CRISIS? WHAT CRISIS?
“During this dismal period, governmental authority crumbled,… a Malthusian crisis followed by recurrent attacks of devastating…plague, prolonged…war, and erratic monetary manipulation, combined drastically to reduce …production and trade… the psychological price of living in a contracting world, with a horribly low expectation of life, was very high indeed.”1
If this seems painfully familiar, then it is perhaps worth continuing the quotation, for it comes from the English Historian, the late Professor Lawrence Stone, who concluded that, “the fifteenth century was an age of melancholy and morbid introspection’. So, this was not a description of the present after all!
But if those opening words seem so evocative of the present – despite governments of late having grown rather than withered—what does this tell us after two years of a global pandemic? Does this merely illustrate the old adage that Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose? Or is it that we are indeed at a hinge moment in history which truly merits that over-used word, “crisis”?
In regard to the Church, it is clear that the COVID pandemic has precipitated a deep sense of crisis. At no point was this more acute than when orders were given, not only by governments, but far more surprisingly by bishops, for churches actually to close. For a time, clergy in many places were even forbidden to enter their own churches. There has been little to no precedent outside the context of punitive mediaeval canon law interdictions2 for such an action, and it surely merits careful review.
The article in these pages by Professor Jesse Billett further illustrates the need to examine critically some of the things said, done, and imposed by bishops in particular, however good their intentions. This matters if the lessons are to be learned and such mistakes are not to be repeated in times to come. For such times surely will recur, when many now seem to seek a world of “zero-risk”, even though such a state, in this world, can simply never be had. It is, therefore, encouraging that Archbishop Justin Welby has now recognised that in closing churches in England mistakes were made, even though it was others who led him into this, apparently, while he anyway lacked the power to do it, since, as he noted modestly, “I am not the Pope”. 3
It is telling, perhaps, that the first use of the word crisis that comes down to us was that of the great historian of war Thucydides. In the History of the Peloponnesian War he used the word κρίσις six times, and it resonates now particularly that he does so especially in relation to a great plague that afflicted Athens.
The core meaning in classical Greek was of “the central moment of decision”, yet this understanding was ultimately rooted in a medical usage, developed by such Greek physicians as Hippocrates, for whom crisis was a disruption in the stability of the body through disease. This gave the word from the first a technical and, as we would say, scientific character. It was indeed this sense of the word that was predominant in its later use over many centuries as mediated through the medical writings of Galen in particular.
Even after 1400, when the term became current in European writing, it was used in a medical context, as in a “sodayne chaunge in a disease”, as the OED cites from the writings of the “Famous Chirugion Master Iohn Vigo” in 1543. Hence, the later definition as “the point in the progress of a disease when an important change takes place which is decisive of recovery or death; the turning point… for better or worse” 4. It was after this, from the beginning of the seventeenth century onwards, that a new understanding of the self as relating to the community and in relation to the res publica came about. This again used language from medicine but now to describe the body politic rather than the literal body human. This can be seen already in the use (quoted in the OED) of B. Rudyard in 1659, when he wrote of the “chrysis of Parliaments” which will determine whether “they will live or die”.5 This sense is ultimately congruent with the rhetorical role of krisis in Greek drama shared by Thucydides, Aeschylus and Sophocles which meant “those moments of truth where the significance of men and events were brought to light” (Starn, p/20-22).
Thus, to say that the church is in crisis is to see it, post-COVID, as facing ‘a moment of truth’ of existential import. To assert this is in no sense to deny the Dominical assurance regarding the Church of God that “the very gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16, 18), for we may understand this to be true without it entailing that this or that expression of the church will prevail for ever.
It has to be an existential moment when we must ask what it says about our understanding of the role of the Church and in particular its sacramental ministry, if that ministry can be suspended completely when deemed expedient? We are directly commanded in respect of the Eucharist to “Do this in remembrance of me.” Is it legitimate to interpret this as actually meaning “Do this in remembrance of me when it seems practical and can be done responsibly, in as near to a zero-risk environment as possible”? Does not suspending sacramental ministry risk suggesting that, while desirable, it is ultimately more ornamental than fundamental? Can we without harm really do without the graces we had formerly supposed to be therein conferred? Moreover, all this has come during along prior period of slow decline in the numbers attending mainline churches across much of the global north and west. Will congregations ever fully recover from the lockdowns and rise of live-streamed virtual worship? How can the historic structures of the church survive if they do not?
