Sunday, 29 January 2017

The Feast of King Charles the Martyr

Blessed Lord, in whose sight the death of thy saints is precious; we magnify the Name for that abundant grace bestowed on our late Martyred Sovereign; by which he was enabled so cheerfully to follow the steps of his blessed Master and Saviour, in a constant meek bearing of all barbarous indignities, and at last resisting unto blood; and even then, according to the same pattern, praying for his murderers. Let his memory, O Lord, be ever blessed among us, that we may follow the example of his patience, and charity; And grant, that this our Land may be freed from the vengence of his blood, and Thy mercy glorified in the forgiveness of our sins; and all for Jesus Christ His sake. Amen.

King Charles the Martyr, pray for England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland, and for all kings and queens.

Providence and Prayer, by Terrance Tiessen

Terrance Tiessen, Providence and Prayer: How does God work in the world? 2000 IVP

There are many books about prayer, but most of them are devotional rather than theological. There are a lot of books on providence, but they do not always spend much time talking about prayer. This book examines how prayer works on different theological models of God's providence.

Tiessen places the range of views on a spectrum of how much control they see God as exercising. At the lowest view of providence is the Semi-Deist view, held by some liberal Christians. At the other end of the scale is the Fatalist view. While no theologians explicitly teach Fatalism, he uses it to draw the contrast with Calvinism and because some untaught Christians might fall into the trap of that kind of thinking. The two major Catholic views, Molinism and Thomism are placed in the middle of the spectrum, Thomism on the high end and Molinism on the low end. I liked the way Tiessen reserved his critique of the different models until the end, when he presents his own view. In the individual chapters, he presents each model in the best possible light. This is a very irenic approach. As an Evangelical, I got into a lot of debates over Calvinism, something a friend of mine calls 'Punch and Judy theology.'

Our author illustrates how the models work with a case study. An emergency prayer meeting in a church is called after news that a missionary has been kidnapped by a rebel group. Tiessen represents each theological model with a character who attends the prayer meeting. He explains how each of them came to their view and quotes the prayer they make at the meeting. It seems surprising that a church would hold such a broad range of theological views. I suppose an affluent and well educated Anglican parish in the UK might have such diversity. The first person to pray at the meeting is the person holding the Semi-Deist view, who denies any intervention of God in the world, a lady of liberal Christian views. What struck me was how the prayer she prays would come across as very encouraging to the people at the meeting:

"Dear God, you are the creator of this world and all who are in it. We acknowledge your wisdom and love in constituting things as they are, given the limitations that you have placed upon yourself by generously creating human beings and giving them freedom to act within your master act. We ourselves desire to act in ways which are consistent with your own good purposes, but this is not true of everyone and it is certainly not true of those who have abducted Richard and his two fellow missionaries. We express our confidence that in the end of all things, your purpose will be accomplished, but we do not know when that will be true. In the meantime we know that Richard and his colleagues are committed to serving you, and we too shall do what we can to bring good out of this evil and to further your benevolent purposes for the world. In the name of Jesus, who so modeled the life that you wish us to be, Amen."

What I take from this is that even people who have really stinking bad theology can still be inspired by the love of Christ and be a blessing to others.

One of the models that is included is the Church Dominion model. This holds that the Church is called to participate in Christ's reign, so when we pray, we are exercising dominion in Christ's name. Tiessen places this as slightly higher than Openness theology on his spectrum of providence. I feel it is slightly awkward to see this as a model, as it's advocates, such as Paul Billheimer do not seem overly concerned to articulate a consistent model of divine sovereignty. It seems more concerned with the function of prayer. I have greatly enjoyed reading and benefiting from Billheimer's Destined for the Throne, both as an Evangelical Arminian (before) and as a Thomist, or maybe a Scotist (now). I think aspects of the Church Dominion model are compatible with an high view of divine sovereignty. In fact, Karl Barth seems to have spoken in those terms when he said that prayer is a 'participation in Christ's kingly office.' I liked the fact that Sandra, the character representing Church Dominion, is always getting asked to pray for others. Whenever I read Destined for the Throne, I am encouraged to pray more.

Tiessen's own view is a combination of Calvinism and Middle Knowledge. His thinking is very similar to the position advocated by Bruce Ware in God's Greater Glory. I would agree with those who argue that Middle Knowledge does not add anything to Calvinism. If counter-factual decisions exist, they either arise from the free-will of the creature, which would not really be acceptable to Calvinists, or they are exist by divine decree, which adds nothing to the Calvinist belief that God moves the human will. I think he identifies Calvinism too closely with Jonathan Edward's deterministic position and does not engage with the problems inherent in Edward's thinking. Most disappointingly of all, Tiessen doubts that God is timeless and rejects divine impassibility. He gives no acknowledgement of the problems of rejecting classic theism. I am also not sure about his handling of Thomism. I think Thomism is closer to Calvinism than Tiessen allows.

The back cover blurb makes reference to people praying for parking spaces. There are some Christians who think that this is unacceptable for differing reasons. Tiessen seems to think it is fine, but I'm sure that some readers would have liked him to address that question in more detail. I particularly liked a point our author makes about God's provision. He says that God has never promised that we will not go hungry. I have heard a lot of Christians say that God will never allow us to lack our basic needs. This is easy to say when you are a middle-class person inn England. However, sadly there are many Christians in the world who do go hungry and cannot always put food on the table. What God does promise is that even if we suffer, God's ultimate purposes will be fulfilled and we can look to Him for that.

I think this is a very edifying read and Christians who take differing views of divine providence will gain much from reading it.

Saturday, 28 January 2017

Commentary Magazine: Tulsi Gabbard’s Disaster in Damascus

Commentary Magazine: Tulsi Gabbard’s Disaster in Damascus

by Noah Rothman

"The simplest way to identify Russian sympathizers is to probe them on the matter of military interventionism. They may appear principled in their suspicion toward American force projection but are nowhere near as apprehensive about Russian muscle-flexing—even in the same theater of operations. That describes the foreign policy views of Hawaii Congresswoman and favorite of the Bernie Sanders wing of the Democratic Party, Tulsi Gabbard. Following an ill-conceived visit to the Syrian capital to meet with the blood-soaked dictator Bashar al-Assad this week, her craven prostration before Russia’s vassals may have gone too far. Even Gabbard’s erstwhile allies are abandoning her.

Gabbard’s support for Russian objectives in Syria has always been conspicuous. Take, for example, her December appearance on CNN to defend Donald Trump’s vision of an “America First” foreign policy. She made it clear her antipathy toward interventionism was wholesale. Not only did she oppose American combat operations in Syria and Iraq targeting ISIS but “essentially” in Afghanistan, too. Gabbard emphatically added that the United States was funding terrorism and that “every single” rebel group fighting to overthrow the government in Syria was in league with al-Qaeda. This is the Russian line, and Gabbard’s appearance received some warm praise and attention from pro-Kremlin media outlets."

It's amazing how Tulsi Gabbard combines being effortlessly cool with holding utterly obnoxious views.

God will be All in All: The Eschatology of Jurgen Moltmann

Richard Bauckham (editor), God will be All in All: The Eschatology of Jurgen Moltmann, 1999 T & T Clark Ltd

Of all the modern theologians, Jurgen Moltmann has contributed most to the field of eschatology. While he has said some unhelpful things, most importantly his rejection of classic theism, I think he is worth reading. This set of essays explores different aspects of Moltmann's eschatology. Moltmann himself contributes to the volume with responses to the essays and offers his own final essay.

In his response to the introductory essay, Moltmann outlines the distinction between an eschatology centred on the World in God and one centred on God in the World. The former characterizes the eschatology of Hans Urs Von Balthasar, while the latter is the Moltmannian approach. 'World in God' eschatology emphasizes the drawing in of humanity into the divine life, while the 'God in the World' eschatology emphasizes the entering of God into the world and into history. Moltmann describes the scope of both views:

The eschatology which follows from both is the cosmic Shekinah, the cosmic incarnation, and the cosmic temple for the indwelling of the glory of the Triune God. The eschatological vision of the new heaven and the new earth in Revelation 21 picks up the promises of Isaiah and Ezekiel, and sees itself as the fulfillment of the Jewish and Christian hope for the New Jerusalem.

Where Moltmann sees the limitation of Balthasar's model is in the 'vertical' world into God direction, ignoring the 'horizontal' redemption of history. He suggests this could result in a somewhat Gnostic hope. However, he sees both approaches as compatible with each other.

