Friday, December 30, 2011

The Christian Faith of George Washington II

"Ancient of Days" by William Blake
(1757-1827) British Poet and Painter,
depicting God as the Architect of the
Universe, a common theme in
Enlightenment thought
Let’s pick up the Anglican/Episcopalian saga before looking at George Washington’s type of Christianity.  As I said in the last entry we hear that the hero of our Revolution and our First President was Episcopalian and we think “he’s almost a Catholic!” but that only shows to go you how little we know about Episcopalians or Anglicans at the time of George Washington.  This is an important topic for another reason as well.  When we look at the question of Anglican’s having “Valid Orders” it is important that we know their history to see if their doctrines of Eucharist and Priesthood have always conformed to what we Catholics believe to be the historic faith of the Church as it has come to us from the Apostles. 
      Henry VIII did not steer his Church of England on a Protestant course when he broke communion with Rome in 1536.  He kept not only the Mass but virtually all Catholic doctrine and practice other than religious life.  He closed the monasteries for a variety of reasons—financial gain for the crown being one of them but he changed almost nothing else.  The Pope’s name was dropped from the Mass but the Mass remained otherwise unchanged even for the Latin.  All Henry wanted was a non-papal Catholicism.  But he obviously knew what the future held and the Council of Regency he appointed to govern England until his son and heir, the future Edward VI, was old enough to govern for himself, was decidedly Protestant in its religious views.  Henry did die when his son was only nine and as Edward died before reaching his majority, this Regency Council governed England for the entire period.  The Protestant leaning majority soon rid itself of the more conservative minority and under the aegis of Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury and thoroughly Protestant member of the Privy Council, transformed Henry’s non-papal Catholic Church into a Calvinist Church.  As regards the sacraments and worship they did this in two steps.  The first substantial Liturgical revision came with the 1549 Book of Common Prayer issued only two years after Edward’s ascension to the throne.  (There had been a few interpolations of English into the communion rite of the Latin Mass almost immediately after Henry’s death, but the Mass itself was untouched for over two years while Archbishop Cranmer prepared his new liturgy)  This first Prayerbook retained vestments, altars, and other Catholic ceremonial but it was no sooner published than Cranmer issued a second book that was stripped of almost all Catholic elements.  Like Luther, Cranmer was particularly ardent to strip the Mass (and priesthood) of any sense of sacrifice.  The rites of ordination of priests and consecration of bishops were similarly altered to remove any concept of a “sacrificing priesthood.”  The motivation for this was the mistaken idea about Catholic teaching, an idea, incidentally, held by many Catholics who had exaggerated sound doctrine into superstitious claptrap that each Mass was in and of itself a “sacrifice” as opposed to the idea that in each Mass the one sacrifice of Christ becomes present to us.  In orthodox Catholicism, unlike in what was once the popular Catholic imagination, Christ is not sacrificed again and again every time Mass is offered.  Christ has died once and for all.  In the Mass we are made present to that one eternal sacrifice which is sufficient for the redemption of the world. 
       The Mass neither repeats that sacrifice nor adds anything to it.  Knowing this we can see why Cranmer, Luther and other Reformers were anxious to avoid the idea of the Mass as Sacrifice even if they over-reacted in their zeal to protect the uniqueness of Christ’s once-and-for-all sacrifice.  But there were other problems in the Mass as well,  The “offertory” prayers of the “old Mass” ambiguously suggested that there were two sacrifices at the Mass, the first and lesser being the sacrifice of bread and wine to God so that they could be used in the second and essential “sacrifice,” in which Christ’s one and eternal Sacrifice is made present (or in the exaggerated view, in which Christ is offered again (and again and again) in each Mass). Cranmer’s work of stripping the Mass of any idea of Sacrifice was quick but thorough. It reduced the Mass, now known as “Holy Communion” to a mere memorial of Christ’s saving death.  Cranmer’s concept of Christ’s presence in the Eucharist was ambiguously confusing but is best summed up in the beautiful (but doctrinally problematic) prayer:  Take and eat this in remembrance that Christ died for thee and feed on him in thy heart by faith and with thanksgiving.  Beautiful sentiment—but is Christ present only by faith and what do we mean by remembrance? 
      In any event, At King Edward’s death in 1553, the Church of England had been thoroughly Protestantized and those clinging to Catholic theology or practice had been forced from their ecclesiastical offices and sometimes (but not always) imprisoned. 
       At Edward’s death, his Catholic sister Mary ascended the throne and in her five year reign restored the Catholic Faith and practice, bringing the Church of England back into the Roman Communion.  Unfortunately she did this in a particularly violent and bloody way, without any modicum of restraint or prudence, despite the advice of her Catholic Archbishop of Canterbury (who was also her cousin) Cardinal Reginald Pole.  Pole and Mary died the same day, November 17, 1558, leaving Mary’s successor, her Protestant half-sister Elizabeth, in need of a New Archbishop who could make a new—and Protestant--beginning.
