Saturday, October 04, 2014

Sixteenth Sunday after Trinty

Eph. 3:13-21 * Luke 7:11-17

And there came a fear on all: and they glorified God, saying, That a great prophet is risen up among us; and, That God hath visited his people.


The people's reaction to this miracle, Jesus raising the dead man back to this mortal life (unlike His own resurrection to follow), has behind it the great Tradition of the Old Testament. The prophets spoke the word of God with power, power that changed things, such as Moses rolling back the waters of the Red Sea, or Elijah bringing down fire from Heaven to turn the hearts of the disobedient back again. 1 The word of God came with such power as we see in the opening of Genesis, where all creation comes alive when God says, "let there be light." The word of God comes with power, miraculous power. The word of God, in the mouth of a prophet, is powerful. 2

The word for "power" in the Greek New Testament, that is also translated as "might" (as in "mighty") in today's Epistle, is a word always associated with miracles. It is δ
ναμις (dynamis), from which we get the word "dynamic." The New Testament reveals that the Christian life is the life of power that comes from the Holy Spirit. It is a supernatural life that does not depend on mere human strength. It is the life of the Risen Christ imparted to us from the Holy Spirit by our baptism into Christ 3 and to which we have access only by faith. This power converts our hearts to faith and obedience, and brings us to the knowledge of God. The word of God proclaimed in the Gospel contains this supernatural power of the Holy Spirit within it, because whenever and wherever the Gospel is proclaimed the Holy Spirit speaks to the hearts of believers and unbelievers alike, 4 creating faith in unbelieving hearts as he convicts the world. 5

We can approach this life in different ways. Today's Epistle tells us, as believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, how we ought to approach this life, living here and now the life that draws its power from the life of the Risen Christ, and that is breathed within us by the Holy Spirit. Look at those powerful words of St. Paul, and ask yourself, honestly, if you find them meaningful, or completely hidden to you.

...that he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might (δ
ναμις) by his Spirit in the inner man; that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fullness of God.

Is that how you approach each day? Do you begin your day in prayer, asking for this to be your experience throughout the day? Do you hear these words as hollow and meaningless, or do they entice you, in a good and healthy way, to know God better?

I do not mean to create the impression of a life that is always full of some kind of emotional high, nor do I underestimate the necessary times of dryness that mystics call "the dark night of the soul." The life of faith faces the same setbacks and fears that affect all people everywhere. But, the life of faith perseveres, and is not overcome by this world, because Christ Himself, the Risen and Glorified Lord, is its source, its goal and its hope. Only the Holy Spirit can give you this life, because it is not a man made commodity.

It begins each day by the honest recognition that we have sinned, and have not earned some right to know God. It begins in the honest light of humility that confesses, repents and asks forgiveness. The life of faith means that you receive that forgiveness because you understand that Christ has paid the full price for all your sins, that he did this when He poured out His soul unto death for you on the cross, 6 and that through Him the Father welcomes you into His presence, fully justified because you are in Christ. Because you know this, by faith, you dare to ask for the grace of God that is brought to you by the Holy Spirit, and for the power to live in that grace.

...to be strengthened with might (δ
ναμις) by his Spirit in the inner man; that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith...

Because of this power and grace from the Holy Spirit, that God gives you breath by breath as you live in your own daily reality, you can love your neighbor with the love of God, even when your own power fails.

...that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height...

You can give the love of Christ freely, because, freely, it has been given to you. 7

...and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fullness of God.

The life of faith is simple but not easy. It is powerful, but known only in weakness. St. Paul wrote to the Church in Corinth:

And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 8

What is the weakness in which Christ's power is made perfect in our own experience? It is when we have come to the end of our own power, and learn that we need His power. It is why I remind you, on the First Sunday after Trinity, that it is harder by far to love thy neighbor than it is to love some big impersonal thing we call "mankind." Our own weakness is evident in many ways, as it was for Peter, James and John who fell asleep, though they really had intended to watch with Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane. We know we ought not to fear death as others do, but we cannot live without some fear of it from time to time. We cannot forgive others as God forgives us, that is, we cannot forgive when we rely on the power of our emotions. I could go on and on, for there is much we cannot do.

