The Canadian Red Ensign

The Canadian Red Ensign

Monday, April 8, 2019

Schadenfreude

On the fourth Sunday in Lent we were given a sermon on the “love thy enemy” passage in the Sermon on the Mount. While it is probably not entirely within the spirit of that passage to engage in schadenfreude over one's enemies' misfortunes, I find it impossible to resist doing so since this era of triumphant liberalism afford few opportunities for such to a man of the right.

The Liberal Party of Canada has, over the years, made itself odious to all sorts of Canadians but most consistently to two distinct groups who despise them for very different reasons. The old Tories of the kind frequently but erroneously called “Red,” (1) i.e., the ones who prize Canada’s British and Loyalist history, traditions, and heritage, her constitutional monarchy, Westminster parliamentary system of government, and Common Law, her ongoing ties to the British Commonwealth and who associate all of this with an older, more organic, more rooted, vision of society than modern, individualistic, commercialism see the Liberals, quite correctly, as a party of rootless, modernizers who can conceive of value in no terms other than those of a price tag and whose goal is to sell out the Dominion and everything for which she once stood to Yankee capitalism for a quick buck. On the other hand, the rugged, rural, inhabitants of the prairie provinces of the Canadian West whom the Liberals and their academic and media fellow travelers dismiss with “redneck” and other, worse, epithets, have long loathed the Grits as being a party of totalitarian socialists who a) tax them to death, b) ignore, or worse, aggravate, their economic difficulties, and c) display the same arrogant contempt towards them that the Obama/Clinton Democrats display towards middle and working class red state Americans. Both of these negative views of the Liberals are entirely valid. (2) Someone like myself, who has belonged to both groups simultaneously for all of his life - a Redneck Tory, would be one way of putting it, I suppose - has particularly good reason to look upon the Liberal Party with utter abhorrence.

The Liberal Party has always been bad but it has sunk to new depths of depravity under the current leadership of Captain Airhead who, more than any of his predecessors, has brought shame and disgrace upon the office of Her Majesty’s First Minister in this Dominion. Will Ferguson divided Canada’s Prime Ministers into two categories, “Boneheads” and “Bastards”, but Captain Airhead has the distinction of being both. Smug, arrogant, self-righteous and preening, all of his public statements and actions, before and after taking office, have been calculated to project, with the cooperation of a fawning media, a carefully crafted image of himself. Since that image was that of the opposite of, at first, his predecessor Stephen Harper, then later of American President Donald Trump, it has all along resembled a bad caricature of the worst sort of loony leftist. He began his term by trying to import the migrant crisis that has been threatening to inundate Europe and create a Camp of the Saints scenario for half of a decade, creating a miniature version of America’s southern border crisis on the 49th Parallel, and at the end of his term, signed an insane and evil United Nations accord on migration which in effect, amounted to an agreement to surrender the Dominion’s essential right to maintain and police her own borders. Any and all criticism of this, or, for that matter, any of his other policies, was met with accusations of "racism". He used the federal summer jobs funding program to coerce employers into agreeing with abortion on demand, having previously evicted pro-lifers from the Liberal Party, and otherwise attempted to shove his “woke” notions down all Canadians throats by legislation, or at any rate Parliamentary motions, condemning “Islamophobia” and protecting the new found “right” of individuals to choose or even make up their own gender identity. Jumping on board the bandwagon of an environmentalist movement that had long ago lost sight of its original, legitimate, goal – the conservation and preservation for future generations of natural resources and aesthetics – and gone to seed on apocalyptic, end-of-the-world, alarmism, he sabotaged and destroyed Canada’s energy industry and then, just this year, pulled the world’s most tasteless April Fool’s prank, by slapping down a carbon tax that will accomplish nothing but a needless rise in the cost of living, which hurts the poor and the working class the most. All the while his extravagance with the public purse has made his father, previously noted for his record deficits, look like a model of budgetary austerity in comparison. Speaking of money, he had the audacity to take the image of our first - and greatest - Prime Minister, the man who spearheaded the Confederation project and led the Dominion for most of its first two decades, fighting tooth and nail to get the railroad built and prevent the country from splitting up and falling into the avaricious hands of the republic to our south, off of our ten dollar bill and replace it with that of a woman who achieved fame, decades after the fact thanks to the Liberals' desperate sifting of Canadian history for an equivalent of the figures in America's Civil Rights Movement, for sitting down in a theatre.

It has been with much joy and pleasure, therefore, that I have been watching Captain Airhead’s image and popularity implode over the past couple of months. If there has been a cloud amidst all the silver lining of the SNC-Lavalin Affair it is that it took an ordinary, run-of-the-mill, corruption scandal to bring about the collapse of his reputation after all the evils mentioned in the preceding paragraph failed to do so. Perhaps the best way to look at that is to regard it as a case of the straw finally breaking the humpy back of the camel. To briefly summarize the scandal, a large corporation that has been a significant contributor to Liberal Party funds and which is based in the home province of the Prime Minister has been under prosecution for bribing a foreign government and last year our government snuck a bill in with the budget that allows for slap-on-the-wrist treatment of white collar crimes of this nature. When Jody Wilson-Raybould was shifted out of her Cabinet position of Minister of Justice and Attorney General in January of this year, rumours began to circulate that this was because she had refused to give in to pressure from the Prime Minister's Office to apply the new rules retroactively to SNC Lavalin. As Jay Currie observed, the real scandal in all of this ought to have been the revelation that the government snuck legislation in to give their friends a break. Instead, what everyone jumped on was the compromise of an independent judiciary by inappropriate political interference in a prosecution. To put the same matter in Canadian rather than Yankee terms, as our press should have been doing all along although they have probably long ago forgotten what little they ever knew of Canadian civics, the rulings of the courts of the Queen-on-the-bench are not to be decided and dictated for political reasons by the ministers of the Queen-in-Council. Whether we speak Canadian or American it is a rotten and corrupt thing to do - and the Prime Minister's being guilty of it would not have come as news to anyone still capable of remembering that we were not always at war with Eastasia. What, after all, did his inappropriate tweets following the Gerald Stanley jury acquittal last year constitute if not an unashamed and public display of such interference? Indeed, this was a far worse instance of such interference and one in which Jody Wilson-Raybould was equally guilty for it had all the appearance of promising changes to the jury selection process that would compromise such ancient principles as the right of the accused to presumption of innocence and the right of the accused - not the victim - to a trial of his peers and put in the place of the justice based on such principles, a primitive form of blood-based-vengeance, as if the Oresteia were being played out in reverse. It was at this point that Captain Airhead and the then-Justice Minister should both have received a summons to Rideau Hall and been told that Her Majesty no longer requires their services. Of course this didn't happen and for that we ought to burn an effigy of William Lyon Mackenzie King annually for it was that, longest sitting Grit premier, who subverted the Westminster system and undermined the accountability of the Prime Minister's Office turning it into a virtual dictatorship whenever there is a majority government..

As the SNC-Lavalin scandal developed, Captain Airhead's team tried desperately to salvage their leader's reputation, but their every effort, beginning with the self-immolation of Seymour Butts - my apologies to Matt Groening and his creative staff for appropriating what was originally a joke of theirs but I refuse to sully my own Christian name by admitting that it is shared by this man - was like adding fuel to the fire. Now, the very people who for the past four years swooned at the very mention of Captain Airhead's name, are falling over themselves in their efforts to get as far away from him as possible. The scandal having broken on the eve of the next Dominion election things have gotten so bad for the Airhead Grits that they can think of nothing else to do than recycle the lame tactics that failed to win Hilary Clinton the last American presidential election by telling us that Andrew Scheer is courting the "far right" and, most hilariously since it has come a week after Robert Mueller announced that he could find no evidence that the Trump team had colluded with Russia, warning us about Russian interference in the upcoming election.

There is a lesson in this for Captain "Because it is 2015" Airhead if he is capable of learning it. Those who ride to the top on the crest of the wave of fashion, will crash and crash hard, when the tide goes out. Taylor Swift may very well have been right and she and whoever she was singing to at the time will "never go out of style", but Justin, baby, you just ain't her.


(1) This is due mainly to the socialist sympathies of George Grant and Eugene Forsey. While Grant attempted to argue that “socialism” was “conservative” his argument depended entirely upon a clever redefinition of socialism and he, like Forsey, acknowledged that this positive view of socialism was not that of the Tories as a group.

(2) This is true despite the fact that one view sees the Grits as being capitalist while the other sees them as being socialist. Capitalism and socialism are but two sides to the same coin which is the economy of the Modern Age. The true reactionary seeks wisdom, economic and otherwise, in the older traditions that predated the Modern Age. George Grant was a man who sought to do just that and this is reflected in his admirable criticism of capitalism but it was lamentable, pun intended, that he chose to stay within the limits of Modern thinking in using the term "socialism" for the opposite of where capitalism had gone wrong. Friedrich Hayek, on the other hand, was a man who made no effort whatsoever to think outside of the Modern box, and while he produced an otherwise admirable critique of socialism, could see it in no other terms than a return to pre-Modern feudalism, which it was not.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Which Came First the Gospel or the Law?

The knee-jerk response of many to the question posed in the title of this essay will be to say that the Law came first. It, after all, is the “Old” Covenant whereas the Gospel is the “New” Covenant. The proof-texting types will then back up this answer with John 1:17 “For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.”

Since the Exodus took place approximately half-way through the second millennium BC this might seem conclusive. Back up, however, sixteen verses to the words with which the Gospel of John opens: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” The beginning alluded to is the same beginning references in the first verse of Genesis which precedes Exodus. The Word, as the fourteenth verse clearly states, is Jesus Christ.

