Monday, December 31, 2018

Time is . . .

On the Seventh Day of Christmas, we come to New Year’s Eve when people often think about time, taking stock of the use they have made of their time in the past year and contemplating a better use of it in the year to come.

Fill in the blank: Time is _________.

I expect most Americans would automatically answer, "Time is money." But Jesus and subsequent Christian tradition fill in the blank differently.

In Dante’s Purgatorio, those who are being purged of their sloth exhort one another with:

Faster! Faster! We have no time to waste, for time is love.
Try to do good, that grace may bloom again.
– ‘Purgatorio’, Canto XVIII, 103 – 105

To waste time is to waste the opportunity to love. That, in brief, is the sin of sloth.

We are reminded during this season that Love came down at Christmas:

Love came down at Christmas,
Love all lovely, Love Divine,
Love was born at Christmas,
Star and Angels gave the sign.
Worship we the Godhead,
Love Incarnate, Love Divine,
Worship we our Jesus,
But wherewith for sacred sign?
Love shall be our token,
Love be yours and love be mine,
Love to God and all men,
Love for plea and gift and sign.
– Christina Rossetti (1830-1894)

It is the fundamental message of Christianity, however poorly it has been lived by actual Christians.

Jesus said, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:34-35).

We have no time to waste. In the coming year, let us commit ourselves to lives that conform to the Love that came down at Christmas to reveal to us that at the heart of everything is God who is Love (1 John 4:7-21)

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Like Fire in Iron

"And the Word became flesh . . ." (John 1:14). How can the Godhead be in the flesh? And why? For the Sixth Day of Christmas, here is Basil of Caesarea’s (330-379) answer:

God is on earth, God is among us, not now as lawgiver–there is no fire, no trumpet blast, no smoke-wreathed mountain, dense cloud, or storm to terrify, whoever hears him–but as one gently and kindly conversing in a human body with his fellow men and women. God is in the flesh. Now he is not acting intermittently as he did through the prophets. He is bringing back to himself the whole human race, which he has taken possession of and united to himself. By his flesh he has made the human race his own kin.

But how can glory come to all through only one? How can the Godhead be in the flesh? In the same way as fire can be in iron: not by moving from place to place but by the one imparting to the other its own properties. Fire does not speed toward iron, but without itself undergoing any change it causes the iron to share in its own natural attributes. The fire is not diminished and yet it completely fills whatever shares in its nature. So it is also with God the Word. He did not relinquish his own nature and yet he dwelt among us. He did not undergo any change and yet the Word became flesh. Earth received him from heaven, yet heaven as not deserted by him who holds the universe in being.

Let us strive to comprehend the mystery. The reason God is in the flesh is to kill the death that lurks there. As diseases are cured by medicines assimilated by the body, and as darkness in a house is dispelled by the coming of light, so death, which held sway over human nature, is done away with the coming of God. And as ice formed on water covers its surface as long as night and darkness last but melts under the warmth of the sun, so death reigned until the coming of Christ; but when the grace of God our savior appeared and the Sun of Justice rose, death was swallowed up in victory, unable to bear the presence of true life. How great is God’s goodness, how deep his love for us.
– ‘Homily on Christ’s Ancestry’

Saturday, December 29, 2018

The Vulnerable Love of God

Painting from St. Mary's Chapel, Wautoma, Wisconsin
On the Fifth Day of Christmas, something from William Placher on the vulnerable love of God incarnated in Jesus:

To read the biblical narratives is to encounter a God who is, first of all, love (1 John 4:8). Love involves a willingness to put oneself at risk, and God is in fact vulnerable in love, vulnerable even to great suffering. God’s self-revelation is Jesus Christ, and, as readers encounter him in the biblical stories, he wanders with nowhere to place his head, washes the feet of his disciples like a servant, and suffers and dies on a cross–condemned by the authorities of his time, undergoing great pain, “despised and rejected by others; a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity” (Isaiah 53:3). Just this Jesus is the human face of God, not merely a messenger or a prophet but God’s own self come as self-revelation to humankind. If God becomes human in just this way, moreover, then that tells us something of how we might seek our own fullest humanity–not in quests of power and wealth and fame but in service, solidarity with the despised and rejected, and willingness to be vulnerable in love.
– ‘Narratives of a Vulnerable God’

Friday, December 28, 2018

Shaping imaginative and moral currents

On the Fourth Day of Christmas is the Feast of the Holy Innocents. We are reminded that every person, however innocent–or not–is holy. This is a notion that came alive with the coming of Jesus. And, in the light of Jesus, the suffering of any person cannot be excused or ignored. 

Christ was born into a society we can hardly imagine . . . in which any notion of the sanctity of every life was completely alien; some were born only to die–handicapped children, girl children in some places, exposed on hillsides to starve or freeze; slaves who existed to serve every passing desire of their masters and mistresses; outsiders, foreigners, who were not really human; gladiators whose job it was to kill or be killed for public amusement. It’s not– let us be clear–that human behaviour has improved so spectacularly since the first Christmas that we can look back on these atrocities with complacency. A country with our current rates of abortion cannot afford to rest on it ethical laurels; there is effective slavery among the poorest of our world; civilized societies have started flirting once again with the idea that torture might be acceptable. It is not that we have left Roman-style inhumanity entirely behind; what has changed is that no-one now could possibly take these things for granted without coming up against a challenge from most of the main imaginative and moral currents [indelibly shaped as they are by the memory of Jesus] of our Western and Middle Eastern cultural history.
– Rowan Williams, ‘Choose Life, Christmas and Easter Sermons in Canterbury Cathedral

Thursday, December 27, 2018

The fire in the equations

Window from St. Peter, Sheboygan Falls, Wisconsin

On the Third Day of Christmas

Stephen Hawking:
Even if there is only one possible unified theory, it is just a set of rules and equations. What is it that breathes fire into the equations and makes a universe for them to describe? The usual approach of science of constructing a mathematical model cannot answer the questions of why there should be a universe for the model to describe. Why does the universe go to all the bother of existing?
– ‘A Brief History of Time’

Rowan Williams:
When we're invited into the stable to see the child, it's really being invited into the engine room [of the universe]. This is how God works; this is how God is. The entire system of the universe, 'the fire in the equations' contained in this small bundle of shivering flesh.

The universe lives by a love that refuses to bully us or force us, the love of the cradle and the cross.

[Christmas] tells us exactly what Good Friday and Easter tell us: that God fulfils what he wants to do by emptying himself of his own life, giving away all that he is in love.