The most interesting essay in the book is Richard Bauckham's critique of Moltmann's advocacy of Premillennialism in The Coming of God. While I have abandoned Premillennialism myself, I do think there is something refreshing in Moltmann's embrace of it, where other modern theologians would despise the idea of a literal thousand-year reign. Bauckham says much the same thing, though he makes clear his own disagreement with Moltmann on this point. He raises a number of criticisms of Moltmann's Millennialism. Firstly, he challenges Moltmann's historiography, in particular his assertion that the early church had been committed to Premillennialism. He then goes on to question why Moltmann needs to view the millennium as the goal of history. Bauckham sees the eschaton as a perfectly sufficient goal of history. Moltmann's response to Bauckham comes across as rather grumpy. I get the impression from this book that Moltmann does not care much for criticism of his views. Miroslav Volf also criticises Moltmann's Millennialism in his essay, After Moltmann.

Moltmann's concluding essay offers some of the juvenile left-wing politics that has mired his works. He criticises conservatives and progressive liberals, but he makes no criticism of revolutionaries who are responsible for so much of the bloodshed and suffering of the last century.

I thought this book gave a very useful exploration of Moltmann's work and also provided a rare chance to see him interact with his critics.

Crux: Backing March for Life, Pope says nothing can justify ending life of ‘innocent child’

Crux: Backing March for Life, Pope says nothing can justify ending life of ‘innocent child’

In a message dated Dec. 6, 2016, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s Secretary of State, says that “His Holiness Pope Francis sends warm greetings and the assurance of his closeness in prayer to the many thousands of young people from throughout America” gathered in Washington.

The pope, Parolin continues, is “profoundly grateful for this impressive testimony to the sacredness of every human life.”

Quoting from Francis’s document on the family, Amoris Laetitia, the letter sent to those marching says that “so great is the value of a human life, and so inalienable the right to life of an innocent child growing in the mother’s womb, that no alleged right … can justify a decision to terminate that life.”

New York Times: The Politics of Cowardice

New York Times: The Politics of Cowardice

by David Brooks

"If Reagan’s dominant emotional note was optimism, Trump’s is fear. If Reagan’s optimism was expansive, Trump’s fear propels him to close in: Pull in from Asian entanglements through rejection of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Pull in from European entanglements by disparaging NATO. It’s not a cowering, timid fear; it’s more a dark, resentful porcupine fear.

We have a word for people who are dominated by fear. We call them cowards. Trump was not a coward in the business or campaign worlds. He could take on enormous debt and had the audacity to appear at televised national debates with no clue what he was talking about. But as president his is a policy of cowardice. On every front, he wants to shrink the country into a shell.

J.R.R. Tolkien once wrote, “A man that flies from his fear may find that he has only taken a shortcut to meet it.”

Desperate to be liked, Trump adopts a combative attitude that makes him unlikable. Terrified of Mexican criminals, he wants to build a wall that will actually lock in more undocumented aliens than it will keep out. Terrified of Muslim terrorists, he embraces the torture policies guaranteed to mobilize terrorists. Terrified that American business can’t compete with Asian business, he closes off a trade deal that would have boosted annual real incomes in the United States by $131 billion, or 0.5 percent of G.D.P. Terrified of Mexican competition, he considers slapping a 20 percent tariff on Mexican goods, even though U.S. exports to Mexico have increased 97 percent since 2005."

This is such an excellent article.

There is something utterly appalling about people who are armed to the teeth with guns feeling so scared of helpless unarmed refugees.

Eastern Ukraine Situation Report 28th January

This is war. This is Europe. This is happening today.

Haaretz: Trump's Xenophobic Refugee Policies Violate Jewish Values, Human Rights

Haaretz: Trump's Xenophobic Refugee Policies Violate Jewish Values, Human Rights

by Robert Bank

"We strenuously object to the inhumane and un-American policies announced by the White House — to put a four-month hold on allowing refugees into the United States and to temporary bar travelers from Syria and six other Muslim-majority countries. These policies violate our deepest Jewish values, including the belief that all people are created in the same image and are deserving of infinite respect. These policies also run counter to the best traditions of the United States of accepting and absorbing waves of immigrants, as well as international human rights law, which was adopted in response to the Holocaust. Recognizing the value of respect for all people, Americans from every community should vehemently object these policies, which will directly threaten the lives of thousands people who desperately and urgently need sanctuary in our country.

Welcoming refugees and immigrants is central to who we are as Americans, and it is a characteristic of American life, which American Jews deeply value and appreciate. That’s why we object to this blockade based on xenophobia. It is nothing less than an affront to our core values as American and Jews.

As the leader of an international Jewish organization that, for decades, has worked with Muslim organizations and Muslim partners to end poverty and advance human rights in some of the poorest countries in the world, I believe is our duty to object in the strongest terms to the demonization of all Muslims by the new American administration."

The New York Times: Russia Is a Terrible Ally Against Terrorism

The New York Times: Russia Is a Terrible Ally Against Terrorism

by Daniel Benjamim

"Joining forces with Russia in Syria would also damage American relations with Sunni governments. These governments rightly consider Russia the patron of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, the ally of Iran and de facto partner of Hezbollah — all of whom are seen as responsible for the butchery of Syria’s Sunnis. They also understand, as Mr. Trump does not, that Russia’s military engagement in Syria has been aimed at helping the Assad government survive, not targeting the Islamic State.

For now, Sunni governments from Cairo to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, are exuberant about Mr. Trump’s victory. They expect that they will no longer face American criticism for committing human rights abuses. Those high spirits will quickly fade if the United States is seen to be abetting the Damascus-Tehran-Moscow axis. This, in turn, will impede the work of America’s fight against terrorism. The United States relies on Sunni countries like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates for much of the most valuable intelligence on jihadists. By contrast, we receive little of value from Russia."

Has anybody actually pointed out to Mr Trump that Russia is an ally of Iran?

ConservativeHome: Theresa May saves NATO

ConservativeHome: Theresa May saves NATO

by Harry Phibes

"That shift comes as a great source of relief – not least to the Baltic states; those NATO members, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania under threat from Russia. Certainly there is an implicit conditionality to that “100 per cent” commitment. It is that those who seek insurance from NATO should keep up to date with their premiums.

For its part NATO has reminded America that the Atlantic alliance rallied round to help overthrow the Taliban in Afghanistan in response to the attack on the United States on September 11th 2001.

NATO has been an historic success story. The victory in the cold war was a triumph. Far from NATO being out of date, the world remains a dangerous place – and the Alliance is still needed. Peace through strength was a valid slogan back in the 1980s when people like Jeremy Corbyn were going on CND marches in support of unilateral nuclear disarmament. The logic is still compelling. Western democracies need to show solidarity to defeat their enemies."

Holy Russia and Christian Europe, by Wil Van Den Bercken

Wil Van Den Bercken, Holy Russia and Christian Europe, 1998 SCM

This book is a fascinating history of the national religious identity of Russia. Russia is often thought of as having a religious evolution very separate to that of western Christendom, but Van Den Bercken finds points of contact and similarity between Russia and western Christendom.

Our author begins with the conversion of the Rus via St. Vladimir. He points out that the accounts of Vladimir's conversion have been interpolated to include an anti-Latin polemic which would have been foreign to the pre-schism Church which received Vladimir and his people. Later in the book, Van Den Bercken examines the notion that the conversion of Russia was unique among Christian peoples. He finds parallels between the conversion of the Kievan Rus and the conversion of Hungary, the Anglo-Saxons and the Danes.

Van Den Bercken identifies an important landmark in the theological work of Ilarion of Kiev in the eleventh century. His work on 'Law and the Grace' offered a theme of the universality of the Christian faith, embracing east and west. Our author sees this as being almost the last moment of unity in Christendom before the terrible schism. Moving into later history, he explores the history of the idea of Moscow as the 'Third Rome.' I am always wary of people talking about the Third Rome idea, as this was never officially accepted as the ideology of the Tsarist regime and was much more important to the Old Believers, a truth that Van Den Bercken certainly acknowledges and he explains why the Old Believers treasured the idea. During the reign of Peter the Great and the founding of St. Petersburg, he finds Russia returning to the idea of a New Rome, but this time the model is not Byzantine Rome, but Classical Rome, the first Rome. Coming into the 19th century, he looks at how Russian thinkers evaluated western European civilization and the development of Slavophile thought. I would have liked him to have said more than a paragraph about Vladimir Soloviev, but he states that Soloviev's 'philosophical professionalism' is outside the scope of the book.

This book should be of interest to all who lament the division between Eastern and Western Christendom.