Now let us jump ahead seven chapters to where this same Jesus, Who brought the grace and truth of the Gospel, tells the Pharisees “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad.” Abraham was the first of the Hebrew Patriarchs, the grandfather of Jacob in whose days the Israelites went down to Egypt, from bondage in which God delivered them in the days of Moses, four centuries later. When Jesus was then asked “Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast thou seen Abraham?” He responded with “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am.”

While Moses lived a millennium and a half prior to the Incarnation, the verses that I have been pointing you to, which testify to the deity of Jesus Christ demonstrate that He, Who in Himself IS the Gospel, is prior to Moses. Elsewhere, St. John testifies to seeing an angel flying in the midst of heaven “having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth” (Rev. 14:6). The word translated “everlasting” here is αἰώνιος. It is the Greek word for “eternal” which means having neither beginning nor end.

Lest it be thought that I am finding clever arguments for a moot point turn to the third chapter of epistle to the Galatians and note how St. Paul hangs his entire argument that grace finishes what grace begins upon the priority of the Gospel over the Law. In the eighth verse he writes “And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed.” Later in the seventeenth verse he writes “And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect.” The Gospel, the Covenant of grace and promise, St. Paul is clearly arguing, is older than the Law, which he proceeds to argue was temporarily added, “because of transgressions” (v. 19) as a “schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ” (v. 24).

This third chapter of Galatians demonstrates several doctrines that are popular in various circles within contemporary Christianity to be utterly in error. Let us look at two of these.

The first is the “Church Age as parenthesis” doctrine that has been taught by many dispensationalists in support of their eschatology. This doctrine teaches that we are living in an Age that began with Pentecost and which will conclude with the Rapture and which, having been completely unknown to the prophets of the Old Testament, is a parenthesis – a gap – in the timeline of Old Testament prophecy and in God’s dealings with national Israel under the Mosaic Covenant (the Law). John F. Walvoord, who was president of Dallas Theological Seminary, the flagship school of dispensationalism, from the 1950s to the 1980s, articulated and defended this doctrine in both The Rapture Question (1979) and The Millennial Kingdom (1983). Earlier, Harry A. Ironside, popular Bible teacher and pastor of Moody Memorial Church in Chicago had written an entire book entitled The Great Parenthesis: The Mystery in Daniel’s Prophecy (1943). Both men derived this doctrine from the earlier teachings of men like John N. Darby and C. I. Scofield. Lewis Sperry Chafer, founder of Dallas Theological Seminary, in his Major Bible Themes (1926), which was later revised and expanded by Walvoord (1974), took the parenthesis theory to its logical conclusion, given the premises of dispensationalist eschatology, and argued that in the Great Tribulation after the Rapture, the Age of Law would resume. Of the Age or Dispensation of Law Chafer wrote “Its course was interrupted by the death of Christ and the thrusting in of the hitherto unannounced age of the church. Thus the church age, while complete in itself, is parenthetical within the age of the law.” That this is the exact opposite of what St. Paul taught in Galatians ought to be obvious to anyone who reads that epistle. It is the Law, not the Gospel, that is the parenthesis.

The second doctrine is found in the Westminster Confession of Faith, which was drawn up in 1646 by the Puritans, those seditious, regicidal, maniacs, who murdered and martyred King Charles I, the legitimate king who was the true defender of his people’s liberty and freedom against those who wished to use Parliament as a means to subjecting the kingdom to their own arbitrary rule, because he stood in the way of their plans to abolish all that is ancient and aesthetically pleasing in the Church, to impose such a rigid, legalistic Sabbath keeping upon everyone that had the Pharisees of old survived to see it they would have cried “whoa, chill out, man”, to accuse everybody they didn’t like of “popish” leanings or witchcraft, to persecute those so accused, and to require that everyone subscribe to the darkest, gloomiest, version of the dark and gloomy doctrine known as Calvinism. The Puritans were the first liberals and leftists – their party within Parliament developed into the Whigs who later became the Liberals, their rebellion again the King and Church of England became the model for the Jacobin and Bolshevik Revolutions in France and Russia, and their Cromwellian Protectorate was the template for all subsequent totalitarian terror states from the French Reign of Terror to the Soviet Union to the Third Reich. Here is what their Confession has to say about man’s original condition:

The first covenant made with man was a covenant of works, wherein life was promised to Adam; and in him to his posterity, upon condition of perfect and personal obedience. (Westminster Confession of Faith, VII, ii)

The verses the Westminster divines pointed to in support of this idea of a “covenant of works” are verses which speak of the principle of the Law, including, ironically, a verse from Galatians 3. Ironies abound with regards to this teaching of the Westminster Confession. By making the original condition of man in the Garden a “covenant of works” that is the equivalent of the Law, they have fallen into the same mistake usually found in Gospel tracts written by Arminian – or outright Pelagian – evangelicals of saying that God’s original plan was messed up by man so He had to fall back on Plan B which was the Cross. St. John speaks of Christ as the “Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Rev. 13:8) in language that echoes that used by St. Peter in the eighteenth to twentieth verses of the first chapter of his first Catholic Epistle. Note St. Peter’s use of the word “foreordained” in verse twenty. The Cross was never “Plan B”, and one would think that people who emphasized the doctrines of election, foreordination, and predestination to the extent that the Puritans, who took these doctrines to such an extreme that they turned them into a gross, impious, and blasphemous heresy that denies the universal love of God and the universal offer of salvation in the Gospel, ought to know that better than anyone else. (1)

Man in the Garden of Eden was not under the Law. The Scriptures are very clear about this. Here again are the words of St. Paul from the first part of the nineteenth verse of the third chapter of Galatians: “Wherefore then serveth the law? It was added because of transgressions.” The Fall of Man was the first such transgression. Consider also the following which St. Paul wrote to Timothy:

But we know that the law is good, if a man use it lawfully; Knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, For whoremongers, for them that defile themselves with mankind, for menstealers, for liars, for perjured persons, and if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine; According to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which was committed to my trust. (I Timothy 1:8-11)

If the Law was added because of transgressions, of which the Fall, which resulted in the expulsion from Eden was the first, and the law was not made for a righteous man, which Adam was prior to his transgression, but for the lawless and disobedient, i.e., men after the Fall, then man’s condition prior to the Fall in the Garden was not the “covenant of works” of the Westminster Confession.

Indeed, it is quite evident from the Genesis account alone that man’s original state was one of grace. It is an impoverished understanding of grace that thinks of it exclusively or even primarily as a merciful response to man’s sin. Grace, which we get from the Latin word gratia, the equivalent of the Greek Χάρις. These words had a similar range of meanings, from being the proper name of a class of pagan goddesses, usually three in number, to being the standard word used in giving thanks, which is why we speak of a prayer of thanksgiving prior to a meal as “saying grace.” All of its meanings, however, point back to its primary meaning of “favour”. When used of outward beauty, as we still use it when we speak of someone speaking or moving “gracefully” this had connotations both of beauty as a gift bestowed by divine favour, and that which is pleasing to the eye and so wins the favour of the beholder. The Graces were so-called because they were the goddesses of beauty and other related concepts. Thanksgiving, of course, is the proper and polite response to favour bestowed. When the Bible speaks of the grace of God it speaks of God’s favour, freely bestowed upon mankind, and it is a comprehensive term covering everything from the divine benevolence which motivates the bestowal of favour, the act of freely bestowing it, the favour itself, and everything which is freely given to show that favour, including both the Saviour of mankind, all that He did to accomplish our salvation, that salvation itself and the Holy Spirit Who was sent to indwell His Church and to perform the work of sanctification. Grace did not begin with man’s Fall. Man’s entire original state was one of grace. God poured His grace upon man by creating Him in the first place, for God did not owe us existence, by blessing him upon Creation and giving him dominion over the rest of creation (Gen. 1:28), and preparing the Garden of Eden for him and placing him in it (Gen. 2:8-15).

Note that the Genesis account mentions the Tree of Life as having been placed in the Garden of Eden before it mentions the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. (Gen. 2:9). No conditions are placed on eating of the Tree of Life, which man is only barred from – and only temporarily at that (Rev. 22:1-2) – after his fall into sin (Gen. 3:22-24). A single commandment is given – the prohibition from eating the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil (Gen. 2:17) Commandments are not contrary to grace. Jesus, on the eve of His Crucifixion and the dawn of the New Covenant, in conversation at the same Passover seder in which He instituted the New Covenant Sacrament of the Eucharist, left His disciples a “new commandment.” The new commandment was similar to the two commandments that He had said summarized the Law, but with a difference. The new commandment was “That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.” “As I have loved you” has a double meaning. It means both “in the same manner as”, i.e., self-sacrificially, and “because.” Christ’s self-sacrificial love for us is both the example we are to follow and the motivation given for following it. Under the Gospel of grace, our motivation for obeying God is not that of the Law – do this and live (Gal. 3:12) – but gratitude (a word derived from grace). Being under grace rather than Law does not mean being under no authority and having no obligation to obey God. It means that our being in God’s favour is in no way dependent upon our performance of these obligations but that that favour is freely bestowed. (2) Which is exactly the condition of man in the Garden prior to the Fall. Nowhere in Genesis 1-3 is life “promised to Adam…upon condition of perfect and personal obedience.” On the contrary, life was freely given to Adam, as was access to the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden. The prohibition on the other Tree came with a warning of death, but there is a huge difference between saying “you have A on condition that you do B” and “don’t do X or you will get Y.” The Puritans never understood this difference. This is why they preached the regulative rather than the normative principle of worship, i.e., that it should include only what is specifically commanded in Scripture rather than that it can include all that it is not specifically prohibited in Scripture. This is why they rebelled against their legitimate king in the name of “liberty” and proceeded to establish the grandparent of all totalitarian despotisms. This is why they saw Law rather than grace in the Garden of Eden and included this, ironically Pelagian, heresy in their famous Confession of Faith.

