Category Archives: theology

St John Henry Newman, Patron saint of Evolution?

This week my fellow Orielensis John Henry Newman was made a saint by Pope Francis.

In the period 1820 to 1840 Oriel college, Oxford led intellectuals in Oxford and in the Church of England, with leaders like Copleston and Whately. This is given a fiar comment by wiki on Oriel

In the early 19th century, the reforming zeal of Provosts John Eveleigh and Edward Copleston gained Oriel a reputation as the most brilliant college of the day. It was the centre of the “Oriel Noetics” — clerical liberals such as Richard Whately and Thomas Arnold were fellows,[17] and during the 1830s, two intellectually eminent fellows of Oriel, John Keble and John Henry Newman, supported by Canon Pusey (also an Oriel fellow initially, later at Christ Church) and others, formed a group known as the Oxford Movement, alternatively as the Tractarians, or familiarly as the Puseyites. The group was disgusted by the then Church of England and sought to revive the spirit of early Christianity.[18][19] Tension arose in college since Provost Edward Hawkins was a determined opponent of the Movement.[17

Now my preference is for Copleston and the noetics whereas I am sure Mary Moritz prefers Newman and friends !!!! However I have always valued Newman’s writings and had to study his Lectures on Justification (1838) for my degree. He was quite critical of evangelicals of his day and I reckon his ideas are now expounded by scholars like N T Wright and Michael Gorman, where justification is not just the one-off event but part of continuing participation in Christ. Popular justification ends up with what Dylan Thomas described as “got drunk on saturday and saved on sunday”. no wonder the Welsh chapels fizzled out. My favourite quote from Newman’s book is about what he calls Popular Protestantism (forerunner of fundamentalism?) where “the bible, and the Bible alone, is the religion of Protestants.” I.e. centred on the bible , including Judges 11, rather than Jesus.

Am I a heeretic?

Newman was a friend to science and Mary Moritz an Austrian scientist and Roman Catholic has written this excellent blog which I have lifted

Mary has an excellent blog of her own https://sciencemeetsfaith.wordpress.com/2019/07/15/saint-bonaventure-wisdom-on-genesis/ and has three blogs on Newman

https://churchlifejournal.nd.edu/articles/a-patron-saint-of-evolution/?fbclid=IwAR13Os9UmI8GyL62zxyCRpxf7Krm1ambHP7gy1ZhGzeHPJLVad5XS3hlJso

A Patron Saint of Evolution?

I mean that it is as strange that monkeys should be so like men with no historical connection between them, as the notion that there should be no course of history by which fossil bones got into rocks.
—St. John Henry Cardinal Newman

John Henry Newman, one of the most consequential Catholic theologians of modern times, was canonized in Rome on October 13. Newman was born in London in 1801 and raised in the Anglican faith. He studied at Oxford and was ordained to the Anglican ministry in 1825. Several years later, with a group of friends, he started what became known as the Oxford Movement, an attempt to bring the Anglican Church closer to its Catholic roots. The movement aroused fierce opposition but had great and lasting influence within both Anglicanism and the Catholic Church.

Newman experienced many hardships, difficulties and disappointments and over time felt himself drawn more and more towards Catholicism. In 1845, after thorough study of the early Church’s history, he entered into full communion with the Catholic Church and two years later received priestly ordination in Rome. Newman said of his conversion, “it was like coming into port after a rough sea; and my happiness on that score remains to this day without interruption.” In 1849, he founded the first Oratory of St. Philip Neri in Birmingham, where he remained, except for a brief period, until his death in 1890. In 1879, he was named Cardinal by Pope Leo XIII.

My first encounter with John Henry Newman was reading his Apologia Pro Vita Sua, a spiritual autobiography he wrote in 1865 as a defense against attacks upon his personal integrity and the sincerity of his religious beliefs. I found it as fascinating as St. Augustine’s Confessions. Both men, each in his particular circumstances, describe their intrepid search for the Truth and testify to God’s redemptive and merciful love. Newman’s search for God’s truth, light and guidance is also masterfully described in the poem “Lead Kindly Light,” which he wrote in 1833 and which became one of the world’s most beloved hymns.

A few years after encountering the Apologia, I discovered Newman’s contributions to the dialogue between science and faith. John Henry Newman was a theologian and clergyman inside and out, but already as an undergraduate he developed an interest in the sciences. He carefully wrote out and kept his notes from a course in mineralogy—they are still at the Birmingham Oratory. He was less impressed by geology, even though that course was given by the same professor, Rev. William Buckland. In the early 1820’s Buckland defended the thesis that the earth had passed through several catastrophic geological events, the last being a global flood as described in Genesis.