        Elizabeth was one of the few genuinely intelligent people to sit on the English throne and she was not only fluent in classical languages but well instructed in theology. (Curiously, while she had a keen grasp of doctrine it sometimes seems that she lacked Christian faith.)   Her religious biases were for the sort of non-papal Catholicism of her Father.  She liked ritual and well understood that religious ritual actually bolstered the authority of the Crown. But Elizabeth had a problem and that was getting the power to rule firmly into her hands.  No one expected her to be Queen.  They expected her to marry and her husband to be King.  Elizabeth had no such strategy in mind. As she herself asserted, she had “the heart and stomach of a King” and was determined to rule in her own name.  To consolidate her power she had to woo the House of Commons for its support against the at-the-time all-powerful House of Lords.  The Commons, representing townsfolk, was thoroughly Protestant.  Actually they were Puritans, staunch Protestants who wanted to rid the Church of England of anything Roman.  The Reformation was on again and on with a fury.  The communion tables came back, the altars went out.  Vestments were destroyed; crosses and candles swept from the sanctuaries; statues and stained glass smashed.  Ordinary table bread was used for Holy Communion and tankards replaced chalices.  A new Prayerbook came out in 1559, substantially identical to the second Prayerbook of King Edward VI.  Priests and bishops were married (though not to each other—that comes later.) Matthew Parker, her choice for Archbishop of Canterbury, was consecrated according to the Ritual as reformed by Cranmer during the time of King Edward, not according to the Catholic Rite.  Theologians like Bishop John Jewel of Salisbury drew on Scripture and the Fathers to explain and justify the Reforms.  Elizabethan Anglicanism differed from Rome but was very orthodox—though with a strong Calvinist bent—in its soteriology.  Elizabethan Anglican sacramental theology is a bit more complex and while Catholics may not find it to be “orthodox,” was well rooted in patristics and sixteenth century New Testament scholarship.  Elizabeth had a remarkably long reign—almost forty-five years—and by her death England was thoroughly Protestant and thoroughly Reformed (i.e. Calvinist).  I don’t know that she was totally happy about that, but it is what she left as her legacy.
      Elizabeth was succeeded by her Calvinist cousin, King James VI of Scotland who became James I of England.  James too was highly educated and interested in matters theological.  His wife, Anne of Denmark, was a convert from Lutheranism to Catholicism but James remained a staunch Anglican though of High-Church sentiments rather than Puritan.  James is famous for having sponsored the English translation of the Bible that bears his name.   Beginning in the reign of James I and continuing on through that of his son, Charles I, there was a spiritual and theological revival in the English Church that crystalized during the tenure of William Laud as Archbishop of Canterbury.  Patristic scholarship and theological reflection, as well as somewhat of a recovery of the pre-Reformation English mystical tradition brought new—and very orthodox—life to the Church of England.  Under Laud’s administration, there was also somewhat of a corresponding liturgical revival though by no means a restoration of pre-Reformation ceremonial.  Unfortunately, it came crashing down with executions of King Charles and Archbishop Laud in 1649 and 1645 respectively.  During Oliver Cromwell’s Puritan Commonwealth the Church of England splintered hopelessly.  The Episcopacy was abolished (temporarily) in favor of Presbyterianism but religious dissent burst out into numerous exotic forms with Quakers and Levelers, Baptists and Diggers, Congregationalists, Ranters and Fifth Monarchists.  What was beneath this disintegration of a National Church into numerous sects of dubious orthodoxy was the triumph of a neo-gnostic Illuminism in which the subjective religious experience of the individual was allowed to take precedence over the collective wisdom and ancient tradition of the community of the faithful.  When ultimate authority is not some outside source—be it scripture, sacred authors, papal authority, tradition—but individual opinion then there is no cohesive religious bond that means anything.  Reason may—or may not—play a role in the formation of opinions and while most of these sects were radically subjective with no regard for reason, there were many in society that saw religion as essentially irrational and opted not for faith but instead for rational philosophy and natural science to replace any sort of Divine Revelation be it canonical or individual.  This then, the mid-seventeenth century, is a period in which many embraced Enlightenment rationalism leading them to a very rational view of God as the impersonal architect of the universe.  It is here that we get Issac Newton, John Locke, Adam Smith, Alexander Pope, Joseph Priestly and a host of other very modern thinkers who had moved far beyond a theocentric view of science, philosophy, human society, religion, and the universe itself.  This was also the incubator in which Freemasonry was hatched as a rational alternative to Christian myth and ritual.   This rationalism was not without its effect on the Church of England which was closely connected to the universities and whose clergy were trained at those universities.  In the late seventeenth and throughout the eighteenth centuries there were many priests and bishops—not to mention laity—who conformed in worship to Anglican practice but whose theology was riddled with rationalism that led to Arianism,  Socinianism, and even Unitarianism.  Christ’s Virgin Birth and his Physical Resurrection were called into question by some and many saw the Church existing primarily for character formation in sound morals rather than as a belief system.  Sermons were often moral exhortations free of specifically Christian doctrine and prayers were no more than the formation of moral precepts with references to a Transcendent Being.  This skepticism was by no means limited to Anglicanism and in America was found also among the New England Congregationalists.  It would cause a reaction in the formation of an Evangelical wing that was behind the First Great Awakening with the preaching of such Anglican promoters of Christian orthodoxy as George Whitefield and John Wesley.  In the nineteenth century it would be responsible for the reaction we call The Oxford Movement and the revival of Catholic heritage in the Church of England and the American Episcopal Church.  At the time of the American Revolution, however, the Anglican and Episcopal Churches had an evangelical wing but were heavily tipped in favor of religious rationalism.  But what about George himself?  Did he hold an evangelical faith or was he given to religious rationalism?  Well that is for next time.   

Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Christian Faith of George Washington I

Samuel Seabury, first bishop
of the Episcopal Church in
the New Republic
Sorry I haven’t posted in a few days, but have been doing some Christmas travel.  So let’s go back to our Founding Fathers/Christian nation series for a few entries.  I want to look at George Washington and his religious views, but before I do we need to understand the Anglican/Episcopal Church as it stood in the eighteenth century.  Washington was an Anglican/Episcopalian but that can be a bit misleading if we do not put it into context. 
     First of all why do I call his religious affiliation “Anglican/Episcopalian?”    Until the American Revolution the Anglican Church in the American colonies retained its traditional name—as it still does in most of the world—“Anglican.”  It was also called “The Church of England” in the colonies even as it was in the “Mother Country.”  “Anglican” means “English”—coming from the “Angles”—one of the Germanic tribes that in the fifth and sixth centuries had settled in what is today England.  In fact, England means “the land of the Angles.”  Even before Henry VIII’s break with Rome in 1536 the English Church had a distinct identity and was known, even by Rome and in papal documents as the Ecclesia Anglicana—the English Church, the Anglican Church.   When the American colonies declared their independence from England many Anglicans, especially in New York and the northern colonies, were Tories and supported the British cause.  In Virginia, however, it was different. Most of the Virginia aristocracy was Anglican but for various reasons, including economic advantage, supported the break with England and were in favor of independence.  They did not want their Church to be known as “The Church of England” or as Anglican. They were no longer English.  They were Americans.  They needed another name. 
      At the time of the Reformation the Church of England had kept the traditional hierarchical order of Bishops, Priests, and Deacons though there is dispute over whether or not they maintained the apostolic succession or whether they understood the offices of Bishop and Priest in a sense compatible with Catholic dogma (see entry for December 7 2011 on “Valid Orders” for an introductory essay on this question.  We will have to deal with it in depth in some future entries—especially when we get to the subject of the English Reformation.)  In the colonial period American Anglicans were subject to the diocesan supervision of the Bishop of London as no Bishops had been appointed for the American colonies.   With independence that link with the Bishop of London was severed because the Bishop himself, Robert Lowth, refused oversight to the now independent former colonies.  After the Revolution, in 1783, The Anglican clergy of Connecticut elected one of their own, Samuel Seabury, and sent him to England to be consecrated as a bishop.  The English bishops, however, could not by English law consecrate him because he would not, as an American citizen, swear allegiance to the King.  English law required Anglican Bishops to take an oath of loyalty to the Crown as part of the Consecration Rite, even as Catholic Bishops were required to give obedience to the Pope.   Consequently, Samuel Seabury travelled to Scotland where several Scottish bishops who did not recognize the legitimacy of George III (their loyalty was to the Stuart claimant, Charles Edward, the “Young Pretender)” consecrated him to the episcopacy.  Several years later Maryland Anglicans elected William White and New Yorkers elected Samuel Provoost both of whom in 1787 were consecrated in England where the law by then had been changed to permit the consecration of bishops for lands not subject to the English Crown without requiring the oath of loyalty.  (By the way, this dispute about consecrating Bishops for America played an important role in the separation of Methodists from the Church of England, but that is for a future posting.)  Virginia Anglicans elected James Madison (no, not the future President but another James Madison) who was consecrated bishop in England in 1790.  With an established hierarchy, American Anglicans chose the name “Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America.”  That name is both significant and misleading.  The Church is Episcopal in as that it has an Episcopal system of government which is to say that it is led by bishops.  The confusion is in the name “Protestant.”  That was primarily meant to make it clear that, while it retained bishops, it was not “Catholic” in the sense of being in communion with the Pope. (“Bishops” were widely considered to be a Catholic innovation by most Protestants who followed a Presbyterian system of government.)  But what does Protestant mean and does it mean the same thing today as it did in the eighteenth century?  Did the organizers of the Episcopal Church choose “Protestant” as a negative identity, only to distinguish it from Catholics, or was it meant to convey a positive meaning, in terms of embracing the evangelical principles of the Reformation? 
      Today we see Episcopalians as “almost Catholic,” or, as one of my friends says “Catholic light: all the ritual, half the guilt.”  But what we see today in the Episcopal Church is not what George Washington would have seen in his day when Episcopal priests usually wore at the altar simply a black gown and preaching tabs and not even surplice much less Eucharistic vestments.  In Washington’s day, the pulpit was the focus of the church.  There was no altar, but a simple wooden communion table which held neither cross nor candles. Behind “The Holy Table” was mounted on the wall, tablets containing the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Apostles Creed. The Service of Holy Communion (equivalent to the Catholic Mass) still had much of the structure of the Mass about it, but it was a far more Calvinistic Service than the 1928 Prayerbook or the1979 Book of Common Prayer.  For example, the reception of Holy Communion came directly after the Words of Institution “Take and eat, for this is my body…take and drink, for this is the cup of my blood….”  The Lord’s Prayer was only recited after Communion, the idea being the very Protestant idea that Christ gave us the Eucharist only for the eating and drinking in his memory. It was only with the Oxford Movement which began in 1833 that “Catholic” practices were revived in the Anglican and Episcopal churches—and revived slowly and with much opposition from the evangelical or “Low Church” wing, some of which still refuse the use of vestments, candles, altar cross, and hold to the Calvinistic liturgy and theology.   Far more significant to the Oxford Movement than the revival of pre-reformation ritual, however, was the insistence of doctrinal orthodoxy on the part of the Tractarian leadership of the Oxford Movement who realized that Anglicanism had been on a two-hundred year slippery slope into agnosticism and no longer held unswervingly to the Apostolic faith.  Many Anglicans embraced the rationalism of the period which had drifted from orthodox Christology and Trinitarian faith to Unitarianism and even Deism.  Thus we will see that George Washington’s being an Episcopalian is not guarantee of his being, by modern standards, a Christian.  Washington would recognize shreds and tatters of the Episcopal Church of his day in some of the language of the Prayer Book but he would be shocked to see both the liturgy and doctrine held by most modern Episcopalians who, as liberal as they are, were not nearly as scrubbed clean of Christian Orthodoxy as were Washington and his contemporaries. 

Monday, December 26, 2011

Keeping in Mind This Christmas the Christians of the Near East

Chaldean Patriarch Cardinal Mar Emmanuel III Delly
celebrates Christmas Liturgy in Mosul.  Priests from
Arlington VA, note the altar girl serving mass on the
picture's right. 
We think of the Iraqi people as Muslims but before the second Iraqi war there were approximately one million Christians in Iraqi, mostly members of the Chaldean Catholic Church, the Syrian Catholic Church, or the Syrian Orthodox Church.  Christianity came to what was once Assyria in the second and third centuries and despite the Muslim conquest in the seventh century and subsequent centuries of Muslim Rule under the Baghdad Caliphate and then the Ottoman Empire, vibrant Christian communities continued to exist and even flourish especially in the towns and villages of the so-called Nineveh plain centering around modern day Mosul.  
     The Chaldean Catholic Church has been in formal communion with Rome since at least the early seventeenth century.  (It’s previous status was ambiguous, especially after the Council of Florence in 1445, but it can be said that it was never in formal schism.) The current head of the Chaldean Catholic Church is Cardinal Mar Emmanuel III Delly, Patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldeans.  Worldwide there are about a million and a half Chaldean Catholics, six hundred thousand of whom lived in Iraq before the most recent war.  (There were also about 400,000 other Christians, not Chaldean Catholics but Latin (Roman Rite) Catholics, Syrian Catholics, and Syrian Orthodox.)     The Chaldean Catholic Church maintains  a seminary in Baghdad.   The Patriarch resides in Mosul. The Syriac Orthodox Church comes from Apostolic times and the Patriarchate of Antioch which parted ways with Greek Orthodoxy and Western Catholicism when it rejected the teachings of the Council of Chalcedon (451) regarding the manner in which humanity and divinity are united in Jesus of Nazareth.  Syriac Catholicism separated from Syriac Orthodoxy in the late eighteenth century when Mar Ignatius Michael III Jarweh, Bishop of Aleppo who had reconciled to Rome was elected Patriarch.  Several bishops who opposed union with Rome rejected his election and chose an alternative candidate pledged to retain the autonomy and separation of the Syriac Church.  The followers of Mar Ignatius thus became known as Syriac Catholics; those of his rival, Mar Matta ben Abdel Ahad Saalab bishop of Mosul are Syriac Orthodox.   Latin Catholics are fewer and their Archbishop is Jean Sleiman, a Lebanese Discalced Carmelite. There are also smaller communities of Armenian and Maronite Christians.  
      I remember that about two weeks before the United States invaded Iraq in 2003 that I was at a dinner party with a couple who are Arab Christians—the husband Maronite, the wife Copt.  They were very upset at the impending war as they foretold—and foretold correctly—that a war would destabilize the entire region and have ominous consequences for Arab Christians in Iraq and throughout the region.  They could not have been more right. The late Pope John Paul II also forecast a dangerous shift of power in which Christians would suffer as a consequence of the American determination to go to war.  The Pope sent Cardinal Pio Laghi, a family friend of the Bushes, to speak with President Bush but it was to no avail.  The plight of Christians in the region has grown steadily worse since the American invasion.  
      For centuries the Christians of Iraq were give the protected status of dhimmi by the various Muslim overlords and the various Christian communities existed in peace and even thrived.  Even under the regime of Sadaam Hussein they remained protected and Chaldean Catholic Tariq Aziz served as Foreign Minister and then as Deputy Prime Minister.  The Second Iraqi War (“Mr. Cheney’s War”)  totally destabilized Iraq and not only pitted Shiite against Sunni in a bloody civil war but left the Christian minority without any protection.  American strategy only made this worse when, in order to take pressure off Baghdad, Mosul became the center of conflict.  The majority of Iraqi Christians lived in Mosul and surrounding villages and towns. Militants suspected the Christians of treasonous ties to the NATO forces whom they viewed as foreign invaders.  Terrorists began targeting the Christian communities with abductions and murders of religious leaders.  Father Ragheed Azis Ganni was killed in Mosul in 2007 along with three subdeacons at Mass.   Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho was kidnapped in 2008 and found murdered several days later.  Several of his companion including chauffer and bodyguard were also killed.  Christians were threatened with death if they did not abandon their homes and their businesses.  Churches have been bombed and religious institutions destroyed.  To date about 40% of Iraqi Christians—400,000—have fled the country and most of the remainder live in fear and with hope of escaping their ancestral homeland. 

