The Canadian Red Ensign

The Canadian Red Ensign

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Freedom is Essential

We have been hearing a lot of talk about “essential” and “non-essential” these days. The health totalitarians, who have decided that the COVID-19 pandemic is just and sufficient cause for suspending civil rights and liberties and placing the entire populace of cities, provinces, and whole nations under house arrest, insist that only “essential” businesses be allowed to remain open. Of course, these same health totalitarians are themselves the ones who get to decide what is “essential” and what is “non-essential.”

The distinction is a fraudulent one. The idea underlying the distinction is that there are some goods and services which people need to survive – food, water, and the like – and others which they can get by without. The majority of goods and services available on the market fall into the latter category. While it is true that nobody is going to die because he cannot buy the latest video game, DVD, novelty t-shirt, or any other of countless examples of the like, this ignores an obvious truth. For those whose business is to provide these goods and services which people can get by without, the provision of those goods and services is how they put food on the table and keep a roof over their heads. They are hardly “non-essential” to them.

Some may try to rebut what I have just pointed out by arguing that it is only true of small business owners and not of the large corporations that control most of the now shut-down economy and produce most of the “non-essential” goods. In response, I would say that what is true of the owners of small businesses is also true of the employees of the large corporations. They depend upon their jobs to put food on the table and pay the rent. I would also make the following obvious observation for those who think that this shut down is corporate, consumerist, capitalism finally getting what it deserves. It is the much despised corporations that have the accumulated capital to weather the shutdown for months and survive. It is the small businesses which will have to file for bankruptcy if forced to remain closed for much longer than a few weeks.

Others, might make the rejoinder that Justin Trudeau has promised financial assistance to small businesses. To which I would reply that Justin Trudeau has at no point in the past demonstrated that he or anyone else in his cabinet knows anything at all about small businesses and how they differ from large corporations. We are talking about the government that slapped taxes upon small businesses several years ago claiming that they were going after the “rich” and which got into a huge scandal last year because it tried to change the rules to prevent a large, Quebec-based, corporation from being prosecuted for bribing a foreign power.

What is true of us as individuals is also true of us collectively as communities, societies, nations, and countries. The so-called “non-essential” goods and services are how we pay for the so-called “essential” goods and services. If we eliminate the “non-essential” sector then we must force the “essential” sector to pay for everything including itself. It cannot bear this burden for long without collapsing under the additional stress. I, like many others, enjoy mocking the way in which the aggressive advertising that saturates our consumeristic, commercial society is constantly turning yesterday’s luxuries into today’s necessities, but the reality is that all of these goods and services which individually we might consider to be unnecessary, taken together perform a function that is essential.

It is not the government’s place to tell anyone that his business is “non-essential.”

What I have been saying about business is all the more true with regards to freedom. We often refer to such freedoms as our freedom of assembly, freedom of association, freedom of worship, and freedom of motion as our “basic freedoms.” I do not think very highly of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In my opinion, it thwarts the Common Law foundation of our rights and freedoms and makes them less secure. It conditions us into thinking of our rights and freedoms as being limited to those which the government permits us to have, rather than limited only by what the law prohibits. It gives the government far too much power to bypass our basic rights and freedoms and undermines the sovereignty of Queen-in-Parliament, the capstone of the entire Common Law system, by giving too much power to the Supreme Court. I shall leave these considerations aside, for the moment, to note that Section Two of the Charter refers to such freedoms as freedom of expression, freedom of religion, freedom of thought, freedom of belief, freedom of peaceful assembly, and freedom of association as our “fundamental freedoms.” “Fundamental”, like “basic” is another word for “essential.”

It would appear that the Dominion government, our provincial governments, and, sadly, a very large portion of our populace, think that these freedoms are not that essential when there is a virus running amok. For these are the very freedoms which our governments are curtailing – or eliminating entirely – in their hasty, poorly thought out, irrational efforts to contain the coronavirus and we, for the most part, are cheering them on as they do so.

There is no “freedom of peaceful assembly” when the government is telling us we can meet in groups no larger than fifty, ten, or single digit numbers, as the case may be. There is no “freedom of association” when “extreme social distancing” is mandatory. How can there be “freedom of religion” when churches are not allowed to assemble and worship? The closing of the churches is particularly appalling. Only a very depraved and evil mind would judge the state to be “essential” but the church to be “non-essential.”

It used to be that an essential part of raising young people involved teaching them that our traditional institutions and our basic freedoms stand and fall together and instilling in them such a love and reverence for these institutions and freedoms that in the unfortunate event that a war were to arise they would be willing to sacrifice their lives and die horrible deaths lest we lose these things. It speaks very poorly of us today that we are now willing to sacrifice all those freedoms in order to save our lives.

Freedom is absolutely essential. To sacrifice our freedom to stop COVID-19 is to sacrifice our humanity. Stopping COVID-19 is not worth that price.

Those who would give up their own essential freedoms in the name of empowering the state to deal with the COVID-19 emergency do not deserve their essential freedoms. Those who would force others to give up their own essential freedoms to achieve the same end deserve neither their freedoms nor the sorry lives they seek to save.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Counting the Cost

Let us suppose that tomorrow Justin Trudeau were to make the following announcement:

I have good news and bad news. The bad news is that the experts have told us that it will take twenty years of extreme social distancing for us to be certain COVID-19 will not resurge. The good news is that we have developed the technology to fully automate production of all essential goods and the delivery of the same. Everyone is therefore ordered to remain in their homes for the next twenty years. All of your needs will be met. Robots will produce all the food and toilet paper and everything else you need and bring it to your home. There is no need for you to go outside. Armed drones will patrol the streets nonstop to enforce your compliance with this order. I am sorry that you will not be able to see your friends or loved ones outside of your immediate household who live with you again, except through video communication, for two decades, but it is necessary to prevent COVID-19 from resurging and flooding our health care system. I will remain in office for the duration of this period to see to it that everything functions smoothly. See you in twenty years.


Would we tolerate this?

Would we agree that the total loss of our freedoms of movement and association for two decades was a price worth paying in order to protect us from this virus?

I hope – which is probably a safer word to use here than assume – that most of us would answer “no” to both of these questions. Yet, with one significant exception, the differences between the hypothetical announcement and what we are actually being told are ones of degree rather than kind. It appears, however, that most of us would answer these questions “yes” had they been asked of what the government is actually saying.

This raises the interesting question of where the line falls between what we are willing to put up with from the government in terms of suppression of our basic freedoms in order to contain or combat this pandemic and what we are not. At what point does the price become too high?

The reluctance of many to think in terms of this question comes from the mistaken notion that the cost of the measures that our country and many others are taking to combat the COVID-19 pandemic is entirely, or at least mostly, economic. Those who hold this mistaken notion, then argue from the maxim that lives are more important than money, property, the economy and the like, that no economic cost is too high to achieve the end of saving lives from COVID-19. As I observed in my last essay, the premise of this reasoning is a lie concealed behind a moral truism. While it is true, of course, that lives are more important than material goods, if you wipe out material goods you will end up destroying lives.

Let us consider the point that I sought to make in the hypothetical Trudeau speech above by that one item that is a significant exception to the rule that it differs from what he is actually saying only by degree rather than kind. In the speech, Trudeau has found a technological solution to the problem of providing people with their essential needs while everyone is locked in their homes for their own good. Robots will do it all. No such solution is available in the real world. If it were, however, it would remove the economic element from the equation entirely. Yet the problem remains. How many, even with the assurance that all their material needs will be met, would consider living under a house arrest enforced by the most Orwellian of means for twenty years to be an acceptable cost to pay in order to stop COVID-19?

My point is that the cost of “extreme social distancing”, “isolation” and “shut down” over too long of an extended period of time, even with the economic element subtracted from that cost, is too high a price to pay. It is not a rational solution to the problem of the pandemic. Which is not surprising considering that it was quickly put in place by governments, on the advice of epidemiological experts, when they suddenly found that their earlier inattention to the outbreak when it was confined to China had brought it to their own doorsteps. Decisions made in haste are not likely to be thoroughly thought out rational decisions. Especially when you are trying to compensate for having earlier underreacted to a potential crisis. That is what leads to overreaction.

Andrew Cohen of the Ottawa Citizen in his recent comparison of the Canadian and American methods of handling this crisis clearly expresses his preference for the Canadian way of doing things over the American. I too prefer the Canadian way, although for me, that way is and always will be, defined by the Canada of 1867, whereas for Cohen, the Canadian way seems to be defined by whatever the Liberal Party says Canada is all about in the present moment. He mentions that Canadians tend to listen to and respect experts more than Americans, or at least the sitting American president. Perhaps that is true. In this case, however, the Canadian government is acting like it has been listening to only one kind of expert.

The kind of people we call experts today are the result of the centuries long process of the specialization of knowledge. If you are looking for something to do in your time of isolation you might want to consider reading Richard Weaver’s discussion of this process in Ideas Have Consequences. We have gone from prioritizing the ability to see the big picture to prioritizing the mastery of small subsets of knowledge. The person who has so mastered his own field of knowledge is the expert. Being an expert in one field does not translate into being an expert in all, or even competently knowledgeable in fields other than his own, and, while this is an over-generalization, of course, it is nevertheless the case that experts tend to have a kind of tunnel vision and are often grossly ignorant of other fields than their own.

