On Church History

Whene’er we look, with shaded eyes
at long-since follies, dead men’s lies,
How simple yet the judgments be
what ease put them to dispatch we.

“Filoque? Ha!” the modern shrieks
“Is this of what the Gospel speaks?
And Tewahado (monophys.)
Such subtle science all this is.”

And all the fights from now to then
Seem one unbroken chain of men
who ‘gainst the Gospel constant toil
and seek the Church but to despoil.

Or ‘side despoilers, only those
who labor God, and do suppose
to ferret out the secrets hid
by One who biddest, from those here bid.

Thus do we, in our lately pride,
think somehow we escape the tide
that drags us, though we fight for air,
to drown in God and shipwreck there.

There is no diff’rence, only style,
‘tween yester’s heap, and our day’s pile.
So gird up, as did those before
who ‘gainst the wind did sweep the shore.

Think not to win the fight, ’tis won.
Think not completion: all is done.
‘Tis ours then only loud to sing,
and serve, and work, and ‘wait our King.

My Tombstone

This is what I would like on my tombstone.
The end of Psalm 22, from the 1979 American Book of Common Prayer.

To Him alone all who sleep in the earth bow down in worship;
all who go down to the dust fall before Him.

My soul shall live for Him;
my descendants shall serve Him;
they shall be known as the LORD’S for ever.

They shall come and make known to a people yet unborn
the saving deeds that He has done.

Candlemas: Presentation of the Lord

Today is the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord and the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, also known as “Candlemas,” because of the use of a candle-lit procession connected with the feast that seems to date to the 4th or 5th Century.

Interestingly, I found the following from the New Liturgical Movement. The quote is from Christ in His Mysteries by Dom Columba Marmion, OSB.

When Jesus is forty days old, the Blessed Virgin associates herself yet more directly and deeply with the work of our salvation by presenting Him in the Temple. She is the first to offer to the Eternal Father His Divine Son.
(Emphasis mine.)

That last part sounds an awful lot like what a priest is doing in Mass, no?

On a related note, here are some images of Mary dressed like a priest…
The Annunciation, Mary dressed as a priest

The Blue garment is a chasuble, folded to the upper arms in the Byzantine fashion. Over that is a short priestly stole.

The Annunciation. Mary is dressed as a priest (she is, like the priest at Mass, making Christ present in the world through the words she speaks). Notice the dark blue chasuble, white alb, and priestly stole. On a side note, it looks like the Angel Gabriel is dressed as a Deacon (notice the diagonal stole). This makes sense, as the liturgical role of the Deacon is primarily proclaiming the Gospel- announcing the Word.

Mary as a priest, before the Altar

Mary, holding the hand of Jesus. Notice the altar behind her, the Roman-style chasuble, and the stole.

Mary is here before the Altar (the square thing behind her which, in an interesting aside, also looks like a bed). Her outer garment is an ornate chasuble, cut at the arms in the Roman style, but lengthened to the ankles. Notice the stole peaking out from the bottom of the chasuble. An acolyte to the side is holding the Pope’s Triple-Tiara. I’m curious who the painter thought it belonged to…

Nothing New Under the Sun?

In discussing some of my heretical positions with a(n at least equally heretical, but he wouldn’t say so) conservative “Anglican” (ACNA) priest recently, a point of discussion became hinged on whether or not the deposit of faith is essentially “fixed” or not. “There is nothing new under the sun,” he said. Also, “I tell my congregation, ‘If you ever hear me saying something new, call the Bishop.'”

The issue in particular was female ordination, which he objects to on theological grounds but also on simple tradition: If it has never been done before, it should not be done now. In particular, all theological truth has been revealed already.

I find this a particularly difficult idea. I understand the notion that new ideas should be tested against received tradition, as it truth cannot be in conflict with truth. I can even understand (though I disagree with) this as an argument specifically to women’s ordination, or something else which seems like an “innovation.”

But the central idea here is unfathomable: We currently know everything there is to know about God. There is nothing left to know about God.

How is that even possible?

Heterodoxy requires humility

If you hope that other people (the hierarchy, the conservatives, the whoever) will open their hearts and minds enough to accept that they might be wrong about some aspect of their faith, you must yourself be willing to admit the same thing about your own beliefs.

We all think we’re right. We cannot all be right, and we may all be wrong.

Why I believe in Purgatory

Purgatory is one of those not-very-nice, unscientific, anti-modernist ideas. IF the subject ever comes around liberal Christians (it hardly ever does), it seems like the response is something like, “No one really believes that any more.”

I used to not, either. But now I do.

I wish I could say that I came to my belief because of deep reflection and study, or that I was won over by some theological discourse, or that the truth came to me in prayer, or that I assented in faith to the doctrines of the Church. But none of that is the case.

What did it for me was “Dream of Gerontius” by John Henry Newman.

SOFTLY and gently, dearly-ransomed soul,
In my most loving arms I now enfold thee,
And, o’er the penal waters, as they roll,
I poise thee, and I lower thee, and hold thee.

And carefully I dip thee in the lake,
And thou, without a sob or a resistance,
Dost through the flood thy rapid passage take,
Sinking deep, deeper, into the dim distance.
Angels, to whom the willing task is given,
Shall tend, and nurse, and lull thee, as thou liest;
And Masses on the earth and prayers in heaven,
Shall aid thee at the Throne of the most Highest.