Should someone want to quibble that the Gospel properly refers to the Good News about divine favour restored by He who redeemed us from sin rather than the grace enjoyed by man in his innocence, look to Genesis 3:15. The promise of the Redeemer was given in the midst of the curse, even before the expulsion from Eden, long before God saw fit to hand down the Law to Moses at Mt. Sinai.

(1) The dispensationalists also ought to have known better. In many other respects they have the strongest grasp of the distinction between Law and Gospel/Grace of any group in Christendom except the Lutherans. Whatever else can be said, for or against, the teachings of C. I. Scofield, the distinctions in his “Law and Grace”, originally the sixth chapter of his booklet Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth, (1896) later modified and included by R. A. Torrey and A. C. Dixon in The Fundamentals: A Testimony to the Truth, (1910-1915) are superbly worded. “Law shuts every mouth before God; grace opens every mouth to praise Him… Law never had a missionary; grace is to be preached to every creature. Law utterly condemns the best man; grace freely justifies the worst.”

(2) It also means that the commandments are light rather than burdensome. In the Garden of Eden there was only one commandment – it prohibited eating of one tree, all other trees in the Garden were allowed. While the Law, containing over 600 commandments, could be essentially reduced to the famous Ten, and these summed up in two, the commandment of the Gospel is, like that in the Garden of Eden, single. “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matt. 11:28-30)

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Gospel Repentance – a Lenten Meditation

Law and Gospel are Scriptural terms with multiple connotations. Both are the proper designations of portions of holy writ. Law, as the translation of Torah, is the collective name of the first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures. Gospel is the genre label of each of the four portraits of the life of Christ by SS. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John with which the distinctly Christian Scriptures begin. Each term is also sometimes used as a shorthand for the Scriptures as a whole, making them in this one usage, synonyms. More often, however, they are used as shorter titles for the Old and New Testaments and the Covenants from which the two major divisions of the Bible get these other names. When used this way, and especially when distinguishing the dominant principle and distinct message of each of the two Covenants, Law and Gospel are generally set in contrast with each other.

The contrasts are myriad but there is one in particular that I wish to reflect upon and that is the difference between repentance under the Gospel and repentance as it was under the Law. Or rather, I wish to focus on one of several differences between Gospel repentance and Law, others of which I have discussed elsewhere.

Before looking at this difference we should briefly observe what is the same about repentance under both Law and Gospel. Repentance is the way appointed for those who have offended God to return to Him and find forgiveness and restoration. Or, perhaps more accurately, it is the attitude which those who have offended God are expected to take in returning and seeking His forgiveness. This was the case under the Law and it has not changed under Gospel. Under both Covenants it is primarily preached to and expected of those who are already members of the Covenant, although there are Old Testament examples of others repenting and the Sacrament of initiation into the Christian Covenant is a ritual which is symbolic of repentance and the washing away of sin.

Under both the Law and the Gospel people are expected to repent of their bad deeds. Under the Law it is only of evil that people are called upon to repent. When the prophets call upon the Israelites to repent and return to their God it is over idolatry, child sacrifice, injustice, and assorted other such wickedness. When Jonah, very much against his will, proclaimed God’s judgement upon the wickedness of Ninevah, it was of that wickedness that they repented. There is even a word play that is not infrequent in the Old Testament in which “repent” and “evil” are used with a double sense – one the one hand they designate the contrition and the sin of the sinner, and on the other the clemency and the averted retribution of God. The end of the third chapter of Jonah is an example of this, at least if you read it in the original Hebrew or a translation that preserves the Hebrew play on words like the Greek Septuagint or the English Authorized Version and avoid the Non Inspired Version which, favourite of evangelicals though it be, does not. When applied to divine retribution ערַ/κᾰκῐ́ᾱ/evil is clearly limited in its sense to destructive effect and does not have the connotation of moral culpability but the figure of speech preserves the common theme that it is “evil” of some sort that is the object of repentance.


Which brings us to the difference. The Gospel calls upon us to repent, not only of our bad deeds, but of our good deeds as well.

Perhaps your initial reaction to that assertion is to ask how on earth it is possible to repent of one’s good deeds. It is an understandable reaction, especially if you have been taught to think of repentance primarily in terms of a kind of self-improvement – turning away from past wrongdoing and starting to do that which is right. Scripturally, however, the essence of repentance is contrition and humility, and behavioural change is merely its fruit. To repent of one’s good deeds is to confess them to be sins, to renounce all claim to divine praise and reward for them, and to seek God’s mercy and grace for them, as well as for one’s overt bad deeds.

St. Paul showed us how it is done in the third chapter of his epistle to the Church at Philippi. After summarizing all of the reasons why he might “have confidence in the flesh” in verses four and five, he wrote “But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ” in verse six and then proceeded in the next verses to use the following much stronger language:

Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith.

To count one’s personal righteousness “as dung” surely merits the description repentance of good works.

Another passage in which we are enjoined to take a similar attitude is Luke 17:7-10. In this passage the Lord Jesus Christ uses a parable about an earthly lord and his domestic servant to illustrate to His disciples that they are to regard their service to God as their obligation or duty, i.e., that which they owe God, and not as something done for gratitude or reward. “So likewise ye,” the Lord says, “when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do.”

Next, consider the parable that is found at the end of the Olivet Discourse in Matthew 25, beginning at the thirty-first verse. In this famous parable about the Last Judgement, the Lord Jesus says that at His Second Coming He will send His angels to divide the sheep from the goats, placing the sheep on His right hand and the goats on the left, then He will judge the works of each. The same list of works, which has taken on the traditional name of the Seven Corporal Works of Mercy, is gone over twice, and the sheep are bidden to “Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” because they performed these works to Christ Himself whereas the goats are told to “Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels” because they did not perform these works to Christ Himself. When each group is surprised to be told that they had ministered or failed to minister to Christ they are told that their ministry or failure to “the least of these my brethren” is counted as being done or not done to Christ Himself.

This parable has suffered from much misinterpretation over the years due to a superficial reading. The misinterpretation is theological rather than ethical. Obviously, on the ethical level, the parable conveys the simple moral lesson that we ought to perform these works to everyone who needs them, great or small, as best as we are able and is in this regard, similar in meaning to the parable of the Good Samaritan. Theologically, however, legalists of all stripes have regarded this passage as evidence that Christ taught otherwise than St. Paul on the matter of works and justification, despite the abundant testimony to the contrary that can be found in St. John’s Gospel. In this passage, the legalists claim, works are all that is talked about and there is no mention of faith at all. Note what this simplistic and superficial interpretation overlooks.

The sheep are divided from the goats, not by the judgment of their works, but before the judgment of their works. At no point is it suggested that performing the Works of Mercy is what makes the sheep sheep or that failing to so perform is what makes the goats goats. Indeed, to interpret the parable this way goes against the obvious implications of the responses of each group to the judgement. The sheep are surprised to hear their works praised, the goats are surprised to hear of their failure. In the case of the goats what this suggests is that they were self-satisfied and confident that they HAD performed sufficient good works of this type so as to merit eternal reward. Ergo the shock to find their smallest failures being brought into focus and the harsh condemnation that they actually receive.

As for the sheep it suggests that they had done precisely what I have been arguing the Gospel calls us to do – to repent of our good works as well as our bad. They counted the good works that they were surprised to hear praised as loss, they had disavowed any and all claim to praise and reward for their works, and considered themselves, as Christ had commanded, to be “unprofitable servants.” They had renounced all claims to a righteousness of their own works and had placed their faith entirely in the Saviour Whom God had provided to a fallen and sinful world, trusting to His all-sufficient merit alone. For that is where faith is to be found in this parable. It is what makes the difference between the sheep and the goats. Believers and unbelievers alike will be judged on their works, because works are the only basis upon which anyone can be judged. The nature of the judgement is radically different for the two different groups. Those who have placed their faith in the Saviour that God has freely and graciously provided, and who are pardoned for their sins and credited with the righteousness of Christ, find their smallest service praised and rewarded (Matthew 10:42). Their service, if subjected to scrutiny, would not measure up, so God’s acceptance of it and bestowing of praise and reward upon it, is also an act of mercy and grace, on top of His having freely given them salvation in Christ. Those, however, who reject the salvation that God has freely given but seek to establish their own righteousness by works, find their self-righteousness subjected to that scrutiny to which no human works can stand up.

If the need under the Gospel to repent of good works as well as bad has not already been made clear, let us now consider the basic meaning of ἁμαρτία which is the primary word used for “sin” in the New Testament. The branch of theology that considers the doctrine of sin takes its name, hamartiology, from this word and it is also the word used in the classical literary criticism of Aristotle for the “tragic flaw” of the hero in a Greek tragedy. The basic concept suggested by ἁμαρτία is that of missing the mark.

Imagine that you are back in Nottinghamshire in the reign of Richard the Lionheart competing in an archery contest. You have been doing very well and have outshot all your competitors. All of a sudden a last minute challenger shows up. He is wearing a heavy hooded cloak hiding his features because he is the legendary Robin Hood, an outlaw being hunted by the very Sheriff who is hosting the match. Your last shot was just slightly off the bull’s eye. The hooded challenger claims that he can beat you. Allowed to try, Robin hits the bull’s eye smack dab in the centre. The Sheriff rules that you be given another chance and you try again. Your next arrow comes even closer to the bull’s eye than your previous one – but Robin’s is still closer. Then, to rub it in, Robin shoots a second arrow and splits the first having hit the mark perfectly twice in a row. He then proceeds to blow a raspberry, wiggle his thumbs at you, and do an obnoxious victory dance all around you but you aren’t paying any attention too of this. All you can think about is how your shots, of which you had been so proud, don’t look so good anymore compared to his. You were closer than all of the other competitors except Robin – but you had still missed the mark. That’s ἁμαρτία. That is what the New Testament’s primary word for sin means.

