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

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Pope Benedict XVI's address on faith, reason and the University

This article is from but I can only provide a link to the overall agency, not the particular article, so here it is.

Date: 2006-09-12

Papal Address at University of Regensburg

"Three Stages in the Program of De-Hellenization"

REGENSBURG, Germany, SEPT. 12, 2006 ( Here is a Vatican translation of the address Benedict XVI delivered to scientists at the University of Regensburg, where he was a professor and vice rector from 1969 to 1971.

This is the version the Pope read, adding some allusions of the moment, which he hopes to publish in the future, complete with footnotes. Hence, the present text must be considered provisional.

* * *

Faith, Reason and the University
Memories and Reflections

Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a moving experience for me to stand and give a lecture at this university podium once again. I think back to those years when, after a pleasant period at the Freisinger Hochschule, I began teaching at the University of Bonn. This was in 1959, in the days of the old university made up of ordinary professors. The various chairs had neither assistants nor secretaries, but in recompense there was much direct contact with students and in particular among the professors themselves. We would meet before and after lessons in the rooms of the teaching staff. There was a lively exchange with historians, philosophers, philologists and, naturally, between the two theological faculties.

Once a semester there was a "dies academicus," when professors from every faculty appeared before the students of the entire university, making possible a genuine experience of "universitas": The reality that despite our specializations which at times make it difficult to communicate with each other, we made up a whole, working in everything on the basis of a single rationality with its various aspects and sharing responsibility for the right use of reason -- this reality became a lived experience.

The university was also very proud of its two theological faculties. It was clear that, by inquiring about the reasonableness of faith, they too carried out a work which is necessarily part of the "whole" of the "universitas scientiarum," even if not everyone could share the faith which theologians seek to correlate with reason as a whole. This profound sense of coherence within the universe of reason was not troubled, even when it was once reported that a colleague had said there was something odd about our university: It had two faculties devoted to something that did not exist: God. That even in the face of such radical skepticism it is still necessary and reasonable to raise the question of God through the use of reason, and to do so in the context of the tradition of the Christian faith: This, within the university as a whole, was accepted without question.

I was reminded of all this recently, when I read the edition by professor Theodore Khoury (Muenster) of part of the dialogue carried on -- perhaps in 1391 in the winter barracks near Ankara -- by the erudite Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus and an educated Persian on the subject of Christianity and Islam, and the truth of both.

It was probably the emperor himself who set down this dialogue, during the siege of Constantinople between 1394 and 1402; and this would explain why his arguments are given in greater detail than the responses of the learned Persian. The dialogue ranges widely over the structures of faith contained in the Bible and in the Koran, and deals especially with the image of God and of man, while necessarily returning repeatedly to the relationship of the "three Laws": the Old Testament, the New Testament and the Koran.

In this lecture I would like to discuss only one point -- itself rather marginal to the dialogue itself -- which, in the context of the issue of "faith and reason," I found interesting and which can serve as the starting point for my reflections on this issue.

In the seventh conversation ("diálesis" -- controversy) edited by professor Khoury, the emperor touches on the theme of the jihad (holy war). The emperor must have known that sura 2:256 reads: "There is no compulsion in religion." It is one of the suras of the early period, when Mohammed was still powerless and under [threat]. But naturally the emperor also knew the instructions, developed later and recorded in the Koran, concerning holy war.

Without descending to details, such as the difference in treatment accorded to those who have the "Book" and the "infidels," he turns to his interlocutor somewhat brusquely with the central question on the relationship between religion and violence in general, in these words: "Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached."

The emperor goes on to explain in detail the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable. Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul. "God is not pleased by blood, and not acting reasonably ("syn logo") is contrary to God's nature. Faith is born of the soul, not the body. Whoever would lead someone to faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly, without violence and threats.... To convince a reasonable soul, one does not need a strong arm, or weapons of any kind, or any other means of threatening a person with death...."

