Friday, June 3, 2011

Imaginative Apologetics
Theology, Philosophy and the Catholic Tradition

By Andrew Davision (Ed; former tutor in Doctrine at St. Stephen's House, Oxford.)

The book collects papers from three years of successful apologetics summer schools at St. Stephen's House, Oxford.

Imaginative Apologetics draws on much that is most vibrant in contemporary theology to develop Christian apologetics for the present day. The contributors are leaders in their fields. They
represent a confident approach to theology, grounded in a deep respect for the theological tradition of the Church. They display a perceptive interest in philosophy, and unlike many works of
apologetics, their interest is in the philosophy of the present day, not only that of previous centuries. Drawing on the theology of the imagination they show the centrality of the imagination to
apologetics; from the significance of virtue in Christian ethics they show that Christian ethics is part of the Good News; from developments in the theology of knowledge they show that apologetics must be communal and must learn to tell stories. Dealing with history, the arts and the nature of atheism, with the natural sciences and social theory, Imaginative Apologetics presents a theological account of apologetics for the twenty-first century.

Andrew Davison is Tutor in Doctrine at Westcott House, Cambridge.


‘This is a stunning book. In simple and vibrant prose, the authors explain our failing attempts to
communicate God through colourless, proof style arguments that are all but emptied of mystery and the
language of desire. They call, instead, for a healthy tension between clarity and estrangement, logic and
wonder. They invite us towards socially and culturally sensitive presentations of the Gospel, rooted in
Church tradition and embodied in our own lives. Imaginative Apologetics delivers a prophetic and uplifting
message for all Christians.’
Alan Ramsey, St Aldates, Oxford

‘Rowan Williams memorably said, as he took up office, that the Church needed to “recapture the
imagination of the nation”. Many theologians have responded to the challenge: we continue to see in the
Church of England a confident and intelligent engagement with contemporary culture and a firm critique of
the ways in which secular humanism and New Atheism diminish what it means to be a human person. This
book is a tremendous collection of essays that explore how the Christian faith is both reasonable and
imaginative: it should be read by all who wonder what culture loses when Christianity is eclipsed.’
Frances Ward, Dean of St Edmundsbury Cathedral

‘This attractive volume of essays encourages us to invite others into Christ’s way of seeing the world and to
step into the life of a community where his new way of living and loving can be found. It is an original and
inspiring contribution to the apologetic task of the Church.’
Christopher Cocksworth, Bishop of Coventry


Thursday, May 26, 2011

Easter 5 - Fr. Damian Feeney

image from google

Homily given by Fr Damian Feeney, vice principal of St Stephen's House, on Easter V, 22nd May 2011. (Readings: Acts vii.55-60, 1 Peter ii.2-10, John xiv.1-14)


Like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 2.5)

Strictly Come Dancing isn’t what it was. For those who are of less than a certain age, it is based on a late night BBC programme which ran in the 1970’s called ‘Come Dancing’ which was a regional ballroom dancing competition. It ran from 1949 to 1998. In the realm of Latin Dancing, there was simply no-one to rival Home Counties South, who were invariably represented by the Penge Latin Formation Team, coached by the legendary Frank and Peggy Spencer; quite simply, they carried all before them, to the presumable chagrin of the other regions. So well drilled were they, so rehearsed to the inch, that they achieved astonishing success.

One of the most important things about the experience of residential training is that we are formed, as it were, in formation. In our case this doesn’t mean that we all act, or move, or speak, or even dress the same way – we aren’t being trained to be clones. It does mean that our formation has several dimensions, from the forming of personal and individual habits and virtues which prefigure the grace of ordination to the important understanding that our journeys to ordination and beyond do not take place in isolation. We cannot be solitary living stones, and our journeying is connected by a complex network of relationships which extend beyond our year group, beyond this House, and even beyond the boundaries of living and dying. Living in formation is part of what it means to belong to the church catholic, as our experiences of God in Christ are mediated to us through the church local and universal. Such a way of life implies that what affects one affects all: whilst your eyes are necessarily fixed on the day when you will join another community – that of the parishes to which you are called, and where another type of living in formation is on the cards – there is no denying that the social habits of our life here will stay with us, and form the way in which we undertake our patterns of living in other places.

One of you said to me the other day that he believed the House to be the kind of place which you grew to dislike while you were here, but demonstrated a huge depth of loyalty and love to thereafter. All of us know by now that as ordinands, no theological college is a place in which to tarry. Many of our anecdotes after ordination will doubtless consist in the things that happened while we were here, and – please be gentle with us – the staff who taught us. But to live, to pray and to learn in community is vital, for by so doing we are seeking the very heart and example of the Holy Trinity, a community of love and mutual concern that models a different way of being to a church which sees training in such a way as too expensive, and to the world around us which struggles to define and live out what it means to be community at all.

The challenge, then, is to live as those who, as the church, mediate Christ to one another. By living in formation here we undertake a responsibility not only for our own training and shaping, but for that of each other. Our actions, words and examples, for good or ill, shape the thinking and attitudes of individual members of this whole community. And how important that is, in a college where not everyone we meet has a ‘church’ background, or understands our ways of speaking and doing things.