Our life as Christians, our obligations, our morality, do not rest on commands alone, but on the fact that God has given us something of his own life. We are caught up in his giving, in his creative self-sacrifice.
– ‘Choose Life, Christmas and Easter Sermons in Canterbury Cathedral’

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

At the back of our own heart

On the Second Day of Christmas, some thoughts on Christmas from G. K. Chesterton (1874-1936):
No other birth of a god or childhood of a sage seems to us to be Christmas or anything like Christmas. It is either too cold or too frivolous, or too formal and classical, or too simple and savage, or too occult and complicated. Not one of us, whatever his opinions, would ever go to such a scene with the sense that he was going home. He might admire it because it was poetical, or because it was philosophical, or any number of other things in separation; but not because it was itself. The truth is that there is a quite peculiar and individual character about the hold of this story on human nature; it is not in its psychological substance at all like a mere legend or the life of a great man. . . . It does not exactly work outwards, adventurously, to the wonders to be found at the ends of the earth. It is rather something that surprises us from behind, from the hidden and personal part of our being. . . . It is rather as if a man had found an inner room in the very heart of his own house, which he had never suspected; and seen a light from within. It is as if he found something at the back of his own heart that betrayed him into goodness.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

The promise of our quickening

On the First day of Christmas, a poem by Scott Cairns:

Christmas Green

Just now the earth recalls His stunning visitation. Now
the earth and scattered habitants attend to what is possible:
that He of a morning entered this, our meagered circumstance,
and so relit the fuse igniting life in them,
igniting life in all the dim surround.
And look, the earth adopts a kindly affect. Look,
we almost see our long estrangement from it overcome.
The air is scented with the prayer of pines, the earth is softened
for our brief embrace, the fuse continues bearing to all elements
a curative despite the grave, and here within our winter this,
the rising pulse, bears still the promise of our quickening.

(Brewster, Mass: Paraclete Press, 2006 pp.136.)

Friday, December 7, 2018

St. Ambrose and the Emperor

In the year 390, Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, sent a letter to one of his parishioners. Ambrose was convinced that this parishioner had committed a grievous and public sin. In his letter, Ambrose told the parishioner that until he repented publicly he would not be allowed to receive Communion. Ambrose had excommunicated him. But this was no ordinary church member. It was Theodosius, emperor of the Roman Empire. 

There had been a riot in the Greek city of Thessalonica and one of Theodosius' officials had been murdered. In response, Theodosius had done what emperors always do. He sent in the army to teach the people of Thessalonica, and by extension the rest of the empire, a lesson. Some 7,000 people – men, women, and children – were killed, the vast majority of whom had had nothing to do with the death of the official. 

Ambrose knew that the emperor's actions needed to be condemned even if it meant the very real possibility of his being sent to prison or killed. Emperors don't usually like to be challenged. In addition, Ambrose had reason to be favorably inclined to Theodosius as a political ally since he had made Christianity the official faith of the Empire. It was not only dangerous, but also politically inexpedient for Ambrose to confront Theodosius. He did it anyway. Against all odds, Emperor Theodosius repented and publicly sought absolution from his bishop.

I thank God for Ambrose's example of courage and integrity.

 After all, he was the Emperor who had made Christianity the official faith of the Empire. Were there theologians or evangelists around to reassure him that his use of force was necessary and justified for the law and order of the Empire? Were there defenders of the Emperor who argued that “sometimes you put your Christian values on pause to get the work done”? After all, you don’t want “a Sunday School teacher or pastor” running the empire. You shouldn't "look to the teachings of Jesus for what my political beliefs should be.” You don’t “want some meek and mild leader or somebody who's going to turn the other cheek.” You want “the meanest, toughest SOB you can find to protect the nation.” 

That was not Ambrose's take. I am thankful that Ambrose was not willing to compromise his integrity as a follower of Jesus. I am grateful that he was no political lackey or sycophant. I am glad he was willing to stand for the Gospel and call the most powerful and dangerous member of his congregation to account for failing to lead and serve in a Christlike manner. And I am grateful that, as a Christian, Theodosius knew what it meant to ask for God's forgiveness and repented.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Out of the Whirlwind, the Wild God Speaks

So . . . it turns out God is not Alexa. Or Siri. Or Google. Still, less Santa Claus of you Fairy Godmother. Job discovered, as did James and John, that God is a much deeper mystery than they were prepared for. And wilder.

Job wanted answers. A lot had gone wrong in his life. He wanted to know what God was up to in the midst of it all. But, God did not answer Job’s questions the way he wanted. Instead he responds with questions of his own. And the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind.

When the LORD answers Job out of the whirlwind, it is not some wispy dust devil, but the raw, wild power of a tornado. I expect the hairs on the back of Job’s neck stiffened and his skin pimpled with the feel of the uncanny wildness of God’s presence. The “fear of the LORD” was no puzzling abstraction. It is no warm, fuzzy, domesticated God who answers Job’s lament, but the wild God of the wild creatures of this wild creation. And, notoriously, he doesn’t so much answer Job’s lament as put that lament in its proper, larger context. “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?” Or “when the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?”Have you entered into the springs of the sea, or walked in the recesses of the deep?”Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades, or loose the cords of Orion?” In effect God’s response to Job suggests that Job is like an eight-year old child throwing a temper tantrum demanding that a scientist explain quantum physics. Even if she wanted to, the child could not understand. The world, including the suffering it contains, is a wild place. It is bigger and wilder and more mysterious than Job can fathom.

In creating the wild world in which we live, God makes space for us and for all creation to be free. Maybe it is not possible for God to create beings in the image of God who are not free because God is free. That means God also makes space for us to make a mess of it, to make a mess of one another, to make a mess of ourselves. And free beings created in the image of God need to be placed in the context of a creation that is also in some sense free. That means God allows creation to do it thing without interfering to make sure things turn out the way we would like. It is a big, wild world. Wild as we sometimes are, the world is bigger and wilder. And Job learns that God is wilder, still.

This does not address Job’s curiosity (or ours) about the way things go – why do bad things happen to good people? or, just as troubling, why do good things seem to happen to bad people? Why does God have to make so much space for freedom? Why does God tolerate so much suffering and injustice? Why has God created such a world? If God is at the heart of it all this wildness – the Creator and Sustainer – God is not off the hook for all the suffering all that wild freedom entails.

Which is, of course, the point of the gospel. On the cross, God himself is on the hook. Out of the whirlwind and onto the cross, God speaks a Word into this wild world. God enters into the wildness of the world God has created. Wild as it is, God is wilder. The Lion of Judah, as C. S. Lewis reminds us in the character of Aslan, is not a tame lion. Good, but not safe. But, when that wild Lion appears in human history it as the Lamb of God given for the ransom of many. This is the deeper, unsettling mystery of God’s wildness. God’s wildness is revealed most fully in the apparent weakness of gentleness, humble servant-hood, and self-sacrificial love.

That’s the bit John and James seemed not to get. They asked Jesus to grant them places of honor on his right and left hands. As God did with Job, Jesus responded with questions of his own. “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” Are you able to embrace the apparent weakness of gentleness, humble servant-hood, and self-sacrificial love that is my way? It is in its way, a wild path.