The life we live is the life of faith, and it is the sacramental life.

When you approach God today it is with thanksgiving, hearing His word, confession of sin, receiving His forgiveness, and then actually partaking of the Food and Drink of Eternal Life by taking and eating, and by drinking, Christ's own Body and Blood as He gives Himself in the sacrament. You need His grace, and ought to avail yourself of every means of grace. Seeing this need for what it is, requires the honest evaluation of humility. You need what He gives. He gives Himself; as he gave Himself on the cross, he gives Himself through every means He has established, and by faith you receive Him. That is what His grace is--it is His own presence and power here and now.

But, beware of what St. Paul described in words he wrote to St. Timothy about some

...having a form of godliness, but denying the power (δ
ναμις) thereof: from such turn away.
9

I hope that none of you think of this time spent in church as merely "a little religion" to distract you from real life. Real life is here, and real life is in Christ. The world offers many distractions, and those are the fantasy, the things that pass away. Eternity is forever (as much as that may sound like a Yogi Berra-ism). St. John said it better:

Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever. 10

You may approach the Christian life merely as religious duty, concerning which you have little conviction, about which you think, "let's not get carried away." You may think it enough to give God one hour each week (which is never a time limit we set on a service!), but then to live the rest of your time assuming that He will be satisfied with that, as if you gave Him something that He needed. God does not need an hour from you once a week, and He does not need a bit of your money, or a few hours from you on Holy Days. He does not need anything from you, and you cannot give Him anything.

You need
You, however, need to give God as much attention as you can. You need to give what you can. You need to come here, you need to pray each day wherever you are, you need to hear His word (to read it), and you need to take the sacraments He offers. You need to obey His voice, and you need faith that is present moment by moment, day by day. The power that you need is a gift that is given, and that you need to receive every hour of your life. Do not hold a mere form of godliness if you are going to go out of here to deny the power thereof.

Instead,

know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fullness of God.
____________________

1. That is, to the fathers, or to the wisdom of the just; cp. I Kings 18:37, Malachi 4:5,6 & Luke 1:17
2. cp. Jer. 15: 19 & Isaiah 55:11
3. Romans 6:1f
4. "For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek." Romans 1:16
5. John 16:8
6. Isaiah 53:12
7. Matt. 10:8
8. II Cor. 12:7-9
9. II Tim. 3:5
10. I John 2:15-17

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Laymen's Guide to the Thirty-Nine Articles Article 30 - Of Both Kinds

Article XXX

Of Both Kinds

The Cup of the Lord is not to be denied to the Lay-people: for both the parts of the Lord's Sacrament, by Christ's ordinance and commandment, ought to be ministered to all Christian men alike.
De Utraque Specie
Calix Domini laicis non est denegandus, utraque enim pars Dominici sacramenti, ex Christi institutione et praecepto, omnibus Christianis ex aequo administrari debet.


Archbishop Peter Robinson

Article 30 is one of the simplest of the Articles of Religion. The Cup had gradually been withdrawn from the laity for pragmatic reasons during the Dark Ages. The usual reasoning being to prevent the "irreverence" arising from long mustaches dangling in the chalice. Whilst this may have been a legitimate concern, it still went against what Jesus instructed His disciples to do, which is to eat and drink in amnesis of Him.

The issue of the Cup had been raised a little over a hundred and twenty-five years previously by the Hussites or Bohemian Brethren, who demanded the restoration of the Cup to the laity and practiced it in their own congregations. It was among the concessions the Papacy was prepared to make in order to end the Hussite schism, but it was to be another 500 years before they would grant permission for the laity throughout the Latin Rite to 'drink of that Cup' as our Lord commanded. Even then, the Vatican II Council gives only conditional permission for the laity to receive the Cup.

The other element stresses the priesthood of all believers in that it says that the Cup ought to be administered 'to all Christian men alike.' Anglicanism shares with Lutheranism a very strong sense of both the priesthood of all believers, and also of the need for a ministry of Word and Sacrament set apart by prayer and the laying on of hands. Both are strictly Scriptural. Unlike the Roman Church we do not believe that ordination makes an ontological change in a person, but rather sets apart a man to certain functions - the administration of the sacraments and the preaching of the Word.

