7 March 2015

Bishop Kirk and the coming Synod

Final part of a sermon I recently preached at Solemn [Ordinariate] Evensong and Benediction in the Blackfriars' Church in Oxford.

 ... The Christian Faith is a coherent and integrated whole. Every bit fits in with every other bit. Drop just one single bit out, and you throw the whole complex unity into disarray. Perhaps you will allow me, in conclusion, to take a topical example of this; topical, because we are at this precise moment immersed in the fascinating if febrile period between last year's Synod and this year's Synod. And so Marriage is very much in the mind of each of us. And, of course, fallen human nature being what it is, when we say we're thinking about Marriage, it seems to turn out to mean that we're thinking about Divorce. That's the way that Screwtape and his associates have adjusted our philology. And the Lord said that Divorce is impossible; in fact, he said it so clearly that the way He actually put it was that if you get divorced and then "marry again", you'll really only be living in adultery. I've often wondered if there is any way, in any human language, in which the point could be made more plainly and more ... I dare to say ... 'offensively'.

Now ... side by side with the Lord's teaching ... let us set some remarkable words from S Paul's Letter to the Ephesians. He likens the nuptial covenant between husband and wife to that equally nuptial covenant, the 'mystical union that is betwixt Christ and His Church'.

You see, I'm sure, the bearing of all this. If a valid and consummated Christian marriage is as indissoluble as the union between Christ and His Church, it follows that the union between Christ and His Church is as indissoluble as that between husband and wife. Or, to put it the other way round, the union between Christ and His Church is as soluble and it is as breakable as marriage. Advocacy of remarriage after divorce is constructively tantamount to saying that the Lord may desert His Church and could renounce His nuptial covenant with her.

I think I had better come clean. The point I'm making is, in fact, disgracefully plagiarised. I have lifted this exposition from a magisterial book called Marriage and Divorce by a very great pontiff, Kenneth Escott Kirk, Lord Bishop of Oxford between 1937 and 1954 and sometime Regius Professor of Moral and Pastoral Theology in this University, which he wrote in the context of the English Divorce Act of 1937. Bishop Kirk makes with concise precision the point I have laboured in this homily; a point which Cardinal Hume once made by saying that our holy Faith is not a la carte. We accept it table d'hote, because it is a perfectly integrated and interlinked whole. Tear out one element, and the whole cardigan unravels. I'm sure Bishop Kirk would have been an Ordinariate Man ... we would have had to learn to refer to him as Monsignor Kirk ... so I'll end with his own words.

"To plead for divorce with the right to second marriage is to ignore the whole of this constructive theology which relates the union of the sexes to that of Christ and His Church, and thereby to deny the unity of purpose which runs through the whole scheme of God's activity both in the natural and in the supernatural sphere. ...

"The Christian tradition of the indissolubility of marriage does no more than give effect to S Paul's great teaching, in which our Lord's precepts about marriage are set in the framework of the unity of God's purpose. To deny that tradition, therefore, is to cast doubt upon the very nature of God, and the modes of activity in which He has manifested Himself to man."


Raider Fan said...

Put that in your merciful pipe and smoke it, Kasper.

This is smashing, Father, thank you

umblepie said...

A timely post; thank you Father.

Ben Trovato said...

Your mention of Table d'Hôte reminded me of this post in which I pursued that metaphor perhaps a little further than it bears... http://ccfather.blogspot.co.uk/2011/10/all-talk-about-cafeteria-catholics-has.html

Jacobi said...


I agree 110% with what you, or is it Kirk, says. But now the second Session, which of course it is increasingly clear is intended by many not to be about the Family. About divorce, yes. About homosexual practise, yes. But above all I think it is about the Real Presence.

Belief in this fundamental doctrine is already at a very low ebb. Reception by un-annointed hands, lack of any external gesture of worship, reception in a state of mortal sin. No need to go on. We all know the ploys.

But permit reception by public Adulterers in a state of Mortal Sin and you really have finished that particular doctrine off!

Dilly said...

My late father (I think as a junior NCO, before gaining his wartime commission) was present at an address by Bishop Kirk. Someone forgot to give the order to "fall out" the RCs and Jews, before the specifically Anglican element of the proceedings - essential as in 1940 or thereabouts it was generally held to be a mortal sin for a Catholic to attend an Anglican service. My father marched up and politely asked if they could be excused. Bishop Kirk gave the order immediately, and thanked my father- saying he had done the right thing. So I think you are correct in your speculation and he would have made a splendid addition to the Ordinariate, as he had respect kindness, awareness, and sensitivity (unlike the RSM later in the day).

Andreas said...

The teaching on marriage is somewhat incomplete without mentioning also the rest of the matter having to do with sex, as pointed out in St. Matthew’s Gospel: namely, the matter of “castrating oneself for the sake of the Kingdom”. This is further explained by St. Paul: ”si non se continent, nubant. Melius est enim nubere, quam uri.” (If they cannot control themselves, let them marry. It is better to marry then to itch). The Church Fathers break this up even further, as e.g. St. Jerome:
Ideo melius est nubere, quia pejus est uri. Tolle ardorem libidinis, et non dicet, quia “melius est nubere”. Melius semper ad comparationem deterioris respicit: non ad simplicitatem incomparabilis per se boni. Velut si diceret: Melius est unum oculum habere, quam nullum.
(It is better to marry then to burn. Remove the desire of pleasure and he will not say “it is better to marry”. ‘Better’ is always used in comparison against something ‘worse’: not as an expression of some good in and of itself. As if he would say: it is better to have one eye, than none.)
The Christian view of marriage and of sex in its fullness starts with self control and ends in complete freedom. And I don’t know if it can be understood in the absence of faith: hence the clash with modern culture.

Jacobi said...

If I may,
Dilly, that "fall out " order was still in use in NS days. I remember pleasant sessions having a fag behind the cathedral with my Jewish pals and still have that particular affection.

Don Camillo SSC said...

Which is "better", marriage or celibacy? I am not sure whether that is a meaningful question in the abstract. What is "better" for any individual is the state to which they are called by God. But without marriage (or at least procreation), the human race would cease to exist. To that extent it is certainly more necessary.