Thus, the epidemiologists called upon to advise on how to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic and prevent the medical system from crashing by being swamped have provided a solution that would work according to the knowledge available to them. That knowledge is limited to their own field. They are incapable of calculating the number of lives that would be lost due to problems such as mass starvation if we crash the economy in order to practice extreme social distancing. Note that the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization is already warning of a looming global food shortage caused by these Communist anti-COVID measures. Indeed, they seem incapable of understanding that if you crash the economy to save the medical system, you lose the medical system too, because it is the economy that pays for the medical system. The people advising this strategy clearly do not possess even a basic understanding of economics, history (other than the history of disease outbreaks), and constitutional law. The government is clearly not listening to experts in these fields. If it was, it would not be so quick to take measures that could potentially recreate the Great Depression and the inflation of the Weimar Republic. Nor would it have attempted, as it did earlier this week, to pass a bill eerily similar to that which made Adolf Hitler into the dictator of Germany eighty seven years ago.

The government needs to listen to voices knowledgeable in these areas as well as those knowledgeable in containing epidemics. It would do well to pay heed to Dr. Garrett Hardin’s First Law of Human Ecology – “You cannot do only one thing”, which means that anything you do to produce a particular end or solve a particular problem, will have other repercussions elsewhere.

We also need to be listening to those who can tell us something about the long-term consequences of conditioning people to fear normal human contact – the friendly handshake, the warm hug, etc. – as the harbinger of death, and to treat electronic, long-distance, communication as an adequate substitute to be preferred. We had a big enough problem with people gluing their eyes to their smartphones or other electronic devices, immersing themselves in an online virtual world, and shutting themselves off from the real world and the living, breathing, people around them, before this crisis. “Extreme social distancing” will only make it worse. Perhaps someone can tell us what the likely repercussions will be of instilling in our populace the exact opposite mindset to those who went to war for us in 1939, willing to sacrifice themselves and die a horrible death rather than that we lose our freedoms. Karen Selick has made a convincing argument that one of the results of the shut down and stay home approach will be a huge rise in domestic violence. Obviously she is talking about the effects on people who have families. It would also be good to know from mental health experts what the effect on single people who live alone – a much larger percentage of our population than ever before – of cutting them off completely from human contact for months will be. How long will they be able to keep their sanity? How long before the suicide rates skyrocket? How long before people start to snap and do terrible things?

All of this must be factored into the cost that the government is forcing us to pay for stopping COVID-19.

One wiser and more knowledgeable than all the experts put together once said:

“For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.” (Matt. 16:25)

He was speaking of those who believe in Him and are martyred for their faith. Perhaps we should be considering the broader implications of the principle.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

One Victory Against the Encroaching Totalitarianism

If anyone was under the impression that my harsh, negative, assessment of our civil leadership’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic in my last essay was overblown, they need only look at the dirty trick the Liberals tried to pull this week. Parliament, which adjourned on March 13th until Hitler’s birthday - draw your own conclusions, was temporarily called back on Tuesday to vote on an emergency spending bill. The problem was not the $82 billion that the government was seeking permission to spend. The problem was that the bill, as originally drafted, included several provisions that would give them the power to increase spending and taxation without submitting the increases to Parliament for a vote.

Perhaps they thought that the panic that the media – which in Canada is almost monolithically the mouthpiece of the Liberal Party – has generated would be sufficient for them to get away with this. Or possibly they thought that all of their efforts over decades to get Canadians to devalue the traditions and institutions we inherited from Britain and to forget the history and significance of those traditions and institutions had finally paid off, and that we would be willing to let them overturn the Magna Carta and the very foundation of Parliamentary government and our Common Law liberties.

Mercifully, it appears they were wrong. Tuesday morning it was reported that Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition were doing their job and firmly standing up for our traditional, constitutional, limits on government powers and that in the face of this staunch defence, the Liberals had backed down from their proposed power grab. Which is grounds for hope in these troubling times. The spirit of liberty has not yet been entirely crushed within us.

Later in the day, it was clarified that the tax powers were all that the Liberals had removed from the bill and that they were still pushing for the spending and borrowing powers. The Tories dug in in their opposition to these as well. The parties entered into negotiations but the day ended without the House being called upon to vote. This Wednesday morning - the Feast of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary - it was announced that the Liberals had dropped all the provisions for extended powers from the bill, which as an emergency spending bill has just passed the House, and will undoubtedly clear the Senate and receive Royal assent within a day or two.

I have been very critical of Andrew Scheer’s past performance as Opposition Leader and his bumbling in the last election but now, when it counts the most, it looks like he has come through for Canadians. Andrew Cohen, writing for the Ottawa Citizen, has praised the Prime Minister’s performance in this crisis saying “This has been his finest hour.” I beg to disagree. This – not the Kokanee Grope, not the costume party in India, not the Blackface/Brownface Scandal, not the SNC Lavalin Affair – has been Justin Trudeau, revealed at his worst – an opportunistic, tyrant, who has tried to take advantage of a global health crisis to attack the foundations of our constitution and expand his own powers. This is Andrew Scheer’s finest hour, not Justin Trudeau’s.

I am under no illusions that the majority of my countrymen see it my way rather than Cohen’s. Canadians have been far too apathetic for far too long towards the riches of our inheritance in the Common Law and the Westminster System of Parliament. It is almost one hundred years since the famous incident when Lord Byng, Governor General of Canada, exercised the reserve powers of the Crown and refused Liberal Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King’s request for a dissolution of Parliament. King, who had been allowed to form a government despite not having won the plurality in the House, wanted the dissolution to save his own bacon because he faced an imminent censure in Parliament over a corruption scandal. Lord Byng’s refusal was an entirely appropriate use of the Crown’s powers to protect Parliament’s right to hold the government accountable, as such champions of our constitution as John Farthing and Eugene Forsey demonstrated in their books on the subject. In the next Dominion election, however, the Canadian electorate bought King’s execrable lies about the matter hook, line, and sinker and awarded him a majority government.

That the government’s first thoughts with regards to dealing with this crisis were that they need to expand their powers beyond what the constitution allows them is itself sufficient evidence that they do not deserve to be trusted with such powers.

The approach they have been taking to the COVID-19 pandemic is further grounds not to trust them. Remember that this is a virus which in over eighty percent of the cases we know about has produced no symptoms to moderate symptoms. The actual percentage of those who have contracted the virus of whom this is true is probably closer to 99.99%. Most people who are asymptomatic would not have been tested unless they were in a situation where they were known to have been exposed to the virus. Thus, an approach to containing the disease which focuses on protecting those most vulnerable to experience it at its worst rather than protecting us all by shutting everything down and forcing us all into isolation makes the most sense. Countries that have aggressively pursued such an approach have succeeded in containing the spread of the disease without going into extreme shut down mode. Ironically, the countries which Mr. Cohen lists in the second paragraph of his column have all followed this approach, unlike Italy and the United States whose mishandling of the crisis he decries, despite the fact that they are following the same kind of approach, albeit with varying degrees of severity, as our own government.

The model which Mr. Trudeau is following is that of advising – and probably eventually compelling – all Canadians to stay at home, away from the threat of contagion, and also from the sun and fresh air which are man’s most important natural allies in the fight against disease. This involves shutting down all “non-essential” businesses and promising that the government will take care of the huge segment of the workforce which now finds itself unemployed. Since government is not a wealth generating institution – despite sometimes having delusions to the contrary – this means that the burden it is taking upon itself must fall upon the only part of the private economy that remains open – the “essential” businesses that provide food and other necessities, putting a strain on these which will, if this lasts for any lengthy period of time, cause them to fail. This would result in far more deaths than the collapse of the medical system that Mr. Trudeau is trying to avoid by the long-term strategy of slowing the spread of the virus and pushing its peak into the future ever would. The modern economy is the way in which we have avoided the Malthusian consequences of our population size. Anybody who is not an idiot knows this. “Lives are more important than the economy” is a lie concealed behind a moral truism. Destroy the economy, and you destroy the lives that it sustains. The Holodomor of almost ninety years ago is an historical example of how a regime used that principle to destroy lives deliberately with malice aforethought. If the Trudeau Liberals accomplish the same it will be primarily through stupidity.

Nor is shrinking the economy to the point where it cannot possibly feed our population and so causing the deaths of masses by starvation the only way in which the model the Trudeau government is pursuing could produce disastrous results. As unemployment skyrockets, suicide rates are likely to rise as well. Furthermore, if “extreme social distancing” is kept in place for as long as the Liberals are saying is necessary – months rather than weeks – there will be a general breakdown in psychological and emotional health. Human beings are social creatures. They are not meant to live apart from each other. Force them to live contrary to their nature for a lengthy period of time and they will start to go bonkers. This too would contribute to a rise in suicide rates as well as other dangerous and destructive behaviour.