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Worship: It Is More Blessed to Receive Than to Give

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams presides
over Lessons and Carols in his Cathedral Church
Christmas Eve we drove into town to go to the Cathedral for 4 pm mass.  It wasn’t my idea.  Usually a priest relative says mass here at home for the family but this year an about-to-be-inlaw suggested we join her and her family for the mass where she was to be a Eucharistic Minister at a special “Children’s Liturgy.”  I hate to be a Grinch but children’s liturgies are one of those things that I think are good ideas and bad—or at least painful to sit through—in practice.  And at Christmas it is just—well chaotic.  I will say that the young girl who appeared to have some developmental issues read the Old Testament Lesson and Epistle as well as any adult (including any priest) if not better.  But as huge as the Cathedral is, there were several hundred people standing for lack of seats.  The Lectionary and the Eucharistic Prayer for Children is just a bit too dummied down (at least for me) and on Christmas Eve the kids’ energy level is off the charts.  The Rector too, while he tried to do a good job, was obviously conscious of the time and the whole liturgy had a feeling of being rushed even though it was an hour and twenty minutes.  I am sure a lot of people—especially parents and grandparents of the kids who crowded around the manger for the homily—loved it and fortunately there was (despite what I had been told there would be) no Santa Claus coming in after communion to doff his hat and leave a gift at the manger.  Nevertheless, I left mass feeling I had been through an ordeal rather than celebrated the great mystery of the Incarnation.  That was me; others, I am sure, loved it.  And I have no doubt that God who delights in children more than religious fussiness (if Jesus in the Gospels, especially  Matthew, is to believed) was well pleased.  Nevertheless, I needed something more. 
        After some obligatory (but short) visits to various relatives I made it back to the country town where I spend the holidays and decided to stop in at the local Methodist Church for their Christmas Eve Lessons and Carols service that began at 9 pm.  This is a small hamlet of about fifty houses, with two Protestant Churches.  The Catholic Church was closed two years ago and now is an “outreach center” with food, clothes, and limited medical services for economically stretched families.   I tend to forget how many people in our society, especially in rural America, are still suffering from the economic crash brought on by the twenty-eight years of unsound and immoral fiscal policies (aka “trickle down economics”) that are creating a vacuum where the middle class used to be.  I give credit to the Catholic Diocese here that instead of selling the Church property they maintain it as an outreach station.  There is an ancient tradition for this in the diaconal churches of Rome.  I will have to do a blog entry on that one day.   
     In any event, I settled into a pew in the Methodist Church—a tiny white clapboard building that could hold a hundred people at the most.  There might have been forty people for the service, including the seven member choir (four women, three men), the pastor, and the music director.  It was a lovely simple service.  The music director is a first-rate organist (a little less successful with the piano) and has a phenomenal tenor voice.  He opened the service with a solo of Handel’s “Who can abide the day of his coming?” from the Messiah.  The choir did their best for seven people of somewhat advanced years.  We sang a good variety of carols.  The lessons were the traditional ones for Lessons and Carols and they relayed the story of salvation from Adam to John’s proclamation that “The Word became flesh.”
      It was a pleasant regrouping of spiritual energy after the more frenetic mass.  But, while I have often attended Protestant services, it struck me last evening how different the Catholic and Protestant approach to worship is.  For us Catholics—and I think the Orthodox as well as (though perhaps to a lesser extent) liturgical Protestants (“High-Church” Episcopalians and Lutherans)—liturgy is about “doing” something for God.  I seem to recall that the word “Liturgy” comes from the Greek, leitourgia “The people’s action” implying the exercise of a civic duty towards the gods.  For more “Low-Church” or evangelical Protestants, worship is more about receiving from God than doing—being nourished or fed as they often say.  I am not going to say that one approach is better than the other.  In fact I think we need a balance that integrates our responsibility to offer God worship with God’s anxious care to provide us with his sustenance.  Too often at Mass I think we are into the doing.  Sing this hymn. Recite that prayer.  Stand.  Kneel.  Bow.  Up and Back for Communion. I think Mass too often becomes one-thing-after-another ritual. 
     Sometimes, though, Evangelical style worship can be all feeling and no substance.  A friend of mine who is an Evangelical told me about a Memorial Day Weekend service at his Bible Church in Denver CO.  He said:
“It was so moving.  First they sang The Navy Hymn and everyone who served in the Nave stood up while the choir sang.  Then they sang The Army Hymn (God of our Fathers Whose Almighty Hand) and everyone who served in the Army stood. Next came The Air Force Hymn and all those who had been in the Air Force stood. Then they sang The Marine Hymn, and all who had served in the Marines stood.  And finally, as they raised a forty-foot American flag over the pulpit we all sang America the Beautiful. I was so moved.”    As a Catholic I was somewhat appalled at such a service—not that I am not patriotic but because Jesus was never mentioned.  This was all style and no substance—total emotion and zero Gospel. That is not what we need either.  When I hear Joel Osteen or some other TV preachers I think it is little more than positivism for bible readers and I think our faith is meant to be much more than that.  The Gospel excites me, makes me critique myself and the world around me, calls forth a response from me.  It touches my heart not with an emotional feather but with an energy that calls me to respond.   