But by 1830 Buckland had abandoned this view and adopted the hypothesis of a great continental glaciation event. The idea that the earth was of vast antiquity had been proposed by James Hutton and others in the late 1700’s, and further developed by Charles Lyell. These ideas were well-known to Charles Darwin, who began his career as geologist, and played a role in his development of the theory of evolution. They also influenced Newman, who learned to consider scientific theories and innovations with a degree of caution.

Truth Can’t Be Contrary to Truth

Newman dedicated two of his lectures as rector of the Catholic University in Dublin in 1851/1852—later assembled in his book The Idea of a University—specifically to the relationship of theology and science. A certain tension between science and theology may lead some to wait for the day when science overthrows revealed truths. It may cause others, mainly the religious minds, to fear scientific progress, and, in Newman’s words, “to undervalue, to deny, to ridicule, to discourage, and almost to denounce, the labours of the physiological, astronomical, or geological investigator.” However, Newman explains why this fearful attitude is unjustified:

The Physicist tells us of laws; the Theologian of the Author, Maintainer, and Controller of them; of their scope, of their suspension, if so be; of their beginning and their end. This is how the two schools stand related to each other, at that point where they approach the nearest; but for the most part they are absolutely divergent.

Newman answers the question of truth with an impressive picture: distinct fields of inquiry form distinct “circles of knowledge,” distinct “worlds” of their own, though ultimately comprising one Truth. He compares this with God’s immensity. God is One, but:

. . . any one of His attributes, considered by itself, is the object of an inexhaustible science: and the attempt to reconcile any two or three of them together—love, power, justice, sanctity, truth, wisdom—affords matter for an everlasting controversy. We can apprehend and receive each divine attribute in its elementary form, but still we are not able to accept them in their infinity, either in themselves or in union with each other. Yet we do not deny the first because it cannot be perfectly reconciled with the second, nor the second because it is in apparent contrariety with the first and the third.

We may say with words written by Hans Urs von Balthasar around one hundred years later: “Truth is symphonic.” Newman tells Catholic scientists and theologians:

If [we] have one maxim in our philosophy, it is, that truth cannot be contrary to truth; if we have a second, it is, that truth often seems contrary to truth; and, if a third, it is the practical conclusion, that we must be patient with such appearances, and not be hasty to pronounce them to be really of a more formidable character.

Moreover, if we know our Catholic faith, this will provide us with a sense of security and a peace of mind:

I say, then, he who believes Revelation with that absolute faith which is the prerogative of a Catholic, is not the nervous creature who startles at every sudden sound, and is fluttered by every strange or novel appearance which meets his eyes. He has no sort of apprehension, he laughs at the idea, that anything can be discovered by any other scientific method, which can contradict any one of the dogmas of his religion . . . He is sure, and nothing shall make him doubt, that, if anything seems to be proved by astronomer, or geologist, or chronologist, or antiquarian, or ethnologist, in contradiction to the dogmas of faith, that point will eventually turn out, first, not to be proved, or, secondly, not contradictory, or thirdly, not contradictory to anything really revealed, but to something which has been confused with revelation.

The application of these principles had solved the case of the Copernican system and of Galileo Galilei to everyone’s satisfaction. But while Newman wrote these words, new trouble was brewing: Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species. Before we turn our attention to the theory of evolution, let us look at Newman’s views on “design” in Nature.

I Believe in Design Because I Believe in God . . .

Unduly melding science and theology while trying to find “intelligent design” in biology, and from there proceeding to the inference of an “Intelligent Designer,” was and remains to this day a great temptation not only for theologians, but also for believing scientists.

In 1802, William Paley published the book Natural Theology: or Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity. In it, he proposed his famous watchmaker analogy: if a pocket watch is found in a field, it is most reasonable to assume that someone dropped it and that it was made by a Watchmaker; or, in other words, where we find design there must be a designer. This Design Argument for God’s existence (a version of the so-called Teleological Argument) became quite popular in Victorian England. The argument was further developed in the Bridgewater Treatises a series of books funded by the 8th Earl of Bridgewater and planned as a major work in natural theology to explore “the Power, Wisdom, and Goodness of God, as manifested in the Creation.” Most of its authors—all established clergymen and theologians, some of them also scientists—explored Paley’s Design Argument in various scientific fields.