Eclectic Orthodoxy: Those Darn Greeks: Metaphysics and the Hellenization of the Gospel

Eclectic Orthodoxy: Those Darn Greeks: Metaphysics and the Hellenization of the Gospel

"Why this interest in metaphysics and philosophical theology? Blame it on the writings of David Bentley Hart, particularly his book The Experience of God. Hart has persuaded me that a rudimentary grasp of classical metaphysics is essential to the exposition of Christian doctrine. If you had asked me about the gospel and metaphysics 25 years ago, I would have told you that the biblical understanding of divinity had been distorted by the patristic appropriation of Greek philosophy. I would have referred you to theologians like Robert W. Jenson and Jürgen Moltmann and confidently talked about the temporality and passibility of deity and the need to evangelize metaphysics.Had not Adolf Harnack taught modern theology that the original Jewish understanding of divinity had evaporated in the second century, only to be replaced by the God of Plato? Who in the New Testament claims that Jesus is homoousios with the Father? Theologians and biblical scholars alike have taken Harnack’s Hellenization thesis to heart and have sought to reconstruct an authentic “biblical” theology, excising the corrupting influences of the Greek and Latin Fathers. We are confronted today by a plethora of books proclaiming the temporal God, the suffering God, the open God and the process God. As some have discovered, once one takes this step, it becomes increasingly difficult to hold on to the orthodox doctrines of the Trinity and Incarnation."

The Feast of Saint Thomas Aquinas

O God, who made Saint Thomas Aquinas outstanding in his zeal for holiness and his study of sacred doctrine, grant us, we pray, that we may understand what he taught and imitate what he accomplished. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

Litany of Saint Thomas Aquinas

Lord, have mercy on us.
Christ, have mercy on us.
Lord, have mercy on us. Christ, hear us.
Christ, graciously hear us.
God the Father of Heaven,
Have mercy on us.
God the Son, Redeemer of the world,
Have mercy on us.
God the Holy Ghost,
Have mercy on us.
Holy Trinity, One God,
Have mercy on us.

Holy Mary,
Pray for us.
Glorious Mother of the King of kings,
Pray for us.
Saint Thomas of Aquinas, etc.
Worthy child of the Queen of virgins,
St. Thomas most chaste,
St. Thomas most patient,
Prodigy of science,
Silently eloquent,
Reproach of the ambitious,
Lover of that life which is hidden with Christ,
Fragrant flower in the garden of Saint Dominic,
Glory of the Friars Preachers,
Illumined from on high ,
Angel of the Schools,
Oracle of the Church,
Incomparable scribe of the Man-God,
Satiated with the odor of
His perfumes,
Perfect in the school ofHis Cross,
Intoxicated with the strong wine
of His charity,
Glittering gem in the cabinet
of the Lord,
Model of perfect obedience,
Endowed with the true spirit of holy poverty,

Lamb of God, Who takest away the sins of the world,
Spare us, O Lord.
Lamb of God, Who takest away the sins of the world,
Graciously hear us, O Lord.
Lamb of God, Who takest away the sins of the world,
Have mercy on us.

Oh, how beautiful is the chaste generation with glory,
For the memory thereof is immortal.
Because it is known with God and man,
And it triumpheth crowned forever.

V. What have I in Heaven, or what do I desire on earth!
R. Thou art the God of my heart, and my portion forever.

Let Us Pray.

O God, Who hast ordained that blessed Thomas should enlighten Thy Church, grant that through his prayers we may practice what he taught, through Christ Our Lord. R. Amen.

Saint Thomas Aquinas, pray for us, that we may truly understand sacred doctrine.

More that Unites us than Divides us

Thursday, 26 January 2017

Reformed Christian Theology| Piper and Grudem: Wrong on Headcoverings

Reformed Christian Theology| Piper and Grudem: Wrong on Headcoverings

"Did Paul admonish the women of Corinth to wear headcoverings because it was a “culturally appropriate expression…of femininity?”

Short answer: We have ZERO historical, hermeneutical, and contextual evidence for this. In this article, we will dwell mostly upon the history simply because Grudem and Piper get so much of it wrong." US Will Never Bring Back Torture Despite Trump Orders – Senator McCain US Will Never Bring Back Torture Despite Trump Orders – Senator McCain

WASHINGTON (Sputnik) — McCain was responding to reports that Trump plans to sign an executive order reviewing the use of torture, or “enhanced interrogation techniques” outlawed in 2009 by former President Barack Obama.

“The President can sign whatever executive orders he likes. But the law is the law,” McCain stated. “We are not bringing back torture in the United States of America.”

Latvia for NATO

Naturalis Historia: Who Is Our Authority? The Reformed Church Looks Outward for Answers from Genesis

Naturalis Historia: Who Is Our Authority? The Reformed Church Looks Outward for Answers from Genesis

"In my experience, the creation science movement is strongly anti-intellectual at its heart. At conferences and books and videos, Christians are told they can’t trust a large segment of the scientific community despite many of those scientists being Christians who have devoted themselves to understanding the evidence with respect to the age of the Earth and life’s history on it. Likewise, young earth speakers frequently claim that seminary professors are serving their own and their institution’s own self-interests. They also imply or directly state that congregants should be wary of pastors that have received training from any seminary – other than a small set of “approved” seminaries – because they will have been exposed to diverse interpretations of Genesis. Furthermore, the YEC community comprises a large number of untrained scientists and theologians that at times flaunt their lack of theological or scientific degrees as evidence they haven’t been tainted and therefore can make unbiased evaluations of the evidence. At the same time they hold up their own employees with PhDs as proof they do serious science. All of these are common tactics used by groups that hold to conspiracy theories.

The content creators of the creation science community are few in number but their influence far greater than their numbers would suggest. An examination of the massive quantity of YEC literature reveals that the number of active authors is quite small, yet their influence goes far beyond their numbers. The YEC movement is partially “inbred” with many of its leaders closely related to one another or having been at least trained by others in the same community. Their peer-reviewed journals consist of a small number of individuals reviewing each other’s work with a high degree of conflict of interest and mainly “reviewing” works to ensure that they agree with YECism, not whether their methodology or data are scientifically valid.

In addition, I think it is quite clear that the YEC movement is not a reformed Christian movement at heart. Although they espouse an orthodox understanding of the nature of Scriptures, the movement is promoted and populated primarily by a variety of independent fundamentalist Baptists, Assemblies of God, Seventh Day Adventist, Missouri-Synod Lutheran, and many independent protestant churches. They have made use of some elements – most notably the language of presuppositional apologetics – of the reformed heritage but for the most part they do not share the traditional reformed understanding the nature of nature and their hermeneutical and epistemological arguments are frequently quite different."

Basically, those who call themselves Reformed need to read less John F MacArthur and more Vern Poythress.

Sky News: Don't 'grovel' to Donald Trump, MPs tell Theresa May

Sky News: Don't 'grovel' to Donald Trump, MPs tell Theresa May

Theresa May has faced a backlash from MPs after a Number 10 briefing that she will praise Donald Trump during her visit to the US.

The Prime Minister has been urged not to "grovel" to the President when she becomes the first world leader to hold talks with him on Friday, following his comments on waterboarding, women and immigrants, and his attitude to free trade.

Ahead of her meeting with Mr Trump, Downing Street briefed that she would praise him for renewing the US in a speech to a Republican conference in Philadelphia.

Mrs May will say: "As we rediscover our confidence togther - as you renew your nation just as we renew ours - we have the opportunity - indeed the responsibility - to renew the special relationship for this new age.

"We have the opportunity to lead, together, again."

The disclosure of the content of Mrs May's speech sparked anger from MPs across all parties, with calls for her to tackle Mr Trump over torture, immigration and sexism, and not to capitulate on free trade.

In two tweets Labour's Yvette Cooper, who was Mrs May's opposite number as shadow home secretary for several years, said: "Please don't do this Theresa. UK can work with US without praising him. Really hoping you are better than this."

She added: "Nothing should shock me anymore but am so disturbed that @Number10gov thinks it's OK to brief TMay "praising" Trump just as he endorses torture."

It's not just in EU negotiations that May wants to 'have her cake and eat it,' but in political rhetoric too. The prime minister wants to identify herself as a populist, the sort that would appeal to those who vote for Trump or UKIP, yet at the same time, she wants to be the champion of global free trade and a defender of liberal values. It's not going to work.

The Feast of Saint Timothy and Saint Titus

O God, who adorned Saints Timothy and Titus with apostolic virtues, grant through the intercession of them both, that, living justly and devoutly in this present age, we may merit to reach our heavenly homeland. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

Saint Timothy and Saint Titus, pray for us, that we may increase in our knowledge of Scripture.