Furthermore, just as an extended shut down will rapidly burn up accumulated material capital, so an extensive period of “extreme social distancing” will burn up social capital – the trust between members of a community and society that enables them to function in a civilized way and cooperate for their own common good. The only kind of government that would want to destroy that is a totalitarian government that hates and persecutes all social interaction that is not under its direct planning and control, which demands the total undivided allegiance of its citizens, and which fears any and all rivals for its peoples’ loyalty, trust, and affection.

Those who would rather not live under that kind of a government, who still value our constitution in which Queen-in-Parliament and not Prime Minister-in-Cabinet is sovereign, and our Common Law rights and freedoms won a victory today. Let us practice eternal vigilance and pray that it is not short-lived.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Shall Past and Future Generations Rise in the Judgement and Condemn us for our Folly at This Moment?

Suppose that for some reason – let us say that you are looking to graduate with a degree in Mad Science from Evil Genius University and are required to demonstrate that you can practically apply what you have learned in theory - you wanted to create a shortage of essential goods during a crisis. How would you go about doing so?

The simplest way by far would be to get people to panic over the very shortage you wish to create. Start spreading the word that due to the crisis we are facing an impending economic shutdown and that everybody should grab as much as they can while they still can to prepare for the days ahead. The word would spread like wildfire through the masses, who, despite any number of sober, sane voices warning them to keep calm and behaver rationally, can be relied upon to do their part by rushing to the markets, hording everything in sight, and creating the very shortages you have warned them about.

Bada bing, bada boom. You are now able to pick up your degree, rub your hands, cackle maniacally and say “Fools! I’ll destroy them all!” Although you might wish to express that infamous sentiment in the perfect tense.

That the masses can be depended upon to do their part in the above, not so hypothetical, scenario is due to one of the quirks of fallen human nature, the one we normally think of in terms of crowd psychology or, if we wish to use a more pejorative expression, mob mentality. People, when they act together as a crowd, mob or mass, do not act in an informed, rational manner, regardless of how educated or intelligent they may be individually. Every demagogue, that is to say, every would-be tyrant hoping to be swept into power on a wave of popular support, knows this to be true, and seeks to capitalize on it.

There is a saying of Edmund Burke’s that Russell Kirk was fond of quoting that could be taken as a contradiction of this if misunderstood. The saying was “The individual is foolish; but the species is wise.” By “the species”, Burke meant the human race considered collectively, not just at a moment in time, as in the phenomenon of the masses, but over the course of generations. His point, which is a very true one, is that the judgement of such a collective as it has come down to us in folkways and mores, habits and customs, tradition and prescription, is far more trustworthy than the judgement of any individual. It is helpful to consider Burke’s original statement, in its original, unabridged, albeit less pithy, form:

The individual is foolish; the multitude, for the moment is foolish, when they act without deliberation; but the species is wise, and, when time is given to it, as a species it always acts right. (bold added by myself for emphasis)

What, one hundred, two hundred, or five hundred years down the road, will be the judgement of the species, upon us who are alive today, for how we have responded to the COVID-19 pandemic?

If you have not already figured it out from the question asked in the title of this essay, a paraphrase of Our Lord’s biting judgement on the generation that saw His earthly ministry and rejected Him, I suspect it will not be a favourable one.

Those who will receive the least condemnation from this assize, that of the collective judgement of the human race over the course of human history, will be those who are receiving the largest share of the blame at the moment, namely the hording masses, who have descended like a swarm of locusts upon the shelves that once contained toilet paper, medication, canned goods, and other emergency supplies. It is not in the nature of crowds to behave in an informed, rational, manner, and so they can neither be expected to do so nor held accountable when they fail to do so.

Far greater condemnation will fall upon those who generated the panic in the first place, namely the mainstream media. Ever since they learned, in December of last year, that a new strain of coronavirus was behind an outbreak of respiratory disease in Wuhan and the surrounding region in China, they have bombarded the public with non-stop coverage of the disease, irresponsibly focusing on the unknown rather than what is known – namely, that the majority of people who are infected with this virus experience only mild symptoms similar to a cold or the flu and that those most at risk for experiencing the disease at its worst – severe difficulty in breathing, organ failure, intense pain and death – are the same demographic most at risk of dying from seasonal influenza or, for that matter, any other infectious disease, those over the age of 65, those who have pre-existing medical problems, and most especially those who fall into both categories. The mortality rate for this virus appears to be about ten times higher than for regular strains of the flu but this does not mean that everybody is ten times more likely to die from it than from the flu. Those who belong to the at-risk demographics are more likely to die from this virus than they are from the flu but this does not mean that this is true of everybody else. It also does not mean that those in the at-risk demographics are more likely to die than they are to survive. Even for those in the most-at-risk demographic, the survival rate is still much, much higher than the mortality rate. For people under fifty, the mortality rate is below the one percent that represents the ten times worse than the flu figure. Eighty percent of fatalities have been among people sixty or older, and over ninety percent of fatalities have had other, complicating, medical conditions. Note, that since most who contract the virus experience mild symptoms and many experience no symptoms at all, the total number of people who have been infected is much higher and consequently the true mortality rate much lower, than what is reflected in the official statistics.

These are the sort of things – the facts, what we do know – that the media should have been emphasizing, especially the fact that the vast majority of those who contract this virus experience nothing worse than the average cold or flu. Instead they focused on what we do not know and so, when the World Health Organization declared a pandemic, they generated a panic. .

The worst condemnation will be reserved for those who are most responsible for behaving in a calm, rational, manner, those who have a duty to set an example for the masses and provide them with leadership, rather than following them into an irrational panic or, worse, exploiting that panic for their own ends. Here I refer to our civil and ecclesiastical leaders.

With regards to our ecclesiastical leadership, allow me to remind them that Our Lord calls us to walk by faith not by fear – except the “fear of God” which is something entirely different from the kind of worldly paranoia we see on display in those Churches that are shutting their doors. Advising those most at risk to stay home is one thing. Cancelling all services in entire dioceses is another thing altogether. There are plenty of other ways to reduce the risk for those attending public worship. I refer you to the recent article “Keep The Churches Open” by R. R. Reno, editor of First Things, for an excellent discussion of this matter. I refer you to A. N. Bethune’s Memoir of the Right Reverend John Strachan, the first Bishop of Toronto, in particular the account of his heroic efforts during the choleric outbreaks of the 1830s for an example of what walking by faith rather than fear in a time of plague looks like.

As for our civil leaders, there are no words strong enough to express my contempt for their exploiting this mass panic to impose what is essentially Communism on us. Here is what a rational response to this pandemic would have been:

A) Quarantine all that we know to be infected for the duration of the period in which they are contagious.
B) Quarantine all who are at special risk.
C) Quarantine anyone coming into the country for two weeks.
D) Advise everybody to take the same special precautions that they are normally advised to do during flu season. Make an extra effort to impress upon people the importance of this. Recommend frequent handwashing, sunlight, fresh air, Vitamins C and D and the like.
E) Otherwise let everybody continue their normal affairs.

The preceding is what a government truly concerned about the health and welfare of the country they are supposed to be leading would do. Instead, they are exploiting the situation to gain a totalitarian level of control over our countries.

Do some research about what life was like in the Soviet Union prior to perestroika, glasnost and the fall of the Berlin Wall. You needed the state’s permission to go anywhere. Large meetings, other than the events organized by the Communist Party that you were required to attend, were forbidden. There were shortages of essential goods. You had to wait in line for hours to get a loaf of bread. The state promised everything to everybody but failed to deliver. Churches were closed. Any form of social organization that was not under the control of the omnipotent state was actively discouraged. Friends, neighbours and family members were encouraged to spy on each other and report if the rules were being broken.

Does any of this sound familiar?

The SARS-CoV-2 virus and the disease COVID-19, has come and it will go. Will we ever regain the precious freedoms that we are sacrificing in order to fight it? It took seventy years before the Soviet regime loosened its iron grip on the Russian nation and empire.

I do not wish to create a different sort of paranoia. Perhaps, and let us all hope and pray that it turns out this way, the “curve” will be “flattened” as appears to have happened in South Korea and as the Chinese, who are probably lying, say has happened in their Communist hell-hole which begat the whole problem in the first place, and within weeks – a couple of months at the most – the government will loosen its draconian controls, and we can return to some semblance of normalcy. Let us hope that the “months” that Prime Minister Trudeau has been talking about mean “two at the most” and not the “eighteen” as some have been recommending. Let us hope that this is not the beginning of forcing us to live this way on a permanent basis, as is desired by the climate change alarmist lunatics. Let us hope that nobody listens to those bat soup crazy individuals who are already claiming that the government is not being draconian enough.

If however, the aforementioned desired outcome does not occur and we end up living under this kind of totalitarian control for the long haul, past generations looking upon us from beyond shall condemn us for having thrown away the heritage of freedom they bequeathed to us, and future generations shall condemn us for leaving to them nothing but a heritage of Communist slavery.

Friday, March 13, 2020

Semantic Shift and the Decline of Orthodoxy: Part Two – Evangelical and Catholic: Part Two of Part Two – Catholic

In the sixteenth century, the Reformers of the Magisterial Reformation, continental and English, did not identify their enemy, the Pope, his adherents, or his doctrines as “Catholic.”

