And all the people shouted, and said, God save the king

Joyful acclamation of the people is a most ancient part of the coronation. The ceremony was created for King Edgar, so they say, and the coronation of our new King will use the forms carried down since ancient days, even echoing the enthronement of King Solomon.

The people gathered in London gave such a joyous shout, in their accustomed manner, to acclaim the crowning of William the Bastard, that the Norman knights mistook it for a rebellion and rode into the crowd, slaying many – they were unfamiliar with popular kingship, coming from a land where sovereignty was bought and sold and conquered with no regard to the people ruled. France has barely changed. In Britain though the King is father of the people, not just commander of an army of control. Therefore we will gather and will acclaim our King, in over-the-top, slightly vulgar displays and street parties and whatever comes to our minds to do, for we are free people and not those who wait to be told what to do, even now.

Those ancient Saxon kings and the priests about them knew their Bible and could see in it an echo of the Germanic and Celtic conceptions of popular  involvement in kingship. Their ceremonies looked at those which were much older. In 1 Kings we read:

So Zadok the priest, and Nathan the prophet, and Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, and the Cherethites, and the Pelethites, went down, and caused Solomon to ride upon king David’s mule, and brought him to Gihon.

And Zadok the priest took an horn of oil out of the tabernacle, and anointed Solomon. And they blew the trumpet; and all the people said, God save king Solomon.

And all the people came up after him, and the people piped with pipes, and rejoiced with great joy, so that the earth rent with the sound of them.

I am glad then to pipe with pipes and rejoice with great joy for King Charles (as Hobbes in his time rejoiced for King Charles). He is the head and embodied epitome of the nation, in its diversity.

We are all part of the coronation in our way, whether amongst those honoured to packed be in Westminster Abbey or those millions of us outside, and so I will also gladly join with those in the Abbey to speak the oath of my allegiance to the King which all Britons owe, to bear true faith and allegiance to His Majesty King Charles III, his heirs and successors according to law.

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Easter hymns

A week on from Easter and the hymns are still singing in the ears. Charles Wesley played as a full volume rock anthem? It works at Easter.

If the wings of the Church of England divide the year, Easter is when the Evangelicals hold the field. Cast out those awful, mawkish things on the hymn-sheet at Christmastide: at Easter we can belt out the best of them, in hymns of joy.

The clergy of the Church of England follow a strict calendar, even if the congregation do not, but we occasionally notice when the style of the hymns change a little from the general middle-of-the-book ones chosen at the whim of the choirmaster. The major seasons though, Easter and Christmas, have their own set of hymns and songs.

At Christmas, the Anglo-Catholics have sewn the season up, filling it with doubtful, theologically unsound and just plain blasphemous songs.  The Victorians must be to blame – trying to find some of the romantic beauty of the Middle Ages they dragged from ancient books a series of carols designed to awe unreformed congregations into superstitious sentimentality .and then wrote their own int he same vein. There must be a way to save Christmas from the mediaevalists, but for now it may mean going Baptist over the season.

Easter though – Easter is unambiguous. The hymns are ful of verve and praise. There is always Charles Wesley, and more recent hymn-writers, not just Graham Kendrick, and that Dutch ‘Easter carol’ that fits in a Reformed theological argument with a leaping tune. They give us things to belt out at the top of our voices with broad smiles (my reservation being that if my faulty voice were at full volume it would ruin it for those around me, so I am quieter).

What I can tell is that I stood in a cathedral full of diverse characters  who one might assume were from all over the field of theological preference, and they were singing like the wildest evangelicals, with faces alight like they have never been all year. There were among us some Christians from a far land where the faith is persecuted: when I meet these whose faith is fresh and pure, tempered  by the fire, I usually worry at how they will react to the degraded, timid expression of the Western church, but at Easter, with all the vigour of the church unleashed as when it was newborn, I had no cause for concern.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed – Hallelujah!