Baltic Defence

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Business Insider: Marco Rubio embarrassed himself again by making an empty threat

Business Insider: Marco Rubio embarrassed himself again by making an empty threat

Has Donald Trump ever been more right about anything than when he called Marco Rubio "Little Marco"?

Marco Rubio chose to pass a guy who denies that extra-judicial killings in the Philippines constitute human rights abuses.

I hope this will help Rubio supporters to see that their boy is not the messiah. We may also hope that should he run for president again, people will remember his decision to put his ambition before his principles.

A True Defender of British Parliamentary Democracy

The Feast of Saint Francis De Sales

O God, who for the salvation of souls willed that the Bishop Saint Francis de Sales become all things to all, graciously grant that, following his example, we may always display the gentleness of your charity in the service of our neighbor. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

O love eternal, my soul needs and chooses you eternally! Ah, come Holy Spirit, and inflame our hearts with your love! To love -- or to die! To die -- and to love! To die to all other love in order to live in Jesus' love, so that we may not die eternally. But that we may live in your eternal love, O Savior of our souls, we eternally sing, "Live, Jesus! Jesus, I love! Live, Jesus, whom I love! Jesus, I love, Jesus who lives and reigns forever and ever." Amen.

Saint Francis, pray for us, and for all apologists and defenders of the Catholic faith.

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Redating the New Testament, by J.A.T. Robinson

John AT Robinson, Redating the New Testament, 1976 SCM

This is a book I had wanted to read for many years, but never got around to buying.

The Anglican bishop of Woolwich, John Robinson (1919-1983) was most famous for the best-selling Honest to God. This book popularized the views of existential theologians such as Paul Tillich. While the ideas it contained were unoriginal and would have been familiar to theology students, it shocked many lay people to hear them from a bishop. Despite his liberal views, many Evangelicals and conservative Christians have delighted in his less familiar work, Redating the New Testament.

This groundbreaking book argued that the entire New Testament had been written prior to 70 AD. Central to his argument was the importance of the Jerusalem temple in the mindset of early Christians and to the 1st century Jews. Robinson argues that it would be unthinkable for the fall of Jerusalem to have occurred without being mentioned in the writings of the New Testament had they been written after the event. In his judgement, there are no uncontestable references to the fall of Jerusalem anywhere in the New Testament writings. His conclusions that the Pauline writings might postdate the Gospels and that there is no reason to place the Gospel of John AFTER the Synoptics are very radical. He also argues that the epistle of James was written by a relative of Jesus between 47 AD-49 AD, making it one of the earliest books of the New Testament.

In the penultimate chapter he addresses the post-apostolic literature such as the epistle of Barnabas and the Shepherd of Hermas. He considers the question of what was going on in the later first century in terms of Christian literature if the New Testament was complete in 70 AD. He suggests that it was perfectly possible that the 80s and 90s might have been a literary void, resulting from the confusion of the fall of Jerusalem and the Neronian persecution. However, he argues instead that the second century dates of much of the post-apostolic literature was arbitrary and some of these texts might have been written in the first century.

Robinson suggests in the introduction that this book, while offering conservative conclusions (especially his views on authorship of the New Testament books, as well has his dating), will offer no comfort to those who are resistant to Biblical criticisms, as its arguments are built on the critical methodology. This is true to a large extent, for instance regarding the temple. Robinson looks to see whether the Olivet Discourse offers any details about the fall of Jerusalem. Were it to contain them, he (and other critics) would conclude that the discourse post-dates 70 AD, while an Evangelical or conservative Catholic would conclude that this was a prophecy. There is clearly an anti-supernatural bias. Yet many conservative Christians have eagerly embraced his dating system, as such early dates would allow little time for the embellishment of mythological details in the Gospel stories. However, not all conservative Evangelicals have accepted his conclusions. Prior to this book, Evangelical scholars dated some books, such as the Johannine corpus quite late in the first century. The book of Revelation has been dated by Patristic tradition to the reign of Domitian and many conservative Christians prefer to follow this date. The dating of Revelation touches on key questions of eschatology. Those who adopt the Preterist interpretation of Revelation, that the bulk of the prophecy was fulfilled in the first century tend to favour Robinson's early date, while those seeing it as fulfilled in the future tend to prefer the later date.

I had expected this book to be very dry and technical, but I was actually surprised to find that it was very readable, written in the style of a literary conversation. There are some who suspect that Robinson was insincere in his conclusions and that he wrote the book as a sort of donnish literary experiment. This is perhaps rather uncharitable.

Saturday, 21 January 2017

Cold Weather in Bavaria

The Washington Post: Trump has the power now, but his opponents have the passion

The Washington Post: Trump has the power now, but his opponents have the passion

by E.J. Dionne, Jr.

"And if power shifted decisively on Friday to Donald Trump and a Republican-controlled Congress, something else switched sides as well: passion. The political energy in the country is now on the side arrayed against Trump and his agenda. Republicans no longer have Obama as an object toward whom they can direct the country’s ire. With control of both elected branches, the GOP, including Trump, is the establishment.

The relatively small gathering at Trump’s inauguration was a hint of how shallow his movement’s roots might be. It’s true that Washington and its surrounding area stood solidly for Hillary Clinton in November, so there was no nearby crowd for Trump to mobilize. Still, a man who said his inauguration would break all records once again found his boasting refuted by reality.

In the meantime, Democrats and progressives are on the offensive in trying to save the Affordable Care Act and in opposing most of Trump’s Cabinet nominees — on policy grounds in some cases, on ethical grounds in others, and sometimes on both.

Since Election Day, Trump has done nothing to draw his former opponents toward him and much to insult them, deride them and push them away. His inaugural address will only stiffen their determination to contain the damage Trump could do and to restrain him in his use of power. Trump offered a take-no-prisoners message. His adversaries will respond in the same spirit."

L.A. Times: 'America First,' a phrase with a loaded anti-Semitic and isolationist history

L.A. Times: 'America First,' a phrase with a loaded anti-Semitic and isolationist history

by Brian Bennet

A broad-based coalition of politicians and business leaders on the right and left came together as the America First Committee to oppose President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s support for France and Great Britain. The movement grew to more than 800,000 members.

While the America First Committee attracted a wide array of support, the movement was marred by anti-Semitic and pro-fascist rhetoric. Its highest profile spokesman, Charles Lindbergh, blamed American Jews for pushing the country into war.

"The British and the Jewish races," he said at a rally in September 1941, "for reasons which are not American, wish to involve us in the war."

The “greatest danger” Jews posed to the U.S. “lies in their large ownership and influence in our motion pictures, our press, our radio, and our government,” Lindbergh said.

We certainly know what 'Britain First' means. RIP Jo Cox.

Eastern Ukraine Situation Report 21st January

This is war. This is Europe. This is happening today.

The Guardian: Kosovo asks EU and US for help after 'acts of aggression' from Serbia

The Guardian: Kosovo asks EU and US for help after 'acts of aggression' from Serbia

Kosovo’s foreign minister has written to his counterparts in the European Union, the US and other countries denouncing what he said were “numerous acts of provocation and aggression” from Serbia.

Enver Hoxhaj called on the EU, which facilitates Pristina-Belgrade talks aimed at normalising ties, to urge Serbia to remain committed to good relations an official said.

“The Republic of Kosovo encourages the European Union … to urge Serbia to remain committed to good neighbourly relations and regional cooperation and not interfere in the domestic affairs of other countries or take provocative actions which aim for the destabilisation of the region,” the minister wrote in a three-page letter.

Ukrainian Joint Military Exercises

Between Babel and Beast, by Peter Leithart

Peter J Leithart, Between Babel and Beast: America and Empires in Biblical Perspective, 2012 Wipf and Stock

This book, which explores American religious identity in a political context, is intended in the author's mind to be a sort of sequel to his book Defending Constantine. I think perhaps he could have made a little more of this connection, as there is a big jump between the Emperor St. Constantine and the American republic.

Leithart begins his book with Genesis. He identifies Babel as a focus of human energy against divine purposes. In building Babel, the first empire, Nimrod and his people were seeking a kind if immortality, to preserve their identity forever. In response to Babel God introduced his own empire by calling Abraham to form a great nation which would be a blessing to all people. Some of the Babelic empires became 'Beast' empires, which were characterised by their hostility to the people of God. Yet God also raised up empires like those of Cyrus which respected and protected God's people. These took a new form when rulers like St. Constantine converted to the Christian faith. The Church is also called to be an empire, a transnational empire that interpenetrates human kingdoms.

