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+Rowan: Nativity a ‘legend’ (Updated)

Thursday, December 20, 2007 • 6:40 am


Wow:

Dr Rowan Williams has claimed there was little evidence that the Magi even existed and there was certainly nothing to prove there were three of them or that they were kings.

Dr Williams argued that the traditional Christmas story was nothing but a ‘legend.’

He said the only reference to the wise men from the East was in Matthew’s gospel and the details were very vague.

Dr Williams said: “Matthew’s gospel says they are astrologers, wise men, priests from somewhere outside the Roman Empire, that’s all we’re really told. It works quite well as legend.”

The Archbishop went on to dispel other details of the Christmas story, adding that there were probably no asses or oxen in the stable.

He argued that Christmas cards which showed the Virgin Mary cradling the baby Jesus, flanked by shepherds and wise men, were misleading. As for the scenes that depicted snow falling in Bethlehem, the Archbishop said the chance of this was “very unlikely”.

In a final blow to the traditional nativity story, Dr Williams concluded that Jesus was probably not born in December at all. He said: “Christmas was when it was because it fitted well with the winter festival.”

I’m not a Bible scholar, although I’m aware that many serious ones support Williams’ assertion about the season of Jesus’ birth. I also know the account of the magi in Matthew 2, and Williams is correct: It’s pretty vague.

So it’s not the soundness of William’s conjecture I necessarily object to; my problem is with Williams’ insistence on saying the wrong thing at the wrong time, all the time. Where, for example, is Dr. Williams’ criticism of the kookiness in the Koran, whenever Ramadan rolls around?

Remind me never to ask him to play along about Santa around children.

Matt says:

Updated:

Having had an opportunity to see the entire interview, it is obvious, as I note in my comments below, that the Telegraph misquoted the Archbishop. He does not deny that the Magi existed as historical figures. He simply disputes the traditional extra-biblical numbers and ethnic variety assigned to them.

This is quite comforting and, as I said yesterday (see below), I withdraw my criticism as it was based on the Telegraph’s misquote.

But that was not my sole objection (again, see below). The Archbishop;s assertion that belief in the Virgin conception and birth of Jesus is not a necessary element of saving faith is as false as it is troublesome. To deny Christ’s Virgin birth is on the same level as a denial of his Resurrection. Both are clearly taught in scripture and they must be believed by all who call themselves Christian.

Matt


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Comments:

Luckily, he ended his comments affirming that Jesus did come to earth as a child born to Mary and Joseph and that he is indeed God.  Checking story…Oh, wait…Hmmm…this isn’t good…

[1] Posted by Paul B on 12-20-2007 at 08:03 AM • top

And the prophesy of Rachel weeping for her children - is that legend as well?  Is Jeremiah now revealed as a false prophet for having spoken a prophesy that didn’t come true, or did Matthew misapply the prophesy?  Or is there really such a thing as a prophet?  Perhaps the Bible is simply an opaque book with no real divine authority?  The threads are not so neatly separated it seems. 

Frankly, I am not sure why liberals bother with Scripture at all.  If the bible has no divine authority behind its content, then it tells us nothing of use about God.  Even if they thought some truth might be found within its pages, they would have no means to identify it - other than a ‘gut feeling.’  And this inevitably reduces to declaring that which tickles the ear to be truth, and that which offends to be falsehood.  Why don’t they just go straight to the conclusion, and declare themselves their own authority?

carl

[2] Posted by carl on 12-20-2007 at 08:16 AM • top

Greg—It was an interview; they could have asked him anything. I suppose he could have said: “Oh it’s Christmas and you want to ask me about the popular picture of the Christmas story. Well, I guess I oughtn’t talk about that.”

And the interview itself shows that the Archbishop’s verdict of “legend” was very specifically about the traditional depiction of “we three kings” with one having very dark skin.

On oxen and asses, he just says they are not in the biblical text.

Rowan affirms the virgin birth as something he has come to appreciate more as the years have gone on.

Brother Greg, read the basic source. Make sure it’s a deer before pulling the trigger.

[3] Posted by Gator on 12-20-2007 at 08:21 AM • top

The Telegraph is misquoting its own article / interview here by leaving out an important ellipsis.  What is quoted above:

Dr Williams said: “Matthew’s gospel says they are astrologers, wise men, priests from somewhere outside the Roman Empire, that’s all we’re really told. It works quite well as legend.”

in the original is:

ABC Well Matthew’s gospel doesn’t tell us that there were three of them, doesn’t tell us they were kings, doesn’t tell us where they came from, it says they’re astrologers, wise men, priests from somewhere outside the Roman Empire. That’s all we’re really told so, yes, ‘the three kings with the one from Africa’ - that’s legend; it works quite well as legend.

The original is about which *parts* of the nativity story are legend, the newer article is trying to sound controversial by citing the ABC on facts most of us will be long familiar with.

[4] Posted by j.m.c. on 12-20-2007 at 08:27 AM • top

Gator:

This is a direct quote from the interview. The “legend” comment is attached to the wise men themselves not simply the color of their skin:

“Matthew’s gospel says they are astrologers, wise men, priests from somewhere outside the Roman Empire, that’s all we’re really told. It works quite well as legend.”

[5] Posted by Matt Kennedy on 12-20-2007 at 08:28 AM • top

Gator:
A link to the transcript is provided in the article.  They did editorialize, however, but Greg’s not that far off.  The title should read something like, “Archbishop says nativity presented in most children’s books and pageants ‘legend’” or something to that effect.

I’ve always wondered why we insist on highlighting details in the Christmas story that Matthew never included, such as the number of the wise men or the idea that they were there when Jesus was born.  Why not write new pageants with the correct details?  Perhaps I just think too much about this stuff.

[6] Posted by Utah Benjamin on 12-20-2007 at 08:30 AM • top

A sloppy interview to boot with the ABC unable to use clarifying language.  Its the difference between the Christmas drama cycle and the actual Scripture, but he is outfoxed in this one.

[7] Posted by francis on 12-20-2007 at 08:30 AM • top

jmc,

I see, they misquoted their own interview. I withdraw my #5. They seem to have gotten someone who knows nothing about Christianity or the bible to write up this summary of the interview.

[8] Posted by Matt Kennedy on 12-20-2007 at 08:31 AM • top

Gator,

I’m not accusing Williams of being a heretic, I’m exasperated at his continual display of his tin ear.

[9] Posted by Greg Griffith on 12-20-2007 at 08:32 AM • top

Does anyone else get awfully tired of the shoddy reporting that goes on during our present crisis?  It certainly doesn’t help matters when misinformation and deliberate misinterpretations are used to stir people up.  Personally, I’ve reached the point where I don’t pay any attention to any of them anymore.

[10] Posted by Mark Clavier on 12-20-2007 at 08:32 AM • top

The Telegraph seems to have misrepresented the Archbishops comments. What Rowan Williams seems to be attacking is a caricature of the Christmas story, not the story itself. He confirms the gospel accounts, and the most important statements. His error is in saying that certain things in the story extrapolated from the gospel accounts but not in the gospel accounts did not occur, rather than there is no completely firm evidence that they did occur.

SM The Virgin Mary next door to him?

ABC We know his mother’s name was Mary, that’s one of the things all the gospels agree about, and the two gospels that tell the story have the story of the virgin birth and that’s something I’m committed to as part of what I’ve inherited.

SM You were a prominent part of a Spectator survey in the current issue which headlined’ Do you believe in the virgin birth?’ there are some people in this survey who would say they were Christian who don’t have a problem if you don’t believe in the Virgin birth;’ how important it is it to believe in that bit?

ABC I don’t want to set it as a kind of hurdle that people have to get over before they, you know, be signed up;, but I think quite a few people that as time goes on, they get a sense, a deeper sense of what the virgin birth is about. I would say that of myself. About thirty years ago I might have said I wasn’t too fussed about it - now I see it much more as dovetailing with the rest of what I believe about the story and yes.

SM Christopher Hitchens and many others make the point that isn’t the translation for young woman rather than virgin? Does it have to be seen as virgin; might it be a mistranslation?

ABC It is… well, what’s happening there one of the gospels quotes a prophecy that a virgin will conceive a child. Now the original Hebrew doesn’t have the word virgin, it’s just a young woman, but that’s the prophecy that’s quoted from the Old Testament in support of the story which is, in any case, about a birth without a human father, so it’s not that it rests on mistranslation; St Matthew’s gone to his Greek version of the bible and said “Oh, ‘virgin’; sounds like the story I know,” and put it in.

OK; we have to be generous and give him the benefit of the doubt on that last one. I don’t technically disagree with anything he said in this transcript; it’s just the way he phrased it which makes it a little disconcerting.

Anyway, for those of you with the time and inclination (which excludes me), you can go to
the BBC and listen to the broadcast itself (Wednesday). It will stay there until next week.

[11] Posted by Boring Bloke on 12-20-2007 at 08:36 AM • top

Then let’s skip to this part:

He said he was committed to belief in the Virgin Birth “as part of what I have inherited.” But belief in the Virgin Birth should not be a “hurdle” over which new Christians had to jump before they were accepted.

[12] Posted by Greg Griffith on 12-20-2007 at 08:37 AM • top

The major point here is that he is stating that the gospel of Matthew is “”“”“little evidence”“”“.  Besides, if you look in the OT you find that the presence of wise men in the East is also a Messianic Prophecy - isn’t it in Isaiah?  I thought we just read that a couple of weeks back in church.  Also, the presence of the Jews in Babylon would have insured the ‘wise men’s’ knowledge of Jewish prophecy. 

The rest of it is obvious to anyone who actually reads the Gospel accounts - although my mother told me that the birth of Christ was actually calculated from the feast day that Zacharias entered the Holy of Holies - nine months to John’s birth (Sept 25th) and three months after that to Jesus’ birth.  I had never heard that before, but actually, when you think if of it it is just as plausible as the Winter Solitice.

[13] Posted by Eclipse on 12-20-2007 at 08:38 AM • top

I wrote

I don’t technically disagree with anything he said in this transcript

Greg wrote

Then let’s skip to this part:

He said he was committed to belief in the Virgin Birth “as part of what I have inherited.” But belief in the Virgin Birth should not be a “hurdle” over which new Christians had to jump before they were accepted.

I stand corrected. Thanks Greg.

[14] Posted by Boring Bloke on 12-20-2007 at 08:46 AM • top

I listened to the whole interview yesterday.  It is on a BBC talk radio show, replete with listener questions.  The context matters.  On the whole, I thought he did a good job, but I agree with Greg: he has a tin ear (at least to an American).

Also, his indirect way of speaking can cause an American litigator to blow a gasket at times:

So start with … the baby Jesus in a manger; historically and factually true?

ABC I should think so

You’re jolly right you should think so.  You’re the Archbishop of Canterbury!  What is wrong with “Absolutely” as an answer?  We should keep this habit of speech in mind when interpreting his other missives.

You can listen to the interview on BBC by following the link here:

http://www.standfirminfaith.com/index.php/site/article/8493/#160615

[15] Posted by wildfire on 12-20-2007 at 08:47 AM • top

Have to get time tonight to really digest the implications of this coming from the ABC. My first knee jerk reaction is ...wow.. talk about tearing the fabric of the communion especially between the orthodox and the liberals not to mention the Anglo-Catholic side of the orthodox. I am not talking about the season of the Nativity being in December. This is really too much and the timing is really lousey. He is almost having self defeating behaviors or trying to torpedo Lambeth himself. I will need to reread and meditate on this. What was he thinking?

[16] Posted by Houseownedbythedog3 on 12-20-2007 at 08:48 AM • top

Most unfortunate timing, indeed! One would wonder whether the ABp of C is on some sort of self-destructive path, taking others with him.

A nativity scene in all its magnificence is a meld of Scripture and tradition, an ikon that reminds us of the actual nativity of Jesus Christ, as told by the Gospels and by the Christian tradition.

Those (including the news media) who would negatively deconstruct it at this time of year would seem to need to spend some time with a competent spiritual director.

[17] Posted by Ralph on 12-20-2007 at 08:50 AM • top

I think that the quoted bit above is accurate.

I do think that the virgin birth is most definitely a truth that must be embraced in order to embrace Christ. It is part of the essential body of belief to which one must assent in order to come to saving faith. For that reason, I do think the ABC is incorrect in thinking it should not be a “hurdle”

Indeed, “he” does not need to set it as a hurdle. It is a truth revealed by God in his Word and it is, like the resurrection, a clear dividing line between Christian and non-Christian. It is not a hurdle, but more properly a stumbling block

[18] Posted by Matt Kennedy on 12-20-2007 at 08:54 AM • top

The Virgin Birth is even part of ECUSA’s Baptismal Covenant.  Even they require one to assent to become a Christian.

[19] Posted by wildfire on 12-20-2007 at 09:00 AM • top

No offense to the ABC, but I think Matthew has more credibility.

[20] Posted by oscewicee on 12-20-2007 at 09:04 AM • top

Well, per Matt+‘s point of any orthodox movement might have to come to terms with a broken relationship to +Canterbury ... if ++Williams keeps this up and drives farther wedges between himself and RCC/EO and historic Christian faith ... I’m having less and less trouble with that concept each day.

I have no problem with a scholar talking on the extra-Biblical traditions of Christmas, such as the number or the actual status, but to question the whole historicity event because it only appears in the Gospel of Matthew? How arrogant, we have no evidence that Matthew would lie or make up details such as this one, in fact in the overall scheme of things it’s pretty unimportant. The thought they are the magi, thus king-makers fits with the theme of Matthew, but it’s vague enough that one has to have some knowledge of the Persian culture to make that sort of connection.