The new urgency of these questions again confirms that the Church is facing a crisis indeed. This is clear before we have even considered the specific challenges posed for Anglicanism in particular. The Anglican Communion faces an existential ecclesiological challenge in the face of intense disagreements over human sexuality, the de facto split evidenced by Primates, who cannot celebrate a Eucharist together, and a Lambeth Conference from which some of the largest Provinces in the Communion feel so alienated as to be unable to attend. What too does this say about the See of Canterbury and its Archbishop as a “focus of unity” when that unity can no longer be expressed? One response is to say that Anglicanism has always been at its best in the workings of its ordinary parishes, and that this is a fundamental reality that can quietly continue, while leaving to one side all the big questions that divide. The popularity of new movements such as Save the Parish,6 stressing the need for a resurgent emphasis on parishes, tends to confirm that there is an important truth to this.7 Yet how, ultimately, can that not be inadequate on its own, unless Anglicanism is to be reduced to a form of Congregationalism with mitres, at the local level, and a mere body of dysfunctional former friends as a Communion?
We must pray that our highest calling, as followers of Christ, can even yet have the power to unite us by God’s grace under God’s truth, in the mutual and even sacrificial submission required to sustain the unique heritage that is ours, as heirs of St Augustine of Canterbury in the Church of Cranmer.
CONFRONTING CRISIS: THE PLAGUE OF ST CYPRIAN AND THE EVANGELICAL WITNESS OF THE EARLY CHURCH IN NORTH AFRICA
“The kingdom of God, beloved brethren, is beginning to be at hand; the reward of life, and the rejoicing of eternal salvation, and the perpetual gladness and possession lately lost of paradise, are now coming, with the passing away of the world …”8
These words were written by St Cyprian, who had just been made Bishop of Carthage when a sudden, catastrophic and mysterious pandemic began to afflict much of the Roman Empire and North Africa in particular. It seemed to threaten the end of civilisation as it brought wave after wave of death and destruction for over a decade between 249 to 262 A.D. It is now thought most likely to have been caused by a new form of virus causing something like the haemorrhagic fever we now call Ebola.
At its height, the pandemic is estimated to have killed 5,000 people a day in the city of Rome, including two Roman emperors: Hostilian and Claudius II Gothicus. In North Africa, as much as two-thirds of the population in Alexandria, Egypt, is thought to have died of the disease.
Nonetheless, despite these devastating horrors, the third century actually turned out to be a crucial time of growth for the early church, despite attempts to blame Christians for causing the whole disaster by offending the pagan gods of Rome by their apostacy (which then in turn led to state-organised persecution).
In the words of Cyprian’s biographer Pontius of Carthage, “there broke out a dreadful plague, and excessive destruction of a hateful disease invaded every house in succession of the trembling populace, carrying off day by day with abrupt attack numberless people, everyone from his own house. …All were shuddering, fleeing, shunning the contagion, impiously exposing their own friends, as if with the exclusion of the person who was sure to die of the plague, one could exclude death itself also. …No one regarded anything besides his cruel gains. No one trembled at the remembrance of a similar event. No one did to another what he himself wished to experience.”9
Central to the many conversions this terrible episode occasioned was indeed the extraordinary and utterly contrasting response of witness and ministry that it called forth from the Christians caught
up in the middle of it. What proved so striking to many was that they did not do what most of the pagans did, as Pontius relates, which was to hide, retreat, and run away from the suffering and the horrors.
Instead, many Christians were impelled by their faith and beliefs to continue with the public expression of their faith. Their faith also moved them into action to try and help and to relieve the suffering of all –even at the cost of their own lives.
Thus, to Cyprian and the many pagan observers, the plague became a clear practical proof of the superiority of Christianity to the paganism of the Roman state. Christians in the face of unimaginable horrors were said joyfully to have cared for the sick and given proper burials to the dead. While pagans in sharp contrast, were recorded as throwing infected members of their own families into the streets –even before they died, in a vain quest to protect themselves first from the disease before caring for anyone.