      I think we can have worship that both touches the heart and proclaims the Gospel.  I am fortunate that I am able to participate in the prayer life of a local monastic community, joining them most days for both morning and evening prayer.  The calm slow recitation of the psalms, the lesson with the reflective silence afterward, the ability to pray so much of the office from memory or with attentive listening gives a good balance to the higher pitched and more active demands of participation in the Eucharist.  I think that a healthy prayer life needs both sacramental and non-sacramental worship—in addition to solitude and silence for meditation.  Too many Catholics are unaware of prayer beyond the mass and, perhaps, (and especially for us older types) the devotional prayers such as the rosary or the Stations of the Cross.  It is too soon to evaluate the effects of the current revision of the Mass but perhaps what we need it not so much to revise our Eucharistic liturgy as to look at the entire spectrum of prayer, communal and private, and see how we can revitalize spiritual life for the average Catholic.  
      This brings me back to Lessons and Carols.  The service was designed by Edward White Benson, Anglican Bishop of Truro in England in 1880.  Benson went on to become the Archbishop of Canterbury before his death in 1896.  (His youngest son ended up a Catholic Priest.)  Benson looked at the mediocrity of Church life in his day and realized that some creativity was needed in the Church of England to nourish the waning religiosity of the ordinary people.  He modeled Lessons and Carols rather loosely on a Catholic Matins service, substituting carols and hymns for the psalms.  It has gone on to become a Christmas tradition in many parts of the world, a service cherished not only by Anglicans but by Protestants and Catholics alike.  Perhaps today we need some more creativity to make spiritual life come alive for contemporary Christians.  I don’t think the new translation of the Mass does that, in fact I don’t think the Mass, as wonderful as it is,  is enough but needs to be the jewel set into the crown of a life of prayer.  The stiffness of current liturgical practice in the Catholic Church falls short of meeting the spiritual needs of many.  We may need the protein of sacramental ritual but we also need the spiritual carbs of more scripture oriented worship. After all, our faith tells us that it is not so much what we do for God but what God offers us.  We live not by bread (and wine) alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.      

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Rembering the Mother Church at Christmas

The Mar Elias Church, a Greek
Orthodox Monastery in Bethlehem.
Bethlehem is the center of Palestinian

Well, it is Christmas Eve and there is much to remember in our prayers but this evening let us in particular pray for the Christians of the Near East who are suffering terribly in the shifting political situations of the various nations in which they are a minority. 
     Palestinian Christians represent the “Mother Church” of Christianity, the Jerusalem community spoken of in the Acts of the Apostles, being descended from the converts made the Apostles at Pentecost.  They are mostly Greek Orthodox and Melkite Catholic (Arab Catholics of the Greek Rite in union with Rome) with smaller communities of Copts (both Catholic and Orthodox), Syrians (mostly Orthodox, some Catholics), Chaldeans (in union with Rome), Maronites (in union with Rome), Armenians (both Orthodox and Catholic) and some smaller Protestant (Anglican Lutheran, Presbyterian, and Methodist) congregations.  At one time Palestinian Christians made up as much as 20% of the indigenous population of what is today Israel and Palestine. We think of the Palestinians as Arabs but the majority are descendants of the ancient peoples of Palestine who have lived there since before Joshua led the People of Israel into the land promised them: that is to say that modern Palestinians are descended primarily from the Canaanite, Phoenician, Philistines and other peoples mentioned in the Hebrew Scriptures.  During the period of Greek Rule under the Seleucid kings they, unlike the Maccabean Jews, renounced their various belief systems and adopted the Greek deities.  Under the more tolerant Roman rule they became very syncretic religiously borrowing belief systems from various sources according to their particular choices but culturally they remained Graeco-Syrian having lost their particular ancient identities as Philistines, Canaanites, etc.  When the Jews were expelled from Roman Palestine after the Bar Kokhba revolt (123-25 CE), this indigenous Graeco-Syrian population was left in the land.  Christianity, preached by the Apostles at Pentecost and afterward drew many converts and by the time that the Christian religion was legalized in the Roman Empire, most had already become Christian and were well established in the Christian faith.  The Persian conquest of 614 was devastating to monasteries and churches, the Persians being Zoroastrians and harassing Christians, but the Byzantine reconquest was quick and the effects of the Persian persecution was not long term.  It was only two decades later, however, in 636 that Arab forces under the Caliph Umar, the second Caliph after Mohammed, conquered Palestine.  There was no persecution of Christians under Islamic rule of Palestine though Christians and Jews, called dhimmi under sharia law,  were subjected to a higher tax rate than the Muslim population.  This tax for non-Muslims was called jizya and it was in lieu of military service which was restricted to Muslims.  The tax burden could be quite heavy, especially on the rural population who eked out a living by subsistence farming.  Over the centuries many rural Palestinians adopted Islam to escape the jizya while the merchant classes in the town were more prosperous, able to pay the tax, and remained Christian.  
     After the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 many Arabs in the new country felt the effects of discrimination and chose to leave for North or South America as well as for former British dominions in Australia and South Africa.  (Palestine had been a British Protectorate from the end of World War I until the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948.)  In a similar way when Israel captured the West Bank and Gaza in the Six Days War (1967), many Palestinians decided it was time to emigrate.  Urban merchants can convert their business to cash far more easily than farmers whose wealth is in their land—a land that is poor to begin which and which now became subject to seizure at whim as the ‘settlements’ go up on what had been Palestinian farms and orchards.  Consequently the Christians have been quick to emigrate while the Muslims economically do not always have the same freedom.  The Christian population in Israel/Palestine has now diminished to less than 3% from a pre-State of Israel high of perhaps 10%.  According to the Latin Patriarchate (The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Jerusalem), the Christian Population is being driven out by a combination of Israeli policy towards Palestinians and Muslim prejudice against Christian Arabs.  There is great danger of the Christian population disappearing from Israel/Palestine and Christians losing a heritage that goes back to the preaching of Jesus.  We will look at the problems of other Christian communities—the Copts (Egypt), the Chaldeans (Iraq), and the Maronites (Lebanon) in future blogs. 