The wild Lamb enters into our wildness to be slaughtered. On the cross, God in Christ freely takes on the wild pain and suffering of the world. The world’s passion becomes Christ’s passion. God transforms that passion into the promise of resurrection. There is the promise that we too will be transformed – the suffering of the world will not be lost, but gathered up and transformed in resurrection. By his wounds, we will be healed. And so will be the rest of creation which eagerly awaits being set free from its bondage to futility and decay. 

We live in a world of great suffering and great injustice. As Job knew, it can be a hard place to live. It can be a hard place to believe in God – especially the generic God of human imagination. But the God we know in Jesus Christ is not a God of our own imagining. The God we know is the God of the whirlwind and the cross. French poet, Paul Caudel, wrote, “Jesus did not come to remove suffering, or to explain it away. He came to fill it with His presence.” Jesus does not explain suffering. He fills it with his wild presence and the promise of its transformation. However wild the world might be, however wild our own hearts and lives might be, Jesus is wilder still.

God does not always give us what we want. Or answer all our questions. But, a God wild enough to create and sustain such a world as ours and wild enough to pour his love out on the hard wood of the cross is able to evoke our wonder, love, and praise. And out of the wild heart of God, Jesus calls us to follow in the wild way of self-sacrificial love.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

The medicine of immortality

“[The Bread of Communion] is the medicine of immortality and the antidote to prevent us from dying but which causes that we should live forever in Jesus Christ.”
– Ignatius of Antioch (35-108), 'Letter to the Ephesians 20'

Not a placebo. More like penicillin to treat the selfishness and unlove that infects our sin-sick souls unto death. Or, given the radical and malignant nature of our spiritual condition, maybe it is sometimes like chemo-therapy. Not to be taken lightly, but in hope of remission and new life and new love. In any event, united to Jesus Christ through faith and the Sacraments, there is hope of a cure for what ails us.

It also important to note that the Eucharist is an entry into Mystery and thus greater than any single metaphor. It is also the tangible 'kiss' of God that awakens us to new life, new love, and new hope. It is the potion that transforms us from beings warped by sin to beings of spiritual grace and beauty. It is the needle and thread that sews us back together despite the sin that rips and tears us apart. And much, much more.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

If Necessary Use Words Are Necessary

Today is the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi (1181-1226), the much-loved, but often sentimentalized and misrepresented saint. An example of that misrepresentation is the phrase, "Preach the gospel everywhere; if necessary use words," which is often ascribed to Francis. It's a popular phrase. The problem is, there is no evidence Francis said it.

Of course, the wisdom of that particular saying does not depend upon its source. And I do not think it is without wisdom. Many of us have been on the receiving end of words spoken in the name of the gospel by someone whose life or attitude did not "preach" the gospel. Our lives must bear witness to the good news of Jesus before our words about that good news can make any sense. Francis did encourage Christians “to shine as an example to others.” But to suggest that the gospel can be preached without using words is deceptive. We ought to be able to tell the Story that makes the story of our lives make sense. That requires words as well as actions. Francis did in fact write, “Being the servant of all, I am bound to serve all and to administer the fragrant words of my Lord.” (Letter to the Faithful, Second Version, from Francis and Clare, The Complete Works, p. 67 )

If we use this saying attributed to St. Francis as an excuse to never speak words of the gospel to others, it is rather like saying, “Be politically active, if necessary use words.” Or, as one wag has it, "Feed the hungry; if necessary use food." And if we attribute only this saying to Francis, we will misrepresent the fact that he, himself, actually used words – and used them boldly – to preach the gospel.

Here is a story from the life of Francis of Assisi:

The people of Gubbio, a town north of Assisi, were troubled by a huge wolf that attacked not only animals but people, so that the men had to arm themselves before going outside the town walls. They felt as if Gubbio were under siege.

Francis decided to help, though the local people, fearing for his life, tried to dissuade him. What chance could an unarmed man have against a wild animal with no conscience? But according to the Fioretti, the principal collection of stories of the saint’s life,

Francis placed his hope in the Lord Jesus Christ, master of all creatures. Protected neither by shield or helmet, only arming himself with the sign of the Cross, he bravely set out of the town with his companion, putting his faith in the Lord who makes those who believe in him walk without injury on an asp… and trample not merely on a wolf but even a lion and a dragon.

Some local peasants followed the two brothers, keeping a safe distance. Finally the wolf saw Francis and came running, as if to attack him. The story continues:

The saint made the sign of the Cross, and the power of God… stopped the wolf, making it slow down and close its cruel mouth. Then Francis called to it, “Brother Wolf, in the name of Jesus Christ, I order you not to hurt me or anyone.”

The wolf then came close to Francis, lowered its head and then lay down at his feet as though it had become a lamb. Francis then censured the wolf for its former cruelties, especially for killing human beings made in the image of God, thus making a whole town into its deadly enemy.

“But, Brother Wolf, I want to make peace between you and them, so that they will not be harmed by you any more, and after they have forgiven you your past crimes, neither men nor dogs will pursue you anymore.”

The wolf responded with gestures of submission “showing that it willingly accepted what the saint had said and would observe it.”

Francis promised the wolf that the people of Gubbio would henceforth “give you food every day as long as you shall live, so that you will never again suffer hunger.” In return, the wolf had to give up attacking both animal and man. “And as Saint Francis held out his hand to receive the pledge, the wolf also raised its front paw and meekly and gently put it in Saint Francis’s hand as a sign that it had given its pledge.”

Francis led the wolf back into Gubbio, where the people of the town met them in the market square. Here Francis preached a sermon in which he said calamities were permitted by God because of our sins and that the fires of hell are far worse than the jaws of a wolf, which can only kill the body. He called on the people to do penance in order to be “free from the wolf in this world and from the devouring fire of hell in the next world.” He assured them that the wolf standing at his side would now live in peace with them, but that they were obliged to feed him every day. He pledged himself as “bondsman for Brother Wolf.”
(as told by Jim Forest in The Ladder of the Beatitudes, p. 116-117)

May we, like Francis, live in the way of Jesus such that we shine as an example to others. But, may we also, like Francis, administer the fragrant words of our Lord. Francis knew that words are necessary.

Celebrant           Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?

People                I will, with God's help.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Centered on Jesus VI: The Impossibility of Religious Pluralism

In the 20th century, there was a great religious leader who also became a great political leader. After some time in exile, he returned to lead his people as they threw off their oppressors and the foreign forces that threatened their cultural integrity. When he died, the whole nation was frantic with grief. The leader's name? It could be Mahatma Gandhi, the spiritual and political founder of modern India. But, Ayatollah Khomeini, the spiritual and political father of the current Iranian theocracy, also fits the profile. He remains in very high esteem, not only in Iran, but throughout the Muslim world.

Can we say that both these men had equally valid and appealing grasps on the nature of the divine and what it means to be human? Or that either's guess was as good as the other's when it came to pointing to the ineffable, the sacred or the holy? Or their vision of morality and the good life? Will we not inevitably credit one more than the other? On what basis? Their respective effects on American foreign policy? The degree to which their words and actions comport with certain intellectual currents in the West? Our individual tastes?

