Spiritual Warfare

Could the Anglicans and Copts enter communion with Rome?

Two stories over the last few weeks raise the intriguing possibility that not one but to schisms in the global Church could be at long last healed.

The first is the decades-long process of reconciliation between Rome and the Egyptian Coptic Church.  The Copts broke with rest of the Church back in 451 AD because of a disagreement over Christ's humane and divine natures.  Pope Paul VI opened negotiations in the 1970s which have since been continuing intermittently.  Apparently the Christology thing is now out of the way, and a few weeks ago the "Coptic Pope" visited Rom and participated in a Mass with Pope Francis and they also jointly recognized Egyptian Copts killed by Islamic terrorists as martyrs and saints.

This predictably ticked off Francis' usual critics because (they said) it implied that heretics could be martyrs, but of course that's missing the big picture - if one is seeking to have Copts brought back into communion with Rome, this is one of the steps to doing that.

Now combine this with the breakup of the Anglican Communion, and there's a very real (albeit slender) possibility of the Global South of the Anglican Church moving toward reuniting with the rest of the Catholic Church.

GAFCON is theologically very conservative, and the vast majority of Anglicans outside of England carry no particular animus towards Rome. 

It is important to recall that the Anglican Communion is distinctly different from the rest of Protestantism because it still maintains the Apostolic Succession and the ancient bishoprics of England.  Pope Benedict XVI has already created the framework for Anglican clergy and their denominations to enter into the Catholic Church as a group, and of course there are ample examples of "lost" churches of the East returning to communion with Rome.

It would be singularly remarkable if Pope Francis of all people facilitated the end of this ancient and acrimonious schism.

Naturally, there is plenty of room for skepticism, but if the last few years have shown us anything, it is just how fragile long-standing institutions and conventions can be.  In the space of a half-century, the Anglican Church went from a male-only clergy to ordaining lesbian priestesses and homosexual bishops.  Now they are blessing gay relationships.

Perhaps the Holy Spirit will move those Christians who still hold to God's word to come together at long last and present a united front against the Great Enemy.

The top-down schism of the Anglican Communion

While I don't follow politics or the news in general, I am interested in the current state of religious matters.  Last week I decided to check up and see how things were going with the Anglican Communion.

The answer is: not well.

During April, the Global Anglican Future Conference  (GAFCON) convened in Kigali, Rwanda to discuss the conflicts that now exist between them, and the leadership of the Church of England.  GAFCON subsequently issued the following statement:

Despite 25 years of persistent warnings by most Anglican Primates, repeated departures from the authority of God’s Word have torn the fabric of the Communion. These warnings were blatantly and deliberately disregarded and now without repentance this tear cannot be mended.

The latest of these departures is the majority vote by the General Synod of the Church of England in February 2023 to welcome proposals by the bishops to enable same-sex couples to receive God’s blessing. It grieves the Holy Spirit and us that the leadership of the Church of England is determined to bless sin.

Since the Lord does not bless same-sex unions, it is pastorally deceptive and blasphemous to craft prayers that invoke blessing in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

There is no way to sugar-coat these disagreements.  Either Scripture and sacred tradition are binding, or they are not. 

Since those who teach will be judged more strictly (James 3:1), we call upon those provinces, dioceses and leaders who have departed from biblical orthodoxy to repent of their failure to uphold the Bible’s teaching. This includes matters such as human sexuality and marriage, the uniqueness and divinity of Christ, his bodily resurrection, his promised return, the summons to faith and repentance and the final judgment.

We long for this repentance but until they repent, our communion with them remains broken.

And there it is - the Archbishop of Canterbury has been excommunicated by 315 bishops and approximately 85 percent of the global Anglican Communion.

Even though I'm on a "news diet," I figured something of this magnitude would be big enough that I'd have heard of it before now, but of course "news" these days is what the ruling class wants us to know (which may or may not be true).  It's probably deeply disturbing for them to know that the Western hedonist agenda is so deeply unpopular.