In the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion of the Church of England, Article XXII uses the term “Romish” to describe the Doctrine “concerning Purgatory, Pardons, Worshipping and Adoration, as well of Images as of Reliques, and also invocation of Saints” which it says is “a fond thing vainly invented, and grounded upon no warranty of Scripture, but rather repugnant to the Word of God.” Earlier, Article XIX declares that like other particular Churches (Jerusalem, Alexandria, and Antioch are named), “the Church of Rome hath erred, not only in their living and manner of Ceremonies, but also in matters of Faith.” The Church of Rome is never identified with the adjective “Catholic.” The word “Catholic” does not appear in the Articles at all, as a matter of fact, but Article VIII declares that “The Three Creeds, Nicene Creed, Athanasius’s Creed, and that which is commonly called the Apostles’ Creed, ought thoroughly to be received and believed: for they may be proved by most certain warrants of holy Scripture.” The first of these contains the affirmation “and I believe One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church” (1) The last affirms the affirmation “The Holy Catholick Church.” (2) The Athanasian Creed (3) or the Quicumque Vult begins by saying “Whosoever will be saved: before all things it is necessary that he hold the Catholick Faith.” (4)

We find very much the same thing when we turn to the confessions of the Lutheran tradition. The Book of Concord (1580), which collects the most important Lutheran confessional statements in a single volume, begins with the aforementioned three ecumenical Creeds. These are followed by the Augsburg Confession, which was addressed to Emperor Charles V in 1530 AD. In this Confession the word “Catholic” first appears in Article XXI, “Of the Worship of the Saints”, not to identify the teaching and practices they opposed, but to say “This is about the Sum of our Doctrine, in which, as can be seen, there is nothing that varies from the Scriptures, or from the Church Catholic, or from the Church of Rome as known from its writers.” Apart from a citation of St. Augustine to the effect that Catholic bishops must not be submitted to if they teach contrary to the Scriptures, all other usages of “Catholic” in this Confession are of a similar nature, denying that the Lutherans have departed from the Catholic Church and Catholic faith. The same is true of the two uses of “Catholic” under the heading “Of Original Sin” in Philip Melanchthon’s Apology for the Augsburg Confession, the two uses under the heading “Of Love and the Fulfilling of the Law”, the two uses under the heading “Of Repentance”, the one use under “Of Ecclesiastical Order”, the one use under “Of Good Works”, and the one use under “Of the Mass.” The three uses under the heading “Of the Church” are simply affirmations of the Catholic Church in accordance with the Creeds. The three times the word “Catholic” appears in the Smalcald Articles, penned by Dr. Luther himself in 1537, it is to rebut the papacy’s claims to headship over the Catholic Church and its identification of the Catholic Church with its own followers. Philip Melanchthon does not use the word “Catholic” in the text of his “Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope” written in the same year as the Smalcald Articles, but it does appear once in an addendum by Johann Brenz, following the signatures, where he says that he has read all the Lutheran Confessional material to date and in his opinion they concur with both the Scriptures and “the belief of the true and genuine, Catholic Church.” In the remaining documents in the Book of Concord – Luther’s Small and Large Catechisms from the 1520, and the Formula of Concord, Epitome and Solid Declaration, from 1577, the word “Catholic” is conspicuous by its absence – “Christian” is substituted for it in citations of the Creed, but it is never used in a negative sense to refer to the papacy.

In the Reformed Church, Article XXVII of the Belgic Confession is entitled “The Holy Catholic Church” and begins by saying “We believe or confess one single Catholic or universal Church.” These are the only times the word “Catholic” appears in the Confession, which concludes its Article IX, “On the Trinity” by saying “And so, in this matter we willingly accept the three ecumenical creeds—the Apostles’, Nicene, and Athanasian—as well as what the ancient fathers decided in agreement with them.”

It is quite evident that for the Magisterial Reformers “Catholic” and “Protestant” were not mutually exclusive terms, and “Catholic” has no negative overtones whatsoever. A rejection of the Roman Patriarch’s claims of exclusive title to the word “Catholic” for those in Communion with him was a key element of Anglican, Lutheran, and Reformed theology in the sixteenth century.

This is a remarkable contrast with evangelical usage of the same term in our own day and age. I am using evangelical here, to refer to the subcategory of Protestants whose common identity is based primarily upon a shared experience of conversion which they identify with the new birth spoken of in the New Testament. The change in meaning of evangelical, from its sixteenth century definition based upon the Reformation doctrine of justification by faith to this new, experience-based, definition was the subject of Part One of Part Two. Seventy years ago, evangelicals by the experience-based definition, were all thought to be theologically conservative, at least by the scale that measures theological conservatism/liberalism by willingness to alter theological beliefs to accommodate the presuppositions of Modern rationalist and empiricist philosophy. This is no longer the case. Today, evangelicals include both self-identified fundamentalists, who are archconservatives by the standard of the aforementioned scale, and “liberal evangelicals.” (5) The vast majority of all types of evangelicals, however, now use the word “Catholic” to refer to the Roman Communion. Fundamentalists, railing against the Roman Communion as the “Whore of Babylon” will call it the “Catholic” Church. More liberal evangelicals, arguing for ecumenical dialogue to repair the breach of five centuries ago, will also speak of the Roman Communion as the “Catholic” Church. Conservative evangelical theologians, defending the Solas of the Reformation, usually now refer to the doctrines of transubstaniation, human merit, papal supremacy, etc. as being “Catholic.”

Some might say, and this is undoubtedly true up to a point, that this is the result of a cultural shift towards a paradigm of mutual respect, or at least lip service to the concept, that encourages calling other groups by their own preferred nomenclature. I have many criticisms that I could make about this seemingly innocuous cultural shift but they would be very extraneous to what I am discussing in this essay. My contention here is that whereas sixteenth century Magisterial evangelicalism refused to surrender “Catholic” to the Roman Communion because it regarded its own doctrines as consistent with the Catholic Faith and the traditions of the Holy Catholic Church, contemporary evangelicalism has been willing to surrender the term to the Roman Communion because it does not so regard itself as being Catholic. If both evangelicalisms have been correct in their self-assessment, sixteenth century Anglican/Lutheran/Reformed evangelicalism in its conviction that it was still Catholic, twentieth-twenty first century evangelicalism in its conviction that it is not, then this indicates that the evangelical movement has departed from the orthodoxy of the Reformation, especially its first tier.

With regards to the self-assessment of sixteenth century evangelicals, the Roman Communion, of course, accused them of breaking with Catholic tradition, the Catholic Faith, and the Catholic Church. The doctrine of “justification by faith alone”, that is, that man receives the righteousness of God offered in the Gospel through the sole instrument of believing in Jesus Christ and not by his own works since justification in the eyes of God is entirely a gracious gift of God and not something we earn, for example, the Roman Communion declared to be a novelty of Luther’s, that differed not just with late Medieval corruptions but with Catholic doctrine since the ancient days of the Church. Against their claim it can be observed that a) the doctrine of justification by faith without works was formulated as above by St. Paul himself in the very font of Catholic faith and tradition, the New Testament, and especially the fourth chapter of the epistle to – ironically – the Romans, b) no anathema was pronounced against the doctrine until the Council of Trent (1545-1563), which Council, despite the Roman Communion’s claims to the contrary, was certainly no ecumenical Council of the Catholic Church and lacked the authority thereof, and c) no similar anathema was ever pronounced by the Greek Communion, the theology of which has never included the elements of late Medieval Roman theology against which the Reformers asserted the Pauline doctrine so forcibly, i.e., human merit, the depository of supererogatory works, etc. (6)

In the Catholic tradition, that which had been taught and believed in the Church, from the time of the Apostles and Fathers downward, in all regions and all periods of time, the emphasis had been on sanctification. People are sinful. God is holy. A holy God cannot admit sin into His presence. Therefore, sanctification is necessary before a sinner can enter into the Kingdom of Heaven, in the full eschatological sense of that expression. A sinner, admitted into God’s holy presence without having his sinfulness removed and his nature restored from its fallen state to one of perfect holy righteousness, could experience God’s holy presence only as hell, and would make the Kingdom into hell for others by his very presence. Ergo sanctification is not optional but must necessarily be completed before one can be admitted to the Beatific Vision. (7)

The pope and his followers in the Roman Communion maintained that the Protestant emphasis on justification by faith apart from works amounted to a denial of everything in the previous paragraph and separated justification from sanctification. This, however, was a caricature of the Reformers’ doctrine. By saying that justification was the crediting to the believer of his faith as righteousness for the sake of Christ’s completed sacrifice and perfect merit alone and not as a reward for his own works, Luther, Calvin, and Cranmer had no intention of denying the necessity of sanctification or of maintaining that God justified sinners without committing to sanctify them. In St. Paul’s epistle to the Romans, upon which they relied so heavily, the Apostle went on from teaching that all are sinners (chapters 2 and 3), who are credited with the righteousness of God revealed in the Gospel when they believe on the basis of Christ’s propitiatory death and apart from their works (chapter 4), to magnify God’s grace as being greater and more abundant than human sin (chapter 5), which is no excuse for sin because the union of believers with Christ in baptism unites us with Him in His death and resurrection so that we in His death have died to sin (chapter 6) and the Law, which due to our innate sinfulness, called “the flesh”, is powerless to produce the righteousness it commands (chapter 7), and should reckon ourselves to be alive to Christ in His resurrection and so serve Him in righteousness (chapter 6 again), and while this produces a situation where we struggle against ourselves in this life (end of chapter 7), all who belong to Christ have been given His Holy Spirit Who “quickens” our “dead members”, i.e., provides the power lacking in the Law, and we, with all of Creation, can look forward in a certain hope, to the day when God will indeed complete the work of restoration in us as He promised (chapter 8). The Reformers, by insisting that justification is first and is the foundation upon which sanctification is built rather than the other way around, as the Roman doctrine of a justification that rests in part on the works that are the fruit of sanctification would suggest, did not deny the Catholic tradition and its emphasis but rather, by going back ad fontes to the Pauline order in the source of that tradition, strengthened the tradition by correcting a late error.

