Antiquarian Anabaptist

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: England

God Save the Queen

Queen_Elizabeth_II_March_2015It was Wednesday morning, February 6, 1952. I was nine years old and in Grade Five. When I got up that morning, the radio was playing solemn, stately, orchestral music. That was all we could get on any radio station. The eight o’clock news told us why – King George VI had died and his oldest daughter was now Queen Elizabeth II. At school that morning we all lined up at nine o’clock, but instead of singing God Save the King, we sang God Save the Queen.

I turned ten later that month. Queen Elizabeth was 26 on April 21. Sixty-four years have passed, she is ninety today and still queen. Times have changed. School children in Canada don’t sing God Save the Queen anymore; I wonder if they even sing O Canada very often.

The fact that Canada, and many other countries, acknowledge Queen Elizabeth to be the head of state does not mean that we are  subject to England. Each country acknowledges the same monarch, but have no authority to meddle in the affairs of each others government.

The monarchy has only a symbolic authority today; some folks think it is an overly expensive symbol. I doubt if these same folks make the same objection to the billions spent on sports and entertainment. And the Anti-Monarchist League provides a harmless outlet for some chronically disgruntled folk.

There is a prayer in the Book of Common Prayer that illustrates the usefulness of the monarchy:

Almighty God, the fountain of all goodness, we humbly beseech thee to bless our Sovereign Lady, Queen Elizabeth, the Parliaments of the Commonwealth, and all who are set in authority under her; that they may order all things in wisdom. righteousness, and peace, to the honour of thy holy Name, and the good of they Church and people; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

People will have differing opinions about the current political hue of the government of their land, some may feel strongly that the party in power is leading the country astray. Nevertheless, we are to always pray for the rulers of our land. I like the phrase “and all who are set in authority under her,” it takes our prayers out of the political sphere. In praying for our government, we are not asking for a blessing on their political ideology, but for the well being of all the people of the land.

As irrelevant as the monarchy may be to our daily lives, Queen Elizabeth has provided a sense of continuity, stability, warmth, compassion and uprightness for these 64 years.

Choices

We make our decisions. And then our decisions turn around and make us.

F. W. Boreham, Baptist preacher, born in England in 1871, died in Australia in 1959.

Lollard Conclusions, 1394

1. That when the the Church of England began to go mad after temporalities, like its great stepmother the Roman Church, and churches were authorized to by appropriation in divers places, faith, hope, and charity began to flee from our Church….

2. That our usual priesthood which began in Rome, pretended to be of power more lofty than the angels, is not that priesthood which Christ ordained for his apostles….

3. That the law of continence enjoined on priests, which was first ordained to the prejudice of women, brings sodomy into all the Holy Church, but we excuse ourselves by the Bible because the decree says that we should not mention it, though suspected….

4. That the pretended miracle of the sacrament of bread drives all men but a few to idolatry, because they think that the Body of Christ which is never away from heaven could by power of the priest’s word be enclosed essentially in a little bread which they show the people….

5. That exorcisms and blessings performed over wine, bread, water and oil, salt, wax, and incense, the stones of the altar, and church walls, over clothing, mitre, cross, and pilgrim’s staves, are the genuine performance of necromancy rather than of sacred theology….

6. That king and bishop in one person, prelate and judge in temporal causes, curate and officer in secular office, puts any kingdom beyond good rule…

7. That special prayers for the souls of the dead offered in our Church, preferring one before another in name, are a false foundation of alms, and for that reason all houses of alms in England have been wrongly founded….

8. That pilgrimages, prayers, and offerings made to blind crosses or roods, and to deaf images of wood or stone, are pretty well akin to idolatry and far from alms, and although these be forbidden and imaginary, a book of error to the layfolk, still the customary image of the Trinity is specially abominable….

9. That auricular confession which is said to be so necessary to the salvation of a man, with its pretended power of absolution, exalts the arrogance of priests and gives them opportunity of other secret colloquies which we will not speak of; for both lords and ladies attest that, for fear of their confessors, they dare not speak the truth….