Leithart argues that in the USA, a new form of empire emerged, one that was ostensibly secular, but messianic in its pretensions to be the Kingdom of God. He calls it 'Americanism' and describes it as an heresy. It holds that America has a destiny to transform the world in it's own image and to realize the kingdom of God on Earth through its own policies. This politicization of the Kingdom displaces the role of the Church. He therefore describes the USA as an 'Heretic Nation.' While he believes that America has in many ways been a great nation, he sees it as acting foremost in her own interests and not the interests of the Kingdom of God, therefore the claims of Americanism are false. He also points out that many of the countries that America has supported have been persecutors of Christians, citing Egypt, Pakistan and even Israel, which has shown a mild but definite hostility to the growth of Christianity in her borders. America may not be a Beast empire, but she is a friend of Beasts.

I felt slightly cheated after reading this book. Leithart reserves all his engagement with other writers to the endnotes. When I took my PhD, I was told in no uncertain terms that moving significant areas of discussion to the footnotes (to evade the word limits) was frowned upon. An example of a key piece of discussion is Leithart's critique of Stephen H. Webb's American Providence (on my reading list!), which looks at this very subject, yet offers a positive view of 'Americanism.' Why not place this material in the main text? Most of the people who read this book are educated people who will want to see how Leithart defends his views and interacts with other writers.

There is something of a lack of perspective in this book. Leithart makes no attempt to compare the 'American empire' with other empires such as the British Empire or the Habsburgs. He talks about the Orthodox symphony of church and state, but a more obvious context would be the kingdoms of Western Christendom, whose political philosophy he does not explore. Our author never considers the possibility that there might be similarities between 'Americanism' and the religious and political identities of countries such as France or Russia. He should have at least explored this possibility.

Leithart describes Americanism as an heresy, which seems to imply that it is a theological doctrine like justification by faith or soul sleep. I am not so sure it can be seen as equivalent. I do not think Americanism is a coherent political ideology, let alone a theological position. I think it possibly works more on the level of political metaphor or rhetorical device. It might have been helpful of him to have said something about the eschatological view of Postmillennialism (which I believe he holds to) and how it relates to the political sphere.

I am always wary when theologians write about politics, especially when they are pastors or priests. They have a tendency to be somewhat idealistic and naieve when it comes to politics. It is all well to complain of the USA supporting nations that persecute Christians, but can the USA really afford to risk losing key strategic allies? I am sure the USA could do more to support persecuted Christians, but at the same time she must take a realistic foreign policy.

I think this is an insightful book, but it could have been longer, broader and deeper.

Spiegel Online| Theresa May's Brexit Plan: I Want, I Want, I Want

Spiegel Online| Theresa May's Brexit Plan: I Want, I Want, I Want

by Christoph Scheurmann

Far from being a conciliatory address, May's speech was a catalogue of demands topped with a dash of threat. A great many of her sentences began with: "I want."

The advantage of May's speech is that Europe now at least knows a bit more about the direction Britain intends to go. Theresa May wants to pull the UK out of the single market and to no longer be subject to the verdicts of the European Court of Justice. She wants a free trade agreement and wants Britain to pay much less into the EU budget than it has thus far. And she wants to keep one foot in the customs union but hopes to keep the other outside -- though she didn't explain how she intends to perform this bit of gymnastics. The disadvantage of May's speech is that she has now convinced the rest of Europe beyond a shadow of a doubt that the British government isn't just nasty, but is also prepared to take the gloves off.

How our prime minister comes across to our neighbors.

You might think a vicar's daughter would have learned that a list of demands is a little ungracious. I am sure she must have learned a certain verse in the Beatitudes about peacemakers.

Friday, 20 January 2017

The Feast of Saint Agnes

Almighty ever-living God, who choose what is weak in the world to confound the strong, mercifully grant, that we, who celebrate the heavenly birthday of your Martyr Saint Agnes, may follow her constancy in the faith. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

Let us gain courage for our own battle by honoring the martyrdom of the glorious virgin Agnes. St. Agnes, vessel of honor, flower of unfading fragrance, beloved of the choirs of Angels, you are an example to the worth of virtue and chastity. O you who wear a Martyr's palm and a virgin's wreath, pray for us that, though unworthy of a special crown, we may have our names written in the list of Saints.

St. Agnes, pray for us, for all Christian young people and for the city of Rome.

Polish Military Contingent Afghanistan

Dr Craig Considene: Islamophobia and Catholicophobia – Everything Old is New Again

Dr Craig Considene: Islamophobia and Catholicophobia – Everything Old is New Again

Time and time again, polls and surveys have found that the majority of Americans have unfavorable views of Islam. Consider the following: 1) Muslims are viewed by the majority of Americans with suspicion; 2) Islamophobes claim that sharia, or Islamic law, is about to supersede the Constitution; and 3) President-elect Donald Trump has called for a total ban on Muslim immigration and has even suggested a “Muslim registry” for those who identify themselves with the Islamic faith.

This kind of religious intolerance is nothing new if we consider the history of “Catholicophobia” in the United States. Matt Pearce of the Los Angeles Times reveals the extent of anti-Catholic sentiments. I quote Lopez’s summary of this article: “… there was a real fear among Protestant Americans back then that Catholics were planning to take over the country. As Pearce reported, the fears led to serious violence: Lynch mobs killed Catholic Italians, arsonists burned down Catholic churches, and there were anti-Catholic riots. It was a similar sentiment to the kind of Islamophobia today that’s led many Americans to call for shutting down mosques, forcing Muslims to register in a national database, and even banning Islam.”

When Catholics launch diatribes against Islam and Muslims, they show a complete lack of historical awareness. The same prejudice shown today towards Muslims was shown to Catholics a century ago.

First Things: Time for Parents to Resist Transgender Activism

First Things: Time for Parents to Resist Transgender Activism

by Emily Zinos

"With the Obama “bathroom mandate” under injunction and the Grimm case pending at the Supreme Court, don't think that activists have hit the pause button. Gender activism moves fast, is well-funded, and directs a significant amount of resources at public schools. The tragic consequences of this ideology are all around us—teen girls getting mastectomies, minors put at risk of being sterilized by synthetic hormones, and a gag on scientific inquiry—but who will dare say the Emperor has no clothes? With public schools fast becoming incubators of gender ideology, parents need to cast off their fears of entering the fray, speak out, and, most importantly, teach their children that their sex is a beautiful, biological reality."

The Feast of Saint Sebastian

Grant us, we pray, O Lord, a spirit of fortitude, so that, taught by the glorious example of your Martyr Saint Sebastian, we may learn to obey you rather than men. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

Saint Sebastian, pray for us and for all soldiers.

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

For Italian Soldiers in Kosovo

The Huffington Post: JP Morgan Warns Theresa May’s Brexit Threats Are ‘Very Dangerous’ For UK Jobs

The Huffington Post: JP Morgan Warns Theresa May’s Brexit Threats Are ‘Very Dangerous’ For UK Jobs

“Much of the plumbing that supports trade in goods and services on a day-to- day basis would be left without defined administrative processes and legal foundation. The imposition of tariffs is almost a side show relative to these issues.”

He added that the threat of turning Britain into an offshore, low-tax rival to the EU was not viable and lacked political consensus need to make Europe really fear it.

“THE UK is threatening that under constrained market access it would reinvent itself as a pseudo-Singapore of Northern Europe via low corporate tax rates and a ‘new economic model’.

“We note that the success of such low-tax entrepots has typically been at least partially based on the ability of firms to access markets in their locale, not on the withdrawal of that access. And, as we wrote yesterday, it is far from clear that there is a durable political commitment to the UK becoming a permanently low-corporate tax, low-regulation locale.”

The Guardian: May’s Brexit focus on immigration will have catastrophic consequences

The Guardian: May’s Brexit focus on immigration will have catastrophic consequences

by Anne Perkins

May’s determination to interpret the leave vote as a vote about immigration is a misframing that will have catastrophic consequences. Out of the single market, out of the EU: like politicians who refused to rearm in the 1930s because they hesitated to warn the country it would have to fight another war, May is squandering all the things that her speeches suggest she went into politics to achieve. Her promises to share prosperity more equally and to protect against the bad times more fairly are likely to be the first casualties of this false interpretation of her duty to democracy.

Theresa May is gambling with the British economy because of her bee in the bonnet about immigration.

Monday, 16 January 2017

The Feast of Saint Anthony of Egypt

O God, who brought the Abbot Saint Anthony to serve you by a wondrous way of life in the desert, grant, through his intercession, that, denying ourselves, we may always love you above all things. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

Saint Anthony, pray for us, for the Christians of Egypt and for all monks.

