Sunday, June 28, 2009

Cranmer Was Wrong

(According to our rector)

The martyrdom of Thomas Cranmer, from an old edition of Foxe's Book of Martyrs

Oh my, where to begin? Let us first go back in tyme:

In the 1552 Prayer Book's




We beg to prepare ourselves for communion as follows,

ALMIGHTIE God, father of our Lorde Jesus Christe, maker of all thyngs, Judge of all men, we knowledge and bewayle oure manyfolde synnes and wyckednes, whiche we from tyme to tyme moste grevously have committed, by thoughte, woord and dede, agaynst thy devine Majestie: provokyng most justely thy wrath and indignacion agaynste us: we doe earnestlye repente, and be hartely sory for these our misdoynges: the remembraunce of them is grievouse unto us, the burthen of them is intollerable: have mercye upon us, have mercye upon us, moste mercifull father, for thy sonne oure Lorde Jesus Chrystes sake: forgeve us all that is past, and graunt that we maye ever here after serve and please thee, in newnesse of lyfe, to the honoure and glory of thy name: Through Jesus Christ our Lord.

or for those of you who spell "indignacion" this way, "indignation,"

Almighty God,
Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
maker of all things, judge of all men:
We acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness,
which we from time to time most grievously have committed,
by thought, word, and deed, against thy divine Majesty,
provoking most justly thy wrath and indignation against us.
We do earnestly repent,
and are heartily sorry for these our misdoings;
the remembrance of them is grievous unto us,
the burden of them is intolerable.
Have mercy upon us,
have mercy upon us, most merciful Father;
for thy Son our Lord Jesus Christ's sake,
forgive us all that is past;
and grant that we may ever hereafter
serve and please thee in newness of life,
to the honor and glory of thy Name;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
(BCP Rite 1)

According to today's sermon by our rector, Cranmer got it wrong in the highlighted "provokyng most justely thy wrath and indignacion agaynste us," because the portrait of a wrathful God is wrong, and this vision of the Lord has done tremendous harm to individuals as well as to post-reformation Christianity as a whole. I shook my head in disbelief as I listened to the reasoning behind this remark. Somehow or another, the people who left "The Wisdom of Solomon" out of many Protestant Canons are also to blame. According to the rector the reading from today's lessons would have solved the problem of God's wrath and indignation for inumerable people.

Those old men in the starched collars did this to us! After all, they left us:

The Westminster Confession (1647). Chapter 1 § 3: "The books commonly called Apocrypha, not being of divine inspiration, are no part of the Canon of Scripture; and therefore are of no authority in the Church of God, nor to be any otherwise approved, or made use of, than other human writings."

And Article VI (BCP p. 868)

"And the other Books (as Hierome saith) the Church doth read for example of life and instruction of manners; but yet doth it not apply them to establish any doctrine; such are these following:" (listing of the Apocrypha)
And what in today's reading from the apocrypha leads to the rector's conclusion? Here is the text we heard:
Wisdom 1:13-15,2:23-24

Because God did not make death,
and he does not delight in the death of the living.
For he created all things so that they might exist;
the generative forces of the world are wholesome,
and there is no destructive poison in them,
and the dominion of Hades is not on earth.
For righteousness is immortal.

(Notice the big gap here, skipping to the end of Chapter 2)

for God created us for incorruption,
and made us in the image of his own eternity,
but through the devil’s envy death entered the world,
and those who belong to his company experience it.

There we go with missing verses again! As I have mentioned before, I think we are getting a carefully selected, edited, and spliced version which is misleading to us Bible novices.
I think a liberal mind could really get around that wholesome generative forces idea, and it certainly stands in sharp opposition to Cranmer's "...manyfolde synnes and wyckednes..." so maybe that is what the rector was getting at.

To be fair, let's read the expurgated text:
Wisdom 1:16

But the ungodly by their words and deeds summoned death;
considering him a friend, they pined away
and made a covenant with him,
because they are fit to belong to his company.

