Rubber stamp vestries

Anglicans like to claim that bishops and vestries are checks against clergy who abuse their authority. In reality, people selected for these roles are filtered out before election and are almost always good “company men” (and women) who will seldom, if ever, stand up to the rector. Add to that the fear of being seen as a troublemaker in public settings and you have a recipe for why vestries are usually no better than the “Moses Model” practiced by Calvary Chapel. Some clergy are known to remark that they can get the vestry to approve whatever they want them to approve.

With this in mind, Deacon Bruce Corrigan—formerly of Apostle’s Anglican Church in Knoxville, TN—wrote a post that asks the right questions. He says in part:

Some may argue that the vestry’s elected nature and canonical responsibilities ensure its independence. While these formal structures exist, they often crumble under the weight of social dynamics and informal power structures. The rector’s influence extends far beyond the pulpit, shaping the very composition of the vestry and, by extension, its decisions.

This power imbalance is more than an internal issue; it affects the entire congregation and undermines the democratic ideals of church governance, as outlined in Christopher L. Webber’s “The Vestry Handbook: Third Edition.” The rector’s role in selecting vestry candidates, the recurring service of the same individuals, and the vestry’s tendency to execute the rector’s wishes all contribute to a governance model that needs urgent reform.

Why do rectors seek such control? The motivations can vary, including a fear of being challenged, a desire to maintain a tight grip on church operations or even narcissistic tendencies that make shared leadership difficult. Some rectors may believe their vision for the parish is the only correct one, leading them to sideline the vestry to avoid dissent. Others may feel that controlling the vestry is the most efficient way to get things done in a large parish. Regardless of the reason, the outcome is the same: a compromised governance structure.

In short, episcopal government is no better than any other form of government when it comes down to it. It all depends on the people in the roles, and if they are cowardly, there is nothing you can do about it.

No sir, that’s not history

Serapis transformed into Christ.

For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty.

2 Peter 1:16

John Roop, Anglican Diocese of the South “canon theologian” and priest at Apostles Anglican Church in Knoxville, wrote a post that delves into the field of historiography. Roop responded to my post about image worship with his own definitions of history. Roop posits that there is:

  1. Objective history: an oxymoron that “implies an independent, unbiased observer who in no way interacts with what is being observed or reported.”
  2. Subjective history: What every historian does. Includes selecting some facts to include and some to omit. He selects some subjects to interview and others to ignore. How history is actually and inevitably done.
  3. Tradition or sacred myth: sometimes factual and sometimes not.

I would look to another Anglican for sharper definitions. N.T. Wright provides a masterful definition of critical realism and history in his The New Testament and the People of God, where he says that “history…is neither ‘bare facts’ nor ‘subjective interpretations’, but is rather the meaningful narrative of events and intentions” (82). Wright goes on to outline the Enlightenment view of access to events unmediated by an observer–something similar to the view that Roop calls “objective history.” Wright helpfully points out that the ancients “…knew as well as we do that there are such things as actual events, and that it is the business of the historian to write about them, discounting ones which he thinks incredible” (84). Wright also points out that the quest for objectivity is hardly an Enlightenment invention, noting that Tacitus wrote “I shall write without indignation or partisanship” (85). Looking at the father of history, Raymond Kierstead writes, “Herodotus sought to separate fact from myth, to query his sources, to get the story right. In so doing, Herodotus established what would be the fundamental framework and subject matter of this new form of inquiry.” Thus far, we agree: ancients were not utterly blinded to attempting to be impartial and moderns who believe in unmediated access to events are themselves deluded. 

Wright goes on to say that the way history is written does not mean that there “are no such things as ‘facts’ “ (88). Critical realism understands that “There are such things as events in the external world” (90). “We are looking at events” (90). This means that not “…all angles of looking at events are equally valid or proper” (91). 