If I may stretch the analogy, living stones depend on one another to stay in position. In a dry stone wall, the dislodging of one stone brings about a collapse of the stones around it, because each relies on the mass, inertia and shape of the others to keep the wall stable. Each of us is called to occupy a different place within the edifice of the church, and for different reasons, and we do so by responding as faithfully as we can to God’s call which, we pray, locates us where we are needed. And, if we are Living Stones, then we must let ourselves be shaped by God into the kind of structure he wants, rather than building large personal edifices of our own called ‘careers’.

There will inevitably be times when we are called to question this – whether we are in the right place, doing the right thing – and there will be times when we do not understand why it is we have been placed where we have until much later on (if at all). If we become angry or frustrated in our situations, and on reflection recognize that those feelings are but a reflection of the community in which we serve, then that should act as an incentive to us; not to justify a superficial desire to ‘bale out’ when the going gets tough, but rather to seek the grace of perseverance and endurance, in our prayer life, our abandonment to the will of God, and to tasks which being in that situation implies. Seek the help, seek the support, of your parishes, your families, your networks, the groups to which you belong. But remind yourself of the consequences of pulling the stone out of the wall, as far greater damage may ensue.

More than this, we need to learn to trust processes, and that God’s grace makes up whatever is lacking in the church through human frailty. All of you who have accepted title parishes and incumbents up and down the country will be aware of a certain sense of risk. It is necessarily a process in which you, the parish and the diocese are called into decision with a relative lack of knowledge. If nothing else, we have to believe that the process that has led us to this place, the point in our lives, has been a grace-filled one, and that through the processes of the church we are being located to a place where we are called to be. There is also a sense in which the very act of trusting, of risking, places us in a situation where we have to rely on God’s resources rather than our own. And his grace is sufficient. ‘Like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ’.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Monday Reflection - Simon Maddison

image from google

This homily was given by Simon Maddison, a first year ordinand, at Evening Prayer on Monday 16th May 2011;

I have based my homily on the readings we have just had (Exodus 32:1-14 & Luke 2:41-end), so I’m going to start with a brief recap...

From Genesis we heard, how when Moses had left the Israelites to go up Mount Sinai, they lost their way somewhat! Having being left to their own devices they forced Aaron in to making a golden calf that they could then worship, and subsequently, but for the intervention of Moses on their behalf, would have been destroyed by God.

In Luke’s Gospel we heard how Mary and Joseph “lost” Jesus while on pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Presumably they would have been preoccupied with packing things away for their return trip, making sure they had got everything before they set off, and had just assumed that Jesus was with friends travelling with them.

I am sure we can all sympathise; I usually remember what it is I have forgotten just as I drive on to the main road, forcing me to go all the way to the next roundabout just to go back and get it...

Similarly they are a day into the journey when they realise that Jesus is not with them, and are forced to go back to look for him, eventually finding him teaching in the temple.

Now these two stories are quite different in their content, but I think there is a common theme about the nature of faith, and our relationship with God.

In both cases the people involved lose their focus, whether it’s because they feel abandoned, or because they just have too many other things going on. However their responses are quite different.

When Moses is away longer than expected, the Israelites just give up on him and more importantly the God that he represents, seeking to replace him with something of their own making, and very nearly bringing about their own destruction in the process.

So unlike Mary and Joseph, who on discovering Jesus missing, instantly begin searching for him, going back to Jerusalem and not giving up until they find him three days later.

The situations may be different but I am sure we have all had similar experiences to these, when God can seem quite distant, or the concerns of our day to day life drown out everything else; after all we have, books to read and essays to write...

But I think what these stories show us is that it is not God that moves or changes, it’s us and our circumstances, and no matter how busy or disconnected we may feel from time to time, we can’t replace God with something else, we need to go back looking for him, remembering he is only ever a prayer away.

And so let us pray...

Let nothing disturb you,
Nothing affright you;
All things are passing,
God never changes.
Patient endurance
Attains unto all things;
Who God possesses
In nothing is wanting:
Alone God suffices.

St. Teresa of Avila (1515-1582).

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Oxford Artsweek at St. Stephen's House

Oxford Artsweek at St. Stephen's House

Paul Vanstone Sculptures
Nick Maitland Paintings

Private view by invitation
Sunday 22 May 2011
5.00pm to 7.00pm
(R.S.V.P. to / 01865 613 504)

Public view
Monday 23 May 2011 - Monday 30 May 2011
Monday & Tuesday 2-5pm
Wednesdays 12-4pm
Thursday-Friday 2-5pm

St. Stephen's House
16 Marston Street
Oxford OX4 1JX

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Monday Reflection - Joanna Moffett-Levy

image from google.

This homily was given by Joanna Moffett-Levy , a final year ordinand, at Evening Prayer on Monday 9th May 2011;

There is a theme in today's readings and that theme is awe, awe at God's overwhelming greatness. First, in Psalm 29 'the voice of God is over the waters, the God of Glory thunders.' God's voice shatters the greatest of the trees and makes the wilderness shake.

In the reading from Exodus, God prepared Moses and the people of Israel for the giving of the law on Mount Sinai. The people needed to be pure to receive God's words and the mountain was so holy that no creature might touch it. Thunder and lightning, thick cloud and smoke were all around when the people met at the foot of the mountain. God's presence was like the loud blast of a trumpet, like an earthquake, like a violent storm. In the next chapter we will hear that they asked Moses to speak to God for them – they were afraid that if God spoke directly to them they would die.