The Anglican Church is of course an odd creation, a relic of Henry VIII's obsession with producing a male heir.  It's missionary activities generally followed the expansion of the British Empire, and there is a certain deep irony in the way that the C of E has now become so heretical that the fruit of its labors now reject its leadership.

There's also a certain absurdity to the fact that the specific flashpoint for this crisis is the desire of the Church of England to legitimize sodomy of all things.  This is right out of a Monty Python skit.  I'm imagining John Cleese standing in full episcopal regalia announcing that his faith cannot be shaking, and like Martin Luther stating "Here I stand.  I can do no other."  And then camera frame broadens and you see he's in a gay bar and "It's Raining Men" starts playing.

However one feels about homosexuality (or for that matter, Christianity), GAFCON's position is irrefutable:

The Bible is God’s Word written, breathed out by God as it was written by his faithful messengers (2 Timothy 3:16). It carries God’s own authority, is its own interpreter, and it does not need to be supplemented, nor can it ever be overturned by human wisdom.

Yes.  Over the past five centuries, Protestantism has increasing turned into "cafeteria Christianity," where one can take only the things one wants.  That's now how it works.

Of course, there have been plenty attempts to insist that the Bible was "of its time" and that in our more enlightened age, we can see how archaic and out-of-date it is.

Certainly that's what the Catholic bishops in Germany claim, and it tells us a lot more about them than they think.  For a senior clergyman to claim that homosexual impulses are simply too powerful to contain is (to me at least) grounds for their immediate removal from office.

This assertion is both insulting since it states clearly that people who feel same-sex attraction are incapable of self-control and blasphemous because it assumes that God will not assist those prayerfully seeking His aid in remaining morally pure.

What is more, if the sexual urge is implacable, why are only homosexuals granted a dispensation?  What about married individuals who feel tempted to commit adultery?  Should we offer blessings for committed lovers and mistresses?  Where does this nonsense end?

Well, we now have an idea - schism and dismay.  I believe GAFCON are doing what it is right.  As I've said many times, there comes a point where differences in doctrine cannot be swept under the rug.

Since I brought up the German bishops (and let us not forget that they have support from American bishops as well, as well as the Jesuits), I can't help but notice that both of these drives to heresy coming from the leadership, not the laity.  It is a top-down revolution, and such things rarely succeed.

Indeed, this ill-considered move by  Canterbury may be the catalyst that finally ends the schism with Rome.  After all, Anglican practice and theology is so similar that many senior clergy have already turned to the Catholic Church.  The late Pope Benedict XVI created an Anglican Rite and ordinariate specifically to serve these people.

It would be very  appropriate if this schism ultimately results in greater overall unity. 


Gardening side-quests

This year I decided to make another dedicated attempt at a garden.  Unlike before, I did careful research regarding crops, their location and essentially started the plot from scratch.  My plan was to have the fencing up and the crops in the ground by late April.

That hasn't happened, and there are three reasons for it.

The first is the weather.  Michigan has had insanely inconsistent weather this spring, veering back and forth between the sunny 70s and snow showers.  It has also rained much more than normal, making yard work difficult.  (My plot is well-drained, so standing water isn't an issue.)

The second is my grandchildren, who are spending more time with us.  This isn't generally a problem per se, but it acts as an amplifier to the first reason because when the weather has been good, they want to go to the playground or play in the yard.  Gardening can wait.

But the third reason - and probably the most important - has been the endless "side-quests" necessarily to get my garage and home back in proper order.  Here again, the toll of 21 years of National Guard weekends is apparent. To be fair, about three years ago I burned a week of vacation time to do a major reorganization, fixing problems that had persisted since we moved in.  There is no denying my progress, but it is also true that the hectic schedule since then compromised those gains.

Hence the side-quest reference: just as in a role-playing game, I can't tackle the 'main quest' - putting the garden in - until I can first reorganize the tools.  That requires me to move all the bicycles, which require maintenance and that in turn requires me to find their tools and the air pump, etc.

Thus, while my progress towards the main object remains painfully slow, I am knocking out real improvements.