The Mahatma or the Ayatollah. If we prefer one over the other, it will be based on something. Nobody actually in practice accords all religions and all religious teaching equal respect. Everyone uses some standard by which to measure their merits – our cultural/political/class/national prejudices and convictions etc. There is a presumed superiority in whatever standard is used and however conscious or unconscious its application. Consciously or unconsciously, something will be the measure. Christians will prefer the one whose teaching and public behavior most reflected the life and teaching of Jesus Christ.

The earliest Christian creed was "Jesus is Lord," i.e., Jesus is the measure of all things. It had to be declared. It had to be lived. It had to be, if it came to it, died for. Because it was true. If Jesus was just one among many spirit persons, even though a personal favorite, he could not – cannot – be Lord. And there would be little point in paying his life and death any more attention than that of Spartacus, Socrates or Julius Caesar. Nor would there be any conflict between worshiping Jesus and worshiping Caesar (or any nation or flag). To claim Jesus as Lord means that everything else – personal preferences, familial traditions, political ideologies, national loyalties, other religious teachings – everything is measured in light of what we know of God and life in light of the life, teaching, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

It is no more presumptuous for Christians to say that we measure Gandhi and Khomeini and every other teacher or idea against the example of Jesus Christ because he is the definitive revelation of the divine-human drama than it is to use something else as the measure.

This does not mean that there is no truth or wisdom to be learned elsewhere. One can hold emphatically that Jesus is uniquely Lord and still believe that the Holy Spirit sings in and through the hearts and scriptures of those who do not know him as Lord. Listening carefully and respectfully to their wisdom can be edifying. Nor, for the purposes of this essay, does it mean that affirming Jesus as Lord necessarily means that those who do not are automatically destined for perdition. Nor does it mean that one cannot affirm Jesus as Lord and also embrace and defend the benefits of living respectfully in a pluralistic society. But, we lose something essential when we abandon the scandal of particularity that is the declaration that Jesus is Lord. With reverence. With gentleness. With humility. With forbearance. But, hold to it we must.

I am concerned that in our reaction to simplistic, heavy-handed fundamentalism, we not slip into a simplistic pluralism that has more to do with the intellectual agnosticism of modernity than with Christian witness to the mystery of God. As Stephen Prothero has pointed out, such pluralism is not only disingenuous and misleading. It is disrespectful of the otherness of the other. It is also dangerous.

Se also:

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Charles Grafton: Evangelical at heart, while in belief a liberal Catholic


By the time he was elected 2nd bishop of Fond du Lac in 1888, Charles Grafton was already well known as an advocate a Catholic Anglicanism. He had for 16 years been rector of the Church of the Advent, Boston, a leading Anglo-Catholic parish in the Episcopal Church. As such he was suspect in the minds of many and there was some doubt about his election being confirmed by other bishops. Another well know Anglo-Catholic, James DeKoven, had twice been elected bishop and twice failed to receive sufficient consents. But it turned out Grafton had influential supporters. As he reflected in his autobiography,

Perhaps the confirmation of my election was owing largely to the action of Dr. [Alonzo] Potter, the Bishop of New York. . . [Bishop Potter] seemed best to understand my position of being an Evangelical at heart, while in belief a liberal Catholic.[i]

“Evangelical at heart, while in belief a liberal Catholic.” I am intrigued by that description. It is an embrace of the three traditional parties of Anglican comprehensiveness.

Bishop Grafton celebrated that comprehensiveness and embodied it in himself. He belonged to the High Church Catholic heritage of Anglicanism and could be quite partisan in advocating for that heritage. But, some of the ways he came at theology would have gotten labeled as a Liberal. And he did have something of an Evangelical bent.

Each of those terms calls for some explanation. But the combination, understood as they apply to Bishop Grafton, could also be used more or less to refer to other Anglican worthies of the 20th century: Francis Hall, Charles Gore, Evelyn Underhill, William Temple, C. S. Lewis, Charles Williams, Dorothy Sayers, Autin Farrer, Michael Ramsey. And we might add contemporary folk like John Milbank, Stanley Hauerwas, Sarah Coakley, and Rowan Williams.  Though there are differences among them, each of these of these is fundamentally Catholic in orientation while also being informed by some Liberal and Evangelical approaches to faith. Along with Bishop Grafton, they are representative of what former Archbishop of the Anglican Province of Southern Africa, Njongonkulu Ndungane, called “The Heartland of Anglicanism.”

I want to look at each of these terms, Catholic, Liberal, and Evangelical as they applied – and didn’t – to Bishop Grafton. I’ll end with some suggestions about how they might guide us living a little over a hundred after his death.


In the phrase “Evangelical at heart, while in belief a liberal Catholic,” “Catholic” is the predicate noun and indicates Grafton’s primary identity. He was influenced by the Anglo-Catholic movement, particularly Edward Pusey, about whom he wrote a short book, Pusey and the Church Revival. Whatever else he was and however he might qualify it, Bishop Grafton was first and foremost an Anglican Catholic. He was convinced that the Anglican tradition was a legitimate representation of the Catholic faith. He wrote a book, The Lineage of the American Catholic Church, making the case for that conviction.

But, it is important to note what he did not mean by “Catholic.” He makes it very clear in just about everything else that he wrote that by “Catholic”, he did not mean Roman Catholic. While, he could on occasion write appreciatively of the Roman Catholic Church, it is much more common to find him writing quite polemically against it.

The historical context is important here. There were three significant events in the Roman Catholic Church in Grafton’s lifetime about which he offers critical comment.

The first came in 1854 when Grafton was a young man. Pope Pius IX declared the Immaculate Conception of Mary to be a dogma of the church. Later, as bishop, Grafton was critical of this doctrinal novelty and of Roman Catholic Marian devotion generally.

A few years later, under the same pope, Vatican I was held from 1869-1870. That Council declared the dogma of Papal Infallibility. Bishop Grafton wrote frequently and at length refuting the notion of Papal infallibility and indeed against the very office of the pope. In a letter to the Oneida, he wrote,

“God may save a Roman Catholic, but we believe He hates the papacy as a worldly thing.”[ii]

He considered both the Immaculate Conception and Papal Infallibility to be theological innovations and they offended his sense of Catholic heritage and his commitment to tradition. In his mind insisting on such novel teachings made the Roman church schismatic.

Then, in 1896, Pope Leo XIII issued Apostolicae Curae, a papal bull declaring all Anglican ordinations to be "absolutely null and utterly void." This was particularly offensive to Grafton who argued that it was just more proof that popes were not infallible given that Anglicans knew first hand that their ordinations, and thus their sacraments, were valid.

Bishop Grafton was so confident in the validity of Anglican orders and sacraments and so suspicious of Rome, he could warn,

“. . .  it is a very great sin for any Churchman to leave their own Church, where they have the true Faith and Sacraments, and join the Roman Church” and those who do so “run great risks of their final salvation.[iii]

So, if not Roman Catholic, what did Bishop Grafton mean when he described himself as Catholic?