Naturalis Historia: Adam, Eden, and the Corruption of Nature: A Thorny Young-Earth Assumption

Naturalis Historia: Adam, Eden, and the Corruption of Nature: A Thorny Young-Earth Assumption

"But even if we grant the young-earth creationists conception of that Garden was a “good” creation with no pain or sorrow is it necessary to believe that the entire earth was identical to the Garden in Eden? In Genesis, Eden is depicted as a geographical location set apart from the rest of creation. Indeed, the Garden of Eden itself was to be found in a specific part of Eden in the East of Eden. The Garden of Eden is frequently depicted by young earth literalists as being a place of perfection. How then was the Garden distinguished from the rest of creation? The Garden is often portrayed as a tropical paradise, presumably because lush growth represents perfection vs less growth (and food) but what about the outside of the Garden? Was this land somehow less good in the minds of these creationists?

These questions are never addressed in the YEC literature. They always act as if the entire earth was a perfect paradise despite some very clear indications from the rest of Scripture that this was not the relationship of the Garden of Eden with the outside world. The key, as I recently pointed out in recommending the writings of Dr. G.K. Beale and others, is understanding that the Garden represented the holy place in Eden which itself is a sacred space in creation. The creation account and the creation itself is a portrait of the beginning of God’s unfolding plan for man and his relationship with what he had created.

It is important to note that Adam had been created outside the Garden of Eden (Gen. 2.8), possibly even outside of Eden. The image is that of his being created outside of God’s direct presence and then he is brought into his presence when placed in the Garden of Eden just as the priest came into the tabernacle and temple. Adam was originally made innocent and could enter into God’s presence but the priest had to make sacrifices and wash himself before he could enter that sacred space in the Temple or Tabernacle. That place was the only place where the Shekinah glory – God’s dwelling – was exhibited on earth at his footstool (the Ark of the Covenant).

Thus, the place where Adam had his origins was outside of this dwelling place. The image of this place of origin if that of the wilderness – or the disordered creation – the formless and void of Genesis 1.1. He was taken from the wilderness and placed into Eden, a sanctuary in God’s creation where he could commune directly with God (Genesis earth. In Eden, Adam was able to walk and talk with God in the Garden of Eden. In Genesis 1 we see that God, the creator, took the disorder of the initial condition of the cosmos (Genesis 1:1) and put order to it. In Eden we see that He has took the chaos (the wilderness) and made it fit/habitable for man. In other words He made it a “good” place for man. In each case, His creation of things were proclaimed “good,” not as an ethical statement about the objects themselves but rather they were good in their purpose as they related to man. It was their function for which the inspired author is primarily concerned."

NATO Deployments

Sunday, 15 January 2017

The Washington Post: Tillerson doesn’t seem to realize speaking up for human rights is part of the job

The Washington Post: Tillerson doesn’t seem to realize speaking up for human rights is part of the job


"AT LEAST 4,800 people have been killed by Philippine security forces and unidentified gunmen in a lawless anti-drug campaign since President Rodrigo Duterte took office just six months ago, according to Human Rights Watch. The Obama administration has repeatedly criticized what it calls the “extrajudicial killings.” But Rex Tillerson, the oil executive nominated to be secretary of state by President-elect Donald Trump, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday that he was not ready to judge whether the Duterte government is guilty of human rights violations."

The New York Times: The Coin? Gold. Its ‘Real Value’? Lady Liberty Is Black.

The New York Times: The Coin? Gold. Its ‘Real Value’? Lady Liberty Is Black.

The United States Mint will release a commemorative gold coin in April that will feature Lady Liberty as a black woman, marking the first time that she has been depicted as anything other than white on the nation’s currency.

The coin, with a $100 face value, will commemorate the 225th anniversary of the Mint’s coin production, the Mint and the Treasury Department announced on Thursday. Going on sale April 6, it will be 24 karats and weigh about an ounce.

It is part of a series of commemorative coins that will be released every two years. Future ones will show Lady Liberty as Asian, Hispanic and Indian “to reflect the cultural and ethnic diversity of the United States,” the Mint said in a statement.

The announcement comes at a pivotal cultural moment for the United States, a week away from a transfer of power, following a bruising election dominated by debates about immigration, race and political correctness.

Meditations with Hildegard of Bingen, by Madonna Sophia Compton

Madonna Sophia Compton, Meditations with Hildegard of Bingen: The Life and Times of Hildegaard, 2015 The Raphael Group

I decided to read this after reading Madonna Sophia Compton's fascinating book on Sergius Bulgakov. I first encountered St. Hildegaard of Bingen when I was 13 or 14, when I bought a casette tape of her amazing choral music. Saint Hildegaard of Bingen is a fascinating figure, both for her musical legacy and that she is one of the few female Doctors of the Church. Her music is an undeniably important part of her work, as it communicates her vision of a cosmic harmony of heaven and Earth. Though Hildegaard may be appealing to heterodox feminist theologians, St. Hildegaard was thoroughly orthodox and helped to oppose the great heresies of her time, Catharism and Waldensianism.

Compton provides a very readable and informative introduction to the life and historical context of this great Doctor of the Church. She makes reference to a number of scholars who have offered insights into her work. Our author explains the importance of the theme of Sophia, divine wisdom, in the visions and writings of Hildegard. Hildegard's visions are full of feminine imagery and central to them is the figure of Lady Wisdom, the personification of beauty and goodness energized in creation by the Spirit of God. Hildegard also saw the Church personified in female form and our author does not fail to make a connection between Sophia and ecclesiology, which is something I think she rather neglected in Sophia-Spirit-Mary.

A number of short passages are included in the book to give a taster of St. Hildegard's work.

Saturday, 14 January 2017

The Henry Jackson Society| Analysis: ‘International Taboo on Chemical Weapons Frays As U.S. Steps Back’

The Henry Jackson Society| Analysis: ‘International Taboo on Chemical Weapons Frays As U.S. Steps Back’

by Kyle W. Orton

"Moreover, Assad continued to use poison gas against civilians, he just switched to chlorine, the original chemical weapon. Earlier today, news leaked to Reuters that the OPCW has Assad personally on a list of people “to be scrutinized” for their role in the chlorine attacks from 2014 onward. As mentioned above, the pro-Assad coalition has officially been found responsible for three chlorine attacks by OPCW; credible reports from inside Syria put that number closer to ten—just in 2016.

The enforcement of the international norm against chemical weapons has never been perfect. The Geneva Protocol banning chemical and bacteriological weapons was signed in 1925 in the shadow of the First World War. Since then—before Assad—five states had used chemical attacks against civilians. (Potentially one could add a sixth: the Islamic State employed the remnants of Saddam Husayn’s arsenal against the Coalition and Iraqi civilians in the mid-2000s.) Yet at least using chemical weapons used to be taboo, expected to put the user beyond the pale of the family of nations; this no longer appears to be the case.

Assad was not only able to use CWMD with impunity, steps have increasingly been taken toward normalizing the Assad regime, turning the incentive structure on its head. For example, in Sudan, the regime of Umar al-Bashir used CWMD thirty times between January and September 2016, killing more than two-hundred civilians, according to Amnesty International. Al-Bashir was already wanted for genocide, the first head of state indicted by the International Criminal Court. Yet the U.S. lifted sanctions against Khartoum yesterday."

Eastern Ukraine Situation Report 14th January

This is war. This is Europe. This is happening today.

Called to be the Children of God

Fr. David Meconi, SJ and Carl E. Olson (editors), Called to be the Children of God: The Catholic Theology of Human Deification, 2016 Ignatius Press

The doctrine of theosis or deification, that the end of salvation is to become one with God, a partaker of the divine nature, is most associated with Eastern Orthodoxy. However, it has always been a part of the theology of the Roman Catholic Church and is clearly expressed in her catechism. This book traces the history of how Catholic theologians have expressed the doctrine of theosis. This collection of essays begins with the Scriptures, then moves across history, looking at such important figures as Saint Augustine, Saint Thomas Aquinas and Blessed John Henry Newman. It concludes with an essay by David Fagerberg on the relationship between the liturgy and divinization. The author of this essay identifies Mary as the ultimate model for human deification.

While the bulk of this book deals with the western theological tradition, one of the essays deals with theosis in the Eastern Church Fathers, the common heritage of both the Catholic and Orthodox churches. I did wonder if there had been no post-schism theological developments among the Eastern-rite Catholic churches. It would have been interesting to have had an essay discussing the doctrine of theosis within the theological and liturgical context of the Easten-rite Catholic churches, not just the Byzantine, but the Alexandrian, Armenian and Syrian rites. Given the emphasis on western theology, I do wonder if it was appropriate to have a Greek Orthodox icon on the cover. The essay on the Franciscan theological tradition was enjoyable. I think I am a fan of Franciscan theology. There is some overlap between some of the essays, for instance, Matthias Scheeben is discussed in several of the chapters.

