Church of the Dragonslayers

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250px-St_Clement_Danes_Jan2005I was wandering around in the files of A Clerk of Oxford, which is likely the fairest site of all for general medieval information. Anyway I was struck by how as Mark Twain told us, “History doesn’t repeat itself but it often rhymes.” And it struck me that can be true even over whole millennia as it is here.

We’re going to talk about church history today but, instead of doctrine, dogma, and all that we’re going to talk about one specific church, and yes, we may take a detour and even refer to J.R.R. Tolkien once or twice. Here is The Clerk to set the scene

The story of Siward.

But first just one or two facts, because Siward, hero of our tale, was a real historical figure. He was born in Denmark, probably a little before the year 1000, and probably came to England during the reign of Cnut, when England was the best place for a young Dane to make a career for himself. By 1042 he was earl of Northumbria, a huge, complicated earldom stretching from the River Humber up north to the borders of Scotland. During Edward the Confessor’s reign Siward also held a southern earldom in the area around Huntingdon/Cambridge/Northampton. He died in 1055 and was buried at York, in a church he had founded and dedicated to the brand-new Norwegian saint Olaf. This suggests he retained a sense of loyalty to his Scandinavian roots, and in English sources he was known as Siward digri, an Old Norse nickname which means ‘big, large’.

And this would be all we knew about Siward, were it not for the fact that his son Waltheof was executed in 1076 for rebellion against William the Conqueror, and was considered to be a martyr and saint by the monks of Crowland Abbey in Lincolnshire, where he was buried.

Right there in the part that we know to be true, we have a pretty interesting story don’t we? But it gets better.

That story is the one we’re concerned with – it’s pure legend, and it’s awesome. It starts like this:

The stories of the ancients say that a certain nobleman, Ursus – whom the Lord permitted, contrary to the normal manner of human procreation, to be created from a white bear as father and a noblewoman as mother – begot Spratlingus; Spratlingus begot Ulsius; Ulsius begot Beorn, nicknamed Beresune, that is, ‘Bear’s Son’. This Beorn was a Dane by race, an excellent earl and famous soldier. However, as a sign of the difference of species between his parents, nature had given him the ears of his father, that is, of a bear. In everything else he was like his mother’s species. And after many deeds of courage and military experiences, he had a son, very brave and a noble imitator of his father’s military skill. His name was Siward.

She add a lot of detail here which is very interesting, and you should read it (link above) including how it parallels parts of The Hobbit, but not overly relevant to my story, anyway, continuing

To return to Siward, the bear’s grandson: filled with youthful ambition, he leaves his father’s house in search of adventure, with fifty companions and a well-stocked ship. He sails from Denmark to the Orkneys, where he lands on an island and is told that its inhabitants are being terrorised by a dragon. When Siward learns this he decides to fight the dragon, and put it to flight from the island. (In doing this he is following in the footsteps of his famous namesake, the most glorious dragon-fighter of Germanic legend, Sigurðr the Völsung). Triumphant, he sets sail again, south to Northumbria, where he has heard there’s another dragon to fight. But when he lands in Northumbria, instead of meeting a dragon, he meets an old man sitting on a mound. Siward asks the old man if he knows where to find the dragon. But the man greets him by name, and says, “Siward, I know well for what reason you have undertaken this journey, to test your strength against a dragon; but you labour in vain, for you will not find it. Go back to your companions, and I will tell you what your fate will be. When you set out on your journey you will have favourable winds, and they will bring you to a river which is called the Thames. There you will find a city called London, and the king there will take you into his favour, and grant you great lands.”

(It’s not quite ‘turn again Whittington, Lord Mayor of London’, but that’s the general idea!)

Siward says he doesn’t believe him, and that if he goes back to his companions and tells them this they will say it’s nonsense. But as a token of his trustworthiness the old man presents him with a banner, and says its name is ‘Ravenlandeye’ – a name which is interpreted as ‘Raven, terror of the land’. Siward takes the banner and goes back to his ship, and all the old man’s words come true: he is guided to London, and goes to find King Edward. The king has heard of his coming, and accepts Siward into his service. Siward stays with the king and distinguishes himself so much that King Edward promises that the first high honour which becomes available in the land will be given to him.