I also had the foresight to assume I would run late, and so chose the most low-skill plants that would also mature in 60 days or so - making late planting not much of an issue.  Indeed, I'd rather get it done properly.

I will add that I am far better off physically and mentally spending my time on this than rage-stroking over the latest bombshell on the news sites.  When I meet people in person who still follow things, the conversation is a bit difficult.

"Did you hear about such-and-such?!  It's an outrage!"

"Oh, no, that's too bad.  My weeping cherry was beautiful this year, hardly needed trimming at all.  When we moved in, we didn't know how to care for it, and it was choked with old growth.  We had some tree trimmers in doing other work and they said they could work on it, but the shock might be lethal, so I did a little each year and now it looks great!'

"Uh, okay, but about the president-"

"I can't help that.  I can help my tree."

People talk about Chesterton's Fence, and I think that very much applies - having lived here for a decade, I'm seeing what needs to stay and what should go.

And if the garden doesn't work out - at least my house and garage got organized!



Sci-fi that's too heavy on the allegory: C.S. Lewis' "space" trilogy

Given my interests, one would think that I am a huge fan of C.S. Lewis.  While I do admire some of his religious writings and particularly enjoyed The Screwtape Letters, I find his work a little too heavy on the allegory.  Like his friend J.R.R. Tolkien, I didn't approve of him mixing mythologies in the Narnia books.  Moreover, I came upon them late in life, and while the kids enjoyed them, I did not get much out of them.

However, I had heard good things about this "space" trilogy, which is a someone curious body of work.  It was written during the Second World War and could credibly be counted as "hard" science fiction in terms of how it explains space travel (which is confined to our solar system).  It is quite inventive and combines spiritual concepts in an interesting way.

That being said, it is not a conventional trilogy insofar as the plot only somewhat builds during the series.  Most trilogies (this includes my Man of Destiny series, which started out as a trilogy) are basically a story arc spread out over multiple episodes or periods.  The "space" books differ greatly in tone and character, and in the author's forwards (and sometimes in the epilogues) this is explained.

All of which is to say, there are good points to the books, but to me there is a fatal flaw that finally brought my reading to a halt, and that is the excessive use of allegory.

Tolkien himself was a sharp critic of using this method of storytelling, and made a point of separating stories that were applicable to other areas from ones that were simply extended metaphors for making a point.  The latter is what the "space" books are.

The first book is the worst in this respect.  Out of the Silent Planet features three remarkably thin characters who are really nothing more than placeholders for points of view.  There is vivid description, lengthy discussions, and not much else of interest.  Lewis loves language, and major part of the book discusses how other life forms would utilize it.  At the end is a note promising the next book will be less heavy-handed.

It isn't.  Like the first book, Perelandra had a remarkably inventive setting (the first book was on Mars while this one is set on Venus) but apart from an attempt at better narrative framing, it is mostly description and long-winded philosophical discussions.

That Hideous Strength concludes the series but can also be read by itself.  Maybe that's what I should have done, because by now my tolerance for symbolism was non-existent.  I'm about 100 pages into it and have completely lost interest.  None of the characters feel in any way real - they are all archetypes placed in the story to make a political, philosophical or religious point.

Of course it is possible to do this while retaining vibrant and fascinating characters.  Tolkien certainly did it, as did Evelyn Waugh.  Indeed, the strength of Waugh's writing is that it feels like a real story and the sense of meaning and purpose only gradually makes its presence known.

That Hideous Strength is basically a Nineteen Eighty-Four style tale written in a much more elaborate way.  Indeed, George Orwell was one of the few writers who did allegory well, and his secret was he kept it brief.   Animal Farm is a very quick read, and while Nineteen Eighty-Four is more detailed, the doomed romance keeps it interesting.

Yesterday I reached the breaking point.  It was the perfect time for a good book, and yet after reading only a few words of That Hideous Strength I had to set it down.  Instead I reached for a Joseph Conrad anthology and started reading The Shadow Line, which actually held my attention.

I suppose I could soldier on and at least skip and skim my way through the remainder of That Hideous Strength, but I feel that's dishonest.  Since I'm not required to do a paper on it, I'm going to simply stop reading and perhaps at some later date I will decide to pick it up again.