What then of contemporary evangelicalism’s self-assessment that it is not “Catholic”?

In the sixteenth century evangelicalism was predominantly Anglican, Lutheran, and Reformed, that is, the evangelicalism of Churches that had been reformed by the civil power, with no intention of separating from the Catholic Church, but only rejecting the errors and false practices of the Roman Patriarch who had usurped power far exceeding that granted him in the early centuries. Contemporary evangelicalism, however, is predominantly that of separatist sects, guilty of what has been condemned under the name “schism” since the earliest days of the Church, and which were condemned by the Churches of the Magisterial Reformation when they first appeared. Unlike the Magisterial Reformers, these sects did indeed see the doctrines of the Protestant Reformation as a break from the Catholic Faith and Church, because unlike the Magisterial Reformers, they saw the Catholic tradition as starting, not with the Apostles but with Constantine in the fourth century, and because, also unlike the Magisterial Reformers, they saw the errors of Rome as not being late Medieval, but as belonging to this tradition since the earliest days. This is the same interpretation of Church history held by all of the sects that evangelicals label as “cults”, which are generally anti-Trinitarian groups who have revived ancient heresies like Arianism (Russellism) and Valentinism (Mormonism). While the sects that are part of contemporary evangelicalism have not rejected orthodox Nicene Trinitarianism or Chalcedonian Christology, the contemporary movement has produced many leaders with very defective views of these doctrines. One very prominent evangelical author who passed away three years ago, criticized Charles Wesley’s marvelous hymn “And Can It Be” by suggesting that there are hints of Patripassionism in it, but in doing so crossed the line into Nestorianism. (8) The man who until 1989 was the leading evangelical “expert” on cults, thought of himself as an orthodox Trinitarian but denied the eternal sonship of Jesus Christ, i.e., the doctrine affirmed by all orthodox Christians in the part of the Nicene Creed that goes “the only-begotten Son of God, Begotten of his Father before all worlds…Begotten, not made.” A popular evangelical pastor, seminary president, author, and radio teacher, until about twenty years ago taught the same thing. (9)

We shall, Deus Vult, examine this further in Part Three of Part Two, the final section of Part Two of Semantic Shift and the Decline of Orthodoxy, in which we shall look at how the predominance of the sectarian mindset in contemporary evangelicalism, as opposed to the sixteenth century evangelicalism, is related to the shift to an experience-based definition of the movement and the shift to following the Roman Communion’s practice of reserving the term Catholic for itself.


(1) This is how this phrase is rendered in the current Canadian edition of the Book of Common Prayer. Most previous editions of the Book of Common Prayer, including the 1662 Restoration edition that all subsequent editions have been based upon and the original 1549 edition omitted the second of the marks of the Church, “holy.” It is still absent in the edition used by the Church of England. According to the Right Reverend John Dowden, nineteenth century Bishop of Edinburgh this is probably due to critical studies of the Church Councils by Jacques Merlin, Peter Crabbe and Bartolomé Carranza published in the decades just prior to the first Book of Common Prayer which maintained that it was absent in the Greek original in the Acts of the Councils. (The Workmanship of the Prayerbook in its Literary and Liturgical Aspects, 1899, pp. 104-106). Whether or not this is the case, it most definitely belongs to the Greek and Latin, texti recepti, of the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed as recognized by the Eastern and Western Churches respectively. Whatever we might think of the hatchet job the Canadian edition of the BCP has made of the Coverdale Psalter, or the other, strictly stylistic, changes to this clause of the Creed (capitalizing the O in One and dropping the k from Catholick and Apostolick), the re-insertion of “Holy” is clearly an improvement over the 1662 edition.

(2) This is how it appears in all BCP editions of the baptismal Creed, thus, vide supra notwithstanding, the mark of holiness was not eliminated entirely with regards to the Church in the Anglican editions of the Creeds.

(3) Until the sixteenth century it was widely believed that this was written by St. Athanasius of Alexandria, the fourth century champion of Trinitarian orthodoxy against Arianism. Then the Dutch theologian Gerardus Vossius argued against this view in his Dissertationes Tres de Tribus Symbolis, Apostolico, Athanasiano et Constantinopolitano in 1642, maintaining that it was probably written in Gaul much later in the first millennium, possibly even the ninth century. In response to the spread of this view, Dr. Daniel Waterland, in a critical look at all of the then-extent manuscript evidence concerning it, argued that it was probably written by St. Hilary of Arles in the early fifth century, prior to the Nestorian controversy (A Critical History of the Athanasian Creed, 1723). Whatever the truth might be about the “Athanasian” it is obviously not properly a Creed in the same sense as the Apostles’ and Nicene, not being in the form of a confession of faith beginning with credo (or credimus) but of an exposition of the content of the faith found in one or both of the other Creeds.

(4) The Canadian rendition is “WHOSOEVER would be saved / needeth before all things to hold fast the Catholic Faith.”

(5) Those who continue to identify as fundamentalists have maintained for the last sixty years or so, that the evangelicals who abandoned the fundamentalist label around the time of E. J. Carnell’s becoming president of Fuller Theological Seminary (1954), the founding of Christianity Today (1956) and the Billy Graham Madison Square Garden Crusade in the New York (1957) and in connection with these events, were even then taking a step towards a more liberal theology. In 1976 and 1984, Harold Lindsell and Francis Schaeffer would each argue from within the evangelical movement that a liberal form of evangelicalism had in fact developed. These works, The Battle for the Bible and The Great Evangelical Disaster respectively, were, as their titles suggest, polemical works intended to sound the alarm against this sort of compromise. The same phenomenon was discussed from a more detached, academic, perspective by George M. Marsden in Reforming Fundamentalism: Fuller Seminary and the New Evangelicalism (1995). Since then, segments of evangelicalism willing to adjust their theological beliefs to accommodate postmodernism and deconstructionism, and thus far more liberal than anything these previous writers could have imagined, have arisen.

(6) The closest the Eastern Church came to a “Council of Trent” was the Synod of Jerusalem, also known as the Synod of Bethlehem, in 1672. This Synod did not convene until over a century had passed since the Council of Trent had ended. Its Acts and Decrees are called the Confession of Dositheus, and while Decree XIII rejects sola fide, it is worded as an affirmation of positive belief and not as an anathema pronounced upon those who disagree. There are several anathemas in the Confession of Dositheus, most of these pertaining to practices with regards to icons, although the Calvinist doctrine of reprobation is also so anathematized. The Orthodox Synod and its Confession was not primarily a response to the Reformation, but to the Confession of Faith of Cyril Lucaris that had been published in Latin in Geneva in 1629. Cyril Lucaris, canonized by his own Communion shortly after his death in 1638, had been Patriarch of Constantinople, the highest rank in the Eastern Orthodox hierarchy although what it is to the Eastern Communion is closer to what the Archbishop of Canterbury is to the Anglican Communion than what the Pope is to the Roman. The Orthodox Church in this Synod, felt the need to respond to this Confession because it presented the Eastern Orthodox Faith as being Protestant, affirming, among other things, justification by faith alone and the Calvinist view of predestination. The Synod of Jerusalem distinguished between the Confession and its purported author, maintaining that it was a forgery. Differences of opinion persist about that matter to this day. G. A. Hadjiantoniou in his Protestant Patriarch: The Life of Cyril Lucaris (1572-1638) (1961), as is evident from the title, took the position that the Confession was genuine. At the very least, the Patriarch was far more sympathetic to Reformation doctrines than the representatives of Orthodoxy in 1672. This is the Cyril Lucaris who sent one of his priests, Metrophanes Kritopoulos, later Patriarch of Alexandria, to study at the Anglican University of Oxford, who became a friend and correspondent of the Right Reverend William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury, and who gave Codex Alexandrinus (or A), the oldest uncial vellum manuscript of the Greek Bible, other than Vaticanus (B) and Sinaiticus (א), to King Charles I. Obviously, even if we take Hadjiantoniou’s position that the Confession was genuine, it would be a gross fallacy to argue that Cyril I rather than the Confession of Dositheus “speaks” for the Orthodox Church as a whole. Nevertheless, the facts that a) the Synod of Jerusalem was very late in the seventeenth century, b) that it was a response to the Confession rather than the Reformation itself, c) that the leading Patriarch of the Eastern Church for most of the first half of the seventeenth century was clearly on much better terms with Protestantism, and that d) there is no anathema on sola fide, demonstrate that it was not so certain in the minds of the East, that the Reformation doctrine was a break with the universal and Patristic tradition, as it was in the minds of those who represented the papacy in the Tridentine Council the previous century. It is also worth noting that the caricatures with which the Roman Communion dismisses the Reformation doctrine, such as that it separates justification from sanctification making it into a kind of paper transaction that creates a fictional righteousness, the Eastern Church traditionally levels at the Western tradition as a whole, from St. Augustine of Hippo onward, and including the papal doctrine as much as the Protestant.

