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Friday, December 29, 2006

Have another date dear?











I'm sorry but I can't wish you a Happy New Year for another 84 days! Why? Well somebody decided in 1752 in England that we would overturn the tradition of five centuries (before 13th century, New Year started at Christmas), and switch New Year from Lady Day (the Feast of the Annunciation, 25th March) to 1st January which, although it had and has religious significance (St. Basil, Circumcision), was certainly not the reason for the change - at least in England ... the reasons were commercial; Mammon rather than God.

Of course in 1752 the UK also moved on to the Gregorian Calendar, 170 years later than on mainland Europe. There were riots that year as labourers lost 11 days pay in a shortened working month. In 1900 an extra leap day was dropped to adjust the calendar. This explains why the fiscal year ends on 5th April (25th March, Julian Calendar) as it was on this day that the tax men collected taxes as they toured the Medieval Annunciation Spring Fairs - and so began our long love affair with the Inland Revenue!

Oh, and don't get me started on Christmas! "Oh, you Orthodox ... you have a different Christmas don't you?" 'Groan,' you think, 'short or long explanation'? Do I even bother? Oh well, long explanation it is. Well, the Greek Church and tradition has the same calendar as the west. So for us it's the same date for Christmas .... which, by the way we call "Nativity." The Slav tradition and Jerusalem keep to the 'old' Julian Calendar which is now 13 days behind the Gregorian Civil Calendar, (still awake? ... good!). So, when it's 25th December in Moscow on the local Church Calendar it's actually 7th January on the civil (Gregorian) Calendar. (At this point either or both of you are wishing that the topic had never been raised). So even in Russia it's not REALLY 7th January. OK? Maybe not ...

What about Easter? Why does it keep floating about? The UK government has been trying to "tidy things up" and cajole the churches into having a fixed date for decades. So far, (thank God), the churches have not blinked first. It's all to do with the phases of the moon dear and the vernal equinox ... oh, and for the Orthodox, "after Passover." Hands off! We need something left that will infuriate the bean counters at the Treasury. For how long though? The State has been eroding Christian holy-days in England since Henry "The Butcher" VIII decided that the peasants weren't productive enough and had too much time off. The UK now has the lowest number of public holidays in Europe. It's something to do with the Protestant Work Ethic ... but that rant will have to wait for another time.

Happy New Year!

Fr. Gregory

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

St. Gregory the Theologian on The Incarnation

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The very Son of God, older than the ages, the invisible, the incomprehensible, the incorporeal, the beginning of beginning, the light of light, the fountain of life and immortality, the image of the archetype, the immovable seal, the perfect likeness, the definition and word of the Father: he it is who comes to his own image and takes our nature for the good of our nature, and unites himself to an intelligent soul for the good of my soul, to purify like by like. He takes to himself all that is human, except for sin. He was conceived by the Virgin Mary, who had been first prepared in soul and body by the Spirit; his coming to birth had to be treated with honour, virginity had to receive new honour. He comes forth as God, in the human nature he has taken, one being, made of two contrary elements, flesh and spirit. Spirit gave divinity, flesh received it.

He who makes rich is made poor; he takes on the poverty of my flesh, that I may gain the riches of his divinity. He who is full is made empty; he is emptied for a brief space of his glory, that I may share in his fullness. What is this wealth of goodness? What is this mystery that surrounds me? I received the likeness of God, but failed to keep it. He takes on my flesh, to bring salvation to the image, immortality to the flesh. He enters into a second union with us, a union far more wonderful than the first.

Holiness had to be brought to man by the humanity assumed by one who was God, so that God might overcome the tyrant by force and so deliver us and lead us back to himself through the mediation of his Son. The Son arranged this for the honour of the Father, to whom the Son is clearly obedient in all things.

The Good Shepherd, who lays down his life for the sheep, came in search of the straying sheep to the mountains and hills on which you used to offer sacrifice. When he found it, he took it on the shoulders that bore the wood of the cross, and led it back to the life of heaven.

Christ, the light of all lights, follows John, the lamp that goes before him. The Word of God follows the voice in the wilderness; the bridegroom follows the bridegroom’s friend, who prepares a worthy people for the Lord by cleansing them by water in preparation for the Spirit.

We need God to take our flesh and die, that we might live. We have died with him, that we may be purified. We have risen again with him, because we have died with him. We have been glorified with him, because we have risen again with him.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Superheroes Revisited

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(I apologise for my absence from this blog. There have been many commitments this Autumn that have cut back my online work but I can now return to share a few ideas and invite your comments).

Who would have thought that the comic book heroes of the 1940’s, starting with Superman in 1938 would have travelled so well in the popular imagination? These figures seem to have an enduring popularity and they have of course, now migrated to the Big Screen. Much of the exhilaration of these stories concerns the superhuman abilities of the hero matched against the tyranny and unmitigated evil of the adversary. However, much of pathos of the hero or heroine consists in the loss of such powers for we would have no interest in a victory that was uncomplicated or effortless.

Christmas is a time when we commemorate the coming of God to earth as a Man in the Person of our Lord Jesus Christ. Even some Christians though have a peculiar understanding of Christ that relates more to Superman that it does to the Saviour of the Church’s confession. Jesus, however, does not conquer evil by some superhuman ability nor does his power wax and wane to make him more attractive to his followers. He conquers death “by death” as the Orthodox Easter hymn has it. In the Incarnation he “empties himself, taking the form of a servant” (Philippians 2:7). The victory of God is manifest precisely in this apparent defeat … that the promised Messiah dies. The resurrection of Christ is activated by his sacrifice, the laying down of His life for all as both God and Man, healing the breach between the two occasioned by human sin.

This is not good “box office” yet Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” shows the converting power of this Good News of God’s love in that so many people paid good money to hear this old, old story … yet ever new in each generation.

So, this Christmas time we celebrate not the “all conquering hero” but the Man of sorrows, acquainted with grief; the one in whom there is total victory … but at a price and that price calls us to lay down our lives for both the sake of others and through that for our own salvation.

Friday, September 29, 2006

It's Good to Talk

 
















“It’s good to talk.” So went an advertising campaign in recent years for a telecoms company. It is indeed good to talk … “Jaw-jaw is better than War-war" as the great Sir Winston Churchill said pithily.