Those who cannot see

My column on Ben Hur at Bleedingfool.com kicked off a modest debate in the comments.  What started as a discussion of the film has now turned into a debate about faith itself.

I'm not interested in litigating my side over here, but the course of the conversation is worth a closer look.

I'm sure most people of faith at some point will encounter an "evangelical atheist."  These people don't believe in God and they don't want anyone else to, either.  Marx had a big hand in creating these creatures, and while they deserve compassion, history has shown they can also be very destructive.

While it is unlikely that we will encounter the next Pol Pot at the bookstore or in an online comment thread, I think it is important that we understand where they are coming from.

In my area, a great many were raised by strictly religious parents and their unbelief is a form of rebellion.  "I refused to be brainwashed into your cult!" is their battle cry.  Others had faith, but for some reason lost it.  Again, the stories tend to have many points in common, but each one is unique. 

Just as converts often tend to be the most fervent believers, apostates are often the Church's worst enemies.  On the psychological level, we can explain this by noting that the same strength of will that can sustain a voluntary life-change can also give it enormous power and zeal.

But if we look spiritually, we a different dynamic.  Converts to the faith are trying to share something wonderful and new to them, something that they had overlooked before. 

The evangelical atheist, by contrast, has nothing new to share, no gift other than envy and despair.

In the last couple of weeks I came across one who explained that there was no God, and that people should just enjoy life knowing that they were going to die and that would be that.  The person insisted that he was perfectly fulfilled, thank you, but that did not explain why he went on a religious forum to spread this message.

I have been seeing this all my adult life.  Again, the reasons vary, but the actions have the same dull similarity.  The most virulent form of this are the ones who want to outlaw all religious practice in the US military.  And that is what gives the game away.

The old secular materialist explanation was that misery loves company, and having had their faith shattered or never being able to find it, these folks seethe with envy and anger when they see smiling religious people find meaning and purpose in their lives.  It's especially obvious when they go out of their way to hinder them - like going to an online religious discussion to spread their message.

But if we use the Spiritual Warfare lens, what we see is something different.  These people have declared themselves against God and therefore any hint of His presence is a threat to them.  That is why they want churches closed, and seek to undermine the faith of others.  They are allied with demons, but too blind to see it.

Such creatures regularly appear in the writings of Evelyn Waugh, C.S. Lewis and G.K. Chesterton, which shows how far back this particular strain of Spiritual Warfare goes.  Indeed, one of the Enemy's most successful tactics has been creating an artificial tension between faith and science.  Yet there is none.  Faith without reason is merely foolish while science without faith is diabolical.

Perhaps the most poignant part of the Ben Hur exchange with the commenter's refusal to even accept the possibility of miracles.  Given that the oldest writings we have confirm their existence - indeed there is an evidentiary chain leading to the present day - this is perhaps the most irrational aspect of atheism.

There are no magic words to break through to such people, but my hope is that by giving counter-examples to their misery, people who of their own choice embraced faith and found contentment and joy, they may look about themselves with new eyes.



The passage of time

Being a man of a certain age, I've got used to specific routines and comforts.  One of them is pizza on Friday.  It goes without saying the best pizza has pepperoni on it.

Add onto this my extreme dislike of fried fish, and Lent is rather bothersome to me. 

That's a good thing, because we only truly appreciate something when we are at risk of losing it.  I savor that pizza all the more knowing that I will have to go without it around this time next year.

The same is true of fasting in general.  In a society overrun with food, self-induced hunger is more important than ever.  In subsistence economies, fasting is often a necessity, but we're far removed from that.

These were not things I thought much about when I entered the Church years ago, but as I continue my exploration of Catholicism, they have moved from quirks to essential elements of the Christian experience.  The liturgical calendar has likewise moved from a sidebar to the secular one to by far the more important of the two.  Secular holidays are things that are imposed on me, and for the most part require no real effort to observe.  Religious holidays seem to me far more important, and the fact that I often have to use vacation time enhances their value.