The decisive statement in this argument against violent conversion is this: Not to act in accordance with reason is contrary to God's nature. The editor, Theodore Khoury, observes: For the emperor, as a Byzantine shaped by Greek philosophy, this statement is self-evident. But for Muslim teaching, God is absolutely transcendent. His will is not bound up with any of our categories, even that of rationality. Here Khoury quotes a work of the noted French Islamist R. Arnaldez, who points out that Ibn Hazn went so far as to state that God is not bound even by his own word, and that nothing would oblige him to reveal the truth to us. Were it God's will, we would even have to practice idolatry.

As far as understanding of God and thus the concrete practice of religion is concerned, we find ourselves faced with a dilemma which nowadays challenges us directly. Is the conviction that acting unreasonably contradicts God's nature merely a Greek idea, or is it always and intrinsically true?

I believe that here we can see the profound harmony between what is Greek in the best sense of the word and the biblical understanding of faith in God. Modifying the first verse of the Book of Genesis, John began the prologue of his Gospel with the words: "In the beginning was the 'logos.'"

This is the very word used by the emperor: God acts with logos. Logos means both reason and word -- a reason which is creative and capable of self-communication, precisely as reason. John thus spoke the final word on the biblical concept of God, and in this word all the often toilsome and tortuous threads of biblical faith find their culmination and synthesis. In the beginning was the logos, and the logos is God, says the Evangelist. The encounter between the biblical message and Greek thought did not happen by chance.

The vision of St. Paul, who saw the roads to Asia barred and in a dream saw a Macedonian man plead with him: "Come over to Macedonia and help us!" (cf. Acts 16:6-10) -- this vision can be interpreted as a "distillation" of the intrinsic necessity of a rapprochement between biblical faith and Greek inquiry.

In point of fact, this rapprochement had been going on for some time. The mysterious name of God, revealed from the burning bush, a name which separates this God from all other divinities with their many names and declares simply that he is, already presents a challenge to the notion of myth, to which Socrates' attempt to vanquish and transcend myth stands in close analogy. Within the Old Testament, the process which started at the burning bush came to new maturity at the time of the Exile, when the God of Israel, an Israel now deprived of its land and worship, was proclaimed as the God of heaven and earth and described in a simple formula which echoes the words uttered at the burning bush: "I am."

This new understanding of God is accompanied by a kind of enlightenment, which finds stark expression in the mockery of gods who are merely the work of human hands (cf. Psalm 115). Thus, despite the bitter conflict with those Hellenistic rulers who sought to accommodate it forcibly to the customs and idolatrous cult of the Greeks, biblical faith, in the Hellenistic period, encountered the best of Greek thought at a deep level, resulting in a mutual enrichment evident especially in the later wisdom literature.

Today we know that the Greek translation of the Old Testament produced at Alexandria -- the Septuagint -- is more than a simple (and in that sense perhaps less than satisfactory) translation of the Hebrew text: It is an independent textual witness and a distinct and important step in the history of Revelation, one which brought about this encounter in a way that was decisive for the birth and spread of Christianity. A profound encounter of faith and reason is taking place here, an encounter between genuine enlightenment and religion. From the very heart of Christian faith and, at the same time, the heart of Greek thought now joined to faith, Manuel II was able to say: Not to act "with logos" is contrary to God's nature.

In all honesty, one must observe that in the late Middle Ages we find trends in theology which would sunder this synthesis between the Greek spirit and the Christian spirit. In contrast with the so-called intellectualism of Augustine and Thomas, there arose with Duns Scotus a voluntarism which ultimately led to the claim that we can only know God's "voluntas ordinata." Beyond this is the realm of God's freedom, in virtue of which he could have done the opposite of everything he has actually done.

This gives rise to positions which clearly approach those of Ibn Hazn and might even lead to the image of a capricious God, who is not even bound to truth and goodness. God's transcendence and otherness are so exalted that our reason, our sense of the true and good, are no longer an authentic mirror of God, whose deepest possibilities remain eternally unattainable and hidden behind his actual decisions.

As opposed to this, the faith of the Church has always insisted that between God and us, between his eternal Creator Spirit and our created reason there exists a real analogy, in which unlikeness remains infinitely greater than likeness, yet not to the point of abolishing analogy and its language (cf. Lateran IV).