And lastly, we heard Luke's account of the message given by the angel to Zechariah, husband of Elizabeth and father of John the Baptist, a message that came to him as he served God in the sanctuary. Imagine the shock when he looked up to see the angel standing by the altar of incense. Gabriel was there bringing the message from the place where he stands in the presence of God. Zechariah questioned the message, mildly, and as a result was rendered silent; his silence lasted until the circumcision of John in the Temple.

We are shown in these readings that God's power is overwhelming, like a terrifying natural phenomenon; we human beings cannot look at God, cannot survive in God's presence – we need a go-between like Moses or the angel Gabriel. Our response, our right response, is awe and fear.

The contrast for us this week is between this God who thunders and the God in Christ of the road to Emmaus. The Lord is present with the two disciples and walks along the road with them and is with them at the table as they eat. They may not recognise him at first, but they see him face to face.

Can we keep these things in balance? I think that we do need both but it is not easy. We may find the intimacy easier than the awe. We don't get a lot of practice at awe, I think, here in a city, away from whirlwinds and floods and earthquakes. But our fellow Christians in New Zealand certainly have. The theologian in residence at Christ Church Cathedral, New Zealand, Revd. Lynda Patterson, struggling with where to look for God in the destruction, wrote this recently.

"the earthquake was not an act of God. It was just the earth doing what it does. Under our feet there are two unimaginably vast slabs of rock floating in the tides of a ball of liquid iron. They grind on slowly, as they have done for millions of years, and where they rub together the earth is pushed up at the seams into mountains, or swallowed up in vast trenches. Sometimes the slabs move, stick and then move again as they did for us. Into all this impermanence, we are born and set up camp for the briefest of periods. But that's not the end of the story. Behind this globe of molten rock, there is a God who designed it all and put it in place. There is a God who knows just how breakable we are and how much it hurts, because that God has been here and walked about, laughed and wept and died and rose to life again here among us."

So this week I am going to keep trying to get a glimpse of the God who we know in the breaking of bread and who fills the dark spaces between the stars.

Monday, May 9, 2011

House Lecture - Dr Colin Podmore

image from google

All are warmly invited to

The House Lecture

presented by

Dr Colin Podmore
Clerk to the Synod Central Secretariat

Communion and Consultation:
The Anglican Communion and its "Instruments of Unity"

Thursday 12th May 4.30pm
The Curatin Room
St. Stephen's House, Oxford
16 Marston Street, Oxford, OX4 1JX
01865 613500


Wednesday, May 4, 2011

St. George's Day - Fr. Damian Feeney

St. George, image from google.

Homily given by Fr Damian Feeney, vice principal of St Stephen's House, on St. George's Day, 2 May 2011. (Readings: Rev xii.7-12 2 Tim ii: 3-13: John xv.18-21.)

As a small and rather pious boy, I recall a conversation with my mother which she has doubtless forgotten, (and will therefore deny!) but which set a train of thought going that continues to this day. In a quest for rather premature careers advice, I asked her, after the manner of Doris Day, what I should become. Rather splendidly, she advised me that I should become a saint. She painted an attractive picture of sainthood, and heaven, which has never quite left me; nor has her parting shot, which betrayed the all-too human struggle beneath her lofty sentiments. ‘Be a saint, but don’t be a martyr’ she said. Martyrs had a hard time of it, because they had to die to win the crown, and that was perhaps not calculated to be an appealing job description for a six-year old child. I think with the passing of the years, both of us would see the flaws in that statement. But it was good enough for a precocious boy. Of course, the call of the Christian life for us all is a call to holiness, to virtue, to self-renunciation, and to the rule of love. Saints don’t theorise about sanctity, but rather live it, expound upon it, proclaim it. Often the sacrifices saints are called to make are as a result of doing these things well – of shaping virtuous lives and souls in a less than perfect world. Those who have undergone martyrdom have in some sense experienced the same consequence of God-centred living that Jesus did – words, thoughts and actions considered too dangerous, too subversive, for the places and times in which they occurred.

There are three words which haunt the preacher who turns to hagiography for inspiration. They are the words ‘little is known’. This opening to a sentence, or paragraph, about a saint may make us groan; it is certainly the case for St. George, venerated as a martyr and swathed in popular legend. Importantly, George’s tradition and cult has been remarkable, both in the history of the church and in his position as Patron of this land. Indeed, it may well be that his lack of local association led to an easing of his passage towards being our Patron Saint. Not merely in this country, but throughout Western Europe and indeed in the writings of Islam, George is revered as an heroic figure who was faithful, courageous, and who endured to death.

A Martyr, of course, is a supreme witness to the truth of the faith, even to death. He or she endures death through fortitude, offering their very being into God’s hands to dispose as He will. It is the ultimate recognition that our life is ‘not I, but Christ in me’ and that all we are and have is given to us through the Grace and generosity of God. It is an act of profound love and trust, intimately related to our crucified saviour, as the need to witness to the truth of the faith supercedes and transcends our earthly being.

We live in an age when martyrdom is misunderstood. A 12 year old walks in to a regimental barracks in Mardan, Pakistan, and detonates the bomb which brings to an end not only his own life, but that of 31 others; all on the promise of glorious martyrdom. That isn’t martyrdom – it’s murderous suicide. However we may feel about it, there will be those who will see Osama Bin Laden’s death earlier today as a martyrdom. This casts a pall over the very notion of martyrdom in the world, for there can be nothing that is holy about willing and bringing about the murder of thousands of people. None of this can be of a piece with seeking and witnessing to the truth; it is rather a gross perversion of it.

