Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Jacob Sullum on the Tyranny of Public Health

Last year, when the tobacco companies said they would no longer cooperate with the effort to pass a federal anti-smoking bill, the Clinton administration said it didn't really matter. "We will get bipartisan legislation this year," Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala told NBC. "There's no question about it, because it's about public health."

As it turned out, Shalala was a bit overconfident. But her prediction was certainly plausible, given the way politicians usually behave when the term public health is bandied about. The incantation of that phrase is supposed to preempt all questions and erase all doubts. It tells us to turn off our brains and trust experts like Shalala to think for us....

In short, there is no end to the interventions that could be justified in the name of public health, as that concept is currently understood. Although this sweeping approach is a relatively recent development, we can find intimations of it in the public health rhetoric of the 19th century.

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Friday, August 21, 2009

Letham on the Filioque

"The filioque clause is misleading for two possible reasons. First, if in the Augustinian sense (the way the West has consistently understood it) the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son as a single source, the distinction of the Father and the Son is blurred. The Son is not the same as the Father – he is begotten, and the Father is not. The Son is forever the Son, and the Father is forever the Father. Thus, the Son does not have the identical relation to the Holy Spirit that the Father has. The doctrine of the procession of the Holy Spirit must take this distinction into account. Second, there appears some evidence of a tendency to the subordination of the Holy Spirit if the filioque is needed to support the consubstantiality of the Son. If the deity of the Son requires him to be the spirating source of the Holy Spirit, where does that leave the Spirit, who is the source of no other hypostasis?" Letham, p. 238.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer on Marriage

In May 1943, when Dietrich Bonhoeffer was in prison in Nazi Germany for his involvement in the German resistance, he wrote a wedding sermon for two good friends who were getting married. In that sermon he noted that, "Just as it is the crown, and not merely the will to rule, that makes the king, so it is marriage, and not merely your love for each other, that joins you together in the sight of God and man. As you ifrst gave the ring to one another and have nor received it a second time from the hand of the pastor, so love comes from you, but marriage from above, from God. As high as God is above man, so high are the sanctity, the rights, and the promise of marriage above the sanctity, the rights, and the promise of love. It is not your love that sustains the marriage, but from now on, the marriage that sustains your love." Letters & Papers From Prison, p. 43.

Click HERE to read my brief biography of Deitrich Bonhoeffer.

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Thursday, August 20, 2009

God's Partners in Life and Death

After recently warning America (HERE and HERE) that nationalized health service is a blueprint for government to play God in micro-managing how we live our lives, it is more than a little ironic that the Government's campaign has now taken on religious overtones, with Obama explicitly claiming that "We are God's partners in matters of life and death."

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Sex and Secrecy

“…literal-mindedness is not honesty or fidelity to truth—far from it. For it is the whole experience of mankind that sexual life is always, and must always be, hidden by veils of varying degrees of opacity, if it is to be humanized into something beyond a mere animal function. What is inherently secretive, that is to say self-conscious and human, cannot be spoken of directly: the attempt leads only to crudity, not to truth. Bawdy is the tribute that our instinct pays to secrecy. If you go beyond bawdy and tear all the veils away, you get pornography and nothing else. In essence, therefore, [D.H.] Lawrence was a pornographer, though a dull one even in that dull genre…” Theodore Dalrymple, Our Culture, What’s Left of It, (Ivan R. Dee, 2005), p. 55.


THIS story from lifesitenews reports that the British government will force thousands of the "worst" families in the country to live with 24-hour CCTV surveillance in a bid to cut back on child abuse and neglect. In the next two years the government plans to expand an existing family monitoring program from 2000 families to 20,000 at a total estimated cost of £400million. Yikes!
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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Letham on Private Interpretation of Scripture

"It needs to be restated forcefully that the idea of 'the right of private interpretation' is not a Reformed principle. This alien notion supposes that any individual Christian has the right, privilege, and duty to interpret the Bible as he or she sees fit.... The Bible was not given by God to private persons but to the church of Jesus Christ, his Son.... To categorize Reformed theology as individualistic, with no doctrine of the church, is an error of monumental proportions.
The error of equating the classic Protestant and Reformed doctrine of Scripture the later [private interpretation] is committed repeatedly by the Orthodox in discussing Protestantism. Evidently they are best acquainted with fundamentalist and evangelical sects with their highly individualistic and non-ecclesial slant. Stylianopoulos makes this mistake many times. They need to come to terms with the fact that the Reformed faith is an ecclesial faith, as the plethora of confessions published in the century and a half after the Reformation attest. There is simply no excuse for ignoring the strong stress the Reformers had on the Fathers.” Robert Letham

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Scripture and Heresy

"An Orthodox person may argue that the Reformed doctrine of Scripture has not been a safeguard against the emergence of heresy. This is sadly true. On the other hand, neither has the Orthodox view of Scripture and tradition prevented heresy - it was in the Eastern church that most of the major early heresies arose. All this shows is that a correct grasp of doctrine, in its proper context, must be wedded to prayer and faithfulness, in dependence on the grace of God." Letham, p. 198
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List of my Anti-Racism Articles

Following is a complete list of all my articles on racism. And by the way, I define racism as any attitude or viewpoint that makes Biblically unlawful distinctions or judgments on the basis of race. This definition emphasises that there are plenty of Biblically lawful distinctions between the races that need to be preserved.