This is a really valuable exercise in historical theology and was very edifying.

Friday, 13 January 2017

Team of Teams

The Feast of Saint Hilary of Poitiers

Grant, we pray, almighty God, that we may rightly understand and truthfully profess the divinity of your Son, which the Bishop Saint Hilary taught with such constancy. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

Saint Hilary, pray for us, for all theologians and for those who deny the divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Thursday, 12 January 2017

Catholic Herald: Luther affirmed Mary’s perpetual virginity. It’s a shame that many Protestants now reject it

Catholic Herald: Luther affirmed Mary’s perpetual virginity. It’s a shame that many Protestants now reject it

by Aaron Taylor

"Where Mary’s role in the economy of salvation is denigrated, the result is not greater focus on Christ, but a re-emergence of ancient Christological heresies, as seen in Protestant churches during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries (Catholicism has been remarkably free of this tendency, despite ongoing theological crises since the 1960s). The Protestant Reformers realised this connection. That’s why, as historian Sir Diarmaid MacCulloch notes, they treated Mary with “reverence and affection” as a “guarantee of the Incarnation of Christ.”

In today’s world, the doctrine of Mary’s perpetual virginity reminds us of our eternal destiny in relationship to Jesus.

Sex within marriage is good and holy. But celibacy – or perpetual virginity – is in a very specific and limited sense, a more perfect state. It is not morally better. Consecrated virgins are not making a more ethical lifestyle choice. But it is more perfect in an eschatological sense, because total consecration to God comes nearer to the state towards which we are journeying in the afterlife, where “they neither marry nor are given in marriage” (Matt 22:30)."

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Hatred towards Muslims often goes hand in hand with Misogyny

The Huffington Post: Marco Rubio Grills Rex Tillerson On Russia, Ukraine, Syria

The Huffington Post: Marco Rubio Grills Rex Tillerson On Russia, Ukraine, Syria

WASHINGTON ― Former Exxon Mobil chief executive Rex Tillerson dodged a series of questions from Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) during his confirmation hearing on Wednesday about his foreign policy agenda with respect to Russia.

Asked whether he would advise President-elect Donald Trump to enforce sanctions against Moscow for its alleged role in cyberattacks aimed at interfering with the U.S. election, the secretary of state nominee demurred.

Confronted with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s actions in Ukraine, Syria, and against domestic political enemies, Tillerson said he would need more information before agreeing with Rubio’s description of the Russian leader as a “war criminal.”

Tillerson’s ties to Russia, which he developed during his time as an oilman, have been a key point of contention for lawmakers since Trump chose him to serve as the next secretary of state.

In an opening statement during his confirmation hearing on Wednesday, Tillerson attempted to allay those concerns, telling members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that Russia “poses a danger” ― but suggested this danger was due to the “absence of American leadership” under the Barack Obama administration.

When lawmakers pressed him on what a stronger U.S. posture toward Russia would look like, Tillerson gave evasive answers. He wouldn’t commit to upholding sanctions against Moscow that the Obama administration has put in place or to supporting the new sanctions legislation introduced by a bipartisan group of senators on Tuesday.

UK Support for Ukraine

Vox: Did Rex Tillerson just lie under oath about lobbying against Russia sanctions?

Vox: Did Rex Tillerson just lie under oath about lobbying against Russia sanctions?

“I have never lobbied against sanctions,” Tillerson said. “To my knowledge, Exxon never directly lobbied against sanctions.”

This seems hard to believe. Indeed, after the second line, Sen. Bob Corker, the Republican chair of the committee, interjected: "I think you called me at the time [Russia sanctions were being debated]," he said. The public record backs him up: There is abundant and clear evidence that Exxon did lobby on sanctions under Tillerson’s leadership.

Monday, 9 January 2017

Romanians for Afghanistan

Crux: Vatican doctrine czar sees no need for ‘fraternal correction’ of Pope

Crux: Vatican doctrine czar sees no need for ‘fraternal correction’ of Pope

by Ines San Martin

Speaking about a dubia letter Burke and three other cardinals sent to the pope late in 2016, urging him to respond to a series of yes or no questions regarding Amoris Laetitia and its provisions for divorced and civilly remarried Catholics, German Cardinal Gerhard Muller, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith acknowledged that everyone, “above all cardinals,” has the right to write a letter to the pope.

However, Muller added, “I am amazed that this became public, essentially constraining the pope to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’. I don’t like this.”

The letter was intended to be a private affair, but when Pope Francis refused to answer the questions, the cardinals gave it to the press, just a few days before October’s consistory for the creation of new cardinals.

Regarding a possible formal correction, which Burke said he was willing to do if the pope continued to refuse to answer the question submitted last September, Muller stated that “it’s not possible in this moment, because it doesn’t concern a danger for the faith as St. Thomas said.”

The Washington Post: Trump’s pro-Putin stubbornness will ruin his presidency

The Washington Post: Trump’s pro-Putin stubbornness will ruin his presidency

by Jennifer Rubin

"Appearing on CNN, Michèle Flournoy, who served in the Obama administration, counseled Trump: “Putin is pursuing a policy in Europe, in Syria and elsewhere that is not aligned with ours. And I think when he gets into the Oval Office, he will find that there are many people in the national security enterprise, including someone like Gen. [James] Mattis, who came out of a military background, I think most of the chairmen of the Joint Chiefs, the service chiefs, the COCOMs, have all testified that they see Russia as a very real and present threat because of the actual actions they have taken, the annexation of Crimea, the invasion of Ukraine, the positioning of nuclear weapons, the increasing competition in the maritime domain, the space domain, and as we have seen in the cyber- domain with an unprecedented attack on the U.S. democratic process.” The question is whether Trump will resist the consensus of advisers, Congress, the intelligence community and outside experts."

Sunday, 8 January 2017

OZY: Six Myths About Corruption in Ukraine

OZY: Six Myths About Corruption in Ukraine

by Alexander J. Motyl

"Ukraine has made significant progress in combating corruption in recent years and has still managed impressive reforms, prompting former Finance Minister Natalie Jaresko to say that Ukraine has changed more in the past three years than in the 20-plus years since independence in 1991. On December 13, 2016, the EU concluded that Ukraine is carrying out intense and unprecedented reforms across its economy and political system, while its democratic institutions have been further revitalized. That report, unlike years of headlines about corruption in Ukraine, did not catch the media’s eye.

So why is the fixation on Ukrainian corruption? Partly because it provides a simple theme around which to organize ignorance about Ukraine, as well as a convenient rationale for Ukraine fatigue in foreign policy. Corruption provides Westerners with an attractive us versus them picture: there, the bad, corrupt Ukrainians; here, honest, virtuous Europeans and Americans. Russian propaganda has managed to spread this image of Ukraine in a bid to reduce it to an irredeemably failed state unworthy of the West’s attention."

SunSentinel: Judge Marco Rubio by how he judges Rex Tillerson | Editorial

SunSentinel: Judge Marco Rubio by how he judges Rex Tillerson | Editorial

"The task for Rubio and other hawks — and perhaps it is an impossible task — is to find a series of policies, economic sanctions and other actions that put pressure on our adversaries without tipping entire regions — or the entire world — into a conflagration. Rubio has portrayed himself as a foreign policy expert. His second term in the Senate — where he begins as an influential member of the party that controls both houses of Congress and the White House — should give him ample opportunity to try to prove it's true.

Russia has been a central cause of the bloodbath in Aleppo. A question for Tillerson and for Trump — and therefore for Rubio — is whether Trump and Tillerson are Putin's patsies or are capable of not only standing up to Putin but also prevailing over him in a confrontation that, everyone must hope, would play out solely in the diplomatic arena.

We have been one of Rubio's harshest critics, particularly for his reluctance during his first term to show up for work. But Rubio struck the right tone by expressing concern about Tillerson while remaining neutral and promising a thorough hearing. Follow-through will be the key. Until the hearings, it is too soon to draw conclusions about Tillerson — or about Rubio."

The Guardian: The Scottish pioneer whose plan for a basic income could transform Britain

The Guardian: The Scottish pioneer whose plan for a basic income could transform Britain

The universal basic income concept is so simple you are tempted to ask why it has never been seriously looked at before. It offers something for everyone across the political spectrum. It works on the premise that individuals are guaranteed a minimum regular payment unconditionally. Kerr, who worked as a postman for 14 years, acknowledges that much academic research and fieldwork must be done to calibrate payments appropriate to the needs of people.