Alongside all this – and given that patron saints give us cause to examine our country – we are forced to examine the ‘witness to truth’ as it is represented in our own day. In many ways, this is not an easy time to be ordained: and being ordained places us, ontologically and visibly, as those who will be the focus for questioning, scrutiny and even attack within a wider society which is being taught to mistrust the church. Bearing witness to the truth of Christ in such a context is a challenge requiring of us great patience, charity and virtue. There may even be times when such witness, combined with our own human frailty, may break us – but God’s grace is sufficient, and we heal, and grow, and orient ourselves once again to the pursuit of grace-filled, truthful living which is God’s desire for us, and such moments of crisis can act as a catalyst for a more grounded and loving response in pastoral ministry. I delighted in Pope Benedict’s description yesterday of the final days of his predecessor, Blessed John Paul the Second. He said,

Then too, there was his witness in suffering: the Lord gradually stripped him of everything, yet he remained ever a "rock", as Christ desired. His profound humility, grounded in close union with Christ, enabled him to continue to lead the Church and to give to the world a message which became all the more eloquent as his physical strength declined. In this way he lived out in an extraordinary way the vocation of every priest and bishop to become completely one with Jesus, whom he daily receives and offers in the Church .**

Whether called to Martyrdom or not, the call to witness to the truth of Jesus Christ is the flame which burns at the very centre of His call in our lives. To love our country – to be patriotic - does not merely mean being an unconditional supporter of every aspect of our national life. Rather, it means being prepared to express that love in labour for that peace, justice, and right ordering of society’s affairs which are expressions of the Kingdom of God. May the prayers of St. George assist all our labours of love with his fervent prayers, and may we in our turn seek to witness to the truth of Jesus Christ, wherever that truth may lead us.


Vice Principal, St. Stephen’s House

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Book Launch


On Christian Priesthood (Continuum) by Robin Ward

Divine Illumination (Wiley-Blackwell) by Lydia Schumacher

Wednesday 11th May 2011
from 5pm to 7pm at
St. Stephen's House

RSVP 01865 613 500

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Monday Reflection - Taemin Oh

The House Chapel, St .Stephen's House Oxford

This homily was given by Taemin Oh, a final year ordinand, at Evening Prayer on Monday 14th March 2011;


‘Remember that thou art dust, and to dust thou shalt return.’

Last Wednesday, we all received the sign of cross - the symbol of humanity, our sins, our life, and our death. We, as God’s creatures, should be aware of the fact that the last thing we will encounter is death. Regardless of who you are or what you have, all human beings are subject to death and shall return to dust.

Yet, for us, dust does not just mean the end of our life. Rather, dust gives us hope; hope for resurrection, hope for our salvation, and most of all, hope for the world to come, through Jesus Christ. Therefore, Ash Wednesday was not just the day of reminding us of our sins, but the day of desiring the grace of God and reunion with Him.

As our life is always full of ‘comings and goings’ or ‘ups and downs’, my life also has many days to be remembered. As a final year student, part of such rich memories are about to fade away into history. In the next term, all leavers, including me, will be sent out to the world, to serve not to be served, to witness God’s love and to proclaim the Gospel. And soon, God willing, we will be swamped by the huge amount of parish work, and eventually, we will be forgotten from each other’s memories.

However, it may be that we will see each other again soon, and some of us may meet often. We may come back to the House for a Staggers’ reunion, or any other special occasion. However, I am not sure whether we, as a whole, can be in the one place again as we are in this chapel today.

Gerald Charles Perkins.
Edward Stuart Churchill Lennard.
Cyril George Woolley.
William George Herbert Gater.

Do you recall anything on hearing these names? Is any one of these names familiar to you?

These names are actually to be found on the walls of this chapel - just right in front of you – all 144 names are carved in the wall. Once, all these people spent some time together here, and once, all became dust.

Yet, I do believe all are now in the full communion with God, and also believe that it will be our true reunion when our names are carved in the wall, in this chapel, side-by-side.

‘Life is short; death is certain; and the world to come is everlasting’ says John Henry Newman.

We are still young (-ish) and still we have many things to do before we become dust. However, as Newman says in one of his Advent sermons, ‘Christ’s coming is ever nearer than it was. O that, as he comes nearer earth, we may approach nearer heaven!’

Day passes after day, silently and we are approaching the end of Hilary term. Therefore, this Lenten period should be the time for us to pray for each other, and ask God’s pardon and mercy be upon ourselves and others, so that we all partake in the glory of heavenly reunion.

Let us pray…

May the God of all love,
who is the source of our affection
for each other formed here,
take our friendships into his keeping,
that they may continue and increase
throughout life and beyond it,
in Jesus Christ our Lord.

O God, Who art everywhere present,
look down with thy mercy upon those who are absent from among us.
Give thy holy angels charge over them,
and grant that they may be kept safe in body, soul and spirit,
and presented faultless before the presence of thy glory with exceeding joy;
Through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Monday Reflection - Mark Lyon

image from the movie 'Jesus of Nazareth'

This homily was given by Mark Lyon, a final year ordinand, at Evening Prayer on Monday 7th March 2011;


A church service is basically aerobics in slow motion. You have to get up, get down, come forward and turn around, all to background music with a kind of Mr Motivator figure out in front. You even get your own mini-aerobics mat hanging on the chair in front.