The Judiasers and Miscegenation

North Idaho Racism

North Idaho Racism Again


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Friday, August 14, 2009

Question about the Great Schism


I am reading Robert Letham's book Through Western Eyes: Eastern Orthodoxy: A Reformed Perspective right now and it is has raised a few questions in my mind. I'll post my questions here so that those more knowledgable than I can hopefully point the way forward to some answers.
I am uneasy about the presence of such a large and ancient portion of Christendom that I am out of communion with. But this raises an important question: in what sense can we even meaningfully speak about Eastern Orthodoxy being out of communion with the Western Church? After all, there have been significant ecumenical meetings between Popes and Patriarchs of Constantinople which have included a lifting of previous excommunications. The most recent meeting was between Benedict XVI and Bartholomew I, who signed the Common Declaration which stated that "We give thanks to the Author of all that is good, who allows us once again, in prayer and in dialogue, to express the joy we feel as brothers and to renew our commitment to move towards full communion".
When I asked an Eastern Orthodox brother about this he said that Constantinople was acting as an aberrant congregation when they did this. However, given that the various Pentarchy in the East have a relationship that is primus inter pares rather than hierarchical, and that each main Orthodox communion is autocephalous, by what criteria can we claim that Constantinople did not represent Orthodoxy? If they were violating the decrees of an ecumenical council it would be a different matter, but there never has (to my knowledge) been a formal severing of communion with the West on the part of the East. The altercation of 1054 (known subsequently and somewhat anachronistically as the "Great Schism") was largely personal and did not, at the time, represent a full scale separation of the Western and Eastern branches of Christendom. The two branches remained in intermittent communion after that and only fell out of communion gradually. As far as I can make out, there never was a point when the East and West corporately and officially stopped being in communion. Now this is crucial because it raises the question: if the separation between the East and the West was gradual, non-corporate and never formalized, then re-assuming communion could also be gradual, non-corporate and non-formalized. But if so, then on what basis can we claim that the liberal ecumenical strains of Orthodoxy are anachronistic?

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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Totalitarianism of Nationalized Health

I have just written an article for the Examiner exploring the totalitarian implications of nationalized health. Click HERE to read the article.
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Fabian Socialism

Barack Obama is a Fabian socialist. I should know; I was raised by one. My Grandfather worked as a union machinist for Ingersoll Rand during the day. In the evenings he tended bar and read books. After his funeral, I went back home and started working my way through his library, starting with T.W. Arnold’s The Folklore of Capitalism. This was my introduction to the Fabian socialists.
Fabians believed in gradual nationalization of the economy through manipulation of the democratic process. Breaking away from the violent revolutionary socialists of their day, they thought that the only real way to effect “fundamental change” and “social justice” was through a mass movement of the working classes presided over by intellectual and cultural elites. Before TV it was stage plays, written by George Bernard Shaw and thousands of inferior “realist” playwrights dedicated to social change. John Cusack’s character in Woody Allen’s “Bullets Over Broadway” captures the movement rather well.
rnold taught me to question everyone–my president, my priest and my parents. Well, almost everyone. I wasn’t supposed to question the Fabian intellectuals themselves. That’s the Fabian MO, relentless cultural and journalistic attacks on everything that is, and then a hard pitch for the hope of what might be.
That’s Obama’s world.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Augustine and Hell

Earlier in the year I read St. Augustine's Enchiridion on Faith, Hope, and Love together with some of the men in our church. The book blessed me in many ways, not least through solidifying the impression that Augustine’s theology had more in common with the Protestant reformers than the medieval Catholics, especially in areas of soteriology.
The book also serves as a good answer, not only to the heretics of Augustine’s day, against which the Enchiridion was written, but to the heretics of our own day. I often say that the history of heresy is so boring, because no one comes up with anything new - it is always the same old heresies repackaged in contemporary dress.

The book is dry and archaic to modern sensibilities and is best taken and digested in small doses.

Having been edified by the blessed brother Augustine, it is only fair to say that the book is not without what seems to be a glaring inconsistency. The problem concerns his doctrine of hell. (And I am writing this to solicit feedback. During our discussion of the book, none of my friends acknowledged any inconsistency, so I may be completely barking up the wrong tree but I would like to be shown how.)

In describing the nature of evil, Augustine develops his famous argument - which was later taken up by everyone from Aquinas to C.S. Lewis and more recently by Norman Geisler - that evil is privation. I won’t rehash the argument here (and beginners would do best to consult
Lewis’s more accessible treatment, not Augustine’s), although suffice to say I am convinced that anything less than the privation view of evil leads necessarily to some form of unbiblical dualism. What interests me is the problems this perspective creates for Augustine’s doctrine of the afterlife.

In chapter 12, the blessed brother argued that because evil is not a thing in itself but parasitic on what is good (as rottenness is parasitic on an original substance rather than something which exists on its own), all evil must necessarily be terminus. Evil, by its very nature (Augustine argues) tends towards non-being. This is the implication of his having written as follows, in chapter 12:

"Therefore, so long as a being is in process of corruption, there is in it some good of which it is being deprived; and if a part of the being should remain which cannot be corrupted, this will certainly be an incorruptible being, and accordingly the process of corruption will result in the manifestation of this great good. But if it do not cease to be corrupted, neither can it cease to possess good of which corruption may deprive it. But if it should be thoroughly and completely consumed by corruption, there will then be no good left, because there will be no being. Wherefore corruption can consume the good only by consuming the being. Every being, therefore, is a good; a great good, if it cannot be corrupted; a little good, if it cam: but in any case, only the foolish or ignorant will deny that it is a good. And if it be wholly consumed by corruption, then the corruption itself must cease to exist, as there is no being left in which it can dwell."