It should be noted that in the English-speaking world, the Design Argument is sometimes confused with Thomas Aquinas’s version of the Teleological Argument. Paley finds design in what might be called the craftsmanship found in complex and purposeful structures, whereas the emphasis in St. Thomas was more upon a general directedness of natural things and processes towards “ends.”

John Henry Newman felt deeply uncomfortable with William Paley’s Natural Theology for three main reasons:

  1. He saw it as reversing the order of understanding. He wrote in 1870: “I believe in design because I believe in God; not in God because I see design.”
  2. It leads to an incomplete notion of God. In the same 1870 letter, Newman argues, “Half the world knows nothing of the argument from design—and, when you have got it, you do not prove by it the moral attributes of God—except very faintly. Design teaches me power, skill, and goodness, not sanctity, not mercy, not a future judgment, which three are of the essence of religion.” In 1852, he said that the “God of Physical Theology [i.e. natural theology] may very easily become a mere idol” rather than the God of Christianity.
  3. Although Paley knew of grief and pain, his Natural Theology paints a happy world. Design, as he describes it, does not leave any space for natural evil, nor for moral evil in a world encompassing the reality of sin, and the need for redemption. We need revelation, says Newman, because the mystery of moral evil, the reality of our sins, can only be elucidated by the mystery of Christ’s Cross. Without revelation, theology would not be in a better shape than it was with the Greek philosophers: it would be unable to answer the question of theodicy.

Furthermore, Charles Darwin had admired Paley’s book in his youth, but during his voyage on the HMS Beagle, he started to realize that nature was not “nice” at all, that there was a constant struggle for survival. In 1860, Darwin wrote:

I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae [parasitic wasps] with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of caterpillars.”

He drifted more and more into agnostic views as he grew older. I would have liked it if Darwin could have read what Pope Francis says in Laudato Si’:

Creating a world in need of development, God in some way sought to limit himself in such a way that many of the things we think of as evils, dangers or sources of suffering, are in reality part of the pains of childbirth which he uses to draw us into the act of cooperation with the Creator. God is intimately present to each being, without impinging on the autonomy of his creature, and this gives rise to the rightful autonomy of earthly affairs. His divine presence, which ensures the subsistence and growth of each being, “continues the work of creation.” The Spirit of God has filled the universe with possibilities and therefore, from the very heart of things, something new can always emerge: “Nature is nothing other than a certain kind of art, namely God’s art, impressed upon things, whereby those things are moved to a determinate end. It is as if a shipbuilder were able to give timbers the wherewithal to move themselves to take the form of a ship”

Evolution Isn’t Inconsistent with Divine Design…

Charles Darwin pondered many years on the theory of evolution, fearing the repercussions of publication. Only when Alfred Wallace submitted a paper with very similar findings, did he decide to move quickly. The theory of evolution via natural selection was stated in 1858 in a joint paper of Darwin and Wallace and, in 1859, Darwin published The Origin of Species.

Newman never analyzed Charles Darwin’s theory in depth, but it was “in the air,” and Newman responded when specifically asked about it. His answers were cautiously positive. And it seems that he was well prepared to discuss the topic. In his book On the Development of Doctrine, written fourteen years before Darwin’s Origin of Species, Newman referred favorably to the 18th century English theologian Joseph Butler. Butler had pointed out in The Analogy of Religion that God operates in the very same manner in the history of Nature as in the history of Christianity:

The Author of Nature appears deliberate throughout His operations, accomplishing His natural ends by slow successive steps. And there is a plan of things beforehand laid out, which, from the nature of it, requires various systems of means, as well as length of time, in order to the carrying on its several parts into execution. Thus, in the daily course of natural providence, God operates in the very same manner as in the dispensation of Christianity, making one thing subservient to another; this, to somewhat farther; and so on, through a progressive series of means, which extend, both backward and forward, beyond our utmost view. Of this manner of operation, everything we see in the course of nature is as much an instance as any part of the Christian dispensation.

When Newman used the word “design” it was not Paley’s notion of it, but what he called “divine design.” He sees “divine design” as God’s Wisdom “to have given certain laws to matter millions of ages ago, which have surely and precisely worked out, in the long course of those ages, those effects which He from the first proposed.” He therefore considers that “Mr. Darwin’s theory need not, then, be atheistical, be it true or not; it may simply be suggesting a larger idea of Divine Prescience and Skill.” God’s action is permanently present, he works in and through his creation. Newman can therefore say that he did not think “that ‘the accidental evolution of organic beings is inconsistent with divine design—It is accidental to us, not to God.”

