The Baptismal Covenant
It is a generally accepted fact that different human minds can perceive similar/exact factors and yet different minds interpret them differently. Many of the issues raised during the present election campaigns can show exactly how even different groups can look at the same factors, and see things totally differently – even some in opposition! The reason for this statement, of course, is that there were many factors involved in the production of The Baptismal Covenant in the Book of Common Prayer, 1979. They are ALL important, although different groups emphasize one or another or several – because of specific emphases contained in each factor. Two members of the Commission were close personal friends of mine, and I have some insights that are probably not available to others. “Balance” is the term of use in preparing this discussion.
The Book of Common Prayer has from the very beginning – 1549 – been a statement of the faith that is fundamental to the Anglican Communion. It exists because the Magna Carta began/ continued? – a growing movement among the people that the divide between the Royalty/Nobility needed to be clarified. Eventually Parliament was expanded to include the Commoners who now, in England, are a single House. It is from this spread of democracy – extorted with force (even legal murder) that the present government of the United States has developed. Because it is so important both for the English and for the American Constitution, Magna Carta Article 1 reads in full:
That the Church of England shall be free, and have her hold rights, and her liberties in viral inviolable; and we will have them so observe, that it may appear thence, that the freedom of elections, which is reckoned chief and indispensable to the English church, and which we granted and confirmed in our charter, and obtained confirmation of the same from our Lord the Pope Innocent III, before the discord between us and our barons was granted of mere free will: which charter we shall observe, and we do will it will be faithfully observed by our heirs for ever.
When the Constantinian Solution made the church part of the government, the government used the church to be the “protector” of morals. Well, morals immediately evolve into laws; and laws immediately – because of the church? – become “absolute,” which generally speaking makes them issued by God. When – after a couple of centuries – the Imperial government became ineffective, the church moved quickly to fill the vacuum. The Bishop of Rome increasingly used the title “Pope” – which means “father.” My heavens! It sounds like Julius Caesar! Innocent III – in the 11th century – was “in charge of” things in heaven, things on earth, and things which held the empire together. Innocent III could command the Emperor to visit him by crawling on his knees through the snow up the Alps to meet the Pope. How things had changed!
The reason the Magna Carta would suddenly appear in England makes all of this very interesting. When Pope St. Benedict “evangelized” England by sending the first Archbishop of Canterbury in 599 AD/CE, Augustine was welcome to England by the indigenous church there. What church historians call “Gallican” religion had been in England for several hundred years, and the existing Christian bishops greeted the new Archbishop and welcomed him to England. Although Augustine did his best to meld the Gallican and Roman concepts, ultimately it failed. So therefore did complete submission to Rome in religious matters. A form of democracy existed in England, and continued in the English church. And it is this that is at the center of the Magna Carta. Archbishop Cranmer understood this, and used this document to permit King Henry VIII to divorce his Spanish wife. And the steps that followed that were important during the foundation of the United States of America – a national church was needed. The Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America was created with that in mind. Apparently there was at least that idea among the new England clergy – following the American Revolution. So, if there were bishops among the former Anglicans, perhaps the Anglican church could become the established church in the United States of America. See the “Ratification” on page 8 in your Book of Common Prayer. Continued next month.
The Baptismal Covenent
FAITH – in one form or another – is that-without-which-no-human-life (indeed all mammal life) can survive. In fact, no reasonable or rational relationship can be established with any aspect of the Creation in which we live – without faith. Indeed, this is a very powerful statement – and there are many who have no confidence in it whatsoever! Nevertheless, faith is the foundation upon which the followers of Jesus, the Christ of the Creator, have placed their fundamental trust, confidence, reaction to the Creation in which we are placed. The Creator has given us five means of examining the Creation. The Creator has also given us the right, the privilege, the necessity, to make use of all the various parts of the Creation so that our own very lives may be enriched, fulfilled, completed – in the haunting music of mathematics and sound, movement and vision, smelling and tasting – and interpersonal relationship:– all with joy, peace, liberty/freedom, justice, sharing. All this, to continue (with God) in the creative ways to solve problems, to care for needy and infirm, to live together with harmony, peace and joy, and to reap and build upon the faith – trust – of all others.