Fr. Robert Hart

In English speaking countries the Roman Catholic Church uses modern language translations of the Mass. They come to the words of the Lord about the cup, "Drink this all of you." The use of the vernacular instead of Latin may be one of the reasons that they began offering the chalice to laity. 

But, in some places they still refuse the chalice to laity, as if ignoring the very words of Jesus. The doctrine of concomitance is the rationale. That Roman Catholic doctrine teaches that the whole Christ is present under each separate Eucharistic species. Therefore, they teach, the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ are present fully in each of the consecrated elements. Many Anglicans have accepted this same doctrine, but they apply it in practice only to the reserve sacrament that they carry out of the church to those who are sick or otherwise unable to come. 

It is not my purpose here to argue either for or against concomitance. I will say only that it is not based on any revelation taught in Scripture, so I cannot simply affirm it as dogma. The issue here is one of the Church obeying her Lord. Reading the words of Jesus as translated into plain English, and then refusing the chalice to the laity, is a clear example of why it is difficult, indeed, to ascribe much good to Newman's Theory of Doctrinal Development. Based on a scholastic bit of reasoning, developed by human reason to the status of revealed dogma, the word of the Lord is set aside. I am not disputing the doctrine, but merely pointing out that it is used as a rationale for open disobedience to the very words of Christ, something no one has the authority to do.

In our Prayer Book Holy Communion we use older English: "Drink ye all of this." The problem with that is the way it sounds to modern ears. As a child I thought it meant to drink it all, and waste none of it. I did not understand that "ye all" meant "all of you" - like the quaint Southern  expression, "y'all." When I celebrate I try to make the actual meaning come across to modern ears, even Northern ears, which requires seeing two commas where they really were not placed. Thus, when I am at the altar it comes out, "Drink, ye all, of this." I have had people comment that they finally got it.

Aside from simply obeying the Lord, some have speculated that each element, once consecrated, imparts a specific grace. This idea was at least mentioned by E.J. Bicknell in his excellent book about the Thirty-Nine Articles. Our Prayer of Humble Access contains words that can reflect an old idea that the Body of Christ cleanses our sinful bodies, and His blood washes clean our souls, as separate actions. The actual words in the Prayer are fine when interpreted along different lines, such as remembering that by the Risen Body of Christ, our own bodies will rise free from the uncleanness of death, etc. Nonetheless, the idea of separate operations of grace is purely speculative at best. It cannot be proved by Scripture, and has not been taught by most of the Church.

Personally, I prefer the idea of concomitance over that idea, or rather, I prefer something to the effect that the communicant receives the fullness of God's grace through faith while receiving the sacrament. I have had a young man kneel at my altar rail, willing only to drink from the chalice, but not to eat. For medical reasons, he must not consume wheat. I cannot imagine God withholding any grace from him on that basis. In addition, it is clear that a preoccupation with trying to understand how God through the sacrament imparts grace (which is not understandable with the mere human mind) distracts us, all too often, from remembering the Lord's sacrifice as we partake of His covenant supper together as the Church.

In the final analysis, however, to withhold the chalice from the laity, when present at the actual celebration of the Eucharist, is simple disobedience to Christ Himself. It flatly contradicts His clear instruction. And, as I said, that is something no one has the authority to do.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

St Michael and all Angels

September 29th is the feast of St Michael and all Angels. Angels are our fellow servants of God. Like us they are created beings, and do not share the uncreated nature of God. But, they are spirits, and their existence is both known to us and yet mysterious to us.

I have never understood the readiness some clergymen have had to proclaim themselves sophisticated by stating that they do not believe in angels. I once heard an Episcopal priest stand in the pulpit of a church, and make this very statement- but this same priest was also a devotee of H.L. Mencken. So, it should not surprise me that his idea of sophistication was sophomoric. He did not deny the Virgin Birth, or the Resurrection of our Lord, but one had to wonder what next? What else will he dismiss as beneath his own brilliance of mind, simply because it is too glorious and transcendental for his awkward attempt at honest skepticism? He thought his unbelief a thing impressive, as if it were a badge of wisdom.