In his Sword of Honour trilogy, Evelyn Waugh makes heavy use of the liturgical calendar, often using it as the reference to time rather than the usual month and day.  This was the first time I considered the full import and meaning of feast days, Ordinary Time and the so on.

An additional element in my appreciation is the fact that I am finally getting serious about gardening.  Hitherto I simply cleared some ground, read the instructions on the seeds, and hoped for the best.  This is the first time I bothered to do research, prepare a plan and move forward in a deliberate manner.

And while I have a constant eye on the weather, I'm also noting the interaction with the spiritual calendar and the living world around it.

Variety returns to the rosary

Over the last few months I've been trying to say the rosary several times a week.  I've not fully made it a daily habit, but I'm continuing to experience and explore it.

One of the things that I found very challenging in Lent was being limited to the Sorrowful Mysteries, which was getting really monotonous.  I even brought that up at Reconciliation and especially during the last two weeks, having the other sets of mysteries was something I was really looking forward to.

Monday was great, but today of course we were back to the Sorrowful Mysteries.  It didn't bother me as much, though, since I know other ones are on tap for tomorrow and Thursday.

Why did I start saying them?  Over many years I was told by many Catholics that it was a powerful weapon in the spiritual war against evil.  As times darkened, I figured I was a fool to leave it sitting unused in the prayer arsenal.

Having tried it, I have to say it is quite effective.  The last couple of months have been challenging in various ways, but the rosary brings me calmness, particularly right after I finish it.

I can't claim it will fix everything that ails you, but even saying them occasionally seems to make a big difference.  It is absolutely worth a try.


That time when the Patriarch of Constantinople became a Calvinist

After listening to recent episode of the Lord of Spirits podcast, I figured I'd do a bit of a deep dive on Father Stephen's least favorite theology, Calvinism.

Yeah, I know, a guy who is promoting the term Yard Sign Calvinism should already have done that, but I wanted to refresh my thoughts a bit.

What I found was a rather obscure episode where the Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople, Cyril Lucaris, decided to publish a confession in Switzerland declaring the teachings of John Calvin to be in accord with those of the Eastern Orthodox Church.  This actually happened.

You can read about it more detail at the link, and because I was now fascinated, I found and downloaded the proceedings of the various Eastern Church councils that dealt with this matter.  There were three in total, with the first two mostly focusing on anathematizing Cyril while the final one, the Synod of Jerusalem in 1672, was a full-frontal assault on Calvinism.

The edition I found (which seems to be an 1899 imprint), helpfully includes Cyril's original claims as an appendix, so it presents a unique opportunity to see a challenge and response.

It also presents an example that many Catholics might find interesting since the Patriarch of Constantinople has precedence in the Eastern Church.  While this does not convey the same kind of power or authority as the Papacy, it is an interesting example of what happens when a church leader decides to make a radical break with doctrine.  (Spoiler alert: it didn't end well for him.)

Reading about the affair gave me a much better understanding of the experience of the Orthodox Church, particularly the intrigues and instability that followed the Turkish conquest of the Byzantine Empire.  Cyril was deposed four times, reinstated, and was finally murdered by the Turks after his enemies said he would incite rebellion.  The fact that Orthodox religious leaders were for centuries dependent on the goodwill of the Sultan does much to explain both their practices and theology.

The episode also served to remind me that as much as religion has faded from the public square in America, there is still a profound Calvinist influence out there.  The notion that people are judged instantly upon death and go straight to heaven or hell is nowhere in the scriptures, but is a key point in Calvinism.  Without a final judgement, there's no reason to pray for the dead - they've already gone where they are going.

The doctrine of predestination combined with the fact that marriage is not a sacrament also finds echoes in the modern notion that serial marriage can be acceptable and even moral because people are simply trying to find their "soul mate," the one they were "meant to be with."

As I enter Holy Week, I feel much more empathy for my Orthodox brothers in Christ - and even less charity towards the Calvinists.


Body and soul

The other day one of my daughters asked me at what point God puts a soul in a body.  The clear assumption was that there could be space of time between when a body is created and "ensouled."