Part of what the bishop meant by Catholic was the conviction that the Church was founded by Jesus and, as the body of Christ in history, is animated by his Spirit. Grafton wrote,

Christ left not His revelation to be evidenced by manuscripts alone. Christianity came into the world as an institution. This institution is a living organism, in which the Holy Spirit dwells and through which He acts and speaks. This organism has from the first declared that on the third day Christ rose from the dead. It does this to-day, not only by her creeds, but by her sacraments.[iv]

And elsewhere,

The Church is not a mere aggregation of believers, but is an organism welded into oneness by the indwelling Spirit.[v]

Therefore, being a Christian is not just about having a personal relationship with Jesus, it is necessary to be incorporated into his Church.

God speaks to us through His Church. We all need two conversions. We need to be converted from sin and take Christ for our Saviour, and to be converted to the Church and have her for our Mother. If a person has only experienced one of these operations he is only a half converted man.[vi]

Within the Church there is an ethos that demonstrates the presence Christ and the Spirit in the Church and the shapes the life of the faithful. For Grafton, this ethos included particularly Catholic doctrines but also habits and practices that marked and formed the faithful. Key elements of the Catholic Church for Grafton were Apostolic Succession, the thee sacred orders of the ministry, baptismal regeneration, the Real Presence of Christ in the bread and wine of Communion, Eucharistic adoration, the importance and value of sacredotal confession, fasting, daily prayer, and liturgy incorporating whatever vestments, candles, incense, and other aspects of ritual as enable the Church’s ability to worship God in the beauty of holiness and the holiness of beauty.

Significantly, as a young man, Grafton was a founding member of the religious order, The Society of Saint John the Evangelist. Later, he co-founded the Sisterhood of the Holy Nativity. After becoming bishop, he moved the sisters to Fond du Lac.

As a Catholic, Grafton emphasized the role of tradition in discerning Christian truth more than say, scripture, or reason. In this regard he appeals frequently to the “Vincentian Rule”:

In determining what is Catholic doctrine and practice, two principles in the application of the famous rule, "Quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus," "what always, what everywhere, what by everyone,” must ever be kept in mind.[vii]

This emphasis on the Vincentian Rule led Bishop Grafton to be fundamentally opposed to the idea of theological innovation. He appeals again and again to the consensus of the early church Fathers and Councils. This is an appeal that is not just Catholic, but very Anglican.

But, Grafton makes a distinction between the Vincentian rule applied to doctrine and applied to practice.

The Church is a living Body. She has a corporate life. As the Bride of Christ, she repeats in her life the different phases of her Lord's Life. She has her hidden life, her missionary and public life, her disunited, rent, and crucified life when all her bones are out of joint. She has her glorified life. She is drawn consequently in special degrees in her devotions, sometimes to one Mystery of her dear Lord and sometimes to another.

The Church has also met the different phases of the world's attack by adaptations in her discipline, in changes in her worship, and by forging new spiritual weapons of her own.

It has been asked whether St. Vincent's rule applies to Practice as well as Doctrine. It is applicable only to doctrine and to such practices as involve doctrine. St. Vincent says, "which ancient consent of the holy Fathers is with great care to be investigated and followed by us, not in all the lesser questions of the Divine Law, but only or at any rate principally in the Rule of Faith."[viii]

More surprisingly, Bishop Grafton adds experience to the Vincentian Rule as a test of the Church’s teaching:

We have ventured to add to Vincent's rule one further test: the practical one of Christian Experience. What, we may ask ourselves, does the Christian Experience or Christian Consciousness bear witness to in any matter?[ix]

The bishop is clear that he does not mean each individual should presume to be guided by his or her private experience. He meant corporate experience. Still, it is an unexpected addition to the Vincention Rule. He adds this,

Now there are those whose natural conservative tendency of mind leads them with St. Vincent to make their appeal to Holy Scripture and the Authority of the Church. There are others who naturally turn more to the practical results of Christianity as seen in conduct and character, and rest their belief on the approval of Reason and Conscience and the certification of truth by the Voice within. Then there are our Evangelical brethren who, while loyal to the Prayer Book, make the Word the lantern to their feet, and the indwelling Holy Spirit its interpreter. But I trust we may see that these three modes are not exclusive of one another, but may walk as friends peacefully together, lending to each other a mutual support. May they make a three-fold cord, the less easily broken because the strands somewhat differ.[x]

As a Catholic, Bishop Grafton affirmed the centrality of the Church, her faith declared in the formularies of the early Church councils, her sacramental system as a means of grace, and then importance ceremonial in her worship. But, he was no mere traditionalist. He was also, particularly for his time, quite open and even liberal.


Charles Grafton was fundamentally Catholic. But, he allows that he was something of a Liberal Catholic. What did he mean by that?

What he didn’t mean was an acceptance of the Liberal Protestantism which developed during his lifetime in the works of German theologians like Friedrich Schleiermacher, Ernst Troeltch, and Adolf von Harnack, or those English and American theologians who echoed them. These theologians embraced modern scientific method and literary criticism to engage the Bible and faith. But, they also tended to embrace a naturalistic rejection of the miraculous and a rejection of dogma in favor a supposed simple ethic of Jesus unvarnished with the overlay of doctrine.

Bishop Grafton believed that this sort of liberal or modernist approach was a serious error. In a letter to the editor of an Evangelical Episcopal periodical, The Southern Churchman, he wrote,

We Churchmen are in the presence of a great struggle with radical unbelief in our own body.

Living in Boston as I did for many years, I came in much contact with the Broads and their school of thought. They do not believe in the "historical" Christ, but in the "essential" Christ, which is a being of their own construction. The miracles of our Lord are explained [away] .  .  .These Broach Churchmen are not sound on the deity of Christ, and reject as unessential or unproven his His Virgin Birth and the resurrection of his crucified body. To them the sacrifice on Calvary has lost its vicarious, atoning character.[xi]

Bishop Grafton rejected this Broad Church or Liberal approach to Christian faith as little more than “a respectable expression of growing disbelief. It was religion made palatable to educated ungodliness.”[xii]

His convictions about Catholic Christianity made him instinctively conservative theologically,

We have thus an answer to the popular saying that we are living in an age of enlightenment and new discoveries and must not be tied to old truths. The answer is this: A distinction must be observed between revealed truth and all other truth. The latter depends for its progress on observation and experiment. The longer the world lasts the more time it will have to make observations and experiments, and so the wiser it will grow. But it is different with the truth revealed in Christ. It was given in Him, in its completeness, and once for all. While therefore it is no objection in any other class of truth, that a proposed theory is new or destructive of what has gone before, in respect of Christian truth, it is an obvious axiom that what is new is necessarily false.[xiii]