10. That manslaughter in war, or by law of justice for a temporal cause, without spiritual revelation, is expressly contrary to the New Testament, which indeed is the law of grace and full of mercies…

11. That the vow of continence made in our Church by women who are frail and imperfect in nature is the cause of bringing the gravest horrible sins possible to human nature, because, although the killing of abortive children before they are baptized and the destruction of nature by drugs are vile sins, yet connection with themselves or beasts or any creature not having life surpasses them in foulness to such an extent as that they should be punished with the pains of hell.

12. That the abundance of unnecessary arts practised in our realm nourishes much sin in waste, profusion, and disguise….since St. Paul says, “having food and raiment, let us be therewith content,” it seems to us that goldsmiths and armourers and all kinds of arts not necessary for a man, according to the apostle, should be destroyed for the increase of virtue….

– quoted from Peters, Edward, Heresy and Authority in Medieval Europe. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1980

Harvest Home

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Here in Saskatchewan the trees are bare, the flowers have died, geese are migrating and most of the combines are parked. Garden produce has been gathered in and the long, plump, white grain bags lying in many fields are silent evidence of a bountiful harvest. Monday will be Thanksgiving.

The custom of giving thanks for harvest is first observed in the fourth chapter of Genesis where Cain and Abel offered sacrifices to God. We are not told why God accepted Abel’s sacrifice and not Cain’s, but it must have had more to do with Cain than with his sacrifice.

The three main festivals prescribed by the Law were all centred around harvest. Passover took place at the very beginning of the harvest of fall-seeded grain and the first sheaf of barley was to be offered at this time. The men then returned home to harvest their crops and seven weeks later returned for the festival of first fruits (also called the festival of weeks, or of wheat harvest and known in the New Testament as Pentecost). Fall was the time for the feast of tabernacles, or ingathering, when all the crops had been gathered in: spring seeded grains, wine and oil.

I think most peoples around the world had some kind of traditional harvest festival. In England it was called Harvest Home and began when the last of the reaped grain was brought in from the fields. It began as a pagan festival, but this is one festival that was fittingly co-opted by the church. Sheafs of grain and garden produce were brought into the church; hymns of praise and thanksgiving were sung and prayers offered to thank God for His goodness.

We call it Thanksgiving today and it comes upon a fixed day in the autumn, whether harvest is complete or not. Many of us are now quite disconnected from the production of the food that we eat, anyway. Why then do we celebrate Thanksgiving?

First off, it is good that we do not forget the rhythms of life around us, that we are entirely dependent upon God to supply our needs. Yes, we work for what we get, but it is within God’s power to withhold the fruits of our labours, or to bestow them upon us in abundance.

When He withholds, this is an opportunity to search our lives and reorder our priorities in order to bring them into harmony with God’s priorities. When He pours an abundance of material blessings upon us, we must remember that this is not merely the result of our labours but a blessing from God. And He does not want us to use it all to pamper ourselves, but to share it with others in need so that they too can give thanks for the blessings we have received.

There is another aspect of thankfulness that should be cultivated by Christians. God has called us to salvation and poured out His Spirit on us. What fruit has the Spirit produced in our lives this year? Are we overflowing with love, joy and peace? The growth of the young trees around our yard site is a visible evidence of the abundant rainfall we have experienced over the past few years. Has there been spiritual growth in our lives?

What about the spiritual harvest? Do we assume that people around us are not interested in the gospel, or do we see fields that are ripe for harvest? Jesus told His disciples to lift up their eyes; they weren’t seeing what He was seeing. Are we? Above all, do our lives, our words, our attitudes communicate thankfulness for the goodness of God, for the spiritual blessings as well as the material?

Perfidious Caesar, or is it perfidious Christians?

[I’m offering here some more tidbits from Dorothy Sayers for your reading enjoyment and discussion. Bear in mind that these words were written in England during the Second World War, around the time that I was born. I’m afraid that many Christians in North America still don’t understand what has gone wrong in the romance between them and Caesar. It is vain to search history for a time when the USA or Canada were truly Christian nations. There was merely a marriage of convenience, which Christians should always have recognized to be convenient only for Caesar, never for Christianity. Now that Christianity has been thoroughly compromised, Caesar has quite lost interest.]