Wright proposes a system of hypothesis and verification to construct history. He says this system must:

  1. Include the data.
  2. Construct a basically simple and coherent overall picture.
  3. Prove itself fruitful in other related areas or help to explain other problems.

Wright points out that the opposite side of positivism is phenomenalism, solipsism, and fundamentalism, “…the closed mind…that cannot bear the thought of a new, or revised, story” (103). Wright then puts forward a definition of history:

History, then, is real knowledge, of a particular sort. It is arrived at, like all knowledge, by the spiral of epistemology, in which the story-telling human community launches enquiries, forms provisional judgements about which stories are likely to be successful in answering those enquiries, and then tests these judgements by further interaction with data (109). 

We can see that the choice is not a false one between “objective history” and some sort of subjective story that does not verify facts. History can contain parables, but a parable is not history. To compare parables Jesus told to imaginary stories put forward as history is to make a false comparison. This can be easily seen by comparing the Bible and the Book of Mormon. Both texts tell tales of ancient Judah, of prophets and of patriarchs, but the Book of Mormon adds details about Jewish prophets who sailed across the ocean to the Americas and founded a civilization that is eventually visited by a resurrected Jesus Christ. Is this sacred American myth historical? Is it good for the soul? Many modern Latter-Day Saint apologists have essentially abandoned defending the historicity of the texts and instead focus on feelings and how these stories work for them, regardless of whether any of the stories are factual. 

Obviously, we must reject such an approach as Christians. Peter makes a point of telling his readers that he did not follow “cleverly devised fables” but that he and others were eyewitnesses of Jesus. With this in mind, we must be grateful for Calvin and others who cared for their parishioners so much that they would not teach them nonsense without regard for eternal consequences. Calvin as a Christian humanist was practicing critical history of the sort which N.T. Wright would recognize. He details the pieces of “the true cross” circulating in his day and says:

Now let us consider how many relics of the true cross there are in the world. An account of those merely with which I am acquainted would fill a whole volume, for there is not a church, from a cathedral to the most miserable abbey or parish church, that does not contain a piece. Large splinters of it are preserved in various places, as for instance in the Holy Chapel at Paris, whilst at Rome they show a crucifix of considerable size made entirely, they say, from this wood. In short, if we were to collect all these pieces of the true cross exhibited in various parts, they would form a whole ship’s cargo.

The Gospel testifies that the cross could be borne by one single individual; how glaring, then, is the audacity now to pretend to display more relics of wood than three hundred men could carry! As an explanation of this, they have invented the tale, that whatever quantity of wood may be cut off this true cross, its size never decreases. This is, however, such a clumsy and silly imposture, that the most superstitious may see through it. The most absurd stories are also told respecting the manner in which various pieces of the cross were conveyed to the places where they are now shown; thus, for instance, we are informed that they were brought by angels, or had fallen from heaven. By these means they seduce ignorant people into idolatry, for they are not satisfied with deceiving the credulous, by affirming that pieces of common wood are portions of the true cross, but they pretend that it should be worshiped, which is a diabolical doctrine, expressly reproved by St Ambrose as a Pagan superstition.

In our day we have a much better picture of the origins of the story of Helena. Jan Willem Drijvers in his book Cyril of Jerusalem: Bishop and City writes of the story:

The first testimony for that is Ambrose of Milan’s funeral oration for the emperor Theodosius I of 395 in which the story is included (167).

A similar story, although without any mention of Helena, is presented by John Chrysostom in a homily at about the same time as Ambrose delivered his funeral oration in honor of Theodosius. However, such a story apparently did not yet exist by the time Cyril wrote his Letter to Constantius and delivered his Catechetical Lectures, otherwise it is hardly imaginable that he would not have referred to it. It is therefore most probable that the story about the discovery of the Cross only arose in the second half of the fourth century. Recent research has made clear that Ambrose’s narrative about the inventio crucis was most probably a variant of an originally, now lost, Greek story (167-68).