"We, as a party, need to be ambitious for people and I think this can be a part of that. Nye Bevan is a great hero of mine, but I can’t imagine if he were around today that he would have created the benefits system the way it now looks. It’s time to ask if this has worked. This has been a 70-year experiment. It worked at the time when we had high levels of employment. But we don’t have that now. And although I’ll always strive for full employment, the reality is that as technology improves and increases, that’s going to be harder to achieve.

“This is a big challenge to the left. In these circumstances you can’t just write people off and nor can you have the current system that is hugely difficult to navigate and completely enslaves people to the state.”

Already, the Finnish government, as well as provinces in Canada and some Dutch cities, are looking at pilot schemes. Glasgow, however, would seem to offer an ideal petri dish for experimentation. The infamous “Glasgow effect” sees adult males in the city’s most deprived areas die significantly younger than those from other working-class UK cities with similar patterns of deprivation and health inequalities. Here a person can lose 20 years of life expectancy in a six-mile corridor from the east end of the city to its arboreal west end.

Saturday, 7 January 2017

3rd Armoured Brigade Combat Team

The Henry Jackson Society| Analysis: ‘The Assad Regime Admits to Manipulating the Islamic State’

The Henry Jackson Society| Analysis: ‘The Assad Regime Admits to Manipulating the Islamic State’

by Kyle W. Orton

"Eleven days into the Syrian uprising in March 2011, Assad freed hundreds of Islamist prisoners—and further releases followed. The infrastructure Assad had helped IS build meant they mobilized far more quickly than anyone else. “The regime did not just open the door to the prisons and let these extremists out, it facilitated them in their work,” said a defector from Assad’s military intelligence (who still prefers the regime to the insurgency). Among those released was Amr al-Absi (Abu al-Atheer), a key figure in the formation of the caliphate. Bombings were staged by the regime and blamed on jihadists and sectarian atrocities were then committed in the conscious hope of an in-kind response to encourage the minorities, who are disproportionately represented in the Assad regime, “to rally around the regime and hold on to it.” The clear intent of all this was to switch “the narrative of the newborn Syrian revolution to one of sectarianism, not reform.”

As of late 2012, the Assad regime’s counter-insurgency strategy was built around aerial bombardment and displacement to prevent the opposition setting up an attractive alternate governance structure that people could defect to. Instructively, once IS emerged publicly in Syria and began seizing territory in Syria in mid-2013, notably Raqqa, it was left alone to construct its caliphate. The regime had arrested and killed peaceful demonstrators at the same time it was releasing violent Islamists, and as the war went on it consistently concentrated its firepower on the mainstream rebels and not IS—even when they were literally next to one-another. Once the rebellion went to war with IS, the regime stepped in on IS’s side. IS offensives were facilitated by the regime—including in Aleppo in 2014 and 2015 (the latter so blatant that the State Department called out the regime publicly) and in Marea in 2016. Assad cut deals with IS to avoid fighting it, Palmyra most prominently, which returned to bite the regime recently. Assad regime officials have been sanctioned for trading with IS—effectively funding terrorism. The Kremlin was connected with these middle-men and Russian technicians work with IS in the energy sector.

Put simply, the Assad regime—and its allies, Russia and Iran—have done everything they can to build up the jihadists in the insurgency to will into existence the predicament they always said existed in Syria: the regime or a terrorist takeover. This strategy of forcing a binary choice—and empowering enemies who defeat themselves—is called provocation, a tactic perfected by the Russians and disseminated by the KGB to regimes like Assad’s and Algeria’s."

Independent: Don't believe the right-wing media's claims that economists got it wrong on Brexit – the damage has been delayed, not avoided

Independent: Don't believe the right-wing media's claims that economists got it wrong on Brexit – the damage has been delayed, not avoided

by Ben Chu

"And are we really the “top economy”? The Office for Budget Responsibility expects full year growth for the UK in 2016 of 2.1 per cent. That would indeed be higher than the IMF’s forecast for the US (1.6 per cent), France (1.3 per cent) and Germany (1.7 per cent). Yet the Fund and other international forecasters such as the OECD expect all those economies to grow faster than the UK in 2017.

Despite the headlines, the consensus view of professional economists in both the public and private sector is that the UK will experience a serious growth slowdown next year, thanks to lower household consumption brought on by higher inflation and weaker business investment induced by uncertainty over our future trade prospects."

The Power of the Ring, by Stratford Caldecott

Stratford Caldecott, The Power of the Ring: The Spiritual Vision Behind the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, 2012 Crossroad

I read Stratford Caldecott's book The Radiance of Being just over a year ago. It was an interesting book that explored a number of issues from a Christian Platonic perspective. This book was much more readable and easier to understand compared to The Radiance of Being. In Power of the Ring, this Catholic theologian explores the nature of J.R. Tolkien's Christian vision as found in both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

As might be expected from a Catholic writer, Caldecott brings up the subtle Mariological theme in Tolkien's writing, as seen in the two Marian characters, Galadriel and Varda. He points out that as the 'Mediatrix of Grace,' the Blessed Virgin is implicitly present throughout creation, which connects well with the association of both Galadriel and Varda with starlight. He also goes on to talk about Sophia, or Divine Wisdom. He relates this concept to the notion in Tolkien of the Secret Fire, which is the creative energy of Iluvatar, the creator God in the Silmarillion. I would have liked Caldecott to have written a little bit more about the Sophia theme, as he had a lot to say about that in The Radiance of Being and to have made reference to the writings of Vladimir Soloviev and Sergius Bulgakov.

The book features a number of interesting appendices. One of these is, perhaps not so interesting, as it offers a Jungian perspective on Tolkien. I have absolutely no idea why educated people today, especially Christians take the ideas of Jung seriously. I know the Myers-Briggs personality test is very good fun (I'm INTJ), but there is almost no evidential or scientific basis to Jung's theories, leaving them in the realm of pseudo-science. Much more interesting is Caldecott's appendix on Arthurian legend and its relation to Tolkien. In the fifth appendix, he offers some advice on how homeschoolers can make use of Tolkien's works as an educational resource. In Appendix Six, he examines the views of Catherine Madsen, who downplays the Christian element in Tolkien, viewing his writings as more pagan in orientation. Caldecott expresses sympathy with this viewpoint, despite his commitment to a Christian and Catholic heart to Tolkien's writing. The most interesting of his appendices takes a look at the LOTR movies and offers both positive and negative thoughts on them. While he feels Cate Blanchet's unsettling performance as Galadriel was mischaracterised, he feels that in general the elves in the movies seem too human and a little too smug and pompous. He also thinks that the Hobbits of the Shire in the movies are too comical and thus fail to convey Tolkien's affectionate portrayal of rural English communities. He is particularly scathing about the long, drawn out ending of Return of the King. Caldecott is impressed with Mortenson's Aragorn, even while admitting he is a little different from the Aragorn of the books.

Our author raises the interesting question of what great power the Ring actually bestows, other than invisibility. He points out that the Ring does not prevent Sam or Sauron having a finger bitten off. He suggests that the power of the Ring might actually be a delusion.

Caldecott stresses the importance in Tolkien's works of the nostalgia for 'Old England.' This is a concept that I struggle with a lot. A combination of the eschatological orientation of my Evangelical background and the cynicism of my liberal influences has made me very resistant to nostalgia. The English people were not always a nation of lovable Hobbits. English people have often been violent, ignorant and racist. The descendants of Tolkien's rural English folk can be just as obnoxious. Nostalgia is always a selective memory. Furthermore, nostalgia for 'Old England' tends to be a nostalgia for a whiter England and can easily go hand in hand with a prejudice towards black people and immigrants. Where do people of colour fit into that kind of view of England?

I think this is a good book. It certainly is a lot better than Peter Kreeft's Tolkien hagiography, The Philosophy of Tolkien. However, like that book, I would have liked to have seen a little bit more of a critical perspective offered on Tolkien or at least engaged with. Is there really nothing in Tolkien's thought or writings we can find fault with? In particular, there is no acknowledgement in this book that Tolkien's political philosophy was hopelessly idealistic, impractical and irrelevant to the real world. It is doubtful that Tolkien's anarcho-monarchism would have worked in the Shire, let alone in modern England. Caldecott makes reference to the economic illiteracy called Distributism, but offers no critical comment on it. The great fallacy of Distributism is the notion that lots and lots of small businesses is a good thing; ignoring the fact that 1) small businesses struggle to make ends meet and their owners are often poor, 2)small businesses do not offer the same benefits as provided by large companies and can exploit their employees just as much and 3) Small businesses often do not give the same benefit to the consumer of lower prices than large companies.