Do not be fooled, to take on such a minor and basically inconsequential detail in the Biblical narrative to create doubt so one can then move onto the other area, such as miracles of Christ then the Atonement. In one sense it does not really matter if the magi reference was there or not, however ++Williams was just put forth “Hath God really said” which I remember being a question at the beginning of the Bible.

[21] Posted by Hosea6:6 on 12-20-2007 at 09:08 AM • top

Hey, everybody. Go to the link for the Telegraph article and then click on the link there for the actual transcript. A few people have commented on his calling Matthew “little evidence”. Willimas never said this. He never used the words “little evidence” nor did he say in other words that Matthew’s account for this or that is not enough.

What is remarkable in this story is how much distortion exists in the reporting.

The one place where he stepped in it was his willingness to drop the Virgin Birth from the Creed.

[22] Posted by Christopher Hathaway on 12-20-2007 at 09:14 AM • top

Gator and j.m.c.,

Thanks for putting a little context around the story.  I have no problem telling most of the world that the “traditional” view of the nativity (snow, three wise men, shepherds, silent and peaceful night, clean stable, nice, pleasant looking angels) owes more to legend than to scripture. 

I remember a historian about ten years ago conjectured about the wise men, and came up with an image of impressive looking “king-makers” from Persia who came riding in on wonderful horses and totally freaked out (that is a historical term) Herod and the general populace.  If that be legend, I’m in.

[23] Posted by Widening Gyre on 12-20-2007 at 09:17 AM • top

I think this part deserves clarification:

Now the original Hebrew doesn’t have the word virgin, it’s just a young woman, but that’s the prophecy that’s quoted from the Old Testament in support of the story which is, in any case, about a birth without a human father, so it’s not that it rests on mistranslation; St Matthew’s gone to his Greek version of the bible and said “Oh, ‘virgin’; sounds like the story I know,” and put it in.

The “Greek version of the bible” St Matthew has used, the Septuagint, is an older version of the Bible than the Hebrew Masoretic Text (MT) which contains almah (which could mean “young girl” or “virgin”).  The Septuagint was translated before the coming of Christ in the flesh, and the Jews that did so chose to use the Greek word for “virgin.”

So, there are two points I think are true (and I invite correction):
1) It is incorrect to imply the Hebrew MT is “original” in the sense of being the “master” version.  The “master” Hebrew version used to prepare the Septuagint is lost.
2) Before the split of Christianity from Judaism, with all its attendant hostility - when there was no incentive to do anything other than translate the text according to the accepted understanding - seventy Jewish scholars chose to render the key word in Isaiah as “virgin.”

[24] Posted by Phil on 12-20-2007 at 09:18 AM • top

#22—Christopher Hathaway:

You are correct, I read the story but not the transcript. Now I’ll wait to see if ++Williams has a strong reaction to being misquoted or if he’ll give his consent via passive acceptance of the story. If the reporter twisted his words to mean what he does not, then he should speak out, just as was needed this fall when another bishop was misquoted that created much difficulty so spoke out.

[25] Posted by Hosea6:6 on 12-20-2007 at 09:24 AM • top

I’m no fan of liberal revisionism, but everything Williams says here is 100% correct.  He’s not denying the birth narratives in scripture, just the medieval legends that later developed around them.  The only place where he and I diverge is in the use of words like “misleading”, which has a negative connotation.

The charming legends of the medieval nativity scene—kneeling kings, worshipping oxen—do have an important purpose.  The submission of the crowned rulers to the Christ Child is a symbolic acknowledgement of God’s sovereignty over even the highest human authority.  He is the ruler of the universe, not they.  And the worshipping animals remind us that He is Lord not just of us but of all Creation.

Just because something is a myth doesn’t mean it has no value.

[26] Posted by st. anonymous on 12-20-2007 at 09:31 AM • top

The title for this thread perhaps overstates +Rowan’s intent.

The typical manger scene (creche) and its surrounding images is indeed the stuff of legend, and goes well beyond both what can be demonstrated from scripture and what makes historical and cultural sense for the first century. But legend is that which grows up around fact, the primary fact here being the Nativity of Jesus.

What is disappointing from the ABC is the apparent denigration of the witness of scripture. For me, this is fact. If the ABC feels differently, perhaps he is not of the same religion that I am of, here in the Briar Patch.

[27] Posted by Br_er Rabbit on 12-20-2007 at 09:38 AM • top

for contrast:

As we approach the great feast of Christmas, the liturgy encourages us to intensify our preparation, placing at our disposal numerous biblical texts from the Old and the New Testaments, which serve to motivate us to focus on the significance and value of this annual celebration.

On one hand, Christmas is a commemoration of the incredible miracle of the birth of God’s only son, born of the Virgin Mary in the cave of Bethlehem. On the other hand, Christmas exhorts us to keep watch and pray, waiting for our Redeemer, who will come “to judge the living and the dead.”

Perhaps we today, even we believers, truly await the Judge; we all await justice. We see so much injustice in the world, in our small world, at home, in our neighborhoods, as well as in the large world of states, of societies. And we wait for justice to be done.

Justice is an abstract concept: Justice is done. We await the coming of the very one who can effect justice. In this context we pray: “Come, Lord, Jesus Christ, as judge, come as you must.” The Lord knows how to enter the world and bring justice.

We ask the Lord, the Judge, to respond, to truly effect justice in the world. We await justice, but our demands with respect to others cannot be the only expression of this waiting. The Christian significance of waiting for justice implies that we begin to live under the eyes of the Judge, according to the criteria of the Judge; that we begin to live in his presence, rendering justice in our lives. By being just, putting ourselves in the presence of the Judge, we await justice.

This is the meaning of Advent, of vigilance. The vigilance of Advent means to live under the eyes of the Judge and to prepare ourselves and the world for justice. By living under the eyes of the God-Judge, we can open the world to the arrival of his Son, preparing our heart to welcome “the Lord who comes.”

The Child, adored 2,000 years ago by the shepherds in a cave of Bethlehem, never stops visiting us in our daily life as we, like pilgrims, walk toward the Kingdom. As he waits, the believer becomes the spokesperson for the hopes of all humankind; humanity longs for justice, and thus, though often unaware, waits for God, waits for the salvation that only God can give us.

For us Christians the wait is marked by assiduous prayer, as indicated by the particularly evocative series of invocations that are proposed to us in these days of the Christmas novena in the Mass, in the Gospel, and in the celebration of Vespers, before the canticle of the Magnificat. Each appeal that implores the coming of Wisdom, the Sun of Justice, and God-with-us, contains a prayer directed to the Awaited one of the nations, so that His arrival be hastened.

To invoke the gift of the birth of the promised Savior also means to commit oneself to prepare the way, to prepare a worthy home not only in the environment around us, but above all in our souls. With the guidance of the Evangelist John, we try to turn our thoughts and hearts to the eternal Word, to the Logos, to the Word that has become flesh and has given us grace after grace (cf. 1:14,16).

This faith in the Creator Logos, in the Word that created the world, in the One who came like a child, this faith and its great hope seem to be far from our daily public and private reality. It seems this truth is too great. We manage the best we can, so it seems at least. But the world is becoming more chaotic and violent: We witness this every day. And the light of God, the light of Truth, is put out. Life becomes dark and without a compass.

It is therefore very important that we are true believers, and as believers, that we reaffirm forcefully, with our lives, the mystery of salvation that comes with the celebration of Christ’s birth! In Bethlehem, the Light which illumines our life was made manifest to the world; the Way which leads to the fullness of our humanity was revealed to us. What sense does it make to celebrate Christmas if we don’t acknowledge that God has become man? The celebration becomes empty.

Before all else, we Christians have to reassert with deep and heartfelt conviction the truth of Christ’s birth in order to bear witness before all the awareness of an unparalleled gift that enriches not only us, but everyone.

The duty of evangelization is to convey this “eu-angelion,” the “good news.” This was recalled by the document of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith titled “Doctrinal Note on Some Aspects of Evangelization,” which I would like to offer for your reflection and personal as well as communal study.

Dear friends, in these days of preparation leading up to Christmas the prayer of the Church intensifies, so that the hopes for peace, salvation, justice, and all that the world urgently needs, be made a reality. We ask God that violence be defeated by the power of love, that opposition be replaced by reconciliation, that the desire to dominate be transformed into desires for forgiveness, justice and peace.

May the wishes of kindness and love that we exchange in these days reach all sectors of our daily lives. May peace be in our hearts, so that we can be open to the action of God’s mercy. May peace live in all families and may they spend Christmas united before the crib and the tree decorated with lights. May the Christmas message of solidarity and welcome contribute to create a deeper sensibility toward old and new types of poverty, and toward the common good that we are all called to share.

May all family members, especially the children and the elderly—the weakest ones—feel the warmth of this feast, and may that warmth spread out through every day of the year. May Christmas be a celebration of peace and joy: joy for the birth of the Savior, Prince of peace. Like the shepherds, we hasten our steps toward Bethlehem. In the heart of the Holy Night we will be able to contemplate the “infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger,” together with Mary and Joseph (Luke 2:12,16).

We ask the Lord to open our soul, so that we can enter the mystery of his birth. May Mary, who gave her virginal womb to the Word of God, who contemplated the child between her arms, and who offers him to everyone as the Redeemer of the world, help us make next Christmas a moment of growth in the knowledge and love of Christ. This is the wish that I warmly extend to you all, to your families and your dear ones.

Merry Christmas to you all! (Benedict XVI, Dec 19th via Zenit)

[28] Posted by tdunbar on 12-20-2007 at 09:42 AM • top

#7 A sloppy interview to boot with the ABC unable to use clarifying language.

Gosh, ya think??  So what is new?

[29] Posted by Elizabeth on 12-20-2007 at 09:42 AM • top

tdunbar - wow.  Contrast, indeed.

[30] Posted by Phil on 12-20-2007 at 09:45 AM • top

Christopher Hathaway in 22: Where does he say to drop the virgin birth from the Creed? He affirms it as a creedal point.

And Matt, haven’t you known people who have genuinely come to Jesus for the forgiveness of their sins, but who have not had a ghost of an idea about the virgin birth? You would instruct them before baptism, but you wouldn’t cast doubt on their assurance of grace. Come on.

[31] Posted by Gator on 12-20-2007 at 09:48 AM • top

Richard Hooker in the 16th century provides a useful couterpoint to the ABC’s assertion.  In his time the Puritans were fanatical about the factual imprint the Bible held for everyday lives.  One of Hooker’s great contributions to Anglican Theology and scriptural exegesis was to insist that the Bible be used where it was meant to be used:  that is, it was not meant to be a historically factual document, or a moral to-do list.  It was given to us as God’s revelation to inform our spiritual lives and to tell us what God wanted us to spiritually be so that we could be reconciled to Him through his Son.  For an academic in a university to make the points about accuracy is fine.  For the supposedly spiritual shephard of the Anglican Communion to say these things shades things in such a different way.  I am so very disappointed that the ABC takes such pains to point these details out during Advent.  Please use that energy to draw us to the spiritual message of Christian Hope that this world so very much needs!!!!!!

[32] Posted by Capt. Father Warren on 12-20-2007 at 09:56 AM • top

Captain, perhaps we have an Archbishop of Canterbury who is not worthy of the post he holds.

...still in the Briar Patch,

[33] Posted by Br_er Rabbit on 12-20-2007 at 10:10 AM • top

We can be very thankful for the transcript, as the Telegraph article is a complete misrepresentation, transparently so once the transcript is read.  But happily the transcript exists.  One has to wonder however, why the author of this article takes the line of the incompetent Telegraph article rather than the transcript.  Very curious that one would treat a Christian brother, indeed a father in God, in such a way.
A maxim among conservative or traditionalist NT scholarship is that when we can observe that a NT author uses his sources with care it gives us reason for confidence when that source material is not available to us.  So it is that Luke especially is vindicated as an historian on the basis of our observation of his probable Markan source.  I think this thread now demonstrates the reverse regarding the present writer’s treatment of his sources.  It is unconscionable to me that the original post here (starting with the twisted and highly prejudicial headline) could be considered worthy of posting as an accurate, fair, or sympathetic account of the source material.  It is an equal combination of unfairness and incompetence, but perhaps more importantly, it helps us understand the writer’s method and his use of sources.  Alas, he does not fare as well as Luke.  This provides a helpful hermeneutical guide for me as I assess his contributions, retrospectively and prospectively, to this web site.

[34] Posted by Occasional Reader on 12-20-2007 at 10:13 AM • top

st. Anonymous, I agree but I could not say 100%. I think the ABC’s comment regarding the hurdle of the virgin birth gives away the store. He may as well have said, “don’t let the idea of the bodily resurrection keep you from Christianity. It shouldn’t be a hurdle…”

[35] Posted by Matt Kennedy on 12-20-2007 at 10:19 AM • top

Br_rabbit,

I wouldn’t say that Rowan Williams is unworthy of St Augustine’s chair, (at least not too loudly). It is just that he is just the wrong person to hold it at this time. He is a scholar and teacher, and there is nothing wrong with that in a Bishop or archbishop. Unfortunately, right now, Britain needs an evangelist, and the Anglican communion needs a leader. His comments here are fine (when one looks at the transcript rather than the article) for an after dinner university common room discussion. The problem was that he was giving them on a popular (well, radio 5) radio program to an audience that badly needs the gospel.

[36] Posted by Boring Bloke on 12-20-2007 at 10:21 AM • top

Dear Br_er Rabbit,
Think you might be on to something there??????  Have a Blessed Christmas….....Capt &  The Admiral Spouse

[37] Posted by Capt. Father Warren on 12-20-2007 at 10:23 AM • top

Occasional Reader,

Before you start extrapolating that I’m a liar and whatever else, please note the text of my original post. I won’t bother copying and pasting - it’s up top.