This story, commonly referred to as the Helena legend, spread rapidly. It was included in the fifth-century Church Histories of Socrates, Sozomen and Theodoret and also knew other Latin renderings, besides that of Rufinus. Soon two other versions of the legend of the inventio crucis arose: the so-called Protonike legend and the Judas Kyriakos legend. The first was only known in Syriac (and later in Armenian); the story is pushed back to the first century c.e. and Helena is replaced as protagonist by the fictitious Protonike, wife of the emperor Claudius. In the Judas Kyriakos version, which is characterized by severe anti-judaism, the Jew Judas finds the Cross and nails for Helena, converts to Christianity and eventually becomes bishop of Jerusalem. Like Protonike, Judas is also a fictional character created for the sake of the legend. In Late Antiquity, the Byzantine period and the western Middle Ages the story of the legend of the discovery, in particular the Judas Kyriakos version, became very popular, and was known in many variants and in many also vernacular – languages. It also became a favorite subject in the visual arts.

Drijvers makes the case that Cyril the Bishop of Jerusalem was the probable source of the story for political reasons, seeking to align the See of Jerusalem with the Imperial House. He says that “Although testimony is not available, it seems therefore not improbable that Cyril was responsible for the origin and composition of the story of Helena’s inventio crucis” (173).

According to Drijvers:

The discovery of the Cross brought Helena great fame and is the accomplishment for which she is remembered by posterity and earned her sainthood. However, it is good to realize that the legend of Helena’s inventio crucis is a construct and not a historical source for the events it describes, let alone a reliable source. Hence, Helena acquired her fame for an act for which she was not responsible. It is not known exactly how and when the Cross, or pieces of wood alleged to be the Cross, was found in Jerusalem, but Helena had nothing to do with it, as most modern authors ascertain” (173).

He notes that some disagree and points us to their writings, but does not find them persuasive.

This is how good history is done. Presenting facts, stating a hypothesis and a conclusion, and being open to correction. It is not pretending to be “objective history” that has direct unmediated access to the facts. Contrast this with Roop’s conclusion: “I do not know if St. Helena found Calvary or the wood of three crosses, and I do not care. The story is important and true nonetheless.”

Who cares about the truth? Who said that in the Bible? Pilate, more or less. As Christians we are supremely concerned with truth. I don’t believe in the Donation of Constantine or that Luke painted Mary. Why? Because of historical evidence. It is tremendously freeing as a Christian to know that we are responsible to obey what God has breathed in Scripture, and not anything else, whatever tradition or story it rests on. Who trumpeted traditions in the Bible? We all know the answer to that.

Statues as channels of divine presence

Alain Besancon writes:

The biblical texts directly targeted popular idolatry, which confused God and the idol. For example, images were taken to the sites of battles and shared the arm’s fate. Pausanias reports the case of images that were chained to restrain the god, and of images that were mistreated when it was necessary to punish him. The theologians of paganism took care to avoid that confusion, however: the idol was only the image, the representation, of the deity. They argued that worship and honor were not directed toward the image, but toward the deity of which it was the image (that argument was later adopted by Christian iconodules). All the same, they admitted that the gods inhabited the statues through their pneuma and that this inhabitation made them venerable and beneficient (Besancon 66).

Image Worship

Some people think anything old is better than anything in our age. It is often this way with image worship. Just because our fathers had statues of Baal in the Temple doesn’t mean it is ok, to put this in the context of Judah. Modern clergy who have never read Ramsey MacMullen or Furta Sacra should have no business commending old fables to people, but such is not the case, as this piece of nonsense from Anglican “canon theologian” and priest at Apostle’s Anglican in Knoxville, John Roop, shows.

In contrast to those who can’t cope with history comes John Calvin:

Now, the origin and root of this evil has been, that, instead of discerning Jesus Christ in his Word, his Sacraments, and his Spiritual Graces, the world has, according to its custom, amused itself with his clothes, shirts, and sheets, leaving thus the principal to follow the accessory. 