Darwin was closer to Newman than to Paley on laws in nature and on secondary causation. He wrote,

Authors of the highest eminence seem to be fully satisfied with the view that each species has been independently created. To my mind it accords better with what we know of the laws impressed on matter by the Creator, that the production and extinction of the past and present inhabitants of the world should have been due to secondary causes, like those determining the birth and death of the individual.

Nonetheless, a key distinction between the two men’s thinking is that Darwin did not share Newman’s notion of a world under the providential care of a God to whom nothing is accidental, a conviction that was deeply engrained in Newman’s mind and soul.

On the question whether Genesis and the theory of evolution would contradict each other, Newman considers the verse “All are of dust” (Eccles 3:20) and concludes: “yet we never were dust—we are from fathers. Why may not the same be the case with Adam? . . . I don’t know why Adam needs be immediately out of dust—Formavit Deus hominem de limo terrae [“God formed man from the dust of the earth” (Gen 2:7)]—i.e. out of what really was dust and mud in nature, before He made it what it was, living.”

Newman was one of the first theologians (together with Rev. Charles Kingsley and Rev. Frederick Temple, both Anglicans) who were positive voices acknowledging that Darwin’s theory did not contradict the Christian faith. Newman’s view is still relevant today and may be well summarized with the words of Benedict XVI in his first homily as pope:

Only where God is seen does life truly begin. Only when we meet the living God in Christ do we know what life is. We are not some casual and meaningless product of evolution. Each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary.

Conclusion

Saint John Henry Newman was truly a saint in his life as priest, pastor, and teacher. He was searching for the truth, no matter the costs and hardship it would entail. His wisdom deserves to be further explored. He lived in a society that was turning increasingly secularist, not unlike our own in the 21st century. If Newman had lived in our time, he probably would have appreciated the Society of Catholic Scientists. He knew about the challenges but also about the beauty to be witnesses of our faith in the scientific world. He would have exhorted us, as he did in his time:

I want an intelligent, well-instructed laity . . . I wish you to enlarge your knowledge, to cultivate your reason, to get an insight into the relation of truth to truth, to learn to view things as they are, to understand how faith and reason stand to each other, [and] what are the bases and principles of Catholicism.

EDITORIAL NOTE: This article is part of a collaboration with the Society of Catholic Scientists (click here to read about becoming a member). You can ask questions and join a wider discussion about this piece at the bottom of this page where the original version of this essay, “Saint John Henry Newman: A Co-Patron for Scientists?” is published. Those who wish to read more by Dr. Moritz may go to her blog Science Meets Faith and her Facebook page of the same name.

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Easing the way for Young Earth Creationism; the case of J W Dawson and G F Wright in 1900

History always has its twists and turns, some of which are unexpected.

Two leading Christian apologists for geology in the late Victorian period were Dawson and Wright. Both were very competent geologists. Dawson was THE leading Canadian geologist. His books on geology and faith are good, but he could not accept evolution. Wright from the USA was a league below and slowly rejected his earlier acceptance of evolution.

THE ANTIQUITY OF EARTH AND HUMANITY
Since the discovery of Deep Time in the eighteenth century, no geologist
could give dates for the age of the earth. Throughout the early
nineteenth century geologists tried culminating with the Rev. Samuel
Haughton’s estimate for the base of the Cambrian as 1,800 my in 1860.
The work of the physicist William Thomson (later Lord Kelvin) in the
early 60s soon reduced the maximum age of the earth to 100 my and
then to 24 my. Most geologists, including Charles Darwin, capitulated
to these estimates though it mitigated against evolution. Kelvin’s dates
were widely accepted until the first attempts of radiometric age-dating in
1905.

Image result for kelvin
Of more concern to evangelicals were arguments for the antiquity of
humanity put forward from about 1860. Before then evidence was too
scanty to give any firm date. So long as humans had only existed for
only some 10,000 years, one could adopt a chronology similar to Ussher’s.
Lyell in The Antiquity of Man (Lyell, 1863) concluded that humans first appeared
100,000 years ago,which was unacceptable to most evangelicals, as
it challenged any semblance of history in Genesis 4–11. Van Riper (1993)
groups responses from 1855 to 1880 as Lyellian (100,000 years), Prestwichian
(20,000 years), and traditional (Ussherian?) (6000–8000 years).
The first group included Darwin, Huxley, Lubbock, and Wallace, and
the last were confined to religious publications. The Canadian geologist,
J. W. Dawson (1820–1899)

Image result for j w dawson

 

who reckoned he had discovered the oldest fossil-form and named it Eozoon canadense in 1864. He thought it was a   sponge or giant micro-organism. His ideas were challenged and in 1894 geologists found similar rocks in material at Vesuvius.  What was a sponge was in fact limestone altered by magma.