I recall some years ago that Archbishop Peter Akinola, Anglican Primate of Nigeria no less, was visiting the United States, and was approached by members of the "Gay" advocacy group in the Episcopal Church. Without hesitation, the archbishop began to command the demons in them to be silent, and spoke the commands of exorcism. Word of this got to Mr. John Shelby Spong (I do not recognize him as a bishop), who attempted to make light of the African bishop’s lack of sophistication.

Surely, that is backwards. The ones who lack sophistication are the Western modern elitists, such as Mr. Spong. They cannot conceive of the supernatural world. Their ability to understand is limited not by reason and knowledge, but by foolishness and bigotry (the “benevolent” bigotry of liberals in this case). How easily they show contempt for African bishops who are not only their spiritual superiors, but who are also their superiors in scholarship and in theology. Mr. Spong no doubt thinks that he is the enlightened and educated one compared to the Anglicans of Africa, which only indicates that some of the people we are calling "liberals" these days are racists.

Indeed, to understand that a whole world exists that is invisible to us, inhabited by beings of a nature higher than our own- as every nature is supernatural to the natures below it- requires not so much the faith of a child, but the intelligence of minds which have been lifted to the great height of humility, raised to lowliness, able to see that even the science that we do know reveals a magnificence and intricacy of design which, with each new discovery, opens more questions concerning the things that we do not know. Scientists who learn new facts make us all less knowledgeable as a result, because the more we learn the less we know in proportion to any measure of a complete understanding. We gain ground only to lose more ground in our quest for knowledge. For, whereas before, questions could be few, we have now more questions; for the increase of knowledge shows that the percentage of it that we have is less than we thought. For every discovery of fact opens more questions than we had been asking before. So, a truly learned and intelligent person becomes humble, for all his knowledge can only tell him how ignorant he is.
Not so those who misunderstand the progress of science, and think that we now know just about everything, and that we can understand every phenomenon with what they sophomorically call "a scientific explanation". But, they do not have the courage to face real science, and its unsettling effect on human pride.

They think that their limited knowledge should rule out what they characterize as things "simple" and "childish." How simple and childish of them. The spiritual side of this is the statement of our Lord, that only the one who humbles himself as a little child 1 is great in the Kingdom of Heaven. While Western Rationalist clergymen, such as Mr. Spong and the Mencken enthusiast, applaud their own sophistication, truly wise men are worshipping God with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven. Those who are humble enough to receive the wisdom that comes from God have no time to waste trying to look clever by the low standard of Western Rationalism.

The reading we have from the twelfth chapter of the Book of Revelation tells us why. It tells of spiritual warfare. It speaks of the battle St. Michael and the armies of God are fighting against the devil and his angels. We see it all around us, unless our delusion of sophistication blinds us to the war. Is it not obvious to us that the world around us is hostile to God, to everything that is true and good? For example, every time a new discovery of medical science brings home just how depraved and viscous it is to murder children in the womb by abortion, that discovery is ignored by the major press. When the discovery is invoked as yet more evidence for life, it meets with a hostile attempt at censorship, as though the most obscene thing in the world is to speak the truth. And, indeed, it is, by the standard of this world and its prince. This would be a great mystery to me if I did not know about spiritual warfare. But, as one who knows of it, I have been prepared to recognize the war for what it is.

The war is very real; I have had the very Biblical experience of performing genuine exorcism and of seeing a human being released quite suddenly from the grip of demon possession. I do not know fully what demon possession is, for it is still a mystery; I cannot put it under a microscope. But, I know enough to have been ready to act when a person was in need, and to do what Jesus said to do. The results were quite wonderful.

"Our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers, against rulers of the spiritual darkness of this world, and against spiritual wickedness in heavenly places." So says St. Paul;2 and he tells us to put on the whole armor of God in order to stand in the evil day. We do not know when the evil days are gong to be. We have all had an evil day of weather, with enough warning that people should have been ready for winds and flood. So it is with days of spiritual warfare, evil days. We must be prepared by wearing the whole armor of God, as explained in the sixth chapter of Ephesians. Otherwise our minds and hearts will be exposed to all of the weapons of deception and damnation. We must also be ready through the regular practice of prayer and of fasting. This should be part of our routine, just as the whole armor of God should be part of our daily life. Unless we live on a war footing, we are not prepared.