Communication, language specifically, is one vital element in our distinctive humanity. Thinking is inconceivable (literally) without language, social interaction is enhanced by language, God is praised in words or heeded to in silence.

Is it good to talk to everyone? I believe so, yes. Even when facing a hostile presence? Still I say yes. A story is told of St. Nicholas of Japan that one of his first converts was an enraged xenophobic Samurai warrior, a certain Sawabe intent on decapitation who was disarmed with the saints Godly words.

So should we talk to aliens? These scientist believe so … Dr. Alexander Zaitsev, Charles M. Chafer, and Richard Braastad. Of course. attempts on a small scale have already been made as the linked article explains. However, the low powered beacons and artefacts so far sent into space will probably prove to be proverbial needles in vast haystacks. Something more grand is being talked about with M.E.T.I., (Messaging to Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence). So far we have been listening but not really talking. Intelligent life may be rare even if life itself is rather common. Why, therefore, should we not talk?

Back to St. Nicholas of Japan. He didn’t flinch before Sawabe, he engaged. Some may think this counsel hopelessly na├»ve. After all, any alien intelligence we encounter in our galactic chatter will almost certainly be vastly more intelligent and advanced than ourselves … which is OK if our partners are benevolent but what if they harbour malice or even merely think that we are flies to be swatted for the sake of a greater harmony and tidiness, (after all we don’t have a very good track record on this planet). Of course, there are risks involved but are we really going to be silent, cowering in the corner in the cosmic vastness, mean spirited and hoping that no one will notice us? I hope not. It’s time to talk. Posted by Picasa

Thursday, August 31, 2006

The Deep End

O LORD, how great are Your works!
Your thoughts are very deep. (Psalm 92:5)
When He had stopped speaking, He said to Simon,“Launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” (Luke 5:4)

For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God.
(1 Corinthians 2:10b)


There are many people who are content to paddle around in the shallow end of the Christian Church. They prefer this child's depth but they will not see that even a child, after it has learned how to swim, will immediately seek out the deep end of the pool for a richer experience. Those who stay in the shallow end are denied this richer experience and by denying themselves the skill of strong swimming they can compromise their own safety and the safety of others who one day might need saving.

The parallels with the spiritual life are clear. God does not intend us to waste our time and spiritual capacities in shallow believing and living. He yearns for us to get closer to Him, to "dive in." Of course, to do this one needs confidence in Him to make this commitment. We need to trust Him that the deep of His Love is a safe plunge; safe that is in terms of being held securely by Him. It may not, though, be without risk for the giving and receiving of Love is never immune to rejection and criticism.

Jesus knew all of this of course when he instructed his disciples immediately prior to his Passion. He strengthened and emboldened them by reminding them that if the world hated Him it would hate them also, (John 15:17-19). It's good to be realistic about the cost of this deeper walk with God but we really do not have an option as Christians. We must walk this road or else we shall be in parlous state of those who, seeking to save their lives, lose them. It's "dive in" or get "washed up."

Shall we, therefore, now and without delay, dive in to the deeper end of God's love? Shall we resolve to give more and receive less, to worship more selflessly, to fight and not to heed the wounds, to strike out for God where others have feared to tread? Shall we? He waits on our answer. Posted by Picasa

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Jesus is Coming ... Armageddon Anyone?















61 years ago this very day, the obscene atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima and cursed huanity with its diabolical light. Today is also the feast of the Transfiguration of our Lord and God and Saviour Jesus Christ when saints Peter, James and John beheld the divine saving Light of the Saviour. Today also in the middle east the conflict escalated even at the same time as the great powers dithered with their fine sounding UN resolutions signifying in terms of justice ... absolutely nothing.

The present crisis in the Middle East, however, cannot I believe be truly understood without addressing the phenomenon of Christian Zionism, particularly as expressed in America.

There is a thinly concealed infrastructure problem to Christian Zionism ... the post Darby resurgence of chiliasm ... the supposed 1000 year reign of Christ ON EARTH before or after his second coming. Some early church fathers used this to combat a world hating over spiritualised eschatology they encountered with the gnostics but when this battle had been won, chiliasm was abandoned for its weaknesses had been exposed as a rehabilitation of the Jewish idea of a very earthy messianism contrasted with the Orthodox doctrine that the resurrection is a NEW creation ... not this one tarted up a bit after a bit of death and destruction. Don't get "left behind" and all that!

The 19th century recovery of chiliasm in America was really an attempt to recover an ALLEGED more Jewish type of authentic Christianity whereas in fact the polemic against Hellenism and dualism was way off mark. Arguably this was in part promoted by the Catholic medieval west which had indeed imbibed elements of pagan pre-Christian Hellenism through the classical component of the Renaissance and the west's love affair with Aristotle. These 19th century American revivalist Protestants hadn't a clue though what Orthodox Christianity was really about so they ended up compounding one error with another.

My main point is that chiliasm opened up the unholy love affair between Christian Zionism and Jewish Zionism (largely a secular phenomenon) since on the Christian side, the return of Israel to the Promised Land was held to be the essential trigger for Christ's second coming, the 1000 year reign and Armageddon.

The political fallout of this has been devastating in the Middle East. The European sense of the need for reparation after the Holocaust coincided with American need to get the Jews back to "biblical Israel." Who gives a damn though about the Arabs and pre-Islamic indigenous non-Jews who had lived in Palestine for nearly 1300 / 1900 years respectively, (both Christian and Muslim)? ... Europe must deal with its conscience and America it's eschatological planning.

All you need to do then is characterise any dissent from this programmme as anti-Semitic and you have the seedcorn for a conflict that I truly believe could escalate to a Third World War and the brutal repression of both Christianity and Judaism by militant Islamism seeking restoration of the caliphate and revenge against the infidel, (and, no, I am not Islamophobic either ... I just recognise how aggrieved humans tend to react).

America (and Israel) believe that you can solve the problems of "Middle Earth" (the "arc of extremism") by "shock and awe" (stick) and democracy and dollars (carrot). What they don't realise is that the Arabs ain't frightened any more nor can they be bought off. For them this is a matter of justice and ideas - and death is an acceptable price in the pursuit of these goals; even if this includes the death of fellow Muslims in ideological purges and the settling of old scores (Shi'a - Sunni).

Curiously, therefore, I believe that an ideological and theological front has to be opened against Christian Zionism in revivalist America. Sadly, I think that it might be already too late for that. Some of these nutters are actually looking forward to Armageddon, God help us, (literally).