“Up till now the Church, in hunting down this sin [lust], has had the active alliance of Caesar who has been concerned to maintain family solidarity and the orderly devolution of property in the interests of the state. But now that contract and not status is held to be the basis of society, Caesar no longer needs to rely on the family to maintain social solidarity; and now that so much property is held anonymously, by trusts and joint stock companies, the laws of inheritance lose a great deal of their importance. Consequently, Caesar is now much less interested than he was in the sleeping arrangements of his citizens, and has in this manner cynically denounced his alliance with the Church. This is a warning against putting one’s trust in any child of man – particularly in Caesar. If the Church is to continue her campaign against lust, she must do so on her own – that is to say sacramental – grounds; and she will have to do it, if not in defiance of Caesar, at least without his assistance.”

“Now, I do not suggest that the Church does wrong to pay attention to the regulation of bodily appetites and the proper observance of holidays. What I do suggest is that by overemphasizing this side of morality, to the comparative neglect of others, she has not only betrayed her mission but, incidentally, also defeated her own aims even about morality. She has, in fact, made an alliance with Caesar, and Caesar, having used her for his own purposes, has now withdrawn his support – for that is Caesar’s pleasant way of behaving. For the last three hundred years or so, Caesar has been concerned to maintain a public order based upon the rights of private property; consequently, he has had a vested interest in morality. Strict morals made for the stability of family life and the orderly devolution of property, and Caesar (namely, the opinion of highly placed and influential people) has been delighted that the Church should do the work of persuading the citizen to behave accordingly. Further, a drunken worker is a bad worker, and thriftless extravagance is bad for business; therefore Caesar has welcomed the encouragement of the Church for those qualities that make for self-help in industry. As for Sunday observance, the Church would have that if she liked, so long as it did not interfere with trade. To work all round the weekends in diminishing production, the one day in seven was necessary, and what the Church chose to do with it was no affair of Caesar’s.

“Unhappily, however, the alliance for mutual benefit between Church and Caesar has not lasted. The transfer of property from the private owner to the public trust and limited company enables Caesar to get on very well without personal morals and domestic stability; the conception that the consumer exists for the sake of production has made extravagance and thriftless consumption a commercial necessity. Consequently, Caesar no longer sees eye to eye with the Church about these matters and will as soon encourage a prodigal frivolity on Sunday as on any other day of the week. Why not? Business is business. The Church, shocked and horrified, is left feebly protesting against Caesar’s desertion, and denouncing a relaxation of moral codes, in which the heedless world is heartily aided and abetted by the state. The easy path of condemning what Caesar condemns or is not concerned to defend has turned out to be like the elusive garden path in Through the Looking-Glass, just when one seemed to be getting somewhere, it gave itself a little shake and one found oneself walking in the opposite direction.”

[Excerpted from Letters to a Diminished Church, Passionate Arguments for the Relevance of Christian Dogma, by Dorthy L. Sayers (1893-1957). © 2004 by W Publishing Group, a division of Thomas Nelson, Inc. Kobo ebook edition.]

The Rage Against God

The rage against God, how atheism led me to faith, © 2010 by Pe ter Hitchens is a personal memoir of the writer’s rejection of God in his youth and his return to faith years later. He tells how the rejection of God in British society has led to moral decay and gives a rebuttal of some of his brother Christopher’s diatribes against God and Christianity.

Since the Church of England is the official state church and was closely tied to the political and military establishments, the faults and failures, real and perceived, of these establishments also brought the church into disrepute. The church’s attempts to become more relevant have only accelerated the decline. Having grown up in the Anglican Church of Canada myself, I  readily identified with his description of the strengths and weaknesses of Anglicanism.

Here is a quote from the introduction to whet your appetite:

“The difficulty of the anti-theists begin when they try to engage with anyone who does not agree with them, when their reaction is oftem a frustrated rage that the rest of us are so stupid. But what if that is not the problem? Their refusal to accept that others might be as intelligent as they, yet disagree, leads them into many snares.