Image result for Eozoon canadense

continually argued for a traditional date and
at his death was the only leading scientist not to accept evolution. From
1860Dawson published many books reconciling geology and Christianity,
with titles like Archaia (Dawson, 1860) and The Story of the Earth (Dawson,
1874). These exude geological competence, but he always favored Kelvin’s
shorter timescales (Burchfield, 1976) and a low human antiquity, which
was music to evangelicals as they could retain the traditional chronology,
which Schofield put in his Reference Bible of 1909.
Another evangelical geologist, George F. Wright (1838–1921), a Congregationalist
minister who was encouraged to take up geology by Asa
Gray, was persuaded against his earlier Darwinian views by considerations
of geological time. From his early years he took an intermediate
position between Lyell and Darwin on one hand and the heirs of Ussher
on the other.

Image result for The Ice Age in North America: And Its Bearings Upon the Antiquity of Man George Frederick Wright

In the 1870s and 1880s Wright was Darwinian as expounded
in Studies in Science and Religion (Wright, 1882), but retained the special
creation of humans, as did Wallace. After he returned to Oberlin College,
Ohio, in 1881 he began an intellectual drift to the right but continued his
fieldwork on glacial geology. He began to question evolution partly because
the materialism of Spenser and Huxley. He also was worried by the
Higher Criticism of C.A. Briggs.When he first heard Briggs in 1891 he was
convinced that Moses did not write the Pentateuch. On reflection he reacted
against Brigg’s liberalism and became more conservative and began
to associate evolution with higher criticism, a position still put forward
today.
In 1892 he published Man and the Glacial Period (Wright, 1892) which
is a useful compendium on the state of glacial studies. I found it useful as a source for victorian glacial studies, but it has drawbacks.

Image result for Man and the Glacial Period

 

Wright hoped
for a favorable response. That was not granted him, as he insisted that
there had been only one period of glaciation, and rejected the findings
of recent glaciologists, who had unraveled a series of Ice Ages rather
than one as was originally thought in 1840. Wright concurred with Joseph
Prestwich, that the one Ice Age had lasted 25,000 years, but by the 1890s
few geologists accepted that and Wright was taken to task by the geologists
Chamberlin and McGee, the latter calling him as “a betinseled charlatan.”
Dana regarded McGee’s dismissal was “a disgrace to American Science,”
but Numbers is correct to state that Wright’s “theological convictions had
undoubtedly colored his scientific conclusions” (Numbers, 2006, p 44).
In The Origin and Antiquity of Man (Wright, 1913) he reiterated his case
and refused to accept “Man’s origin by purely naturalistic agencies.” He
argued that the earth was less than 100 million years old and that life,
that is the base of the Cambrian, began some 24 million years ago. These
conclusions, drawn from Kelvin, allowed him to accept a short 25,000
year Ice Age. Even so, he followed Flinders Petrie’s dating of the first
Egyptian dynasty at 4777 BC. On geological time Wright was restrictive.
He objected to Lyell’s “unlimited” geological time with the base of the
Cambrian 500 million years ago (close to today’s 550 million years). He
commended Darwin for downsizing his almost limitless time in 1859 to
some 100my and favored Walcott of Burgess Shale fame and a Presbyterian
for allowing only 27.5 my. It is difficult to be certain why Wright changed
from a thoroughgoing evolutionist to a skeptic who took a limited view
of geological time, which hardly gave time for evolution. Numbers (2006,
pp. 33–50) gives some pointers.
Time, they were a-changing! A few years before in 1905 the English
physicist John William Strutt, later Lord Rayleigh (1842–1919) began to
apply radioactivity to date rocks and showed that a mineral containing
radium was 2 billion years old because of its helium content. In the same
year Bertrand Boltwood suggested that Lead may be the end product of
the decay of uranium and calculated the ages of forty-three minerals from
400 to 2,200 my. The radiometric dating game had begun and by 1913
Arthur Holmes (1890–1964) in The Age of the Earth reckoned the base of the
Cambrian to be 600 my and the age of the earth to be 1.6 by. Geologists
would never again talk of less than billions. The immediate effect was to
render untenable any suggestion that humans had been around for less
than 50,000 years. The loose agreement with “biblical chronology” which
Dawson and Wright claimed was consigned to history. From then on the
choice was, either to accept billions of years for the age of the earth and a
100,000 years or more for humans or to accept that humans are recent that
is less than 20,000 years and to REJECT all radiometric age dating. As we
shall see that first occurred in the 1930s and became a major thrust of YEC
after 1961.