Again, it was striking to many that the pagan religious establishment seemed to be overwhelmed and to respond from fear alone, since they had no theological basis for hope. This reflected a sharply contrasting underlying world view, since the priests of Ancient Rome interpreted epidemics and disease as a sign of the displeasure of the gods who must therefore have been somehow offended and next required to be appeased. In the words of the historian Kyle Harper, the “the epidemic undermined the social fabric of pagan society” on the one hand, while “the orderly response of the Christian community, especially in the burial of the dead, presented a stark contrast” -and a positive vision informed by hope.
Cyprian expressly noted that while Christians were dying from the plague, just like everyone else, it was the non- Christians who exhibited in particular fear.
Bishop Dionysius of the neighbouring city of Alexandria even wrote that it was actually a period of unimaginable joy for Christians, such was their faith, and that it was this confidence even in the face of death which established that living out Christianity was something worth dying for if need be.
So, even when they were blamed for the plague and then persecuted to the point of death through martyrdom at the hand of the state, these deaths of Christians were invested with a powerful and indeed evangelical depth of meaning.
Lactantius (the Christian advisor to the first Christian Emperor Constantine) also pointed specifically to the quite distinctive further theological vision underpinning the characteristic Christian commitment to every human being, as this derived from seeing all mankind as members of one family, since:
“If we all derive our origin from one man, whom God created, we are plainly all of one family. Therefore, it must be considered an abomination to hate another human, no matter how guilty he may be. For this reason, God has decreed that we should hate no one, …So we can comfort our enemies by reminding them of our mutual bond. For if we have all been given life from the same God, what else are we but brothers? … Because we are all brothers, God teaches us to never do evil to one another, but only good—giving aid to those who are oppressed and experiencing hardship, and giving food to the hungry.”
But it is St Cyprian who deserves the last word here, memorable as his comments are:
“What a grandeur of spirit it is to struggle with all the powers of an unshaken mind against so many onsets of devastation and death! What sublimity, to stand erect amid the desolation of the human race, and not to lie prostrate with those who have no hope in God; but rather to rejoice, and to embrace the benefit of the occasion; that in thus bravely showing forth our faith, and by suffering endured, going forward to Christ by the narrow way that Christ trod, we may receive the reward of His life and faith”… 10
“THE PARTS ARE MANY BUT THE BODY IS ONE”
THE ECUMENICAL CRISIS AND OPPORTUNITY
A Homily upon the Conclusion of The Octave of Prayer for Christian Unity Given at Farm Street Jesuit Church London
On 23rd January 2022
It is a truth insufficiently acknowledged that Ecumenism is in crisis. It must be admitted that it is a rather quiet crisis, for it is in fact the fruit of earlier success. Thankfully, the fierce intensity of past divisions between denominations has lost much of its heat. Merely to set foot inside a church of a different tradition is unlikely to be thought to risk eternal damnation. No one nowadays, when obliged to be present at a wedding or a funeral in another denomination, thinks it best to turn their back at points, so as to evidence their repudiation of certain of the beliefs implied, or discernment of an ontologically defective clergy.
Indeed, it is surely the consequent and well-established pattern of coziness now prevailing, together with its attendant ease of mutual interaction, that has led to our present complacency— as we all settle back agreeably between our occasional ecumenical forays— into the familiar patterns of our own ways of doing things. Such ease can invite us to wonder if there is really a need to attempt anything more.
In wider society, there are many among our sympathetic but unbelieving “cultured admirers”, in their cloud of non-specific spirituality, who suppose that all religious roads lead at least to Nirvana if no longer to Rome. And even the more zealous among us can be tempted to say to ourselves quietly — amidst the amity– that “You worship God in your way and I in His” —yet think too that we need not worry about it, since theological differences have so much lost their edge and seem “cost free”.
To be sure, there is much that is very good in our cordiality that is rightly to be celebrated, standing as it does in sharp contrast to earlier times of atrocious bloodshed between Christians. This is a vast improvement, for which we have much cause to give thanks. Yet this should not mask such confusions as thinking that truth no longer really matters, or that religion does not make truth claims about what is actually the case. Nor does it mean we can duck the challenges of addressing incompatible claims.