Okey-Dokey, no epic battles with dragons but poor boy makes good is not bad is it?

Then one day it happens that Siward is travelling from Westminster to London when he encounters an enemy of the king, a Danish man named Tostig, earl of Huntingdon. The king hates Tostig because he’s married to the queen’s sister, a daughter of Earl Godwine. (This figure gets his name from the half-Danish Tostig Godwineson, who was in fact King Edward’s brother-in-law, but this really has no basis in history). Siward and Tostig meet at a bridge over the river, which is so narrow that as haughty Tostig passes he splashes Siward’s cloak with mud. (In those days, adds the monk of Crowland, men wore long animal-fur cloaks.) Siward takes Tostig’s behaviour as an insult, and decides to get revenge. He lies in wait for Tostig, and as the earl returns across the bridge, Siward draws his sword and cuts off his head. Concealing the head beneath his cloak, he goes to the court and asks the king to make him earl of Huntingdon, because that earldom is vacant. The king says he must be joking – the earldom isn’t vacant, the earl’s only just left him! But Siward produces Tostig’s head from beneath his cloak and throws it at the king’s feet. King Edward, remembering his promise, has no choice but to grant the vacant earldom to Siward.

Siward leaves the court and seeks out his companions, and finds them fighting against Tostig’s men. They kill them all and bury them near London, at a place which becomes known as the ‘Danes’ Church’ – ‘and so it is to this day’, says the Crowland monk in the thirteenth century (and so it is to this day).

Pretty neat story, all in all, and I enjoyed it, but I wondered what happened to that church, so I looked it up (link above)

220px-St_Clement_Danes_on_fireWilliam the Conqueror rebuilt it first and it was rebuilt again in the Middle Ages. By the end of the seventeenth century is was such bad repair that it was demolished and rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren, its organ was installed in 1690. And it continued on until on 10 May 1940 it was gutted by the German Luftwaffe, pretty much only the shell and the steeple survived.

As we all know, things were tough in the UK after World War II, and so the shell just sat there until in 1958, it was restored by, and was reconsecrated as the central church of the Royal Air Force, as it is today.

As part of the rebuilding, the following Latin inscription was added under the restored Royal coat of arms:

AEDIFICAVIT CHR WREN
AD MDCLXXII
DIRUERUNT AERII BELLI
FULMINA AD MCMXLI
RESTITUIT REGINAE CLASSIS
AERONAUTICA AD MCMLVIII

which translates as: “Built by Christopher Wren 1682. Destroyed by the thunderbolts of air warfare 1941. Restored by the Royal Air Force 1958 (from Wikipedia, as is the following)

The Polish memorial

The Polish memorial

The floor of the church, of Welsh slate, is inscribed with the badges of over 800 RAF commands, groups, stations, squadrons and other formations. Near the entrance door is a ring of the badges of Commonwealth air forces, surrounding the badge of the RAF.

A memorial to the Polish airmen and squadrons who fought in the defence of the United Kingdom and the liberation of Europe in World War II is positioned on the floor of the north aisle.

Books of Remembrance listing the names of all the RAF personnel who have died in service, as well as those American airmen based in the United Kingdom who died during World War Two.

Near the altar are plaques listing the names of RAF, Royal Flying Corps and Royal Naval Air Service personnel awarded the Victoria Cross and the George Cross.

Most of the furniture in the church are donations from various people and nations, including the organ donated (and installed in a replica of the 1690 case) by the US Air Force.

Altogether a fitting thing, I think, a church founded by warriors who started out on a quest to fight dragons, now is home to those few who clipped the wings of the Nazi Dragon and began the destruction of its lair.

But there is one more chapter to the story. For at the end of the Second World War there was one dragon left in Europe, and like Siward’s grandfather it was a were-bear, the Soviet Union. But eventually by that same triumvirate of Poles, British, and Americans destroyed it as well. And here at the church of the dragonslayers, the very last dragonslayer of the twentieth century would pause.