If sin is “missing the mark” then our good deeds are to be counted as sins as much as our bad deeds. For however good our deeds may appear to us, or however well we may think we do in comparison with others, they fall far short of the mark for which we ought to be aiming – the perfect righteousness of God as stated in His Commandments and manifested in Jesus Christ. Many who seem to have no problem with confessing that they have sinned by their bad deeds and who would acknowledge that their good deeds fall short of the perfection of God balk at confessing such shortcomings to be sin. The pride that is at the root of the sinfulness of fallen human nature wishes to cling on to something for which it can claim credit, even if it be merely the intention or sincerity of our deeds. The Gospel, however, calls upon us to renounce all claim to merit of our own that we might place our confidence entirely in the all-sufficient merits of Christ.
We are in Lent, the period the Church has assigned since ancient times for penitent reflection in preparation for Passion Week’s commemoration of the events of our salvation, culminating in the celebration of the Resurrection on Easter. This Lent, let us not be satisfied with repenting of our bad deeds, but repent of all of our deeds, even those we are accustomed to think of as g

Monday, March 4, 2019

Some Modern Ancient Heresies

The late Modern Age was a period that saw Western Civilization gradually abandon the Christian religion and replace it with the secular religion of liberalism. Indeed, the very label Western Civilization indicates this change. Formerly it had been Christendom – Christian civilization. Not coincidentally, the same period saw large segments of the Christian Church abandon orthodoxy – the sound doctrines of the faith as taught by Christ and His Apostles, written in the Holy Scriptures, and formulated in the ecumenical Creeds of the early undivided Church. Many nominally Christian Churches now reject as literal truth virtually every statement in the basic Apostles’ Creed, let alone the more precise Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed or the comprehensive Athanasian Creed, and teach instead that these were mythological embellishments of the Christian message the only essential content of which is its ethical teachings, by which, such Churches always seem to mean, an interpretation of Christian ethics that supports a progressive, left-wing, political and social agenda. This kind of “theology” was once named Modernism after the Age which spawned it but is now generally called by the same name as that Age’s secular faith, liberalism.

Unsurprisingly, the Age that has seen this retreat from orthodoxy has seen also the rebirth of many of the heresies against which the orthodox Fathers successfully contended in the early centuries of Christianity. The sixteenth century saw the much needed reform of many corruptions and superstitions that had gradually risen in connection with the papacy’s usurpation of supremacy over the entire Church, itself a departure from primitive orthodoxy, but not all of the Reformers shared the same conservative respect for the primitive orthodoxy of the first five centuries as Dr. Luther and the English Reformers. The doctrine of Sola Scriptura was understood, by many of the more radical Reformers, as meaning that the individual should interpret the Bible for himself with disregard to the consensus of the early Church. Unsurprisingly, a tendency towards Nestorianism manifested itself among Calvin’s followers, and some really radical versions of Anabaptism rejected Trinitarianism.

One of the early heresies that has been reborn and which now seems to be ubiquitous is Manichaeism. This system of belief takes its name from its third century Persian founder, Mani, who incorporated elements of Gnosticism, Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, and Hinduism into his teachings. For a decade in his youth, prior to his conversion to orthodox Christianity, St. Augustine was an adherent of this sect against which several of his treatises were written (De duabus animabus, Contra Faustum, Contra Fortunatum, De Natura Boni, among others). The doctrine for which it is primarily remembered is dualism – the idea that the forces of light and the forces of darkness are more or less equal principles between which the world is locked in a perpetual struggle. This is an idea that can be found everywhere today – it is a dominant theme in the Star War motion picture saga and, indeed, is quite prevalent in the fantasy genre of fiction in general. More problematic is its presence in the Church. There are, indeed, many who think that it is sound Christian doctrine.

The error of dualism, which I dealt with in a previous essay entitled The Nature and Origin of Evil, is not in the assertion that there are evil spiritual forces present in the world but in the degree of significance it attaches to these and to evil itself. There are those who in the interest of promoting morality, purity, and holiness constantly harp on the danger of treating evil lightly and, in the sense in which they are speaking they do have a point. Yet there is a greater danger in making evil more important than it really is. The fourteenth chapter of the book of Isaiah contains a “proverb against the king of Babylon” and traditionally Christianity has seen the segment of that proverb that begins at verse twelve with the words “How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning!” as addressing through the spiritual entity standing behind the king of Babylon, an interpretation that can be supported by our Lord’s words in the eighteenth verse of the tenth chapter of the Gospel according to St. Luke. Therefore, when Isaiah writes:

For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north: I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High. (vv. 13-14)

this has been understood as referring, at least on one level, to the sin that led to the downfall of the devil. Note that the dualism, which places the forces of evil on the same level as the forces of good, gives the devil precisely the honour that he in his Pride sought to usurp according to the traditional interpretation of this passage.

Orthodox Christian doctrine, however, teaches us that there is only One Being Who is eternal – in the sense of having neither beginning nor end -, infinite, all-powerful, and omnipresent. This Being, God, is also Good. Goodness, therefore, as an attribute of God, is itself eternal. It follows from this that Goodness does not require its opposite, evil, either to exist itself, or, much less, to balance it, as some of the more perverse versions of Dualism suggest.

Furthermore, while Goodness does not require evil for its own existence, the same is not true in reverse. Evil, if it can be said to exist – and something that is neither eternal nor created by God can hardly be said to exist in the most proper meaning of the word existence – exists as a defect in the Goodness of Creation. God, Who is Good Himself and in Whom there is no evil, created all that is and He imparted Goodness to all that He created. “And God saw everything that he had made, and, behold, it was very good.” (Gen. 1:31) God imparted this Goodness to His Creation in two tiers. The lower level of created Goodness is that of inanimate objects and irrational life forms which serve the Good for which they are created automatically and whose nature is such that they lack the power to do otherwise. The higher level of created Goodness, voluntary Goodness, is that of angels and human beings, who were created with reason, the power to recognize the Good for which they exist, and will, the power to choose that Good for themselves. This higher level of created Goodness could not exist without either reason or will, and created reason and will are therefore themselves Goods, because they serve the end of voluntary Goodness. The power to choose the Good for oneself, however, at least in a state of Innocence rather than Perfection, which was the initial state of angels and human beings, is also the power to choose what is not Good. Or, more precisely, it is the power to choose wrongly, by choosing what to mistaken reason appears to be the greater Good, but which as the object of wrong choice loses even the lesser Goodness upon which the miscalculation was based. In the case of Lucifer and the angels who followed him in his rebellion, and in the case of our first parents in the Garden of Eden, this is exactly what happened, and in each case the result was that the created Goodness of their nature was broken.

That is all that evil is – broken Goodness. Not a force in this world, equal to, opposite, and independent of Goodness, but the damaged condition of created Goodness itself. Just as speed, the ability to move fast, denotes an actual power which human beings possess but slowness is merely a term for a deficiency in that power, so is evil to the Goodness of Creation.

Note that what I have said here applies also to Truth and Beauty which, like Goodness, are eternal attributes of God, which He imparted as properties to all that He made. (1) Falsehood and ugliness, like evil, are neither things in themselves, nor real properties which exist in other things, but are present merely as defects in the Truth and Beauty of Creation. Note what some of the most famous orthodox writers of the early part of the last century had to say about the kind of falsehood, heresy, with which we are concerned here. G. K. Chesterton, writing for The Daily News on June 26, 1909 said “Every heresy is a truth taught out of proportion” and in America on November 9, 1935 “A heresy is always a half-truth turned into a whole false¬hood.” T. S. Eliot wrote:

Furthermore, the essential of any important heresy is not simply that it is wrong: it is that it is partly right. It is characteristic of the more interesting heretics, in the context in which I use the term, that they have an exceptionally acute perception, or profound insight, of some part of the truth; an insight more important often than the inferences of those who are aware of more but less acutely aware of anything. So far as we are able to redress the balance, effect the compensation, ourselves, we may find such authors of the greatest value. If we value them as they value themselves we shall go astray. And in the present state of affairs, with the low degree of education to be expected of public and of reviewers, we are more likely to go wrong than right; we must remember too, that an heresy is apt to have a seductive simplicity, to make a direct and persuasive appeal to intellect and emotions, and to be altogether more plausible than the truth. (2)

These insights into the nature of heresy are particularly helpful in understanding another ancient heresy which has even more thoroughly permeated Modern Western thought than Manichaeism. This is the heresy of Pelagianism. This heresy was named after Pelagius a fifth century monk from somewhere in the British Isles, probably Ireland, who lived and taught in Rome. St. Augustine of Hippo and St. Jerome were the primary champions of orthodoxy in the fight against this heresy, which was first condemned in the Council of Carthage, a regional synod of the African Church, in 418 AD, but which condemnation was upheld by the Council of Ephesus in 431 AD. This Council, convened to address the Nestorian controversy, was the third ecumenical Council and as such spoke with the authority of the entire orthodox Church, eastern and western. Pelagianism is ordinarily thought of as a denial of Original Sin. Think back to our explanation of the origin and nature of evil. Original Sin is the doctrine, clearly taught by St. Paul in the fifth chapter of his Epistle to the Romans, that after the Goodness of human nature was broken by Adam’s sin in the Garden of Eden, it was passed down to us in that broken condition. Since one of the implications of Original Sin is the idea, fundamental to orthodox Christianity, that we cannot save ourselves but must rely entirely upon the grace of God given to us in Jesus Christ, an implication of Pelagianism’s denial of Original Sin is the idea that we can save ourselves, an idea clearly present in the Modern concept of progress. However, to go back to the insights into the nature of heresy that we borrowed from Chesterton and Eliot, if Pelagianism is “truth taught out of proportion” then it is the truth of Free Will that Pelagianism exaggerates.