******

To insist as Wright did for a single Ice Age only 20,000 years ago and that humans are of the same antiquity is to open the way to reject radiometric age-dating and thus for Young Earth Creationism. Thus enabling Henry Morris to flourish

It is sad that two competent scientists left a questionable legacy which has done harm both to Christianity and science.

Killing off the Conflict Narrative (of Science and Religion)

Another good blog on the whole issue of the supposed conflict of science and religion.

This should have been a dead duck decades ago , but it is still used as a rod to beat Christians with , comes out in science teaching at schools and in popular culture.

Faith and Wisdom in Science

It’s been a long and tiring century or more of fake news, but I nurture a precious hope (how can one live otherwise?) that the voices of evidence, reason and truth will ultimately prevail.

One of the more persistent myths that have invaded our conversion, media and (very sadly) education, is the late Victorian invention that religious faith and science are necessarily in conflict. So prevalent and normalised is this assumption, that recent surveys in UK high schools find up to 70% of 15 year olds think it (but without being able to say why). I say ‘late Victorian’ for before the publication of two books, now forgotten and unread but best-sellers in their time, there is no great ‘conflict narrative’. The books were: History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom (1896), by Andrew Dickson White, and History of the Conflict between Religion and Science

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Salvation by Cakes; or Justification by Cakes

Salvation by Cakes

Image result for cakes

For the last 2000 years the church has been plagued by heresies. One of the early ones was Arianism which was bopped on the nose when Santa Claus (aka St Nicholas of Tyra) punched Arius in the face. Many reckon that the ultimate british heresy is Pelagianism names after Pelagius who lived at Bangor on Dee  around 400AD.

However in 1717 Martin Luther thought he had corrected this with his ideas of Justification by Faith which became the watchword of protestant churches until cakes came along.

I would suggest that the ultimate English (perhaps Anglican) heresy  is salvation by cakes or justification by cakes. It came about when the Vicar of Scronky in Lancashire invited the general secretary of the Protestant Truth Society, the Rev P. R. Ottydogg, to preach at his church in a particularly soggy part of Pilling Moss. It was creepy visiting that church as the foundations wobbled on the underlying peat and when it rained the whole church shook when the vicar climbed into the three-decker pulpit. Sadly after several wet winters the church disappeared into the peat as it got truly stugged.

As a good prot Ottydogg preached on  Galatians 2 vs 15, not that it would have mattered as it was said of him that “10,000 ,10,000 are his texts and all his sermons one” as every sermon came back to justification by faith. It was a straightforward sermon and beloved by the PTS. However the matriarch of the parish, Queenie, who was married to the churchwarden of 35 years didn’t quite hear it straight.

Instead of “justification by faith” she heard “justification by cakes.” That was a revelatory moment for her as she made thousands for the church’s cake stall. This cake stall was held weekly – in the hall as mammon was not allowed in church, and at every opportunity. Queenie had been annoyed with a succession of vicars as they did not see the value of cakes and preferred to speak of the love of Jesus exemplied by his death on the cross and his resurrection. Inevitably after three years there was a great falling out with the present vicar and usually he’d move on, except the Revd John De’ath, who moved into the church yard.

From then on Queenie was a great evangelist for Justification by Cakes. It dominated the life of St Meg’s at Scronky and as Queenie went round the diocese speaking about it other churches followed suit. She was very successful

Image result for cakes

And so this became the bog-standard theology of the lower level parishes in Lancashire. Historically they were mostly “Lancashire Low” in which the devotional life of the church was defined by the absence of the cross, both in theology and the altar. Parishioners were measured by the number of cakes they or their wives made. Recently when a couple left after their utter rudeness to the vicar and his wife, the defence was that “she’s made thousands for the church by baking cakes.” I kid not.

Salvation or Justification by Cakes  became a doctrine tenaciously held, and any vicar or parishoners who suggested anything else was soon squeezed out of the church, be they evangelical, new wine, charismatic or even Forward in Faith. Sometimes the methods of removal were not quite Christian, but you can’t have your cake and eat it..

It was OK for a new vicar to introduce candles and vestments, or happy-clappy songs provided cakes were sacrosanct. Even so, after about three years thery would have contradicted “justification by cakes” and so it was time for them to go.