For an excellent critique of chiliasm by a more orthodox preterist Protestant theologian ... go here ... (his position is very close to that of Orthodoxy as far as I can see).

"Why the Early Church Finally Rejected Premillennialism" Posted by Picasa

Friday, July 21, 2006

Lebanongrad

 

This is a report and comment on the current situation in the Lebanon from a Lebanese Orthodox Christian of the Patriarchate of Antioch.

Lebanongrad: 25 days of hell (updated 5th August)

Facts

* On Wednesday 12 July, early morning, Israel began its open destructive war against its weak northern neighbour Lebanon.

* On Thursday 13, the Israelis created a land, sea and air blockade around Lebanon.

* From the very beginning, no part of Lebanon was safe: the South, Beirut (i.e. the capital), Mount Lebanon, the North and the Beqaa Valley. Southern Lebanon became a burnt land, and Beirut a levelled land.

* The Israeli Army has a massive arsenal of destruction at its disposal with very advanced technology capable of attack over land, sea, and air. During their current bombing they are using phosphoric and other chemical and other weapons forbidden by international laws.

* They are targeting innocent civilians breaking all international laws and principals of the civilised world and all human conventions. They have already committed carnage and numerous massacres amongst Lebanese civilians. This is an immoral, unjust, inhuman and barbaric war. These are WAR CRIMES.

* The Israeli Army is bombing fiercely the country by land, sea and air. They are systematically destroying the entire civilian infrastructure: airports, ports, bridges, roads, highways, dams, electricity factories, water factories, telephone and mobile towers and cables, petrol stations, food factories, hospitals and infirmaries, ambulances and fire brigades, schools and universities, TV's and radios, etc. In addition, they are also bombing religious places, Christian and Muslim alike, and civilian houses. This is what we call state sponsored terrorism.

* There is a shortage of food, water, medication, shelters, petrol and gas. The water, electricity and telecommunications, have been cut. As a result of this, there is a great fear of disease spreading.

* People are living in great despair, depression, fear, panic and terror. It is a huge tragedy, disaster, and catastrophe. All Lebanese, Christian and Muslim, are hostages under the Israelis’ fire and terrorism.

* This aggressive and fierce bombing is affecting all Lebanese without any exception, Christian and Muslim alike, including the Orthodox Christian community (that belongs to the Patriarchate of Antioch).

* Tuesday 18, at around noon, the Israeli Army bombed - by land and air - the old Orthodox Church of St. George in Rashaiya Fakhar (Hasbaiya, Southern Lebanon) as well as its meeting house, the parish priest house and the Orthodox School with 15 bombs, some of them are phosphoric. It destroyed the southern wall of the church and caused a big fire in it. At that time, many parishioners were hiding and praying with their parish priest asking God’s protection. Ten were burnt and wounded. I have to mention that there was a white flag flying on top of the church.

* Since Wednesday 19, the Israeli Army is trying to invade the country after turning it to a burnt land.

* On Friday 28th July at around noon, the Israeli Air Forces bombed and destroyed the Maronite Catholic Church in Safad Battikh (Southern Lebanon).

* As at 4th August ...
- Thousands of tonnes of Israeli bombs have been dropped on Lebanon every day
- More than 1000 civilians killed, more than one third of them are children (without counting those who are still under the rubble).
- More than 3500 civilians wounded and burnt.
- More than 1,000,000 civilian refugees living in schools, playgrounds, garages, car parks, tents or even in the open air
- More than 200,000 civilians have left the country
- More than 6 billion dollars (approximately 3 billion pounds) has been lost.


* To summarise all that in one word, it is ‘HELL’. From now on you can call Lebanon ‘Lebanongrad’.

The World’s Silence

* The worst of all, ‘the civilised world’ is watching ‘Lebanongrad’ burning; like Nero watching Rome burning.

* On Friday 14, during the Security Council meeting in New York, the US raised a veto against any resolution to condemn Israel. Ever since then, President George Bush has been giving statements that he is against any ceasefire. On Sunday 16, during the G8 Summit in St. Petersburg, he repeated the same statement.

* On Tuesday 18, the UK began to evacuate its citizens from ‘dangerous’ Lebanon. The Americans, French, Germans, and other European countries are also evacuating tens of thousands of their citizens stuck there,
leaving behind the Lebanese suffering alone.

* On Wednesday 19, Prime Minister Tony Blair repeated what Bush was saying that he is also against any ceasefire. Ever since then, Mr. Blair has been giving statements that he is against any ceasefire.

* On Monday 24, Mr. Blair described the situation in Lebanon as a "catastrophe."

Hope and Request

* We have a very powerful mass constructive weapon in hand: Prayer.
Please, pray, pray and pray.
Pray that God grant Lebanon and its people the peace from above, protect them, end their suffering and have mercy on them.

* Pray, especially, for our Orthodox Metropolitans and all their clergy, monks and parishioners.
Remember:
- Elias of Tyre and Sidon (Southern Lebanon)
- Elias of Beirut
- George of Byblos and Botrys (Mount Lebanon)
- Elias of Tripoli and Koura (Northern Lebanon)
- Paul of Akkar (Northern Lebanon)
- Spiridon of Baalbeck and Zahleh (Beqaa Valley) Posted by Picasa

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Cafeteria Christianity


Pick 'n Mix Religion Posted by Picasa

"We've trivialized God," said Larry Crabb, a Christian psychologist and popular author. "...God is the butler who serves you for one reason: to give you a happy life. We've turned Him into a divine Prozac."

You know what's worse that having no faith at all? Having a self select "Do It Yourself" (DIY) faith; a faith where God is exquisitely tailored to my own needs, preferences and opinions. Because this commits the sin of making God in my image rather than accepting the consequences of being made in His, cafeteria religion is the most beguiling and "spiritual" of all idolatries. It is beguiling because Christianity recognises the legitimacy of doctrinal dissent when an informed conscience dictates. However, this bears no true relation to cafeteria religion whatsoever. In this scheme of things no formal received teaching (tradition) is to be accepted at all. The great "I" is the measure of all things. The serpent in the garden of Eden suggested an autonomy from God as the basis for a moral life. DIY religion goes the whole way and makes autonomy into God.