God does not become more divine when we push him away from us in a sheer, impenetrable voluntarism; rather, the truly divine God is the God who has revealed himself as logos and, as logos, has acted and continues to act lovingly on our behalf. Certainly, love "transcends" knowledge and is thereby capable of perceiving more than thought alone (cf. Ephesians 3:19); nonetheless it continues to be love of the God who is logos. Consequently, Christian worship is "logic latreía" -- worship in harmony with the eternal Word and with our reason (cf. Romans 12:1).

This inner rapprochement between biblical faith and Greek philosophical inquiry was an event of decisive importance not only from the standpoint of the history of religions, but also from that of world history -- it is an event which concerns us even today. Given this convergence, it is not surprising that Christianity, despite its origins and some significant developments in the East, finally took on its historically decisive character in Europe. We can also express this the other way around: This convergence, with the subsequent addition of the Roman heritage, created Europe and remains the foundation of what can rightly be called Europe.

The thesis that the critically purified Greek heritage forms an integral part of Christian faith has been countered by the call for a de-Hellenization of Christianity -- a call which has more and more dominated theological discussions since the beginning of the modern age. Viewed more closely, three stages can be observed in the program of de-Hellenization: Although interconnected, they are clearly distinct from one another in their motivations and objectives.

De-Hellenization first emerges in connection with the fundamental postulates of the Reformation in the 16th century. Looking at the tradition of scholastic theology, the Reformers thought they were confronted with a faith system totally conditioned by philosophy, that is to say an articulation of the faith based on an alien system of thought. As a result, faith no longer appeared as a living historical Word but as one element of an overarching philosophical system.

The principle of "sola scriptura," on the other hand, sought faith in its pure, primordial form, as originally found in the biblical Word. Metaphysics appeared as a premise derived from another source, from which faith had to be liberated in order to become once more fully itself. When Kant stated that he needed to set thinking aside in order to make room for faith, he carried this program forward with a radicalism that the Reformers could never have foreseen. He thus anchored faith exclusively in practical reason, denying it access to reality as a whole.

The liberal theology of the 19th and 20th centuries ushered in a second stage in the process of de-Hellenization, with Adolf von Harnack as its outstanding representative. When I was a student, and in the early years of my teaching, this program was highly influential in Catholic theology too. It took as its point of departure Pascal's distinction between the God of the philosophers and the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

In my inaugural lecture at Bonn in 1959, I tried to address the issue. I will not repeat here what I said on that occasion, but I would like to describe at least briefly what was new about this second stage of de-Hellenization. Harnack's central idea was to return simply to the man Jesus and to his simple message, underneath the accretions of theology and indeed of Hellenization: This simple message was seen as the culmination of the religious development of humanity. Jesus was said to have put an end to worship in favor of morality. In the end he was presented as the father of a humanitarian moral message.

The fundamental goal was to bring Christianity back into harmony with modern reason, liberating it, that is to say, from seemingly philosophical and theological elements, such as faith in Christ's divinity and the triune God. In this sense, historical-critical exegesis of the New Testament restored to theology its place within the university: Theology, for Harnack, is something essentially historical and therefore strictly scientific. What it is able to say critically about Jesus is, so to speak, an expression of practical reason and consequently it can take its rightful place within the university.

Behind this thinking lies the modern self-limitation of reason, classically expressed in Kant's "Critiques," but in the meantime further radicalized by the impact of the natural sciences. This modern concept of reason is based, to put it briefly, on a synthesis between Platonism (Cartesianism) and empiricism, a synthesis confirmed by the success of technology.

On the one hand it presupposes the mathematical structure of matter, its intrinsic rationality, which makes it possible to understand how matter works and use it efficiently: This basic premise is, so to speak, the Platonic element in the modern understanding of nature. On the other hand, there is nature's capacity to be exploited for our purposes, and here only the possibility of verification or falsification through experimentation can yield ultimate certainty. The weight between the two poles can, depending on the circumstances, shift from one side to the other. As strongly positivistic a thinker as J. Monod has declared himself a convinced Platonist/Cartesian.

This gives rise to two principles which are crucial for the issue we have raised. First, only the kind of certainty resulting from the interplay of mathematical and empirical elements can be considered scientific. Anything that would claim to be science must be measured against this criterion. Hence the human sciences, such as history, psychology, sociology and philosophy, attempt to conform themselves to this canon of scientificity.

