The Daily Offices

The Daily Offices from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, (Canada 1962), including daily Bible readings and occasional sermons from the Cathedral of the Annunication of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Ottawa

Tuesday, September 27, 2005


Two quotations: “This present age is large of mouth and small of brain;” and, “people today are often historically ignorant and/or intellectually dishonest.” One uttered in about the year 1600 and the other about 10 or 12 years ago by a young curate of this parish.

A few episodes prompted me to think of these quotations. If we were to make up a very quick list of notable figures in the Old Testament, almost surely that list would include Elijah. He even figures somewhat prominently in the New Testament: on the Mount of Transfiguration, he and Moses are seen with Jesus; and, one of the prophecies in terms of the Coming of the Messiah was that Elijah would return first. One might conclude that his life was particularly led by God, and that he was always “dialled in” as the colloquial expression goes. However, this past week, on the first Evensong of the Feast of St. Matthew, we read in 1 Kings Ch. 19 of the episode where God instructs Elijah, after the end of his forty day, self-imposed exile in the wilderness, to anoint Hazael, Jehu and Elisha. We might recall that Elijah had fled to the wilderness, absolutely convinced that he was the only faithful person left in all of Israel – “the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left: and they seek my life, to take it away.” It would not really be appropriate to accuse Elijah of being large of mouth and small of brain, or even as being historically ignorant and intellectually dishonest. But it does appear that he was at least not completely aware of all of the facts. After having given him the instructions to anoint the three men, God then tells Elijah that He still has 7,000 faithful people in Israel who have not bowed the knee to Baal.

This then made me think of a recent situation in our own parish where I might be accused of not explaining something very thoroughly or carefully – not giving all of the facts. For the first 25-plus years of the existence of this parish, the normal practice for this main Sunday Eucharist was for the Sanctuary party to enter directly from the Sacristy, while the Introit was being sung, or if necessary because one of the Sanctuary party was the Cantor, just before the Introit. On major feast days, as is prescribed, we would include a Processional hymn at the beginning of the service. A few years ago, based on a suggestion, and recalling my own childhood, I agreed to introduce an Entrance Hymn for every service. Earlier this year, based both on revisiting Anglican service instruction books as I encourage all postulants and new ordinands to do, and on discussions with others, I discovered that to have both an entrance hymn and an Introit is repetitively redundant. The Introit is the entrance hymn. So, after less than two years of the practice, I reverted to the original practice of the parish, which, as it turns out, is that prescribed. (One might observe that oh-so-common situation in churches, where people would say, “But that’s the way we’ve always done it.” In this situation, less than two years …)

When queried, I responded perhaps not thoroughly enough. I did mention that our current practice of Introit only is that which is prescribed in instruction manuals, including Fr. Palmer’s Readiness and Decency. I guess that I should have prefaced that observation with the admission that I had made a mistake in introducing the double entrance, and in correcting my mistake, I was deferring to such noteworthy forebears as Fr. Palmer as having corrected my mistake. Unfortunately, it appears that my briefer answer was misunderstood in that some felt that I was blaming Fr. Palmer, rather than admitting my own mistake and confessing to having received his correction posthumously.

While I perhaps had all of the facts, I was at fault for not presenting them clearly. Please forgive me for my intellectual mishap and largeness of mouth; and, please also recognize that I would never consciously blame someone like Fr. Palmer for anything.

Then, today, we heard recited during the Liturgy of the Word, the full Ten Commandments, or as they are otherwise known, The Decalogue. In the Gospel reading for today, we heard read that which is called The Summary of the Law, from an episode in the Gospel according to St. Mark. Jesus, having been asked by a perceptive scribe, “Which is the first commandment of all?” responds with the summary that we hear read at most celebrations of the Holy Eucharist. When we don’t hear the Summary, then we hear the full Ten, as today.

Recently, a few of our newer members, who had belonged for a relatively brief time, decided that they could not reconcile our early Church position on certain central tenets of our faith: the Real Presence in the Sacrament of the Altar being one that comes to mind. They were also uncomfortable when we would point out at Bible study or in discussion groups that the followers of, oh, John Calvin or some other had wandered sufficiently far from the Via Media that we might feel free in such forums to criticize some of their beliefs: an example being that we believe that Jesus died on the Cross for all of mankind, whereas strict Calvinism believes in a limited atonement only, as we necessarily discussed at Bible study this past Wednesday evening where, in Chapter 2 of his first letter to Timothy, St. Paul stresses that Jesus died for all of mankind, not just for the subset who are called the elect. While we consider such deviations and differences important, in terms of our people knowing what we believe and that others sometimes believe something quite different, our newcomers felt that we were not being fair in that there was nobody present from a Calvinist group to defend their beliefs.

Still, as these particular new members were indeed keenly interested in learning about historical Christianity and its beliefs, I contacted one of them to see if he would be willing to have a chat. He was, and we did, and it was all very pleasant. However, he did bring up two very interesting things within the context of both my opening remarks and the Commandments.

First, he commented that he might have been prepared to accept our traditionalist position, based on previous discussions where I had pointed out to him that our study groups and discussions should always try their best to avoid bashing other denominations, but, from time to time, where rather central beliefs can be quite divergent indeed, it is our duty to point out the differences. However, he gently, but clearly feeling much pain, then told me that both for him, and for one other Saturday regular who has also left us, “the straw that broke the camel’s back” was that, one more than one occasion, during vigorous debate, one of our other regulars said words to the effect, “Well then, maybe you don’t belong with us.”