But this one would be different, not the son of a Danish nobleman out to make a career, but the smart and pretty daughter of a British grocer, but like those Danes long ago, she was not for turning.

And perhaps that is why Margaret, the Baroness Thatcher’s, funeral paused here, at St. Clement Danes, where Siward claimed the earldom of Huntingdon, long ago, and where modern men remember the dragonslayers of three nations, her casket was transfered to the gun carriage for the trip to St. Pauls.

 

Gospel for the 2nd Sunday in Lent Year B

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transfiguration

Mark 9:2-10

Six days is symbolic, Origen points out. In six days God created the world, and so it is a number which represents the world; here, Jesus goes beyond the world, as we must if we want to see Jesus. Here Jesus discloses a glimpse of the Godhead, Chrysostom writes. His face shines like the sun so that he is manifest to the children of light who have put off the works of darkness and put on the armour of light. St Augustine reminds us that what the sun is to the eyes of flesh, so Jesus is to the eyes of the heart. Six days was also the amount of time that the cloud of God’s presence covered Mt Sinai before the 10 Commandments were given to Moses. (Ex 24:16-17).

Origen sees the ‘fullers’ (or launderers in more modern translations) as representing the wise men of this world, who, for all their mighty intellect are of nothing compared to the glory of the Word. Chrysostom notes the superlatives used: nothing on earth is brighter than the sun, and nothing whiter than the snow – but as we see from the effect of the vision on the disciples, Jesus shines brighter than anything seen by humans.

Bede sees the white garments as a type of the church of the saints, who at their resurrection will be purified from every blemish and impurity. The robes of the Lord are dazzling beyond anything earth can show because they are a glimpse of the light of Heaven, before which mortal man prostrates himself. Elijah and Moses stand for all the prophets who are with God, and are chosen because both had withstood wicked tyrants and were, like the Apostles, men form the people. Moses represents those who have died and will be with the Lord, Elijah all those who will be living when He comes again, because Elijah never died himself.

St Jerome notices how Peter, impetuous as usual, does not yet know the fullness of the Truth and yet his heart is good as he offers hospitality. The cloud is the Grace of the Holy Spirit and it gives shelter to all within, so no earthly tents are needed. St Ambrose points out that, as at the Baptism in the Jordan, God again identifies Jesus as His Son. He bound them in silence, for they had had a glimpse of what was to come, but it was not then fitting for them to reveal it.

Those who came with Christ were those who would play a leading role in the Church, and so here they are strengthened for what is to come, and here, on Mt Tabor, we have the ‘Sinai” of the New Covenant, where God’s glory is revealed not in lightning, smoke or fire, but in the glory of Jesus.

The command to listen to him recalls Moses’ promise that God would one day raise up “a prophet like me . . . from among your own kinsmen; to him you shall listen” (Deut 18:15). The disciples are to listen to everything Jesus has to say, but especially, in the context of the conversation that has just transpired (Mark 8:31–38). At the pinnacle of this experience the disciples suddenly find themselves with Jesus alone. Moses and Elijah have already accomplished their tasks, but Jesus must now complete the Father’s plan by going to the cross alone. His own life and mission will be the fulfillment that transcends all that took place in the Old Testament.

ISIS: the response?

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iraq; peshmerga;ISIS

This is the second part of an analysis of ISIS and our response to it. The author needs to remain anonymous, but I am happy to feed back questions. We hope there will be a third and concluding part to this series soon. C451.

In part 1 I discussed why ISIS, although having a strong Islamic foundation, is an aberration because of its ultra-extremism and excesses. The point being that ISIS are an immediate problem because of their cult violence, however this does not mean that “Islam proper” is not also a long term problem.