I had to point out to her that this is a Neoplatonic/gnostic idea completely without Christian provenance.  I reminded her that the Apostles' Creed refers to "resurrection of the body," not being turned into Force ghosts.

Right on cue the Scandinavian bishops issued a letter regarding body/soul mis-matching. 

This is of course related to the ongoing "trans" phenomenon, which is philosophically (and logically) impossible because it's based on the notion that our personalities and bodies are only tenuously connected.  Indeed, the "born in the wrong body" implies that God is a rather inattentive assembly-line worker who pulls body bits, slaps them together and then haphazardly chooses from the "male" or "female" bins, often getting the body-soul combination mixed up.

Setting aside the laughably bad theology, it's logically untenable because of course the only experience we have of the world is in the body into which we are born.  A man can no more "know" what it is to be a woman than he can "know" what it is to be a bald eagle. 

The guys at the Lord of Spirits podcast like to use as their example of this the question "what is it like to be a bat?"  The answer is that we can't know, because we aren't bats.  We can imagine what it is like to be human in a bat's body, but we lack any understanding of their senses, perception, and indeed mentality.

Yet in our gnostic age, the best and brightest want to reduce the human brain to a motherboard, swapped out between desktop and laptop platforms as desired.  This is done in the name of "freedom," which is always the siren song of temptation offered by evil.  Not long ago the phrase was "Do what thou wilt," but the effect is the same - open and self-destructive defiance to God.

The sad truth is that we are imperfect in mind, body and soul.  Many of these feelings are not organic to us, rather the result of society declaring that we've failed to measure up, so we'd be better off undergoing mutilation, chemical treatment and - increasingly - just killing ourselves.

How that can be regarded as compassionate is beyond me.  People in pain need compassion and love - the kind that lets them know that they don't need radical changes, merely to understand the beauty of who they already are. 

Reconciliation vs confession and the therapy of faith

Growing up outside the Catholic Church, many of the references I had for it came from popular entertainment.  Thus, the names (and purposes of) the Sacraments were based on TV shows or movies.  Catholics had "confession" for when they sinned and of course "last rites" when they were about to die.  I wasn't sure what "confirmation" was but it was mentioned in a Billy Joel song.

In the years since, I've gained a better understanding of how Sacraments work and the Church has also cleaned up the terminology and the teachings regarding them.  One of the most helpful (and necessary) reforms was using "reconciliation" rather than "confession."

There is a huge difference between the two.  While it is useful to confess one's sins, that's not enough to obtain forgiveness.  There's also the fact that confessions can be forced or insincere.

What is really going on is a reconciliation with God, and this involves both admitting ones sins and taking actions to remedy their causes and effects.  This approach is much more positive, and I've noticed that the clergy seems to find the change a welcome one as well.

If you think about it, psychological therapy is simply a secularized version of reconciliation.  In both cases you see a specialist (priest or counselor) who listens to your problems and then offers advice. 

The primary difference is that the priest derives moral authority from God as understood through sacred scripture and tradition.  The therapist has a degree from somewhere, and an expertise based on whatever the current understanding of science says is right.

The problem of course is that science is constantly changing, and nowhere is this more pronounced than in the behavioral sphere.  What was once seen as normal and healthy is now abusive and wrong.  It is sometimes hard to believe that we live in a time when people who are hailed as experts declare that the best way to help troubled teenagers who are suffering from an identity crisis is to pump them full of dangerous drugs and perform irreversible surgeries on them.

One might fairly call that demonic.

While technically one is only required to go to Reconciliation on an annual basis, as a practical matter people are invited to go as often as they like (that being said, our parish priests have made announcements that merely thinking about sins does not require reconciliation on a weekly basis).

All in all, I now find Reconciliation very helpful, no longer a time of guilt and self-recrimination but instead an opportunity to truly "get right with the Lord" and also make peace with those whom I may also have sinned against.

That's a key part of the process - to truly reconcile with people who were harmed by one's actions.  That's often the hardest part, but it also can offer rich rewards.