A second point, which is important for our reflections, is that by its very nature this method excludes the question of God, making it appear an unscientific or pre-scientific question. Consequently, we are faced with a reduction of the radius of science and reason, one which needs to be questioned.

We shall return to this problem later. In the meantime, it must be observed that from this standpoint any attempt to maintain theology's claim to be "scientific" would end up reducing Christianity to a mere fragment of its former self. But we must say more: It is man himself who ends up being reduced, for the specifically human questions about our origin and destiny, the questions raised by religion and ethics, then have no place within the purview of collective reason as defined by "science" and must thus be relegated to the realm of the subjective.

The subject then decides, on the basis of his experiences, what he considers tenable in matters of religion, and the subjective "conscience" becomes the sole arbiter of what is ethical. In this way, though, ethics and religion lose their power to create a community and become a completely personal matter. This is a dangerous state of affairs for humanity, as we see from the disturbing pathologies of religion and reason which necessarily erupt when reason is so reduced that questions of religion and ethics no longer concern it. Attempts to construct an ethic from the rules of evolution or from psychology and sociology, end up being simply inadequate.

Before I draw the conclusions to which all this has been leading, I must briefly refer to the third stage of de-Hellenization, which is now in progress. In the light of our experience with cultural pluralism, it is often said nowadays that the synthesis with Hellenism achieved in the early Church was a preliminary inculturation which ought not to be binding on other cultures.

The latter are said to have the right to return to the simple message of the New Testament prior to that inculturation, in order to inculturate it anew in their own particular milieux. This thesis is not only false; it is coarse and lacking in precision. The New Testament was written in Greek and bears the imprint of the Greek spirit, which had already come to maturity as the Old Testament developed.

True, there are elements in the evolution of the early Church which do not have to be integrated into all cultures. Nonetheless, the fundamental decisions made about the relationship between faith and the use of human reason are part of the faith itself; they are developments consonant with the nature of faith itself.

And so I come to my conclusion. This attempt, painted with broad strokes, at a critique of modern reason from within has nothing to do with putting the clock back to the time before the Enlightenment and rejecting the insights of the modern age. The positive aspects of modernity are to be acknowledged unreservedly: We are all grateful for the marvelous possibilities that it has opened up for mankind and for the progress in humanity that has been granted to us. The scientific ethos, moreover, is the will to be obedient to the truth, and, as such, it embodies an attitude which reflects one of the basic tenets of Christianity.

The intention here is not one of retrenchment or negative criticism, but of broadening our concept of reason and its application. While we rejoice in the new possibilities open to humanity, we also see the dangers arising from these possibilities and we must ask ourselves how we can overcome them.

We will succeed in doing so only if reason and faith come together in a new way, if we overcome the self-imposed limitation of reason to the empirically verifiable, and if we once more disclose its vast horizons. In this sense theology rightly belongs in the university and within the wide-ranging dialogue of sciences, not merely as a historical discipline and one of the human sciences, but precisely as theology, as inquiry into the rationality of faith.

Only thus do we become capable of that genuine dialogue of cultures and religions so urgently needed today. In the Western world it is widely held that only positivistic reason and the forms of philosophy based on it are universally valid. Yet the world's profoundly religious cultures see this exclusion of the divine from the universality of reason as an attack on their most profound convictions.

A reason which is deaf to the divine and which relegates religion into the realm of subcultures is incapable of entering into the dialogue of cultures. At the same time, as I have attempted to show, modern scientific reason with its intrinsically Platonic element bears within itself a question which points beyond itself and beyond the possibilities of its methodology. Modern scientific reason quite simply has to accept the rational structure of matter and the correspondence between our spirit and the prevailing rational structures of nature as a given, on which its methodology has to be based.

Yet the question why this has to be so is a real question, and one which has to be remanded by the natural sciences to other modes and planes of thought -- to philosophy and theology. For philosophy and, albeit in a different way, for theology, listening to the great experiences and insights of the religious traditions of humanity, and those of the Christian faith in particular, is a source of knowledge, and to ignore it would be an unacceptable restriction of our listening and responding.