(7) This is the kernel of truth which is to be found deeply hidden away within all the error of the Roman doctrine of Purgatory, rightly rejected by Protestants and the Eastern Church alike. Sanctification, at whatever state it is at when the believer dies, must be brought to completion before admission into God’s Heavenly Kingdom. This much is true, although there is nothing in Scripture or the tradition that is truly Catholic rather than distinctly Roman to support the idea that the process must take place over a very long period of time in a place assigned to that purpose, much less the thoroughly blasphemous notion that there is a treasury of supererogatory works (works above and beyond what God requires of us) that the saints have stored up which can be drawn upon to lessen one’s time there in return for a sum paid to the Roman Church.

(8) http://thronealtarliberty.blogspot.com/2016/03/from-scylla-of-patripassianism-into.html

(9) Those who maintain that they hold to orthodox Trinitarianism – God is One in Being, but Three in Person, each Person of which is fully God – but reject Eternal Sonship, teach Incarnational Sonship, i.e., that Jesus as the Word was always God but became the Son in His Incarnation. The Holy Ghost, however, is clearly identified as the agent in the Incarnation in the nativity accounts of both St. Matthew and St. Luke. Incarnational Sonship, makes the Holy Ghost into Jesus’ Father. That erases the Personal distinction between the Father and the Holy Ghost, and reduces logically to the heresy of Sabellianism. I addressed this issue at great length here: http://thronealtarliberty.blogspot.com/2013/05/jesus-christ-eternal-son-of-god.html

Friday, March 6, 2020

Semantic Shift and the Decline of Orthodoxy: Part Two – Evangelical and Catholic: Part One of Part Two – Evangelical

In the outline of this series at the end of Part One, I had stated that in the second entry we would look at how shifts in the meaning of “evangelical” and “Catholic” have indicated a move away from orthodoxy. In the writing of this second entry it has become apparent that this will require more than one essay. This, therefore, is Part One of Part Two, in which we will look at “evangelical.” Part Two of Part Two will focus on “Catholic.” There will, of course, be overlap, because both semantic shifts point to the same movement away from orthodoxy in evangelical Protestantism.

In the sixteenth century the Protestant Reformers referred to themselves, their teachings, and their followers as “evangelical”. For this reason, in continental Europe the term evangelical is still largely synonymous with “Protestant.” Before looking at how this word has developed different connotations in the English-speaking world and especially North America, we should consider why the Reformers adopted this term in the first place.

Evangelical is a word formed from the Greek word that is usually translated “Gospel” in the New Testament and which literally means “good news.” The Gospel is the kerygma of the Christian faith - the message of good news that Jesus Christ told His disciples to proclaim to the whole world. St. Paul summarized the content of that message in the fifteenth chapter of his first epistle to the Corinthians – that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, was buried, and rose again the third day according to the Scriptures and the testimony of a long list of eyewitnesses culminating in his own. Stated in its fullest, it includes the entire revealed narrative concerning Jesus Christ from His Incarnation to His Ascension. This is why the books of the New Testament that provide such a narrative are, accordingly, called Gospels.

What, therefore, did the Protestant Reformers mean by calling themselves “evangelical”?

They did not mean to say that they had rediscovered the Gospel after it had been lost. The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and indeed His Incarnation and Ascension, are the very heart of the ecumenical or Catholic Creeds that the Church in both its Greek and Latin divisions, had been affirming since the early centuries of Christianity. In both the baptismal (Apostles’) and Eucharistic (Nicene-Constantinopolitan) Creeds these are the found in the second and longest, of the three paragraphs that make up the Creedal confession.

The reason the earliest Reformers, the Magisterial Reformers – Dr. Martin Luther, John Calvin, Thomas Cranmer, et. al., - began referring to their teachings as evangelical was because of their emphasis on the Pauline explanation of why the Gospel is just that, “Good News”, for the whole world. In this, they did not see themselves as recovering something that had been long buried beneath the accumulation of centuries of tradition. They saw their understanding of the Gospel as being consistent with rather than opposed to the traditional doctrine of the Catholic Church. They saw their opposition as being the papacy – the patriarch of Rome who had usurped jurisdiction far beyond the legitimate confines of his own ecclesiastical province in clear violations of the canons of the early Councils – and his followers. They called the papal doctrines that they opposed “Roman” rather than “Catholic”, insisting that they were fairly recent inventions of the papacy rather than part of the faith that was “quod ubique, quod semper, et quod ab omnibus creditum est” (“that which has been believed everywhere, always and by all”) and therefore “Catholic” as defined by St. Vincent of Lerins.

So what is the Pauline explanation of why the Gospel is “Good News”?

The answer to this is spelled out for us by St. Paul in his epistle to the Romans. In this epistle, he declares that the Gospel is “the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek” because “therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, the just shall live by faith” (1:16-17). He then spends the next three and a half chapters explaining what this means, which explanation culminates in another summary statement of the Gospel, that Christ “was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification.” (4:25).

St. Paul begins his explanation with an indictment of the nations of the world for turning away from God to idols, which resulted in their being given over to a depraved mind and wicked practices. He rests this indictment upon God’s having given a sufficient revelation of Himself and His character, including His wrath against wicked and unrighteous behaviour, in His creation as to render all men without an excuse (1:18-32). He then shows that national Israel derives no special advantage in this regard from her having received God’s written Law because unless she obeys the Law it will only condemn her (chapter 2). The “day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God” is coming, he warns, and on that day He will “render to every man according to His deeds”, whether good or bad, regardless of whether they be Jew or Gentile and a hypothetical Gentile who lacks the written Law but nevertheless does what is right according to it, will be better off than a Jew, who boasts of the Law, but does not obey it. However, this hypothetical Gentile does not exist, because neither Jews nor Gentiles maintain the righteousness that God requires of man in His Law. With a string of quotations from the Old Testament, St. Paul draws his indictment of the entire world, Jew and Gentile, alike to a close by stating plainly that all have sinned, there is none righteous, that the whole world is guilty before God, and that therefore “by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight.” No one will be pronounced righteous by God, on account of his having done what is right.

While so far this sounds more like bad – even terrible - news than good, St. Paul then immediately declares that “now”, that is, in the Gospel, “the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and prophets.” The ‘righteousness of God” so manifested, however, is not the righteousness of God’s wrath against “all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men”, however, but the righteousness by which God counts as righteous all those who believe in Jesus Christ. This is the significance of the Gospel – Christ’s death is both a redemption (a price paid to free someone from bondage, in this case bondage to sin and death) and a propitiation (an offering which satisfies the offended justice of God against sinners) and therefore the grounds upon which God can so credit sinners who believe in Jesus with righteousness without compromising His own justice. (3:22-28).

In his next chapter St. Paul explains justification further by considering the example of Abraham. In the fifteenth chapter of Genesis, God comes to Abram – he would not become Abraham until two chapters later when circumcision was established as the sign of the covenant - in a vision and tells him “Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward.” This is in reference to Abram’s having just turned down the reward offered him by Bera, king of Sodom, for recovering all that had been taken by Chederlaomer of Elam and his confederates when the latter defeated the kings of the Plain of Jordan in the Battle of Siddim. Abram’s response was to ask God what He would give him, hinting heavily as to what he wanted it to be by twice mentioning that he was without child and that his servant, Eliezer of Damascus was his steward and heir. God makes him the promise he is looking for and tells him that “he that shall come forth out of thine own bowels” shall be his heir and that his seed shall be as the stars of heaven in number. Moses then says of Abram that “he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness.”

St. Paul draws two important conclusions from this. He uses the fact that this took place prior to Abraham’s circumcision to make the point that just as Jew and Gentile are alike sinners, so they are justified before God in the same way, by faith, and that Abraham is the father of all who follow him in being justified by faith, whether circumcised Jews or uncircumcised Gentiles. Before going into this, however, he makes it clear that works are no part of justification in the eyes of God. If Abraham was justified by works, he says, “he hath whereof to glory, but not before God”. That God credited Abraham’s faith to him as righteousness was an act of grace on God’s part – grace meaning favour that is freely bestowed upon its recipients. The justification of sinners in the eyes of God is always an act of grace – and therefore it can never be by works for “to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt.”

