In his book Sins of the Saints Fr Rosenthal maintained that ‘the sin which doth so easily beset us’ [Hebrews 12.2 KJV] is a misleading translation. The adjective eu-peristatos occurs nowhere else in the Bible or classical literature.
His preferred rendering is ‘the sin which is admired by many’: not murder, adultery, stealing or bearing false witness which everyone knows to be sinful, but those thoughts, words and deeds which, though springing from good Christian intentions, gradually become corrupted and turned into something less worthy.
So come to St Grizelda’s-by-the-Gasworks and meet some of its members. St Grizzle’s (as it’s locally known) and its members are, of course, wholly imaginary. But both share with your church and mine, a faithful witness to the Catholic faith, and the love and devotion of laity and priests towards one another over many generations.
But now let’s see how, despite their virtues – or rather because of them – its members fall short of the glory of God.
This is the incumbent, Canon Browning. He’s been rector here for over twenty years. Although still some time from retirement, he’s begun to realize that much of what he hoped to achieve simply isn’t going to happen.
His diligent pastoring has indeed meant that attendances haven’t declined as dramatically as other churches nearby. But he recognizes that his original vision – of running St Grizelda’s-Bursting-at-the-Seams -was unrealistic.
That means that his chances of becoming a bishop (always at the back of his mind, and somewhat nearer the front of Mrs Browning’s) are remote. So the Brownings are a disappointed pair, she rather more than he.
But let’s be fair to them both. Hopes and ambitions in a priest are both good things. A priest who lacks both vision and hope is a dead loss. So, disappointment at their non-fulfilment is both natural, and something of which nobody should feel ashamed.
So far so good; but its down-side is the way his disappointment adversely affects his relationship with Father Green, his young and inexperienced curate, whom we shall meet next time.