Here I am reminded of something Socrates said to Phaedo. In their earlier conversations, many false philosophical opinions had been raised, and so Socrates says: "It would be easily understandable if someone became so annoyed at all these false notions that for the rest of his life he despised and mocked all talk about being -- but in this way he would be deprived of the truth of existence and would suffer a great loss."

The West has long been endangered by this aversion to the questions which underlie its rationality, and can only suffer great harm thereby. The courage to engage the whole breadth of reason, and not the denial of its grandeur -- this is the program with which a theology grounded in biblical faith enters into the debates of our time.

"Not to act reasonably (with logos) is contrary to the nature of God," said Manuel II, according to his Christian understanding of God, in response to his Persian interlocutor. It is to this great logos, to this breadth of reason, that we invite our partners in the dialogue of cultures. To rediscover it constantly is the great task of the university.

[Translation of German original issued by the Holy See; adapted]

© Copyright 2006 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana

Wednesday, September 06, 2006


by the Very Rev. Carl Reid

“Our sufficiency is from God, Who hath made us worthy to be ministers of the new covenant; not of the letter, but of the spirit; for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life” (2Cor. 3, 5b,6).

As I was seeking inspiration for today’s sermon, I was, as usual, distracted with many other things. Happily, this past week, many of those distractions were about the Church and what She believes.

One: there is a small group of suddenly displaced Anglicans seeking possible refuge with us. I have encouraged them to come to meet with us to sit down and review just exactly what our old-fashioned Anglican Catholic Church believes. There have been so many alarming changes to fundamentals in the 30 years since our existence began, that this is a very necessary exercise when we welcome particularly Anglicans into our midst. The source materials that we shall use in our meeting will be the Bible, the Prayer Book, and our foundational document, The Affirmation of St. Louis.

Two: our Wednesday evening study group reconvenes in just 10 days; and, as indicated on the cover of the September issue of The Annunciator, before diving back into the Gospel according to St. Matthew, we shall spend two Wednesday evenings going over the aforementioned foundational document, The Affirmation of St. Louis.

Three: I am just in the process of beginning to do Catechism classes electronically with the two grandsons of Doug and Joan Ellis, who live in New Jersey. The boys’ parents have been unable to find any such instruction locally, so I have readily agreed to undertake this novel approach in preparing the boys for Confirmation.
In reviewing the Catechism in the Prayer Book to decide on how to structure the lessons for the boys, and in conjunction with the quotation from St. Paul with which I began, I was reminded of the following: “Question. What does the Church teach about the Bible? Answer. The Bible records the Word of God as it was given to Israel, and to His Church, at sundry times and in divers manners; and nothing may be taught in the Church as necessary to man’s salvation unless it be concluded or proved therefrom.” First in that, I guess that I’ll have to explain sundry and divers to the boys.

The Affirmation of St. Louis, in recognizing the supremacy of Scripture states in the section Principles of Doctrine, “The Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the authentic record of God's revelation of Himself, His saving activity, and moral demands -- a revelation valid for all men and all time.” Elsewhere, the Affirmation mentions Scriptural standards as the basis for holding fast to time-tested traditions of the Church.

The sixth of the historic Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England states, “Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man…” (p. 700 BCP). This of course echoes that which is stated in the Catechism and is also consistent with the references in the Affirmation.

Above, I opened with a quotation from today’s Epistle. From the context, it appears that St. Paul, when he said, “the letter killeth,” was referring to just the Bible - and how alarming that must have been to any good Jew that Paul would utter such a condemnation against the Law engraved on stones on Mt. Sinai - but he may also have been commenting on slavish obedience to a written set of rules, most likely in particular the 613 laws of the Pharisees. Those laws were not directly from Scripture; but an eloquent Pharisee could spin a convincing rationale for how they were derived from Scripture.