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Jesus, the Reason for the Season? Or Not?

There is more to Christmas than Christ, and for some
there's less to Christmas than Christ, much less than
Christ, but that's just fine.
A friend of mine recently told me a story about Christmas and grinches. My friend teaches at a private school somewhere in the Northeast.  The school has adopted a strong secular identity and few of the students come from Christian homes.  There is a policy forbidding so much as a poinsettia plant in the faculty lunch-room or a jolly elf in the library.  Even reading The Polar Express is verboten and a teacher was reprimanded for wearing a green sweater with a red and green plaid skirt.  Boy, anybody who thinks only conservatives are rigid needs to visit this school!!!  Well, my friend told me, one parent was upset because—horror of horrors—there was a Christmas tree near the entrance to the parking lot.  You see, this school rents its property from a Christian Church to whom the parking lot belongs but this particular parent obviously thought that the landlords should refrain from decorating their property because she did not want her child to be exposed to Christmas.  A Christmas tree has no religious significance.   And so let’s take a break from this Founding Father and Christian Nation thing and indulge ourselves a bit in a look at the history of Christmas.  After all Jesus “is the reason for the season.’  Or not.  Now when I say that, I am not being anti-Christian or on the “Take Christ out of Christmas” bandwagon.  I am a devout Roman Catholic—more devout than most I would suggest—but we need to look at Christmas in its wider picture context if we want to consider intelligently the issue of the crèche on courthouse lawns that we have been looking at. 
      While Christians began celebrating the birth of Jesus on December 25th in the fourth century they built their celebration on already existing “pagan” festivals.  History does not know the actual date of Christ’s birth.  Some argue that the story’s relating to us that “shepherds were keeping watch in the fields by night over their sheep” argues against a December date as in the winter the sheep would be kept in barns through the cold nights.  I am not familiar with sheepherding protocols in first century Palestine but I do know that December in Israel/Palestine has long nights with low temperatures—not as low as Idaho or Colorado and American sheep, but regularly in the 40’s and occasionally below freezing.  And, in any case, contemporary biblical scholarship would not consider night-time temperatures of Bethlehem fields relevant to whatever historical/biographical shreds might be recoverable from the gospel texts.   Suffice it to say that we don’t know the actual date of the birth of Jesus.  Nor do we need to. The Queen’s Birthday is a Saturday in June—any Saturday her government might choose for the festivities—though she was born on April 21st.  But it rains a lot in London in April (April showers,May flowers, and all that) so it is celebrated another day.  Same with Jesus.  Who knows when he was born, but December 25th works well as everybody needs a lift from the dark days and longer darker nights of midwinter.  And long before Jesus was even a twinkle in some celestial star (I am speaking here of the man born, not the Word who became incarnate in that birth) people were reveling at midwinter.  According to the historian the Venerable Bede (8th century) the ancient Anglo-Saxon peoples celebrated Modranecht (Mother’s Night) on December 25th.   The Celts had Meán Geimhridh—the festival of the winter solstice.  Germanic and Nordic folk had Yule.  Baltic peoples had Ziemassvētki.  The Slavs had Rozhanista.  The Roman/Graeco culture had a variety of feasts in honor of the god Bacchus, the god Saturn, or the Sol Invictus: the unconquered Sun.  Customs varied from culture to culture but certain common features included gift-giving, revelry (usually to excess), hospitality, and the use of light.  The further north, the darker and longer the nights, the more ardent were the celebrations.  Greens were often brought indoors to decorate the home (and probably to freshen the air of the houses closed tight against winter cold) and to keep the awareness of nature when all outside seemed dead and awaiting the rebirth spring would provide. 
     Initially there seems to have been some resistance among Christian theologians to the idea of celebrating the Birth of Jesus as it was too close in concept to the pagan celebrations honoring the birth of various deities.  Of course Kings, Pharaohs, and Emperors regularly had their birthdays celebrated but primitive Christianity distanced itself from such royal celebrations as well because the implication was attributing divinity to the monarch being celebrated.  It does seem by the middle of the fourth century however that the feast was being celebrated at Rome from where it spread eastwards to Constantinople and the Churches of the East.  This makes it somewhat of the exception as most of the ancient feasts began in the Eastern Church(es) and spread westward to Rome.  The Church in the West was always inclined to a more Spartan liturgical style than the more exotic East.  By the end of the fourth century Christmas had achieved great popularity as it was used to combat the Arian heresy that denied Jesus full divinity, equal to the Father.  Christmas became an affirmation of the idea that in the birth of Jesus, God (the Word, the Second Person of the Trinity) became human, uniting in one person the human and divine natures. 
     The name Christmas derives from the Old English Christemaesse—Christ’s Mass—even as other feasts were called after the Mass celebrated on that day—Michaelmas  (St. Michael’s Day, September 11th ) or Martinmas (St. Martin’s Day, November 11th). 
     It’s clear that our contemporary Christmas is an amalgamation of Christian and Pagan elements.  Christianity has often adopted and then adapted indigenous customs, “baptizing” them as it were with Christian meaning.  The Chinese Rites controversy of the seventeenth century is one of the more interesting examples of this practice and the rejection by Rome of the use of Chinese practices by the Jesuit missionaries was a huge mistake from an evangelizing point of view.  Pius XII, in one of the first acts of his papacy, admitted the mistake and to remedy it repealed much of the legislation of Clement XI that had outlawed the incorporation of Chinese practices into Catholic liturgy and devotions.  We will have to do a study of the Chinese Rites issue in the future but before we blame Clement XI for his narrow mindedness we need to locate him in the ambiance of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century.  This was the same time, incidentally, that Puritans in Boston were outlawing Christmas because of its pagan roots.  And so we should distinguish between the Christian meaning of Christmas (the liturgical celebration of Christ’s birth with its worship services, scripture readings, and sacred songs) and the cultural survivals of pre-Christian practices with evergreens, blazing lights and fires, revelry and (not so sacred)songs.   They both have their place but a Festooned and light-bedecked tree is no more a Christian symbol than is a Halloween Jack-o-lantern or a Fourth-of July firecracker.  So get over the Christmas tree in the Park or the wreath of lights on the lamppost.  And while you’re at it, let Ms. Paula wear that red sweater and plaid skirt: she looks real cute in it. 

