In What Sense Other Articles May Be Called Necessary

But a man may here aske, whether it bee not as necessary to Salvation, to beleeve, that God is Omnipotent; Creator of the world; that Jesus Christ is risen; and that all men else shall rise again from the dead at the last day; as to beleeve, that Jesus Is The Christ. To which I answer, they are; and so are many more Articles: but they are such, as are contained in this one, and may be deduced from it, with more, or lesse difficulty.

For who is there that does not see, that they who beleeve Jesus to be the Son of the God of Israel, and that the Israelites had for God the Omnipotent Creator of all things, doe therein also beleeve, that God is the Omnipotent Creator of all things? Or how can a man beleeve, that Jesus is the King that shall reign eternally, unlesse hee beleeve him also risen again from the dead? For a dead man cannot exercise the Office of a King.

In summe, he that holdeth this Foundation, Jesus Is The Christ, holdeth Expressely all that hee seeth rightly deduced from it, and Implicitely all that is consequent thereunto, though he have not skill enough to discern the consequence. And therefore it holdeth still good, that the beleef of this one Article is sufficient faith to obtaine remission of sinnes to the Penitent, and consequently to bring them into the Kingdome of Heaven.

Thomas Hobbes – Leviathan

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Deposing our heroes

It is a celebration, but Palm Sunday may be the most uncomfortable date in the Church calendar for what it tells us about ourselves, and that we do need telling.

It is an odd Sunday in the Church of England, with the vicar getting us all to wave branches – few palm-leaves in our leafy shires but anything from the garden will do – as an imitation of the adulation shown to Jesus as he rode humbly and as a king down to Jerusalem. The hymns, uplifting and triumphant (and if I stay silent in my pew it is not for any disapproval of the  soaring hymns but that they insist on demanding a vocal range far outside what I can manage).

The triumphal procession down the Mount of Olives touches on many  and various ideas, each mind bringing its own ideas into what must have been a clamorous event.  Hobbes even used it as an illustration of sovereign authority:

the Kings word, is sufficient to take any thing from any subject, when there is need; and that the King is Judge of that need: For he himselfe, as King of the Jewes, commanded his Disciples to take the Asse, and Asses Colt to carry him into Jerusalem, saying, (Mat. 21. 2,3) “Go into the Village over against you, and you shall find a shee Asse tyed, and her Colt with her, unty them, and bring them to me. And if any man ask you, what you mean by it, Say the Lord hath need of them: And they will let them go.” They will not ask whether his necessity be a sufficient title; nor whether he be judge of that necessity; but acquiesce in the will of the Lord.

We can wave a branch from the garden in pale imitation of the excitement of that day, but what does it says of us that we should imitate those who cried ‘Hosanna’, knowing that the words turned within a week to ‘Crucify!’; and there is no separating the two, so the readings begin in triumph and end in torment. It would be comforting to believe the voices that said each were different, but looking about us and within us, we know they were not.

Anything about us and even the great affairs of state, the wars, the weeping, the justice and the peace, are petty compared with those days. They reflect us all the same. We are ready to raise up heroes and repose in them our hopes and trust to do what we have not done for ourselves to transform the kingdom or the world – but no man or woman in that place can please all his supporters’ expectations, and in Congreve’s words “Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned”. Now for writers hailed as champions, or celebrities or politicians, being raised up is just the ready the beginning of a fall into being the subject of the worst execration from acolytes feeling betrayed.

If they could reject even the Son of God, who can stand? They did not crowd the hill slope to worship the revealed Christ but to press upon him their own expectations, each individual’s, as we seek to make God in our own image.

That he was saluted King when he entered into Jerusalem: That he fore-warned them to beware of all others that should pretend to be Christ: That he was taken, accused, and put to death, for saying, hee was King: That the cause of his condemnation written on the Crosse, was JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWES

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Catching the Parson

Church politics can be as vicious as secular politics. In the lifetime of Thomas Hobbes it inspired a civil war. One churchman may be criticised as “Too heavenly minded to be any earthly use”, or another as abandoning his calling to follow wrongheaded political ideas. The two digressions may be the same, simply differently expressed.

With an opening chapter entitled “That the Hobbian Principles are destructive to Christianity and all Religion”, Dr Bramhall’s book required a response. The quarrel showed up something deeper in how the church was going.

Leviathan was published during Cromwell’s time (and resulted in Hobbes fleeing the exiled King’s court). At the Restoration the book entered the mainstream of debate and reactions to this radical examination of philosophy and of political and ecclesiastical assumptions was virulent. The Bishop of Derry, Dr Bramhall, led the established church’s charge against Hobbes, accusing him of the deadly charge of atheism, and Hobbes struck back in style.

You would expect the Bishop of Londonderry, in the Church of Ireland, a forceful champion of Protestantism in a land still given over to impious superstitions, would uphold the simple Reformation on which the church had been refounded, but his arguments show a drift away into intellectual spirituality.

The reformed church was a restoration of the Christian faith to its ground-level  simplicity.  It was a cool, smooth pond where the faithful could find rest and refreshment. A hundred years later the ministers given charge of the pond had begun to feel themselves lords, bubbling over the surface as a lukewarm froth.

The bishop spoke intellectual abstraction; Hobbes retorts with plain sense and scripture.