The mentality of (Arab) Muslims is probably one of mixed feelings. In general (possibly excluding the oil rich countries who have their own rather different money related agendas) most Arabs at “street level” long for an Islamic State, a pan-Arab Islamic culture with a wider “extended family” connecting with other Muslim countries, returning them to their former glory and restoring their pride and bringing with it an era of peace in “doctrinal security” and “morality” as they see it. They are probably just not quite sure if ISIS are the right people to do it. They feel humiliated and there is a strong resentment about Western meddling in their affairs. It is a sort of “hoping against hope” mentality. ISIS and the idea of a Caliphate, living the Islamic dream, have a strong emotional and idealistic pull. People want something worth living for and dying for. Many many people want the ideal that ISIS stand for but most would balk at the excesses of brutality. What most arabs emphatically do not want is the secular “American dream”. It is alien to their whole culture (as in many ways it should also be alien to Catholic culture.) Add to their sense of humilition also a certain cynicism. Their mood is fragile. They want a hero to unite them…but they barely believe it is possible.

I lived in the region throughout the first Iraq war, saw the people’s hope in Saddam that he was the man to stand up to the West. What governments did was one thing, what the people thought and felt was something else. I also witnessed how hope and pride turned to disappointment and humiliation and finally anger at Saddam because he had led them up the garden path. The hero turned tragic hero turned “waste of space”. It is almost reminiscent of Germany post WWI and the atmosphere which brought Hitler to power.

So we have ISIS which is the acute problem but Islam remains a chronic problem and while the two are not synonymous they are nevertheless linked and it will be a recurring problem in some shape or form. The original article pointed out the advantages and disadvantages of smashing the Caliphate so as to destroy their credibility. This is a valid point. It would work in the short term by having the “Saddam effect”. What we musn’t forget though is that ISIS is exactly the aftermath of the Saddam effect. Humiliation turns to rage. It is in people’s nature to hope, and the dream of a Caliphate will not disappear. Sooner or later it will resurface. We need to think carefully here. If WE destroy ISIS we are stuck in a loop. I think it would be much more effective to leave them to destroy themselves. The humiliation needs to come from within not from without. The very excesses and the apocalyptic scenario they invisage could be their undoing. What we need to do, IMHO, is not get drawn into their drama. The show-down at the Dabiq coral will be a bit of an anti-climax if we don’t show up. Bloodbaths internally soon begin to lose their appeal as the promises of a forthcoming peaceful society are longer and longer delayed and the victim count grows and grows.

Of course there is a problem with a hands off, ignore it approach. Innocents are suffering, but they will suffer anyway with a military onslaught. Can we actually police the whole world? In this situation direct military intervention is likely to pour petrol on the flames. It is a no-win situation. Even assuming we “win” it will just trigger the next round. At the moment ISIS are riding on a wave of drama and expectation but already they are not universally popular even amongst their fellow Muslims. There is an Arabic saying: don’t come between the onion and its skin otherwise you will end up crying. It more normally refers to family disputes, but in a sense that is almost what this is. I wouldn’t rule out minor military operations with a view to rescuing refugees and providing humanitarian aid and I think Europe and USA should be generous in opening their doors to Christian (and other) refugees, but I’m inclined to think in-fighting between Islamic factions is something best left alone until they become disillusioned with the futility of it. It may seem an uncaring approach. It isn’t. I care very much. It’s just facing the reality that sometimes people need to work things through themselves. It would, I think, be acceptable to provide arms to more moderate Muslims to help them defeat ISIS, at their request, but I think we should avoid trying to manipulate the siuation. The more we stay out of it and are seen as only providing relief the better.

 

Of course, I may be wrong. Only time will tell. But we have a reputation for having mixed motives in the region and with ISIS spoiling for a fight with “Rome”, I think the best approach is to take the wind out of their sails. If things develop in such a way that it becomes essential to act militarily, that option is still there, but I think we should hold our horses and leave that as a last resort.

 

If we can possibly leave ISIS to fizzle out with Muslim infighting and disillusionment as the dream dies and becomes more and more of a nightmare, and WE are not to blame for its failure, and are seen rather as the provider of relief, we may have fertile ground for future peaceful relations with moderate Arabs and an opportunity for Evangelisation.