The Pauline doctrine of justification by faith without works became one of the five famous Solas in which the Reformers summed up their evangelical doctrine. Specifically, it became Sola Fide – by faith alone. In his Lectures on the Psalms of Ascent Dr. Luther declared of this doctrine: “quia isto articulo stante stat Ecclesia, ruente ruit Ecclesia” - “because if that article stands, the Church stands, if it collapses, so collapses the Church.” It accordingly was made prominent in the confessions of all the Churches of the Magisterial Reformation – Article XI of the Anglican Church’s Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion, Article IV of the Lutheran Augsburg Confession and Article XXIII of the Reformed Belgic Confession. Against this doctrine, the Romanists asserted a) that it violated Catholic consensus, b) that it added a word “alone” which is never used by St. Paul to qualify “faith” in his writings on justification, and c) that the qualification of justifying faith by “alone” is in fact denied by St. James in the twenty-fourth verse of the second chapter of his epistle.

I will defer discussion of the first of these objections to Part Two of Part Two for while it pertains to a significant difference between the sixteenth century evangelicalism of the Magisterial Reformation and subsequent evangelicalisms, that difference has to do with their understanding of the Catholic tradition, namely that whereas the Reformers denied that any such break with Catholic consensus had taken place, the later evangelicals affirmed it. The second objection is entirely specious as the “alone” in “faith alone” means “and not by works” which is stated repeatedly and in much stronger language than this by St. Paul in Romans: 3:28; 4:4-8 (note the especially strong wording of verses 5 “to him that worketh not” and 8 “without works”); 9:30-32; and 10:4-10. Similar statements can be found throughout the entire corpus of Pauline literature. As for the third objection, it is quite evident that the Jacobean use of the terms “justification”, “faith” and “works” cannot be the same as the Pauline use of these same terms, for if the two Apostles were using all of these words with the same meaning, they directly contradicted each other. It is entirely defensible to maintain that all three words have different meanings in St. James than they do in St. Paul. It is certain, however, at least for anyone who believes in the verbal, plenary, inspiration of the entire New Testament, which all orthodox Christians do, that St. James means something different by the word “justification” than St. Paul and that the justification that he writes about is not justification before God. St. Paul himself tells us that in the second verse of the fourth chapter of Romans. (1)

It was because of their insistence on the primacy of the doctrine of justification by faith and not works that the sixteenth century Reformers called themselves “evangelical.” For it meant that the Gospel was just that – the message of the Good News of a salvation already accomplished and completed to be proclaimed to the world in the hearing and believing of which the salvation so proclaimed is personally appropriated by the believer and not a set of instructions as to how people are to save themselves.

Is it not evident that what is called “evangelical” today is radically different from this?

Consider the average “evangelical” formulation of the Gospel today. There are many variations, of course, but they all tend to follow this three part pattern. The first part is to present people with the Scriptural truth that all of us are sinners and cannot achieve the righteousness which God requires of us through our own works. The second part is to present the Gospel message itself – that God has given us His Only-Begotten Son to be our Saviour, Who died for our sins on the cross and rose again from the dead. So far this is in accordance with Scripture, Catholic orthodoxy, and the evangelical doctrines of the Reformers. The first part is what the Reformers called the message of the Law, the second part the message of the Gospel. The third part of the contemporary evangelical formulation, however, is to present the step – or steps, this detail is where all the variation comes in – that the individual must take to personally appropriate the offered salvation.

The wide variety of ways in which this step is presented is itself a huge problem because it generates confusion. Expressions such as “invite Jesus into your heart”, “accept Jesus Christ as your Saviour”, “make a commitment to Christ”, etc. are manifestly NOT different ways of saying the same thing and if one attempts to argue otherwise he is likely to end up proving merely that none of them mean anything at all. Moreover, to make these things into steps that one must take to appropriate Christ’s salvation AFTER one has heard and believed the Gospel is to teach salvation by works. As Orthodox Presbyterian Bible scholar Dr. Edward F. Hills put it:

And this would imply that we are saved not by believing but by a receiving which is different from believing, by a "yielding" to Christ perhaps, or a "surrendering" to Him, or a "turning over of our lives" to Him. But all this is salvation by works and contrary to the Bible. For the Scriptures plainly teach that to receive Christ as Saviour is to believe on Him. (The King James Version Defended, 4th edition, 1984, p. 184, bold indicating italics in original)

Sometimes, however, the step is presented as to “believe in Jesus Christ” or to “trust Jesus Christ” which expressions do mean the same thing. As the late Missouri Lutheran pastor John M. Drickamer put it:

What is faith? Faith is belief and faith is trust. Faith is believing the facts of the Gospel: God the Son, died for my sin and rose again from the dead; for His sake God has forgiven all my sins, so that I will not be damned to hell but welcomed into heaven forever. Faith is trusting God that this forgiveness is real because of Christ. There is no difference between faith as belief and faith as trust. Trusting a person to drive safely is the same as believing that he is a safe driver. (What is the Gospel? It is Finished, 1991, p. 2)

It is, of course, true to say that faith – believing the Gospel, trusting Jesus Christ – is how we appropriate the salvation God freely gives to ourselves. This is the role assigned to faith in God’s order of salvation. As the Right Reverend Dr. Christopher Wordsworth, nineteenth century Bishop of Lincoln, helpfully explained, St. Paul represents our faith neither as the principal cause, meritorious cause, efficient cause nor instrumental cause in God’s hand of our justification, for these are, respectively, God’s mercy, Christ’s death, the gracious operation of God the Holy Ghost, and the Holy Sacraments and Ministry of the Word, but rather:

He represents Faith as the instrument on our side, by which we rely on God’s word, and appeal to Him for mercy, and receive a grant of pardon, and a title to the Evangelical promises from God. (The New Testament of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ in the Original Greek: With Notes by Christopher Wordsworth D.D., Part III – St. Paul’s Epistles, 1859, p. 200)

To present the appropriation of salvation by faith as a step to be taken after one has heard the Gospel and been persuaded of its truth is a distortion, however. Faith is precisely the condition of the heart that ensues from being persuaded of the truth of the Gospel and not a further step, an act of the will, to be taken in response to said persuasion. The Gospel, properly presented, as the sixteenth century Evangelical Reformers understood, directs the repentant sinner’s focus away from himself and makes it to rest in faith upon Jesus Christ, the Only-Begotten Son of God, crucified for us and risen again. By presenting faith as a step to be taken by an act of the will after one has been persuaded of the truth of the Gospel, contemporary Evangelical Gospel formulae redirect that focus onto ourselves.

In the English-speaking world, the term “evangelical” has come to refer to the subcategory of Protestants who present the Gospel in this way. It has taken on this meaning through a series of historical steps. The first of these took place in the seventeenth century when the Dortian Calvinists who did not separate from the Church of England after the Restoration began to use the label “evangelical” for their own party within the Church. Thus “evangelical” became, for a time, synonymous with “Calvinist”, which was a more limited usage than in the sixteenth century when it included all branches of Magisterial Protestantism. In the eighteenth century, however, there was a further shift in the meaning of the term when it came to be associated with the revival movement represented by both George Whitefield (Calvinist) and John Wesley (Arminian). Since Wesley differed from Whitefield on precisely the doctrines by which the seventeenth century Anglican evangelicals had designated their party, this demonstrates that in the eighteenth century the label evangelical had come to distinguish its referents more by a common experience than by a common doctrine. This became even more obvious in the early nineteenth century, a period in which the most prominent American evangelical preacher was Charles G. Finney. Finney’s doctrine was heretical by the standards of Calvinists and Arminians alike. Indeed, it was heretical by much broader standards than these. Finney came very close to Pelagianism, if he was not actually a true Pelagian, in his rejection of Original Sin. This placed him outside the orthodoxy of all three branches of the Magisterial Reformation – see Article IX of the Articles of Religion, Article II of the Augsburg Confession, and Article III of the Belgic Confession. Indeed, it placed him outside of the orthodoxy of Christ’s One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church for Pelagianism was condemned as heresy in the early centuries long before the Greek, Latin and English branches of the Church broke fellowship with each other. (2) It was with Finney, however, that the term evangelical finally arrived at a meaning recognizable as that of the present day. Having an identifiable conversion experience, understood primarily in terms of a change in one’s life and behaviour, came to be the distinguishing mark of the evangelical.

Moreover, Finney seems to have been the first to have translated the Gospel into the language of technique. By the language of technique, I mean the kind of language used in an instruction manual. A series of steps explaining the irreducible minimum of the correct procedure towards achieving a particular end. This language is the language of modern science and technology, and the product of rationalism. By the last century it had so permeated every field of knowledge that it came under the heavy critique of such thinkers as Michael Oakeshott, Jacques Ellul and George Grant. In the nineteenth century is was most evident in the writings of Charles Finney with regards to the conversion of sinners, leading to the criticism that his theology of evangelism was so mechanical and anthropocentric that, in B. B. Warfield’s words, “God might be eliminated from it entirely without essentially changing its character.” The contemporary evangelical presentation of the Gospel discussed above, while not as susceptible to the charge of having made God irrelevant, nevertheless has its discernible origins in his mechanical, technical, approach to making converts.