And that therefore begs us to consider how we go about judging just exactly what Scripture says, or, as we heard read above, what may be, “concluded or proved therefrom” as says the Catechism; and, what may be, “proved thereby” as states the Thirty-Nine Articles. Are the Catechism and the Thirty-Nine Articles opening a pandora’s box when they include those phrases, inviting Christians to be as clever as Pharisees in extrapolating sometimes quite significantly from the spirit of what Scripture says? That was certainly not their intent when both were written. Even a very cursory and quick study of Church history will reveal that the implied intent in both is that Scriptures are inviolable and only the collective mind of the Church itself, always appealing to the undivided Church of antiquity, is our source for interpreting the meaning of Scripture if it might be unclear to some readers.
Is this really such an important thing to consider? Yes, especially as we anticipate situations such as the group of Anglicans who might join us. Their last 30 years of belonging to a body whose adherence to the mindset of the Church of antiquity has evaporated dictates that we must be able to guide them back. Guide them back not only to the moral standards as contained in Scripture, and to which the Affirmation makes reference, but also to the clear meaning of certain fundamentals of Church practice and belief as articulated in Scripture and as clearly understood by the early Church. The clever Pharisees in their former allegiance may have led them rather far astray indeed.

The ability of each of us to be a well-informed apologist when it comes to defending the consistent belief of the Church, as based on Scripture and the understanding of the early Christians, is going to become increasingly important as time marches on. We live in a time and society where, on the one hand the majority are no longer believers, but many of whom seem bent on bringing as much ruin to the Church as they are able; and, on the other hand, within the context of church-goers, there is an unprecedented proliferation of bodies who feel that they, and they alone, understand the Scriptures - often, and alarmingly, in very novel ways indeed.

Most Christian bodies profess to accept, with a few variations in wording, that the Bible contains all things necessary to salvation; but clearly, and tragically, not all Christian bodies agree on some very fundamental things. Some such items, about which the consensus of the early Church no longer exists, are quite clearly stated right in the pages of Holy Scripture - there is no need to extrapolate, to “conclude or prove therefrom.” Others are simply early Church words that summarize what the Bible undeniably teaches, but because the actual words themselves don’t appear in Scripture then, somehow, that invalidates them, even though they are 100% consistent with the Bible.

Perhaps somewhat in anticipation of our sessions of review of The Affirmation of St. Louis, what might be a few of these? Well, in the case of those words or phrases that don’t appear themselves in the Bible; but are absolutely consistent with it, we have reviewed a few in time gone by, sometimes in great detail.

“Trinity.” A single word that summarizes our Lord’s own teaching about the relationship among The Father, Himself, and the Holy Spirit. The word does not introduce anything whatever that is not already described in the New Testament. Even before the early Councils of the undivided Church were convened to deal with heresies that forced the Church to articulate more deeply Her understanding of the co-eternal, undivided, consubstantiality of the Three Persons in one God, the word Trinity had already been in accepted use within the Church for some 200 years. The doctrine of the Trinity is accepted by most Christian bodies; but there is a growing number who do not accept it, even though they claim to place the teaching of the Bible above all else. In fact, it is such a foundational belief, based on Scripture that, by reasonable definition, groups that do not accept it should not claim to be Christian.
“Real Presence.” Again, the term does not appear in the pages of the New Testament; but it is most certainly described by our Lord, both at the Last Supper - “this is my Body; this is my Blood” - and in John Ch. 6 - “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink His blood, ye have no life in you … For my flesh is meat indeed and my blood is drink indeed.” Later, St. Paul echoes our Lord’s teaching in Chapters 10 and 11 of his first letter to the Church at Corinth. That the early Church accepted and believed in the mystical real presence of Christ in the bread and wine, as our Lord Himself taught, is evidenced by Her earliest preserved writings outside of the New Testament beginning with St. Ignatius of Antioch, writing just after the year 100 AD in letters to the various Churches. Although our Lord’s words and teaching are quite clear, as were St. Paul’s; and although belief in the real presence was universally accepted as a central belief in the undivided Church, a growing number reject it, even though they claim to accept and exalt the teaching of the Bible above all else.