It did the same thing with the apostles, martyrs, and other saints, and, instead of observing their lives in order to imitate their examples, it directed all its attention to the preservation and admiration of their bones, shirts, sashes, caps, and other similar trash. 

I know well that there is a certain appearance of real devotion and zeal in the allegation, that the relics of Jesus Christ are preserved on account of the honour which is rendered to him, and in order the better to preserve his memory. But it is necessary to consider what St Paul says, that every service of God invented by man, whatever appearance of wisdom it may have, is nothing better than vanity and foolishness, if it has no other foundation than our own devising. Moreover, it is necessary to set the profit derived from it against the dangers with which it is fraught, and it will thus be found that, to have relics is a useless and frivolous thing, which will most probably gradually lead towards idolatry, because they cannot be handled and looked upon without being honoured, and in doing this men will very soon render them the honour which is due to Jesus Christ. In short, the desire for relics is never without superstition, and what is worse, it is usually the parent of idolatry. Every one admits that the reason why our Lord concealed the body of Moses, was that the people of Israel should not be guilty of worshipping it. Now, we may conclude that the act to be avoided with regard to the body of Moses must be equally shunned with regard to the bodies of all other saints, and for the same reason—because it is sin. But let us leave the saints, and consider what St Paul says of Jesus Christ himself, for he protests that he knew him not according to the flesh, but only after his resurrection, signifying by these words, that all that is carnal in Jesus Christ must be forgotten and put aside, and that we should employ and direct our whole affections to seek and possess him according to the spirit. Consequently the pretence that it is a good thing to have some memorials either of himself or of the saints, to stimulate our piety, is nothing but a cloak for indulging our foolish cravings which have no reasonable foundation; and should even this reason appear insufficient, it is openly repugnant to what the Holy Ghost has declared by the mouth of St Paul, and what can be said more? 

It is of no use to discuss the point whether it is right or wrong to have relics merely to keep them as precious objects, without worshipping them, because experience proves that this is never the case. 

It is true that St Ambrose, in speaking of Helena, the mother of the Emperor Constantine the Great, who sought with great trouble and expense for the cross of our Lord, says that she did not worship the wood, but the Lord who was suspended upon it. But it is a very rare thing, that a heart disposed to value any relics whatever should not become to a certain degree polluted by some superstition. 

I admit that people do not arrive at once at open idolatry, but they gradually advance from one abuse to another until they fall into this extremity, and, indeed, those who call themselves Christians have, in this respect, idolatrised as much as Pagans ever did. They have prostrated themselves, and knelt before relics, just as if they were worshipping God; they have burnt candles before them in sign of homage; they have placed their confidence in them, and have prayed to them, as if the virtue and the grace of God had entered into them. Now, if idolatry be nothing else than the transfer elsewhere of the honour which is due to God, can it be denied that this is idolatry? This cannot be excused by pretending that it was only the improper zeal of some idiots or foolish women, for it was a general custom approved by those who had the government of the church, and who had even placed the bones of the dead and other relics on the high altar, in the greatest and most prominent places, in order that they should be worshipped with more certainty. 

It is thus that the foolish fancy which people had at first for collecting relics, ended in this open abomination,—they not only turned from God, in order to amuse themselves with vain and corruptible things, but even went on to the execrable sacrilege of worshipping dead and insensible creatures, instead of the one living God. Now, as one evil never comes alone but is always followed by another, it thus happened that where people were seeking for relics, either of Jesus Christ or the saints, they became so blind that whatever name was imposed upon any rubbish presented to them, they received it without any examination or judgment; thus the bones of an ass or dog, which any hawker gave out to be the bones of a martyr, were devoutly received without any difficulty. This was the case with all of them, as will be shown hereafter.