The key to success in maintaining Faith is to keep the primary Creator firmly in mind. This is done by acknowledging that all ultimate perception originates with the Creator. But the interpretation of perceptions is the work of every aspect of Creation – even where we cannot see any room for interpretation. Indeed, every perception which anyone (or part) shares with others, is ultimately the gift of the Creator. The primary (if not only) way in which this can function – is to keep the Creator always in mind, both individually and in groups whose faith is common. And always to remember that all Creation is equally made to share and welcome new ideas and new customs. By means of engaged discussion! Sometimes “engaged discussion” will appear – and in fact be – violent. Interspace photography shows lots of violence on a grand level: but we need to remember that without that violence the Creation cannot have proceeded from its original source – now presumed to be a couple of electric sparks – 16,000,000,000 years ago! Perhaps some of what we call “violence” can be quite creative! Maybe our concept of God is far too small!! Maybe our concept of “Faith” has become warped!
In any case, the Daily Office exists to help us learn from poetry and prose, imagination and thought, how a group of utterly homeless Nomads, wandering through a desert , from oasis to oasis, became a major source for recognizing and living by-means-of Faith. The same Faith by which almost all humans (and other mammals?) learn to live, work and love together. Imagine!
Where the Nomads came from, no one really knows. But they are on the stage of human history before the 2nd century BC/BCE. They appear in Egypt – and also in other places around the Middle East. (Remember, our science seems to think that our kind of human had its origin in north east Africa, perhaps near Ethiopia. Even if this is not the only place where humans commenced, it is from this center that most of what exists today among humans had its origin.) The Nomads “saved” their ideas and concepts in poetry and a form of mystical thinking that did not depend upon writing. It was memory. And memory, when it is a source, is also flexible. As thoughts move around in the mind they get added to, subtracted from or just “improved.” But, basically , they are remembered as fundamental. Poetry, with a strong beat and strong interpretation, is easier to recall than random words! And when it is sung or chanted, its meaning becomes even more powerful.
The Nomads may not have had a homeland – but they did have sharp minds, with nimble thinking. Many of their ancient stories were saved – and wound up in the book now called Genesis. Genesis – as we now have it – ends with the story of Joseph – but Joseph is the youngest son of Jacob, a son of Isaac, the son of Abraham. It is here that the Covenant is created. (It is interesting to note that as the Covenant commences in the Egyptian environs, there was a group of people in what is now Britain, creating Stonehenge!) Continued next month
FROM THE REAR PEW — THE BAPTISMAL COVENANT, Part 3
Last time, we ended with the note that the earliest Hebrew people (Habiru) were Nomads, and lived herding sheep and other animals, as they moved carefully from oasis to oasis around the desert that was to the east of what is now Egypt. It was here that they organized their thinking about what we now call “faith:” who they are, where they come from, their function/purpose on earth considered, and how they relate to others not from their own group. The Four fundamental concepts used in these writings began to emerge here: Justice, Freedom, Equality, Sharing. The development of these concepts is outside of this writing, but not what they mean: FAITH.
Faith was/IS developed from observations of the five senses, interwoven with interpretations, developed through discussion (intellect) and worship (response.) Faith is the foundation upon which all life is based – it cannot be an individual event or state of mind in origin – yet, only as it is accepted, does faith effect an individual within a group. Faith is, in fact, the essence of the life of the group/person who live(s) within the intellectual/worship community. Although the nomads did not write in any (preserved) manner, they had the tremendous power of memory, strengthened by poetic rhythm. Using song, rhythm, and memory, they retained and further developed both discussion (language) and worship (emotion) – fundamental aspects of faith. Please note: the concepts intellectual/worship-community originated – most likely – independently from what we now call “religion” or “science.”
Because Hebrew (and many other Semitic languages) do not have a past tense of verbs, their understanding of what we call past (events/words) is quite different from our own. Their past is always current with their present. (Both successes and failures!) Faith, then, for them is not something that can be “put on and taken off” – it is always present reality. It either is resolved, or shoved into the future! However, it is never, ever, part of a defect. It is a failure of discipline: of practice, discussion, and worship. Sin, in Hebrew, is not a defect: it is failure to practice. Discipline is the essence of a community. Discipline is the individual working with others to learn an agreeable understanding of the meaning and actions of discussions from what we call “the past”, to strengthen the whole group. For the future is the only thing we might be able to affect and effect.
What then, is faith? See if this helps. Recently, while watching a football game, this happened.