This is heavy going, but what the blessed brother seems to be saying is that evil tends towards non-being in the same way that all parasitical substances do since they depend, for their continuation, on the host they are in the process of destroying. This was a popular theme in Augustine because in order to defend Christianity against the heresy of Manichaeism, he must establish that goodness and evil are not equally substantive and that they are not co-eternal. With regard to the latter, in numerous other places in his writings Augustine asserts the eventual abolition of evil, arguing that "evil consists in this very thing, namely in a defection from being, and a tendency to non-being."

The problem that arises is that towards the end of the Enchiridion Augustine asserts the unending existence of evil, saying that “the devil’s [citizen’s]...shall drag a miserable existence in eternal death without the power of dying... This perpetual death of the wicked, then...shall abide for ever, and shall be common to them all...” Augustine’s argument against the universalists rests on a very questionable interpretation of Jesus’s parable of
the sheep and the goats, but what is of interests at the moment is that this idea of perpetual death and perpetual wickedness seems at odds with Augustine’s conviction that evil tends towards non-being.

Augustine seems to be on the horns of a dilemma. His attack of Manichaeism compels him to argue that goodness and evil are not of equal duration (since evil, by its nature, tends towards non-being and will eventually be destroyed), while his critique of
universalism compels him to imply the unending existence of evil (death, wicked beings, pain, etc.,) as a corollary of eternal hell.

Augustine seems to have realized this problem, and so he tried to resolve it by suggesting (elsewhere) that sin is only evil when it goes unpunished, whereas sin properly punished ceases to be evil but actually becomes good. Augustine was thus able to maintain, as one commentator puts it, a "bland assurance that the universe is no less admirable and beautiful a place for having a chamber of horrors eternally present within it, so long only as each horror of pain perfectly matches and balances each horror of sin". The obvious problem here is that such an idea of evil (that it can be neutralized of its negative moral quality by appropriate punishment) contradicts the privation view set forth in the Enchiridion. This is because the idea that evil is privation leads to the broadest possible understanding of evil which certainly includes any agent that is sinning, regardless of whether that sin is being equally matched with punishment. Moreover, in order for ongoing sin to cease being evil it would have to cease being in opposition to the nature and will of God, which sin by definition is not. Suffice to say that sin is always evil, even if it is punished, and that those sinful souls in hell are evil and that is why they are there. But if they are evil, and if they exist eternally without ever being destroyed, then evil is not tending towards non-being.

The problem is very practical for those who advocate the endless punishment of the wicked. I have known teachers who confidently asserted that rebellion to God would be destroyed, only to turn around the next minute to say that the unrepentant souls in hell will forever persist in rebellion against their maker (which is true by definition of an unrepentant agent). The logic seems hard to escape that in order for rebellion to be destroyed, sinners must stop being sinners (the other solution, to assert that sin against God is not rebellion, creates even more problems and leads to antinomianism). But the only way someone can stop being a sinner is for (A) some form of redemption to occur (B) the person ceases to exist as a moral agent. Option A is
universalism and option B veers towards some form of annihilationism. Both of these were not options for the blessed brother Augustine.


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Health and Safety Causes Death

THIS article from a British paper shows just how extreme "health and safety" concerns can become in a nation that has socialized health.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

How Universal Health Care Threatens Freedom

Once when I had some spare time in London, I decided to visit the British museum. Making my way to the Greek and Roman rooms, I was impressed to find an exhibit displaying various medical instruments used by the Ancient Romans.
The utensils fascinated me so I decided to read the caption underneath. It explained that although Roman doctors had developed a number of successful medical techniques, their practices could not even compare to the advances of British society under the nationalized health service.
Suddenly, standing before that exhibit in the British museum, a vision flashed before my mind. It was a vision of the slow evolution of medical advance: first I saw the primitive societies in which there was no medical knowledge at all; this was then replaced by societies that began to develop rudimentary knowledge for treating certain sicknesses; then the classical period came along when medical knowledge developed still further; and finally, after the long dark ages and the gradual enlightenment that followed, I saw human society reaching the pinnacle of medical achievement with universal, nationalized health service.
The vision passed and I thought nothing further of it until Obama’s victory speech on November 5, 2008. Standing before glowing crowds in Chicago, Obama told the story of American history, from its inception to its growth into civic maturity. The story climaxed with his own utopian announcement: “Our union can be perfected.”
I suddenly remembered my vision at the British museum. In an epiphany moment, I realized that the climax of this civic evolution could not be reached without nationalized healthcare.

I soon found I was not alone in thinking this. Given the utopian cloak with which nationalized health service is so often shrouded, it was enviable that healthcare should play a crucial part of Obama’s perfectionistic platform.
The Utopian Temptation
All utopian schemes come at a price, and that price usually involves a significant number of people surrendering a significant level of freedom. As the utopian and disutopian novels of the 20th century so poignantly reveal, societies that embrace utopian ideals can only function to the degree that all members of that society cohere. Once the greater good is allowed to be compromised by individual liberty, the entire project comes crashing down like a house of cards.