Farewell, but not forever! Brother dear,
Be brave and patient on thy bed of sorrow;
Swiftly shall pass thy night of trial here,
And I will come and wake thee on the morrow.

I’m a Heretic, Not a Free Thinker

I could be wrong, but it seems that most people hold non-orthodox positions because they have been overly influenced by modernity. They don’t believe in the supernatural stuff (Virgin Birth, miracles of Jesus) because it’s somehow anti-scientific. They don’t believe in Purgatory or Hell because it isn’t very Politically Correct. They believe in Universal Salvation because, you know, everyone’s pretty much nice and all.

These are beliefs by default, and betray a disengagement with doctrine rather than a disagreement with it. The dissent of Otherwise Orthodox comes from an engagement with doctrine, dogma, and tradition.

My belief in, for example, the need for female ordination does not stem from a PC-infused conception of fairness or power-sharing. It is a Christological issue for me, and is a position I came to through prayer and engagement with Catholic tradition, specifically Eucharistic Adoration.

I think this is an important distinction because it means that if I want other people to agree with me (doesn’t everyone want that?) I should support and encourage deeper and fuller engagement with orthodoxy and tradition. If my heresies are, in fact, true, then I should have faith that a framework of (what I take to be) true- that is, the liturgical and theological traditions of the Church- should lead people to also believe those things.

It is only through engagement with traditional orthodox belief that heresy makes sense.

What is Otherwise Orthodox?

Theology, like politics, is often very polarized. You’re either a liberal or a conservative, a progressive or a traditionalist, orthodox or heretic.
Besides the problems of tribalism (us against them) there is also a problem of opinion-clustering based on your tribe- if you believe a particular thing about birth control (for example), you must also believe some other particular thing about something completely unrelated, like the death penalty.
In theology and religion, particularly in and around Catholicism, those opinion-clusters go something like this:
Liberals (or progressives) are:

  • For birth control.
  • Against Gregorian Chant.
  • For Universal Salvation and Ecumenism.
  • Against Hell, Purgatory, and other “angry God” ideas.
  • For liturgical dancing and contemporary music.
  • Against hierarchy and clericism.
  • For women’s ordination.
  • Against kneeling for communion.
  • For personal interpretation.
  • Against strict orthodoxy.
  • And so.

While conservatives (or traditionalists) are:

  • Against birth control.
  • For Gregorian chant.
  • Against Universal Salvation and Ecumenism.
  • For (that is, they believe in) Hell and Purgatory.
  • Against liturgical ABUSES!
  • For the hierarchy and the authentic role of the ministerial priesthood.
  • Against women’s ordination.
  • For communion on the tongue, while kneeling.
  • Against personal interpretation.
  • For strict orthodoxy.
  • And so on.

Is this an absolute? No. Are there plenty of people who don’t fall completely in one place or another? Yes.
And that’s exactly the point.

There is no particular reason that certain opinions must cluster together. There is no clear line that could be drawn between one’s belief in something like the Virgin Birth and one’s tastes in liturgical music. And yet, we find that people with a particular belief in this thing over here are remarkably likely to believe in that thing over there.

This makes perhaps the least sense with liberals and progressives. From a conservative point, it makes sense that one’s opinions would conform closely or exactly with (somebody’s version of) orthodox belief. But what about the so-called free thinkers? If I have rejected one particular belief that I’m “supposed” to hold, why should I jettison the whole package? And if I do that, what exactly is the point of continuing to identify as belonging? Why work to change an institution you have no business belonging to? Is there a difference between actually disagreeing with the Church, and simply ignoring it?

Otherwise Orthodox

Otherwise Orthodox is a way to find a path through the chaos of modern dissent. Otherwise Orthodox means that I believe in the truths passed down by the “great cloud of witnesses.” I believe in traditional doctrines and dogmas. I am willing to accept, in faith, those things within my tradition that confuse, baffle, mystify, or otherwise make no sense to me.


Except for those things which I KNOW are wrong. Except for those things, I am otherwise orthodox.

90% orthodox, 10% heretic.

This is different than simply not believing in something.

Most Catholics don’t believe in the True Presence. That doesn’t make them heretics, it probably means their just uninformed. On the other hand, a friend of mine (who taught at a Catholic School) left the Church because she did’t believe in the True Presence, and felt like a hypocrite for acting like she did. That doesn’t make her a heretic either, that makes her a Protestant.

Otherwise Orthodox means I’m not uninformed, and I’m not a Protestant. My beliefs are not due to intellectual laziness, or progressive bandwagoning. I’m not a warmed-over modernist or a groovy, anything-goes liberal.

What I am is an orthodox (Anglo-)Catholic, who believes in (what I understand to be) the core tenets of the faith. Except I disagree. I dissent.

I have to.

There is no place in traditional orthodoxy for feminism. No place for the ordination of women. No place for God who is my Mother, my Sister, my Beloved.

There is no place in traditional orthodoxy for Ecumenism, for open communion, or for Universal Salvation. The Roman Catholic Church teaches that Christian unity means that everyone will eventually be Roman Catholic.

There is no place in traditional orthodoxy for my gay brother, my possibly-future-priest wife, my adoptionist mother, my Zen-Catholic father.

So other than those things. Otherwise. Besides all that.

Otherwise orthodox.