On the grounds that we need to know what God has revealed concerning our lives and how they should be lived all pastors of any church need to ask themselves some rather awkward questions:-

(1) Does my church maintain any formal teaching on sex, money and self will? (There are many other sins but these 3 most personal ones are a good litmus test for my purpose here).
(2) Do I accept that teaching?
(3) If I don't accept aspects of that teaching, am I still prepared to teach it?
(4) If I am not prepared to teach it, how do I handle the discrepancy between my ordination responsibilities and my own position?
(5) If I am prepared to teach it (accepting or not accepting it myself) is this "words only" from the pulpit or do I try and apply this teaching in my pastoral ministry?
(6) Does my church require of me or does it expect me to develop a network of consequences (however they might be defined) for consistent and unrepentant violations of that teaching, first in myself and then in the community for which I am responsible?
(7) Is this network of consequences, this pastoral discipline, effectively communicated to the community?
(8) Is it consistently applied?
(9) Do I "go the extra mile" to begin to restore those who show the slightest sign of a change of heart?
(10) To whom on earth (as well as in heaven) am I accountable for the exercise of this ministry?

This may prove to be a very challenging and tough set of questions for those of us exercising pastoral leadership as church leaders but if we don't address them we might as well just cave in and practice cafeteria religion ourselves: in which case we also perhaps need to ask whether or not we are doing the right job.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

God and Caesar


Sts. Constantine and Helen (feast: 21 May) Posted by Picasa

St. Constantine was the first Christian Roman Emperor who legalised Christianity by the Edict of Milan in 313 AD and convened the First Ecumenical Council at Nicaea in 325 AD. St. Constantine embraced Christianity after seeing a vision of the Cross at the battle of the Milvian Bridge on 28 October 312 AD. He was not, however, baptised until shortly before his death in 337 AD, and that by an heretical Arian bishop, Eusebius of Nicomedia.

Some Christians (not Orthodox) have bitterly criticised Constantine’s legacy to the Church, claiming that his conversion was opportunist and his real motives political, to unite the Empire. Moreover they claim that he fatally compromised the Church’s independence. The Orthodox Church does not hold this view but rather receives Constantine as a saint, not necessarily for his holiness or his abilities as a theologian but for his leadership and protection of the Church.

What ought then to be the relationship between the Church and the State, at least in societies where Christianity is the majority religion? Christians, societies and churches have tussled with these issues for centuries and different models of that relationship have been tried. Some, having flatly rejected the value of Constantine’s legacy, have secularised the State and separated it from any form of religious activity or influence. France and the United States might fall into that category. Interestingly, both countries acquired their modern identities by overthrowing or fleeing from an oppressive regime. However, whereas atheism did take root in France after the 1789 Revolution it did not after the US Declaration of Independence in 1776. This maybe because the French Church was hopelessly compromised by its support of the ruling class whereas the churches in America had acquired their identity and purpose precisely be resisting Anglican — State conformity back in England and fleeing to the American colonies to build a new and freer society, (or so it is claimed!). In earlier times in the West the papacy had come into conflict with rising medieval European nationalism and had even claimed the right to install and depose monarchs should they breach Church discipline. It is no accident then that the rising secular powers in the Medieval period should enlist the support of Protestantism in resisting the temporal claims of Rome. It is no less surprising that the Enlightenment should prove to be the fatal undoing of the very idea of a Christian society when the western Church had such an appalling record of interference in political processes … but can all this be laid at the feet of St. Constantine? I think not and for the following reasons:-

To an Orthodox observer it seems that the west in the second millennium lurched between battles between Church and State and a later tendency to deny the Church any place in the political realm. Neither option commends itself to the Orthodox understanding of sacred and secular realms, Church and Caesar. In the Christian East there never developed an antagonism of quite this order between Church and State and this is true even when the Church had to exist as a second class ethnic state under Islam or when it had to endure the sustained assault of a vicious atheistic State in the Soviet period. The ideal relationship between Church and State which was more or less successfully achieved in the Byzantine period of the Eastern Roman Empire was characterised by “synergeia” … a cooperative and complementary assignment of roles. The Church was responsible for the moral and spiritual leadership and transformation of the society; the State in the person of the Emperor for the rule of law, the promotion of commerce and civilisation and the protection of the Church. Both bishop and monarch were God’s agents in pursuing distinct but coordinated goals for the common good and even a reflection of and participation in the Kingdom of God on earth. Such lofty goals and bipartite cooperation seem to have been rapidly lost in the West after it drifted further and further away from Orthodoxy. By the time of the Enlightenment in the 18th Century the very idea of a Christian society seemed to many to be either an absurdity or a dangerous proposition.

Orthodoxy with its very different understanding of the relationship between the Church and the State has now taken root in the west but it does not as yet have the penetration and influence on the ground to practice a more harmonious model of Church State relations. More pressing perhaps is the question of how the Church can realistically engage with a multifaith liberal democratic polity for such a system has rarely if ever been encountered before the modern era.

It might seem that the inexorable trend towards secularisation and separation of Church and State is the only way to go but I think this is a false and dangerous conclusion. No society can avoid asking searching questions about its identity and common values and these inevitably bear the imprint of the image of God in humans and in human affairs. Perhaps Caesar and God can make peace in the west by dismantling the power relations that have distorted this relationship and instead replace these with models of service and dialogue. For this to work there must be no privileged place at the high table of the State but the State would do well to have places for all. The disestablishment of the Church of England, the reform of the House of Lords and a more community based local politics would go a long way to achieving these aims.

No society that aspires to be Christian can now simply return to the era of Constantine but what it could take from this synthesis is precisely the synergeia that would bring back a proper spiritual dimension to our public discourse and social policy. God and Caesar need not be enemies. If enemies they must be then only martyrdom will be the seed of change.

Monday, March 27, 2006

The Paschal Oration of St. Gregory the Theologian


St. Gregory Nazianzen Posted by Picasa

Many indeed are the miracles of that time: God crucified; the sun darkened and again rekindled; for it was fitting that the creatures should suffer with their Creator; the veil rent; the Blood and Water shed from His Side; the one as from a man, the other as above man; the rocks rent for the Rock's sake; the dead raised for a pledge of the final Resurrection of all men; the Signs at the Sepulchre and after the Sepulchre, which none can worthily celebrate; and yet none of these equal to the Miracle of my salvation. A few drops of Blood recreate the whole world, and become to all men what rennet is to milk, drawing us together and compressing us into unity.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

It's OK to Fail!


