“This holy martyr, St. Robert Barnes”

[Today is the recommended day in Treasury of Daily Prayer to remember Robert Barnes, Confessor and Martyr]

Preserve, O Lord, Your honor,/the bold blasphemer smite;/ Convince, convert, enlighten/The souls in error’s night./Reveal Your will, dear Savior,/To all who dwell below,/Great light of all the living,/That all Your name may know. (“Preserve Your Word, O Savior” [LSB 658:2])

Robert Barnes–Englishman, erstwhile royal chaplain to Henry VIII–was one of the first martyrs for the Lutheran confession of the Faith.  Luther wrote,

This Dr. Robert Barnes we certainly knew, and it is a particular joy for me to hear that our good, pious dinner guest and houseguest has been so graciously called by God to pour out his blood and to become a holy martyr for the sake of His dear Son.  Thanks, praise, and glory be to the Father of our dear Lord Jesus Christ, who again, as in the beginning, has granted us to see the time in which His Christians, before our eyes and from our eyes and from beside us, are carried off to become martyrs (that is, carried off to heaven) and become saints. …

Let us praise and thank God!  This is a blessed time for the elect saints of Christ and an unfortunate, grievous time for the devil, for blasphemers, and enemies, and it is going to get even worse.  Amen. (Treasury of Daily Prayer, 574-575)


“‘This is the faith we were taught'”

“You see, everything went wrong last year at Nicaea.  It was terribly important.  I don’t exactly know why.  [Pope] Sylvester isn’t interested in that sort of thing.  He didn’t even trouble to go himself, just sent deputies, and they were of no help.  You see, none of the Western bishops have got a new idea in their heads.  They just say: ‘This is the faith we were taught.  It is what’s always been taught.  And that’s that.’  I mean they don’t realize they’ve got to move with the times.  It’s no use trying to puncture the horologium.  The church isn’t a hole and corner thing anymore.  It’s the official imperial religion.  What they were taught may have been all very well in the catacombs, but now we have to deal with a much more sophisticated type of mind altogether.  I don’t pretend to understand what it’s all about but I know the council was a great disappointment even to Gracchus [Constantine]…

He hadn’t the least idea what was going on at Nicaea.  All he wanted was a unanimous vote.  Well, half the council wouldn’t argue and wouldn’t listen.  Eusebius told me all about it.  He said the moment he saw them sitting there he realized it wasn’t worth reasoning with them.  ‘That’s the faith we’ve been taught,’ they said.  ‘But it doesn’t make sense,’ said Arius.  ‘A son must be younger than his father.’  ‘It’s a mystery,’ said the orthodox, perfectly satisfied, as if that explained everything.  And then there was the resistance group.  Of course everyone admires them tremendously.  It’s wonderful what they went through.  But, I mean, just having an eye out and a foot off doesn’t qualify one in theology, does it?  And of course Gracchus being a soldier had a sort of extra respect for the resistance.  So what with them, and the solid Middle-West and the frontier bishops–there weren’t many of them but they are the most pigheaded of the lot–the stupid old diehards won hands down and Gracchus got his unanimous vote and went off happy.  Only now he realizes that nothing has really been settled at all.  A general council was just the worst way to tackle a problem of this kind.  It ought to have been settled quietly in the palace and then announced in an imperial decree.  Then no one could have objected.  As it is we shall have all sorts of technical difficulties in putting things right.  All that invoking of the Holy Ghost put things on the wrong footing.  It was purely a question of practical convenience to be settled by Gracchus.  I mean, we must have progress.  Homoiousion is definitely dated.  Everyone who really counts is for homoousion–or is it the other way round?  If Eusebius were here he would tell us.  He always makes everything so clear.  Theology’s terribly exciting but a little muddling.  Sometimes I almost feel a little nostalgic for the old taurobolium, don’t you?”

The Empress Fausta (in Helena, Evelyn Waugh, 133-135)


More on Doubt

What exactly is doubt?  And how is it related to faith?  People who like to play games with words and where straw men are built in every paragraph for the sheer joy of dismantling them, have an interesting conception of doubt.  That is, the “true believer” should doubt everything and allow all sorts of things to challenge faith for the sake of growth and coming closer to the Truth (which I take, in conversations with Christians, to be Jesus Christ).  Nothing wrong with that, in and of itself.  If we really do have a God who is the Truth, then no amount of falsehood or semi-truth (which is, in the end, the same thing) can shake Him.  He simply Is, and there’s nothing we can do about that.

So, the argument goes, anyone who is after certainty is “inauthentic” (you can smell the emergent buzzwords coming a mile away).  There’s nothing certain for finite believers.  And, anyone who is after certainty must, of course, be so afraid of troublesome questions that he or she takes refuge in fideism (or “faith in faith”).  This seems to me to be the position of David Dark in this essay.  He begins by stirring up his students from the safety of their sheltered Christian upbringings (which will always happen to any believer who reads a book, has a TV, surfs the internet, or watches movies, I contend) by telling them that it’s okay to read people like Nietzsche, Kafka, and Camus.  Really?  You mean, they’re not on an official Christian Index of Banned Books?

But there seems to be one glaringly unexamined twist in the line of argument Dark pursues: that because humans (even human believers!) naturally experience doubt and uncertainty and confusion, that those things are to be embraced.  This is the way I am, so it must be good.  Again, God can handle doubts and questions and arguments and even shouted disagreements; the question is, can you?  I am not convinced that every Christian can handle even the weakest challenge to the Faith, let alone their faith, even if their Christ can.  Dark cites Chesterton, perhaps where he speaks about doubting your doubts, but he does not cite Chesterton on the virtue of coming to firmer and firmer conclusions (see here).  There are Christians (they don’t like to be called that) of a certain stripe who see doubt as a good thing per se, which seems to mean that they want to come to fewer and fewer conclusions.

Dark writes:

And far from being a tradition in which doubts and questions are suppressed in favor of an uncritical, blind faith, Christianity is a robust culture in which anything can be asked and everything can be said.

That’s true, as far as it goes, but it is not always true that the opposite of “doubts and questions” is “uncritical, blind faith.”  In fact, one might (this might be hard to believe for some people) have come through doubts and questions to a firmer and more robust faith in Christ, who is Truth.  I can’t help but get the feeling that people like Dark revel in the doubts and the questions, and have no desire to stand firm on anything.  In fact, what if the faith that always and everywhere embraces whatever doubts and questions it can find is only a different sort of fideism?  Perhaps it is a “dubeism.”

Of course Jesus does not drive away honest questioners, but if they are truly honest, then they want the answers, or at least, if the answers cannot be had, an assurance that Christ is bigger than the question.  Clearly, there are all sorts of things to which finite beings will never have the answers this side of the new creation (maybe not even then); but there are the revealed things.  There are, as much as Dark’s sort of questioner might not like it, things that are hard and fast.  There is, as far as the Scriptures are concerned, right and wrong, and they are non-negotiable.

So should Christians be afraid, lest God be made “angry and insecure,” in Dark’s words, by a “good film about homosexual cowboys”?  I’m sure it’s a negative to the insecure part, but the anger part might be another thing altogether (something about “abomination” comes to mind).  Christians have nothing to fear for God’s sake; but it’s another thing altogether whether they should fear for their own sake.  All things are permissible, but not all things are beneficial.  Someone who could use the words “I am fully convinced” said that.