While these words are quite comical they nevertheless have an element of truth about them. Within the Catholic Church, the liturgy is designed so that there is air of constant movement and direction; different postures, whether we are on our knees, standing or sitting prepares us for the different parts of our worship. One of my favourite icons – Rublevs Trinity – shows us the importance of movement, while the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are seated somewhat stationary there nevertheless is a movement of activity – the activity of Creation and Redemption. What we do physically thus prepares us for what we must do spiritually. Mind, Body and Soul, while different are nevertheless one.

On Wednesday of this week we enter the very important penitential season of Lent. All of us I’m sure have either decided or thinking about what we are to give up, however, it is important to remember Lent is not a time to deny ourselves as a form of punishment. It is a time when we realign our lives back into the loving relationship with God that he has ordained us to have. The things we give up, therefore, should always have this focus. If we give up something the time or money we save should be put to good purpose. Whether that is time for extra devotion or money to a charity the essential part to this penitential season is to deepen the relationship we have with our Heavenly Father.

Lent is a time when the movement in the Liturgy, must affect and shape the movement of our life. Guy Browning talks of the physical movement in Church services being aerobics in slow motion – Lent is the time for our spiritual aerobics. A time when we exercise our relationship with God to strengthen ourselves so that whatever life throws at us – we have a sure foundation of the Hope, Love and Charity that has been given to us on the Cross.

On Wednesday we begin our journey to Golgotta – we carry our Crosses, in order that they can be transformed by Christ’s forgiving and redemptive love. It is the same love that not only redeems but brings us to the point of redemption. Jesus does not leave us to carry our own Crosses but he carry’s them alongside us. It is his work in, with and through us that enables us to say on our Good Friday his final words – In to your hands I commend my spirit.

The giving up or taking on something for Lent is a painful task but it is a task that we must undertake if we are to experience the joy of the resurrection. By ensuring that we engergise our spiritual lives in this way will enable us to witness to the world, of God’s redeeming and transforming love. In so doing we can just perhaps with true humility utter the finals words of S. Paul from our second reading tonight “And they glorified God because of me.”

Heavenly Father, Alone with none but thee,

I journey on our way;

What need I fear, when thou art near

O King of night and day.

My life I yield to thy decree

And bow to thy control.

Thou art our trust, O King of kings

We make this prayer through Our Lord Jesus Christ who liveth and reigneth with you and the Holy Spirit, one God now and forever. Amen

Edward King - The Rt Revd Geoffrey Rowell

Edward King (image from google)

This homily was given by The Right Reverend Geoffrey Rowell, the Bishop in Europe on the Feast of Edward King on 8th March 2011.


Tomorrow morning, as is the way of the Bishop in Europe, I leave for Ljbljana in Slovenia to celebrate Ash Wednesday with our congregation there. I shall then be visiting the Roman Catholic Archbishop and the Lutheran Bishop and will be taking as gifts Professor Grace Davie’s book on religion in Europe amazingly translated into Slovenian! Then it is on to Trieste for another Lenten service and Venice and a meeting with Cardinal Scola, and the First Sunday in Lent with the congregation of St George’s in the morning, and with the Nigerian Congregation of St Anthony Abbott in Padua in the afternoon, before Milan overnight, and then another Lenten service and parish visit in Corfu before getting back here a week later. Knowing that Venice celebrates Cardinal with masks and processions and a whole retinue of pre-Lent customs I had hoped I could have been there today rather than on the first weekend in Lent – but then I should not have been here to celebrate this annual commemoration of Edward King.

It is rare indeed that Edward King’s day coincides, as it does this year, with Shrove Tuesday. Only when Easter is as late as it is – the very latest it can be – is there a chance of these two days coming together; but this year they do.

In the says and places when Lent was more fully observed than it is today, Shrove Tuesday was the time for feasting, for using up the foods which not be permitted during Lenten abstinence. Eggs and fat and dairy produce were made up into rich dishes such as pancakes. The French call today Mardi Gras – ‘fat Tuesday’ – for this very reason. One should note that in the Orthodox world it is possible to have a very good banquet of fasting food, as I once did in the Monastery of Miloseva in Serbia where the table groaned under no less than 22 different dishes of fasting food! But our name for today is Shrove Tuesday, which comes from an old English word schriven or shrive, which in turn may come from the Latin scribere ‘to write’, but which means to make confession. As an old Anglo-Saxon church order puts it: ‘in the week immediately before Lent, everyone should go to his confession and confess his deeds, and his confessor shall so shrive him.’

One of the treasures of Catholic spiritual life and discipline recovered by the Oxford Movement was personal confession of one’s sins to a priest and personal absolution. It was there in the Book of Common Prayer in the order for the Visitation of the Sick, and is mentioned in one of the exhortations before Communion. It never entirely died out in the Church of England, but its use was rare and in extremis, and practice could certainly vary, as an account of a deathbed confession in a celebrated series of Death-bad Scenes from the early nineteenth century, portrays the dying man noiselessly confessing his sins to God, and the absolution being given when it seemed he had ceased.

The revival of auricular confession was a neuralgic point for Protestant controversialists, for whom it smacked of the worst features of priestcraft and Popery, and in particular there was objection to the violation of family life by the priest hearing the confessions of wives. Protestant polemicists caricatured those who resorted to the confessional, as in the verses published in a Paper-lantern for Puseyites in the 1840s:

For a first endeavour

By a pre-concerted plan,

Some half-a-dozen ladies,

And an invalid young man,

And that fussy, vulgar ‘server’,

In his hideous monkish dress,

Assembled in the vestry,

‘Tis stated, to “confess!”