We have already set forward the doctrine of Free Will without naming it as such in our discussion of the origin of evil. It is the power which God gave to rational beings such as men and angels to perceive the Good with their reason and to choose it with their will. (3) While this power is what made evil a possibility and in practice a reality, it is itself a Good because the end it serves, which could not be achieved without it, is Good, which Good, as we have already seen, is the higher order of Created Goodness that is voluntarily chosen. This is a truth that orthodox Christianity holds simultaneously with that of Original Sin. There is a degree of tension between the two truths since an obvious implication of Original Sin is that Free Will along with human Goodness was damaged in the Fall. Orthodox Christians have disagreed as to the extent of the damage however. The Pelagian view, that the Fall did not damage man’s ability to choose Good unassisted by God’s grace, and the Semi-Pelagian view, that after the Fall man retains the ability to initiate the choice of Good but requires the grace of God to complete it, have both been rejected as heresy by orthodox Christianity, but this still leaves a large spectrum of degrees of damage that fall within the scope of orthodoxy, and some of the most unedifying theological conflicts of the Modern Age have been the direct result of attempts to limit that scope even further.

Free Will in orthodox Christianity is not unlimited. It is the power to choose Good or evil, not the right to decide for ourselves what is Good. Goodness is what it is, it is the role of reason to perceive it, and the will is supposed to follow the lead of reason. In the post-modernism of today – if we have not actually arrived at a post-post-modernism – liberalism has arrived at the point where freedom is regarded by many liberals as being so absolute that it is not subject to the limitations even of reality. This is Pelagianism taken to the nth degree, for Pelagius himself would never have dreamed of asserting a freedom of our will that places limitations on the authority of God as Sovereign Ruler over all His Creation, to issue laws, reward obedience, and punish disobedience.

The history of liberalism, from the Whiggism of the seventeenth century to the present day madness described in the previous paragraph, has been one of the progressive removal of limitations, real or perceived, on the freedom of the will. In other words, it is the history of Pelagianism going to seed. The Whig Interpretation of History, which was prevalent in the history books of the nineteenth century and which lingers on still despite having been ably refuted by Herbert Butterfield in 1931 almost a decade before the Modern Age was brought to its conclusion when the rival totalitarianisms of Communism and National Socialism plunged the world into the Second World War, maintains that this period was also a period in which, through the efforts of reformers and revolutionaries, political rights and freedoms gradually increased and tyranny receded. That this is utter nonsense is most evident in the fact that today’s uber-Pelagian liberalism with its absolute freedom of the will from the constraints of reality is one side of a coin the other side of which is the soft totalitarianism of politically correct thought control. If this seems paradoxical, consider the implications of George Grant’s wise judgement on the American and Canadian Supreme Courts after they had struck down their respective nations’ abortion laws in Roe v. Wade and R. v. Morganthaler, that they had “used the language of North American liberalism to say yes to the very core of fascist thought—the triumph of the will.”

A more genuine paradox is perhaps to be found in the fact that the Whigs who started the ball rolling on all of this were originally Puritans, i.e., fanatical Calvinists. Calvinism is ordinarily thought of as erring in the exact opposite direction of Pelagianism by taking Original Sin to the extreme of teaching that it annihilates utterly the Image of God in man and by denying, at least in effect, Free Will. How Whiggism developed from this to the opposite error is difficult to explain but the fact that it did is undeniable. The answer may simply be that to depart from orthodox truth in one area, opens one up to other heresies, even if they seem to be miles removed from your original position. Samuel Johnson had some interesting observations about the direction in which their political ideas pointed. Boswell records the following incident which had been related to him by Dr. John Douglas, Bishop of Salisbury:

One day when dining at old Mr. Langton's, where Miss Roberts, his niece, was one of the company, Johnson, with his usual complacent attention to the fair sex, took her by the hand and said, “My dear, I hope you are a Jacobite.” Old Mr. Langton, who, though a high and steady Tory, was attached to the present Royal Family, seemed offended, and asked Johnson, with great warmth, what he could mean by putting such a question to his niece! “Why, Sir, (said Johnson) I meant no offence to your niece, I meant her a great compliment. A Jacobite, Sir, believes in the divine right of Kings. He that believes in the divine right of Kings believes in a Divinity. A Jacobite believes in the divine right of Bishops. He that believes in the divine right of Bishops believes in the divine authority of the Christian religion. Therefore, Sir, a Jacobite is neither an Atheist nor a Deist. That cannot be said of a Whig; for Whiggism is a negation of all principle.” (4)

The principles that Dr. Johnson ascribes to the “Jacobite” here are the principles of seventeenth century Toryism, and also the principles of civil and ecclesiastical government to which all orthodox Christian believers, if they wish to be consistent with the teachings of their faith, must subscribe. The Jacobites were the Tories who were so true to these principles that they remained loyal to King James II and his heirs after 1688, (5) as opposed to today’s Conservatives, who claim the name and mantle of the Tories while showing little evidence of being acquainted with their principles, let alone subscribing to them. The relevant point, however, is that Whiggism, the original liberalism, was in its rejection of these political principles, a step away from Christian orthodoxy and, while the first Whigs were fanatical Calvinists, by the next century, in which Dr. Johnson lived, many of them had taken further steps towards Deism or even Atheism. If we consider how Unitarianism, a non-Trinitarian sect built on a foundation of theological liberalism, developed in New England out of the colony’s original strict Puritanism, then perhaps it will be less surprising that the political expression of Calvinist Puritanism eventually developed into an extreme version of Pelagianism.

Indeed, the root of the problem with Puritanism and what made it the well-spring of so much revived ancient heresy, can be found in its Calvinism. To return to a point made at the beginning of this essay, John Calvin, like Dr. Luther and the English Reformers held that the Holy Scriptures as God’s Written Word held supreme authority over the teachings and traditions of the Church. There was a difference, however, in how Calvin understood this truth and how Dr. Luther and the English Reformers understood it. Dr. Luther and the English Reformers believed – correctly – that they shared this truth with the Fathers of the early, undivided, Church and that while the Scriptures must have the final say, we need to pay respectful attention to how the Church Fathers understood them. This was not entirely untrue of John Calvin, but it was much less true of him than of these other Reformers, and it would become even less true among his followers, especially the English Puritans. The idea developed among them that the individual believer, aided only by the Holy Spirit, should mine the truth of Scripture for himself, and ignore what other Christians – prior to Calvin – had to say about it.

This goes a long way towards explaining why there has been such leanings towards ancient heresies like Nestorianism (6) in the Calvinist tradition. In it can also be seen the seeds of the perverse Modern attitude that C. S. Lewis and Owen Barfield so aptly dubbed “chronological snobbery.” If we, who live in the present, have better access to the truth the Holy Spirit conveys through the Scriptures when we apply to them directly without consulting the exegesis of the Fathers of the Church, then chronological snobbery, “the uncritical acceptance of the intellectual climate common to our own age and the assumption that whatever has gone out of date is on that account discredited” (7) necessarily follows.

By contrast, Dr. Daniel Waterland, the early eighteenth century champion of orthodoxy against the revived Arianism of Dr. Samuel Clarke, wrote:

Having taken a view of the moderns in relation to the Creed, we may now enter upon a detail of the ancients and their testimonies, by which the moderns must be tried. (8)

Dr. Waterland was speaking with regards to the question of the age and authorship of the Athanasian Creed, but it we would apply this principle, that the moderns must be tried by the testimonies of the ancients, more broadly, we would find in it a curative to chronological snobbery, and the many heresies of our own age.

(1) The philosophical way of saying this is to say that these are the Transcendentals – the properties of Being itself.

(2) T. S. Eliot, After Strange Gods: A Primer of Modern Heresy, Faber & Faber, 1934, pp. 24-25.

(3) See Richard Hooker’s excellent discussion of this in chapters VII through IX of Book I of his Lawes of Ecclesiastical Politie.

(4) James Boswell, Life of Johnson, July 14, 1763.

(5) Dr. Johnson held these principles all his life but upon the accession of George III accepted the Hanoverian Succession as having attained legitimacy through prescription. Boswell inserts the anecdote from Douglas at the point in his narrative where he notes this fact.

(6) Thomas F. Torrance in his book Atonement: The Person and Work of Christ, Downers Grove, IVP Academic, 2009, argued that the doctrine of Limited Atonement, implied, although not directly worded as such, by the Second Main Point of Doctrine of the Canons of the Synod of Dort (1618-1619) had Nestorian implications. Nestorianism cannot be imputed to John Calvin himself, because of this, for it is clear from his writings that he taught an Unlimited Atonement, but others, especially of the Lutheran tradition, have found evidence of Nestorianism in his doctrine of the Eucharist. That the late R. C. Sproul was guilty of outright and open Nestorianism, I demonstrated here: http://thronealtarliberty.blogspot.com/2016/03/from-scylla-of-patripassianism-into.html.

(7) C. S. Lewis, Surprised By Joy, Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1966 p, 207.

(8) Daniel Waterland, A Critical History of the Athanasian Creed: A New Edition, Revised and Corrected by the Rev. J. R. King, Oxford and London, James Parker And Co., 1870, p. 20.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Gospel Truths of Christ’s Early Life and the Beginning of His Earthly Ministry

Of the Christian festivals, Christmas and Easter tend to overshadow all the rest. This is understandable as these feasts commemorate the foundational truths of the Incarnation of the Son of God and His Resurrection from the dead. The fundamental importance of these truths, however, is no reason to overlook the other events in Christ’s life that the Church has traditionally seen fit to honour for these events have significance in the economy of salvation and the unveiling of God’s revelation of Himself to the world that is well worth our consideration.