In the sixteenth century, evangelical designated the doctrine of justification by faith and not works, the doctrine that God, through events of the Gospel, the death for our sins and resurrection of His Son Jesus Christ, had accomplished the salvation of the world so that all who believe in Jesus Christ as He is proclaimed in the Gospel are pardoned of their sins and credited with a righteousness that is given to them freely rather than earned through their efforts. It was primarily doctrinal – about the truths which God has revealed in the Gospel in His Word – rather than experiential. Through the changes this term underwent between the sixteenth and the nineteenth centuries, this was reversed and it became primarily experiential rather than doctrinal – about our experiences rather than about the truths of God as revealed in His Word.

This itself is an indication of a move away from orthodoxy. The truths which God has revealed in His Word are stable and unchanging. Human experience is ever shifting and changing. Remember the illustration with which Christ ended His famous Sermon on the Mount. God’s truths are a safe foundation to build upon. Personal experience is not. This does not mean that experience is not important, but it very much means that sound doctrine must take primacy over personal experience. When this is reversed in the basic meaning of an important theological label it does not speak well of the orthodoxy of the movement bearing that label. Note that none of this should be taken as meaning any particular individual values personal experience over sound doctrine merely because he calls himself an evangelical.

This change also indicates a shift in the ranking of the doctrines of salvation. The sixteenth century evangelical Reformers awarded the primacy to justification. The Romanists, as we shall discuss in Part Two of Part Two, maintained that this was a departure from Catholic orthodoxy which granted sanctification equality with justification, if not awarding it the primacy. Contemporary evangelicalism, going back to Finney, and some might argue even to Wesley, would seem to award the primacy to regeneration, at least in practice. In doing so, however, they have radically changed the meaning of the new birth. Whenever the new birth is mentioned in the Scriptures it is described as a sovereign act of God (John 1:13; 3:8), operating through His instrumental means of His Word (James 1:18; 1 Peter 1:23) and baptism (Romans 6:3-5; Colossians 2:12, Titus 3:5), independent of the will of the recipients. In contemporary evangelical theology the new birth is depicted as an experience that you can bring about by following a prescribed set of steps. This is pretty much the complete opposite of how it is presented in the Scriptures. We shall look at this further in Part Two of Part Two.

(1) Note also that the word “grace” does not appear in St. James’ discussion of justification. Whatever St. James means by “justification” it is by works and not by grace and ergo not the same “justification” of which St. Paul writes in Romans.

(2) There are some who would maintain that the Greek branch of the Church – the Eastern Orthodox – is Pelagian or Semi-Pelagian. Those who take this position are generally either strong Calvinists who mean it as a criticism of Eastern Orthodoxy or the type of person I referred to in Semantic Shift and the Decline of Orthodoxy: Part One – Orthodoxy when I said “there is also a type of convert who is drawn to the Eastern Church because its unfamiliarity to most Westerners allows him to selectively draw from minority voices within that tradition and present them as if they were the mainstream of that tradition in order to create the impression that ideas of his that would be considered liberal neo-Protestantism in the West are really the ancient views of this venerable Church.” Either way, what they are saying is a distortion of the fact that the Eastern and Western branches of the Church were beginning to diverge already in the days of St. Augustine and that the Eastern Church never embraced Augustinianism. This does not mean that it accepted a form of Pelagianism or dissented from the condemnation of such as heresy by the pre-Schismatic Church. The kind of reasoning that would equate non-Augustinianism with Pelagianism or semi-Pelagianism is the same kind that argues that if you are not a Calvinist then you must be an Arminian or vice versa. It is invalid in either case. The Greek Church’s problem with Augustinianism was not with the idea that we have all inherited a broken, fallen, sinful nature from Adam. It was with the idea that we have inherited his guilt for the specific sin committed by Adam and Eve. Pelagianism requires the denial of the former as well as the latter. These ideas can be distinguished as “Original Sin” and “Original Guilt” although the lack of consistent usage has led to much confusion.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Let Me Put it To You Plainly

Progressives and others on the “left” generally do not understand the difference between a legitimate and an illegitimate protest. On the one hand they think that somebody who hands out a tract about the evil of murdering the unborn to a woman headed to an abortion clinic or who stands on the sidewalk across from it holding a placard with a pro-life message is doing something horrible that should be against the law. On the other hand they think that when a gang of environmentalist activists who claim to speak for aboriginal people blockades a railroad, preventing it from conducting its daily business of shuttling people and transporting goods across the country, and costing Canadian businesses multiple millions of dollars a day, that they are within their rights and may even consider it a noble and laudable act.

Since lefties have such difficulties with grasping this simple concept, I will explain it to them plainly.

Let us imagine that you are mad about some public issue and want to make your opinion known. You make up a sign expressing your point of view, go to the people who you want to hear it, and march up and down on the sidewalk in front of their building holding the sign up for everyone to read. Or, if a sign just won’t cut it, you write a pamphlet, have several copies printed, and start handing them out.

Note what you have not done. You have not gotten in anyone’s way. You have not used force to prevent other people from going somewhere or doing something.

Your protest, therefore, is a legitimate one. It does not matter whether your opinion is one that the vast majority of people would heartily agree with or one that the vast majority of people would find repugnant. You have made your position known without forcibly interfering with other people’s rights to go about their daily business.

Suppose, however, that you were to take a different approach. Let us say, for example, that the local university is hosting a speaker whose political views you disagree with. When the university refuses to listen to your demands that the lecture be cancelled you form a posse of like-minded individuals and go to the auditorium where the event is scheduled to occur and block all the entrances preventing speaker and audience alike from getting in.

In this instance you have not just made your opinion known, but you have forcibly interfered with the freedom of others to share and hear views different from yours. Your protest, in this case, is not a legitimate one. This has nothing to do with the content of your views, or the matter of whether they are right or wrong. It is because you are interfering with the rights and freedoms of other people.

Having made the basic difference between a legitimate and an illegitimate protest clear, let us consider one more scenario.

In the previous example of an illegitimate protest, you had interfered with the rights and freedoms of others but at least those others were people holding to the views you were protesting against. Suppose that you were upset that Project X was taking place somewhere in the country and in order to protest this you went somewhere else and erected an illegal barricade that interfered with the movement and daily business of millions of people regardless of whether or not they had anything to do with Project X.

Is it not obvious that by doing so you have exited the sphere of mere illegitimate protest and entered that of unlawful aggression against the civil order itself?

The duty of Her Majesty’s government in such an instance is clear. Unfortunately, since the First Minister of that government is still Captain Airhead, the Canadian electorate having proven itself foolish enough last fall to give him a totally undeserved second term, we are not likely to see that duty done any time soon. As the events of this past week have demonstrated, even beneath his fancy new beard, Captain Airhead is still Captain Airhead.

Should, however, Captain Airhead experience a miraculous epiphany, enduing him with a newfound sense of obligation towards the constitution, laws, and common good of our country, here is what he would do.

He would call a press conference immediately. He would address the “protesters” who have blocked the railroad, informing them that their action is one of unlawful aggression against the Dominion of Canada, its constitution, government, laws, civil order in general, economy and people. He would give them twenty four hours to cease and desist this aggression, remove their blockades from the railroad, and to surrender themselves to the police. He would then inform them that the police have been instructed that immediately at the end of that twenty four hour grace period they are to move in and remove any remaining barrier from the railroad and that the Canadian Armed Forces have been put on notice and are standing by to back up the police using whatever force is necessary to accomplish this end.

Yeah, I’m not holding my breath waiting for that to happen either.

The above arguments are, as stated, independent of any question of whether or not the protesters are right or wrong. Nevertheless, it is a fairly obvious observation that the illegitimate forms of protest are more likely to prove tempting to those whose cause rests upon a weak foundation. In the case of those currently blocking the railroad, you have environmentalist activists opposed to the pipeline project in British Columbia. They purport to be speaking on behalf of the Wet’suwet’en aboriginal tribe, but that tribe’s leaders have, in fact, approved the pipeline project, as have the other tribes in the area in question. This tribe has both elected and hereditary chiefs and the protesters claim that the latter are the legitimate chiefs for whom they speak, but even then only a minority of the hereditary chiefs have opposed the pipeline and it would appear that some shenanigans went down with regards to the hereditary titles apart from which this minority would have been even smaller. At any rate, contrary to the impression one would get from the CBC, the protesters are not all aboriginals, many appear to be of white European descent, and some have only recently come to Canada. As is often the case with environmentalist “protest” movements that speak entirely in neo-Marxist jargon, it is likely that the only people these protesters truly speak for are the American petroleum companies who benefit from environmentalist protests against Canadian pipelines because these pipelines, if constructed, would allow our major oil-producing provinces, both landlocked, to access world markets and no longer be dependent upon the American market.

Even if none of that were case and this was a sincere protest movement, however, its actions are intolerable and the government’s duty remains clear. It is the duty of all lawfully constituted civil authority to use lawful force to combat those who use unlawful force to wage anarchical war against order and civilization. Again, the government’s duty is clear. If only the Prime Minister cared.