Salacious anti-catholic tales portrayed the horrors of the confessional, often given an extra twist by being linked with capers in the convent. Dr Pusey translated and published the Mannual for Confessors by the Abbe Gaume, and there were even parliamentary denunciations by Lord Shaftesbury after Convocation had been petitioned in 1873 to provide training for confessors – ‘this pollution of the red one of Babylon’, of by Lord Redesdale following that early SSC publication, The Priest in Absolution. Part of the cultural backdrop to contemporary reactions to the scandals of sexual abuse in the church – absolutely and rightly condemned – is nonetheless this long anti-Catholic history, with the sense that confession is somehow un-English and un-Manly – something that that very English parish priest, John Keble, sought after as a confessor by Dr Pusey, and no less by his Hursley villagers, was always concerned to rebut. I was interested to find recently in an anonymous book of 1847 – From Oxford to Rome and how it fared with some who lately made the journey – that one of the points that is made is that ‘Confession as now made in the English Church is the more perfect, the more aiding to the penitent.’ The author’s experience was that in the Roman Church confession was ‘as like a matter of worldly barter as can well be conceived: a certain amount of affliction for a certain amount of sin, arranged as immuntably as the value of the exchange in currencies’. What was needed was more of St John and less of the obtrusive questions and legalism the author had found.

Part of Edward King’s ministry – and close to the heart of it – was his pastoral gift as a confessor. It has not originally been part of his own spiritual life, but when as Vice-Principal and then Principal of Cuddesdon he found himself increasingly used as a spiritual counsellor and director, he came to the point where he knew that he had to make his own confession, which he did in April 1862 to Dr Pusey. He later told a friend how after he had made his confession and been given Psalm 103 as his penance, Pusey had knelt beside him, pouring out his heart in prayer for him. Thereafter he made his confession three or four times a year.

King was always alert to the misuse of the confessional – the dangers of formalism, and rote. I suspect he would have been a little cautious about the lists of sins published in such books as Fr Stanton’s Catholic Prayers for Church of England People – a book given to me when I was confirmed at 13. (I can remember puzzling over what were ‘dangerous dances’ and what was the sin of ‘making innuendoes’ – were they some kind of idol?) King brought to the confessional a unique sensitivity and sympathy, aware of the uniqueness of each one to whom he ministered, but it was an intelligent sympathy which in Charles Wesley’s words ‘breaks the power of cancelled sin’ and ‘sets the prisoner free’. It was close to the Orthodox understanding of confession which links it with healing, the medicine of the soul, rather than with rules broken and regulations transgressed. He believed it to be important, telling his clergy in the Diocese of Lincoln in 1898 that they had a duty to explain to their people ‘what the teaching of the Church of England with regard to Private Confession really is, making clear to them both the reality of the blessing and what she is commissioned to give, and the perfect liberty of her children.’

During the time I was working here in Oxford I can remember a Catholic psychiatrist at the Warneford Hospital saying to me that if only the Church would do what only the Church can do, absolve the sinful in the name of God my consulting room would be far less crowded, and my diary less pressured. Jesus gave to his Church the power, grace and life of the Holy Spirit, to set men and women free from the destructive and damaging captivity to what Paul call ‘the law of sin and death.’ In the Ordinal of the Book of Common Prayer the form of Ordination of a priest is a prayer for the gift of the Holy Spirit by the laying hands with the authority of the Lord himself who breathed that same Spirit on his disciples on the evening of the first Easter Day giving them authority to bind and loose, to forgive sins in his name. The ministry of priesthood is therefore an Easter ministry, a continual setting free from destructive captivities and addictions, a realising into the glorious liberty of the children of God. Every Lent is a springtime, a recalling of us to that discipleship of love which is the way of the Cross and no less the living out of Easter life. In confessing our sins we come before God as we are – not for the ‘set mask of rectitude’ or the facebook we present to the world – yet we come before God always for what by his grace we may become, and God looking upon us loves us, and draws us into the feast of his love. Edward King knew that deeply, and taught it by his life and ministry, and I can do no better than to leave you with his own words.

“But there is yet a third gift which I would desire that you should seek to perfect and make great, and that is the kindness of heart, the gift of love. This is the mark which the Saviour Himself chose by which His disciples should be known. ‘By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.; Friendliness, sincerity in friendship, true-heartedness, a tenderness of felling for one another in your joys and sorrows; to weep with those that weep and rejoice with those that rejoice. Let this be your aim. Be ready to forgive if anyone should do you wrong, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you. Put away all unkind words and uncharitable judgement one of another….try to ‘bear one another’s burdens.’” (The Love and Wisdom of God, pp.282-3)

“By God’s great goodness we Christians can look up higher than our own nature, for we have seen His nature descend, not to destroy, but to take up humanity into the Godhead….To our love now new spheres are open, and all men are found to be not too much for our capacity when incorporated in the Body of Christ. Φιλια will have κοινωνια, and we find the true end of love in communion with the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and with mankind in Him in whom God and man are one.” (The Love and Wisdom of God, p.138)

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Sunday before Lent - The Rt Revd Martyn Jarrett

This homily was given by the Rt Revd Martyn Jarrett, the Bishop of Beverly, on 6 March 2011 (Sunday before Lent).