Now, perhaps even more alarmingly, there are some groups that reject words and teaching that do appear in Scripture, none more prominent that the various deviations of the past 450 years that surround Baptism. Some accept that Baptism is a valid concept, after all, the evidence for it in Scripture is overwhelming; but, denying spiritual regeneration, somehow missing St. Paul’s words to Titus, “But according to His mercy He saved us, by the washing of regeneration,” clearly made in reference to Baptism. Again, St. Paul’s words are consistent with our Lord’s teaching when we think of the episode in John Ch. 3 where Jesus teaches Nicodemus about the necessity for Baptism and the attendant accompanying spiritual regeneration - being born anew from above. Even more alarmingly, while the undeniable teaching of our Lord and the remainder of the New Testament emphasizes the necessity for Baptism, both as the seal of the New Covenant and as essential for salvation, and again that was believed without even a murmur of disagreement by the early Church, some groups insist that Baptism is not even essential, even though they claim to base their beliefs on Scripture.

So, how can others arrive at a completely different position on such important fundamentals, claiming, as we do, to accept that which the Bible teaches? Well, as we may have heard in times gone by, a particular danger in study of the Bible is that of using it to justify a preconceived desire or notion. With an idea already in mind, it is so very easy to find a passage that presents an apparently opposite point of view. That is an exercise clearly fraught with much danger. Consider that, in the cases of the few points presented, it is very easy to find examples in Scripture of converts to belief in Jesus who were not, so far as Scripture records, Baptized; it is all too easy to pick only the words at the Last Supper, “do this in remembrance of me,” to conclude that it is nothing more than a memorial that might be done from time to time, but with no particular importance otherwise.

I think that we all understand that such a granular picking and choosing out of context borders on sacrilege; and why we acknowledge that the study of Scripture must be done, not only within the mindset of the Church - meaning the consensus belief of, if possible, the early, undivided Church, but also considering the overall meaning of all passages within the context of the entirety of the Bible.

Neither the Catechism, nor the Thirty-Nine Articles invite us to such picking and choosing when they state that we might prove or conclude beliefs based on Scripture. Rather, they are inviting us to read the whole of Scripture to understand its truths, and insofar as we might venture to extrapolate outside of the actual words, our extrapolations must remain consistent with the teaching of the Bible.

It is perhaps worth a reminder here that, to the Church of New Testament times, Holy Scripture was that of the Old Testament only. The books in the New Testament were not all written for several decades after the Resurrection and Ascension, which is why we hear the oft made point that it is not reasonable to separate the very early Church from the New Testament, and why we place so much importance on understanding the mind of the early Church. Following the death of those who wrote the books of the New Testament, it was not for many, many years until the New Testament as we have it today was finalized - in fact not until the late 4th century. To be sure, the early Church Fathers, including the aforementioned Ignatius of Antioch quoted from what were to become the canonical Gospels and from St. Paul. However, discussions were to continue for another 275 years after Ignatius before there was agreement on which writings to include and which not.

There were some very good writings in the early Church that eventually were not included in the canon, not because they weren’t fine compositions, entirely consistent with the writings that we know - we might think of the Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians - but rather because the final litmus test for canonicity was that the writings must satisfy the appeal to apostolicity and/or doctrinal tradition. From time to time we hear of so-called Gospels that apparently had been lost since their composition: Thomas, Philip, and so on. These were not unknown to the Church; rather, either they were clearly so late in composition that they could not have been written by any of the Apostles or during the time of the Apostles; and, more importantly, they were judged to be spurious not least because they espoused the man-centred gnosticism that has plagued the Church from Her very beginnings. It was entirely right and proper, not only for the Church to exclude these as valid sources of Scripture, but also to discourage the faithful from reading them. After all, human history, in terms of our relationship with God, is one long story of our attempting to find an easier or more man-centred way than that which God teaches us.
“Question. What does the Church teach about the Bible? Answer. The Bible records the Word of God as it was given to Israel, and to His Church, at sundry times and in divers manners; and nothing may be taught in the Church as necessary to man’s salvation unless it be concluded or proved therefrom.” And perhaps now we have a slightly better understanding of how deeply involved Scripture is, and in particular the New Testament, with the life of the undivided catholic and apostolic Church that wrote it.

It is a terrible sadness that those who style themselves to be Christians can find so much to argue about concerning our Holy Book. How must that look to the very wide world of non believers? Perhaps St. Paul’s words that the letter killeth were much more prophetic than he realized.

“Blessed Lord, Who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of Thy Holy Word, we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting salvation, which Thou hast given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ.” Amen.