“I tend to sympathize with them. I too have been angry with opponents who required me to re-examine opinions I had embraced more through passion than through reason. I too have felt the unsettling lurch beneath my feet as the solid ground of my belief has shifted. I do not know whether they have also experienced what often follows—namely, a long self-deceiving attempt to ignore truths that would unsettle a position in which I had long been comfortable; in some ways even worse, it was a position held by almost everyone I knew, liked, or respected—people who would be shocked and perhaps hostile, mocking, or contemptuous if I gave in to my own reason. But I suspect that they have experienced this form of doubt, and I suspect that the hot and stinging techniques of their argument, the occasional profanity and the persistent impatience and scorn are as useful to them as they once were to me in fending it off.

“And yet in the end, while it may have convinced others, my own use of such techniques did not convince me.”

 

Peace and joy in the subjunctive mood

God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, is one of the oldest English Christmas carols, going back at least 500 years.  Not many people sing it today because of scruples about “Ye Merry Gentlemen.”  Those words conjure up a picture of old English gentlemen at their ease, their merriment fuelled by great flagons of wine.

Except that is not what the words mean.  For starters, there should be a comma between “Merry” and “Gentlemen.”  I left it out in the first paragraph for the sake of making the point that most people are not aware that it is there.

One of the gifts my wife received this Christmas was a book recounting the histories of popular English Christmas songs.  In telling the history of God Rest Ye Merry, the writer spends much time expounding on the original meanings of rest and merry (peace and joy), he even mentions the comma, yet completely misses the fact that these words are in the subjunctive mood.  The writer is American, I would like to think that an English writer (i.e., one from England) would have done better, but I’m not sure if they teach grammar any better than Americans do.

Finding a grammar book that has much to say about the subjunctive mood is difficult.  Mostly they say that it doesn’t really exist in English anymore.  Yet it does; the text book writers are just trying to weasel out of trying to explain it.

So I am going to bravely attempt to go where the text book writers dare not go.  First off, let’s deal with that word “mood.”  It has nothing to do with a person’s emotional state; if it were written “mode,” as it is in French, and should be in English, we wouldn’t have nearly as much trouble understanding it.  The indicative mood describes actions that are really happening, have happened or will happen.  The subjunctive mood describes actions that one wishes would happen.  It deals with possibility and non-reality – not in the sense of fantasy, but in the sense that we don’t know if the thing spoken of is happening or will happen.

Phrases in the subjunctive mood usually begin with “may” or “let,” though sometimes these words are omitted.  When we say to someone, “(May) God bless you,” we are not stating that we know it to be a fact that God is blessing, or will bless, the person to whom we are speaking, we are saying that we wish for it to be so.  Likewise, all the common greetings in English are in the subjunctive mood: Happy Birthday; Merry Christmas; Happy New Year; hello; good-bye.  Good-bye is a contraction of “(May) God be with ye,” in which the subjunctive construction is clear.

The subjunctive mood is often used in prayers.  Commanding God to do what we wish is not proper, but expressing our desires for our own needs and the needs of others is entirely appropriate.  The Lord’s Prayer begins with three subjunctive phrases: “hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done.”

Another way of detecting the subjunctive mood is the use of an unexpected form of the verb.  “Be” and “were” are often found in subjunctive phrases: “It is required that applicants be over eighteen,” “If I were in your shoes. . . .”
The subjunctive is used in formal forms of speech: “I move that nominations cease.”  Some common expressions use the subjunctive: “Come what may;” “Be that as it may;” “As it were;” “If only he were here.”

We can misunderstand some Bible verses if we do not recognize the subjunctive.  The apostle Paul told Timothy, “Let no man despise thy youth” (1 Timothy 4:12).  He is not telling Timothy to take forcible measures against anyone who would not show him proper respect, but expressing his desire that Timothy would not encounter any opposition because of his young age.

James 6:14 is another: “Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.”  The “let” in this verse is not an expression of permission but an urgent wish that the sick person would ask the elders to pray for him.  The preceding verses echo this form of speech: “let your yea be yea; and your nay, nay” (verse 12, this is pretty much a command); and “Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms” (verse 13).