It does also need to be noticed that, in contrast with only thirty or forty years ago, there now seems to be little or no expectation that ecumenism will have very much practical impact on the regular operation and structures of our churches, or the daily practice of our faith. This represents a very real lowering of ecumenical ambition.
The earlier and original goal of “full visible unity” is hardly even mentioned, as befits our having pushed it long ago into the longest of long grass. In one sense, we may have achieved an effective operational unity on one point, that could even be described as Augustinian, but it is hardly positive, insofar as we effectively seem to be praying for unity but, “not yet”.
Indeed, an external ecumenical status quo may feel all the more welcome when far more active and heated disagreements can be found within the ranks of our own denominations, often upon such matters as the style and the language of our worship, and perhaps most of all in areas of ethical debate and on issues of human sexuality, which remain explosive.
Sadly, there is no lack of evidence for such strains upon unity among us Anglicans. To be blunt, we are at risk of taking our traditional tendency to diversity and breadth to the point of threatening our overall cohesion and continued theological (as distinct from mere legal) identity. Such strains do indeed suggest that sometimes intra-mural ecumenism may be more urgent than the traditional extra-mural form, or to put it another way – it may behoove us to mend our own glass house before throwing any stones at others!
But perhaps, amidst the growing challenges to internal unity on the one hand, and the seeming stasis in much traditional ecumenism on the other, this may be a time when it could be useful to reframe our perspective.
Consider a dark episode that occurred in 2015. Picture if you will a wide expanse of sea shore and a rather fine beach in bright sunshine. You may even be able to think of the sound of the waves gently breaking on the sand.
Now, in the carefully made video of this scene, for that is what I am considering here –and you are right if you are apprehensive that it is about to take a sinister turn –the camera next moves to show a line of 21 kneeling figures. Behind each there stands another figure and after a short shouted explanation knives are wielded and all of the kneeling figures are beheaded.
The video ends, with the sea again, but now running red….
This atrocity happened in Libya almost exactly seven years ago in February 201511 and responsibility was claimed by the so- called Islamic State’s “Tripoli Province”. It was expressly addressed to “the nation of the cross”. The men killed were labelled as “people of the cross, followers of the hostile Coptic Church” of Egypt. The victims were further called “Coptic crusaders” though they were in fact merely migrant workers kidnapped in Sirte a few days earlier.
But key to this theatre of horror was the intent on the part of ISIS to label all Christians in the middle East as Crusaders, a category clearly designed to place them as part of a wider and older framing, intended to make them by definition oppressors of Muslims, regardless of their qualities as individuals. This, in turn, was intended to place all Christians at risk of being attacked and thus, in the end, likely to flee their historic heartland in the Middle East.
(And it is worth noting, peripherally, how much this shows the dangers in allowing the ever wider use of group identity to transcend both our individuality and also our shared humanity – something we see again and again in the so-called politics of identity and “Critical Theory”.)
Almost immediately after the attack, Pope Francis in a letter12 expressed his “profound sorrow” and, referring to the victims beheaded, wrote that “their only words were: ‘Jesus, help me!’. They were killed simply for the fact that they were Christians….. The blood of our Christian brothers and sisters is a testimony which cries out to be heard. It makes no difference whether they be Catholics, Orthodox, Copts or Protestants. They are Christians! Their blood is one and the same. Their blood confesses Christ. As we recall these brothers who died only because they confessed Christ, I ask that we encourage each other to go forward with this ecumenism which is giving us strength, the ecumenism of blood. The martyrs belong to all Christians.13
Thus, do we see one avenue whereby something uniquely positive and highly ecumenical can emerge from an otherwise deeply negative event. A deep sense of unity can be forged and strengthened in the face of shared suffering and adversity that transcends historic division.14
This brings us to another frontier where deeper ecumenism can not merely be advanced but is actively needed. I speak here of the shared challenge posed to all Christians by our wider and ever more secular culture, where – to echo the words of Peter Berger15, the sacred canopy has been dismantled and the very possibility of the supernatural is denied. Religion is now widely deemed by the administrative classes to partake, necessarily, of the irrational. In consequence, it is being almost reduced to the status of a private vice – except insofar as it can demonstrate utility as an agent of social change. Thus do we see faith being widely instrumentalized, not so much as an opioid of the masses, but as a means of nudging them along to do whatever is in fashion, as constitutive of the general good. Light pantheism and sun worship are so “very now” after all, as we seek to save the Amazon, coral reefs and whales on the one hand, and promote solar power on the other…. (all very laudable to be sure), but not immediately what comes to mind after reciting the Nicene Creed, and not goals to which the truth and value of Christianity can be entirely reduced.