This conservatism also showed up in his engagement with some of the ethical debates of his day. Leading up to the discussion regarding the possible relaxing of the church’s teaching on the remarriage of divorced at General Convention of 1904, the bishop took a rather unyieldingly conservative position,

The question of marriage is perhaps the most important. The only argument of worth in favor of allowing the innocent party to re-marry in a case of divorce, is to be found in a saying of our Lord. But scholars have pronounced this text to be so uncertain that we cannot safely base an argument upon it; and if it were correct, our Lord is said not to be revealing the law governing Christians but that in relation to the Jew. Under the Gospel, Christian marriage was to bear witness to the indissolubility of Christ's union with His Church, and however hard it may be in certain cases for a Christian to bear the witness, Christ has promised that "My grace shall be sufficient for thee."[xiv]

So, in what way then was Bishop Grafton’s Catholic Anglicanism, “liberal”? In spite of his rejection of the excesses of Liberals or “the Broads,” he did not absolutely reject everything and everyone related to the liberal approach. He wrote positively of the Church’s indebtedness to the “theological genius” of Frederick Denison Maurice, who many other condemned for his liberalism. And he was able to write of Broad Church Liberalism,

Negatively, it was rationalistic in its methods, destructive in its criticism. Positively, it sought to readjust the old religious formulae to the new discoveries of the age. This movement is far from having spent its force.

The movement did good, and is still doing it. It created a profitable discontent with inherited apologetics, formerly serviceable, but now useless. It helped to demonstrate that no dogma of the Catholic faith is contradicted by any recognised scientific fact. It disillusionised men from a belief in the mechanical theory of verbal Scriptural inspiration. . . . It started the Church on new courses of philanthropy.[xv]

Further, while he could be quite conservative in some areas, he also embraced aspects of the liberal movement that came to be known as the Social Gospel. He asserted that “The Church has ever been on the side of human rights and projects for the uplift of humanity.” He pointed out that many Episcopalians, including George Washington, were leaders in the fight for American independence. As a law student in 1853, he wrote an extensive and forceful treatise against slavery at a time when many Christians, including those of his High Church persuasion, defended it. Later, as bishop, he was one of the Vice-Presidents of a society for the protection of labor's rights in the early struggle between capital and labor while still acknowledging both rights and duties of business.

The bishop was also liberal in endorsing some of the critical approaches to the Bible that were coming into their own in his lifetime:

In respect of the Holy Scriptures: the Anglican Church stands for truth. It places no ban on research into the origin of the various biblical books. It encourages priests and laymen to study God's Holy Word. Nothing that science can discover concerning the origin of the books or the method of their compilation can affect their corroborative value as to the teaching of the Church. It is by living in the Church, and primarily listening to her teaching, that the written word is best understood. What the Holy Spirit has enlightened the Church to read out of Holy Scripture, the Holy Spirit put into it, to be so read. Differences of interpretation may exist about different texts, but the mind of the Spirit is to be found in the Church's common and enduring consent.[xvi]

And he was liberal in his acceptance the best science of his day. Darwin published On the Origin of Species when Grafton was 29 years old and he was convinced that it did not contradict Christian faith:

The Church has no opposition to the investigation of science in any department of knowledge. Nothing has so far been demonstrated that contradicts the dogmas she has declared essential. We may allow, for instance, the allegorical character of the early chapters of Genesis without denying the sinful tendency found in man's nature by reason of heredity. Man has fallen away from God.

After noting and criticizing the pope for insisting in 1909 on the literal historical interpretation of the first chapters of Genesis, he goes on.

To deny what is called the Darwinian theory, or the evolutionary process, is as unwise as to deny the truth of the world's diurnal revolution or orbit about the sun.[xvii]

Bishop Grafton did not just accept the theory of evolution, he asserted that it actually confirmed aspects of Christian theology,

Now the discovery of the law of progress in the natural world, rightly understood, is in favor of the doctrine of the progressive development of man (in and through the Incarnate Lord) into a final union with God, which secures sinlessness and eternal life. . . .Christ is the embodiment of progress, and we attain to our new union with the divine life through Him.[xviii]

And elsewhere,

Scientific research has tended more and more to the idea of the unity of the material universe and, by its discovery of the correlation of its forces, to the oneness of the energy of which it is the expression. It is not ordinarily known that the first theological definition of God, as given by the schoolmen, is that of "pure activity." In this science and theology seemingly come into close agreement.[xix]

As we have seen, Bishop Grafton rejected “the effort made to liberalize the Church and make it more like the Unitarian.”[xx] But, he was himself, something of a creedal minimalist. The Catholic faith, he wrote,

is found in the universally accepted Creeds, that is, the Apostles' and Nicene Creeds, and set forth in the Sacraments which witness to the Faith, and bring its grace to us. What is thus certified to us by the whole Church is Catholic Doctrine. We can so rest upon it, assured that it is infallible truth. At the same time, what is not so witnessed and declared to be of the essential faith, we may regard as matters of pious private opinion, about which Christians may lawfully differ.

It is upon this broad, strong position the Anglican Church stands and authoritatively teaches. She is at once Catholic and also liberal.[xxi]

And, in an instruction to the Sisters of the Holy Nativity, he claimed,

Outside the Creed we need have no settled opinion. When we have said Amen to that, we have said Amen to all that we really know and upon any point we can yield to others.[xxii]

Finally, one could say that Bishop Grafton was liberal in the most basic sense of the word. He celebrated the generous latitude the Episcopal Church which allowed its members freedom to discern for themselves particular moral applications of Christian faith,

The Church, in the administration of her discipline, seeks to train souls in sanctity by the exercise of their own consciences. She does not treat them as children in a school, giving them laws, which they must under ecclesiastical compulsion obey. She instructs her children in great moral principles, leaving it to them to apply them in their own individual lives. In other words, she trusts them. She does not say, "You must not go to the theater, or play cards, or dance, or go to social entertainments." She leaves these matters to their individual consciences. "Whatever," she teaches, "is found to come in between the soul and God, and hinder union between the two is to be avoided," but each person is to be judge for himself, and refrain from judging others. Thus the conscience and the will are individually trained, as being, not under the law, but under grace.[xxiii]

Bishop Grafton’s willingness to be open to the learning of his day while remaining grounded in a commitment to the basic Catholic faith was line with the liberal Catholicism of folk like Charles Gore, Bishop of Oxford. Though I have found no reference to it in his writing, it is interesting that Lux Mundi was published in 1889, the year of Grafton’s consecration as Bishop of Fond du Lac.

So, while he was a convinced and unwavering Catholic, the bishop did not shy away from the adjective “Liberal”. His particular brand of Liberal Catholicism was also informed by an Evangelical heart.”