A recent Sunday School lesson ended with these words: “May we find life in believing God’s plan for our salvation, sustenance, and security.”  I’m not sure if the person writing this knew it was subjunctive, yet the form is familiar enough that he used it correctly.

Going back to “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen,” “rest” could be replaced by “peace” and “merry” by “joy” and the words rephrased to “May peace and joy be unto ye, gentlemen.”  That is still subjunctive, though much less poetic, but perhaps more understandable to modern ears.  Perhaps if we better understood the words we could sing the song next Christmas.

The bishops condemned by God

It is the tendency of British historians to consider religious movements in England to be largely independent in origin.  Lollardy is a case in point.  Despite its similarities to the Waldensian movement on the continent, it is generally seen as the result of the teaching of John Wycliffe.

I have no desire to diminish in any way the work of Wycliffe.  However, the name Lollard appears to definitely be of Dutch origin.  Leonard Verduin even states that it was in use in the Low Countries a hundred years before Wycliffe.  The word derives from a Dutch verb which means to sing softly.

The first appearance of the Black Death in Europe was in Sicily in October of 1347.  By 1349 it had spread to London and was all over the British Isles by the following year.  By 1353 it was all over Scandinavia and Russia.   It is estimated that as many as half of the people of Europe died in the years 1347 to 1353.  The cause was unknown at the time, many attributed it to bad air.  The inability of the established church to help in this terror stricken time weakened its hold on the people and opened their minds to hear other teachers.  Ideas spread as rapidly as the disease had.

An interesting side note is that a group of men who buried the dead while singing chants during the black death were called lollebroeders or lollhorden.

John Wycliffe’s English Bible first appeared in 1382.  It was translated from the Latin Vulgate rather than from the original languages but it was the first time that English-speaking people had access to the Word of God in their own language.  The Lollards certainly appreciated this fact and made good use of Wycliffe’s Bible, but it is probably a stretch to believe they did not exist in England before Wycliffe.  Perhaps he was more influenced by them, or by the same ideas that had influenced them, rather than the other way around.

– the next two paragraphs are quoted from pages 293-294 of England in the Age of Wycliffe, by G. M. Trevelyan, 4th edition, 1909.

“In May 1382, Courtenay’s (the Archbishop of Canterbury)campaign began.  He summoned to the Blackfriars’ convent in London a Council of the provinces of Canterbury, before which he brought up Wycliffe’s opinions for judgement.  First in the list of heresies came the doctrine of Consubstantiation, next the proposition that a priest in mortal sin could not administer the sacraments, and that Christ did not ordain the ceremonies of the Mass.  Two other heresies are of equal note: that if a man be contrite, all exterior confession is superfluous or useless; and after Urban the Sixth no one ought to be received as Pope, but men should live, after the manner of the Greek church, under their own laws.  Wycliffe’s views on the temporalities of the clergy, and the uselessness of the regular orders, were also condemned.  Lollardy was for the first time put definitely under the ban of the Church, and war was formally declared by the Bishops against the itinerant preachers.

“The council at Blackfriars was spoken of throughout England as a new and important move in the game.  A curious accident enabled Wycliffe’s friends to boast that, though their master had been condemned by the Bishops, the Bishops had been condemned by God.  It was on May 19 that the theses were pronounced to be ‘heresies and errors.’  About two o’clock that afternoon, while the churchmen were sitting round the table at the pious work, the house was shaken by a terrible earthquake that struck with panic all present except the stern and zealous Courtenay.  He insisted that his subordinates should resume their seats and go on with the business, although the shock seems to have been more violent than is usual in our country, casting down pinnacles and steeples, and shaking stones out of the castle walls.  It took away from this solemn act of censure some at least of the effect on which the bishop had calculated, and Wycliffe did not let pass the opportunity to point the moral.  Such an omen was no light thing in such an age.”

Appointed to be read in churches

The above notation appears on the title page of the Bible translation known in the USA as the King James Version and almost everywhere else as the Authorized Version.  The words are an introduction to one of the goals of the translators — they wanted this to be the best possible translation for reading aloud.

