Christianity · Liturgy · Theology

A Quick Note on Ordination

Sometimes a blog is inspired, gestates and finally comes to birth because a blogger got annoyed. This is one of those times.

The other day a university lecturer was addressing folk training towards Ordination. She’s an ordained minister herself in a non-Anglican church*. She asserted one needs to work out whether ordination (A) makes an ontological difference to the person ordained, or if it is (B) a ceremonial recognition of, essentially, a job. She then compounded this by saying, admittedly playfully, we need to decide if there is ‘magic’ done at the ceremony which changes the ordinand.

We can see where she is coming from. No matter. What concerns me the most is not her opinion, option B, ‘job’, but rather the method of framing the choice at all. Oh, and the magic.

Let’s deal with the magic first.

There is no magic involved in ordination. Magic centres on the will of the magician. Ordination is concerned with the will of God. I know that from a phenomenological perspective there is little difference between religion and magic: Toby has status ‘A’, undergoes a ceremony and now has status B. This happens with ordination and with magical initiation. However, from a theological and ecclesial perspective the two are polar opposites. This is because, theologically, it is the will of God which changes the ordinand, not the will of the people. This is not convincing as it stands, just words really, but please attend to the deeper concern I have with how my lecturer framed the question.


Personhood Constantly Being Called into Trinitarian Being

From a Christian ontological perspective we are not individuals. We are persons. And as such we are not separate, atomised selves, but are in fact constantly called into being by that mystery we label as ‘God’. Moreover we are called into being in her image; that is in the self-effacing, eternal relating of the Trinity. God is not a being but is being itself. In the text book set by lecturer herself it states that we are “creatures that are ceaselessly spoken by the Creator”^. We are not fixed but are called into being every moment of every day. This is why some Christian traditions recognize the tragic end of those people who have consciously and decisively rejected this calling into being by God – as a cessation of existence, or since we are made imago dei ‘forever’, an eternal state devoid of God’s presence. Uber sad panda.

While we are all called into being by God, the Christian traditions (at least the Catholic ones) recognise that the church itself is also established and called into being by God – to do her work for all people and especially the baptised. The church is the mystical bride of Christ and embodies the work and telos of God through its ecclesial structures. See Michael Ramsay’s The Gospel and the Catholic Church and my next but last post.

As such then one of the aims of baptism is to bring the person within the church on the inner and outer levels. The person, once baptised is now also brought into being at each moment by God through her church. This is what is meant by a being a member of the Body of Christ. Baptism changes us forever – and the metaphors of an indelible mark or stamp work only to convey the timeless grace the sacrament brings. There is no form to the soul, no individual, ghostly, independent ontological entity which may receive such a mark. It is a metaphor. The ‘mark’ is the Cross, and baptism, since it brings the person into being also through the church which embodies the Cross, makes our lives cruciform.

And so for ordination. My lecturer makes the modern mistake of assuming an individuated, self-existing, autonomous soul. The Reverend Sarah Coakely, systematic theologian is quite clear: “Autonomy does not exist. It has never existed and it is a modern fallacy that it does”.

And so there is no separate ‘soul’ there for the ordination ceremony to perform its ‘magic’ upon. There is only a person who God has chosen to now bring into being, moment by moment, in a different manner than before. An ordained priest or deacon never functions alone, only as a vessel for the corporate action of the Church. As people they are not given any ‘ability’ to preside over the sacraments. That WOULD be a magical point of view.

In the sacramental role, clergy are merely the servants chosen by God and the church to empty themselves and stand in Persona Christi on behalf of the Church. This is why the priest serves only at the pleasure of the Bishop who acts on behalf of the Church. Clergy are still brought into being within the church as the baptised, as the Laos, but are now also brought into being for a corporate purpose, of God, embodied in her church. Without the church they cannot perform their priestly role, and this is one of the reasons why in Anglican tradition the Eucharist cannot be performed alone, but always with the people.