Sit up! Posted by Picasa

We live in a culture in which high achievement is prized above all things. Celebrity culture canonises the saints of "can do" leaving most of the rest of us feeling pretty miserable that we are not as rich, as famous, as high achieving as these public icons. A certain amount of "moral failure" can be tolerated in most; unless you are a politician that is or a celebrity on the slide of disfavour. This is mostly hypocrisy though since many are far less inclined to apply the same moral standards to their own behaviour and lives. What is certainly not recognised is the positive aspect of failure, and, indeed, it's universality.

First, let's tackle universality. For every 1 winner there are 99 losers. As they say "it matters rather how one plays the game." Next, none of us is perfect. We need to cut each other a little slack; we need to practice mercy. It's OK to fail means it's OK to try even if you don't succeed. How many times did you, for example, not answer a question at school, even if you thought you might be right, simply because you didn't want to be seen to fail? Maybe the teachers or your parents put too much emphasis on getting it right rather than having a go. How many people have been disabled by this fear? I dread to think!

Next, the positive aspect of failure. My father always use to say:- "He who never makes a mistake never learns anything." Quite so, dad. Failure is necessary as part of the learning process. Success at all costs leads to despair, ignorance and a lack of endurance. "If at first you don't succeed .... give up!" No, this is not the way. Embrace failure and learn how to improve next time round. Success is truly built on failure.

Applying this to Christianity we come up with some interesting conclusions. When failure seems to have the last word, success is actually just round the corner. The supreme example of this of course is he crucifixion of our Lord. By all accounts this was a failure by the promised Messiah. Yet in the teeth of defeat, even death itself, God works the victory of his death destroying life. It wasn't what the disciples expected. Their grief shows that. They should have known better though because the Scriptures prophesied that the Christ would suffer, (Isaiah 52:13-53:12). God himself had to submit to a criminal's death in order to deal with human criminality, the criminality of our sin. He died that we might live. This is the ultimate parable of failure, the paradox of strength through weakness.

Interestingly, St. Paul himself experienced this logic of the cross in his own experience of the trials and tribulations of being an apostle. They are a timely reminder of the necessity of embracing failure in the world's eyes that victory might be ours in the hands of God ... against whom there is no witness. Listen to St. Paul and learn of the blessing of failure:-

But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us. We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed— always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So then death is working in us, but life in you. [2 Corinthians 4:7-12]

So let's us say with confidence "Failure is OK!" We might then begin to live again without that paralysing fear of failure and REALLY achieve something!

Friday, February 24, 2006

Orthodoxy and Creationism


Designed for Life Posted by Picasa

In the last ten years or more an ancient supposed conflict between Christianity and Science has re-emerged in the west and more especially in America. After years of public ridicule occasioned by so called Young Earth Creationists mounting exhibitions of Adam and Eve walking with dinosaurs on a 5000 year old earth, the creationist movement has changed its tactic. Now the name of the game is “Intelligent Design,” an attempt to show that science on its own cannot account for the complexity of life without the intervention of a Cosmic Designer, which some might wish to call God although, publicly, the Intelligent Design movement has not gone that far.

What all of these creationist movements do is to try and impose on science a theological agenda that by the terms of its own method of enquiry, it cannot and must not accommodate, for it is no business of science to “prove” God one way or another. Arguably, creationism only encourages extreme reactions from such people as Richard Dawkins who trespass in turn in the realm of theology with an ignorance and dogmatism matched only by their own mortal enemies, the meddling fundamentalists of the American Deep South and Midwest.

Let us not be deceived by this conflict which is serious. The implications for those who subscribe to both God as creator and evolution as his method are dire. Christianity as a whole is being associated with narrow-minded irrational bigotry and, in turn, a widespread ignorance of science and its claims threatens, even in this technological age, to throw us back into an era of superstition and ignorance. Those Christians with other voices must stand up and be heard before it is too late. They too must join this debate.

It is my contention that in all of this sabre rattling and jockeying for position we have a phoney war, a tragic and unnecessary conflict that does great harm both to science and Christianity. Moreover I also assert that these problems are themselves caused on the Christian side by the inerrantist, literalist, ‘sola scriptura’ assumptions of conservative Protestantism. In offering alternatives to these problematic beliefs I shall suggest that there are resources for Christian thinking and theological reflection on the nature of creation in Orthodox Christianity which, happily, are also shared in part at least by other Christian traditions.

So, in the midst of this conflict we must ask: “what is wrong with Creationism?” What are the faulty assumptions in this debate that lead to each side anathematising the other? Is there a better way that could see science and faith in harmony once more?

First we need to clear up the language, for words especially have been used in this war as weapons without much clarity as to their former and present meanings. In present usage ‘creationism’ can mean two radically different things:-

(1) In the use of atheism or religions and philosophies that do not believe that there is a god who creates, creationism means the doctrine of any manner of Creator God or gods. This not only rules out biblical cosmologies but also modern theistic evolutionary variants based on a critical use of biblical texts. As Richard Dawkins has said of those defending both God and evolution, the notion of a Creator God is gratuitous once evolution and natural selection is accepted. In this of course, he agrees with his creationist antagonists. As Laplace once declared:- “God? I have no need of that hypothesis.”

(2) In the use of certain fundamentalist Christians creationism means the doctrine that God created the heavens and the earth precisely and literally as the book of Genesis describes it. This use includes different schools of interpretation since Genesis itself is obscure on a number of points even from a literalist point of view. Thus we have Young Earth Creationists who believe that humans walked with dinosaurs on a 5000 year old earth and others who share the same aversion to evolution but see Genesis as applying over a much longer timescale. The Young Earth Creationists have a lot of explaining to do as they confront the fossil record. The usual tactic is to suppose that God for some bizarre reason deliberately fooled humanity by planting fossils that were much younger than they now appear to be. The Old Earth Creationists at least don’t try and falsify history but they still fall into the same trap of supposing that the Bible is an ageless science textbook.