Again, from personal experience I can attest that there is still an appetite on the international stage to see if religious leaders can be persuaded to parade en masse in colourful garb, ideally with some form of folk music and perhaps even the occasional little dance, to promote approved global causes. Intergovernmental and international organizations, when they hold assemblies thus adorned, can look a little like a marketing poster for Switzerland. But beyond the cow bells and occasional yodelling, the legacy of Emmanuel Kant can be discerned. The danger here comes when there is only public space for religion within the limits of the Sustainable Development Goals alone. When so reduced by such framing there is in the end no room for the transcendent endnotes and that which might take us beyond merely human perfection, no room for true transformation (metanoia), and still less for divine redemptive love (agape). All this throws into sharp relief the deeply serious challenge posed to all Christians, neatly focused by Charles Taylor, for whom “a secular age is one in which the eclipse of all goals beyond human flourishing becomes conceivable”.
Here surely is a further frontier for new ecumenical engagement. For Christians, if they are to remain true to their historic self-understanding, should surely mobilise collectively to resist such an impoverished and merely horizontal vision for humanity – a vision devoid of transcendent hope.
Reductionist mutilation that would betray our beliefs and the Christianity that has so shaped our wider cultural heritage and civilization is not a choice we have to accept. We do not have to cut ourselves loose from our own heritage; rather, we should join forces as Christians in a new ecumenism across the divisions of history to oppose this threat. For there is the better alternative of finding, as Taylor put it, “a new placement of the sacred or spiritual in relation to individual and social life”. Is there not here an urgent project around which to convene an ecumenical consensus and campaign that is nonetheless authentically Christian in its specificity? Thus, would we fulfil the prophecy of Isaiah who foretold that “Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations.” (Isaiah 58:12).
Here is a vocation around which all Christians can unite as part of the body of Christ, which is the church of the ages and within which the words of the Epistle are so powerfully true:
“the parts are many but the body is one”.
A FUTURE CONFERENCE ON THE NORTH AFRICAN PARTRISTIC ROOTS OF ANGLICANISM
In the light of the earlier exploration of the response of the early Christians in Carthage at the time of St Cyprian to the terrible plague of their day, it is a pleasure to note that a whole conference is planned for the Fall in Boston at the Church of the Advent on our North African Patristic roots. At a time when the historic denominations of Christianity in the Global North and what is often called “the West” seem to be in significant decline, the topic is a timely reminder that Christianity in its earliest times, when indeed so much of its fundamental theology came to be first articulated, was a religion predominantly of the East and of Africa – the continent where it perhaps now grows fastest once again.
As the great historian of the early church era, Peter Brown, has observed:
“In the past thirty years a scholarly revolution has altered our notion of the first thousand years of Christianity. We no longer see it as an exclusively European religion, rooted in the Mediterranean basin and destined to reach its apex in the Latin West. Instead, scholars have turned to Africa and Asia to discover ancient variants of Christianity whose vast, largely forgotten presence once dwarfed the fragile beginnings of the Catholic Church in Europe. We used to think that Christianity spread almost entirely in the Greek and Latin worlds. Now we realize that ancient Christianity was like a great comet: its luminous trail once swept across the globe, from the Horn of Africa to the coast of Tamil Nadu, and from Mesopotamia to the court of the emperor of China. Christian communities, linked by tenacious networks of trade and diplomacy, could be found in all those places.”