A play happened where one player ran up toward the goal as fast as he could, reached a certain point, and turned, ready to catch the ball, already on its way to him. He had been slowed by a second, and so missed it. But a "flag" happened at the other end of the field. The penalty was to re-play! As penalty!!! On the replay -- exactly as before, but without the delay -- he turned with his arm open to the ball, and it went right into it!! This is the result of FAITH! He knew it was to be thrown to him; he knew when to turn to receive; and he caught it -- because of the discipline the two of them had gone through many, many times - prepared for this moment. Faith made it pay off!! Because of discipline!!! He may even have had the number of steps counted before he was to turn to catch it. He did what discipline had taught; and what discipline had determined to happen, did happen.
THAT'S what the discipline of the Daily Office teaches us -- every detail of life is strengthened by just getting there; and if we continue and make it also meaningful: (a) pronouncing words; (b) developing their full meaning; ( c ) weaving that discipline into momentary life-decisions; then the new life that we put on when we were baptized (even if, as with you and me, we didn't know it then) will not fail us at the moment of need. When you read the stories of some of the ancient martyrs, you can see/hear how they could be loyal to the life of Jesus: that is the life they lived. Like St. Laurence, (died 258, pre- Constantine) is reputed to have said, while being grilled over a charcoal fire, "Please turn me over -- I'm done on this side!" could be assumed to be what he said, even if it was only what he might have said. His faith was so great!! Whether he said it or not, is irrelevant. Such was the great faith he inspired – seen by those who watched him die in such an evil way.
Faith is the structure of everything we – the baptized – do in every instant of our life. When we fail, it is because discipline failed. Sorrow or sadness is not the first response – we failed because our discipline slipped. Practice again, more. The power of the Scripture will support us, discipline will strengthen us and satisfaction will thrill us. Continued next month.
FROM THE REAR PEW – THE BAPTISMAL COVENANT, PART 4
FAITH, the topic commenced last month, received some comments that encourage further treatment. After all, without faith, nothing is possible. So, here goes!
It is important for us to remember that language, thinking, and conversation are all part of the structure on which faith stands. These three all come from the same source: – 5 sense observation, fed to the brain. Certainly, all mammals work in this manner. The manner of living, surviving, and caring – all come from these three. We humans – we believe – are able to make the greatest use of language, thinking, and conversation. And in our use of these we have managed to put together groups of people who use the same sounds, and so develop language. This sameness of language is the first step in building a meaningful relationship with other humans. It also is the first step in coming to understand ourselves as individual. (But not as singular!) Furthermore, when we meet other humans who use the same or similar sounds to mean something different from what we mean by them, we begin to develop an individuality. But, please note, that individuality is a group action, NOT an individual act, alone in some sort of alleged freedom. As soon language begins to represent the group, then thinking/processing takes place. Conversations develop; meetings created; agreement accepted. Lo! the beginnings of society! Conversation happens! Community exists! Groundwork for human life commences!
All this happens so the foundation stone upon which the Community stands will continue firm; thinking and conversation continue; unifying and strengthening the resulting community. The continuing-community exists for the fulfillment and the enrichment of each member of the community. When one community encounters another community, the first relationship tends to be welcoming and sharing. This requires a mutual understanding of language. Without learning/sharing language, all other communication is to no avail. This is what Aristotle taught Alexander the Great to do in order to bring peace to the then-known world! Hence the fact that – until recent times – Greek was the common second language. Classical Greek is a language of great beauty – musical, descriptive, caring. Its replacement by Latin provided a harsher language, more suitable for law than poetry.
Remember that its only about 600 years since what we call “science” and “religion” have become separate. Until the great Renaissance began there was no question but that what came to be called “science” and “religion” were but different ways of seeing the total Creation. However, when religion-specialists began to be able to see – literally – things that had never before been seen, it provided a great challenge for everyone!
However, when we study the ancient artifacts, it seems to many modern scholars that in ancient times, when differences “arrived”, the first response was not a question of “right” and/or “wrong.” Instead, welcoming conversation would take place. Then all issues were looked at and discussed, and from there, development commenced. New concepts could arise from about all the issues; agreements could be reached; and the entire community would be enriched. Our modern thinking seems to go directly to “fault,” “correctness,” “right/wrong.” But these were not ancient concepts. The ancient process provided progress, peace and program. So ancient society began to live with the innate: justice, freedom, equality and sharing. For many current scholars, what still survives seems clearly to show this. Only when contemporary cultures interpret the past as if it were current thinking, that issues such as slavery and other evils arise. Greeks in the eighth century BCE/BC understood this. They claimed that democracy begins to fail when the citizen-participants at the rear of the gathered-community could no longer hear the conversation at the front. We need also to remember that concurrent with Biblical history, communities in Egypt, Israel, what we now call the Near East, and in Stonehenge in now-England were also having “growing pains.” As they began to lose contact with each other, the loss of language, thinking, and conversation developed other very new ideas. In 66 BC/BCE, Julius Caesar ‘invented’ the modern concept that the military existed to protect the nation – AND religion certified this as fact. This ancient “new” idea still governs the underlying faith of present humanity.