Note also my subsequent comment.

Not also my link to the Fox story.

I have not said that the Archbishop’s faith is lacking (although I’m willing to discuss the possibility, given his remark about the Virgin Birth).

What I have said is that, taken as a whole, the Archbishop’s criticism of the Bible, coupled with his soft-pedaling of Islam, all over a long period of time, to me are evidence of poor judgement a tin ear; at the very least they are failures of communication. It is not Williams’ possibly thin faith I take issue with - it is with his utter ineptness at communicating with Christians and seekers.

[38] Posted by Greg Griffith on 12-20-2007 at 10:30 AM • top

“don’t let the idea of the bodily resurrection keep you from Christianity. It shouldn’t be a hurdle…”

Matt, that is NOT what he said.  He said that “belief in the Virgin Birth should not be a “hurdle” over which new Christians had to jump <b>before they were accepted.

If you instructed a person for baptism and on the day of the ceremony they confided that they were still having a problem accepting the virgin birth, would you put the baptism on hold until they fell into line, or would you baptize them and go with further instruction?

[39] Posted by The Pilgrim on 12-20-2007 at 10:33 AM • top

I apologize for the bold in the second paragraph.  I missed a close tag.  Sorry.

[40] Posted by The Pilgrim on 12-20-2007 at 10:34 AM • top

Gator, the point of the Creed is to lay out what is essential for Christian belief. Rowan specifically said he didn’t want the Virgin Birth “set it as a kind of hurdle that people have to get over before they, you know, be signed up”. That is a de facto removal from the Creed, or it is a redefinition of the Cred as being what Christian have believed, not what they do believe.

Now, I myself would question the assurance of faith of anyone who claims to believe in Jesus but is unwilling to believe what has been presented to him as the Biblical and traditional Christian witness about Jesus. But then, questions of “assurance of faith” are less important to me as I don’t think these things save us. It is Jesus who saves us.

[41] Posted by Christopher Hathaway on 12-20-2007 at 10:36 AM • top

The more I read the ABC, the more I wish he had stayed an academic. I think he is a fabulous teacher, but he doesn’t have a grasp on how his pronouncements are going to play. And, apparently, his only solutions to problems are either to study them or discuss them. He seems a good and pious man, but I think he’s a bit out of his depth as Archbishop.

I have a blog thingy

[42] Posted by Matthew A (formerly mousestalker) on 12-20-2007 at 10:36 AM • top

I think the ABC’s comment regarding the hurdle of the virgin birth gives away the store. He may as well have said, “don’t let the idea of the bodily resurrection keep you from Christianity. It shouldn’t be a hurdle…”

Well, actually, no, Matt.  The resurrection and the virgin birth are not presented in the NT as equally decisive matters of the gospel. Believing that God raised Jesus from the dead is given as part of the very substance of saving Christian faith (see 1 Cor 15, Rom 10:9 )  The viriginal conception is attested to in two faithful biblical narratives but is not elevated in the primitive Christian confession to the status of the resurrection, which is attested to at length in all of the gospels and in virtually every other NT writing with great emphasis. 
Perhaps more importantly, if we read ++Williams’ statement in context, it is clear that he is not talking about what the church properly confesses but about what an individual must necessarily believe in order to come to salvation.  ++Williams’ point appears to be that a commitment to the historicity of the virginal conception of Jesus is not a prerequisite to saving faith in Christ.  I, for one, think that it should properly and necessarily follow, like all sorts of other dogmatic convictions, but I don’t think it need precede.

[43] Posted by Occasional Reader on 12-20-2007 at 10:38 AM • top

Guys, I think we’re in danger of losing a lot in translation

Take

So start with … the baby Jesus in a manger; historically and factually true?

ABC I should think so

Unless you stress the think, it is for a Brit a very emphatic way of saying yes. It is idiomatic so probably doesn’t translate well across the pond. Listen to the BBC recording - it is very clear he is saying yes. Emphatically.

They key aspect of his comment about the Virgin Birth is that he is saying just because a person has difficulty with the Virgin Birth doesn’t mean he can’t start on the road to faith. He makes it clear that he believes your faith has to develop, and some people need to grow in their faith to appreciate the Virgin Birth.

Let’s look at what he said again:
<blockquote>I don’t want to set it as a kind of hurdle that people have to get over before they, you know, be signed up;, but I think quite a few people that as time goes on, they get a sense, a deeper sense of what the virgin birth is about.</blockequote>

Again, I think that his gentle turn of phrase is something that is better appreciated on this side of the Atlantic.

[44] Posted by Marcus on 12-20-2007 at 10:40 AM • top

I remember reading somewhere that the reason shepherds were watching their flocks by night was to protect the new-born lambs, which would push Jesus’ birth to the Spring.  Beyond that, share the concerns many have expressed.

[45] Posted by Johng on 12-20-2007 at 10:41 AM • top

If you instructed a person for baptism and on the day of the ceremony they confided that they were still having a problem accepting the virgin birth, would you put the baptism on hold until they fell into line, or would you baptize them and go with further instruction?

Pilgrim, why on earth would you baptize someone who would then have to affirm a creed in the service of baptism that he confessed to not believe? Delay the baptism until he is ready to honestly say he believes what he is going to be asked to confess as his belief. Otherwise you will tell him at the beginning of his Christian life that you can pick and choose what you believe and still call yourself a Christian, AND that you can lie about it in order to get in.

[46] Posted by Christopher Hathaway on 12-20-2007 at 10:43 AM • top

Actually no, occassional reader, the virgin birth is core doctrine. It is creedal doctrine. And it is clearly taught in scripture. Odd that you seem ignorant of this fact.

Saving faith is not some content free trust in Jesus. It is knowledge of and assent to and finally trust in Jesus as he is revealed in the scriptures. The Church throughout the ages has confirmed this and the Creeds have summarized quite well what is, at the very least, essential to believe about Jesus to be saved.

To deny the virgin born Christ and accept another is to trust in an idol.

[47] Posted by Matt Kennedy on 12-20-2007 at 10:49 AM • top

Perhaps…

But then again it also appears as though there is little evidence to support the folktale that there really is a person named Rowan Williams who is the Archbishop of Canterbury.  After all, he is purported to be the leader of a worldwide fellowship of Christians known as the Anglican Communion, however all evidence supports that there is no leadership of the Anglican Communion at all and therefore puts the existence of such a person is serious doubt.  In reality it is highly more likely that Al Gore is using the name and office of the Archbishop of Canterbury to give some sort of moral credibility to his liberal views on war and the environment since these are the only statements coming out of Lambeth Palace which have any real zeal to them.  There have even been reports that the person who appears as Rowan Williams is just an Alzheimer’s patient that Al Gore found in a rather poorly run nursing home.  There have even been a few rumors that Hillary is funding this whole operation.  Such reports have been unconfirmed at this time; however the simple fact the Anglican Communion lacks any sort of leadership in Canterbury, would lend credibility that Rowan Williams as an Archbishop of Canterbury is merely a myth.

[48] Posted by Spencer on 12-20-2007 at 10:49 AM • top

Before you start extrapolating that I’m a liar and whatever else, please note the text of my original post. I won’t bother copying and pasting - it’s up top.

Note also my subsequent comment.

Not also my link to the Fox story.

These were all noted carefully before I made my comment.  There was nothing whatsoever in my post that insinuated you were a “liar or whatever else.”  Rather, I said very plainly, that you were not careful in the way you used these sources and prejudicial in the way you presented the story (“Rowan: Nativity a ‘Legend’” and “Wow:”). In your further comment you misread his actual statement regarding the Magi, which in context attributes “legend” to the traditions that have grown up around the biblical tradition (after all, Matthew makes no claim that one of them was from Africa).  Thus, your own clarifying comments show that you have not been careful.  It may be an honest mistake of someone working too quickly, or it might be motivated by frustration with the ABC or even animus.  But it is still not good work.

[49] Posted by Occasional Reader on 12-20-2007 at 10:50 AM • top

Eclipse noted…

“…the birth of Christ was actually calculated from the feast day that Zacharias entered the Holy of Holies - nine months to John’s birth (Sept 25th) and three months after that to Jesus’ birth.” 

I have also been told of this dating chronology for the time of Christ’s birth. 

The other way to fix a historical window of time for Christ’s birth is to note that he is also known as “The Lamb of God”.  So it would be prophetically consistent for Jesus’ birth to coincide with that time of year when the ewes would have been dropping their lambs.  In which case, it would make sense for the shepherds to have been out “watching their flocks by night”.

So, are there any farmers or ranchers visiting here at SFIF that know animal husbandry and can answer this question?

Also, wasn’t Saint Francis of Assisi the originator of our tradition of doing a Nativity play?

[50] Posted by wildiris on 12-20-2007 at 10:50 AM • top

Pilgrim, I would not baptise anyone who does not believe that Jesus is virgin born or who rejects the concept altogether. The liturgy itself precludes that possibility.

[51] Posted by Matt Kennedy on 12-20-2007 at 10:52 AM • top

GG:  “...communicating with Christians and seekers.”

yes.  Judicious skill with respect to when to say what to whom is, I think, something that one has a right to expect from the leader of an episcopally structured ecclesial body; otherwise, one might as well be a congregationalist.

[52] Posted by tdunbar on 12-20-2007 at 10:54 AM • top

Actually no, occassional reader, the virgin birth is core doctrine. It is creedal doctrine. And it is clearly taught in scripture. Odd that you seem ignorant of this fact.

I detect a compliment in there somewhere. So, thank you.  I think it is clear from what I said that I both know the creedal status of the virgin birth and affirm it.  I was speaking rather phenomenologically of the experience of conversion (which I take, given the context, to be the ABC’s point of reference as well). 

As a test case, would you also say that one needs in order to be saved to believe that Jesus descended into Hell?  I am not asking whether or in what sense this is true as a matter of confession, but whether it is necessary for salvation.  The NT witness is altogether ambiguous regarding this as you well know.

[53] Posted by Occasional Reader on 12-20-2007 at 11:01 AM • top

I agree with Matt’s “To deny the virgin born Christ and accept another is to trust in an idol.”  However,  to be fair, I assume that the AofC is as orthodox as, say, Pannenberg smile

[54] Posted by tdunbar on 12-20-2007 at 11:02 AM • top

It is idiomatic so probably doesn’t translate well across the pond.

I should think so.

Actually, Marcus, I agree with the thrust of your comment.  What is persuasive in the UK (or southeast England or Oxford) may appear as confused defensiveness over here.  And what about most of the Anglican world, which doesn’t speak English as a first language?  I spent much of my working life in England and even when I am familiar with the idioms (which is not always the case) I still get frustrated at the indirect speech.  I would like to hear from Brits who heard the interview (not read the transcript) as to how they assess the overall effectiveness of the interview.  I would note that both the Telegraph reporter and Ruth Gledhill published their stories yesterday before the transcript was out and therefore apparently based their stories on the interview itself.  Both (Brits, I assume) jumped on the incendiary nature of the comments.  Why doesn’t Rowan Williams understand this?

[55] Posted by wildfire on 12-20-2007 at 11:05 AM • top

As near as I can tell, what +Rowan actually said is that the “3 wise men” (and similar nativity stories) was a legend, not that Christ being born of a virgin (the real nativity story) was a legend. The rest is the usual innuendo and hyperbolae courtesy of the Telegraph.  And that +RW had some difficulty with accepting the concept of the virgin birth in his youth, but in years of study came to understand and accept it- well, you can tar me with that brush too, it was certainly true for me as well, and I am sure for many of us. 

And let us not forget, if everything printed in the Telegraph were absolute fact, +Rowan would be a Cardinal by now, and +Jack Iker the Roman bishop of Fort Worth.

Of course, this is another PR gaffe of a high order, not however in the league of the Lambeth invitation fiasco or the “primates will decide” (and obviously, they won’t, at least no time in the next decade)

[56] Posted by tjmcmahon on 12-20-2007 at 11:06 AM • top

You mean Hades? Yes, for that is what the scriptures teach. And if, for example, the Creeds taught that Mary was not a virgin, I would not agree with the creeds, because Scripture holds primacy. But happily there is no real contradiction.

As far as “coming to faith” phenomenologically speaking. I certainly agree that someone can come to saving faith before knowing every jot and tittle. And yet, once known, saving faith will not reject or deny or disbeleive what the bible teaches.

So, were I counselling someone who claims to have come to faith in Christ who wanted to be baptised and recognised that this person is not able to confess that Jesus is virgin born, I would not baptise him until he could proclaim with confidence this truth. I would trust also that if his profession is true, then the Holy Spirit will bring him to that point in short order.

[57] Posted by Matt Kennedy on 12-20-2007 at 11:08 AM • top

O.R. “...the experience of conversion”

While one’s experience will, no doubt, focus on the Lordship of Christ and his work upon the cross, is it not also true that one comes not as a critic, picking and choosing, but rather assenting to what the Church teaches. I’ll grant you that a “new” believer may think “virgin Mary, What does that mean?” and that the AofC may have been addressing that. However, only may and that still does not get to the core theme of the thread, i.e. evangelical skill of proclamation, or lack thereof in contrast with other leaders.

[58] Posted by tdunbar on 12-20-2007 at 11:10 AM • top

[48]  Spencer—Ha! LOL Bless you, I needed that this morning.

[59] Posted by Hosea6:6 on 12-20-2007 at 11:12 AM • top

+Rowan is tone deaf.  Of course the newspaper is going to highlight statements like “myth” and of course it is going to play as if he suggests this whole birth story is so unreliable that no one can really believe.  Thats why, when you are in a position like his, you need to be very careful with your words.  Merry Christmas.