Ordination is not magic, and it is certainly not a job. What a choice! And we will misunderstand it completely without understanding the radical nature of personhood Christianity teaches – that we are members of one another, in Christ. ‘Nuff said.  Thanks. 🙂

* Yes, this is an attempt to create a new Anglican hegemony 🙂

^ McIntosh, Mark A. Divine Teaching. p.25.

Christianity · Theology

The Five Anglican Marks of Mission and the Pentagrammaton

I’m knocking this up in my lunch break, so please excuse its rough nature.

My new job intersects my spirituality beautifully and sometimes throws up interesting connections. Today after meditation and preparing to work on a document concerning the Anglican Marks of Mission I saw a link between the Five Marks and the Holy Pentagrammaton, the name of Jesus.

The Marks of Mission are:

  1. To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom.
  2. To teach, baptise and nurture new believers.
  3. To respond to human need by loving service.
  4. To transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and pursue peace and reconciliation.
  5. To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the earth.

I do not for a second think the Anglican Communion developed this schema with reference to the Holy Five-Lettered Name of God, YHShVH, which is an esoteric, post-reformation symbolic adaption of the Hebrew name for Jesus.

However, sometimes things do cohere and I am very capable of seeing meaning in all sorts of things 🙂 It is interesting to note the history of the Marks though. Originally four and then quickly expanded to five (to include care of Creation). There was also a movement to enlarge the schema to six marks, but in the end the fourth mark was expanded keeping the schema intact. Some folk (myself included) see poetic significance and resonance with the Five Wounds of Christ. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

The Pentagrammaton has rich resonances, among which are the four ancient elemental principles (plus spirit) and the Worlds of the Qabalah. It is often displayed as a pentagram (which was a Christian symbol long before modern Neo-Paganism adopted it).

The Pentagrammaton also connects with the Five Marks:

Letter of YHShVH

Element Wound


Yod Fire Foot To transform unjust structures of society.
Heh Water Hand To respond to human need by loving service.
Shin Spirit Side (heart) To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom.
Vau Air Hand To teach, baptise and nurture new believers.
Heh (final) Earth Foot To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation.

On the Pentagram:

pentagrmmaton and marks of mission

  • The proclamation of the Kingdom obviously relates to the Spirit – it is from this that all other Marks follow. It is the heart of the matter, which is why it relates to Christ’s central wound, whence flows blood and water for the sake of the entire world.
  • Teaching and baptising is the extension of the church and Christ to the person. It therefore relates to the extended and open hand which draws one into the Church (baptism).  In the scheme of the elements it relates to Air, the use of the airy intellect in teaching and guiding one towards Confirmation and beyond.
  • The response to human need by loving service relates to the depth of the Watery Heh. Again, this is an action of the hand, extended in love to the other.

We now move to the communal and the letters here relate to the feet, movement and action in the world, for the group not just the person. Perfect for the two basal points of the diagram 🙂

  • Transformation of society and the purging of injustice relates to Fire, the power of the Christian message to change all things throughout the world.
  • Caring for God’s creation obviously relates to the element of Earth, another communal endeavour.

It is of course significant that the Spirit in this diagram, the proclamation of the Kingdom connects directly (right and left) to social justice (Fire) and ecological care (Earth), both communal processes.* This shows clearly the Kingdom is corporate and not individual. In Christ, there are no ‘individuals’. There is only the person, existing within and interdependent on Creation and the Social (bottom left and right).

OK? Enough now, back to work!

* It is also kinda neat that my job concerns these two areas directly 🙂


Christianity · Liturgy · Theology

The One and the Many – every Sunday

My first serious girlfriend came from good Roman Catholic stock. Having tried (and failed) to be raised as a Christian child and finding nothing but lifeless platitudes in high school ‘prayer groups’ this was terribly exciting for me. At the first opportunity I went along to Holy Communion with her and watched with interest as she responded and genuflected and crossed and engaged with the liturgy. Afterwards I eagerly questioned her about the meaning of her responses and words. She looked at me blankly. Now when I say ‘blankly’, I do not mean that she did not know the meaning but she could not even reproduce the words she had spoken with such fluency half hour earlier.