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Founding Fathers and Christian Nations

Well, we have looked at Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson and seen that their religious beliefs were what me might call post-Christian in as that, while recognizing the benefits of organized religion for the moral formation of the ordinary citizen, they themselves not only did not subscribe to any particular Christian denomination but in fact did not believe in a personal God as defined by the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth.  They were both deists, what we might call today secular humanists, who believed that sound human reason, not divine revelation, was the cornerstone of moral formation and that human nature, being essentially rational and good, was inclined to moral behavior.  Of course I think that is incredibly naïve but then, like Luther, Calvin, and Benedict XVI, I am a pretty strong Augustinian.  Although both Franklin and Jefferson saw the benefits of organized religion for character formation of individuals less enlightened than themselves and their peers among the intelligentsia, Franklin seems to have held Christianity in higher regard than Jefferson but then while neither of them suffered fools gladly, Franklin was the more graciously mannered of the too.  Jefferson was your classic liberal showing little or no patience with those whom he regarded as his inferiors.  That is the problem with liberalism: it is not truly democratic but replaces socio-economic hierarchy with a social order based on intellectual pretense.  But let’s not pursue that, at least not now.  Instead let’s look at the third person responsible for the Declaration of Independence, John Adams—and by way of contrast—his cousin the instigator of independence, Sam Adams.   Both the Adams cousins were born and bred in New England Congregationalism.
     Congregationalism grew out of the Puritan wing of the Church of England and represented a strong Calvinist presence in the Established Church.  During the English Civil War when the monarchy was replaced by Oliver Cromwell’s Commonwealth, Episcopacy was abolished in the Church of England and was replaced by Presbyterian Church Order.  That is to say that bishops were abolished and the Church was administered by Presbyteries—boards of pastors. The Restoration of the Monarchy in 1660 not only brought back the King but the bishops and the reintroduction of bishops split the Church of England with the Puritan wing refusing both bishops and the Anglican liturgy, and being known as non-Conformists (because they would not conform to the Anglican Church Order of Bishops and the Prayer Book).  During Cromwell’s Puritan Parliamentary government in England, the vast majority of colonial American Anglicans had not deviated from the Prayer Book and classic Anglicanism—though the Church in America never did have bishops—but in New England, which had always been quite Puritanical, nominal membership in the Church of England gave way to the emergence of a very non-Anglican denomination which we call Congregationalism. In the course of the eighteenth century New England Congregationalism itself split with many—indeed in Boston, the majority—of congregations rejecting Trinitarian faith for Unitarianism.
      Now, let’s talk for a moment about Unitarianism.  At the time of the Protestant Reformation there were many in Europe—particularly in England, Poland, Hungary, and Italy—among the intellectuals who rejected the Christian idea of a Trinitarian God—three “divine persons” consubstantial in one Divine Nature.  Trinitarianism was, and in some circles still is, seen as lightly disguised polytheism.  Nevertheless, the civil authorities, both Catholic and Protestant, rigorously suppressed any dissent.  After all, a corollary of Unitarianism is that Jesus is not Divine.  In the Enlightenment many mainline clergy—Anglican, Presbyterian, and Congregationalists—embraced Unitarianism which at the time was not a separate denomination (much less a religion)  but rather a movement or opinion in various religious groups.  New England Congregationalism was split between Trinitarian and Unitarian factions.  Samuel Adams who maintained his membership at Old South Meeting House was a Trinitarian.  John Adams, who had studied at Harvard—a bastion of Unitarian thought—identified with the Unitarian faction.  It was only in the early nineteenth century, however, that the formal break came and Unitarianism and Congregationalism went their separate ways. 
     The Unitarianism of John Adams should not be confused with the Unitarianism of today.  Although it rejected the Divinity of Christ it considered itself—and was widely considered by others—to be a Christian denomination.  Unitarians believed—much like Jefferson—that the professions of Jesus’ divinity and the stories of miracles were added to the teachings of Jesus by the Evangelists and later generations of Christians.  Eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Unitarianism looked to the Jewish-Christian scriptures for moral guidance and for inspiration though they did tend to give the texts a far more liberal interpretation than their more orthodox peers.  Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries Unitarianism, influenced by theological Modernism, gradually dissolved its Christian identity in favor of a more universal approach to religion.  In John Adams’ day however, Unitarians still had a strong Christian (though not orthodox) identity.  While Jefferson and Franklin can be called Deists and post-Christian, John Adams should be counted as a Christian from a social point of view, if not a theological one.  That does not mean, however, that  he favored a Christian identity to the American Republic.  He wrote Thomas Jefferson in 1815:  The question before the human race is, whether the God of nature shall govern the world by his own laws, or whether priests and kings shall rule it by fictitious miracles?”
       Adams saw organized religion as a threat to intellectual freedom and he bore a particular animus against Catholicism.  He had written his law dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law and, in true Enlightenment fashion, saw the Catholic Church as repressive of scientific advancement.  Yet he defended the rights of Catholics in the new Republic and despite a particular hatred—and fear—of the Jesuits he recognized that the American Republic had a duty to accept them.  He wrote to Jefferson: “I do not like the reappearance of the Jesuits.... Shall we not have regular swarms of them here, in as many disguises as only a king of the gipsies can assume, dressed as printers, publishers, writers and schoolmasters? If ever there was a body of men who merited damnation on earth and in Hell, it is this society of Loyola's. Nevertheless, we are compelled by our system of religious toleration to offer them an asylum.  Reading this I cannot but wonder what he would have to say about Muslims in American today? 
       Samuel Adams was of a different bent than his cousin.  Perhaps no other individual save Thomas Paine was as responsible for fanning the flames of colonial discontent into the conflagration of Revolution as Samuel Adams.  Adams was a member of Old South Meeting House, a Congregationalist Church that when the break with the Unitarian faction came remained an bastion of Trinitarian belief. Sam Adams, even more rabidly anti-Catholic than his cousin, remained an orthodox Christian and religiously conservative. Today he would probably identify—though “today woulds” in history are tricky and unreliable (as well as irrelevant to argument) place himself among the so-called “Evangelicals.”  Would he favor the idea that we are “Christian Nation?” That is hard to say.  I can find no evidence either way.  During the lifetime of the Adams cousins Congregationalism was the official Church of Massachusetts—it was not disestablished until 1833.  Given his rationalist approach to religion,  I doubt that John Adams would have supported the idea of an officially  Christian Nation, but the more conservative Sam Adams might have.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Benjamin Franklin--A Most Unorthodox "Christian"