[60] Posted by Going Home on 12-20-2007 at 11:19 AM • top

Pilgrim, I would not baptise anyone who does not believe that Jesus is virgin born or who rejects the concept altogether. The liturgy itself precludes that possibility.

Matt, I would like to start at the beginning.  Seriously.  My mother in law was a Roman Catholic, and a nurse for over forty years.  I would not begin to estimate the number of people she baptized. Many of the people she baptized were dead a few moments later, and some of them lived. How could doctrine be a prerequisite of those baptisms and if it is a prerequisite, Were those baptisms invalid?

[61] Posted by The Pilgrim on 12-20-2007 at 11:26 AM • top

Greg, I think you ahve to admit that the headline forthis post, taken from the Telegraph, is false and misleading. Rowan does in no way say the Nativity is a legend. He says that there are some legends that have grown up in our popular presentation of it. QUITE a different thing. I can understand, even apart from religious bias, why the Telegraph used the headline they did. It’s outrageous and therefore will atract more readers. But SF should have differnet standards. Your headline should have either accurately summed up what Williams DID say or it should have made clear that it was the Telegraph, not you, who was claiming Williams said the Nativity was legend.

[62] Posted by Christopher Hathaway on 12-20-2007 at 11:32 AM • top

Pilgrim,

seriously, see my post above #57. Obviously an infant ready to die has not rejected the virgin birth nor would he or she have capacity to understand. Apples and Oranges. As for the baptism of infants not facing death, I would not baptise an infant were his or her parents unwilling to confess the faith of the Church in his or her stead.

[63] Posted by Matt Kennedy on 12-20-2007 at 11:38 AM • top

Matt, before we take the Archbishop’s words and extrapolate too far, let’s remember what he said,

I don’t want to set it as a kind of hurdle that people have to get over before they, you know, be signed up;, but I think quite a few people that as time goes on, they get a sense, a deeper sense of what the virgin birth is about. I would say that of myself. About thirty years ago I might have said I wasn’t too fussed about it - now I see it much more as dovetailing with the rest of what I believe about the story and yes.

He’s talking about having doubts, not about active rejection. It’s about developing one’s knowledge, understanding and faith in the Virgin Birth.

[64] Posted by Marcus on 12-20-2007 at 11:50 AM • top

I have never met an infant that could properly explain the virgin birth.  Yet they are baptized and they grow into the faith.

[65] Posted by Dante on 12-20-2007 at 11:50 AM • top

Dante,

Apparently you do not read before you post. I addressed infants above

[66] Posted by Matt Kennedy on 12-20-2007 at 11:52 AM • top

Thanks Matt

[67] Posted by The Pilgrim on 12-20-2007 at 11:54 AM • top

But SF should have differnet standards. Your headline should have either accurately summed up what Williams DID say or it should have made clear that it was the Telegraph, not you, who was claiming Williams said the Nativity was legend.

Christopher,

This brings up one of the more challenging issues of running a blog like this. What do we do when we run across a story like this? Do we dig into it thoroughly and offer an analysis informed by having read every tidbit contained in it? If we did, we’d get one or two things posted a day, if we’re lucky.

Do we rewrite headlines? Well, yes, sometimes we do, when it’s immediately obvious there’s an inaccuracy or an omission, or just when we want to have some fun. In this case, all I did was replace “Archbishop of Canterbury” with +Rowan, following our informal policy around here of using Anglican shorthand when we can, to keep headlines as short as possible without losing any meaning (“KJS” and “DioSJ” are examples).

Are we under an obligation to correct another site’s headline? No. In this case, I read what +Rowan said: It ‘works well as legend,’ and I knew that he didn’t necessarily mean ‘legend’ to mean ‘fiction.’ I decided not to make a judgement about what he meant, but to post the headline as the newspaper had it. My focus, as I’ve said, is on his poor judgement as concerns his statements to the media. Yes, it’s true that the print article isn’t as faithful to the interview transcript as it should be, but neither is it completely in error. I’ve been the subject of media interviews and not once has the result been error-free, so mistakes on the part of the press are a given. But even factoring for that, I say +Rowan needs to do some serious work in the area of what he says to the press, and when. It’s gotten to the point where, come a major Christmas holiday, if you want a remark from a notable Christian leader that seems to pooh-pooh Christianity, just head to Lambeth Palace, and voila.

Which brings up another challenge of running a blog like this: When do we switch from observing a subject, to observing another observer? In some cases a third party’s article on something is transparent, which makes it easy to observe the subject. In other cases, the observers themselves deserve more criticism than the subject they’re observing. In this case I’m doing a little of both. There’s nothing dishonest about it, there’s no subterfuge going on here, and I fail to see how it can be characterized as “not good work.”

[68] Posted by Greg Griffith on 12-20-2007 at 12:01 PM • top

Marcus,

The ABC’s comments plainly read suggest that disbelief in the virgin birth is not a bar to “signing on” to the Christian faith.

I would say that it is just as much a bar as disbelief in the resurrection. I stand by that. I will not baptise someone who cannot say the creed and mean it, nor will I baptise an infant whose parents cannot or will not.

[69] Posted by Matt Kennedy on 12-20-2007 at 12:02 PM • top

He is either linguistically incompetent or doubts the virgin birth:

SM Christopher Hitchens and many others make the point that isn’t the translation for young woman rather than virgin? Does it have to be seen as virgin; might it be a mistranslation?
ABC It is… well, what’s happening there one of the gospels quotes a prophecy that a virgin will conceive a child. Now the original Hebrew doesn’t have the word virgin, it’s just a young woman, but that’s the prophecy that’s quoted from the Old Testament in support of the story which is, in any case, about a birth without a human father, so it’s not that it rests on mistranslation; St Matthew’s gone to his Greek version of the bible and said “Oh, ‘virgin’; sounds like the story I know,” and put it in.

Notice how he switches the focus from the conception to the birth. By saying “about a birth without a human father” rather than “about a conception without a human father” he leaves open the possibility that he means that it is about a birth in which the human father was not present. So, he has avoided using the words that would unequivocally affirm that Jesus was conceived without a human father or that Mary was a virgin at the time that she gave birth.

[70] Posted by Deja Vu on 12-20-2007 at 12:03 PM • top

Déja Vu [70] - he’s speaking off the cuff. I think it’s obvious what he means. This is nit-picking. He has already in the interview declared his belief in the Virgin Birth.

[71] Posted by Marcus on 12-20-2007 at 12:08 PM • top

Greg says:

I say +Rowan needs to do some serious work in the area of what he says to the press, and when. It’s gotten to the point where, come a major Christmas holiday, if you want a remark from a notable Christian leader that seems to pooh-pooh Christianity, just head to Lambeth Palace, and voila.

He either needs training in talking to the media or he is unwilling to express orthodox Christian beliefs without prevarication.

[72] Posted by Deja Vu on 12-20-2007 at 12:10 PM • top

I don’t think +RW can do much of anything right by some here. Gee whiz.

[73] Posted by eaten_by_chipmunks on 12-20-2007 at 12:11 PM • top

Matt,

So sorry to not keep up with the posts (Was making a reply and was interrupted, missed your address).

I do have a question for you though.  Is one a Christian before they are baptized or after they are baptized?

[74] Posted by Dante on 12-20-2007 at 12:12 PM • top

No, Marcus, you are hearing what you want to hear, not what was actually said. Look at the words he used in the interview:

ABC I don’t want to set it as a kind of hurdle that people have to get over before they, you know, be signed up;, but I think quite a few people that as time goes on, they get a sense, a deeper sense of what the virgin birth is about. I would say that of myself. About thirty years ago I might have said I wasn’t too fussed about it - now I see it much more as dovetailing with the rest of what I believe about the story and yes.


So for him a “deeper sense of what the virgin birth is about” may be, as he says later and I quoted above, that a human father was not present at the birth.
I believe this man is a serious intellectual scholar and chooses his words with great care.

[75] Posted by Deja Vu on 12-20-2007 at 12:18 PM • top

Deja True

[76] Posted by eaten_by_chipmunks on 12-20-2007 at 12:23 PM • top

I do think one is justified by faith. One joins the visible body of Christ, the covenant community, through baptism.

Justifying faith however involves 3 things:

1. Right Knowledge of Christ 2. Assent to that knowledge. 3. Trust in and surrender to the about Christ.

Moving from 1 to 2 does not imply that you must know everythign there is to know. I think you could come to 3 without any knowledge of the Virgin Birht, but if you truly have come to 3, once you know of it, you will not reject or deny it or disbelieve it. To do so would bespeak a false profession

[77] Posted by Matt Kennedy on 12-20-2007 at 12:24 PM • top

That matters of historical fact can often only be completely verified by a few or even one person does not eliminate the fact.  For that matter, isn’t that the crucial difference between history and experimental science? That few have had direct, personal contact with the risen Christ does not lessen its factuality; however, it does mean that a modern Thomas has to trust the testimony. Similarly, only one person really had access to the facts regarding the conception of Jesus and the Church trusts Mary’s testimony handed on, in writing,  via Matthew and Luke.

If one were to apriori consider the virgin birth an impossible event, would one not then be apriori taking the Word becoming flesh to be impossible?  Unlike Gnostics, the Christian trusts the testimony of the Holy Spirit enlivened Church and its earliest records.

[78] Posted by tdunbar on 12-20-2007 at 12:25 PM • top

I agree with Greg. The ABC of all people should declare unequivocally in an interview with the press that he believes in the virgin birth, he believes that three wise men were there at the birth, and they all happily sang “Away in a Manger” and “Joy to the World”, and Bethlehem had the most freakish snow storm imaginable.

He is an academic, but should be media savvy enough to realize that debates over the Greek translating into “virgin” or “young woman” should be left to academic conferences. Use of the word “legend” makes it appear that the birth of Jesus is comparable to King Arthur and the Rounded Table. There is some underlying truth, but the story is mostly a fable.

But, if the ABC were able and willing to speak clearly and concisely, we would not be experiencing the current unpleasantness.

[79] Posted by BillS on 12-20-2007 at 12:27 PM • top

Déja Vu, Rowan Williams is one of the most respected theologians alive today. His commitment to the Virgin Birth really can’t be judged on one interview (in which it is pretty clear he does believe in it). For another example of a recent comment, I refer you to the Spectator article in which various commentators were asked their views on the Virgin Birth (which sparked the discussion during this interview).

He answered in one word

Yes

Before going on to make a full consideration of the importance of the incarnation.

I believe that the conception of Jesus was a moment when the creative action of God produced a reality as new in its way as the first moment of creation itself. And I believe that what opened the way for this was the work of God through human history over centuries, coming to its fullest moment in Mary’s consent to God’s call. The recognition of the uniqueness and newness of Jesus is a recognition of the absolute freedom of God to break the chains of cause and effect that lock us into our sins and failures; the virginal conception is an outward sign of this divine freedom to make new beginnings.

[80] Posted by Marcus on 12-20-2007 at 12:35 PM • top

#79, the ABC is on record as believing in the Virgin birth.

I have a blog thingy

[81] Posted by Matthew A (formerly mousestalker) on 12-20-2007 at 12:39 PM • top

#75

I read it in the opposite way. That in the past he took a more liberal position, not realising the importance of the virgin birth (though whether he would have denied it is not clear), but through study has come to a more orthodox position. His “hurdle” statement is worrying, as has been noted here plenty of times, but he is well aware of the creeds and the baptismal liturgy. He might be speaking of a new believer, that the first thing they should concentrate on when coming to the faith is grace and repentance and the like; and they only realise the necessity of the virgin birth on a later stage of their journey towards Christianity. (Although he might not. Why can’t he express himself so that we don’t have to guess what he actually means?)

Also you have to bear in mind that 95% of the audience to whom he is speaking, and the interviewers, believe that anyone who believes in the virgin birth is a complete wacko, on a par with somebody who believes that the sun is pulled over the flat earth by the tooth fairy. That he has grown up in such an atmosphere could partially explain why he is using such hesitant language.

[82] Posted by Boring Bloke on 12-20-2007 at 12:40 PM • top

Marcus,
  thanks for the link to the Spectator article (#80)...the range of what folks say, and don’t say, is interesting.

[83] Posted by tdunbar on 12-20-2007 at 12:48 PM • top

Three bishops were too busy to help The Spectator with its inquiries: The Rt Revd John Pritchard, Bishop of Oxford; the Rt Revd Richard Chartres, Bishop of London; and the Most Revd Dr Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States.

[84] Posted by Marcus on 12-20-2007 at 12:54 PM • top

Hi Marcus,
You convinced me. Thank you for the Spectator link. I guess Greg was right all along. +Rowan is unaware of the various ways his words can be misconstrued and needs media training.

[85] Posted by Deja Vu on 12-20-2007 at 01:00 PM • top

Déja vu: Behold, how good and how pleasant it is: for brethren to dwell together in unity!

[86] Posted by Marcus on 12-20-2007 at 01:04 PM • top

In a final blow to the traditional nativity story, Dr Williams concluded that Jesus was probably not born in December at all. He said: “Christmas was when it was because it fitted well with the winter festival.”

Actually, this is a modern myth, and I am surprised that Dr. Williams, who is usually a capable scholar, would repeat it.

The connection between Christmas and the Saturnalia, or Christmas and the solstice, or Christmas and Sol Invictus, etc., is all modern speculation, and has been pretty well shown to be based on no more than supposition.

More likely, as Thomas Talley showed some years ago in his <i>Origins of the Liturgical Year<>, the date of December 25 (or January 6—-its a long story) was probably chosen based on calculations of the exact date of the crucifixion, from which were made calculations for the annunciiation, from which were made calculations for the birth.