Evangelical Heart

Without question, Bishop Grafton had an evangelical heart. He was a church planter. He writing and preaching are full of the call for conversion and he is consistently focused on Christ and his gospel. The collect for his feast day has it right, he had “a burning zeal for souls.” His motto was, “Press on the Kingdom.”:

A duty incumbent upon every member of the Catholic Church militant is to work for its extension. A missionary zeal should burn like fire in every Christian's heart. The time is short and the second coming of Christ draweth nigh. In all ways in our power, by our alms and prayers and personal service, we must labor to "press on the kingdom."[xxiv]

He appreciated strengths of the Evangelical or “low Church” approach writing that he “loved their Evangelical principles and internal piety, and their trust in the merits of Christ.”[xxv]

But, again, we have to ask what this meant for him and what it did not mean. We have already gotten some indication that what that meant for him was not what we often take it to mean today. For example, given what we have seen above, it is safe to say that while he was no simple Liberal, he would not have fit easily in the Religious Right or political Conservatism of today.

There are other ways in which Bishop Grafton was not Evangelical in the contemporary sense. The modern theory of biblical inerrancy was developed during Grafton’s lifetime and his episcopate overlapped the early Fundamentalist-Modernist debate. The “Five Fundamentals” were published in 1910, two years before his death. Though Grafton was no thoroughgoing Modernist, neither was he a Fundamentalist (he would have accepted four of the five Fundamentals, but not the first which asserted a particular (and recent) understanding of Biblical Inerrancy in all matters.

As we saw above, Bishop Grafton was convinced that accepting a critical approach to the Bible did not threaten the faith of the Church. But, he did not just reject the theory of inerrancy; Grafton also challenged the Protestant notion of sola scriptura:

Preachers may wax eloquent over "the Bible and the Bible only" theory, but however attractive, was it the method instituted by Christ? If it was, we dutifully accept it; if not, we must not take it for our guide.

We can easily settle the question. There is no recorded command of Christ to His Apostles bidding them write a book and disseminate it. As a matter of fact, the Christian Church was in existence and in active operation before any of the Gospels were written. The books also of the New Testament were not collected and certified till the close of the second century. Copying by hand was expensive, and so comparatively few persons could possess a copy of the whole Scripture. Now God could have had the art of printing invented in the first century as well as in the fifteenth. He could have had the Bible put into circulation when the Apostles went forth on their missionary journeys. But here is the plain fact: He did not do it. Nor does this theory meet the condition of enabling sincere persons with reasonable certainty to know the faith. For in every denomination there are persons abler and more learned than ourselves, and just as prayerful and sincere, yet the result of the Protestant theory is a babel of conflicting and contradictory doctrines on matters admitted, by their divisions into sects, to be essential. The rule of faith upon which Protestantism is based is not Christ's rule. We ought not, therefore, as His followers, to adopt it.[xxvi]

That does not mean he did not have a high regard for the Bible as the inspired Word of God. He certainly did. But, he understood its value primarily for edification of the faithful and as useful more as a corroboration of the churches teaching than it only source of that teaching.

Still, Bishop Grafton’s Evangelical heart is revealed in his preaching. He was taken to task for preaching such classically Evangelical themes as “the need of conversion . . .  the necessity of being convicted of sin, and the work of the Spirit, and of salvation by Christ's cross and passion, and of a conscious acceptance of Him,” things the liberal of his day might scoff at and even his High Church colleagues rejected as “Methodism”.[xxvii] As a result of such preaching, while he was rector of Church of the Advent in Boston, “the parish thrived beyond all expectations, with more baptisms and confirmations than any other parish in the diocese.”[xxviii]

And you can’t get more Evangelical than this:

So sometimes as you recall, and recall it well you may on your knees, earth's greatest tragedy, and look up at the Divine Sufferer, crucified for love, you may come to know the truth, that if you were the only human being in existence, the only living sinner, just as truly as that sun must rise if you are to live, so must Christ the Lord come and suffer and die, that you may be saved. Out of Christ's temptations consummated on the cross we need to gain this truth and make it a home truth. "He loved me, and gave Himself for me." Then as true love always must make its response, and as far as it can a like return, our response will be self-surrender to His love. It must be love for love and life for life.

As Thou gavest Thyself,

Blessed Lord, to me, so, poor and weak and imperfect as I am, I give myself to Thee,

"Just as I am, though tossed about
With many a conflict, many a doubt,
Fightings and fears within, without,
O Lamb of God, I come."[xxix]

Conclusion: Learning from Bishop Grafton

In a back and forth in the editorial page of the local paper with the Roman Catholic priest of Fond du Lac, Bishop Grafton described himself thus:

I recognize my littleness, my incapacity and my feebleness of attainment in sanctity. It is of little account what I am, but I believe I am a Christian and a Catholic. An evangelical Christian, believing and trusting in Christ's merits only for salvation, and a liberal Catholic, holding as faith that only which is certified by the universal consent and experience of Christendom, and relegating in charity all other matters to the realm of allowed opinion.[xxx]

So what might it look like for us to be Catholic Anglicans in the spirit of Charles Grafton one hundred years and counting later? Can we be “Evangelical at heart and in belief, liberal Catholics”?

Joy in the Gospel: First of all, we can seek to emulate, or pray to receive his joy in the Christian gospel. Though it is only slightly reflected in this lecture, Bishop Grafton engaged the world as one who knew deep in his bones the mercy and delight of God. And he radiated that mercy and delight. His was a humble, generous, and hospitable spirit full of the hope of the gospel. Some future lecture in this series should focus on Grafton’s piety and his spiritual guidance. But we would do well to fall in love again (and again) with the One who first loved us and demonstrated that love in the Incarnation and on the cross.

Multi-lingual: We can also seek to imitate Bishop Grafton’s broad spirit. As we have seen, he was emphatically a Catholic Anglican. But, he was also conversant in the other “dialects” of Anglicanism. I wonder if at least some our recent troubles in the Episcopal Church might have been mitigated had more of our leadership been as “theologically multi-lingual” as was Charles Grafton. I suggest we would benefit from cultivating such theological multi-lingualism, whatever our preferred dialect. This would mean more than passing lip-service to diversity and a more fulsome embrace of classic Anglican comprehensiveness.


Worship: With Bishop Grafton we will recognize the Church as central to the mission of God in the world, bearing witness to, and seeking to live in anticipation of, the Kingdom of God. It is the body of Christ and contrary to the rampant individualism of our age we will affirm that the fullness of our personal relationship with Jesus depends on our being members of that body. And that wherever people are on their spiritual journey that journey finds its clearest direction in baptism and as members of the Church. The church is the community established by Jesus to bear witness to the reconciliation and healing of human brokenness. As such it is not insular but rather the place where we learn to see our solidarity with all people and the rest of creation.

Being Catholic Anglicans also means recognizing and celebrating that the church is not bound by time or place. For us that means that we are not just members of congregations, dioceses, or national churches, but members of the Anglican Communion.