If any parishioner wanted to be on the PCC or be warden or reader, the first question was how many cakes they or their spouse made.

You see, cake-making was the ultimate mark of sanctitiy, both for the cake-maker and spouse and it was vital for any position in church and for office.

 

Baking cakes also gave privileges in the church, depending on the number of cakes baked.

  • If you bake 10 cakes a year this allows you to miss one Sunday a month
  • For 20 cakes that was 2 Sundays off.
  • 30 cakes you were entitled to go on the church council
  • 50 cakes then you were eligible to be Churchwarden

So far so good.

But there was more

  • If you baked 40 cakes you could harass the vicar’s spouse to bake cakes
  • 45 cakes you could tell off young mums because their toddler toddled into the chancel.  (They never came again.)
  • 50 cakes allowed you to upset the Sunday School teachers
  • 60 cakes allowed you to criticise the vicar in public
  • 80 meant you could complain to the bishop for no good reason and threaten to stop baking, which would cause a financial crisis for the church
  • 100 cakes you could scare off any new members who thought more of Jesus than cakes
  • 200 cakes you could be vitrioloic to vicar and family when they were perceived to be rocking the boat (and cake stall)
  • 500 cakes, you could lead the opposition of the PCC
  • 1000 cakes fine to lead campaign to oust vicar and tell the odd porkie about her or him.

Often the first may devout parishioners realised they were wrong was when they got to the Pearly Gates and St Peter told them;

“You can have your cake and heat it, down you go and burn your cakes and yourselves!!”

Image result for burnt cakes

 

Little did the good folk of St Megs realise that they had misunderstood the Gospel and rejected it for a mess of cakemix.

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Yes, this is a bit far-fetched and OTT, but in too many churches you can find some attitudes like this, where raising money for the church through fetes and cake-making become the be-all and end-all of church activity. As a result the main purpose of the church is lost and so the worship of the church and teaching ministry is relegated to a secondary position. As for evangelism………. The latter can be seen as bible-bashing and unnecessary as everything needful was learnt in Sunday School decades ago. Here the church has become a club for like-minded people, who for some odd reason want to keep it going. This type of church is not what William Temple meant when he said

The church is the only organisation which exists for the benefit of its non-members

Sadly too many churches look back to the past, when this type of activity was sufficient to keep the numbers up – but it has not been for many decades. Churches who do this are simply in terminal decline.

Perhaps the future of the Church of England is that some churches will simply decline to extinction as justification is by cakes and faith in Jesus (except personal private opinions) is at best optional.

The churches will will survive and grow will be those who focus on Jesus Christ, whatever their churchmanship and even if they have some wayward ideas.

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Richard Rohr’s simple answers have nothing to do with orthodox Christianity – Premier Christianity

I know Rohr is the IN theologian but have found him somewhat too vague and appealing to feelings as paramount

Here Ian Paul gives good criticisms especially his pantheism (popular today as  green christians often tend that way, and don’t see the difference between Creator and created)

Put experience as so primary tends to the infallibility of experience

 

Rev Dr Ian Paul reviews Richard Rohr’s new book The Universal Christ (SPCK)

Source: Richard Rohr’s simple answers have nothing to do with orthodox Christianity – Premier Christianity

Christian belief in Creation in relation to Geology

Can we believe in God from a scientific perspective?

Creación de Adán (Miguel Ángel).jpg

I shall avoid answering that  as it would take volumes.

However in August 2007 INHIGEO (International Union of Geological Sciences) held a conference on Religion and geology at Eichstatt in Germany. It was close to the Solnhofen quarry where the Archaeopteryx was found in 1860.  As I couldn’t go at the last minute for family reasons I missed both the conference and the field trip to Solnhofen

However all was not lost as I contributed a chapter to the book Geology and Religion: A history of Harmony and Hostility on Adam Sedwick and his conflicts with anti-geologists;

https://michaelroberts4004.wordpress.com/2018/02/03/how-to-deal-with-victorian-creationists-and-win/

I was also asked to write a chapter on the doctrine of creation as seen by Anglicans today. That I duly did, and focussed on issues connected with geological time rather than the nature of humans or te environment. Thus if you think they should have been included, I agree, but it was outside my remit.