Now universal health care is utopian to the degree that it rests on the assumption that government is our provider. It is utopian in the sense that it presupposes the vocation of the state to be the constant improvement of society. And, like all utopian ideals, it can only be realized in a society where members are willing to surrender a considerable portion of their liberty.
At first glance, it may seem rather strange to suggest that universal health care threatens liberty. However, having spent ten years living in England, I have the advantage of being able to speak from experience.
When there is a direct ratio between the physical health of a populace and the nation’s fiscal integrity (which there obviously is when government promises to pick up the tab on everyone’s medical expenses), the state begins to have an economic interest in policing our health. And because every aspect of our lives can, in a general and indirect sense, be connected to our health, universal healthcare quickly becomes a blueprint for government to micromanage the minutia of our personal lives. It speeds up the inevitable progression from utopian ideals to totalitarian policy, culminating in the type of Mussolinian totalitarianism where everything is inside the state and nothing outside.
Those who are familiar with Britain’s “health and safety” cult will know exactly what I am talking about. Any behavior that might lead to disease or injury – from tree climbing to waterskiing to eating shellfish – becomes a matter not merely of private health, but of public “health and safety.” It is a concern because any health insurance system is naturally limited by its resources and must necessarily choose between competing demands. If the amount of competing demands can be reduced through preventative action, then it becomes a public duty to pursue such intervention. In short, there is no end to the interference that can be justified in the name of public health.

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Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Clinch Mountain Communications

In developing my online school Alfred the Great Academy, one of the great pleasures was working with Ken Griffith of Clinch Mountain Communications. Not only did he do a great job of designing the academy website, but every step of the way he offered personalized help, maintenance, customization and even suggestions on my business model.

I have worked with other web design companies in the past, and I can honestly say that I've never found anyone like Clinch Mountain Communications. The thing I liked about this company was Ken's proficiency in every area that might affect an online business: search engine optimization, content management, integrated e-commerce, sales, and anything else you could imagine.

The other thing I like about it was the one-on-one service. Not only did he attend to my needs right away, without having the long delay, but he offered patient user-friendly instruction so I could maintain the site myself (and for a technophobe like myself, that is saying something!). Run by a Christian, I was even offered encouragement and feedback on the spiritual vision of my business.

Suffice to say, this is the type of small business I like to support! So if anyone has any web design needs, and would like to support a small Christian
business, you can't get any better than this. Click HERE to visit the Clinch Mountain website.

The Legacy of Augustine (of Canterbury)

In his book Christianity in Roman Britain to AD 500, Charles Thomas wrote that
"until post-Constantinian times, British Christianity was numerically very insignificant, had no particular geographical focus, and had up to then produced no one Christian thinker, martyr, or expatriate champion whose name could be snatched up in polished circles as that of a distant soul prominently gained for Christ." ( p. 44.)
Nothing could be further from the truth. St. Hilary, St Athanasius, St. Chrysostom, St. Jerome and St. Augustine of Hippo can all applaud the vigour, soundness and extent of the British Church in the 4th century. Consider, British bishops were present at the Council of Arles in 314 AD, Council of Nicaea in 325, the Council of Sardica in 347 and the Council of Ariminium in 359. Records clearly state that the bishops of London, York, Llandaff, Glasgow and Carlisle, with over ten thousand other British Christians, were put to death for their faith in Christ in the Diocletian persecution that reached Britain in the early fourth century. 

It is clear that Christianity was fairly well established in Britain by the 4th century, well before Augustine’s memorable but hugely overrated little boat journey 
The rich tradition of ancient British Christianity was overlooked in all the fuss over the 14th Centenary of St. Augustine’s landing in Britain. Though most educated people recognize that there was some Christianity in England prior to Augustine (as Bede himself records), such Christianity is rarely believed to be either substantial or significant. On the other hand, Augustine’s mission to England heralded
"one of the principal chapters of the great missionary saga of the First Millennium, which saw the extension of the Gospel message and the plantatio Ecclesiae from one end of Europe to the other."
Thus wrote John Paul on 17th May 1997, in a letter to Cardinal Hume, in honour of the Centenary celebrations. Interestingly, the Pope’s letter did acknowledge that some “Evangelization had already begun in Britain in the third century,” though he is quick to remind us that “in the second half of the fifth century and during the sixth Christianity in Southern and Eastern England had almost disappeared under the onslaught of invaders from abroad.” The Pope went on to speak of Augustine’s mission leading to
the consolidation of Christianity in Britain, giving it strong links with the See of Rome. He and his companions sowed the seed of a Christian people remarkably gifted from the beginning with saintly men and women who spread civilization and learning, provided schools, established libraries and produced a wonderful array of literary and artistic works. And quite soon that healthy tree bore fruits beyond England, in the rise of major missionary ventures to other countries of Europe. The evangelising enterprise of Boniface and Walburga in Germany, of Willibrord in the Low Countries and, later, of Henrik in Finland: all these in a very real sense followed from Augustine's toils.
In this post I hope to show that the Pope’s words are not only a great exaggeration of Augustine’s accomplishments, but in some cases the exact opposite of the truth. But first we need a bit of historical background.

The Mission of Augustine

When the Romans began leaving Britain in the early 5th century, this created a power vacuum which allowed the Anglo-Saxons to invade Britain in droves. This pushed the original Britons into Wales and Cornwall.

The Anglo-Saxons were pagans and this is what prompted Gregory the Great (bishop of Rome from 590 to his death in 604) to send the Benedictine monk Augustine to convert the Anglo-Saxons. (He is not the same person as the great theologian Augustine of Hippo).