Ouch! I wasn’t there, or at least wasn’t part of the discussion in these dialogues; however, I suspect that such words fall very close to the “large of mouth” observation. Perhaps the newcomers who have since left don’t belong with us – at least not today, or until they work through their current investigation of non-traditional, but apparently logical Christian variations – but perhaps our self-appointed defender of orthodoxy might have been able to find better words?

The second interesting thing was that our now former member wondered about the different versions of the Ten Commandments in use in different denominations. He was informed by an apparently very sincere Christian that the Roman Catholic Church has renumbered the Commandments, splitting that which we have as number 10, so that they still come up with a total of 10, because they have deleted that which we have as number 2. Number 2 for us being, “Thou shalt not make to thyself any graven image, nor the likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or in the earth…” and so on. The observation was then offered that the Romans had purposely deleted this so that they could fill their churches with statues and images.

Before clarifying the historically ignorant and, to some extent, intellectually dishonest suggestion by the acquaintances of our now former member, I asked him if he would mind going back to those who had made this observation, and ask them whether they put up a crèche scene in their churches at Christmastime – complete with statues of the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Joseph and God Incarnate. Well, what a revelation that was! Perhaps a seed of renewed fellowship has been planted in terms of future good relationships with him.

But what of the “different” Ten Commandments in the Roman Catholic Church – and, oh, by the way, the Lutherans also? Well, were we to go back to the places in Scripture (note the plural) where God gave the Commandments to Moses, we would note that the number does not necessarily come out conveniently to exactly 10 based on each time there is a word of command. Indeed, in Exodus, Chapter 34 where Moses is in the process of rewriting the Commandments on the second set of tablets, several commandments are completely different than those that we know from Exodus, Chapter 20 and Deuteronomy, Chapter 5.

In Chapter 34, in addition to those about God, we have such commandments as:
• The feast of unleavened bread shalt thou keep;
• Thou shalt observe the feast of weeks;
• Thrice in the year shall all your menchildren appear before the Lord God
• Thou shalt not offer the blood of my sacrifice with leaven;
And missing are some of those with which we are familiar: Honour thy father and mother; thou shalt not steal; thou shalt do no murder; thou shalt not commit adultery. Is there a problem here? Not really; the different commandments that I’ve listed are recognized usually as ceremonial injunctions that were issued previously. A few verses later, it is stated that, during forty days and nights, Moses wrote down the original Commandments as presented in Chapter 20. If we compare the same episode as recorded in Deut. Ch. 10, the aforementioned ceremonial injunctions are not mentioned; rather, Moses just writes out again the original 10 that had been presented in Chapter 5 of that book.

Now, what of the issue of the numbering of the 10, The Decalouge, and the contention that the Romans have expunged what we know as number 2 concerning graven images? Well, so that we end up with exactly 10, it is necessary to do some combining. Indeed, if any of us is ever engaged in vigorous discussion with ecclesiastical history buffs, we might hear the term “dodecalogue” meaning 12. But God tells Moses that the number is 10, so we must come up with a total of 10. So, where our number 10 includes the prohibition of coveting anything that is our neighbour’s, parts of the Church split the desiring of our neighbour’s wife from the coveting of any of his other material goods, as they are in fact thus separated in the version in Deuteronomy. Conversely then, to keep the total number to 10, what we know as numbers 1 and 2 are combined into one, so that the prohibition against the worship of graven images is part of number 1. As simple as that, as it were. A pity that those who contend that the Romans have played fast and loose didn’t at least show an even small amount of curiosity by looking in a Roman service book or at their Catechism, and further do a small amount of searching in the Bible itself to determine that the numbering of the 10 is a minor challenge in terms of coming out to exactly 10. Not only didn’t they have the very easily obtainable facts, their lack of knowledge would appear to fall very close, if not into intellectual dishonesty, dare we say, large of mouth; and, historical ignorance, dare we say, small of brain?

The Roman Catechism also reveals that they do in fact take the prohibition against worship of images seriously, at least that is their official position. In making the point that worship is due to God alone, their Catechism states, “Religious worship is not directed to images in themselves, considered as mere things, but under their distinctive aspect as images leading us on to God incarnate.” Which is to say, while they might venerate images, their position must never be considered as more than aids to devotion – sort of like a crèche scene in a church of almost any denomination that we see during Christmastide!

Let us, each of us, keep in mind that, during discussion of any matters, but particularly those that pertain to our Christian beliefs, it is perfectly acceptable to indicate that we don’t know the answer to something, that we don’t necessarily have all of the facts. Far better that I should think, than to be perceived as wilfully historically ignorant and intellectually dishonest, or perhaps even worse, “large of mouth and small of brain.”

Oh, the sources of the quotations? “This present age is large of mouth and small of brain” ca. 1600, attributed to Richard Hooker, a voice of reason in the ongoing, often vicious debates between the various parties in the Church of England at the end of the 16th century, and author of the benchmark volumes, “Of The Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity.” He was not always so acerbic; one of his most famous quotations, slightly scrambled by an historian but I think more understandable, is, “God is no captious sophister” (which is to say a quibbler), “eager to trip us up whenever we say amiss, but a courteous tutor, ready to amend what, in our weakness or our ignorance, we say ill, and to make the most of what we say aright.”