Icons: St. Irenaeus discusses the Gnostic leader Carpocrates

St. Irenaeus discusses the Gnostic leader Carpocrates and his followers, and in so doing, hints at the origin of icons. He says of these heretics:

They style themselves Gnostics. They also possess images, some of them painted, and others formed from different kinds of material; while they maintain that a likeness of Christ was made by Pilate at that time when Jesus lived among them. They crown these images, and set them up along with the images of the philosophers of the world that is to say, with the images of Pythagoras, and Plato, and Aristotle, and the rest. They have also other modes of honoring these images, after the same manner of the Gentiles.

From Against Heresies, I.25.6

Icons: veneration of pagan images

One fundamental justification for “venerating” images as opposed to worshipping them (as if this is different) is that we are not really doing anything to the icon, but to the saint or God behind the icon. And yet, that is exactly what an ancient worshiper of Zeus would have said. Alain Besancon writes:

The biblical texts directly targeted popular idolatry, which confused God and the idol. For example, images were taken to the sites of battles and shared the arm’s fate. Pausanias reports the case of images that were chained to restrain the god, and of images that were mistreated when it was necessary to punish him. The theologians of paganism took care to avoid that confusion, however: the idol was only the image, the representation, of the deity. They argued that worship and honor were not directed toward the image, but toward the deity of which it was the image (that argument was later adopted by Christian iconodules). All the same, they admitted that the gods inhabited the statues through their pneuma and that this inhabitation made them venerable and beneficient.

Icons: cutting out the church

In her book The Formation of Christendom, Judith Herrin writes:

It was in their role as intercessors between man and God that the icons commanded particular devotion. Numerous legends of women, whose inability to conceive a child (or sometimes, more particularly, a son) was removed by prayers directed to icons, reflect an anxiety common to many medieval societies. St. Glykeria, the patron of Herakleia, promised a child to the parents of St. Elizabeth through the medium of her icon; Elizabeth was in due course dedicated to here in front of the same image. Similarly, a childless couple was blessed by the Virgin’s icon at Sozopolis, and the mother of St. Stephen had her longing for a son satisfied at the Blachernae shrine in Constantinople. For the cure of disease rather than infertility, the medical saints, Cosmas and Damian, Artemios, Gebronia, and others, were frequently invoked and their icons consulted. Incubation for one or more nights in their shrines—the pagan custom of sleeping close to the god—was rewarded by nocturnal visits of the saints (again, recognisable in features familiar from their images) and finally by cures. The oil burning in lamps suspended in front of icons also had curative power, as did the miraculous effluents that emerged from the Sozopolis icon or the relics of St. Euphemia in Chalcedon. Icons were also appreciated for their power to move: in the early seventh century, Patriarch Sophronios wrote down the ancient legend of St. Mary the Egyptian, who was allegedly converted by a picture of the Virgin preserved at Jerusalem in his time. (p. 308)

For women especially, possession of an icon permitted a most satisfying form of Christian devotion, independent of church liturgy, officials or environment. In the privacy of their homes, women set up their icons and poured out their distress, prayer, and gratitude to the figure, whom they came to know in a very personal way. The existence of portable icons with covers to protect them in transit—one as small as 20.1 x 11.6  cm.—confirms their use in this form of worship. These icons emphasized the holy person’s power of intercession and the personal nature of prayer, a relationship between the worshiper and worshipped that did away with any ecclesiastical intervention.


Icons: Jupiter to Christ

Thomas F. Mathews says that Christian icons “…grew out of a strong tradition of pagan panel paintings of the ancient gods…” (p. 179) Mathews points to some glaring examples of this transfer from paganism to eastern Christianity.