 

How do we deal with Islam generally? Why, we work for their conversion by the grace of God of course! Simple ! Or maybe not so simple. I will try to address this issue in a third and final post. Many thanks for reading.

 

ISIS – an analysis

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isis-syria

We are pleased to be able to host this analysis of ISIS from someone with a background in the study of Islam. For obvious reasons, the author does not want to be identified, so we are protecting their identity. I shall pass questions on to the author, who will respond as they see fit.

The Atlantic Review’s article here on ‘What ISIS really wants?‘ is by far the best analysis of ISIS and its relationship with Islam that I have come across so far. It makes a very good attempt at getting inside the ISIS mindset and attempts to predict how the situation is likely to develop in order to best plan a response.

One of the main points raised is that the West’s secular mind-set equips it badly to understand what ISIS is really about; it takes the reductionist road of seeing it in terms the West is comfortable with, so calls it an ideological death-cult and sees it as wanting power. None of that is untrue, but it is only a small part of the truth. The politically-correct impulses of Western power-brokers also hinders our understanding. The American president says ISIS is un-Islamic, ISIS says it is Islamic. Some say Islam is a religion of peace and ISIS are barbaric and have nothing to do with “proper” Islam. Others say “Islam is a religion of peace” with a derisive snort and claim that ISIS is exactly what Islam teaches. Actually I would say that the truth lies somewhere in between. Having lived in the region for many years and knowing the Muslim mindset from the inside,

I would consider ISIS to be in a sense very Islamic but at the same time it is extremist, and in its extremism it is transgressing the usual limits. Much of what ISIS are doing has solid roots in Islamic thinking, and for the Muslim-Lite “Mosque-of-nice”, (to adapt a Vorisism) to claim that it is un-Islamic is wishful thinking, but at the same time, their ultra-extremism goes beyond and transgresses the limits of sound “fundamentalist” Islam. I put that word in parenthesis because any serious religious view has to be “fundamentalist” in its nature. Absolute Truth does not change and we have a similar conflict going on within the Catholic Church between Liberals and Traditionalists – although in our case it is a war of words rather than bloodshed.

It is necessary to remember that Islam is intended to be a Theocracy, there is no separation of “church” and state so there is automatically a political element – and an expansionist view, because it is their intention to bring what they see as God’s Law to the world. Politics and religion are intertwined in Islam so we have to look at the context of current world affairs as a relevant component, not as a separate issue. It is also worth remembering that when we discuss what is or isn’t “pure” Islam, that even discounting Islam-Lite, there are different sects and schools of thought within Islam, and there are different views of what constitutes “pure” Islam between Sunni and Shia, so the question of Jihad is a rather a grey area.

Originally Jihad was understood as defensive but was adapted to become aggressive under the rulers Yazeed and Ma’awiya (Sunni) who are regarded as criminals by the Shia. (as well as by some Sunni). The waters are further muddied by the question of current affairs. What we might see as aggression against the West is seen by Muslims as defensive retaliation against the West for their aggression against the Muslim Ummah (community). There is no nationalism in Islam, all Muslims are considered brothers in the Ummah. Islam is a theocratic system of (internal) peace regulated by social justice and strict penalties. It is also “set in stone” and not open to modernism. The accusations that Islam is not capable of modernisation usually come from secularist and modernist Catholic perspectives. Islam is quite capable of functioning in the modern world, modernisation is not a problem. A correct understanding of Modernism is necessary to understand this. The fact that Islam rejects innovation in religion should be no more surprising than the Traditionalist Catholic perspective and has nothing to do with having fridges, washing machines or internet.

Islam has God (the creator and sustainer) and a set of rules by which to live. It does not have original sin and redemption. It does not have “turn the other cheek” it has “an eye for an eye” which can be remitted by compensation. It does not have “hate the sin, love the sinner”, it has free will and therefore evil is as evil does. It has less of a mission to save souls and more of a mission to establish “God’s Law” on earth and if you get in the way you are in trouble. It has no sacraments nor sacramental grace, it has prayer, fasting, almsgiving and personal repentance. It has no “love your enemy”. Islam’s claim to being a religion of peace is not quite as outrageous as it may seem. Internally it is geared towards peaceful living by a system of severe penalties as a deterrent and to enforce law and order. It will defend itself against aggression from the outside and dissent from the inside. Hypocrites and traitors are considered far worse than infidels.