See also

http://www.touchstonemag.com/archives/article.php?id=16-10-012-v

<a >I’d rather not say</a>

[87] Posted by Id rather not say on 12-20-2007 at 01:30 PM • top

Sorry Marcus, but I in no way consider the current ABC a “most respected theologian today” alive or otherwise. He is the ABC and the title has respectability BUT he is definitely no Michael Ramsey, John Paul II, or Benedix. His Anglican theology leaves a lot missing. Where are this theological writings and books etc on systematic theology? You name them and I will read them. Specifically on systematic theology or moral theology. Those areas alone define a theologian. A scholar, teacher, Bishop or otherwise does not make a theologian.

[88] Posted by Houseownedbythedog3 on 12-20-2007 at 01:31 PM • top

C’mon Greg. You had time enough to write a little comment on the article. You then had time enough to know that the headline did not accurately reflect what Rowan said. Yet you kept it. To keep the headline implies you believe it is accurate enough. That headline wasn’t by any standards.

So, yes, you do have an obligation to correct misleading headlines if that is what you make visible on your site. This falls into the category of gossip and false witness. Passing off bad information makes you culpable.

[89] Posted by Christopher Hathaway on 12-20-2007 at 01:32 PM • top

Oh, and while magi are indeed not kings,  I am reliably told that it can snow in Palestine in December.  Not likely, maybe, but possible.

[90] Posted by Id rather not say on 12-20-2007 at 01:33 PM • top

Re titling, on Touchstone:

Nativity Coverage by ABC

This is making quick rounds, sometimes with a misleading headline such as “Archbishop of Canterbury says Nativity a Legend.” The transcript of the interview with Rowan Williams’s comments is right here. I’d say his approach leaves me a bit cold, but he had been asked to assess the Nativity Scene of a typical Christmas card. He’s pretty squishy in places, even the way he frames his answers, most especially the nuanced bit about the Virgin Birth. All so smooth. But calling the Nativity itself a legend is a misreading and bad headline writing, dishonest. Unlike mine for this post.

Posted by James M. Kushiner

[91] Posted by tdunbar on 12-20-2007 at 01:41 PM • top

To keep the headline implies you believe it is accurate enough. That headline wasn’t by any standards.

So, yes, you do have an obligation to correct misleading headlines if that is what you make visible on your site. This falls into the category of gossip and false witness. Passing off bad information makes you culpable.

Christopher,

Wrong, wrong, wrong. None of that is correct, not your premises, and not your accusations. We observe events, but we also observe the media. Our archives are filled with posts that focus on why a third party chose to phrase a headline a certain way, or why it chose to use certain terminology rather than others. Simply repeating what a newspaper chose to slug a story is not “bearing false witness,” so I’ll thank you to cut the drama.

[92] Posted by Greg Griffith on 12-20-2007 at 01:45 PM • top

Greg, better get started:

Tokens of Trust: An Introduction to Christian Belief by Rowan Williams and David Jones

Wrestling with Angels: Conversations in Modern Theology by Rowan Williams and Mike Higton (2007)

Where God Happens: Discovering Christ in One Another and Other Lessons from the Desert Fathers by Rowan Williams (2005)
19 Used & new from $7.50

On Christian Theology (Challenges in Contemporary Theology) by Rowan Williams (2000)

Ponder These Things: Praying With Icons of the Virgin by Rowan Williams (2006)

Where God Happens: Discovering Christ in One Another by Rowan Williams (2007)

The Dwelling of the Light: Praying With Icons of Christ by Rowan Williams (2004)

Wound of Knowledge: Christian Spirituality from the New Testament to St. John of the Cross by Rowan Williams (2003)

Arius: Heresy and Tradition by Rowan Williams (2002)

Resurrection: Interpreting the Easter Gospel by Rowan Williams (2003)

Grace And Necessity: Reflections on Art And Love by Rowan Williams (2006)

Where God Happens: Discovering Christ in One Another and Other Lessons from the Desert Fathers by Rowan Williams (2005)

Why Study The Past?: The Quest For The Historical Church by Rowan Williams (2005)

Teresa of Avila (Outstanding Christian Thinkers Series) by Rowan Williams (2004)

Christ on Trial: How the Gospel Unsettles Our Judgment by Rowan Williams (2003)

Anglican Identities by Rowan Williams (2004)

I have long maintained that the tragedy of Rowan Williams is that he would have made a fine ABC in other circumstances or another era.  Right man, right job, wrong time, wrong issues.

[93] Posted by Id rather not say on 12-20-2007 at 01:46 PM • top

Christopher Hathaway, StandFirm will continue to use the headlines of the journal, newspaper, and other articles that we post.  We will not be taking additional time to alter headlines, unless we decide to—and no, your rather broad definition of “gossip and false witness” [roll eyes] will not be ours.

Everybody, please get back on the topic of what Rowan Williams said, and not whether you don’t like the fact that StandFirm posts stories or that we didn’t change a headline enough.  If you don’t like what StandFirm posts—if you think it useless, or dumb, or “gossip”—then you are welcome not to post comments, or not to read StandFirm at all.  And you are welcome to express your wild disagreement through the private email function.

There has been far too much “comment topic creep” on numerous threads in the past two weeks.  The topic of every thread is not going to be “we don’t like what you have posted.”  The topic of every thread is not going to be “we disapprove of StandFirm’s actions.”  You are welcome to disapprove via email or to all of your friends—off-blog.

[94] Posted by Sarah on 12-20-2007 at 01:46 PM • top

Sorry for the repetitions, btw.  Also, some of the dates are for later, pbk editions.

[95] Posted by Id rather not say on 12-20-2007 at 01:47 PM • top

Re #94

Goodness Sarah… with a position like that… you’re going to seriously erode those massive profits SF must be making. wink


Seriously, thanks for all you guys do here.

[96] Posted by Positive Phototaxis on 12-20-2007 at 01:50 PM • top

Sorry, Greg, my remarks in #93 should have been directed towards Houseownedbythedog in #88.

[97] Posted by Id rather not say on 12-20-2007 at 01:55 PM • top

This thread has led to some fascinating discussion. I love Father Matt’s clarification that faith salvific and that baptism joins us to the body of Christ.

I also loved the Archbishop’s words concerning the incarnation (quoted by Marcus in #80.

However, in a way, this is a non-story.  The actual interview that ++Williams gave is not offensive.  How the interview was reported is offensive.  So the real debate here should be how the media reports the news.

But, had the thread followed those guidelines, we wouldn’t have Father Matt’s discussion of baptism at ++Rowan’s insight that the virgin birth “is a recognition of the absolute freedom of God to break the chains of cause and effect that lock us into our sins and failures; the virginal conception is an outward sign of this divine freedom to make new beginnings.”

[98] Posted by selah on 12-20-2007 at 02:00 PM • top

Speaking of the AofC says, why doesn’t he say more?

Why is there not a daily, or at least weekly, pastoral message in order to lead the communion; perhaps I just don’t know of the right website?

[99] Posted by tdunbar on 12-20-2007 at 02:01 PM • top

One of Hooker’s great contributions to Anglican Theology and scriptural exegesis was to insist that the Bible be used where it was meant to be used:  that is, it was not meant to be a historically factual document, or a moral to-do list.

If this is indeed what Hooker said, (and I confess to a certain skepticism), then he was wrong. I would assert (along with the testimony of Fathers, Councils, Bishops, theologians, historians, and most recently a host of rather pleasantly surprised archaeologists) that the Bible is a historically factual document.

Oh…, I think it’s got a few lists of moral to-do’s in it as well.

-RedHatRob

[100] Posted by RedHatRob on 12-20-2007 at 02:04 PM • top

IRNS,
Wandering off topic, but…  I think this crisis highlights the tragedy of having a theologian as a leader.  We need theologians in think-tanks and councils to provide theological reflection and answers to troubling problems.  However we do not need them as leaders.  Yes, we need someone in the ABC role who is a mediator and facilitator, but also one who can put his foot down and say, “This is the mind of the Communion.  Comply with it and accept it or do not call yourselves Anglican.”  In light of 1998 Lambeth 1.10, he should have made such a bold statement all the way back in 2003.  He didn’t!  And now, here we are on the brink of annihilation and even today with all that is a stake he can’t seem to give an unequivocal answer on anything except America’s Imperialism.  I won’t even begin to go into his numerous contradictory statements that he has made recently as this post would get far too long.

It suffices to say that I have to vehemently disagree with you that Rowan would make a good leader in another time.  He is very highly gifted no doubt, but not as a leader, not in any situation or time.

( I regret that I could not find a way to use humor in this post. long face )

[101] Posted by Spencer on 12-20-2007 at 02:09 PM • top

I do think Boring Bloke (82) may have hit the nail on the head with this one:

Also you have to bear in mind that 95% of the audience to whom he is speaking, and the interviewers, believe that anyone who believes in the virgin birth is a complete wacko, on a par with somebody who believes that the sun is pulled over the flat earth by the tooth fairy. That he has grown up in such an atmosphere could partially explain why he is using such hesitant language.

The Spectator article appears to be based on prepared written responses to the question. So, while +Rowan aced the written, he choked a bit on the surprise oral exam.

[102] Posted by Deja Vu on 12-20-2007 at 02:10 PM • top

Thank you I’d rather not say. By the way, I hope they are books. I DO intend to read them all. That is a promise.

[103] Posted by Houseownedbythedog3 on 12-20-2007 at 03:03 PM • top

Houseownedbythedog, good luck.  The one I read, Resurrection, was a bit opaque, as befits the Williams style.  I’m more inclined towards his work on Arius, actually, which I’ll get to one of these days.

[104] Posted by Id rather not say on 12-20-2007 at 03:05 PM • top

I am confused.. does he believe that the gospel of Matthew is legend? Or just parts of it? And by legend, does he mean a fictional account, like gnomes, fairies, and Steve Webb, of the Liberal Democrats?

[105] Posted by Festivus on 12-20-2007 at 03:22 PM • top

And on the date of Christmas… Sextus Julius Africanus (220 AD) and Hippolytus of Rome, writing around 225 AD, both mention December 25th as the date of Christmas or Christ’s birth.

The angel Gabriel appeared to Mary “in the sixth month” of the Jewish year…that is, in Adar (our February/March). Count nine months for the pregnancy and you come to Kislev (our November/December). According to some Church Fathers, Jesus was born during Channukah. Therefore, Jesus Christ was born of the Holy Virgin Mary in Bethlehem of Judaea in the Jewish month of Kislev (December) during the Festival of Lights. And I say likely on what is December 25th. (David Morrison).

I’d rather trust the early church fathers on this matter.

[106] Posted by Festivus on 12-20-2007 at 03:33 PM • top

Speaking of the AofC says, why doesn’t he say more?

Oh, the discussion +Rowan and I could have on THAT topic…

wink

[107] Posted by Greg Griffith on 12-20-2007 at 03:37 PM • top

[comment deleted—off topic]

[108] Posted by Christopher Hathaway on 12-20-2007 at 03:38 PM • top

Christopher! 

I am shocked at your venom.  Greg offered no un-truths.  Even the Times headline used the term “Tall Story.”  You are off base and need to give Greg a break.  Good grief.

[109] Posted by JackieB on 12-20-2007 at 03:50 PM • top

Festivus—Interestingly, Chanukah begins on the 25th of Kislev—which might help explain the Dec. 25 date we use.  I must say, I like the idea of Jesus being born during Chanukah.  It is the Festival of Lights—and He is the Light of the World.  It is a celebration of miracles—and what greater miracle than the Incarnation?  The Hebrew letters on the sides of the dreidal—an ancient toy, intimately connected with the Chanukah story—stand for Ness Gadol Haya Shom —meaning “a great miracle happened there”.  And indeed it did—first in the newly cleansed Temple, and then a few centuries later, in a stable.

[110] Posted by In Newark on 12-20-2007 at 03:58 PM • top

Christopher Hathaway, as I said above:

“Everybody, please get back on the topic of what Rowan Williams said, and not whether you don’t like the fact that StandFirm posts stories or that we didn’t change a headline enough.  If you don’t like what StandFirm posts—if you think it useless, or dumb, or “gossip”—then you are welcome not to post comments, or not to read StandFirm at all.  And you are welcome to express your wild disagreement through the private email function.

There has been far too much “comment topic creep” on numerous threads in the past two weeks.  The topic of every thread is not going to be “we don’t like what you have posted.” The topic of every thread is not going to be “we disapprove of StandFirm’s actions.” You are welcome to disapprove via email or to all of your friends—off-blog.”

Others are happily enjoying actually discussing the topic of the post.  Some are defending Rowan.  Some are talking of Rowan’s writings.  Some are irked with Rowan’s theology.  Some are fine with Rowan’s theology but not fine with Rowan’s “tin ear.”  You are busy complaining about how Greg used the headline of the article itself.  Such comments are tedious, wearing, and off-topic.

This is your one warning.  There will be no further warnings.

[111] Posted by Sarah on 12-20-2007 at 04:02 PM • top

I have read some of the works of +++Rowan, and have also read even more of his “letters” - including the recent Advent Letter” - and comments.
To be very honest, I am not taking anything that this gentleman says to the bank. Not because I do not trust his honesty, but is it is simply because of the FACT that in almost every instance that makes some profound pronouncement (verbal or scriptory), he wastes no time contradicting the exact same point/though/statement, even before the inks dries or the words are out of his mouth.
+++Rowan Williams is simply the wrong man for such a time in our Communion as this.
It is the ultimate misfortune that we currently have +++Rowan at the helm. Just think of how much different things would be if we had +Nazir Ali, +Akinola, +Jack Iker, +Ackerman, +Venebles, or any of the other bishops with the right conviction and courage.