Thus it was in June 596 AD, Augustine set off with about forty other monks on a journey to evangelize the Anglo-Saxons in England. After reaching Gaul, the company took ship to England, where they landed in the spring of AD 597 at Cliffsend, near Ramsgate Kent. From there, messengers were sent to the Saxon King Æthelberht, who travelled out to meet Augustine at the place which is now Ramsgate Abbey. Being well received by the king, who later became a convert, Augustine was encouraged to move his base to Canterbury, which is why is he now considered to be the first Archbishop of Canterbury.

Opposition to Augustine

The Anglo-Saxons whom Augustine converted came under the authority of the Bishop of Rome whereas the Britons in Wales and Cornwall preserved a more primitive and simplistic type of Christianity, more like what we find in the early church. In his book
History of the Kings of Britain, Geoffrey of Monmouth writes,

But when Augustine came, he found in their province seven bishoprics and an archbishopric, all filled with most devout prelates, and a great number of abbeys; by which the flock of Christ was still kept in good order.

Bede records how conflicts arose between these indigenous believers and Augustine's people as a result of the Britons refusing to subject themselves to the bishop of Rome.

After Augustine told the Britons that they needed to come under his authority and submit to the Roman church, the British Bishop Diaothus wrote to Augustine as follows:
"Be it known and declared that we all, individually and collectively, are in all humility prepared to defer to the Church of God, and to the Bishop in Rome, and to every sincere and Godly Christian, so far as to love everyone according to his degree, in perfect charity, and to assist them all by word and in deed in becoming the children of God. But as for any other obedience, we know of none that he, whom you term the Pope, or Bishop of Bishops, can demand. The deference we have mentioned we are ready to pay to him as to every other Christian, but in all other respects our obedience is due to the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Cærleon, who is alone under God our ruler to keep us right in the way of salvation." [Cited in Henry Spelman’s Concilia, Decreta, Leges, Constitutiones in re Ecclesiarum Orbis Britannici: Volume 1, 1636, republished Haddan & Stubbs (Wilkins), Cambridge England,. pp. 108-109].
The problems between the Christians Brits and the now Romanized Saxons prompted the Synod of Chester in 601. Augustine was there with some of his followers, and there were seven British bishops and many men of great learning from the Welsh monastery Bangor-on-Dee. At this Synod, Augustine attempted to bring the Britons under the authority of Roman ecclesiology, but the general assembly refused to submit. The fact that the Britons associated Augustine’s church with their Saxon enemies only fueled their antagonism to Augustine’s claims.

In his Ecclesiastical History, the Venerable Bede writes as follows about these ‘Protestant’ Christians (if I can use the adjective without anachronism):

"For they did not keep Easter Sunday at the proper time, but from the fourteenth to the twentieth moon…Besides, they did several other things which were against the unity of the church…but, preferred their own traditions before all the churches in the world… [Augustine] said to them, "You act in many particulars contrary to our custom, or rather the custom of the universal church, and yet, if you will comply with me in these three points, viz. to keep Easter at the due time; to administer baptism, by which we are again born to God, according to the custom of the holy Roman Apostolic Church; and jointly with us to preach the word of God to the English nation, we will readily tolerate all the other things you do, though contrary to our customs." They answered they would do none of those things, nor receive him as their archbishop…. Augustine, is said, in a threatening manner, to have foretold, that in case they would not join in unity with their brethren, they should be warred upon by their enemies; and, if they would not preach the way of life to the English nation, they should at their hands undergo the vengeance of death. All which, through the dispensation of the Divine judgment, fell out exactly as he had predicted." [Book II, chapter II; see also D’Aubigne, History Reform, Vol. V; Milman’s History of Latin Christianity, Vol. II, p. 234.]

Massacre at Bangor

In AD 664 the Synod of Whitby was convened over the problem of the British celebrating Easter at the wrong time. The result "brought the Northumbrian church into the mainstream of Roman culture." [Colgrave, Earliest Life of Gregory the Great, p. 9.] The Synod of Hertford occurred in 673 in which British bishops agreed to meet with one of Augustine’s predecessors. The Church in England agreed to acknowledge the supremacy of the Pope. However, the promise of a smooth working, amicable relationship between the Church in England and the Papacy was not to be.

The dispute between the Christian Brits vs. Augustine and his now Romanized Saxons did not remain purely theological. Geoffrey of Monmouth describes the sad incident of the Massacre at Bangor, where the Saxons took their revenge on the Brits for refusing to submit to Augustine. The event is described in the Penguin Edition of Geoffrey's Histories, pp. 266-267, or Book XI, chapters 12 and 13 of THIS online version.

This massacre accentuated the conflict between the two groups, a conflict that would continue to foment right up until the reformation.