The translators were men of great scholarship.  Lancelot Andrewes, Bishop of Winchester and director of the Company of Translators, was fluent in twenty-one languages, fifteen modern and six ancient.  He was considered the greatest preacher of his time, a Lord of the church, yet he spent five hours in prayer every morning, with penitential tears confessing his great unworthiness.  It was because of men like Lancelot Andrewes that a translation such as the AV was possible four hundred years ago and is probably not possible in our day.

Accuracy of translation was considered essential, but that was not enough.  After each company of translators had finished their work, two men from each of the six companies were chosen to sit together as a review committee to bind it all together.  They came with copies of the Hebrew, Greek and Latin Scriptures and translations in other languages: French, Italian, etc.  The translation was read aloud, sentence by sentence, while all listened intently to judge the accuracy and the aptness of the words, all the while keeping in mind how it would sound to the common people in the pews.  If something did not sound quite right to one of them, he would speak up and the passage would be adjusted until all were satisfied.

The result is a Bible that retains as much as possible the essence of the wording in the original languages, yet speaks majestically in a simple English.  The language is not the English that was commonly spoken in that day; it is a reverent language meant to convey the holiness of the subject matter.  It is remarkable how much of this translation is done with words of one syllable, yet those words are arranged into a cadence that captures the attention of the ear, mind and heart of the hearer.

It is by far the easiest translation to memorize.  That was the intention.  Many people were either unable to read or unable to afford to buy a Bible in that day.  The words read in church from this translation stuck in their minds and had an impact on the thoughts and intents of their hearts.

Modern translations claim to be more accurate, or easier to read, or both.  Yet they sound singularly flat when set side by side with the words of the AV.  The insipid nature of these translations, and the constant introduction of new and “better” translations, militate against Scripture memorization in our day.

The original long preface of the AV described the purpose of translation in these words:

“Translation it is that openeth the window, to let in the light; that breaketh the shell, that we may eat the kernel; that putteth aside the curtain, that we may look into the most Holy place; that removeth the cover of the well, that wee may come by the water.”

This is what the AV has done for generations of English-speaking people.

Dementia

There are things that I wish that I would have understood better when my parents were suffering with dementia.  Above all, I wish I could have understood that even though their personalities had changed and their memories seemed to be gone, the father and mother that I had once known were still there, though unable to communicate.

I am beginning to understand how important it is to talk to such people and demonstrate our love in other ways, even though we see no sign of understanding and response.  And in some way that is unfathomable to us, God is still able to communicate with people with dementia.

Yesterday I attended a volunteer appreciation tea, put on by one of the hospitals in Saskatoon, for those who are involved in the Sunday morning chapel services.  The conversation got around to how important it is to older people to hear the familiar old hymns of the faith.  There were incidents mentioned of services in nursing homes, where someone would appear to be completely out of it during most of the service, then would ask for a familiar hymn and sing along with it.

A book from England, Could it be Dementia?*, recounts incidents of this type.  A nursing home resident with Alzheimer’s disease sat through a worship service, mouth wide open and a vacant look on her face.  When the minister read the text for his message her mouth closed, her eyes came alive and she drank in the whole message, then at the end the vacant look returned and her mouth dropped open.  Another woman lit up during a familiar hymn and sang along with the chorus after each verse.  Later she had no recollection of the hymn.  A man who was barely able to communicate a word or two sat through a mission report with no sign of comprehension, but when the meeting was opened for prayer he prayed a meaningful and moving prayer which showed he had been taking it all in.

Incidents such as these may be relatively rare, but they give us a glimpse into the reality that even though the light may be off, someone is still there.  The brain is a physical organ and when it no longer functions as it once did the person seems to be slipping away from us.  Yet the soul, the real person, is not affected by physical degeneration.  These people need someone to care for them physically, but we should remember that their soul still needs feeding and caring for too.

*Could it be Dementia, Losing your mind doesn’t mean losing your soul © 2008 Louise Morse and Roger Hitchings.  Published by Monarch Books, Oxford UK

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