What, you mean some reject God and are to die? We can't tell the pewsters that, it might sound like "provoking" God.

And we left out this huge swath of chapter 2,

For they reasoned unsoundly, saying to themselves,
‘Short and sorrowful is our life,
and there is no remedy when a life comes to its end,
and no one has been known to return from Hades.
For we were born by mere chance,
and hereafter we shall be as though we had never been,
for the breath in our nostrils is smoke,
and reason is a spark kindled by the beating of our hearts;
when it is extinguished, the body will turn to ashes,
and the spirit will dissolve like empty air.
Our name will be forgotten in time,
and no one will remember our works;
our life will pass away like the traces of a cloud,
and be scattered like mist
that is chased by the rays of the sun
and overcome by its heat.
For our allotted time is the passing of a shadow,
and there is no return from our death,
because it is sealed up and no one turns back.

‘Come, therefore, let us enjoy the good things that exist,
and make use of the creation to the full as in youth.
Let us take our fill of costly wine and perfumes,
and let no flower of spring pass us by.
Let us crown ourselves with rosebuds before they wither.
Let none of us fail to share in our revelry;
everywhere let us leave signs of enjoyment,
because this is our portion, and this our lot.
Let us oppress the righteous poor man;
let us not spare the widow
or regard the grey hairs of the aged.
But let our might be our law of right,
for what is weak proves itself to be useless.

‘Let us lie in wait for the righteous man,
because he is inconvenient to us and opposes our actions;
he reproaches us for sins against the law,
and accuses us of sins against our training.
He professes to have knowledge of God,
and calls himself a child of the Lord.
He became to us a reproof of our thoughts;
the very sight of him is a burden to us,
because his manner of life is unlike that of others,
and his ways are strange.
We are considered by him as something base,
and he avoids our ways as unclean;
he calls the last end of the righteous happy,
and boasts that God is his father.
Let us see if his words are true,
and let us test what will happen at the end of his life;
for if the righteous man is God’s child, he will help him,
and will deliver him from the hand of his adversaries.
Let us test him with insult and torture,
so that we may find out how gentle he is,
and make trial of his forbearance.
Let us condemn him to a shameful death,
for, according to what he says, he will be protected.’

Thus they reasoned, but they were led astray,
for their wickedness blinded them,
and they did not know the secret purposes of God,
nor hoped for the wages of holiness,
nor discerned the prize for blameless souls;

So it was "Reason" that did them in. But isn't "reason" just one of those wholesome generative forces? Therefore things discerned by reason can't be bad. I am afraid the writer of the Wisdom of Solomon would not pass muster in today's more understanding world where we don't talk about ideas or people that way. Today we know that no one is wicked, or blind, and all are blameless because they are, after all, "victims," just like those people in the missing verses were victims of "reason" which led them astray.

Needless to say, I was very confused by today's sermon. To add to the confusion, later in the sermon we were told that there was a part where,

Cranmer got it right!:

O GOD, whose nature and property is ever to have mercy and to forgive; Receive our humble petitions; and though we be tied and bound with the chain of our sins, yet let the pitifulness of thy great mercy loose us; for the honour of Jesus Christ, our Mediator and Advocate. Amen.
(1928 BCP Litany)

The highlighted part was what was quoted during our sermon, nobody heard about the "chain of our sin" business. So God's nature and property of mercy trumps all, and the rector used the story of the prodigal son as a defense. We are getting perilously close to hearing the message "If it feels good do it" from the 60's. My only question is this, "Why does God have to show mercy on us if the generative forces (read passions, lusts, sins, etc) of the world are wholesome to begin with?"

If I were to summarise/summarize the theology of the present, I would say, "God does not punish, only forgives, but there really is nothing that needs his forgiveness anyway."