I am sure it is my duty, as long as I am in this tent, to keep stirring you up with reminders. 2 Peter 1 v13

John Rouse Bloxham is hardly a name that immediately comes to mind when most Anglicans recall the great days of the Catholic revival in the nineteenth century. That is, perhaps, a pity for Bloxham was one of Blessed John Henry Newman’s closest friends. Bloxham who had gradually been drawn into Newman’s ever increasing circle of admirers and friends, was to serve for a while as one of Newman’s curates, with special responsibility for Littlemore. Bloxham, though, was never to follow his great friend into the Church of Rome. Newman may once have preached a famous sermon in which he referred to the parting of friends. That sermon, however, was not about the breaking of friendships. Both Newman and Bloxham were to live to a great age and, through all that time, to maintain in their close friendship. We are fortunate that their frequent and warm letters to each other are still available to be read. Bloxham was a frequent visitor to the Birmingham Oratory. In later years, when Bloxham was the incumbent of Beeding Priory in Sussex, a portrait of Newman hung in what was eventually to become known as ‘The Cardinal’s Room’. In 1879, after travelling to Rome to receive his cardinal’s hat, Newman returned to England, landing at Folkestone. Even then, when the great and the good, not least among the Roman Catholic community must have been eager to entertain Newman, within two days he found time to make the journey to the rectory at Beeding and to enjoy lunch with his old friend. As far as we can tell from their correspondence, neither ever rebuked the other for the stance he had taken or tried to argue him out of it. Theirs was a profound Christian friendship that went far deeper than all the controversies of the time. Newman and Bloxham never lost their vision of being reconciled in Christ even as they lived through the painful controversies of the nineteenth century.

Not everyone is as successful as were Newman and Bloxham in remaining loyal to that vision of true reconciliation in Christ. One commonly experienced feature of the Christian life is that of folk falling by the wayside as soon as the practice of the Christian life becomes tough and demanding. God who brought much reassuring consolation in the early days of faith now seems to be the God who uncaringly stands aside, even in the experience of heart-rending bereavement or of ghastly, painful illness. All too many would be disciples seek a faith built on warm and reassuring religious sentiment. Not so for Saint Matthew’s Gospel, read to us this morning. The certainty of the passion has already been spelt out in no uncertain terms to Jesus’ would-be followers. The Lord famously tells Simon Peter, when he suggests that the passion and cross could never be allowed to happen to Jesus, Get behind me Satan. S Matthew’s Gospel is as much concerned with keeping the would-be disciples’ eyes on the glory that is to come as it is with trying to prepare them for the puzzlement, stress and utter pain that are to be inevitable ingredients of the future. In similar vein, when the author of the Second Letter of Peter reminds his readers of what he claims to have seen on the Mount of Transfiguration, he says that his purpose is to encourage them not to fall away, rather
to keep stirring you up with reminders.

The story of the Transfiguration is set out for us today as you and I stand on the verge of entering into our Lenten discipline. There are all kinds of issues deep within us, both to be addressed and to be remedied. There is something about the dentist’s waiting room in these days just prior to Lent. We are beginning to reflect on what we are once again about to let ourselves in for. And, there, in contrast to our feelings, stands the figure of the Transfigured Jesus. Jesus may be about to journey up to Holy Week and the passion in Jerusalem but, already, He is encouraging us with a vision of the grand finale. The Transfiguration is a vision of Jesus as the conquering and unifying Lord. He is the fulfilment of Moses’ law and Elijah’s prophesy. But, it is something more than that. Those writers of Our New Testament knew that they, too, were in Christ, made part of His body through baptism. Everything that is Christ’s could and should be theirs. You and I are joined with Christ across time, some two thousand years later. And, the promise is the same; you and I are open to transformation; indeed, the whole Church of God is open to transformation.

At the heart of the meaning of the Mass we celebrate this morning, as at every Mass, is our re-presenting of the mystery of Calvary. As Saint Paul puts it, we are showing the Lord’s death until He comes again. The Father sees His Son hanging on the cross, still totally obedient to His Father’s will. No matter what is done to Jesus, He never gives up on loving. We human beings throw at Him all that we can and still Jesus loves us. Not even death is able defeat the power of divine love. So it is that every Sunday, the Day of Resurrection, you and I gather to show the Lord’s death until he comes again, knowing that, even in that awesome death, there is the promise of resurrection. Divine love will always have the last word. Every celebration of the Mass is potentially our encounter with the Mount of Transfiguration. The Mass demonstrates the transfiguring work of Christ and invites us, in our term, to be transfigured both by Him and with Him.

There will only ever be one test as to how far you and I are transfigured. You and I will be judged by that degree to which we reflect the love shown on Calvary. Any Lenten piety that fails in producing that fruit is worthless. Left to ourselves, of course, showing such love of others, especially when we have perceived them to have hurt us beyond measure, is impossible. You and I know, though, that we are capable of being transformed by Christ, that is, if we want to be open to His power to change our lives around. Our whole understanding of what it means to be members of His Catholic Church rests on an understanding that we are all bound into Christ’s Body by Baptism. And, because we are bound into Jesus, His life can ceaselessly enter ours and ours His, not least as we share regularly and faithfully in those life changing experiences of confession making and of receiving Holy Communion.

