Seasonal metaphors can so easily become strained, tired and lacklustre. Yet we can – we must – say that it is wintertime for traditional Catholics and orthodox Evangelicals in the Church of England. So it is all the more imperative that, in this bleak midwinter, we celebrate the coming of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ into the world with greater joy and deeper thanksgiving than ever.
Let us have no truck with those deadly numbskulls who tell us that we cannot possibly know at what time of year Our Lord was born, or that Christmass is ‘only’ a pagan festival on which our Christian forefathers cleverly cashed in. Tradition rejoices to teach us that the Divine Incarnate Word came forth from the warmth of his mother’s womb into the cold: the physical cold of winter in Davids royal city, the spiritual cold of a fallen world.
For St Thomas, the conditions which pertain at the Nativity speak of our salvation in Christ, who bears the cold of winter at his birth in anticipation of his bearing our sin at Calvary. In a characteristically exuberant image, Fr Faber writes, ‘The Sacred Heart of the Babe of Bethlehem has come to be the vast central fire of the frozen world.’
More anciently, St Ephraim the Syrian has it like this:
In December, when the nights are long, the endless Day has arisen. In winter, when all creation is deep in gloom, Beauty has come forth to bring his good cheer to the cosmos. In winter that makes the earth barren, virginity has learnt to give birth.
Good cheer arising from among deep gloom. What right have we, at Christmas, to be gloomy? Divine compassion teaches us not to look to ourselves, but to have a care for those whose suffering unites them with the Crib only through the Cross; the abused child, the raped and mutilated in the Congo’s heart of darkness.
In the battle for the shape and nature of the Church of England, something has changed. It is no longer just about votes, resolutions, measures, codes and canons: it is about the heart and soul of God’s pilgrim people. As the text of the Watch letter published in these pages suggests, that battle – the spiritual battle, the battle that really counts – is one our opponents cannot win, because they cannot extinguish our faith in the miracle of the Word made Flesh.
If the clergy, people, parishes and institutions of orthodox faith can mediate the mystery of the Incarnation this Christmas by looking to follow the example of the divine compassion and in communicating the divine joy, then truly ‘the gates of hell will not prevail’ against us.
So: Merry Christmas; celebrate well; and do not forget the poor. And first, keep a holy Advent. As Chesterton reminds us, ‘There is no more dangerous or disgusting habit than that of celebrating Christmas before it comes.’
Who is in communion with whom? It is a very Anglican question. And it has been exacerbated by the recent actions of the Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church.
Mrs Schori and her colleagues have suspended or deposed three members of their House on charges of ‘abandoning communion’. And yet those bishops continue as bishops in good standing in another Anglican province. Do the accusations against them mean that The Episcopal Church is no longer ‘in communion’ with the Province of the Southern Cone? And if so, with what other provinces has the American Church severed relationships? On a need to know basis, we all need to know.
Can Primates who are not ‘in communion with one another properly participate in the Primates’ Meeting of the ‘Communion? It is a question which someone should ask; but everyone wants to avoid.
Step forward, then, retired bishop and canon lawyer William Wantland.
Bill has something of a reputation for zany schemes (remember PECUSA Inc – an attempt to seize the assets of the Church by stealth from under the very noses of the liberal hegemony?)
He is at it again! Bishop Wantland has applied for honorary membership of the TEC House of Bishops on the grounds that, as an assistant in the diocese of Fort Worth and so in the Province of the Southern Cone, he is entitled to such membership by canonical provisions and house rules. They explicitly open membership to former TEC bishops functioning in other Anglican Churches.
No one, of course, can reasonably suppose that Bill wants to spend any more time in the company of Mrs Schori and her cronies than is strictly necessary. But his legal mind nevertheless craves the clarity which everybody else in this sorry saga seems eager to avoid.
The Politburo of Beers, Anderson and Schori which now runs The Episcopal Church has, at going to press, not yet replied. No prizes, of course, for guessing the response. But Wantland’s is a timely and witty reminder that those who live by the canons, die by the canons. Or should do.