Fr. Kingsley
Arlington, TX

[112] Posted by Spiro on 12-20-2007 at 04:11 PM • top

Wow, this is so incredible. I feel like selah in (98).
I also loved the Archbishop’s words concerning the incarnation quoted by Marcus in (80).
And now I love the idea posted by Festivus in (106) that Jesus, the light of the world, was born during Channukah, the Festival of Lights.
It’s starting to feel like Christmas.

[113] Posted by Deja Vu on 12-20-2007 at 04:12 PM • top

off topic comment deleted.  Commenter banned—repeated off-topic comments; unwilling to follow comment policy.

[114] Posted by Christopher Hathaway on 12-20-2007 at 04:18 PM • top

I think I’ll just go with Matthew.  The book is true and that’s good enough for me.  Besides, +Rowan’s credibility and general media responses have not been too stellar lately.  I don’t need his monday-morning qb material this Christmas.

[115] Posted by RoyIII on 12-20-2007 at 04:56 PM • top

I would like to address a quirk of ++Rowan’s language.  While I do find his language in the Advent letter to be excessively verbose to the extent that I think he could have said all that he wanted to say in a few thousand words less, I think that verbosity is part of his being British and in a high office. However, the outrage that arises from his saying, “I should think so.” in #15 stems from a difference in the way we Americans and the British conjugate certain auxilliary verbs in the first-person, future tense.
  Few Americans nowadays say “I shall do ...”; most say, “I will do ...”.  The British are more consistent in saying shall rather than will in this instance.  The thing is that when expressing desire, they say, “I should ...” when an American would say, “I would ...”  This leaves some ambiguity when a Brit says, “I should ...” because one does not really know except from the context or tone of voice whether he means he wishes something or he is saying that there is something he meant to do or was supposed to do but failed to do.
  As a mathematician, I prefer clarity expressed in a minimum of words when that is possible.  The constant use of diplospeak and nuance on the part of the ABC when they are not needed is an annoyance, except perhaps to the British.  However, in the instance noted in #15, he was just speaking British English in one of the many instances where it differs from American English.
A blessed and merry Christmas to all.

[116] Posted by Mathematicus on 12-20-2007 at 05:02 PM • top

I know you all hate the Enlightenment, but
what would you have in its place?

In detail, please

Mark Miller

[117] Posted by MJMiller on 12-20-2007 at 05:06 PM • top

“+Rowan: Nativity a ‘legend’”

How can we be sure Abp. Williams exists? Or if he does exist, that he hasn’t died in office?

How can we be sure Socrates existed? Or that if he did exist, he wan’t the buffoon depicted by Aristophanes (if Aristophanes existed)?

How can I be sure that I am who my parents (if they are my parents) and my birth certificate (if it is my birth certificate) say I am?

[118] Posted by Irenaeus on 12-20-2007 at 05:08 PM • top

“Hey, everybody. Go to the link for the Telegraph article and then click on the link there for the actual transcript. A few people have commented on his calling Matthew ‘little evidence’. Williams never said this. He never used the words ‘little evidence’ nor did he say in other words that Matthew’s account for this or that is not enough.

“What is remarkable in this story is how much distortion exists in the reporting.”
—Christopher Hathaway

I agree completely; we’re not discussing the right wording.  The Archbishop got a bum rap with this slanted, inaccurate news story (and subsequent commentary about it on radio, etc.).  We would agree with most of what he actually said.  See below, from the interview, for instance:

“SM And the wise men with the gold, frankincense, and Myrrh - with one of the wise men normally being black and the other two being white, for some reason?

ABC Well Matthew’s gospel doesn’t tell us that there were three of them, doesn’t tell us they were kings, doesn’t tell us where they came from, it says they’re astrologers, wise men, priests from somewhere outside the Roman Empire. That’s all we’re really told so, yes, ‘the three kings with the one from Africa’ - that’s legend; it works quite well as legend.”

Furthermore, the ABC does NOT deny the Virgin Birth but is among those who affirm it.  We don’t have to misrepresent him just because we are discouraged with his lack of leadership skills.

[119] Posted by Paula on 12-20-2007 at 05:19 PM • top

I know you all hate the Enlightenment, but what would you have in its place?

Where to begin?
The tone of your question implies that there was no intellectual discourse prior to the Enlightenment, only blind obedience to established authority. This, however, is a caricature, not the reality.
The Enlightenment which we reject is the corrosive skepticism, anti-supernaturalism, and deification of “reason” which characterized the French Revolution. The fruits of the Enlightenment were Robespierre, the guillotine, Napoleon, then Darwin, Marx, Freud, Nietzsche, and ultimately Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, and Mao. What pray tell, is there to commend the Enlightenment (an ironic name beyond parody) to us?

n.b. The founding of the American Republic is not the first accomplishment of the Enlightenment, rather it is the last accomplishment of the Renaissance - a conscious acknowledgment of the wisdom of the ancient world and a deliberate decision to recover and re-establish it. Luther and Calvin are best understood as third generation Renaissance humanists (among the best educated men in all of history) and the Reformation is the application of Renaissance principles to the revival and recovery of the ancient church and the wisdom of the early church fathers. cf Luther’s comment that “we are all Augustinians.”
-RedHatRob
(the blog-mistress may now flog me for going hopelessly off-topic. Or did I?)

[120] Posted by RedHatRob on 12-20-2007 at 05:22 PM • top

Irenaeus, your friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except what they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Irenaeus, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, Irenaeus, there is an Archbishop Williams. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Archbishop Williams. It would be as dreary as if there were no Irenaeus. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which academic scholarship fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Archbishop Williams! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your Presiding Bishop to hire men to watch on all the websites on Christmas Eve to catch Archbishop Williams, but even if they did not see Archbishop Williams writing unintelligible treatise, what would that prove? Nobody understands Archbishop Williams, but that is no sign that there is no Archbishop Williams. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You may tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, Irenaeus, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

No Archbishop Williams! Thank God! he lives, and he lives in Canterbury. A thousand words from now, Irenaeus, nay, ten times ten thousand words from now, he will continue to make unintelligible statements without taking a stand!

[121] Posted by BillS on 12-20-2007 at 05:29 PM • top

Good one, BillS

I have a blog thingy

[122] Posted by Matthew A (formerly mousestalker) on 12-20-2007 at 05:42 PM • top

Bill S-
Not only is there an Archbishop Williams, but there is Irish Whiskey After reading your ode to the former, I am going to have a large glass of the latter. (according to Jameson’s, there is an h in whiskey)

[123] Posted by tjmcmahon on 12-20-2007 at 05:53 PM • top

Thank you Red AHat Rob, a good reply.

But does all that add up to: A Christian must think that the Magi story is historical fact, or not be a faithful Christian?

I agree that the Enlightenment, as described by you, is deeply ambiguous. 

But I am also quite worried about a climate of thinking which rejects evidence, and yes, skepticism about not only verifiable facts, but also about ideas.  My question meant, Would you rather live in a world where there is no such skepticism, but only a forceful communal imperative to believe what you are told?

Fascism was in part, a reaction to the erosion of an old world, and the attemp by force to put in place values which had faded. It was a reaction to the modernity which came from the Enlightenment.

As for skepticism, boy, you cant find a more skeptical country than England, and it’s not, according to you, a product of the French Enlightenment.  The continental variety is much more the product of ideology, which I see in abundance on this web site.

[124] Posted by MJMiller on 12-20-2007 at 05:58 PM • top

As a light-hearted aside here, I must just mention that the Christmas card from Lambeth Palace features - yes, you’ve guessed it - the Three Wise Men.

Ruth Gledhill in her <a >blog</a> today.

[125] Posted by wildfire on 12-20-2007 at 06:01 PM • top

++Rowan Williams is no admirer of the Enlightenment and is not one to deny the inexplicable and supernatural.  See his comment in an Advent sermon: “Who shall absolve us from the guilt of the Holocaust? Colonialism? The Enlightenment? The failure of the Enlightenment?” —“Advent,” in _A Ray of Darkness: Sermons and Reflections_ (Cowley Publications, 1995)

[126] Posted by Paula on 12-20-2007 at 06:06 PM • top

Let’s review & bold some of it:
Matt: 2 [NIV]
1After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.”
. . .
8He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”
9After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh. 12And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.”

Kings?  No.  Believed him to be King of the Jews?  Yes. At the manger? No.  Follow a star? Yes.  Presented kingly gifts?  Yes.  Multiracial?  No evidence.  One from Africa? Hmmm. “their country”.

I see nothing that the AoC says that doesn’t agree with this translation of the biblical narrative.


Peace,

[127] Posted by miserable sinner on 12-20-2007 at 06:12 PM • top

A Christian must think that the Magi story is historical fact, or not be a faithful Christian?

After several centuries of concerted attack, I think Matthew’s credibility stands quite unimpeached. Recall that there were a number of Jews who achieved positions of prominence and influence in Babylon and Persia during the exile (Daniel, Esther, Mordecai, Nehemiah). Its quite reasonable to accept Matthew’s account and connect the dots to Daniel and his companions.

One is not, or course obligated to believe or accept the things which are NOT in Matthew’s account. He doesn’t say three. He doesn’t indicate that they arrived the night of the birth along with the shepherds. But he does describe some interesting details of their interaction with Herod.

December 25th is also not in the biblical account (a hint that the particular day is not significant?). There are a variety of candidates.

But one’s skepticism should be consistent. A healthy skepticism of those who’s constant mission is to debunk and dismiss Christianity is not unreasonable. One could easily argue that the Mithra cult adopted December 25th in an attempt to subvert Christian celebrations. There’s an absurd willingness to lean the other way and overlook the fact that ancient astronomers were quite aware that the Winter solstice was December 21, not December 25. Why isn’t Sol Invicta celebrated on the 21st? They knew that was the day!

-RedHatRob

[128] Posted by RedHatRob on 12-20-2007 at 06:12 PM • top

Mark:

Now that’s funny.  Thanks for sharing.

A holy Advent to all,

[129] Posted by miserable sinner on 12-20-2007 at 06:14 PM • top

Not believe in Archbishop Williams! You might as well not believe in fairies!


We here at the Briar Patch have been unable, so far, to come up with a suitable award to honor this quip from BillS.

[130] Posted by Br_er Rabbit on 12-20-2007 at 06:30 PM • top

Mathematicus [116] I have a question about this part of your post:

This leaves some ambiguity when a Brit says, “I should ...” because one does not really know except from the context or tone of voice whether he means he wishes something or he is saying that there is something he meant to do or was supposed to do but failed to do.

OK, so lets look at the transcript and then see what the three choices you suggest might be for this case:

So start with … the baby Jesus in a manger; historically and factually true?
ABC I should think so; the Gospel tells us he was born outside the main house, probably because it was overcrowded because it was pilgrimage time or census time; whatever; yes; he’s born in poor circumstances, slightly out of the ordinary.

Wouldn’t the three choices as applied to this be:
1) the ABC wishes he thought this was historically and factually true, or
2) he was meant to think this was historically and factually true but failed to do so, or
3) he was supposed to think this was historically and factually true but failed to do so?

[131] Posted by Deja Vu on 12-20-2007 at 06:56 PM • top

Thank you, Bill S. I shall sleep better tonight. Assuming that I exist and that your comment—-and my consciousness of being conscious of your comment—-are not merely the dreams of a drunken demiurge.

[132] Posted by Irenaeus on 12-20-2007 at 07:25 PM • top

Irenaeus,

I believe that you exist, but then I also believe that Santa Claus will leave Christmas presents on Christmas morning!

However, I do not believe is that TEC will ever, ever, ever change its left wing, secular theology with Global Warming, MDG’s, and the gay agenda as its new Trinity.

But as W C Fields said, everyone needs something to believe in, and I believe I will have another drink!

Merry Christmas!

[133] Posted by BillS on 12-20-2007 at 07:34 PM • top

The term “I should think so” doesn’t mean any of your three translations, Deja Vu.  It is not an expression of reservation but of affirmation—a polite British intensive, meaning “I do think so.”  It’s in the same vein as these: “I should say!” “I shall go!”  “I should like to attend.”

[134] Posted by Paula on 12-20-2007 at 08:45 PM • top

In general—and without having studied it much—I do agree with the commenters above who say that it does not appear that Rowan Williams was espousing heresy but was instead tackling a few of the “cultural accretions” of the story.

However, along with Greg, I believe that the average newspaper reader doesn’t parse statements in this way, and instead says “blimey [or whatever strange Englishmen say] this man says it ain’t true.”

Which translates to “tin ear” for the ABC.

It’s very demoralizing.  I also agree with IRNS way way above that the ABC is probably a great leader—for a different time in Anglicanism.

[135] Posted by Sarah on 12-20-2007 at 09:00 PM • top

Hi Paula,
I am not disagreeing with you.
I was trying to understand the meaning of the post by Mathematicus [116]. Mathematicus seemed to be providing an explanation of the meaning of “I should” for a Brit to help clarify to us Americans the ABC’s intended meaning. So, I was just showing the logical application of the explanation in post [116], as I understood it.

[136] Posted by Deja Vu on 12-20-2007 at 09:01 PM • top

Thank you Paula. It appears that I missed that “intensive” use.  Americans sometimes use “would” in the same way. Intonation is the key there.

[137] Posted by Mathematicus on 12-20-2007 at 09:23 PM • top

#22 Christopher Hathaway

You are spot on about the Creed. The post-modern deconstruction technique that is taking place throughout the “Anglican-West” is the removal of the correct lenses through which to interpret Scripture. Once the constraints of the Creed(s) have been removed, through both insidious and blatant attacks on the inhibitting traditions of the Church contrasted to the “just do it” Zeitgeist, all bets are off as to what actually is a correct hermenuetical approach for an acurate interpretation. Plug, plug, chip, chip, “that’s the way we spend our day in the merry old land of OZ.”