Continuing Tensions

The Celts in Scotland also remained fiercely independent from the papacy. St. Columbanus (c.543 – 615) was an Irish saint, poet and scholar (whose biography I have written up here) who had also written to Gregory the Great, making striking claims for the purity and independence of the Celtic Church. Later Columbanus also wrote to Pope Boniface IV as follows:

“Your Chair, O Pope, is defiled with heresy. Deadly errors have crept into it; it harbours horrors and impieties. Catholic? The true Catholicism you have lost. The orthodox and the true Catholics are they who have always zealously preserved in the true faith.” [Elder, Celt, Druid and Culdee, p. 28, available online HERE.]
The Britons, whom we now call the Welsh, continued to be strongly independent of the Roman church. In AD 610, Cadvan, Prince of Wales, said:

"All men may hold the same truths, yet no man can hereby be drawn into slavery to another. If the Cymry believed all that Rome believes, that would be as strong a reason for Rome obeying us, as for us to obey Rome. It suffices for us that we obey the Truth. If other men obey the Truth, are they therefore to become subject to us? Then were the Truth of Christ made slavery and not freedom.” [Caerwys, MSS, cited Ibid, p. 125]

Even as late as AD 705, the Roman Catholic Adelm wrote to the Britons complaining that“ The precepts of your bishops are not in accord with Catholic faith.” (Adelmi opp., ed. Giles, pp. 24 ff. Monumenta Germ. History Tom, III, pp. 231 ff.) “We adjure you not to persevere in your arrogant contempt of the decrees of St. Peter and the traditions of the of the Roman Church by a proud and tyrannical attachment to the statutes of your ancestors.” [Montalembert,
Monks of the West, Vol IV, p. 233].

Christianity in Iona

For some time after this, part of the British church (based in Iona and part of an ancient monastic order known as ‘The Culdees’), was considered distinct from Rome. This is acknowledged by the Venerable Bede tells says how in AD 679 he visited the churches of Northumbria and Ireland and succeeded in bringing most of them under the dominion of Rome apart from the ones that were under the dominion of Iona. In chapter 4, the Venerable Bede tells how they “[practiced] only such works of piety and chastity as they could learn from the prophetical, evangelical and apostolical writings.”

The Culdee monastery at Iona remained free from Rome even after the rest of Britain came under the dominion of the Papacy. For years the church at Iona sent missionaries out to other parts of Europe, despite continual opposition from the Roman Church. [D’Aubigne, History of the Reformation, Vol. IV. Also McLauchlan,
The Early Scottish Church, p. 216.] Indeed, the Culdees even held services in the same Churches as the Roman priests as there were two parallel systems operating simultaneously in certain areas. It is on record that the Culdees officiated in the Church of St. Peter, York, up to AD 936 (Dugdale, Monasticon Anglicanum, Vol. V, II, p. 607).

Gradually, however, the Roman church began to dispossess the Culdees of their property and ancient privileges, until by the eleventh century, they had been fully absorbed into the Roman church. [Alexander, Ten-Centenary of the Scottish Reformation (Edin. 1860), pp. 13, 17]

In Ireland the Culdee church did not come under Rome until 1172. As one Roman Catholic historian notes: “The ancient Order of the Culdees existed in Ireland previous to Patrick; and all their institutions proved that they were derived from a different origin from that of Rome.” [O'Driscoll, cited in Elder, pp. 133-34.]

In Views of Ireland, O'Driscoll writes that “The Christian Church of that country, as founded by St. Patrick, existed for many centuries free and unshackled. For about seven hundred years this Church maintained its independence. It had no connection with England, and differed on points of importance from Rome.” [O'Driscoll, Views of Ireland, pp. 26-27]

Archbishop Ussher says similarly: the Northern Irish “continued in their old tradition in spite of various papal bulls.”
This backdrop is often overlooked when people study the English reformation. When Henry the VIII broke with the Pope in 1534, much of England was ready and had been ready for centuries. In fact, England had been ready to break with Rome ever since Augustine's memorable little boat ride.
Final Remarks
Returning then to Pope John Paul's words quoted earlier, we see that far from consolidating Christianity in Britain, Augustine's mission divided it. Far from sowing the seeds of a Christian people, he landed on an island that was already rich with years of Christian heritage.
It is true that Augustine converted the non-indigenous Saxons, but this was itself a mixed blessing since it fueled the existing tensions between them and the Brits, a tension that found expression in the tragic incident at Bangor (an incident which raises questions about just how real the Saxons' conversion really was). None of this is to overlook Augustine's very real accomplishments in converting the Saxons, but it is to attempt to put those works into some much needed perspective.

Further Reading

The Landing of Augustine in Britain

The Celts Vs. Roman Catholicism

Taming the Storm with Manly Strength: The Courage of Saint Columbanus

Run Towards the Roar: the courage of Boniface

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The Landing of Augustine in Britain

If you had been at Hugin Green, near Ramsgate, Kent, on June 9th 1997, you would have witnessed a curious procession slowly making their way through a wheat field. An unusual site, it is not every day that you see a group of two hundred and fifty men and women slowly marching in single column through a field of wheat.

If it were not for the crosses and banners some of the company were carrying, you might have thought this was just an ordinary group of people out for a walk, albeit a rather large group.

Yet this was no ordinary walk. For fifty of the walkers, this was the final stretch in a seven day journey that had begun at Rome after receiving a blessing from the Pope. More curious still was the diversity of these fifty travellers, which included forty-seven Britons, two Americans and one Frenchwoman, all from a variety of Christian backgrounds including Anglican, Catholic, Baptist, and American Episcopalian. In this final day of their journey, these fifty men and women had been joined by two-hundred other Christians to walk from the beach at Cliffsend, through Hugin Green, to Ramsgate Abbey. Waiting to greet them at the Abbey were such notorieties as the Archbishop of Canterbury, Cardinal Basil Hume, Archbishop of Westminster and Dr. George Carey.