Such is the way with some Sunday Christians.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that 🙂 We are after all both animal and communal. Rote reproduction and synching in with the group mind is natural for us. It is part of who we are. It is the ‘animal soul’ aspect of our beings. It is what keeps us alive every day and allows us to drive through peak hour traffic or shop in in a busy supermarket.

It can however be taken too far, as the Gospel According to Python shows.

As Buddhism and 80s pop music philosopher Howard Jones assert our regular self, the self that feels it is ‘an individual’ is really nothing more than a “jumbled mess of preconceived ideas”. This explains why we, as individuals can go to church and act like my girlfriend. It explains the definitely rote, unthinking responses in church, ‘Praise be to God’ and wot not. We easily fall into this. We easily fall into unconsciousness and it is the aim of depth spirituality to wake us up.

There is a wonderful story about Gautama Buddha teaching a group of students on a hot, sultry day when the flies were out. A fly kept trying to land on Gautama’s head and he would shoo it away and continue his preaching. After a little while he lifted his hand and shooed again. “Why Master”, asked a student “are you shooing the fly away? It has already left”. Gautama replied, “yes, but the first time I did it without thinking and so now I do it again with consciousness.”

Christianity aims to wake us up, to be conscious, to allow us access to the eternal verities and to serve the One through a radical and completely personal change of heart and life. It also insists on communal worship where we can easily fall into group and animal soul behaviour. And this is one of the greatest gifts of Sunday mornings.

When we enter group worship we literally exist between that tension of group-animal, automatic self and our individual, conscious engagement with the liturgy. We have to choose to be conscious; we have to choose to actively engage on the ‘inner’ levels with the prayers and the liturgy. And we have to continue to engage in communal responses and actions. We cannot be purely individual in church: we have to be both self and group. This is one of the main points of church. Of course we are helped in this movement between the automatically reacting group-mind and conscious choice by the presence of Christ who chose to move beyond his instincts of fear self-preservation towards a cruel and tortuous death.

This tension between group-reaction and individual-choice is a microcosm of the spiritual life. It is a condensed experience of the struggles to move from being the ‘natural man’ as St Paul (and the GD) puts it to being ‘spiritual’ (or ‘more than human’ as the GD puts it).

So every Sunday morning we are given a gift of tension that surmises and reproduces our life-long task. As we engage with that tension we are empowered and learn to participate in the greater tension of our spiritual life. It is a gift of the path of theosis, participation in God through changing ourselves towards perfection, as Christ was perfect, yet remaining always broken and imperfect.

And yet there is more, as there always is 🙂

christian art, angels worshipping chaliceIn Christian theology the worship of the One is eternal and continuing, beyond temporality, beyond our experience of time. As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end. The angels continually sing ‘Holy, Holy, Holy’ before the One. This occurs in Kairos, a time beyond temporality (Kronos) a time where we can assert every day, at every moment, that THIS is day Christ was born, died and was resurrected. (We see this understanding also in Buddhist myths of Gautama’s birth, enlightenment and death occurring on the same day of the year).

Our physical church services move us from Kronos to Kairos and we enter the continual worship, as the liturgy says; “with angels and archangels, and with all the company of heaven”. Now this is mind bogglingly awesome if we stop to think about it. We participate in the transcendent and the physical liturgy as one. In the Orthodox traditions the worshippers represent the Cherubim. We worship side by side with the angels. Thus our communal worship in church is more than we can see, and more, much more significant than we can imagine.

In most Orthodox and esoteric Christian theology human beings are gifted with qualities the angels do not have, most often described as reason. Therefore when we enter church and worship as and side by side with the angels, not just the people next to us who rote-read the lines, we are bringing to the worship of the One something unique and wonderful. We – every one of us, imperfect and broken – are adding to the eternal, uncreated unfolding of the fullness of the One. We are engaging in acts that hasten the Kingdom when all shall be consumed and become infinite and holy, when each individual being is perfectly united with the One, yet still existing to worship the One, expressed by the holy name that is One and Many – ELOHIM.

🙂 Every. Sunday. Morning. 🙂