[138] Posted by Jafer on 12-20-2007 at 09:54 PM • top

I decided to just listen to the interview. I found it thoughtful and useful. Whoever sent the link–thanks–perhaps, and I only glanced through a few of the comments, the interview sounds better than it reads. I’ve never been accused of not listening carefully. Actually, I’m usually far too critical.

[139] Posted by southernvirginia1 on 12-20-2007 at 10:16 PM • top

Greg Griffin, I have to agree with you when you say: “my problem is with Williams’ insistence on saying the wrong thing at the wrong time, all the time”
This interview was a trap but it could have been an opportunity for the ABC to explain the story of the wise men and King Herod, as it is told in the Bible. The ABC also could have also explained what the Anglican church professes to believe. It was not necessary to debunk anyone’s belief as a myth, especially at Christmas time.

[140] Posted by Betty See on 12-20-2007 at 10:28 PM • top

Hello, Deja Vu and Mathematicus!  It seems we are all in agreement, actually, about the clause “I should think so.” It is a shame that the interview was exploited and substantially misinterpreted by the news story. I agree with southernvirginia1 that we do not really get the wrong idea from listening to the Archbishop.

[141] Posted by Paula on 12-20-2007 at 10:40 PM • top

As a minor point (once we get to the actual transcription and read what the Archbishop actually said, and not the bad journalism that made a hash of it)—most of the people reading and writing on the site are Americans, and used to American English.  +++Rowan sometimes may indeed sound ‘wishy-washy’ or insufficiently clear, to our American ears, and sometimes on matters of great import.

In Christian charity, though, it might help to remember that he is <u>not</u> an American, and isn’t speaking “American English”.  British (or Welsh) understatement and a certain amount of circumlocution is part of his native tongue.  Remember, “...two nations divided by a single language”?

[142] Posted by Conego on 12-20-2007 at 11:00 PM • top

Rowan Williams opinion that (while believing in it himself) the Virginal Conception should not be placed as a hurdle for new believers, should not come as a surprise. In a sermon included in Open to Judgement (Born of the Virgin Mary) he explained why he believed this:

It is possible, then, to see in the theological views of the two evangelists - Luke especially - why the story of a virginal conception makes powerful sense. It is certainly not being recorded as an interesting and unusual bit of information. Luke and Matthew obviously believed they were recording real events, yet that is not how they would have seen their main job. Now, the fact that we can see how useful the story of the virginal conception was to them doesn’t mean that it can’t be true (unless we have a prejudice against miracles as such). But the more we become aware of the storytelling conventions by which such narratives grew in the first century, the harder it becomes to reach a firm judgement on the historical ground of all this. Jesus is like the Old Testament ‘Children of Promise’, Isaac, Samson and Samuel; and he is like Abraham and Melchizedek - they too had stories told of their miraculous conception and birth by Jews of the New Testament period. But Jesus is greatewr than Isaac or even Isaac’s father, he is pure grace, pure promise. And so the story of his birth develops accordingly. The core of it may be literally true; or their may have been an oddity or mystery about Jesus’ birth that sparked off legend and speculation. (Some scholars point out that ‘virgin’ in the Hebrew of the rabbis can mean a girl who has not yet had her first period; did Mary conceive at an exceptionally young age?) The difficulty of the virginal conception isn’t so much a problem about miracles as the fact that we can see too clearly for comfort what job the story was meant to do, and the means by which it might have been built up.

I don’t think certainty on this is available on purely historical or literary grounds. But this would be worrying or disastrous only if these were the sole grounds on which we could be certain of God’s freedom to make new beginnings, or if the story expressed a truth vital to the gospel which could be grasped in no other way. It tells us, with great vividness, that the real miracle is the fact of Jesus himself. But if the miraculous newness of Jesus and his embodying of the perfect responding love of God as ‘Son’ could only be spoken of by insisiting that no human father had a part in bringing Jesus into being, then it’s odd that Mark, Paul and John. who are all so eloquent on the creative newness of Jesus and on his showing to us of God’s Word and Wisdom, should not use language that Matthew and Luke do. Mark, Paul and John don’t suppose that a virginal conception is necessary to make it possible for the Word to become flesh: it can’t be a ‘mechanism’ by which a heavenly person turns into an earthly one (we’ve already seen that isn’t what the writers of the creed were saying anyway). They may or may not have known the story, but in any case they were able to preach the good news without it - the good news of God’s creative power set free in the world, of our being called and drawn into a full and fulfilling intimacy with the generosity from which all things flow. We should be cautious about making this story - however appropriate, however vivid and haunting - a necessary condition for believing or speaking of God in our midst in Jesus. If we have some freedom in interpreting the vividly mythological language of ‘he came down from heaven’, we can claim equal flexibility in our understanding of ‘incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary’. Such flexibility may even give us more space to reflect on the heart of the wonderful event these words encapsulate for us, the mystery of God’s coming to be among us, and the mystery in which that itself is rooted - God’s own life as gift and love. ‘‘Tis mercy all, immense and free.’

[143] Posted by Mick on 12-21-2007 at 05:28 AM • top

Concerning the Virgin birth:
“Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law” ,If I am not mistaken, the sins of the father visit the sons. If Jesus was NOT born of a virgin, He would have needed a sacrifice for Himself! Since Mary was a virgin the curse of the law was broken by Him because “the buck stopped here!” The Father is His father, not a man, for if Jesus had an earthly father(conception) and not GOD, then we are still in our sins needing the “Perfect Lamb without spot or Wrinkle”. Jesus is Who He said He is, the Son of God, the perfect sacrifice. I won’t even entertain “origional sin”, Which the church adhere’s to the belief.
Mary absolutely HAD to be a VIRGIN.

[144] Posted by Juniper on 12-21-2007 at 08:46 AM • top

#88

...I in no way consider the current ABC a “most respected theologian today” alive or otherwise. He is the ABC and the title has respectability BUT he is definitely no Michael Ramsey…

Funnily enough, Abp Michael Ramsey was interviewed by the ‘Daily Mail’ in 1961.
When asked:
“Must one, for instance believe in the virgin birth?”
he replied:
“No, it is possible to believe that Jesus is divine without believing in the virgin birth, though if you do believe Him divine, then the virgin birth becomes congruous. I believe it is quite in order for a person to stand up in church and recite the Creed, even if he has scruples about the virgin birth, provided he believes in the pattern of faith as a whole.”

[145] Posted by Mick on 12-21-2007 at 09:08 AM • top

Cross-posting myself shamelessly from Midwest Conservative Journal:

The problem with Williams this time isn’t that he denies the faith. It’s that he will not (the British ‘will’, here) discipline his communication to exclude being misread.

It’s not hard, but he would have to use a style he does not prefer.

[146] Posted by Ed the Roman on 12-21-2007 at 09:20 AM • top

As this row over the ABC’s statements re the nativity winds down, it is interesting to note the conclusion reached by many is that he has a “tin ear,” when in fact all of the evidence is that the “tin ear” belongs to the distorting journalists, the over-simplifying bloggers, the beyond-their-depth radio personalities, and especially to North Americans not understanding the British idioms of an intellectual.  But it is easier to reverse the figure of speech (!) and say that the ABC has a “tin ear.”  This way we are absolved of the responsibility of interpretation, of caring about what was actually said, of attending to genre and occasion, and of hearing another’s words sympathetically as they were intended.  It is a massive irony that the readers of this conservative, traditionalist, and orthodox blog engage so often in a deconstructionist author-be-damned hermeneutic rather than a hermeneutic of charity which attends to what people actually mean. 

Having said all that, I do agree to some extent that we could wish for this Christian leader to be more savvy about the ways his speech will be susceptible to distortion and misunderstanding in this simplistic and hostile age.  But here he is in good company:  “So also our beloved brother Paul wrote to you according to the wisdom given him,  speaking of this as he does in all his letters. There are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures” (2 Peter 3:15-16).  May we never be numbered among the the “ignorant and unstable,” even if the blogosphere tends to encourage the worst in us.

[147] Posted by Occasional Reader on 12-21-2007 at 09:59 AM • top

Mick, that quotation is from a very early sermon by ++Rowan Williams, as I understand it.  He has often told how he came to a full belief in the Virgin Birth: he generally tells it again at Christmas time, and I believe he even repeated it last week.  He has spoken strongly for the Virgin Birth (as against Spong, for example) and for the physical Resurrection.  I see that the press has misrepresented the interview about the Nativity, with headlines like this one now appearing: _Rowan Williams calls virgin birth a “legend"_.  It was of course NOT the Virgin Birth but the THREE wise men (one AFRICAN) that the Archbishop actually termed “legend”—but there is an eruption of fabrication about this whole matter from the reporters. 

This incident has suggested to me that people on both “sides”—liberals and conservatives—were already deeply frustrated with the Archbishop on other grounds, unrelated to this interview, and that this shut their ears to what he actually said.  I understand why both “sides” do feel discouraged about his avoidance of judgment in the Anglican crisis we are suffering.  It is too bad if this discouragement is surfacing in some inaccurate readings of his statements about Christmas.  I know he seldom responds to the press, but I would think he would want to set these misunderstandings right since they have developed into a sort of firestorm in the newspapers and blogs; and I hope he will do so.  Occasional Reader, I agree.

[148] Posted by Paula on 12-21-2007 at 10:09 AM • top

[comment deleted—off topic]

[149] Posted by Rick in Louisiana on 12-21-2007 at 10:21 AM • top

#149 Indeed. My point being not to insinuate anything as regards his current belief but merely to point out why he still affirms (and presumably the quotation still holds good as to why), in regards to the Virgin Birth, that “I don’t want to set it as a kind of hurdle that people have to get over before they…be signed up”

[150] Posted by Mick on 12-21-2007 at 10:30 AM • top

RE: “Feel free to explain/defend/whatever what has happened here.”

No, Rick, actually, we won’t.  You’re welcome to be displeased, and never return.  But we won’t be traveling off-topic on this thread as you desire—people are enjoying themselves too much here discussing the actual issue.

As was clearly stated above:

“Everybody, please get back on the topic of what Rowan Williams said, and not whether you don’t like the fact that StandFirm posts stories or that we didn’t change a headline enough.  If you don’t like what StandFirm posts—if you think it useless, or dumb, or “gossip”—then you are welcome not to post comments, or not to read StandFirm at all.  And you are welcome to express your wild disagreement through the private email function.

There has been far too much “comment topic creep” on numerous threads in the past two weeks.  The topic of every thread is not going to be “we don’t like what you have posted.” The topic of every thread is not going to be “we disapprove of StandFirm’s actions.” You are welcome to disapprove via email or to all of your friends—off-blog.”

And above:

“Others are happily enjoying actually discussing the topic of the post.  Some are defending Rowan.  Some are talking of Rowan’s writings.  Some are irked with Rowan’s theology.  Some are fine with Rowan’s theology but not fine with Rowan’s “tin ear.” You are busy complaining about how Greg used the headline of the article itself.  Such comments are tedious, wearing, and off-topic.”

It has been a substantive, excellent discussion, and we’ll be keeping it that way.

[151] Posted by Sarah on 12-21-2007 at 10:42 AM • top

RE: “It is a massive irony that the readers of this conservative, traditionalist, and orthodox blog engage so often in a deconstructionist author-be-damned hermeneutic rather than a hermeneutic of charity which attends to what people actually mean.”

You make a good point, Occasional Reader.  I agree that people should try to discover what the author intended when the author speaks or writes, because actually the author did intend something.

Back in my grad school days it was all the rage to essentially come up with entirely different “messages” than the author intended for various texts.  Deeply frustrating to me.

But this particular author does not seem to make our discovery process very simple.  And shouldn’t the author also engage in a hermeneutic of charity with his audience as well?  ; > )

[152] Posted by Sarah on 12-21-2007 at 10:46 AM • top

But this particular author does not seem to make our discovery process very simple.  And shouldn’t the author also engage in a hermeneutic of charity with his audience as well?  ; > )

To be sure.  Something we all should remember.  But since that’s beyond our control, we just have to take up our end of the bargain.

[153] Posted by Occasional Reader on 12-21-2007 at 11:14 AM • top

If anyone is interested in moving slightly over to a related topic, how about trying to answer this question, “How have the ‘legends’ that have developed about Christmas weakened/strengthened the Christmas story?”  Asked another way, have we allowed Christmas to be packaged in such a way that it has lost some of its forcefulness?  I guess it can be asked on two different levels:  first, asked in connection with a non-believer, outsider looking in, and then second, asked in connection with a believer.  An earlier poster made some nice connections for believers (something like the three kings kneeling before Christ symbolizing His dominion and the like).

Any takers?

[154] Posted by Widening Gyre on 12-21-2007 at 01:05 PM • top

Occasional Reader said:

“It is a massive irony that the readers of this conservative, traditionalist, and orthodox blog engage so often in a deconstructionist author-be-damned hermeneutic rather than a hermeneutic of charity which attends to what people actually mean.”

Many of us Americans have been subjected to years of evasive and deliberately misleading statements by our leaders. Over and over we have used a hermeneutic of charity and assumed we understood what people actually meant ... and then discovered to our dismay that we had been tricked again.

[155] Posted by Deja Vu on 12-21-2007 at 01:26 PM • top

Widening Gyre, Sometimes its just that the edges keep getting fuzzier and fuzzier—from “the three kings kneeling before Christ symbolizing His dominion” to the now common “creche scene” of Santa Claus kneeling before the Christ Child, giving thanks, I suppose, for God’s having provided commercialism with its annual boost. [A few years ago, while in Japan, I saw a “traditional creche” that included (and <u>I am not making this up</u>) amongst the cows and donkeys, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer).]  As your ‘User ID’ implies, the center does not hold.