The Gospels and the Books of the Prophets before them are founded on earth, amongst real people. Their teachings are applied to real, earthly conduct and concern the actions of men and women. I once lend a New Testament to a curious Hindu, who brought it back a week later puzzled that “It’s like a story”. Indeed it is: an account of Jesus in a particular place at a particular time, speaking to actual people about daily life. Heathens may have books of abstractions and spiritual speculations: we have prophets with dust on their feet.

To become too spiritual therefore is not in the nature of the Gospel, although missing the spiritual truth behind the earthly words is also to miss the truth of the Gospel.

Bramhall upbraids Hobbes for suggesting that coveting is not always sinful – Hobbes responds that if men did not covet that which they do not already possess then the world would be unpeopled:

“What man was there ever whose imagination of any thing he thought would please him, whe not some delight? Or what sin is there, where there is not so much as an intention to do injustice? But his Lordship would not distinguish between delight and purpose, nor between a Wish and a Will. This was venome. I believe, that his Lordship himself even before he was Married took some delight in the thought of it, and yet the Woman then was not his own. All love is delight, but all love is not sin. Without this love of that which is not yet a mans own, the World had not been Peopled.”

So it goes on, the Bishop positing abstractions and Hobbes practicality, the Bishop concepts devised only in schoolrooms, and Hobbes the plain words of Scripture.

Clinging to abstraction is a way to avoid earthly responsibilities, but the role of a pastor is to be shepherd to those in his care. His role is inevitably on earth. He must be spiritual to praise God and be held by His hand to his duties – if though he goes into abstractions, he steps out of the hand of God into his own concepts. It is understandable: looking into the face of the divine is terrifying.

Spiritual abstractions are one escape: political abstractions are another. They both serve the same purpose.


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Tell us art thou he that should come to reign

The hymns sung, the lessons read (but are the lessons learnt?) and peace from toil for a week or two, enjoy the goose or turkey and the cheerful company and try not to think of those alone.

The season quickly moves away from church-going even for church-goers, into the secular holiday, which is much much needed. Even that though expands to worship. Step out of the house into the street, into the fields, and breathe in creation. At this time it is as if the world is being created anew, and it is rustling, changing, living. That is equally the story of the nativity of Jesus, because it is not about that moment of birth, frozen in a moment, but the beginning of the story that grows continually.

We can say that Christ-tide is not about a day or a giant turkey, and equally it is not about the child in a cradle.

The scene of the moment of the miraculous birth is played out year after year, with a babe laid in a humble beast’s feeding trough for want of a cradle, but the story moves on, as he stretched his limbs and his lungs, as he was nursed and fed and grew, with a more suitable cradle and home. He was carried to the temple in Jerusalem. He may have been walking by the time the magi came from the East, and speaking first, unrecorded words, but timing we do not know as the Gospels skip over the time in order to get to the meat of the Good News in his Ministry and the Commission and his ultimate sacrifice. We do not like to think of this at Christmas, though ministers of the Protestant churches, alert to their duty, do emphasise the wholeness of the message to their congregations.

The cattle-trough and the baby are an image of a moment; the charm and wonder of innocence before the challenges begin. It is easy to understand why there is concentration on this one moment, turning the frozen scene into an idol, but it is unhealthy. Wonder at the Son of God lying in a manger, but it is opposing the Gospel to try to keep him there.

Losing believers

In a time of cultural and religious ferment, Thomas Hobbes was aware of how religions seize the imagination of multitudes, and how they fail, back to the Greek cults.

In our day, political ideas and parties have gained fervency in devotion or loathing more usually associated with religion, and the same principles apply to the sudden upwelling of faith in them or its collapse.

For seeing all formed Religion, is founded at first, upon the faith which a multitude hath in some one person, whom they believe not only to be a wise man, and to labour to procure their happiness, but also to be a holy man, to whom God himselfe vouchsafeth to declare his will supernaturally; It followeth necessarily, when they that have the Goverment of Religion, shall come to have either the wisedome of those men, their sincerity, or their love suspected; or that they shall be unable to shew any probable token of divine Revelation; that the Religion which they desire to uphold, must be suspected likewise; and (without the feare of the Civill Sword) contradicted and rejected.

Injoyning Beleefe Of Impossibilities

That which taketh away the reputation of Wisedome, in him that formeth a Religion, or addeth to it when it is allready formed, is the enjoyning of a beliefe of contradictories: For both parts of a contradiction cannot possibly be true: and therefore to enjoyne the beliefe of them, is an argument of ignorance; which detects the Author in that; and discredits him in all things else he shall propound as from revelation supernaturall: which revelation a man may indeed have of many things above, but of nothing against naturall reason.

Doing Contrary To The Religion They Establish

That which taketh away the reputation of Sincerity, is the doing, or saying of such things, as appeare to be signes, that what they require other men to believe, is not believed by themselves; all which doings, or sayings are therefore called Scandalous, because they be stumbling blocks, that make men to fall in the way of Religion: as Injustice, Cruelty, Prophanesse, Avarice, and Luxury. For who can believe, that he that doth ordinarily such actions, as proceed from any of these rootes, believeth there is any such Invisible Power to be feared, as he affrighteth other men withall, for lesser faults?

That which taketh away the reputation of Love, is the being detected of private ends: as when the beliefe they require of others, conduceth or seemeth to conduce to the acquiring of Dominion, Riches, Dignity, or secure Pleasure, to themselves onely, or specially. For that which men reap benefit by to themselves, they are thought to do for their own sakes, and not for love of others.

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