Note that in both usages of “creationism”, both sides of the debate resolutely resist the idea that evolution is not only compatible with belief in a Creator God but also might enhance that belief. Those holding to this excluded view of theistic evolution might be tempted to declare “a plague on both your houses!” and withdraw from the arena. That would be a tragedy, however, for both science and Christianity for the simple reason that the world is watching with bewildered amusement. Many are concluding that either Christianity really is bankrupt in that it cannot absorb new insights about the world or on the other hand that science cannot be trusted to unearth the truths of the Cosmos. The battle lines have been drawn and both sides stand to be mortally wounded as the conflict escalates. We desperately need to move the debate onto new ground where this unnecessary and damaging clash may cease.

Some suppose that Intelligent Design might provide this new ground. Here is an approach that declares itself to be only scientific in its method; challenging some if not all of the tenets of evolution on Darwin’s own territory. In the main Intelligent Design is justified by the theory of “irreducible complexity” and the alleged irrationality of chaotically generated order.

On “irreducible complexity” such protagonists as Michael Behe have argued that the flagellum of a certain species of swimming bacterium, acting like a miniature biological outboard motor, cannot possibly have assembled itself entire and complete by evolution because no component part can work at a simpler level on its own, a prerequisite of the evolutionary account of such adaptive features. This has proven to be a classic example of the discredited God-of-the-gaps “we can’t explain this” approach. However, It wasn’t difficult to prove the independent viability of certain individual components of the flagellum and with these discoveries, Behe’s argument failed spectacularly. It has been the same with every other “we can’t explain this” example presented by proponents of Intelligent Design. Every gap in our knowledge has been subsequently filled by science. This has happened many, many times before in the history of the relations between theology and science. You would have thought that Christian apologists would have learned the lesson by now. This can be a difficult message to hear but a necessary one … an Intelligent Designer isn’t required to explain anything at all. God is not the solution to a difficult equation. He is something else entirely.

This, of course, has not stopped creationists, both crude and sophisticated, attempting to get textbooks changed in American public schools so as to allow for Intelligent Design. In this they pursue a relentless onslaught on what they see as Godless science in the classroom. They hope to convince a whole generation by stealth that Darwin got it wrong! Under the guise of intellectual humility and the provisionality of all human truth seeking, they try to show that evolution is “only a theory.” On this basis the inverse square law of gravitational attraction is “only a theory” but those who deny it would do well to watch their step anytime they walk along the edge of a cliff!

The other target of Intelligent Design has been the alleged inability of chaos and randomness to generate order from within itself and without exterior agency. This is perhaps the most ignorant argument of all, since even in the most chaotic of systems, such as the weather and quantum indeterminacy, there is order at a different level of scale through the operation of natural laws and probabilistic effects. Even when such laws are based on probability they make testable predictions concerning natural phenomena. The pervasiveness of order and the emergence of complexity through physical reactivity do not require any direct supernatural intervention for their accomplishment. God does not need to keep tweaking Creation for it to work. Even life itself can emerge from within wholly natural processes given enough time for the cosmic shake out of randomness to generate the primal building blocks of life. “Surely,” it might be objected, “there must be a Designer to animate these blocks into life!” Well, aside from the biblical respectability of such a view taken at face value, (Genesis 2:7), this animation is not necessary given that life is at its most basic level is simply a reproducible system of embodied data transmission driven by energetic chemical reactions. It is self-sustaining once the connections are made and these connections are built into molecular reactivity that in turn is sustained by the behaviour of particles and forces condensing out of the Big Bang through its initial conditions and subsequent unfolding history. Of course, animal life in general and human life in particular is much more than this but the complexity that evolves “mind” is truly built into the system from the beginning. That’s the beauty and real power of God’s creative activity, so much from so little. Truly there is no “God-in-the-machine,” no “God-of-the-gaps” needed to explain how natural processes work. God has ordered each part of creation so that it has power to evolve “under its own steam” as it were.

Some might still object at this stage of the argument that a scientific world view leaves no room at all for a God who intervenes in his creation. If he is not needed to explain either for the motions of the planets or the tremulous vibrations of life and thought then what USE is he? The answer of course is “no use at all.” The wrong question has been asked, itself based on a faulty premise. As I hope I have shown thus far, God is not a term for that which we do not as yet know. God is not a substitute for understanding the fibres of created reality. Faith searches deeper than this. It reaches beyond all phenomena accessible to rationality to a level of meaning embedded in the every aspect of a Cosmos that God himself has made creative according to his purpose. No room needs to be made for God. He is the Word, the Logos behind all things that create.

In pre-Christian Greek philosophy the logos (pl. logoi) was the divine reason embedded in the Cosmos giving it form and meaning. There was no place where this fecundity was absent, no time when it was not operational. St. John, writing for a very early Gentile Greek congregation, in his gospel prologue (John 1:1-18), felt very comfortable in taking the extremely radical step of equating this logos (word but more than word) with the Hellenised recension of the Hebraic "Word" of God and then making this Greek / Hebraic logos embodied as Christ.

This fusion can be read in two different directions although it is sadly only too often read in one. The first is that Christ is the apex of that divine fecundity for humans in the flesh. The second neglected direction is that this Christ henceforth is the cosmic Logos ... God in other words becomes for monotheism not only the transcendent God of Judaism who may not be named but also now the rational immanent fecund principle of the Cosmos' own generative power. This also is Christ. Not for nothing then does St. John therefore speak of the Logos in these terms in the first verse, (I have changed "Word" back to "Logos" as in the Greek original):-

"In the beginning was the Logos, and the Logos was with God, and the Logos was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made." (John 1:1-3)

Now the interesting thing is that this passage is read in the Orthodox Church not at Christmas as in the west but at Easter. In other words, the Logos is to be understood in the Orthodox East as the Christ Pantocrator, astoundingly, something human embedded in the Cosmos itself which is the principle of its liberation from corruption and decay, the resurrection. We are a very long way here from the sickly sentimental piety of Jesus meek and mild, just as limited and bound on earth as in his own psyche. The New Creation of the Christian Gospel is literally just that … a new creation.

What bearing does this have on an Orthodox understanding of creation? Simply this, God is not in the gaps. There are no gaps for the Logos lies behind All and the Whole. The Whole is where Christ is, and in him the Whole is where we are also called to ascend. Therefore since Christ as Logos is the Whole (St. Paul talks of the "pleroma" the fullness, Ephesians 1:23) anything at all that human wisdom discovers about the Cosmos is a facet of his glory and presence. This of course is a hermeneutic for Christians. No one is expecting those of other religions and none to accept this vision short of faith. However, it does mean, for Christians at least, that all science, no matter what it discovers, is Christomorphic, Christ-shaped. Our understanding of Christ is growing therefore in step with human knowledge. There is no conflict, no antagonism between science and Orthodox Christianity. How could there be? One is a reflection of the other ... in the Logos.