He was writing (in the New York Review of Books of February 2021) with reference to a recently published book entitled Invitation to Syriac Christianity, Eds. Michael Philip Penn, Scott Fitzgerald Johnson, Christine Shepardson and Charles M. Stang (Univ. of California Press), but his point reinforces that made by Philip Jenkins in The Lost History of Christianity: The Thousand-Year Golden Age of the Church; while for wide discussion of the North African church in overview the survey volume Early Christianity in Contexts: An Exploration across Cultures and Continents, by William Tabbernee (Ed.), has much to commend it (especially chapters 5, “The World of the Nile” and 6, “Roman North Africa”).
- Lawrence Stone, “The Century of Crisis”, The New York Review of Books, March 1966, reviewing Trevor Aston’s (Ed.) Crisis in Europe, 1560-1660.
- Where a cessation of Services in church in a given place or area was seen as an extreme punishment. Such Interdictions were imposed more extensively in mediaeval and Renaissance times than later. Some historical instances would be: Norway between 1198 and 1202 by decree of Pope innocent III; France between 13th January and 12th September in the year 1200 (until king Philip II of France would agree to take back his wife Ingeborg of Denmark), by decree of Pope Innocent III; Rome, briefly in 1155, as imposed by the only English Pope, Adrian IV; Florence in March 1376 by Pope Gregory XI; Scotland between 1317 and 1328 (after the rejection of Papal mediation by Robert the Bruce, decreed by Pope John XXII; all of England and Wales in the reign of King John between March 1208 and July 1214, (imposed by Innocent III, again, for rejecting Archbishop Langton), during which time “The bishops were to permit no church-service (officium) to be celebrated in England except the baptism of children and the penance of the dying.” However, it is very important to note further that “Everyone understood this to exclude in general all celebration of the mass, all marriage- services and burial-services” (p. 297) though this is contested and may be that even religious houses were restricted to one Mass, in private, per week. But in any case, “Most people were still deprived of all sacraments save baptism and viaticum, and were confronted everywhere with closed and silent churches. Nobody at all was permitted Christian (rites of ) burial until the Interdict was lifted in July 1214.” (p.300) — see C. R. Cheney, “King John And The Papal Interdict”, being “a lecture delivered in the John Rylands Library on Wednesday, the 14th of April, 1948”. In the United States, an interdiction seems to have been last used by a Roman Catholic Archbishop Rummel in 1955, when he closed a New Orleans church in a judgement of censure regarding an act of racial prejudice by the congregation in rejecting an African American priest.
- See, Craig Simpson, “Archbishop of Canterbury denies sole blame for Covid church closures as he says ‘I am not the Pope’. The Most Rev. Justin Welby admitted he would be ‘more cautious about closing the churches’ if future restrictions were enforced in the UK” Daily Telegraph of London 15th February, 2022, though there was no echo intended to be sure of Genesis 3, 12 in regard to the explanation advanced, it should be noted.
- Translated from Il vocabulario degli Accdemici della Crusca, Venice, 1612
- For a fuller discussion of this history see Randolph Starn, “Historians and ‘Crisis,’ “ in Past and Present, 52, 1971, 3-22; and J. B. Shank, “Crisis: A Useful Category of Post- Social Scientific Historical Analysis?”, in The American Historical Review, Oct., 2008, Vol. 113, No. 4, pp. 1090-1099.
- Launched with notable success by the Revd. Marcus Walker, Rector of Great St Bartholomew’s in London, see:https://www. christiantoday.com/article/marcus.walker. on.saving.the.parish.and.10000.lay.led. churches/137842.htm
- The recent words of PBS USA’s long- standing friend Prudence Dailey, are a further and eloquent testimony to the need to sustain the parish as the foundational body of the Anglican Church, when many now see it as in crisis facing attack from the ever more expensive and remote higher structures of the church and even a Synod itself remote from the most pressing realities parishes face: “the real problem—as…eager Synodical newcomers have reminded me—is not so much what is on the agenda, as what is not on it. When your local church, which was already struggling in terms of both numbers and money, has been knocked back further by the effects of COVID restrictions; when every penny the congregation can raise is confiscated in the form of Parish Share by a Diocese which says you will have to pay even more next year; when you are informed that the incumbent will not be replaced, and your community is under threat of having the church closed and its spiritual heart ripped out—THAT is what you hope the General Synod will be talking about, above and before everything else. Whatever your racial or ethnic background, a Diocesan Racial Justice Officer will not do much to meet your pastoral needs if you do not actually have a Vicar. As one new member put it, ‘When I was elected to the General Synod, I thought I was going to be voting on important matters for the future of our Church, and I want to know how we can change the agenda’. It needs to be recognised that the agenda is very entrenched, and it will not be easy to challenge it—but some of us are very determined to try”. Writing in her blog for the English Churchman, 10th February, 2022. https:// www.englishchurchman.com/54671-2/
- St Cyprian, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume V, (1885) Philip Schaff (transl.).
