Showing posts from September, 2014

St Jerome, or "why the moderns don't always know best"

"Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls." Jeremiah 6.16
One of the many infuriating things about me when I was younger, and for all I know perhaps remains so, was my conviction that modern ways are best. Not that I was alone: it's pretty common for moderns to laugh off and dismiss older ways as backward or regressive. Nor is it anything new. Today's saint, Jerome, suffered the fate of the traditionalist. 
Active at the turn of the fourth century, Jerome went through the not uncommon route to sainthood of a pious upbringing, a period of youthful and wanton depravity, repentance, conversion, priesthood and devotion to the study and teaching of the faith. In this, he was much like his contemporary Augustine, with whom he did not always get on. They could both be pretty irascible. 
If Augustine's greatest contributions to Christian thought were in doctrine and ecclesiology …

By whose authority?

Who has authority? A tricky question for us Brits nowadays. The old authorities have fallen into disrepute - the bankers in the financial crisis; clergy, media figures and even social services in sexual scandal; politicians in both of the above and more. We're rapidly becoming a country that doesn't trust any authority at all.

The Russians, in contrast, have fewer doubts, according to a recent poll asking them to name their highest moral authority. At the bottom, about 1 percent named a revered journalist, a Soviet hockey star, a Chechen leader and the Russian Orthodox Church's Patriarch Kirill. Next up the list came the Defense Minister, scoring 5 percent. In second place, with 9 percent, came Russian cultural figures, such as the novelist Alexander Solzhenitsyn. But guess who came top of the list? With 36 percent of the vote, none other than that beacon of morality and personal integrity, President Vladimir Putin. Russia, amazingly, puts a great deal of its trust in the…

Exaltation of the Holy Cross

This Sunday, we celebrate the feast of the Holy Cross. To the outsider, it must seem a rather strange affair. What are these Christians doing, exalting an instrument of torture and execution?

First of all, we are celebrating God's transformative power. Even something as stark and wicked as a crucifix is transfigured by His grace into something noble and good, even the opposite of its intention: this tool designed to give one man a gruesome death is made the tree of eternal life for all people. Even evil is not destroyed, but by grace perfected into goodness.

Second, this feast brings home the concreteness of Christianity. The crucifixion and resurrection of Our Lord is not a myth or abstract spiritual typology, but a real event that happened to a real man at a real moment in time on a real, wooden cross. The Word was made flesh, not abstracted away into theories and books.

Theology and thought are helpful to guide us on the Way, and for some of us, essential (and there's little …

Where two or three are gathered

"Again I say unto you, that if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” (Matthew 18.19-20)

The second of these verses is very familiar, especially in extreme Protestant circles: we don't need the Church, a few of us gathered together in Jesus' name will do just fine.

However, this needs to be qualified by the verse immediately before it. Notice that the answering of our prayers is predicated on us agreeing with one another first. Quite clearly, our prayers when we gather together, for peace in Syria or Iraq or Gaza, for example, are not being answered. Perhaps this verse tells us why that might be. To cite the great third century scholar of Scripture, Origen:

"This is the reason why our prayers are not granted: because we do not agree together in all things upon earth, neither in doctri…