My response to such nonsense is to quote from C.S. Lewis' "The Problem of Pain." In the chapter on Divine Goodness, he writes of "an analogy full of danger" (pp 39-42), the analogy between God's love for man and a man's love for a woman.

"When we fall in love with a woman, do we cease to care whether she is clean or dirty, fair or foul? Do we not rather then first begin to care?...Love may forgive all infirmities and love still in spite of them: but Love cannot cease to will their removal. Love is more sensitive than hatred itself to every blemish in the beloved...Of all powers, he forgives most, but he condones least..."

"...You asked for a loving God: you have one. The great spirit you so lightly invoked, the 'lord of terrible aspect', is present: not in a senile benevolence that drowsily wishes you to be happy in your own way, not the cold philanthropy of a conscientious magistrate, nor the care of a host who feels responsible for the comfort of his guests, but the consuming fire Himself, the Love that made the worlds, persistent as the artist's love for his work and despotic as a man's love for a dog, provident and venerable as a father's love for a child, jealous, inexorable, exacting as love between the sexes."


  1. "if it feels good, do it"...indeed.

    This falls in line with our Rector's embrace of the Doctrine of Moral Relativism wherein each of us is allowed to determine for ourselves what is right or wrong. There are no moral absolutes in this scenario. We can engage in all sorts of madness or mayhem, so long as we don't believe it's wrong to do so. Our manifold sins and wickedness are mere child's play so long as we believe it to be so. Of what value is repentance and forgiveness to those who don't believe they've sinned in the first place?

    No doubt, the next liturgical innovation is sure to be dropping the general confession after the Prayers of the People. It's the New Thang.

    All this might cause a rational person to question whether our beloved Rector has both theological oars in the water.

  2. Nothing to add here; a powerful post. Much obliged for the wonderful quote from Lewis.

  3. I'm wondering why, if you have such an obvious distaste for our pastor and others in our clergy, you don't just leave. There are other Episcopal Churches in the area. It is indeed your free-will to worship where you want but I have always been of the conclusion that a happier person leads to a happier worship.

  4. C2G...

    Your recommendation is apparently being accepted on a regular basis. Witness the dramatic decline in average Sunday attendance (locally and nationally), the dramatic decline in plate and pledge (locally and nationally) and 815's acknowledgement that approximately 1000 Episcopalians leave TEC each week.

    It's not that I have an obvious distaste for the Rector. It's that I have a distaste for bizarre theology and New Age philosophy. I remain in the Church because I still believe that rational beings might one day return this Church to a godly the faith once delivered to the saints.

  5. C2G,
    You must have been reading my draft post tentatively scheduled for July 29 entitled "Happiness Is..."

    Our rector's sermons are inspiring and challenging in a wierd sort of way.

  6. le prete cache'5:56 PM

    Your rector sounds like he thought about this sermon for all of eleven minutes, Sunday morning, in the shower.

    He had a "tiger by the tail," and whether he had a good point somewhere in his head or not, he totally failed to make it!

    One of these days, maybe our illustrious clergy will learn about yellow legal pads, the eraser side of a pencil, Microsoft Word, and the basics of internet research.

    They may even get over themselves...and the saws, nostrums, and rules of thumb they half-remember from seminary.

    Greater miracles have happened, once or twice.

  7. I wonder how people who think this way react to the news about the Episcopal Vestryman in North Carolina who appears to have been molesting his 5 year old adopted son. Do they acknowledge this is sinful behavior? Or is their inability to grapple with the reality of sin the reason that his church made no statement and scrubbed their website?

  8. Hi P,

    The vestryman is suddenly an ex-vestry member. The story is still evolving, but the way the church and the gay community in which he resided reacted to the news reveals a certain amount of covering tracks. The Church has not yet made a statement as far as I can tell.

  9. Bonjour Prete,

    You are correct, no notes, involved, nothing to destroy or cover up. The 8 o'clock service gets the test run and the 10:30 service gets the produit finale.