The period following immediately after Christmas and preceding the Lenten preparation for Easter includes several feast days which honour events in Christ’s early life as well as the event which marked the beginning of His earthly public ministry. The Epiphany on January 6th is the most important of these and every Sunday until the beginning of Lent (1) is identified simply as the first, second, etc. Sunday after Epiphany. Epiphany is very closely tied to Christmas – in the Eastern Church, they are one and the same feast, and even in the West, where Epiphany is the Twelfth Day of Christmas, the event which it points back to, the visit of the Magi to the infant Christ is inseparable from the rest of the Christmas narrative. The visit of these Gentile wise men from the East who had been watching for the star of “he that is born King of the Jews” points to the truth that the Lord Jesus, while He was indeed the Messiah, the deliver promised to national Israel through the prophets, was the Redeemer also of all the nations of the world.

Prior to the Epiphany there is another event from Christ’s early life that is honoured on January 1st. In the secular calendar this is New Year’s Day but in the Western liturgical calendar it is the Feast of the Circumcision of our Lord falling, as it does, on the octave day of Christmas, i.e., the number of days after Christmas on which a Jewish boy would be circumcised after his birth in accordance with the commandment given to Abraham (Gen. 17:12). The telling of this event occupies the space of a single verse in the entire Scriptures, the twenty-first verse of the second chapter of the Gospel According to St. Luke which reads:

And when eight days were accomplished for the circumcising of the child, his name was called Jesus, which was so named of the Angel before he was conceived in the womb.


For the significance of this event in the economy of salvation, however, we must turn to the book of Galatians. Bishop Lancelot Andrewes, beautifully explained this in a sermon preached before King James I at Whitehall on Christmas Day 1609 (2) on the text Galatians 4:4, 5:

When the fullness of time was come, God sent His Son, made of a woman, made under the Law. That He might redeem them that were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.

Commenting on the phrase “made under the Law” Andrewes said:

And when did He this? When was He “made under the Law?” Even then when He was circumcised. For this doth St. Paul testify in the third of the next chapter, “Behold, I Paul testify unto you whosoever is circumcised,” factus est debitor universae Legis, “he becomes a debtor to the whole Law.” At His Circumcision then He entered bon anew with us; and in sign that so He did He shed then a few drops of His blood, whereby He signed the bond as it were, and gave those few drops then, tanquam arrham universi sanguinis effundendi, ‘as a pledge or earnest,’ that “when the fullness of time came,” ‘He would be ready to shed all the rest;’ as He did….Well, this He did undertake for us at His circumcision, and therefore then and not till then He had His Name given Him, the name of Jesus, a Saviour. For then took He on Him the obligation to save us. And look, what then at His Circumcision He undertook, at His Passion He paid even to the full: and having paid it, delevit chirographum, “cancelled the sentence of the Law” that till then was of record and stood in full force against us.

It was an event brief in the telling but packed with significance.

Immediately after his mention of the circumcision, St. Luke’s Gospel jumps ahead thirty-three days to the day when, in accordance with the instructions in the twelfth chapter of Leviticus, His mother’s post-natal purification period being ended, He was brought to the Temple in Jerusalem, presented as the first-born son, and an offering made on His behalf. As with the circumcision, in this event Christ fulfilled a requirement of the Law albeit as a passive participant. The account tells of two encounters that took place during this visit to the Temple in which elderly servants of the Lord, Simeon and Anna the Prophetess recognized the infant Jesus as the promised Messiah. This event has been celebrated since ancient times on the fortieth day after Christmas, February 2nd in a Feast that has many names. In the East it is called Hypapante, a Greek word which means “meeting” and clearly emphasizes the encounters with Simeon and Anna. In the West it is known as the Presentation of Christ in the Temple, the Purification of St. Mary the Virgin, or more commonly, Candlemas, from the ancient custom of bringing candles to church to be blessed on this day. The candles signify light, the relevance of which to this particular Feast is to be found in the canticle Nunc Dimmitis which Simeon proclaimed upon taking the infant Messiah in his arms. He declared the Child to be “a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.” Note how the significance we observed in the visit of the Magi reappears here in the words of Simeon. Christ said of Himself that He is the “light of the world” (John 8:12; 9:5), and He called His disciples to be the same (Matt. 5:14). This is a theme of all of these Feasts which receives a particular emphasis in that of the Presentation.

Christ’s birth, circumcision, the visitation of the Magi, and His presentation in the Temple, commemorated in the West on Christmas, New Year’s, Epiphany and Candlemas respectively, are all we are told in Scripture about the infancy of Christ and, except for the account of His visit to the Temple when twelve, all that the Scriptures tell us about His earthly life prior to the beginning of His public ministry. The event which marked the beginning of His earthly ministry is also commemorated in this time period. It too is traditionally associated with Epiphany. The name Epiphany comes from the Greek word for “manifestation” a word that is very appropriate for the way it has been applied by the Church to both the Visit of the Magi and the Baptism of the Lord – and, in the East, to His birth. The Baptism of the Lord was appointed to be celebrated along with the Visit of the Magi on Epiphany itself by the early Church and this continues to be the Eastern custom. In the West it may be celebrated on the Epiphany or in the following octave, usually on the next Sunday or Monday. It commemorates an event which is told in all four Gospels and which has great revelatory and soteriological significance.

The revelatory significance of the Baptism is, of course, Trinitarian. For while there are references to the Word/Son of God and the Spirit of God throughout the Old Testament, beginning with the Creation account, it is at the Baptism that all Three Persons appear manifest together in their distinctiveness, relationships, and essential unity. The Father speaks from Heaven, identifying His Son and declaring Himself to be well pleased with Him, as the Holy Spirit visually descends from the Father upon the Son.

The Gospel According to St. Matthew records that when Jesus went to John the Baptist to be baptized, John initially refused, objecting that “I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me?” To understand his objection, we must understand the nature of his message and ministry. John the Baptist had been preaching in the wilderness, proclaiming that the long awaited Kingdom of Heaven was at hand and calling upon Israel to repent of their sins. The baptism that he administered in the Jordan River was a symbol of that repentance. Those who received his baptism confessed their sins as they did so and John himself said of his baptism “I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance.” Jesus had no sin of which He needed to repent. Hence John’s objection – the impeccable Jesus ought to be the One administering baptism rather than taking the place of a penitent sinner and receiving it. Jesus’ answer was “Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness.” What did He mean by this?

Jesus’ earthly ministry ended with His being betrayed, arrested, and then crucified. He had committed no sin, much less a crime worthy of capital punishment. He had told His disciples that this would happen, however, and after His Resurrection He explained to them why it happened, which they in turn passed on to us. St. Peter wrote:

Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously: Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed. (I Peter 2:21-24)

Or, in the more concise words of St. Paul, “he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” (II Corinthians 5:21)

This was the mission on which He had been sent into the world – to take the place of sinners as the spotless sacrifice that would satisfy the offended justice of God and restore fallen man to God’s favour bringing forgives and pardon, reconciliation and peace. Just as His ministry ended, so it began, with Him taking the place of sinners in undergoing John’s baptism. This is what He meant when He said “thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness.” Everything which God’s Law required, Jesus fulfilled perfectly on behalf of the rest of mankind whose sins prevented us from meeting the requirements. This included the ceremonial requirements fulfilled by His circumcision and presentation in the Temple, the moral requirements fulfilled by His life of perfect obedience, and finally, the full payment of the penalty that had been incurred by those who had not been able to meet these other requirements, i.e., everybody else. Under the Law, repentance was the condition for forgiveness of sin. The prophet Ezekiel spelled it out this way:

The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him. But if the wicked will turn from all his sins that he hath committed, and keep all my statutes, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall surely live, he shall not die. All his transgressions that he hath committed, they shall not be mentioned unto him: in his righteousness that he hath done he shall live. Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die? saith the Lord GOD: and not that he should return from his ways, and live? (Ezekiel 18:20-23).

Fallen human nature being what it is, however, we are as incapable of repenting so perfectly as to never sin again as were incapable of producing perfect obedience to the Law in the first place. When Christ took the place of the repentant sinner and underwent the baptism of John He signified that He undertook to make good for human failure with regards to this requirement of the Law as well. This, of course, no more excuses us from the responsibility to sincerely confess our sins and strive to repent of them any more than Christ’s perfect obedience gives us a license to disobey God but it places repentance like obedience on a completely different basis under the Gospel than it was under the Law. Under the Gospel God freely gives to man in Christ everything which He required of man under the Law. The message of the Law is “do and live”, the message of the Gospel is “it is done, believe and live” and our doing, under the Gospel, flows out of the life that we receive by believing. Under the Law God required that a sinner completely turn around and change his ways in order to be forgiven. Under the Gospel God gives to the sinner who believes in Jesus Christ a full pardon of all his sins and along with the pardon He gives the Holy Spirit Whose ministries of regeneration and sanctification gradually produce over the course of our lives the transformation of mind and behaviour that God required of the sinner under the Law. We are to repent of our sins and obey God to the best of our ability, but under the Gospel we are to place no confidence whatsoever in our own repentance or obedience but to confess our best efforts at either to fall far short of what God requires and to place all of our faith in Christ and His perfect and sufficient merits.

That Christ came under the Law and met all of its requirements perfectly so as to place us in a new standing with God under the Gospel, a standing of grace, is a theme which, like that of Christ as “light of the world” runs through all of these events of His early life and ministry. These are very important themes indeed and it is well that the Church honours these events annually giving us opportunity to contemplate them.

(1) Or, in the older liturgical calendar prior the revisions of the last century, until Shrovetide, the two and a half weeks prior to Ash Wednesday.
(2) This is the fourth in the first volume of Lancelot Andrewes, Ninety-Six Sermons, compiled and edited by Bishops William Laud and John Buckeridge at the command of King Charles I following Andrewes death and first published in 1629.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

In Honour of Laud

A Relation of the Conference Between William Laud, Late Lord Archbishop of Canterbury and Mr. Fisher the Jesuit, By the Command of King James, by William Laud, Forgotten Books, 2012, a reproduction of the Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1839, edition.