There is a distinction between “People of the Book” (Jews and Christians) and pagans. While there is a concept of “perfidious Jews”, and Christians are viewed as having gone astray, they are nevertheless accepted as believing in the True God although with some errors. That means they should be allowed to live under the protection of the Islamic State for which the Jizya tax is paid in return for benefitting from protection by Islamic Military from outside aggressions, whilst not being conscripted to fight themselves. They should be tolerated and allowed to practise their religion as long as they mind their own business and do not cause dissent.

Islam actually has quite honourable rules of war such as not harming non-combatant civilians, women and children, harming crops etc. The original article suggests that harming crops, poisoning etc are allowed in some circumstances, but I would be interested to see evidence for this assertion. Islam enjoins adhering to treaties unless the other party breaks the treaty in which case it is no longer binding. Slavery is actually a prisoner of war system, aiming to integrate prisoners into the Muslim Ummah. There are rules about treating slaves well, as if members of the family. Of course this becomes a problem with female prisoners of war as Islam allows male polygamy, and in the same vein it allows male slave owners to sleep with their female slaves, who become free if they convert or bear a child who will be raised Muslim. It is actually legalized rape of female prisoners of war. It is a culture which has a different understanding of sexual matters from ours which quite rightly we view as unacceptable.

Where ISIS marks itself as the “lunatic fringe” of Islamist thinking is in its apocalyptic intentions. While some elements of both Christian and Islamic thinking are interested in end times and the signs of the times, which is legitimate speculation, it is beyond presumptive to try to force God’s hand in these matters. So while it is certainly true that much of ISIS behaviour is based solidly on Islamic thinking, it is also clear that they are twisting things and transgressing the limits by their excesses. It is a parody of true Islamic thinking.

There remains the question of how should we respond, which I will attempt to deal with in another post.

Mary and her Son

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baby-jesus-mary-joseph

Of all the oddities in the version of our Faith offered by Bosco, is the one in which he maintains that Mary was not a follower of her son. He cites Mark 3:34-35 as though it meant Mary was not also his follower, and supports his misreading by misreading Mark 3:21, telling us that Mary thought Jesus was ‘mad’. For Bosco, as, sadly, for others, this passes for reading the word of God.

As we saw last time, this form of reading involves two forms of spiritual arrogance: the first is to suppose that one knows how to read the book we have through the Church better than the Church itself; and secondly, it involves ignoring what else the Bible has to say on the subject.

On Bosco’s version we are asked to believe that Mary, who was told by an angel that she was the bear the Messiah and who submitted to God’s will and praised him, somehow forgot all of that, and doubted her Son’s destiny. That would be some amnesia, and would require Bosco to explain to us how, at Cana, she knew he could turn water into wine. It would also require him to explain why and when she became a believer, as we see her in Acts when the Spirit descends.

The evidence is overwhelming that Mary believed the revelation she had received, so let us explain what the verses which seem not to fit mean. Let us take the most egregious misreading first. Mark 3:21, even in the King Jame’s version, says that  And when his friends heard of it, they went out to lay hold on him: for they said, He is beside himself. There is no mention of the mother of Jesus, so quite why Bosco thinks Mary thought her Son mad, only he can tell us. As for the other Markan verse, again, read in context, Jesus is reminding us that all who follow him have a family relationship with him.

The interesting question here is why, in the face of the evidence of Luke that Mary knew her Son was the Messiah, and in the face of the evidence she was with Him at Calvary and with the Apostles when the Spirit descended at the first Pentecost, some people have so much of a problem with Our Lady that they resort to telling lies about her? The main lie is one repeated by Bosco ad nauseam and that is that Catholics treat Mary like some ancient Greeks treated Diana of the Ephesians – that is they worship her. There is clearly some visceral problem here.