Sacramental: Bishop Grafton was convinced of the centrality of the sacraments in the life of the Church and of their transforming power. This is particularly true of the sacraments of Baptism and Holy Eucharist by which Christians are formed. We will embrace the sacramental life of the Church. With Grafton we will believe in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. But we will see that as not only something about what happens to the consecrated Bread and Wine, important as that is. The Sacraments reveal that material reality can be charged with the grandeur of God. We can will learn through our involvement with the Sacraments to see the whole of creation and one another sacramentally as potential means of God’s grace. 

Apostolic Tradition: With Bishop Grafton we will “continue in the apostles’ teaching” and embrace a robust and unapologetic affirmation of the classic creedal faith of the Church. We will engage the tradition of the church not as a problem to be overcome, but a community across time to which we belong and with which it is possible to dialogue. We might not be bound to a simple repetition of the past in all things, but we will seek continuity with the Apostles and the communion of saints who encourage us as we run the race in our time. Tradition is not the dead weight of the past, but rather the momentum of past faithfulness giving us direction and propelling us forward.

Practices: In the spirit of Grafton, we might also seek to cultivate a catholic ethos that will open our hearts and lives to the movement of the Holy Spirit and enable us to resist the spiritually corrosive effects of secularism and consumerism. What would it look like for us in the 21st century to reclaim classic practices disciplines that open our lives to God’s mercy and delight? Practices such as: Daily Prayer and devotion, Spiritual Direction, Confession, Regular Fasts, Observance of Holy Days, Sabbath, Commemoration of the Saints, Benediction, etc.


Social Justice: With Bishop Grafton, we can commit,

to lift mankind upward and Godward; to ameliorate the condition of servitude and labor; to undo the chains of the slave; to bless every investigation and effort for the advancement of humanity; to mitigate the evils of war; to quicken all philanthropic enterprises; to enlarge men's hearts towards their fellow-men.[xxxi]

Not beholden to a particular political or economic ideology, program, or party, but committed to being on the side of human rights and the uplift of all humanity – particularly the poor and vulnerable. We might well disagree on the means to such ends and our liberality will include honoring such disagreement.

Generous: Following Bishop Grafton’s example, we can be liberal in its purest sense – a spirit of generosity which makes space for the broadest diversity of views possible within the context of creedal Christian faith.

Receptive to Scientific Discovery: Attending to creation as a source of revelation along with scripture and tradition and confident of the revealed truth of the essential creedal faith we can avail ourselves of whatever creation reveals about itself and thus about its Maker. We can share Grafton’s confidence that new learning is no threat to Christian faith,

so in the domain of truth, while she is immovable in declaring the faith once and for all revealed, allowing of no alteration by addition or diminution . . . yet she possesses the power to meet by her definitions the newer aspects of human knowledge in science and philosophy, and show how conformable they are to revealed truth. She stands thus in no conflict with the discoveries and ascertained results of modern sciences. . . She does not fear any established results of the higher criticism. She, in calm security, possesses her deposit of truth, knowing that every difficulty in the future, as in the past, will only confirm the Catholic faith."[xxxii]

Here we might wonder though, if the bishop was overly sanguine about the impact new knowledge of the origins and nature of the universe and of humanity is bound to have on theology. Recognition of evolution for example does not contradict the creedal affirmation that God is the “maker of heaven and earth.” But, it might well reshape what we understand that to mean. And it is bound impact our understanding of related theological concepts. Similarly, acceptance of some of the conclusions of an historical-literary-critical approach to the Bible does not contradict the affirmation that the Holy Spirit “has spoken through the prophets.” But, it does force us to think afresh about what that means.

Humility: As we have seen, Bishop Grafton’s liberality was not based on an attempt to accommodate secularism or appease Christianity’s cultured despisers.  Rather, it was rooted in deep humility. And humility is a fundamental Christian virtue that I hope we can reclaim as heirs of Bishop Grafton. Such humility is characterized by what Rowan Williams calls a "passionate patience" that is reticent to declare too handily exactly how God is to defined or to presume too easily to know what God desires in all instances. Continuing with Williams,

There is in the Anglican identity a strong element of awareness of the tragic, of the dark night and the frustration of theory and order by the strangeness of God's work." [ . . . ] "The result is a mixture of poetry, reticence, humility before mystery, local loyalties and painful self-scrutinies."[xxxiii]


Prima scriptura: With Bishop Grafton we can recognize that the Bible is not the only means by which God reveals himself to us (the sola scriptura of the Protestant Reformation). But, informed by the tradition and reasoned engagement with creation, it is the first place we go find out about the revelation of God in Jesus Christ and what that means. Thus, we will commit to engaging with scripture together.

Sharing the Good News: We will reclaim Bishop Grafton’s confidence that we have Good News to share. And that people outside (as well as inside) the Church need to hear that Jesus Christ, by the Holy Spirit, continues to transform lives and will transform the world. Archbishop William Temple defined evangelism this way, “Evangelism is the presentation of Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit in such ways that persons may be led to believe in Him as Savior and follow Him as Lord within the fellowship of His Church.” Bishop Grafton would want us to find fresh ways in our day to be about that.


[i] Charles Grafton, A Journey Godward of a Servant of Jesus Chris, Chapter VIII, (
[ii] Grafton, Letter to the Oneida,
[iii] Ibid.
[iv] Grafton, Christian and Catholic Chapter IV,
[v] Ibid, Chapter X,
[vi] Grafton, Catholicity and the Vincentian Rule,
[vii] Ibid.
[viii] Ibid.
[ix] Ibid.
[x] Ibid.
[xi] Grafton, Letter To the Editor of The Southern Churchman,
[xii] Grafton, The Rise of Ritualism in the Church,
[xiii]Grafton, Christian and Catholic, Chapter VIII,
[xiv] Grafton, Church Principles and Church Parties,
[xv] Ibid.
[xvi] Grafton, A Journey Godward, Chapter IX,
[xvii] Ibid.
[xviii] Ibid.
[xix] Grafton, Christian and Catholic, Chapter I,
[xx] Grafton, The Lineage of the American Catholic Church, (Milwaukee, The Young Churchman Company, 1911) p. 282
[xxi] Grafton, Some Characteristics of the Episcopal Church,
[xxii] Grafton, Meditations and Instructions, (Fond du Lac, WI, Sisterhood of the Holy Nativity, 1923) p. 83
[xxiii] Grafton, Some Characteristics of the Episcopal Church,
[xxiv]Grafton, Christian and Catholic, Chapter XIII,
[xxv] Grafton, Church Principles and Church Parties,
[xxvi] Grafton, Christian and Catholic, Chapter VIII,
[xxvii] Grafton, Letter To the Editor of The Southern Churchman,
[xxviii] Fr. John-Julian, OJN, Blessed Charles Chapman Grafton ~ 1830-1912,Grafton Lecture, 2009,
[xxix] Grafton, Christian and Catholic, Chapter V,
[xxxi] Grafton, Church Principles and Church Parties,
[xxxii] Ibid.
[xxxiii] Rowan Williams, Anglican Identities, (Lanham, Maryland, Rowman & Littlefield, 2003) p. 6