Many ideas developed throughout the world, to find a ways to continue development of justice, freedom, equality and sharing among all peoples. The most successful seems to have come from the ancient Habiru – modern Jews. Oh! that the instantaneous communication NOW available, had been available then! In what a different world we would be living today!!
Continued next month. The Baptismal Covenant, part 5
Last month we saw how language, thinking and conversation originally developed as a structure upon which faith stands. It was noted how these three all come from Five Sense observation, fed to the brain. Living, Surviving, and Caring – all developed from these three. We humans have used language, thinking, conversation as the fundamental tools for reasonable, gracious, and loving human life. It is these three – language, thinking, and conversation – that provide the foundation for Faith. And Faith, in one form or another, has guided humankind for more than 10,000 years as we continued to evolve and mature. For we must never forget that our current lives are only part of the process of evolution which, for us, began seriously 10,000 years ago. While we can acknowledge easily the process which produced humankind began 16 billion years ago, it is very easy for us to think that we are the final aspect of that process!
It needs to be stated here, once again, that the origin of community among humans came about as language, thinking, and conversation began to develop. And without community – loving community – in fact, as history shows, humans can “devolve,” as well as “evolve.” Over all, as Aristotle taught, common language is essential for the peaceful and loving development of humans. That is why he taught Alexander the Great that the first step for “world peace” had to be a common language. There are several different attempts in history – not all of which is actually recorded . . . . But interesting as this in fact is, it is not near enough to The Baptismal Covenant to pursue further. What the Habiru/Hebrews in fact did with their development/evolution is our next topic.
Habiru/Hebrews appear on the world stage somewhere about 2000BCE/BC. They are Nomads; that is, they had no fixed homeland. They had flocks: various kinds of cattle and other animals. When they were not moving from one oasis to another, they spent time examining what they could perceive through the five senses, and about which they could carry on conversations/discussions. Because there is not enough material in a Nomad impermanent society, they also discussed the source of the five-senses perceptions. They quickly recognized that just about everything they perceived had an origin somewhere, somehow. They even perceived that there had to have been a time when there was nothing! Nothing at all – except - EXCEPT -a Creator. Some reasonable thing/being just HAD to exist, because (like them)what they perceived in their world just could not have come into reality/being without: mental process; flexible substance; purpose. The Hebrew name is transliterated into English, as “YHWH.” (Sometimes, because of language, the transliteration is “JHVH” – from which we get the word “Jehovah.”) The vast majority of scholars believe this is an ancient form of the verb “to be,” or “being,” or “reality.” The reason for this is that names – especially “proper”names – reference the “substance” of the thing/being under discussion. (In the most ancient of writing YHWH/JHVH (pronounced Yahweh, or Jehovah) is a model of the form that humans also inhabit. And the Name is a friendly one – it was only after the Babylonian Exile (580BCE/BC) was its pronunciation forbidden (dealt with later.))
It is important to note that JHWH not only “breathed”, but YHWH was the source of all breathing. And that means JHWH is responsible for every breathing part of Creation. Breath was not visible, but without breath, there could be no life – embalming or statuary of significant people to the contrary not withstanding! YHWH was the creator of ALL that existed, and all that life could provide. And from YHWH even the forces of nature are cared for. ALL REALITY SHARES IN THE BREATHING/LIFE of YHWH! It must be noted that YHWH is independent from Creation. YHWH presents Creation as a sign of YHWH’s own life, responsible for, but not part of, Creation . YHWH is totally responsible for all, every aspect of Creation. In any case, the language, thinking and conversations about YHWH and Creation done by Nomads “presumes” that Creation is real, and so also is everything in it; Creation is cared for by the living, breathing occupants of Creation; and, the Nomads determined, humans are at the top of the structure of Creation., and so also responsible for its care and development.
It is from this point that the Baptismal Covenant begins to develop.
Continued next month.