…a fresco painted directly on a house wall in Karanis to serve as a permanent icon shows the enthroned Isis nursing Harpocrates. The enthroned Mother of God with the Christ Child in her lap is one of the most popular of all Christian icon types, and three early examples are known. The Sinai icon transforms the wood throne of Isis into a massive golden throne with a high cushion, and it copies the engaging gaze of both mother and child. Out of modesty, however, it refrains from showing the naked breasts of the goddess. (182)

Icons of Christ himself also offer a remarkable demonstration of the authority of pagan sacred images. Among the sixth-century icons at Sinai, three very different types of Christ’s face can be observed: a young-man type with a rather triangular head, short hair reaching only to the ears and a short beard; an old-man type with long white hair and pointed beard; and the Blessing Christ, commonly called the Pantocrator type, first witnessed in the famous Sinai icon. It is this last type, adapted in coinage and monumental mosaics, that eventually came to predominate, determining our notion of the savior down to modern times. Here a Christ with broad forehead and heavy neck wears a great mass of dark hair and a full but fairly short beard. The potency of this type had nothing to do with its portrait accuracy; it was more potent because of its divine pagan associations with the father of the gods.

In Antiquity, the Jupiter facial type was adopted by a number of the most potent male gods, including Neptune, Asclepius, Serapis, and Suchos. The Getty Museum panel of Serapis illustrates this borrowing. Especially cultivated in Alexandria, where his Serapeum was one of the greatest shrines of the ancient world, Serapis united in himself the underworld powers of Osiris with the healing powers of Asclepius. His head is given the broad bow and copious hair of Jupiter; he wears a wreath of laurel and balances a modius or grain measure, on his head. […]

Similarly, Christians were conscious of the connection of some of their images of Christ with Jupiter, and they saw this as a danger. In the time of Bishop Gennadius of Constantinople (458—71) “a painter who dared to paint the Savior in the likeness of Zeus” found his hand withered. The bishop healed him and instructed him that “the other form of Christ, that is the one with short, frizzy hair, is the more authentic.” Historically, Gennadius was probably closer to the truth as far as first century hair styles were concerned, but the Jupiter type came to win out because it was the more forceful. Christ stole the look of the gods with whom he was in competition (pages 183—186).

What Hemingway said to read

Arnold Samuelson was a young man who met Hemingway and ended up working on his boat for a year. Hemingway told him to read these books in order to be a writer:

“Here’s a list of books any writer should have read as a part of his education,” he said, handing me the following list:
Stephen Crane – The Blue Hotel, The Open Boat.
The Red and the Black- By Stendhal
Of Human Bondage – Somerset Maugham
Madame Bovary- Gustave Flaubert
Dubliners – James Joyce
Anna Karenina- Tolstoy
War and Peace – Tolstoy
Buddenbrooks – Thomas Mann
Hail and Farewell – George Moore
Brothers Karamazoff – Doestoevsky
Wuthering Heights-Emily Bronte
Far Away and Long Ago-W. H. Hudson
The American-Henry James.
Oxford Book of English Verse-
The Enormous Room-E. E. Cummings.

“If you haven’t read these, you just aren’t educated. They represent different types of writing. Some may bore you, others might inspire you and others are so beautifully written they’ll make you it’s hopeless for you to try to write.

NASFAT Nigeria

Matthew McNaught describes a Nigerian Islamic movement that imitates African Pentecostal Christianity:

NASFAT targeted the professional class and those aspiring towards it, founding a university, running networking groups, and offering management courses presenting the Prophet Muhammad as an exemplary businessman. The movement encouraged the participation of women, some of whom ascended to leadership roles. NASFAT-linked singers released upbeat songs invoking God and Muhammad, closer in style to gospel music than the austere sonorities of qur’anic recitation. The organization held all-night prayer meetings and sold booklets containing ‘prayer points’ which promised protection from evil spirits. The principal weekly gathering of the faithful took place not on a Friday but a Sunday, to guard against the twin temptations of idleness and exuberant Christianity. The gathering was known as asalatu, from the Arabic for ‘prayer’, but here, too, some believers took their cue from their Pentecostal brothers and sisters, referring to the meeting as a ‘prayer crusade.’

Immanuel by Matthew McNaught