[156] Posted by Conego on 12-21-2007 at 05:56 PM • top

CanonZ: 
Beyond WG’s nom de blog, do you care to comment on the rest of Yeats’ poem, The Second Coming?
http://www.yeatsvision.com/SecondNotes.html

A Holy Advent to all,

[157] Posted by miserable sinner on 12-21-2007 at 06:36 PM • top

miserable sinner, I’m afraid that any comment I may make right now will come from an exhausted brain that has been too long away from Yeat’s The Second Coming, but I’ll give it a brief shot before bed (I’m in a distant timezone, I suspect, living in northern Portugal).

But… when I look at our Church Catholic, and especially at our Anglican piece of it, it is too easy to see a world where the falcon, in its ever-widening circles, circling outwards amongst all the noise of our modernity and humanism and science and “culture”, can no longer hear the Falconer’s voice—can, distracted by all the noise, forget even to listen, and come to believe that those voices which are loudest are indeed those which are at the center, when in painful fact they are at most peripheral.  And so, despite a dim memory of the Falconer around which the falcon knows he is called to turn, the centre does not, cannot, hold, and the falcon spins off, lost, still apparently a falcon with a falcon’s task, but lost and wandering, drawn hither and yon by the loudest voices of the secular world.  I see it in our Church, Yeats’ words: “The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity.”

And what can be the result, but that which Yeats foretold—the rough beast which was, if not quelled, at least quieted 20 centuries ago “by a rocking cradle”, there in a manger in Bethlehem, again has naught to quiet it, and awakened, slouches (inasmuch as a Serpent might slouch) towards Bethlehem, where once a Falconer was born.

But it seems to me that Yeats had, at least in this writing, little hope, and there we differ.  I believe with all my heart that the Falconer still has the power to recall the falcon, because the falcon truly belongs to the Falconer, and that however bleak things may look at any particular moment, we can remember that the rough beast, although he may appear to us to be revived, has been truly cast down and cannot be born again in Bethlehem or anywhere.

It can be hard to remember that the Falconer is still at the centre, as the falcon’s gyre seems to widen ever yet more, but the power of the Falconer is infinite, and that which has circled outwards may yet be called back to the Falconer’s arm.

And that, miserable sinner, is truly the best that I can do on 2 hours sleep out of 48.  I am no Yeats, and cannot write like him, but my faith is, I think, still stronger, and so therefore my hope.
FCZ+

[158] Posted by Conego on 12-21-2007 at 07:16 PM • top

Ah, but what did share is lovely CanonZ.

[159] Posted by southernvirginia1 on 12-21-2007 at 07:50 PM • top

what you did share, that is, CanonZ.

[160] Posted by southernvirginia1 on 12-21-2007 at 07:56 PM • top

Good thinking, Widening Gyre and CanonZ.  The “widening gyre” imagined by Yeats is reaching an outermost limit, where the Falconer can not be heard.  On another thread, the Enlightenment was discussed as a degeneration of faith and a deconstructor of the faith-based world view.  There is much more truth in this outlook than we usually hear, especially if we think of the Enlightenment as a source of modernist skepticism.  On the SF thread, It was mentioned that England itself did not have an Enlightenment as such, and this is generally accurate: it is one fact that helped to shape Anglicanism’s uniqueness.  While France had an activist Enlightenment that blew up in Revolution (and America had professed Enlightenment figures like Franklin), England had Locke (still Christian, of course) and then sense-based empiricism and materialistic Utilitarianism.  But even supposed English deists were often quite otherwise—like Dryden and Alexander Pope—Catholics driven underground—and the bitter Swift was an Irish cleric.  In some ways, I believe that the English Church was insulated for a period from some of the most extreme modernist directions.

But England did have the rationalistic utilitarian Jeremy Bentham and Scotland had the radical empiricist David Hume.  Yeats, from his Irish vantage point, tried to sum up the English experience that was part of the “widening gyre”:

Locke sank into a swoon;
The Garden died;
God took the spinning-jenny
Out of his side.

The Church of England had very dark times—not just in the days of its martyrs but in the eighteenth century (and much of the nineteenth) when the church was part of a very imperfect national status quo and when the parish “living” frequently went to the worldly flunky of a nobleman or to a quid-pro-quo appointee. Skeptical “deism,” “rationalism,” and “the higher Bible criticism” appeared in high places in the church in a long sequence of influences that countered orthodox faith (and of course such forces still, and increasingly, challenge the supernaturalism and spiritual values on which the Biblical and apostolic church is founded).  The continuing faith of the Church of England has often depended on outpourings of special grace—on great, replenishing spiritual movements that always seemed to well up just when circumstances looked worst: for example, the Wesley phenomenon and its Evangelical heirs, the “Oxford Movement,” the momentous and far-flung missionary outreach around the globe.  These (and other movements) have left indelible marks on our own church experience.  But for centuries Anglicanism (in England and America and elsewhere) has also been swept along in the “widening gyre” of modernism—and, as we may now believe, toward another “reformation” (whether inside or outside the Anglican Communion has yet to appear).  It seems to many today that the time is at hand, when the “gyre” of Christendom looks most dispersed—and when, instead of yielding a “rough beast,” it may receive direction by Christ Himself to renewal.

[161] Posted by Paula on 12-21-2007 at 11:25 PM • top

>This brings up one of the more challenging issues of running a blog like this. What do we do when we run across a story like this? Do we dig into it thoroughly and offer an analysis informed by having read every tidbit contained in it? If we did, we’d get one or two things posted a day, if we’re lucky.

You dig into it thoroughly enough to avoid looking later like something we English call “an arse”.

When it comes to a British National newspaper reporting about religion - particularly Anglican religion, and particularly an interview with the ABC - anyone who does not not go right back to the original source is a fool, since the record of our papers reporting that subject accurately is dismal.

Bearing in mind that the BBC habitually makes Radio programmes available on demand with 30-60 minutes of the broadcast, and the example of what happened after The Times inaccurate reporting of ++Rowan’s recent interview with an Islamic Magazine (cue barrels of boiling oil tipped on his head by bloggers relying on a report quoting a couple of sentences out of context), ISTM that in this case checking the original source was a necessary minimal step.

BTW - I’m an occasional reader who likes the blog.

Matt Wardman

[162] Posted by mattwardman on 12-22-2007 at 09:48 AM • top

Matt—it’s a great idea, and I appreciate what you’re saying.

. . . So you’d be okay, then, with just one or two blog posts a day—which would make it not a blog at all, but simply another [and not very great, since we don’t have the resources] news agency.

Just as a reminder—yesterday we posted 15 posts—a fairly typical rate.  And today at 9:56 a.m. EST, we have posted six items.

There are a few posts that I dig into a bit—although always conscious that that digging could still end up with my expressing a wrong opinion, since again, I don’t have the resources to fly off and interview primary sources—but I can’t do that, not possible, with most of my posts.  Further, of the three of us that have expressed opinions, I thoroughly stand behind mine which is to, “please, ABC . . . cease pontificating for the masses about “legends” and dreams and myths” . . . [not to mention American public policy which was dead wrong.  In fact, StandFirm was probably too lenient on the ABC’s comments, some of which were ludicrous, with that one.]  And when another blogger wishes to revise his original stated opinion, he or she always tries to update the post and add to or delete or modify that original opinion.

We have faithfully posted six story links on just this “legend” interview—all of them from wildly different perspectives—and we didn’t dig into those either, for that matter.

This particular thread was, in my opinion, a perfect example of how blogs work—165 comments of people in real time all debating various aspects of this interview story—about theology, the actual accretion of myth around the nativity story, the ABC’s purported tin ear, communicating with the lost, and much more.  Generally what we do with an article is post the link, offer our perspective, and let the comments roar.

I know that there is going to be disagreement about how blogs handle article links and news links, about what it takes to verify each and every link, as well as the differences between blogs and news agencies.  I wrote a bit more about this over on this thread:
http://www.standfirminfaith.com/index.php/site/article/8523/#161247

In any case, despite our disagreements, I appreciate your dropping in occasionally.

[163] Posted by Sarah on 12-22-2007 at 10:16 AM • top

Thanks for the quick reply. To address your comments:

>So you’d be okay, then, with just one or two blog posts a day—which would make it not a blog at all, but simply another [and not very great, since we don’t have the resources] news agency.

I’m not sure that it would limit you to a couple - it may be that you’d just need to fact check with British National Papers on religion (and it pains me to write that). I’ve just stopped taking their reports at face value - the exception in my view is when journalists are writing on topics where they do not have any strong opinions themselves. We seem to have lost the news/comment distinction over here.

I’m currently incubating a post on “quoting the mainstream uncritically is the biggest threat to bloggers’ accuracy and reputation”.

Have you considerd recruiting some new contributers instead - say go to 4-6 rather than 2 or 3.

Although my blog is in the “political” space and covers several niches, I’m actively turning it into a group blog to reduce my own load and provide some more specialist and informed opinions than my own on some topics. One of them is a vicar, with a brief to write about current affairs in a way informed from the Christian tradition - part of my agenda is to help allow religion-based viewpoints into the secular political debate in the UK (I’m also after Hindu and Sikh correspondents, but it’s like finding hens’ teeth). At present it works excellently, and he got a Guardian “Best of the Web” link with his first post (a “what about the other 98%” post about ++Rowan’s Islamic interview). As a distinction, I think you’re emphasis is more towards “news” rather than our “analysis”.

>There are a few posts that I dig into a bit—although always conscious that that digging could still end up with my expressing a wrong opinion, since again, I don’t have the resources to fly off and interview primary sources—but I can’t do that, not possible, with most of my posts. 

That is an interesting parallel. The main challenge for UK political blogging is resources - we have only 1 or 2 political probloggers. The newspapers and broadcasters have started blogging seriously in 2007, so we need resources for independent political bloggers to compete in quality. So the challenge for political blogs is to monetise the blogs sufficiently to pay for some people to go part time.
That will be one area where I will focus in 2008.

The numbers of UK political blogs with more than >250k uniques a month is probably about 4 or 5, and those only just make that level.

>Further, of the three of us that have expressed opinions, I thoroughly stand behind mine which is to, “please, ABC . . . cease pontificating for the masses about “legends” and dreams and myths” . . . [not to mention American public policy which was dead wrong.  In fact, StandFirm was probably too lenient on the ABC’s comments, some of which were ludicrous, with that one.] And when another blogger wishes to revise his original stated opinion, he or she always tries to update the post and add to or delete or modify that original opinion.

I like your updating approach, but would probably differ on ++Rowan. I like him.

My (summarised and slightly simplistic) opinion on the Anglican impending split is that it is a case of “incompatibility”, and it would be more honest just to get on with it. The “gay” debate is a proxy for different basic approaches. Like a divorcing couple, that will not happen because of money - at least in the UK. My preferred solution in the UK would be a Third Province, but that won’t happen imho until we are left with 2 bloodied, wrecked opponents slugging it out in their death-throes on floor of a slaugherhouse. I sincerely hope I am wrong, because it would make me mourn for the prospect of any kindness in our public life.

>We have faithfully posted six story links on just this “legend” interview—all of them from wildly different perspectives—and we didn’t dig into those either, for that matter.

Noted. My orientation tends to be towards digging out the backstory first - different legitimate approaches.

>This particular thread was, in my opinion, a perfect example of how blogs work—165 comments of people in real time all debating various aspects of this interview story—about theology, the actual accretion of myth around the nativity story, the ABC’s purported tin ear, communicating with the lost, and much more.  Generally what we do with an article is post the link, offer our perspective, and let the comments roar.

Agreed, an interesting debate.

>I know that there is going to be disagreement about how blogs handle article links and news links, about what it takes to verify each and every link, as well as the differences between blogs and news agencies.  I wrote a bit more about this over on this thread:
http://www.standfirminfaith.com/index.php/site/article/8523/#161247

Cheers. I’d accept that I probably have a more intimate knowledge of our UK press. Usually I find the blogs of religion correspondents useful.

>In any case, despite our disagreements, I appreciate your dropping in occasionally.

It’s a pleasure. Personally I don’t write on Anglican internal politics, even where I have strong opinions, as it would be an excuse for a lot of people to go “damn them all” -  but I do cover stories where there is a secular/religion interaction. I did the Manchester Cathedral / Sony imbroglio in much detail, and I’ve recently covered the SPCK Bookshop Takeover and fallout. I also cover secularist/atheist campaigning to force religion into the closet from time to time - the most strategic issue.

Matt W
http://www.mattwardman.com/blog/

[164] Posted by mattwardman on 12-22-2007 at 11:17 AM • top

Canon Z:

Thank you for your wise insights even if on two hours sleep.

Peace,

[165] Posted by miserable sinner on 12-22-2007 at 12:01 PM • top

RE: “it may be that you’d just need to fact check with British National Papers on religion (and it pains me to write that).”

I am sorry to say that I think the same thing for American news media—the bias is a bit more subtle, but it’s definitely there.

Just on a personal note, I sincerely like Rowan Williams too. I don’t agree with some of what he believes or some other things, but I like him as a human being.  I think he would have made a good ABC in a less warlike time.

[166] Posted by Sarah on 12-22-2007 at 04:28 PM • top

Well, I guess I have to acknowledge that some people do get carried away with Nativity scenes now that I have read this message in our local newspaper‘s “Sound Off” column, which is a daily column featuring anonymous comments on virtually any topic. Limit e-mail to 70 words.

Nativity napper
• OK, now we’re at a new low. Someone stole one calf, four goats, three pigs, 13 hamsters, seven chickens, 11 ducks, one peacock, three kittens, and a camel from my nativity scene. Please return them.

http://www.sunherald.com/206/story/263508.html

[167] Posted by Betty See on 12-22-2007 at 11:00 PM • top

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