It can hardly be the best kept secret that you and I are, once again, faced with a church in which many are, once again, being faced with hard decisions to make as to where they believe God is calling them to serve Him in the future. Such hard decisions cannot to be ducked just because they are hard decisions. For Newman, as we know, it meant the parting of friends, from some for a while, from others for what was left of their time, this side of eternity. For Blessed John Henry and his friend, John Bloxham, it was even to mean that they would never again together receive Holy Communion. That is never a decision to be lightly made or from motives of frustration, or of anger, or of spite. Newman and Bloxham understood this and so their parting of friends was never allowed to become the ending of an increasingly closer development of their friendship.

God, in His time, calls each of us to make many choices. Yes, some among us may, near continually as it were, have to decide just where we align ourselves in the great issues confronting our Church. For many of us that will probably be a costly decision, one ultimately relating to where we think there is to be had the most authentic experience of Christian truth. For others of us, it might well be the call to decide where God’s justice might better be discerned, be it to the right of politics, to the left, or to somewhere in the middle. God, though, calls us today, as He will continue to do every day, to make another kind of choice, one on quite a different scale of values. Will we, or will we not, whatever might be the cost, embrace the opportunity to be transfigured, as Jesus offers us in this morning’s Gospel? Can we, or can we not, so raise ourselves by God’s grace to demonstrate the forbearing love, that for all their differences, Newman and Bloxham managed to achieve? Can our Lenten exercises so conform us more to Christ that we might arrive at Eastertide as people who more radiate his love, even within the unresolved conflicts of life with which you and I have to deal daily? I have more than a suspicion that, come the day of judgement, our God will be more interested in how we have answered that challenge then how you and I, for all their importance, answered any of the others.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

On Christian Priesthood - Canon Robin Ward

On Christian Priesthood Robin Ward, published by Continuum on 10th March 2011.

What is Christian priesthood? Contemporary pastoral theology is absorbed by the theory and practice of Christian ministry, but rarely sees it in terms of the exercise of ministerial priesthood. Contemporary liturgical practice emphasises participation and growth in discipleship, but not the offering of sacrifice or the anticipation of heaven. Contemporary spirituality encourages the pursuit of human flourishing, but not the need for sacramental reconciliation. This book seeks to restore the centrality of priesthood to the understanding of Christian ministry by setting it within the context of fundamental moral theology. Beginning with the importance of religion as a Christian virtue, it sets out the way in which the moral life is given a cultic setting by our participation in the sacraments. Priesthood and sacrifice are taken out of the setting of Reformation controversies and re-pristinated as key theological tools for understanding what ordination is for and how priesthood is a foundational characteristic of the Church. This has important and far-ranging consequences for ministerial formation, liturgical reform and ecumenical dialogue.

Canon Robin Ward is Principal of St Stephen’s House, Oxford, where priests have been trained for the Anglican Communion since 1876.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Monday Reflection - James Leigh

This homily was given by James Leigh, a first year ordinand, at OPTET Evening Prayer on Monday 28th February 2011;

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Tonight’s second reading from the second letter of Paul to Timothy is a fitting one as we gather here tonight, from across the denominations and traditions, to worship and pray together. As Christians it is often perceived that we are divided by our diversity – Catholic and Protestant, high and low, influenced by differing spiritualities and theologies. But as this gathering represents, and as S. Paul reminds us in this reading, we are united by a ‘sound doctrine’ – that is a fundamental belief in the God who has revealed himself to us in the person of Jesus Christ. The God who became incarnate of the Blessed Virgin Mary, was made man and who, for our sake, was crucified, died, was raised and will return in glory to be our judge so that we might be raised to new life in him. Our aesthetic differences may appear divisive, our theologies may cause conflict, but our proclamation is, and must be, of this same fundamental truth.

As Christians it is our vocation, whether seeking ordination or not, to follow S. Paul’s dictum to Timothy: “proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favourable or unfavourable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching” (2 Timothy 4:2). We are all called to be bold witnesses to the truth of Christ crucified, we, the body of Christ – the Church, are the proclaimers of a timeless message, a message of truth which Our Lord has commanded us to share with the whole world. We, like the first disciples, are sent out and commissioned for the task of proclamation. It is the Church who is the guardian of that sound doctrine which Paul talks about in verse 3 of our reading, and, it is we, the Disciples of Christ who are called to proclaim that sound doctrine which the Church embodies in her teachings and witness. At times we will fail, false teachings will prevail but the endurance of the Church is a testimony to the reality of the incarnate truth of Jesus Christ.

As S. Paul teaches us in his letter to the Galatians, by virtue of our baptism we are all one in Christ and it is as one body, the body of Christ – the Church, that we proclaim his message to the world. Gathered here tonight we are one in Christ and one in his truth. It is our duty to ensure that we place God’s kingdom before our own needs and desires and that we work together, setting aside our surface differences, so that God may be glorified and all may come to know the salvation offered by Christ’s sacrifice upon the cross. As Christ prayed for the unity of his Church so may our prayer be joined with his and all the Saints, that Christians everywhere may be united in love for him who is the way, the truth and the life.

Let us pray.

Heavenly Father, Our Lord Jesus Christ prayed that your church should be one in you as you and he are one and upon the disciple Peter he built the Church, a beacon of light and hope in a world which cries out for truth. May our vocation always be to your truth, the proclamation of your love and a bold witness to your Gospel, and may all Christian people be united by unwavering belief and a deep love for you. We make our prayer through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, God, for ever and ever.