At the very core of the progressive activism which since the French Revolution has been known as the left is the idea of the sovereignty of man. Liberalism stresses the sovereignty of the individual, modern democracy the sovereignty of the people, but both assert the sovereignty of man against the sovereignty of God and the authority which He has delegated on earth to kings and His Church. It is Satanic in nature, a continuation on earth of the rebellion which Satan began in heaven in the primordial past. As Dr. Johnson so astutely put it, “the first Whig was the devil.”

At three notable moments in its sordid modern history, the English Civil War, the French Revolution, and the Bolshevik Revolution, the left lifted its violent hands to shed the blood of a royal monarch. In each case they then proceeded to unleash bloodshed on a scale that demonstrates that those willing to shed the blood of the highest person in the commonwealth will not hesitate to kill anyone and everyone of lower stature who stands in their way. In each case the king – or Tsar – was declared an “enemy of the people” by the left, despite the fact that he was loved by his people and had been actively working to improve their conditions through reforms. In each case the king took seriously his role as protector of the Church in his country – the Church of England, in the case of Charles I, the Roman Catholic and Russian Orthodox Churches in the cases of Louis XVI and Nicholas II respectively. In each case this contributed significantly to the intense hatred his enemies felt towards him.

The first of these royal martyrdoms, that of Charles I of England and Scotland, was proceeded by another martyrdom, that of William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury. He was beheaded on January 10th, 1645, four years and twenty days before his king met the same fate. (1) His enemies were the same as those of the king, and the accusations they made against him were similar. These enemies were the Puritans – hyper-Protestants, for whom the reforms made by Thomas Cranmer et al. in the Edwardian era, and reinstated as the established status quo for the Church of England in the Elizabethan Settlement, did not go far enough and who insisted that the Church’s theology, organization, and worship be restructured after the model established by John Calvin in Geneva. While the content of their belief system is obviously worlds apart from that of their secular descendants, the same spirit of seditious rebellion against lawfully established authority that turns to tyrannical oppression once it has succeeded in usurping power that showed itself in the Jacobins and Bolsheviks was also clearly manifest in the Puritans. Their animosity towards Laud went back as far as his student days. While pursuing his doctorate at St. John’s College of Oxford University in the last year of the reign of Elizabeth I, he incurred the ire of the University’s Vice Chancellor, a leading Puritan named George Abbot, who would later become Laud’s immediate predecessor in the See of Canterbury and the primacy of the English Church. Laud, in a sponsored lecture at his College, defended the position that Christ’s Church had continued to be both present and visible in the world from Apostolic time onward, being represented prior to the Reformation by the Latin, Greek, and Oriental Churches. This convinced Abbot, who thought otherwise, that Laud harboured longings to bring the English Church back under the rule of the pope. The Puritans would make this same accusation against him, with increasing intensity, throughout his career. The pettiness of the grounds of these accusations increased with their intensity. When he was made Dean of Gloucester Cathedral in 1616, for example, he instructed that the communion table be moved back from the nave to its pre-Elizabethan position at the east end of the chancel and a communion rail placed around it. For the Puritans this was irrefutable evidence of “popery.” Most of the Puritan “evidence” of Laud’s supposed hearkening after Rome was of this nature and pertained only to matters concerning the external aesthetics of worship.

The ultimate answer to the Puritans’ false charge that Laud sought to undo the work of the English Reformers and place the English Church back under the papal system is the book with which we are concerned here. A brief telling of the events that led to its publication is in order. George Villiers was a favourite courtier of King James I. He was made a Duke in 1623 and is the same Duke of Buckingham, a highly fictionalized version of whose alleged romance with French Queen, Anne of Austria, and assassination at the hands of the disgruntled Puritan soldier, John Felton, features in Alexandre Dumas père’s The Three Musketeers. In 1622, while still at the rank of marquis, his household was shaken with religious controversy. His mother, Mary Beaumont, Countess of Buckingham, announced that she intended to join the Church of Rome and his wife who had converted to the Anglican Church at their marriage had returned to the Roman Church, hoping to persuade her husband to join her. King James intervened and arranged for a three day conference to take place in the royal presence between the Jesuit who had been instrumental in the Countess’ conversion, John Percy, SJ, who went under the alias Fisher and representatives of the Anglican Church. Obviously, the Buckingham family was present also. The royal chaplain, Francis White, argued the Protestant cause on the first day of the conference, King James took up the Anglican cudgels himself on the second, and on the third and final day William Laud was the representative of the Church of England. This intervention, while temporarily successful, ultimately failed to prevent the Countess’ conversion to Rome and Percy published his account of the affair in which he comes across as having had the upper hand in the debate. White and Laud both disputed this account, of course, and a pamphlet war between Percy and White began. Laud’s own narrative in response to Percy’s account was first published pseudonymously in 1624. Two years later someone, presumably Percy, published a reply under the name “A. C.” In 1639, the final version of Laud’s Relation, expanded, at the request of King Charles I, to include his rejoinder to “A. C.”, was published under Laud’s own name.

That anyone could have knowledge of this book and still take seriously the Puritans’ accusations of crypto-Romanism against Laud is difficult to believe. For while Laud clearly comes across as being Catholic in the primitive sense of the word, that is to say the sense in which it was used in the early centuries of the Church before any lasting schism, it is just as clear that he was thoroughly Protestant. It is a much more skillful response to the Roman Church’s claims against the English than Jewel’s Apology, and it is no wonder, therefore, that when, just prior to his martyrdom, King Charles I summoned his daughter Elizabeth to him and told her that he was about to go to his death “for the laws of the land and for maintaining the true Protestant religion” he presented her with a copy of this book, along with Richard Hooker’s Lawes of Ecclesiastical Politie and Lancelot Andrewes’ Sermons.

In his answers to the Jesuit he made full use of the St. John’s education, built “upon the noble foundation of the Fathers, the Councils, and the Ecclesiastical Historians” of which the bishop who had ordained him, Dr. John Young of Rochester, had spoken so highly. The central theme is the Roman Church’s claim to infallibility which appears to have been what attracted the Countess to it. Laud systematically, rationally, and with ample use of his encyclopedic knowledge of the Fathers, argued against papal infallibility and the infallibility of general councils. The primacy of the See of Rome that was acknowledged early in the history of the Church, was not regarded as conveying supreme authority over other bishops, much less the other patriarchs, by anyone other than the bishop of Rome himself for a millennium, and was originally based, not on who had founded the patriarchy – St Peter had also been the first bishop of Antioch and that prior to his period in Rome – but upon Rome’s being the first city of the Empire. The Roman Church is a true Church, he argued, albeit one riddled with error, but not the true Church, i.e., the Catholic or whole Church. No particular Church, is the Catholic Church, he argued in an early, and more inclusive, version of William Palmer’s “branch theory”, but rather each particular Church – the Roman, Eastern, and Oriental, as well as the English and other Protestant Churches, at least those of the Magisterial Reformation are themselves daughters of the mother or Catholic Church. Rome may be one the elder daughters, but she is not the oldest – it was from Jerusalem, that the faith spread out to all nations, the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch, and, Laud noted “Nor is it an opinion destitute either of authority or probability, that the faith of Christ was preached and the sacraments administered here in England, before any settlement of a church in Rome”, citing Gildas the Wise as saying that Christianity had come to Brittany before the end of the reign of Tiberius. The English Reformers, in rejecting the pope’s usurped authority over the English Church, had simply restored the more ancient custom, in which the Church is part of the commonwealth and subject to the civil prince. The guilt of schism in the Protestant Reformation, he argued, belongs to the Church of Rome because she, in her stubborn clinging to error and refusing to undergo necessary reforms, had forced the Protestants out.

Laud’s arguments against the Roman doctrines of papal and conciliar infallibility are also a masterful defence of the first of the cardinal doctrines of the Reformation – sola Scriptura. Not the perverted form of this doctrine that the Puritans inclined to, in which everything between the close of the canon and the Reformation was to be thrown out, but as the first Reformers originally intended it, that the Holy Scriptures, as the written Word of God, are the only infallible authority and are therefore supreme over the Church, and all of its teachings, practices, and traditions. That the Scriptures as the written Word of God are infallible – what today, would be called the “fundamentalist” view of the Scriptures by those who for rationalistic reasons reject this view – was taken by Laud as a point on which the two sides were in agreement, while he carefully dissected the Roman claim that the Church is the source of the Bible’s authority, rather than the other way around. He demonstrated that neither did the Fathers hold the Roman position, nor were contemporary Roman theologians consistent with regards to it. His response to what Roman apologists often regard as the clinching argument in their case, i.e., that there is no list of the canonical books within the Scriptures themselves and so we must know what they are by means of another authority, the Church, is superb. It is quite possibly the best Protestant response to this argument ever written, certainly the best that I have ever read. Our knowledge of what books constitute the infallible Scriptures, he argued, rests upon multiple grounds, and while the tradition and teaching of the Church may very well be that which bring us to our initial faith that these books are God’s authoritative revelation, it is by means of the character of the books themselves, their inner light, that the Holy Spirit confirms and strengthens that faith as we recognize in them the quality which the Church claims for them. Laud illustrated this point with the account of the Samaritan woman at the well in the fourth chapter of the Holy Gospel According to St. John. She initially told her townspeople about Jesus and after they had encountered Him themselves they said “Now we believe, not because of thy saying: for we have heard him ourselves, and know that this is indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the world.”