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Empty Bottles of Gentilisme

The carrying about of Images in Procession, is another Relique of the Religion of the Greeks, and Romans: For they also carried their Idols from place to place, in a kind of Chariot, which was peculiarly dedicated to that use, which the Latines called Thensa, and Vehiculum Deorum; and the Image was placed in a frame, or Shrine, which they called Ferculum: And that which they called Pompa, is the same that now is named Procession: According whereunto, amongst the Divine Honors which were given to Julius Caesar by the Senate, this was one, that in the Pompe (or Procession) at the Circaean games, he should have Thensam & Ferculum, a sacred Chariot, and a Shrine; which was as much, as to be carried up and down as a God: Just as at this day the Popes are carried by Switzers under a Canopie.

To these Processions also belonged the bearing of burning Torches, and Candles, before the Images of the Gods, both amongst the Greeks, and Romans. For afterwards the Emperors of Rome received the same honor; as we read of Caligula, that at his reception to the Empire, he was carried from Misenum to Rome, in the midst of a throng of People, the wayes beset with Altars, and Beasts for Sacrifice, and burning Torches: And of Caracalla that was received into Alexandria with Incense, and with casting of Flowers, and Dadouchiais, that is, with Torches; for Dadochoi were they that amongst the Greeks carried Torches lighted in the Processions of their Gods: And in processe of time, the devout, but ignorant People, did many times honor their Bishops with the like pompe of Wax Candles, and the Images of our Saviour, and the Saints, constantly, in the Church it self. And thus came in the use of Wax Candles; and was also established by some of the ancient Councells.

The Heathens had also their Aqua Lustralis, that is to say, Holy Water. The Church of Rome imitates them also in their Holy Dayes. They had their Bacchanalia; and we have our Wakes, answering to them: They their Saturnalia, and we our Carnevalls, and Shrove-tuesdays liberty of Servants: They their Procession of Priapus; wee our fetching in, erection, and dancing about May-poles; and Dancing is one kind of Worship: They had their Procession called Ambarvalia; and we our Procession about the fields in the Rogation Week.

Nor do I think that these are all the Ceremonies that have been left in the Church, from the first conversion of the Gentiles: but they are all that I can for the present call to mind; and if a man would wel observe that which is delivered in the Histories, concerning the Religious Rites of the Greeks and Romanes, I doubt not but he might find many more of these old empty Bottles of Gentilisme, which the Doctors of the Romane Church, either by Negligence, or Ambition, have filled up again with the new Wine of Christianity, that will not faile in time to break them.

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Where is the wise? Where is the scribe?

Not wistful but triumphant: the call of the new piercing the dark. Paul told the Corinthians of the light that had come into the world, using here a rhetorical device that we mostly hear mourning the loss of light.

When I hear from the pulpit the piece from 1 Corinthians, my mind wanders to other times. Sang the poet of old “Hwær cwom mearg? Hwær cwom mago? Hwær cwom maþþumgyfa? Hwær cwom symbla gesetu? Hwær sindon seledreamas?“; ‘Where now is the warhorse, where the warrior? Where the treasure-giver? Where the seat at the feast? Where the joys of the hall?’

This is not a song of triumph but a lament for loss of glorious times, and so we see the same turn of rhetoric used for loss of the things of the world throughout poetry of our age: Where are the joys  of the hall? Où sont les neiges d’antan? Whatever happened to the Likely Lads?

Paul means his words in a very different way. Maybe it is marking the passing of beloved things of the world – as the exiled warrior laments the loss of the thunder of hooves into battle, and man may lament the loss of wisdom and teachers of the law, which gave confidence to life. In Corinth, philosophers, ‘lovers of wisdom’, were prominent in creating the culture of the gentile city, and  scribes kept the Jews faithful to the law and the prophets – they were not gone by any means when Paul wrote, but the Gospel made them irrelevant, even repugnant. It was a challenge, to built anew casting away the centuries of the Greek poets and Aristotle, and the minutely reasoned conclusions of the Talmud.; all this must be cast away, thousands of scholars’ work and the apparent wisdom of ages, discarded as  wastepaper, as we start afresh with the new Gospel.

It is a hard wrench, to give up all you understand of what wisdom is. In Corinth the vices that had grown in the city reeked to the heavens, which drives the honest man to the comforting wisdom of the ages.

Where is the wise though, and where the scribe? They are insufficient because they provide only the fallible wisdom of man. Like the warhorse and the warrior and the snows of old, they are things of the world, the world in which we live and can grasp and feel. We may think of philosophy and religious scholarship as spiritual, but they are born of man’s mind, and so are creatures of the world as we are. We naturally mourn for the loss of things of the world, as part of ourselves.