Onwards with the Judeo-Christian Nation issue to determine whether or not our American heritage is indeed, undisputedly as Ms Barbara Curtis of Mommy Blog asserts, a “Judeo-Christian nation.”  We looked at our colonial roots (December 15) which can give some affirmation to the idea and then to the Founding Fathers where the issue becomes more complicated.  We had two entries (December 16, 17) on Thomas Jefferson, principal author of the Declaration of Independence, as well as being the author of the Virginia Statute on Religious Freedom which, in turn, influenced the non-establishment clause of the Bill of Rights which lies at the heart of the problem of religious displays in public space.  Yesterday I tried to use the Tim Tebow phenomenon to illustrate the difference between government-space and public space as well as between religious holidays/symbols and cultural celebrations/symbols.  So now back to the Founding Fathers and we will look at Benjamin Franklin to see his religious convictions and what they might say about “Christian Nation.”  Franklin is usually identified as a Quaker but his roots, in fact, were Congregationalist and he was baptized as an infant at the Old South Meeting House in Boston.  His parents destined him for the clergy—a fate for which Benjamin would have been incalculably ill suited.  I don’t know that he ever affiliated with the Quakers—it seems unlikely as having fled to Philadelphia (the seat of American Quakerism) at age 17, then on to London for a brief period before returning to Philadelphia where he joined the Masons at the age of twenty-five and within four years was elected Grand Master of his Lodge.  Quakers eschewed secret societies and while Franklin dressed plain and lived frugally his ties to the Masons would indicate he had already become a rationalist rather than a believer when he settled in the City of Brotherly Love.  Indeed when Franklin wrote his autobiography in 1771 he identified himself as a Deist and claimed to have long been won to that philosophy.  Franklin was very interested in religion.  In 1774, when living in London as the agent of the Pennsylvania Colony, he was present at the founding meeting of Unitarianism.  A decade later while serving as ambassador to France, Franklin gave advice to the Papal Nuncio regarding administration of the Catholic Church in the newly independent United States.  Indeed Franklin recommended John Carroll as superior of the American Mission—the provisional administration of the Church until the establishment of a Catholic hierarchy in 1789.  Franklin had become acquainted with Carroll in 1776 when they journeyed together and with Samuel Chase and Charles Carroll (John’s cousin) to Canada to seek Canadian support for the Revolution.  Carroll, incidentally, was excommunicated for this act by the Bishop of Quebec, but he retained Franklin’s esteem.  Franklin, like so many liberals across the ages, was an elitist and while he admired Jesus as great moral teacher he favored organized religion principally because of its potential to shape the morals of the common people of which he did not consider himself one.  Not only did he not affiliate to any organized religion, but Franklin himself, while exalting moral behavior as the necessary foundation of any civilization, was no moral rigorist and always allowed himself considerable latitude in his personal life.  He was however, the consummate gentleman and charmed all, religious and agnostic alike.  John Adams said of him “The Catholics consider him almost a Catholic, The Church of England claimed him as one of them; the Presbyterians thought him half-a-Presbyterian and the Friends believe him a wet Quaker.” 
     In order to clarify Franklin’s religious stance we perhaps should briefly look at Freemasonry and also at Unitarianism and its relationship to orthodox Christianity and to Deism. 
      Freemasonry rose in Britain in the late 16th and early 17th centuries.  The oldest lodges were in Scotland but the movement seems to have travelled into the southern kingdom along with the Stuarts when in 1603 James VI of Scotland came to the English Throne as James I.  While the origins seem to have been a fraternal organization of artisans and craftsmen, from the very beginning there was an interest in scientific knowledge.  Indeed the Scots lodge at Kilwinning, considered to be the Mother or first lodge in Masonry, is spoken of in the 1559 Schaw Statutes: the warden of the lodge of Kilwinning …take trial of the art of memory and the science thereof, of every craftsman (fellowe of craft) and every apprentice according to the air of their vocations.”  William Schaw, by the way, was not only one of the leaders of the Kilwining Lodge but the “Master of Works” to King James VI of Scotland before his ascension to the English Throne.  This provides a possible link to the spread of Freemasonry from Scotland to England. 
     Scottish Freemasonry is linked to the (Protestant) Reformation in Scotland and while the Scots Reformation was Calvinistic many of its supporters were no more interested in Calvinism than Catholicism but only wanted the intellectual freedom that the break with Rome seemed to represent.  This is true in both Scotland and England where once papal authority was broken, the Church—now the Reformed Church—was never able to establish control over the belief of the citizenry.  The origins of the separation of Church and State are firmly rooted in the Reformation principles that each individual is the judge of his or her orthodoxy.  Freemasonry attracted inquiring minds that wanted to discuss matters of science, politics, morals, and natural religion without the dominance of hierarchy.  There are strong ties between Freemasonry and the Enlightenment.  While today many Masons are devout members of mainline Protestant Churches with an orthodox appreciation of the Christian doctrines of the Incarnation and the Trinity, that would not have been typical in the seventeenth and eighteenth century where Freemasonry was tied to rationalism and Deism—and even agnosticism. 
     Freemasonry requires the belief in a Supreme Being but as a matter of principle leaves that Supreme Being undefined.  There is also the reference to “Sacred Law.”  While in the United States this “volume of Sacred Law” is most commonly the King James Bible, it can be any religious or philosophical text depending on the makeup of the members.  Indeed in Lodges of mixed religious memberships—Christians, Hindus, Muslims—several “volumes of Sacred Law” might be displayed together.  In other words, religion is somewhat of whatever the individual decides to make it.  In a Christian context this not only produces a religious relativism, but it permits the Christian faith to be understood so broadly as to be without substance. In this system natural science rather than revealed truth is the basis of moral behavior and that would be perfectly consistent with the thought of not only of the Mason, Franklin, but the non-Mason Deist, Jefferson. It is not Christian doctrine however in which the teachings of Jesus are not only illustrative of good morals but their foundation.  Well, that is enough for today.  We will save Unitarianism for another day.  Suffice it to say that Franklin was very definitely post-Christian in his own beliefs but thought that organized religion was a good thing for shaping the moral character of individuals less sophisticated than himself and his fellow Deists.  I don’t think one could say that he supported the idea of a Christian Nation, one built on orthodox Christian (or Judeo-Christian) doctrine but while not practicing it himself, he did encourage formal religion for the common citizen.  It would be inconsistent with his thought, however, to claim that he would support special legal or societal status for one religion over another.