The volume is  Geology and Religion: A history of Harmony and Hostility Geol Soc of London Special Publication No310

So here it  is ;

with my ending

Conclusion
A brief account like this can hardly do justice to
the variety of understandings of the theology of
creation today. There is a wide range of views,
but a distinction must be made between those of
academia and those of the pulpit and pew. Academics, except for the increasing number of creationists in university positions, tend to incorporate
science into their theology. However, an increasing
number of clergy, who may have studied theology
at university, are becoming sceptical of science
and more inclined to adopt a creationist perspective
on creation. Thus within the Church of England,
there is the whole range from young-Earth creationism to a virtual denial of the existence of God. The
Anglican doctrine of creation is indefinable from
such a diversity of opinion. From my stance as a
practising Anglican priest, with ecumenical contacts and considerable contact with Christians in
the USA, it is difficult to give a simple summary.
Many within the churches take creation in the
wide sense for granted and are not concerned with
scientific issues. However, an increasing number
are accepting young-Earth creationism or else intelligent design without understanding the (lack of )
science behind them; this is partly in reaction to
aggressive atheism of Dawkins and others, although
this style of atheism came after young-Earth creationism became an issue in the early 1980s. The
confusing variety of attitudes encourages me to
play the orchestral introduction to Haydn’s The
Creation.

 

An Anglican priest’s perspective on the doctrine of creation
in the church today

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To close with my hero Adam Sedgwick

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Dent church where Sedgwick’s father was vicar

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Was Jesus latte?

Here is an alternative picture of Jesus

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Compare it to the classic of Holman Hunt which is too white

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Now many will say that it is well-known that Jesus was not white as he came from the Middle East. Yes, I know, but too many still reckon Jesus was white as this incident fro the other local church shows.

Please consider two discussions with youngsters. The first was with our Year Sixes. One thought Jesus’ birthday was 25th December. We pointed out we didn’t know and that was his official birthday. Jesus was born around 6BC. It was light-hearted!

The second in another church a lad of eleven said that Jesus was dark-skinned and not white. He was corrected and put in his place. Our Year Six agreed with him when I told them about it. It is appalling that today some still insist that Jesus was white. And even more appalling that a child should get put down for saying Jesus was not white. One year Six said his skin was latte !! Now this is not trivial, especially a lad being put down. In the 1930s Nazi Christians were insistent Jesus was Aryan and thus white.

When in apartheid South Africa I often stressed that Jesus was coloured! Somehow it did not always go down with white Christians.


As Jesus was from Judean stock born in Israel 2000 years ago he would not be white and had the darker skin of that area. When we grasp that, we cannot be racist. It is almost that Jesus has the average skin colour of all people, and thus relates to all of us whatever “race” we are.

Image result for coloured jesus

And that leads us to consider why we celebrate the birth of a non-white baby 2000 years ago. As I explained to year 6, it was so unknown that no one recorded it, unlike the birth of the other Sons of God – Julius Caesar and successors.  Probably the best is to say it was about 6BC, though Sir Colin Humphreys of Cambridge has tried to narrow it down to a week or so. It seems most odd to make so much of this unknown wandering preacher who was executed by the Romans in their nastiest fashion.


Many want to choose what they believe about Jesus rather than accepting the whole Jesus package. This particularly applies to those who see Jesus as a great moral teacher and leave out the religious bits. Many, great and small, have done this as did Mahatma Gandhi. It’s also provided the moral basis for much of Europe, but that is now being eroded.


However that ignores so much of the gospels on Jesus. To some it just leaves out the mumbo-jumbo, as the religious bits are sometimes called, especially that about his Incarnation, being Son of God, the atonement and the resurrection – not to mention the Holy Spirit. If it had not been for them, Jesus would have soon been forgotten, as he would have been just another wandering eccentric Jewish teacher. The message of those early Jesus followers was not an appeal to morals but trust in a person who is our saviour in contrast either to the teachings of Judaism or the customs of the Roman Empire.


The message was that humans are in a mess and need saving and this happens because this Jesus died on the cross and rose again and thus we should follow his moral teaching. Thus Jesus was seen as the Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, saviour and King. Now today that is a standard formula about Jesus but in the first century it was radical as it cast a snook at the Roman Empire where the emperor was known as son of god, lord, king and saviour. That is often lost on us today, but in the roman Empire it resulted in the deaths of those Christians who would not recognise the emperor as God and offer him a sacrifice. Today Jesus is so tame and domesticated that we miss his radical challenge.
So back to Christmas, beyond all the tinsels and donkeys, we need to see that we celebrate the obscure birth of someone who transformed the world and billions of people.


Hopefully he has transformed each one of us.
So this Christmas period let’s ask how Jesus needs to change us.

But how?