  10. Perpetua..

    In line with our Rector's preaching, if the (alleged) perpetrator did not believe that his actions were wrong, then no sin attached. There are no moral absolutes, you know.

  11. Come on, surely we can agree that selling a child for sexual pleasures is a sin!

  12. Well, what if the proceeds go to fight global warming, assist Greenpeace, fund Episcopal litigation or some other worthy social justice goal?

    I thought individual sins were considered passe. Aren't all modern sins corporate?

  13. Just a wild guess... the ASA decline couldn't possibly have anything at all to do with the economy, lack of funds, and such. And sometimes it is better to take care of others and believe than come to church every Sunday and only criticize everyone else. hmm...

  14. C2G,

    If it comes down to a choice between caring for others and not attending Sunday service, by all means, care for others.

    Declining ASAs have been noted for quite some time in the statistics section of the Episcopal Church (available online). The decline preceded the recent economic downturn. Most people note the negative effect of the ordination of Bishop Gene Robinson in 2003, but there are other causes to be sure.

  15. Since the economic melt-down began church attendance in the aggregate is actually up across the U.S. People have a strange way of getting conservative (in the true sense of the word) when times are uncertain.

    Obviously, the Pewster isn't criticizing "everybody" but offering a necessary critique of an illogical homily. May more pewsters emerge. What's at stake here is the eternal destiny of souls (cf. Matthew 8:15-23).

  16. TEC has lost a third of membership since the peak in the 60's. Lately the decline has been accelerating.

    815 blames demographics, and that certainly is part of the story.

    What gets ignored is an almost complete lack of theology (message in secular terms) and evangelism (sales and marketing in secular terms).

    Those who are baptized and confirmed fall away, as there is nothing to bring them to church, whilst those who are unchurched remain unattracted to the increasingly relevant Episcopal Church.

  17. Anonymous11:05 AM

    You know Pewster - I think you need to sit down and look at the Movie Polyana.... it might just help in your outlook. I enjoyed Charlie's sermon as did my family. There was nothing in the sermon that faised my conservative hackles... however, I have to also agree with C2G.... if you are so miserable - go find a fire and brimstone Epsicopal church and leave our poor pitiful shrinking congregation alone.

  18. Anonymous11:05 AM

    Lets look at the Pewter's objection to Charlie's sermon from a historical point of view. Charlie said Cranmer got it wrong - for 2009 - but probably not for the 1500s.

    When Cranmer was writing the geo-political - religious atmosphere was very different from where we are today. The Renaissance world was still filled with the superstitions of the Middle or Dark Ages which were propagated by the Catholic Church in order to maintain control of the population through fear and ignorance. Few knew how to read. The common people still believed that God would/could/and did strike you dead if you didn't do exactly what the Priests told you to do. Their only source of "knowledge" of God came from the Priests who preached hell and damnation - not love and forgiveness - from the pulpit. It was during this time that Martin Luther rebelled and the Protestant Church was born. Cranmer started out as a Catholic, he presided during Henry the Eighth's divorce proceedings, became an Anglican, walked a political tightrope during a time of huge religious and political unrest and ended up being executed because - to state it in the most basic manner - he was a Protestant and the Queen was a Catholic. If I had been Cranmer - I would have written that God was to be feared.

    Thankfully - many centuries later we have become more educated. We all have access to a Bible or other religious texts. God is love... God loves us.. we love God... "For God so loved the world..." . So for the current society in 2009 - yes Cranmer is wrong. For the world of the late 1400s and early 1500's - he truly believed, as did the majority of of the population that God was to be feared. So I say to you Pewster - take a step into the present- Charlie preaches to a 2009 audience with 2009 needs and 2009 education - not a 1500 audience. I firmly believe that we, as humans and Christians, have progressed a great deal in almost 600 years... why don't you join us?

    Another C2G

  19. So why then are the educated minds of the present harmed by talk of God's wrath?