Since Laud’s focus, like that of the original conference, was upon this question of which is supreme, an infallible Church over the Scriptures or the infallible Scriptures over the Church, less space is devoted to other matters of difference between Rome and the Reformers, but they do come up, especially in the supporting arguments to Laud’s extended answer to Fisher’s position that since Laud, and other Protestants, conceded the possibility of salvation within the Roman Church, while the Roman Church denied it to those outside of their own fellowship, it was safer to join the Roman Church since both sides agreed salvation was possible within her. Laud’s expert answer demonstrates that this form of reasoning, if consistently applied, would support the Donatist position against the Catholic position in the fourth century – both sides agreed that baptism administered by the Donatists was valid, while the Donatists did not acknowledge Catholic baptisms as valid. He also argued that this reasoning could be used support the Arian position against the Orthodox, since both sides agreed about the humanity of Jesus while the one side denied His full deity. He showed this very form of reasoning to be fundamentally flawed and in the course of arguing his case made clear his Protestant positions on a number of matters, including that salvation is based upon the merits of Christ alone rather than those of the believer. He quoted the Roman apologist Bellarmine as saying “that in regard of the uncertainty of our own righteousness, and of the danger of vainglory, tutissimum est, it is safest to repose our whole trust in the mercy and goodness of God”, to which he immediately answered:

And surely, if there be one safer way than another, as he confesses there is, he is no wise man, that in a matter of so great moment will not betake himself to the safest way. And therefore even you yourselves in the point of condignity of merit, though you write it and preach it boisterously to the people, yet you are content to die, renouncing the condignity of all your own merits, and trust to Christ’s. Now surely, if you will not venture to die as you live, live and believe in time as you mean to die.

These are unmistakably the words of a man who stood with Luther and Cranmer on the four remaining solas of the Protestant Reformation. He explained that his concession of the possibility of salvation in the Roman Church is based upon that Church’s having an orthodox foundation in the Creeds, but that the structure of error that Rome has erected upon that foundation is great hindrance to it.

Laud, as was first evident in his restoration of the dilapidated Gloucester Cathedral when he was made Dean and much more evident in his reforms upon attaining the primacy of the English Church, was a man who held to a strong aesthetic of worship, believing that the outward form of the Church and its worship should reflect as much as possible the inward “beauty of holiness” of which the Psalmist wrote. The Puritans saw in this defection from their impoverished aesthetic of simplicity a tendency towards Rome but when it came down to the substance of the disagreement between the Roman Church and the Reformers on this issue, Laud clearly stood with the Reformers. After arguing that Rome had defected from the practice of the early Catholic Church, which commemorated the martyrs but did not invoke them, and taking the position that the Church should look for its prayers to be answered on the basis of the merits of Christ rather than the intercession of the saints, Laud wrote with regards to the adoration of images:

And for adoration of images, the ancient church knew it not. And the modern church of Rome is too like to paganism in the practice of it, and driven to scarce intelligible subtilties in her servants’ writings that defend it; and this without any care had of millions of souls, unable to understand her subtilties or shun her practice.

After offering several evidences in support of this contention, culminating in a quotation from a Roman apologist to the effect that images of Christ, the Virgin, and the Saints are not worshipped for any inherent deity, but merely as representations, of which he made the comment “And what, I pray, did or could any pagan priest say more than this?” Laud wrote:

And now I pray A. C. do you be judge, whether this proposition do not teach idolatry, and whether the modern church of Rome be not grown too like paganism in this point. For my own part I heartily wish it were not, and that men of learning would not strain their wits to spoil the truth and rent the peace of the church of Christ, by such dangerous and superstitious vanities; for better they are not, but hey may be worse: nay, these and their like have given so great a scandal among us, to some ignorant, though, I presume, well meaning men, that they are afraid to testify their duty to God even in his own house, by any outward gesture at all. Insomuch that those very ceremonies, which by the judgement of godly and learned men have now long continued in the practice of this church, suffer hard measure for the Romish superstition’s sake.

It appears quite evident that Laud was capable of distinguishing between “Romish superstition” on the one hand and ancient ceremonies and traditions on the other and that he rejected the former while contending for the latter against those ignorant men, whom he charitably presumed to be “well meaning”, i.e., the Puritans, who incapable of making this distinction wished to throw all ancient ceremonial out.

Laud believed and taught the Real Presence of Christ in the Sacrament of the Eucharist. To the Puritans this was tantamount to embracing the entire doctrine of the Roman Church regarding the Mass. Laud, however, had made it quite clear what he thought of the doctrine of Transubstantiation, which is the Roman Church’s claim that when the priest pronounces the words of institution the substance of the bread and wine is replaced with the body and blood of Christ and only the appearance of the former remains. This, he maintained in the context of his argument against conciliar infallibility, “was never heard of in the primitive church, nor till the council of Lateran; nor can it be proved out of scripture; and taken properly cannot stand with the grounds of the Christian religion.” He was even more scathing with regards to the Roman practice of withholding the wine from the laity, which he quite rightly said violates both the practice of the ancient Church and the direct commandment of Christ. When he articulated his own understanding of the Real Presence, moreover, he was willing to affirm no more than what the English Church affirms (see Article XXVIII) which in his words is “that in the most blessed sacrament the worthy receiver is by his faith made spiritually partaker of the true and real body and blood of Christ, truly and really, and of all the benefits of his passion.” Transubstantiation, he went on to say, was how the Roman Church explained the “manner of this his presence” just as Consubstantiation was how the Lutherans explained the same, but the English Church was willing to leave the matter unexplained and so was he. This was most embarrassing to his Puritan opponents for these regarded themselves as strict followers of John Calvin and his view was closer to John Calvin’s own than theirs. Indeed, he pointed this out himself in his answer to Bellarmine’s claim that Protestants deny the Real Presence:

And for the Calvinists, if they might be rightly understood, they also maintain a most true and real presence, though they cannot permit their judgment to be transubstantiated; and they are protestants too…For the Calvinists, at least they which follow Calvin himself, do not only believe that the true and real body of Christ is received in the eucharist, but that it is there, and that we partake of it vere et realiter, which are Calvin’s own words…Nor can that place by any art be shifted, or by any violence wrested from Calvin’s true meaning of the presence of Christ in and at the blessed sacrament of the eucharist, to any supper in heaven whatsoever.

It is quite apparent from a serious reading of this book that the charges of repudiating the theology of the Reformation which the Puritans first leveled against Laud in the early seventeenth century and which their admirers like J. C. Ryle, first Bishop of Liverpool, unthinkingly regurgitated in the nineteenth, were complete malarkey. Laud was a Catholic, to be sure, when this word is taken in its primitive sense of referring to the teachings, practices, and discipline of the Church of the earliest centuries, especially those of the Fathers, but he was also a Protestant who held the Bible to be the infallible authority to which all Church authority and tradition must bow the knee, who rejected the doctrines of Transubstantiation and Purgatory, the practices of invocation of the saints, adoration of images and administration of the Sacrament in one kind, and the claims of the papacy to supremacy over all the Church of Christ, and who held that the safe way of salvation was to trust entirely in Christ’s merits rather than our own. The only way to give the Puritan charge against Laud the remotest resemblance of substance is to reduce the theology of the Reformation to Zwingli’s view of the Eucharist, the doctrine of Predestination, and simplicity in the externalities of worship. To make Zwingli’s view of the Eucharist the definitive position of Reformation theology is to exclude the entire Lutheran tradition and the early Calvinists, including John Calvin himself. While both Luther and Calvin affirmed the doctrine of Predestination, and it featured into the famous debate between Luther and Erasmus, it was by no means central to the dispute between the Reformers and Rome. Lutheranism and Calvinism took the doctrine in very different directions and while the Anglican Church affirms Predestination in Article XVII it is worded in such a way as to allow for either the Lutheran or Calvinist interpretation – there is no mention of reprobation and, indeed, the second paragraph would seem to suggest the Lutheran rather than the Calvinist understanding. The Calvinist understanding of the doctrine, therefore, much less the narrower, more extreme, version of the same found in the Lambeth Articles of 1595 and the Canons of the Synod of Dort of 1618-1618, which the Puritans insisted upon, cannot be rightly regarded as an essential element of the theology of the Reformation and Laud cannot be rightly accused of abandoning the Reformation for insisting upon the universal love of God, His sincere universal desire to save, and the universal availability of grace, all of which Dr. Luther and his followers had always affirmed simultaneously with Predestination.

In reality, what lay beneath the Puritan accusation that Laud was trying to undo the work of the English Reformers was their recognition that he, who like Richard Hooker and Lancelot Andrewes before him was a true heir of the conservative English Reformers who sought to restore the Church of England to primitive Catholicism rather than throw the baby of the entirety of the richness of the Catholic tradition out with the bathwater of latter Roman corruptions, stood in the way of their plans to totally makeover the English Church after the Genevan model. For this, for his loyalty to the King against whom these regicidal enthusiasts were stirring up ungodly sedition, rebellion, and strife, and for the social reforms that he was promoting in the face of the objections of the avaricious and rapacious class of mercantile nouveau riche who backed the Puritan movement, (2) he was slandered and abused, arrested and incarcerated, and ultimately sent to his death, a martyr’s death.

It is fitting that we remember him on this the anniversary of that death, which the Anglican Communion has appropriately dedicated to his memory.

(1) Although this is more of a book review than a biography I consulted Charles Webb Le Bas, The Life of Archbishop Laud, London, J. G. & F. Livington, 1836 and Charles Hare Simpkinson, The Life and Times of William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury, London, Murray, 1894 for the biographical details.


(2) See chapter four of Anthony M. Ludovici, A Defence of Aristocracy: A Textbook for Tories, London, Constable, 1915, 1933 for more information on this point. On page 110 Ludovici wrote "But, as might have been expected, all three — Charles and his two lieutenants — lost their lives in this quixotic struggle against a mob of unscrupulous shopkeepers, and in the end, as we shall see, only the loyal nobles and the poor clustered round their King to defend him." Laud is one of the two lieutenants in question, Wentworth was the other, and the author goes on to substantiate this with details.