- Life of Cyprian. transl. Ernest Wallis, c. 1885, accessible online at the Christian Classics Ethereal Library.
- Cyprian, De Mortalitate. Transl. Ernest Wallis, c. 1885. accessible online at the Christian Classics Ethereal Library
- The scene of the film was later identified as not far from Tripoli in Libya, and the video, ran replete sadly with a Qur’anic sura running under what is shown: “Allah, 47:4 ‘strike [their] necks’. was posted via the Al-Hayat Media Center. Six days after this massacre, the Coptic Church in Egypt declared that the murdered Coptic men would be commemorated in the Coptic Synaxarium, the Church calendar, as “martyrs of faith”. For the Coptic Church all its martyrologies and calendars relate to the original “Era of Martyrs” that was the persecution started under Emperor Diocletian in 303 which ended with the Edict of Milan in 313. This latest horror joins a long history of violence and persecution from that time to this. One further detail of note that widened the video’s message of menace was that it ended with a voiceover saying “We will conquer Rome, by Allah’s permission”; hence, the video directly suggested a threat to wider Christianity.
- Stated when he happened to have occasion to write at the time to the Moderator and representatives of the Church of Scotland.
- See also his radio statement recorded in the Libreria Editrice Vaticana 2015. On February 17th, 2015, Pope Francis said during his Morning Meditation: “We offer this Mass for our 21 Coptic brothers, slaughtered for the sole reason that they were Christians…. Let us pray for them, that the Lord welcome them as martyrs, for their families, for my brother Tawadros, (The Coptic Pope) who is suffering greatly” (Libreria Editrice Vaticana 2015)…… In October 2016, Pope Francis further explained the ecumenism of blood on Vatican Radio saying: “When terrorists or world powers persecute Christian minorities or Christians, when they do this, they don’t ask: ‘But are you Lutheran? Are you Orthodox? Are you Catholic? Are you a Reformed Christian? Are you a Pentecostal?’ No! ‘You are a Christian!’ They only recognize one of them: the Christian. The enemy never makes a mistake and knows very well how to recognize where Jesus is. This is ecumenism of the blood.” Vatican Radio 2016, For a specific study of the ways interpretation and meaning in this episode later evolved, see Lucien van Liere, “Conquering Rome: Constructing a Global Christianity in the Face of Terror. A Case Study into the Representations of the Beheading of Twenty-One Migrant Workers in January 2015” in World Christianity: Methodological Considerations, Martha Frederiks and Dorottya Nagy, (eds.) Brill, 2021. It should also be noted that some theologians have argued that there is some need to explore further if it is really possible to hold that all who are killed because they are Christian can therefore be deemed to be Martyrs (and can even partake of the historic concept of baptism of/by blood (baptismus sanquinis) if they had not been baptised before). It has been pointed out that such a view potentially minimises the role of the actual beliefs held by the victim and grants a –curiously ironic– power to the perpetrator of their killing to define their identity.
- Moreover, quite outside the contexts of extreme acts of terrorism, there is a certain clear sense, which I know from personal experience, that in countries where Christians are in a minority there is often a strengthened sense of unity as Christians that cuts across historic denominational divides. This is perhaps especially true for those of us in the “liturgical traditions” –such as the Orthodox and Oriental Churches along with Anglicans and Lutherans.
- Peter L. Berger, The Sacred Canopy : Elements of a Sociological Theory of Religion, New York,1967). Which is in any case not as easy to define as is often supposed see, Yves R. Simon, The Review of Politics, Oct., 1944, Vol. 6, No. 4 (Oct., 1944), pp. 530-533 re Charles de Koninck’s, De la primauté du bien commun contre les personalistes.