We know, or should know, that the angels are messengers. The words in Hebrew and Greek translated "angel" in our English Bible, mean messenger. In fact, John the Baptist was the greatest born of women, for though he was a man he is registered in the company of angels. He was the Messenger of the Covenant (H’ Melech H’ Br’it).

We know that when God sent important words to man, especially when the Word was made flesh, it was done by the Message of an Angel. For Gabriel appeared to Mary and announced that she would be the mother of our Lord, that indeed not simply despite her virginity, but because of her virginity, she would bear and bring forth God in the flesh. Who but an angel could bring this word as a message which causes the event to happen? A word with the creative power of God Himself, put in the mouth of God’s own messenger as God’s own words.

And in addition to their being messengers, we see them as warriors. The scriptures speak this way quite a bit, especially in Joshua and in Daniel, and of course in the New Testament, such as in the Book of Revelation. This ought to comfort us in all our tribulation. For we are not alone. There are more with us than with them, angels fellow servants of God.

1. See Matthew 18:4, which happens to be part of the Gospel reading for this feast. I will say more about this in the sermon to follow.

2. See Ephesians 6:10f

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity


Galatians 3:16-22 * Luke 10:23-37

Ever since the days of Martin Luther the question of Faith and Works, and the role they may or may not play in the salvation and justification of sinners, has dominated a great deal of theological discourse. As you may know, Luther built his German based Reformation on sola fide, which translates as “faith alone.” This view, misunderstood and taken to an extreme, can take all of the statements by Saint Paul about faith, and make it the only factor in the Christian life. And, indeed Saint Paul does speak often about faith that justifies and saves us. But, Saint Paul never added the word “alone.” The only verse in the whole Bible that contains these words, "faith" and "alone," in close proximity is James 2: 17: “Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.” Because of Saint James’ teaching in his Epistle, Martin Luther called it “an Epistle of straw, compared to” most of the New Testament. What is the balance? What is the truth about faith and works, and the role of faith in our salvation?

Saint Paul never exactly said that by faith we are saved. Rather, he took it along a specific route that begins with grace. In Ephesians, the second chapter he wrote these words: “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” In the very next verse he adds, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” (This ought to remind you of the words in our prayer of thanksgiving after receiving Communion, about good works that God hath prepared for us to walk in.) So, if Saint James was full of straw for teaching that “faith without works is dead, being alone,” then Saint Paul was full of the exact same straw, because he taught the exact same thing.

In fact, today’s Epistle is speaking more directly to the problem of faith and works then either Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians, or the Epistle of James. This is for two reasons. First of all, Paul never conceived of faith existing all by itself, cut off from the rest of the Christian life. In the most famous passage he ever wrote, the chapter about the love of God, the thirteenth chapter of First Corinthians, he lists the three most important virtues together: “And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.” It is always at least somewhat misleading to speak of “faith alone” because faith never is alone. True faith that is planted in us by the Holy Spirit always has two other virtues at its side: hope and charity. It simply does not exist alone. Article XI says, "that we are justified by faith only is a most wholesome doctrine, and very full of comfort." The careful use of "only" as opposed to "alone" is no accident. Article XII affirms that faith cannot exist alone, at least not for very long: "Albeit that good works, which are the fruits of faith and follow after justification, cannot put away our sins and endure the severity of God's judgment, yet are they pleasing and acceptable to God in Christ, and do spring out necessarily of a true and lively faith, insomuch that by them a lively faith may be as evidently known as a tree discerned by the fruit." True faith will produce fruit (and, in all fairness, to Luther, he taught the same), indeed the fruit will "spring out necessarily." The New Testament holds this as a consistent pattern: Faith produces love, and love produces good works.