The difference then this faith makes to the story of the Cosmos concerns a certain way of looking at life and venerating it as a vehicle of the Holy Spirit’s creativity; of the Word’s power, of the Love of God. This religious truth is not subject to verification, nor can it be falsified. Only those with an impoverished notion of truth limited to the realm of provable assertions will exclude this beauty embedded in the Cosmos, this divine imprint of the Creator who has so arranged His world as to make it not only the object of wonder but also the subject of rational enquiry.

What then are the theological resources for such a view of Creator and creation or is this just a convenient modernist readjustment to inconvenient facts? If an Orthodox priest is to dignify such an exposition with the title “Orthodox” he had better be able to show that such an understanding is both compatible with and indicated by Scripture and Tradition. We have already referred to St. John’s prologue but we need more evidence than this to make a persuasive case.

First, however, we must deal with two little problems entitled “biblical literalism” and “biblical sufficiency.” These are precepts of the conservative Protestant world and as I indicated earlier, they could easily account for the impasse that such traditions encounter when matching biblical truth against truth claims seen as antithetical to the scriptures. If the scriptures bear literal and unchanging truth for all time then there will always be a problem with accommodating advancing knowledge in any sphere of human activity. If the scriptures are sufficient for faith then one must ask why are there so many biblical interpretations and idiosyncratic sectarian doctrines generated by groups who uniformly hold to this view. Creationism constitutes a perfect example of this hermeneutical dilemma in fundamentalist Christianity. The Bible says that God made the earth in 6 days about 7000 years ago yet astronomy tells us that the Universe has evolved over the last 13 billion years and it is still changing, still creating.

There are only two possible responses for biblical literalism and biblical sufficiency. Either science is wrong or Genesis must be tweaked to make it appear to accommodate a longer timescale. There can be no such choice with the theory of evolution though. This is something that no creationist can stomach. Not only is it not in the Bible but it would have us believe that humans are not special, not made from scratch in the image and likeness of God … or so they think! Orthodox Christianity, and indeed other Christian traditions refute both biblical literalism and biblical sufficiency. From the New Testament writers to the Fathers and beyond there have existed several ways of interpreting the biblical text, historically if that is appropriate, typologically or allegorically if that is where the spiritual sense lies. No patristic biblical commentator felt constrained by the Scriptures thus interpreted to deny any aspect of truth discovered in other spheres of human activity. This attitude is characterised by St. Augustine in a commentary on Genesis from which I shall quote at length. This will connect what I am claiming about Orthodox biblical interpretation to the more positive aspects of Orthodoxy’s contribution to this debate. St. Augustine said this:-

"Even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he holds as being certain from reason and experience.

Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn.

The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men.

If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods and on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason?"

[Saint Augustine, On the Literal Meaning of Genesis, Book 1, Chapter 19]

Without knowledge you might be excused for thinking that St. Augustine was alive today and writing for today. Sadly, maybe little changes. What is presented here is an approach taken by the Fathers more generally to the relationship between revealed truth and the natural sciences and humanities. This attitude is found even in the first 300 years when the Church was persecuted by the world. St. Justin the Philosopher, (165), a martyr no less, saw Christ as the fulfilment of classical Greek religious impulses with Plato as a type of Greek “Moses.” Clement of Alexandria in this same period (215) wrote the following:-

“Scripture gives the common name of wisdom to all the earthly sciences and arts generally, everything that the human mind can achieve… for every art and every knowledge comes from God.”
[Clement of Alexandria]

It is true that some Fathers were less accommodating. Tertullian (who was later to go AWOL with the Montanists) declaimed: “What has Jerusalem to do with Athens?” Nonetheless, Christians rarely despised secular learning as such and after the legalisation of Christianity a much stronger position emerged. The Cappadocian Fathers in the fourth century welcomed the sciences and arts as handsmaids to theology. St. Gregory Theologian, my patron was a notable poet theologian. Here are some of his insights:-

“Just as in subtle musical harmony every string produces a different sound, one high, another low, so also the Artist and Creator-Word, having installed different inventors for various occupations and arts, has given everything in the possession of all those who wish in order to tie us by the bonds of fellowship and love of man and make our life more civilised.” [St. Gregory the Theologian]

“every one who has an intellect recognises scholarship as a primary blessing for us. And not only this noble scholarship of our own, which… has as its subject only salvation and the beauty of what is contemplated by the mind, but also the external scholarship which many Christians abhor out of ignorance as unreliable, dangerous and diverting from God”.
[St. Gregory the Theologian, 389]

and from St. Basil the Great,
“external sciences are not without use” [St. Basil the Great, 379]

For two millennia Orthodox theologising has proceeded on this basis. We cannot survey this whole period but to complete the witness let us consider two more recent Russian thinkers, the first a saint of the 19th century, St. Philaret of Moscow, (1867).

“The faith in Christ is not in conflict with the true knowledge, because it is not in union with ignorance”.

The second reflects the work of a contemporary Russian Orthodox deacon, Andrey Kuraev, who has done much to remind the Russian Church of the harmony between science and faith. In a lecture arguing for a more positive evaluation of evolution he based this on Genesis itself but in a quite unforced manner. He refers both to St. Philaret and St. Basil:

“In the Book of Genesis God names every creature and by this naming calls every creature from the abyss of non-being. In the lovely expression of St. Philaret of Moscow, the creative "Word articulates all creatures into being." What we see here in Genesis is a dialogue. The call produces a response to God's life-giving action. "The earth germinates, but it does not sprout that which it has but transforms that which it does not have, as much as God gives the strength to act," wrote St. Basil the Great. The seeds of life are not found in the earth; rather, "God’s word creates beings" and plants these in earth, which, in turn, germinates them. Earth is unable to be fertile by itself, yet there is no reason to downplay its role: "Let the earth bring forth by itself without having any need of help from without." While life proceeds from earth, the very life-giving ability of matter is a gift of the Creator.” ….
“On the other hand, unprejudiced reading of Scripture makes one notice a certain degree of activity that created matter has. It is not written that "God created grass," but, "Let the earth bring forth grass." Later on, God is depicted not as simply creating life out of nothing but as calling on waters so that they may "bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life." ….
“The emergence of life in the Book of Genesis is both evolutionary (as earth is producing plants and simple organisms), and also a "leap towards life," occurring by the order of God.”
“God calls the Earth to a synergy, to a creativity that is indicative of the God-given internal creative abilities of the Earth. Different stages in the history of Creation open with God’s call upon "earth." The world, being called to growth and development, acts in cooperation with God. This theme of cooperation of God and His creation appears in the Bible long before the creation of man. The fact that the earth in response to the Word is producing life indicates that it is not merely a lifeless substance, out of which an external action is "moulding life," overcoming inert matter. The Bible is unlike the Vedanta, and matter in it is not a synonym of death and non-being.
This is how St. Basil is describing this creative response in his Homily V: "See how, at this short word, at this brief command, the cold and sterile earth travailed and hastened to bring forth its fruit, as it casts away its sad and dismal covering to clothe itself in a more brilliant robe, proud of its proper adornment and displaying the infinite variety of plants."

Could there be a clearer indication of the compatibility of a truly Christian understanding of creation and the task of science? Yet how can it be that some Christians, in this case the Orthodox, can speak in such positive terms about evolution and others, self-styled creationists, find this so difficult? A possible answer to this question lies in the manner of theologising, even the faith itself. Speaking personally I do often wonder if we have more to celebrate and share as Orthodox Christians with agnostic scientists than with the militant fundamentalists who now as so often before bring our faith into disrepute … as they also once did in the time St. Augustine! Perhaps we may also hope that in this dialogue Orthodox theological reflection on the wonders of creation will be deepened and refined by the insights of contemporary science. We have all got some catching up to do!

(c) Fr. Gregory Hallam

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Sleepers Awake!

Legislation is going through Parliament at the moment to make an offence of "Incitement to Religious Hatred." The sense of decency which usually characterises the British temperament in these matters might lead one to assume that this was a rather obvious and uncomplicated matter. However, TV cameras outside the Mother of All Parliaments reveal an unusual assembly of evangelical Christians, atheists, and comedians. All feel that their legitimate freedom of expression would be curtailed by this legislation. The way things look, they may be right.

That was the situation earlier in the day. However, as I write this the vote from the Commons has hit the news. The Government has failed to set the bar on incitement at its preferred lower level of abuse, insult and reckless comment. This is a great relief. There must be provable intent to incite hatred for the law to apply. For the moment we are free to utter offensive comments about beliefs AND the persons holding those beliefs ... so it's open season on Iain Paisley again!

Richard Dawkins recently shared his views with millions of people on TV that "religion is the root of all evil." This deeply offended me as a Christian yet I wouldn't dream of curtailing his right to insult my faith, even recklessly without intention, (were that possible!). Are some opinions to be favoured above others? Who will judge what is insulting and what is not? The person aggrieved? With some over sensitive souls that can be like asking a hypochondriac to judge his own health. Ought we not to have the right to expect a certain degree of robustness on behalf of those who views and beliefs are attacked in public? Are not our deeply cherished freedoms, so dearly won through times of oppression and conflict worth more than the sensibilities of those who have a democratic right of rebuttal and response? Must we really countenance self censorship because we don't want to upset anyone? I really do hope not.

If this was the only example of Government heavy handedness in relation to freedom of speech that would be bad enough, but it is not. It is now unlawful to demonstrate within one kilometre of Parliament and under that law a woman was arrested recently for simply reading out a list of British servicemen and women who had been killed in Iraq. Obviously she was a very dangerous terrorist! The poor woman had actually informed the police in advance. One can only conclude that the Government simply finds contrary opinions to its own policies unacceptable and once again terrorism is a useful cover for that.

The only possible response to this attempt of the State to crack down on our freedoms is to exercise them even more robustly and freely. That will require a sea change in the attitudes of many British people who, frankly, after the 1980's have become politically quite passive. There are signs that many ordinary people are waking up to the threats to our freedoms ranging from legislation such as this to the ever encroaching reach of surveillance technology. Increasingly it is people precisely with beliefs that are leading this reaction. Far from being the opium of the people religion is proving to be its smelling salts. 'Sleepers awake' indeed!

Monday, January 30, 2006

Forthcoming Lecture

Do you live within reach of Manchester?

On Thursday 23rd February, I shall deliver a lecture at the Manchester Metropolitan University on "Orthodoxy and Creationism." (You will gather from the quotes in the last Blog post that we don't approve!)

This lecture will take place in a room in the Geoffrey Manton Building, (check at Reception), Rosamond Street West, off Oxford Road, Manchester, (opposite the Aquatics Centre) from 7.00pm to 9.00pm. All are welcome. A donation of £1 is suggested toward costs but this is not mandatory. Here is a Map Link.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

6 Days? It ain't necessarily so!








As a curtain raiser on a lecture I shall be giving at Manchester Metropolitan University in February, here are some quotes from the Church Fathers directly relevant to Creationism and Intelligent Design.


St. Augustine


"Even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he holds as being certain from reason and experience.

Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn.

The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men.

If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods and on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason?"

[Saint Augustine, On the Literal Meaning of Genesis, Book 1, Chapter 19]

Other Witnesses Ancient and Modern

“Scripture gives the common name of wisdom to all the earthly sciences and arts generally, everything that the human mind can achieve… for every art and every knowledge comes from God.”

[Clement of Alexandria]

“Just as in subtle musical harmony every string produces a different sound, one high, another low, so also the Artist and Creator-Word, having installed different inventors for various occupations and arts, has given everything in the possession of all those who wish in order to tie us by the bonds of fellowship and love of man and make our life more civilised.”

[St. Gregory the Theologian]

“Every one who has an intellect recognises scholarship as a primary blessing for us. And not only this noble scholarship of our own, which… has as its subject only salvation and the beauty of what is contemplated by the mind, but also the external scholarship which many Christians abhor out of ignorance as unreliable, dangerous and diverting from God”.

[St. Gregory the Theologian]

“external sciences are not without use”

[St. Basil the Great]

“The faith in Christ is not in conflict with the true knowledge, because it is not in union with ignorance”.

[St. Philaret of Moscow]

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