20 March 2011


Recently, on a blog that I read fairly regularly, which is aimed at Catholic-Reformed dialogue (Called to Communion), someone posted:

How much do you think the “health and wealth gospel” can be attributed to penal substitutionary atonement soteriology fermenting in an affluent culture? While I think a lot of the wealth gospel crew are in it for the dough, I think a lot of them feel that prosperity is essential since poverty is a curse in the deuteronomic covenant and Christ became the curse for us. (“He who was rich became poor so that we who were poor might through his poverty become rich”- 2 Cor 8:9). Within a penal substitutionary atonement model, I think they aren’t being completely irrational.
I’d be interested in your professional thoughts.
The "penal substitutionary atonement soteriology" the writer is referring to means, roughly, the idea that:
  • we sinned
  • we owe the penalty for our sin, namely damnation
  • Jesus paid the penalty on the Cross
  • now our debt is paid
I do not at all wish to engage here in a Catholic-Protestant debate, but I confess this struck me quite powerfully about what I think is the fundamental difference between a certain outlook on the Atonement that I think of as Protestant, and what I think the Catholic view is.  Allowing that there is rather a continuum here - with the view I am calling Protestant being at one end, and the view I call Catholic at the other, though with individuals all over the map - I would express it in more or less epigrammatic form as:
To the Protestant, Jesus suffered and died so that we wouldn't have to.
To the Catholic, Jesus suffered and died so that we would be able to.
This is not, perhaps, the place to go into deep theology, but I think this explains quite a few criticisms by Protestants of the Catholic viewpoint.  For example:
  • Jesus paid it all - why should there be Purgatory?
  • Jesus paid it all - how can my good works contribute to my salvation?
  • Jesus paid it all - how can I lose my salvation?
And many others.

Indeed, I would go further than the writer above.  If, indeed, Jesus paid it all - and if payment was the whole story - should not the curse of death be lifted?  And what we find in many strains of Protestantism is a strong attraction to Rapture-eschatology, and to an imminent return of Christ - so that, indeed, those of us who are left will not die.

I think the key to atonement is divine sonship - that we, by adoption, are sons of God.  In Christ - and with Christ in us - we do, indeed, participate in His Resurrection.  But our participation in Christ is in the whole Christ, not just the victory:
  • We participate in His creative work in our own labour
  • We participate in His Cross in our own suffering
  • We participate in His obedience to His Father by our own deeds of righteousness
  • Even in our sins, we are participating in His bearing of our sins on the Cross
  • And in our daily rising to repentance, and ultimately to glory, we participate in His Resurrection
I do not think I am able to make this very clear - the idea is very deep.  It is nothing less than the doctrine that by faith we are enabled to live Christ's life on earth that we may reign with Him in glory.
To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. (Colossians 1:27)

07 March 2011

Wish you could be there!

Just a little taste of the finale of the Tchaikovsky 5 - this is Bernstein conducting - not sure when it was played:

05 March 2011


About 3:30 this afternoon - Saturday 5th March - I am at rehearsal - Tchaikovsky 5th Symphony - we are messing about with the last movement, which requires a fair amount of intensity for the horn players.  My cellphone in my pocket gives a buzz - which only I notice :-) - and at a place where we have 16 bars to count I take it out and there is a message from Susan: "Ring me when you can - important."

So I know that my mother has died.

No, nothing preternatural, no instinctive knowledge, but I feel pretty sure that is what it is about.  I quickly text back "15 or 20 minutes," and continue playing.

In 2005 - don't remember the month, but I have an idea it was latish in the year - September, maybe? - Peter, my brother, tells me - on the 'phone, perhaps - that our mother is in bad shape, probably dying, and that if I want to see her, and if I can find the money for the trip, I should come now.  A bit of a look at the overdraught level and, yes, I think I had better go.  So I do.

She certainly seems in bad shape.  She is not very responsive.  She is on oxygen, needs constant care.  She is, at that time, just 90.  My dad, though a bit wobbly on his legs, due to a hip operation, is in pretty good shape, at 91.  I spend the week and a half there that I had time for, then returned home and to work.

October, 2006 - my brother calls me.  Dad has just died.  As I recall, he was just visiting his doctor, perhaps for a more or less routine checkup - and keeled over, dead.

So Dad, who is in fairly good shape for his age, is dead.  Mom, who is constantly in and out of danger, is still alive.

For the last six years, though, I have expected this moment, so it is not surprising that Sue's text means to me what it does.  And so the case is.  She had, I am told by various e-mails, been unable to eat anything for the last several days, and pretty unresponsive.  I don't know details yet, but Johnny, my son, says that he was told by Peter that my mother went into something like a coma maybe 24 hours before she died.

Cremation will happen shortly, I suppose.

And for the rest of us, time goes on.  I drive home from rehearsal, talking to Johnny on the cellphone.  There is dinner to be got this evening.  There will be rehearsal tomorrow, concerts next week-end.  My mother will no longer be concerned with such things.

So it will be for each of us, one day.  Time comes to an end.  The world will go one.  I do not know whether, dead, we will be aware of any of that.  If we are, it will be through our love for God, I think.

I have prayed for my mother every day since I have been a Christian.  I will go on praying for her.  I pray that that spark of love in her which I, as her son, knew and recognised, covered over though it sometimes was by her self-will and passionate, fiery, nature, will find its fulfilment and rest in the One towards Whom, even if not recognised, it was directed and intended.  Mom, may you find that rest that seemed often to elude you in life.  May the tears you shed for us be rewarded and dried in the peace that you needed, sought, fled from at times, but which - I pray - will be your home.  And may you be united, too, with those whom you loved who have gone before - my father, Jeremiah, your own mother and father, brothers and sister.

I will ask Father Peter to say Mass for you tomorrow, and on Monday, I will ask the priest at the Cathedral the same.

Lux aeterna luceat ea, et requiem aeternam dona ei, Domine