The occasion was the 14th Centenary of St. Augustine’s landing in Britain, an event Esther and I have been thinking about recently as a result of Miriam studying Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation in her Omnibus curriculum.

An inscription on the plaque marking Augustine’s burial spot in Canterbury explains why his landing in Britain is remembered with fondness:

"Here lies the most reverend Augustine, first Archbishop of Canterbury, who was formerly sent by St Gregory, bishop of Rome; being supported by God in the working of miracles, he led King Ethelbert and his nation from the worship of idols to faith in Christ and ended the days of his office in peace he died on the twenty-sixth day of May during the reign of the same King."

To commemorate Augustine’s work turning Eltherbert's nation “from the worship of idols to faith in Christ”, the entire year of 1997 saw a voluminous increase in the hype around which Augustine’s mission has always been surrounded, culminating in this monumental pilgrimage.

There must have been something moving as the two-hundred fifty pilgrims retraced the steps from Augustine’s landing place, at Cliffsend, to Ramsgate Abbey where he met with the King and, allegedly, first began his work bringing Christianity to this God-forsaken land. There must have been something especially touching for the fifty pilgrims who had started out from Rome six days earlier, retracing Augustine’s entire journey (or “pilgrims’ way”, as it is called). But while the sixth century Benedictine had taken nearly an entire year to complete the journey from Rome to Kent, the modern-day group managed the journey in seven days, using coaches and high-speed trains to dart between various European centres of Christianity before finally arriving in Kent for the final walk.

The day after the pilgrims’ arrival at Augustine’s reputed landing place, they travelled to Canterbury Cathedral, where an even more auspicious company awaited them. In the Cathedral was an audience of nearly two thousand people, including Prince Charles and Cardinal Hume. This august company had gathered to hear an address from the Archbishop of Canterbury in memoriam of the great “Apos
tle to the English.” With characteristic eloquence, the Archbishop eulogised the man who, he suggested, was an ambassador of Christ to the English in the same way that the Apostle Paul had been an ambassador of Christ to the Gentiles of the first century.

The next day, the 27th of May, people gathered at Westminster Cathedral for an ecumenical mass at 10:00. Prince Charles was again present, as well as most of the bishops and a vast array of ecumenical guests. Shortly afterwards, at 12:00 noon, another Mass was organised at the Diocese of Southwark in the ruins of St. Augustine’s Abbey, Longport, Canterbury. This time, five thousand people took part in the Mass, including the Archbishop, his three assistant bishops and two hundred priests. This abbey, founded by Augustine as the Abbey of St. Peter and Paul, is also where Augustine is buried. There must have been something very moving when they used Augustine’s tomb as the alter for the mass.

Moving perhaps, but misplaced. In my next article I will attempt to show that Augustine’s legacy in Britain was hardly everything it has been made out to be.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Alfred the Great Academy

While living in England, at the request of parents I tutored some homeschool high school students in apologetics, church history and ethics. I have decided to offer these services again for a small fee through an online academy. Using
Alfred the Great as the patron saint of this online academy, I will be offering two courses, one in apologetics and one in Christian thinking. I am at the stage now where I need to get the word out about the academy, and you can help by becoming a fan of the Academy on facebook.

The Vision
When Alfred assumed the throne of Wessex at the age of 21, his kingdom lay in ruins about him. Pagan boatmen, led by the evil king Guthrum, had destroyed crops, leveled churches and burned entire towns to the ground. King Alfred immediately began rebuilding the kingdom and rescuing the culture that the pagans had all but destroyed. One of the ways he did this was by training the next generation of young people to stand firm in the Christian faith and to resist the influences of paganism.

Such is also the goal of Alfred the Great Academy. The Christian young people of today need to be given the tools to courageously engage with our increasingly pagan culture. Whatever vocation a young person chooses to pursue, he needs to know how to do it as a Biblically-minded Christian. He needs to be taught how to recognize and resist pagan thought. Above all, our young people need to have a firm and joyful confidence in the truth of God and His Word. Alfred the Great Academy aims to support parents in this vision. Through online resources, structured courses and personalized instruction, this academy hopes to equip a new generation of Alfreds with the weapons they need to stand against contemporary paganism.

Those who study with the Alfred the Great Academy have the opportunity to receive personalized instruction from the Academy Mentor (myself!) in apologetics, history, ethics, theology, music appreciation, philosophy, worldview studies and persuasive writing. By grounding students in these liberal arts, the academy hopes to train the next generation of young people to defend our culture against the influx of pagan ideas, even as Alfred trained his men to defend the kingdom against the invasion of pagan boatmen.

About the Apologetics Course
It has been estimated that between 50 - 80% of Christian high school students who enter college will lose their faith before graduating. The assaults facing college students should not be taken lightly, and yet many Christian high school students are never equipped to adequately face the challenges awaiting them in college and the work place. Like the Englishmen of the 9th century, they find themselves without the defenses necessary to keep from being overrun by pagan attack.

Those who take the Alfred the Great Apologetics course will be given the tools needed for dealing with these assaults. Using the Biblical worldview as the foundation, students will be equipped to identify, understand and answer the dominant competitors of the Christian faith.
Although the course is demanding, it is structured for those without any philosophical background and is aimed to assist all young adults to become confident champions of their faith. Students will be encouraged to reflect deeply on why the Christian faith makes sense and why other worldviews do not. As such it is not meant to appeal to a small intellectual enclave but to provide the ordinary person with a desperately needed preparation for life in the generation God has placed us.