The most likely explanation is the the very patriarchal nature of the societies of the sixteenth century out of which Protestantism emerged, and Mark Shea does a good job outlining this argument, which to my mind goes to the heart of the problem. The Bible, like the Church, has always been clear on this – every generation is to call Our Lady ‘blessed’, and we do, every generation acknowledges that her soul magnifies the Lord, and we are. Let us hope and pray that one day Grace will be given to those like Bosco, who rely on their own reading and treat it as infallible.

The Limits and Context of Ecumenism (2)

The first post in this series was intended as a bit of “protection” for our spirits and souls. If we are to discuss the reasons we find ourselves in different churches, we need to do so in a spirit of love and humility – and we need to be honest about how this affects us deep inside. This post is of similar purpose.

Continue reading

The Limits and Context of Ecumenism (1)

If I had ever had the opportunity, I would have loved to sit down in a pub with Jess and Chalcedon and chatted face-to-face about this and that. One of the things I might have asked is what prompted Jess to found her blog and how she and Chalcedon felt about the bonds that had formed between us all over time. One cannot help but ask, from time to time, “What am I doing here?” Continue reading

Romans 7

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StPaulCatacombs

Apart from being a Christian, I have one thin in common with St Augustine, Luther, and JohN Wesley – Paul’s letter to the Romans. In his Confessions St Augustinetells how reading Romans 13:13-14 lit the spark of Grace which would draw him from his former life to one with Christ. Luther found that preparing lectures on Romans drew him into reconsidering what was taught about justification by faith. He had understood the ‘righteousness of God’ as referring to God’s own righteousness and how he dealt with sinners but came to the realisation that it was ‘that righteousness whereby, through  grace and sheer mercy, he justifies us by faith’, and felt ‘reborn’. Wesley was reading Luther’s Preface to the Epistle to the Romans when he felt his heart ‘strangely warmed’ with the assurance that God had taken away his sins. For me, it was reading  chapter 7 of Paul’s letter to the Romans especially verse 15:

For that which I do I know not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I.

Many of us have felt that, and any analysis of the letter which fails to address that, and which fails to see that Paul himself felt it, falls at the first hurdle of probability. It is easy to see why those who, like Bosco, advocate a ‘I’m saved so I’m fine ‘line, struggle with it and need to say that Paul is writing about the ‘unsaved’ – because if, as non-Protestant commentators have always maintained, he is writing about himself, it drives a coach a four through their man-made theology. It seems that that theology has difficulty reconciling Paul’s status as being ‘saved’, with his still struggling against sin.

Paul is clearly ‘saved’ by any standard, and yet we find him writing in Romans 7:24: “Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?” The answer is Christ, but if we take the ‘once saved’ position, then it is impossible to make sense of what Paul is saying. If we take the orthodox Christian one, it is. It is the very touch of God’s Grace which allows Paul to see he is a sinner. As a Pharisee he had believed that he was justified before God by the Law, as a Spirit-filled Christian he knows that is not so, He is justified by Grace through Christ. That is, however, the start and not the end of a process which the Orthodox call ‘theosis’ and the West calls ‘sanctification’ – that is the process of growing in the image of God in whom we are made. It is Grace which allows us to see our sin, it is Grace which allows us to struggle against it. But the encounter with Grace does not make us one with God

We can see from chapter 7 of Paul’s letter to the Romans that the effect of the Grace we receive when we come to Christ is not to make us feel somehow that we are perfected, but quite the opposite – Grace enables us, as it did Paul, to see how far we are from that. Christ has paid the price for us, we are, the Church teaches, ‘justified’ before God – we are made right with Him. But that is the beginning of a process of sanctification and the renewal in us of the image of God in whom we are made. There is every reason for us to use Lent to help us grow in this Grace. As the Catechism (2015) puts it: ‘The way of perfection passes by way of the Cross. There is no holiness without renunciation and spiritual battle.” Lent is a good time to fight these battles – so perhaps thinking about it in that way will help – if only to distract us from wanting a drink of alcohol.

 

 

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