth, and speak of the why of things, or the ultimate meaning and purpose of existence: Why are we here anyway? Is this all there is? How should I live my life? And so on…  Briefly, religion is essentially about a loving relationship with God and with each other. And this leads to what I will call “altruism”, meaning how we live our lives fully and to our best ability, around a framework of faith in the God who made us in his own image (more about this later), and the best possible ethic and morality. And a God who also has an eternal glorious destiny planned for us. As we shall see, supremely for us as Christians: “Jesus is the way, and the truth and in the life”. (John 14:6).

Good Science and Sound Religion are complimentary ‘reflections’ of a great Creator’s mind, meant to enhance in harmony, and for good, the precious gift of humanity that we share together, both constantly needing divine inspiration and guidance.

Both science and religion are on a journey of discovery. Both going forward in faith and trust, using of course the other tools of their respective professions; constantly learning, revising, and often having to jettison error and mistakes. Both need each other, for science has been and can still be the tool of evil ideology as well as for the best good of humanity; and where religion also needs scrutiny and dispassionate judgment and correction, for it too has been and still can be the tool of abuse evil and terror, often refusing to acknowledge an ever changing world with huge good advances in human knowledge in many varied fields.

Finally, such a faith that I am trying to share with you can only prompt a deeper love, with a more profound respect, reverence and awe, before our Creator and Father God. All through the Bible, as steadily and patiently God reveals more and more of himself, we see a growing knowledge, love, reverence and awe. For me I see that culminating in the experience of those who met and loved Jesus, or those who later took the great Gospel of his love to their hearts also. For me I find this summed up in the words of the once doubting apostle Thomas, who when the risen Christ gently showed him the wounds of his great sacrifice for us, could only say in grateful love “My LORD AND MY GOD”. (John 20:28). If we can say and mean that, as we make this most exciting journey of faith and prayer, then the Nicene Creed as we explore and open it up, will surely help us on the way.

“My God, how wonderful you are, your majesty how bright;
 How beautiful your mercy seat in depths of burning light!
 How wonderful, how beautiful the sight of you must be;
 Your endless wisdom, boundless power, and awesome purity

George Abell

Avoiding the Dinosaurs’ Fate

The EARTH & FAITH Group made an April visit to the Ardley Energy Recovery Facility near Bicester. The industrial site is huge, having been built on a discontinued landfill dump. The purpose at Ardley is to use non-recyclable waste to create energy and road-making materials; almost everything is computer-controlled and depends on the interdisciplinary skills of environmental scientists. So, wearing goggles, hardhats and gloves, it was good to see in a vast hall of pipes, walkways, noise, conveyor belts and fiery furnaces glimpsed through portholes, how our fortnightly black bin and pink bag collections are being put to such good use.

Particularly striking was the sight of the life-size “Megalawattosaurus” who not-too benignly dominates the Visitor Centre Reception. Made most amusingly out of rubbish of all kinds – carpets, vinyl records, sports shoes, an old telephone, cooking pots, garden tools, umbrellas and much more – “Meg” offers a convenient cautionary tale. “Meg” is not just a handy illustration: Ardley is itself the site where dinosaur tracks were first found – the ‘walk way’ is carefully preserved. Just as dinosaurs became extinct because, wholly or in part, their climate changed so as to make them no longer viable, so – the lesson goes – if we continue with our environmental despoliation, we will suffer the same fate.

The tour included seeing the vast dumping hall where all our non-recycled material goes: it is stirred, hoisted into furnaces, with gasses so controlled that nothing harmful escapes – even the gasses being recycled. At the end, most of the effort goes to contributing directly to the National Grid, generating enough power for a town of 38,000 households. Most of the solid residue that remains is turned into the pre-asphalt layer for major road resurfacing.

The message was clear: reduce dependence on non-recyclable materials; increase re-use; replace and throw out less; increase still further our recycling level; reduce recovery rates (‘recovery’ is what they do at Ardley); and reduce any landfill towards zero. We were congratulated for being from the best area in the best county for recycling, but our current levels of 61% recycling, we were told, needs to be over 80%. Looked at from that perspective, “Meg” seemed something more of a challenge. There are energy recovery sites like Ardley across the country but it is our choices, our behaviour, linked to new environmental safeguarding technologies, that will make the difference.

Ardley is a reason to do more, not less. For more information and to book a visit, Google Ardley ERF

Peter Foot

The priesthood of all believers

Someone asked me about the meaning of this phrase – they had been commenting on how well the parish seemed to be proceeding in the interregnum and wondered if it was linked to those words.

Well, of course, it is! There’s a particular passage in Peter’s first letter in which he says, “Like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ . . . But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.”

And remember the scene in the Upper Room after the resurrection when Jesus solemnly ordained, not just the Apostles, but the whole body of believers gathered in the room? He breathed on to them, telling them to receive the Holy Spirit, and gave them the authority for the remission of sins. The details of that scene could never have been written unless it was a commonly accepted truth throughout the whole Church that the Lord had solemnly ordained the whole body of the faithful to exercise his ministry to the world.

There’s a definition of the Priesthood of All Believers that declares this means that every individual has direct access to God and shares the responsibility of ministering to other members of the community of believers.

The man who asked me about this implied that our interregnum had been made easy because we have access to a number of retired clergy to help with services. The success of our parish’s ministry during the interregnum – and I believe my fellow clergy would agree with me – has had a little to do with our input, but a great deal more to do with the work of our lay brothers and sisters.

We are all, as it were, ordained by the laying on of hands at our Confirmation – very similar in essence to the ordination of the Clergy – Confirmation could be considered as the ordination of the Layperson to their sacred office. It’s worth remembering also that the Church accepts as perfectly valid Holy Baptism administered in a proper form by a Layperson, in the unavoidable absence of the Parish Priest, or in a case of emergency.

And no celebration of the Holy Eucharist is valid without the presence of Laypeople whose “Amen” to the Prayer of Consecration is an essential part of the Celebration. The Celebrant acts on behalf of the whole body of the faithful who are present – in being, as it were, their mouth and hands. In addition, the preaching of God’s Word can be, and is, committed to laypeople, who, as Local Lay Ministers, share this very important work with the ordained Clergy; and when, at public worship, the Absolution is pronounced by the Priest or Minister, it is given in the name of the whole Church.

I hope this explanation helps to show that the Church recognises the Priesthood of all believers. The difference between Clergy and Laity is that although they share one Priesthood, there is a definite distinction between the office of the Priesthood and the office of the Laity; the former are people who have been authorised and empowered to perform special duties and offices in the priestly Body, on behalf of its members, such as teaching, administering the Sacraments, pronouncing the Absolution, and, (If they’re Bishops) confirming and ordaining.

It is a truth that the Layperson has a priesthood, which they share with the clergy, and that, in a very true sense – except in just one particular respect – the one is just as much a priest as the other.

Max Young