It is important to note that this is not an apologetics course that simply offers a list of arguments for the Christian faith, or which teaches debating techniques to use against unbelievers. Rather, the purpose of this course is to give student a thorough grounding in the ideological commitments of the contemporary world, and in so doing to show the futility of a life without God.

The course is also invaluable for those who are not planning on attending university. All of us are bombarded with secular worldviews when we watch movies, read the newspaper or talk to unbelievers. The problem is that most of the time the worldviews we encounter are assumed rather than explicitly stated, making them all the more deceptive to the undiscerning mind. This course will enable students to immediately identify the assumptions of unbelieving thought and to “take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:4-5).

(Click HERE to enrol you or your child in this course.)

About the Christian Thinking Course

Being competent in the Biblical worldview involves more than merely being able to defend that God exists and has created the world. It involves being able to apply the categories of Christian thinking to every area of life. Without such practical application, having a Biblical worldview is like holding a sword that you haven’t been trained to wield.

The Christian Thinking course grounds students in the Biblical worldview and then trains them to skillfully apply that knowledge to the practical issues they will be facing in the world. To achieve that, the course is broken down into three sections: Biblical theology, ethics and aesthetics.In the unit on Biblical theology, students are shown how the various aspects of the scriptural story form part of an overarching plan. Many Christian young people have a knowledge of the Bible that is fragmented and disconnected. They may have a knowledge of various Bible stories, without knowing how those stories relate to the overarching narrative of redemption history. This course seeks to correct that by equipping students to understand the flow of Biblical history and, as a consequence, to appreciate our place and identity within that story. Ultimately the student will be given a confidence in God and His Word that will enable him to face the confusing issues of our time with courage and without fear. With such a foundation, the student is then ready to pursue the rest of the course.In the ethics component of the Christian Thinking course, students are taught to think Christianly about the sexual and political controversies of our age. When faced with these issues, it is not good enough to simply say, “this is what the Bible teaches” without being able to show how the Biblical answer exposes and undermines the futility of our era’s central idolatries.

A Christian philosophy of government is needed in order to recognize the proper place and role of the state. Students will be taught to see the political ‘big picture’ and their own part within that story. As such, students will be given the skills to interpret the issues of government within a larger understanding of God’s purposes and the sovereignties that He has established for this world. This is important whether we are intending to become involved in politics or not, since all of our lives are affected by what goes on in politics.The second part of the Ethics component focuses on issues of gender and sexual morality. Young people are given strong Biblical weapons with which to fight the Hydra headed beast of sexual ‘freedom’. In tracing the historical shifts that have shaped current thought and practice, students are helped to see the consequences that have come from rejecting the Biblical worldview. This not only provides the student with a clear connection between ideas and their consequences, but it also helps the student to see how the Biblical answer is the only one which is truly life-affirming.

The course finishes with a unit on Aesthetics. The student will be looking at the role that worldviews have played in Western music and art. Students will be shown again that ideas have consequences and will be equipped to challenge the aesthetic relativism that has taken root in our unbelieving society. In the process, students will be given an overview of tonal music, tracing the main changes that have occurred in the development of the Western musical canon.

By the end of this part of the course, Christian students will understand that beauty and excellence are crucial to every area of life. They will also be able to show how the story of music and art have reflected the story of Christian thought.
(Click HERE to enrol you or your child in this course.)
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Saturday, August 01, 2009

The Courage of Boniface

The ancient Celts were a fierce war-like people, but also a people who were highly sensitive to poetry, music and the arts. When these warrior poets embraced Christianity, they lost none of their fierceness or their poetry, but put these qualities to the service of God’s Kingdom. Like King David, the prayers and hymns of the Celts show a vision of the Lord that was raw, rugged and untamed. It was a hardy faith that would later give birth to stalwart reformers such as John Knox.

The Celtic church was known for its incredible missionary endeavours. From bases such as the monastery established at Iona, the Celts sent evangelists deep into the Nordic lands that had previously been inaccessible to missionaries.

Because of its geographically separation from the Continent, the Celtic church was immune to many of the ecclesiastical excesses and deviations that began to surround the Roman Church. The Celts remained some of the most outspoken critics of the developing papacy during the early middle ages. The Irish poet and scholar Columban (543 – 615) even had the audacity to write to the Pope and accuse him of heresy while the Britons, whom we now call the Welsh, continued to be strongly independent of the Roman church. Not infrequently, defenders of the Roman church would lash out against the Celts, who remained detached from the growing ecclesiastical system imitating from Rome and actually allowed their clergy to marry. Even during high middle ages, Britain remaineda thorn in the side of the papacy, with such proto-reformers like John Wycliffe (mid-1320s – 1384) anticipating the Protestant cause that would later reach fruition in the Scottish reformation.

Boniface's Early Years

It was into the robust and masculine environment of the Scottish church that Boniface was born around the year 672. Although the Celtic church had been brought into communion with the Roman church in the century prior, in the border region where Boniface was born the church retained much of its original Celtic character. Though never a critic of the papacy, Boniface would imbibe all the fierce independence of the Celts. His pastor set an example to the young boy by always preaching with his sword by his side – lest anyone take umbrage with the sermon.

From his earliest years Boniface was known for his rugged toughness. After church when the villagers would eat their fellowship meal, Boniface led the boys in his favourite sport – throwing boulders at one another.

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