But, in today’s Epistle, Paul tells us of the distinction between the Law and the promise, specifically this promise that Abraham believed. And, Paul builds a lot of teaching on this promise and the faith of Abraham, basing it on these words from Genesis. “And He [God] brought him [Abram] forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be. And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness.” The Hebrew word for believed is the word “amen.” Amen (אמן) is a form of emet. Emet (אמת) means “truth” and so “amen” means true. Jesus, when He said “verily, verily” actually said, “Amen, amen, (μν μν) I say unto you.” When you say “amen” you are stating that you believe the words spoken to be true. When Abram (as his name was at that stage) believed God, what he believed, very specifically, was that God’s word is true. That is how Abram amened God, and so was accounted righteous. From this Paul teaches two things. First, believing in God’s revealed truth is essential to our being accounted as righteous, namely, that by God’s mercy our sins are not taken into account. He also taught that Abram, as yet uncircumcised, became the father not only of the Jewish people, but of all people who have faith, that is all who believe God’s word to be true, even Gentiles. All of this shows the absolute necessity of faith. The writer to the Hebrews teaches us that this faith in God’s promise was manifest when Abraham was ready to offer Isaac on the mountain. James, however, uses the same story to teach the importance of works. Again, this should not surprise us, because the issue never was faith versus works.

We are saved by grace through faith, not by our works. But, faith lives with hope and charity. You can separate faith from works only if you can separate it from charity. Your own good works cannot earn for you the forgiveness of your sins; but the faith that calls and empowers you to enter the whole sacramental life as a Christian is a faith that God’s word is true, and it is faith that lives with hope and charity. And, because it lives with charity, good works will be present in the life of faith. However, like the Samaritan in today’s Gospel, this charity can be quite spontaneous. The Samaritan saw a man who may very well have despised him were he not in dire straits. The Jews looked down on Samaritans as being a group of Gentiles pretending to be Jews. They were seen as being second class at best. This did not matter to the Samaritan in this parable; why? The answer is that he was, as the Lord said, “moved with compassion.” He was not trying to balance out his sins with good works (which is impossible). The idea of trying to appease God by doing a good work is not indicated at all. Instead, the Samaritan simply has compassion, and acts without resentment against a Jewish man who, under other circumstances, he may have avoided. His charity is natural and spontaneous, not forced and contrived.

The other thing we learn from the Epistle is the true context of faith and works as a theological question. In the Western world, ever since the Reformation, the whole treatment of this subject has been misunderstood by some, recast as a difference between people within Christianity. But, this is not right. Paul was not teaching that God’s grace saves us through just any faith, rather through faith in something very specific. The faith that God’s word is true, the promise we must say our own “amen” to, is the Gospel of Jesus Christ as it is now revealed through the Word made flesh as proclaimed by his Apostles. Any effort to be saved by works meant, as used by Paul in his Epistles, the effort to be saved by the works, specifically, of the Law. The Law of commandments that came four hundred and thirty years after Abram believed God’s promise, does not make you righteous. It reveals that you are a sinner. It reveals that you need the Savior from sin and death, the One who has died as the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world, and rose again the third day to destroy death. Before his conversion, when he was Saul of Tarsus, he believed himself to be righteous, and his zeal to persecute the Church to have been the seal of his righteousness. But, when he saw the Risen Christ, and was blinded as he drew close to Damascus, he learned that this great crowning act of his own righteousness was actually the sin of persecuting the Messiah by persecuting His Church. At once he learned of his sin, and of God’s mercy in forgiving that sin, he was converted, and began to see only in his brief time of physical blindness.

So, the issue, at the time Saint Paul was writing, was never some quality called faith versus good works. These terms are used, rather, to speak of the difference between religion when it is without a specific faith in Jesus Christ, even the best religion (the truth of the Jewish religion based on the revelation of God to Patriarchs and Prophets) and a belief that God’s word, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, is true. It is the difference between trying to be saved by the Law of Commandments, through efforts of self-deception that you are somehow a good person, and the faith that embraces the entire new life of a Christian. I could say that it is the difference between Judaism and Christianity; however, I would say that only with respect. As Christians we do believe in Judaism, the Law and the Prophets. It is simply that we also believe in the promise, and we say the “amen” of faith that God’s word is true, specifically the word of the Gospel as preached by the apostles of the New Covenant, the word that is the foundation of the Church in every age and place about Jesus Christ.


Then, we must recall the words of James: “Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.” That is, this faith will grow in us by the work of the Holy Spirit within our hearts, and it will abide with hope and charity as we press on into the sacramental life by the grace of God, pursuing the goal and end of our belief, knowing God and His Son Jesus Christ whom He has sent (John 17:3).