Archive for December, 2009

Rendering to Tesco what is Tesco’s?

December 26, 2009

There has been some furore over an Anglican vicar supplying thoroughly traditional teaching about the natural end of created goods.

I have written to the Archdeacon quoted in the report:

Dear Mr Seed,

As a Christian, although not an Anglican, I was appalled to read of your dismissive response to the thoroughly traditional and orthodox teaching given by the Reverend Tim Jones about shoplifting. The teaching that property rights ought not to stand in the way of the poor being fed has its origins in the scriptural doctrine of creation, and finds canonical medieval expression in St Thomas’ Summa Theologica II.ii.66.7:

‘Things which are of human right cannot derogate from natural right or Divine right. Now according to the natural order established by Divine Providence, inferior things are ordained for the purpose of succoring man’s needs by their means. Wherefore the division and appropriation of things which are based on human law, do not preclude the fact that man’s needs have to be remedied by means of these very things. Hence whatever certain people have in superabundance is due, by natural law, to the purpose of succoring the poor. For this reason Ambrose [Loc. cit., 2, Objection 3] says, and his words are embodied in the Decretals (Dist. xlvii, can. Sicut ii): “It is the hungry man’s bread that you withhold, the naked man’s cloak that you store away, the money that you bury in the earth is the price of the poor man’s ransom and freedom.”

Since, however, there are many who are in need, while it is impossible for all to be succored by means of the same thing, each one is entrusted with the stewardship of his own things, so that out of them he may come to the aid of those who are in need. Nevertheless, if the need be so manifest and urgent, that it is evident that the present need must be remedied by whatever means be at hand (for instance when a person is in some imminent danger, and there is no other possible remedy), then it is lawful for a man to succor his own need by means of another’sproperty, by taking it either openly or secretly: nor is this properly speaking theft or robbery.’

I was more generally concerned to read that ‘The Church of England does not advise anyone to break the law in any way.’ Is it in fact the policy of the Church of England not to advocate lawbreaking in cases where the law is unjust? What was your position with respect, say, to apartheid South Africa? How would you have counselled a Christian in Nazi Germany? I cannot help but feeling that, if the Church of England’s position is really as you describe it, that were a senior Anglican transported back to first century Palestine s/he would have pleaded with Jesus not to throw the money-lenders out of the Temple.

I await your reply with interest.


Edward Schillebeeckx OP, R.I.P.

December 25, 2009

It has just come to my attention that Edward Schillebeeckx has died. I always got a lot out of reading his work, and I’ll post more after the immediate Christmas period.

May he rest in peace.

Happy Christmas!

December 25, 2009

Dearly beloved, today our Saviour is born; let us rejoice. Sadness should have no place on the birthday of life. The fear of death has been swallowed up; life brings us joy with the promise of eternal happiness.
No one is shut out from this joy; all share the same reason for rejoicing. Our Lord, victor over sin and death, finding no one free from sin, came to free us all. Let the saint rejoice as he sees the palm of victory at hand. Let the sinner be glad as he receives the offer of forgiveness. Let the pagan take courage as he is summoned to life.

From a homily by St Leo the Great


December 13, 2009

I spent this afternoon at a counter-demonstration against the attempt to intimidate worshippers at Harrow Central Mosque by the far-Right group ‘Stop the Islamification of Europe’. There was a wonderful feeling of solidarity, with a great diversity of people uniting together in the face of the thinly-veiled racism of this group. One thing which occurred to me as I journeyed back was that Christians need to be vigilant to prevent our faith being co-opted by hatemongers. Far-Right groups have made claim to be protecting ‘Britain’s Christian heritage’, and the BNP have a front organisation The Christian Council of Britain. In combination with the current trend by these groups to scapegoat Muslims, the door is open to a very dangerous politics indeed. As Ekklesia have pointed out, Christian leaders can hardly be absolved from adding to the rhetorical melting pot.

I feel that I will probably post something substantial about issues around faith, nationhood and ‘Christian Britain’ at some point. I’m very much against the suggestion that Britain, or any other nation state, is (or should be) a ‘Christian country’ – one of the revolutionary insights of Christianity is that of liberation from merely national identity into the catholica of the Kingdom. But a detailed post on this is not going to happen now. I’m feeling tired and end-of-termy. Instead, I’m going to end this post by saying how much I enjoy Gaudete Sunday. I like the way the liturgy hints forwards towards Christmas. And I like the fact that during Advent, as during Lent, Christian tradition has developed the habit of taking a Sunday off from the intensity of the season in order to simply rejoice. It is the religious equivalent of sparing a few hours for drinks with friends during a hectic and stressful week. Wise psychology – but not just that; there is a theological point to be made. As Karl Barth used to sum up Christian belief, God’s ‘yes’ is bigger than our ‘no’. The Christian account of human existence is not a tragic one. The good stuff outweighs the bad stuff, not solely in Harrow on a Sunday afternoon, but much more generally. Even whilst we are pondering the weight of history during this season, there is something badly wrong if we don’t acknowledge the fundamentally optimistic feel of the story we have to tell about humanity. And what better way of doing so than having a day set aside for saying Gaudete?