Think again – what is in the glory of the field, the loss of which the poet laments with such depth? The charging horse, the young warrior, the generous prince handing out the spoils and the loud feasting in the mead-hall after victory: the glory and joy are there, but what of the widow and the fatherless left after battle? What of the farms devastated and families starving before their lost harvest? Even Villon’s snows of yesteryear, beautiful to the child’s eye, are harsh for the poor widow. Où sont les neiges d’antan? Où indeed.

It tempts rebuke for a blog founded upon the ideas of a seventeenth century philosopher to make mock of those who cling to philosophies. Hobbes himself though rejected ‘Aristotelity’, and stands up today rather well.

Our own age affects to despise old wisdom, but its faults are greater – many of the clergy of our day embrace new, untested ideas with the tenacity of the devotees of Epicurus in Corinth. They provide simplistic answers, which are a worldly comfort, and to see the faults in the worldly doctrine is beyond them.

Hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?

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Anti-Conversion laws

Laws to forbid conversion have become disturbingly common. They may nominally be directed at conversion by force or fraud, but the reality is a desire to ban any activity. The practicalities for the individual are concerning.

Several states in Asia have laws to punish conversions, aimed at stopping people from becoming Christian. The rhetoric is that conversions are driven by bribes or dishonesty or other methods which are unknown to Christian missionaries: cruel therapy, blackmail; or seduction by beautiful girls is one lurid example. Having made the anger of the legislators rise with such stories, anything can be forbidden. Even private prayer may draw a prison sentence or an angry mob.

I have known plenty of people who, in a midlife crisis, have turned away from a lifetime of Christian devotion to find new spirituality in exotic gods. Will the activists demand that in this case he must have been a pagan from birth?  Once captured by one side, he can never be invited to a church fete again for fear of forceful reconversion.

I have known others who embraced the Asian aesthetic in their excitable youth and declared themselves to be Buddhist and then when more matured have found that actually this was a youthful folly and their heart lies with the Gospel of Christ. For young women who self-identify in this way this way in teenage, 70% change back later. Would I be clapped in irons for inviting them to church, or for praying for them?

Just a few years ago there was a lifelong Church of England vicar, who  suddenly became a Hindu: he was shocked and offended when the bishop suspended his licence to preach. These days I wonder if a bishop would dare; he might celebrate diversity in the priesthood.

The idea that one is born as a particular religion and by an iron law will remain of that persuasion ones whole life is a nonsense; a demonstrable falsehood, of which we all have examples from our own experience.  The Roman Catholic teaching that allegiance to Rome is branded indelibly on the soul by the water of baptism is just a way to frighten those who may stray. For proponents it is (as Gibbon might have said) a “necessary fiction”, without which their whole rationale falls.

What then of the man who shuffles embarrassedly to his vicar or a counsellor and says that he has always been a Christian, as plenty of girls could testify, but lately he has been having thoughts about cycles of rebirth, and could the counsellor help him to rid himself of these unwanted feelings? Can a Tibetan lama then leap upon him and claim that these feelings are proof that the man is a Buddhist and has always been from birth, and no one shall be permitted to convert him?

The truth of religious preference is that it is not in the strict categories its advocates pretend: it is a swirling, ever-changing sea of senses and  responses which , taken together, may be characterised as generally one name of another. Even for those of us who have always been exclusively Christian, I may waver year to year over Arminian ideas, or annihilationism, or degrees of acceptance of figurative art; which is normal, healthy development. Others go further in their wandering deep reactions, which should be accepted too and not punished by law.

In India such laws against conversion practices started in the princely states to impede Christian missionaries. Allegiance declared in the impetuosity of youth had to be caught and frozen when otherwise at mature reflection might embrace the promises of the Gospel. Personal development had to be impeded by the policeman’s boot.

Once one state has adopted such a law, the pressure comes on others not to be left behind. It is an outrageous law, but once normalised in one place, there is no outrage heard. An activist will portray a failure to enact a conversion ban to be the outrage.

Could we see such a thing in Britain?

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