Herod lives still

Today there was no obligatory memorial or feast day to cause us to pass over the ferial readings set down for Mass today. How apt these readings were at the end of a week in which the UK House of Commons has passed a bill to redefine marriage to include same-sex partnerships.

In the first reading (Heb 13:1-8), St Paul is winding up his letter by offering some exhortations to the community. Among them is,

Let marriage be held in honour among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous. (v.4)

In light of this week’s events, what arrests attention is not so much those who defile the marriage bed by acts of  immorality and adultery, but those who effectively encourage them to do so, and indeed, facilitate it. Panderers and pimps used to be the common name for such people. The House of Commons this week sought to join them. It is one thing for a person to sin; it is quite another to encourage others to sin by telling them it is no sin at all. God’s law stands, and no parliament can revoke it. To say otherwise is to lie. Panderers, pimps – and liars…

It is not fashionable to talk today of judgement  nor of hell. These last things are clearly and emphatically taught in scripture and in the consistent magisterial tradition of the Church, and we take a great risk in ignoring them or setting them aside. St Paul in the text above makes it clear that God will judge sinners, even those among the little ones of the world, though we might dare hope in his mercy. Our Lord has a word for the House of Commons too:

but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes! (Matt 18:6-7)

A disappointing manThis week Britain ceased finally to be Christian in any meaningful sense. That there is an established church and a state religion in Anglicanism is of little consequence because the Anglican communion, in its majority and official stance at least, seems intent on aiding abetting the government’s appalling attempt to re-order the divine Order. Even more frightening is the fact that not one of the three main parties stands against this legislation, Tory rebels notwithstanding. What is left – UKIP? The Monster Raving Loony Party? Mr Cameron even had the temerity to indulge in the Orwellian subterfuge of maintaining that he supports same-sex marriage because he believes marriage is so important. It is not important to him at all other than as another object of his pragmatism; there is no principle involved, just another means to an end to be manipulated according to current political priorities, chief among them the need to curry favour with the ascendant factions in society.

Herod - a man of pragmatism not principleSo how fitting it was that today’s gospel was on Herod’s murder of St John the Baptist (Mark 6:14-29). Herod, admiring of the Baptist even as the Baptist opposed him, and acknowledging his obvious holiness and prophetic word, surrenders his stirring of conscience to pragmatism. Rather than lose the favour of Herodias and Salome, two fallen daughters of a fallen Eve if ever there were; and rather than be seen by his nobles to have uttered rashly, indiscreetly and venally and so lose face before them, he consents to a crime that he knows is wrong. In mitigation for Herod, we might say at least that, unlike Mr Cameron, he never attempted to label sin a virtue.

Mr Cameron has assured the churches that no clergyman will be forced to attempt to confect a same-sex marriage (attempt, mark you, because it can never be confected in God’s sight). But James Preece takes up the example of  the 1994 Sunday Trading Act, citing the debate in the Lords at the time in which three Baronesses unequivocally assert that no worker would be required to work on a Sunday, and they would be protected if they refused to work on a Sunday. Just over a month ago a court ruled that Christians do not have a right to refuse to work on Sundays, which means they can be sacked if they do refuse. Moreover the reason his Honour gave for this ruling was that working on a Sunday is not a “core belief” of Christianity.

On the one hand we have a government attempting to re-define the divine institution of marriage; on the other hand we have a judiciary attempting to re-define the central tenets of Christianity. The judiciary is equally guilty of acting ultra vires as the government. So can a Catholic priest reasonably trust the Prime Minister’s assurances that no clergyman will be forced to conduct a same-sex marriage? Today it is pragmatic for him to promise this, but tomorrow it might not be.

This might sound like scaremongering to some, or an overreaction bordering on hysterical by others. But it is a fact that in the last 5 centuries Britain has a record of persecuting Catholics, and not least their priests, for keeping the Faith. The gallows may have disappeared, but we might well fear that persecution is alive and well.

There are far better expositions of the issues involved elsewhere. Some have been linked already in the text. You might also want to read Dr Joseph Shaw, who wields the sharp scalpel of logic with a slightly different focus.

Militant Islam considers the West to be decadent and enmired in immorality. While its methods are appalling and in every way deplorable, it is easy to see how there might be something in their opinion.

Pray for us!

To end on a more hopeful note, let us look to a poem penned by Blessed John Henry Newman in 1832:

The Patient Church

BIDE thou thy time!
Watch with meek eyes the race of pride and crime,
Sit in the gate, and be the heathen’s jest,
Smiling and self-possest.
O thou, to whom is pledged a victor’s sway,
Bide thou the victor’s day!

Think on the sin *
That reap’d the unripe seed, and toil’d to win
Foul history-marks at Bethel and at Dan;
No blessing, but a ban;
Whilst the wise Shepherd**  hid his heaven-told fate,
Nor reck’d a tyrant’s hate.

Such loss is gain;
Wait the bright Advent that shall loose thy chain!
E’en now the shadows break, and gleams divine
Edge the dim distant line.
When thrones are trembling, and earth’s fat ones quail,
True Seed! thou shalt prevail!

[*: Jereboam; **: David]

6 thoughts on “Herod lives still

  1. An interesting perspective. And yes, I think “overreaction bordering on hysterical” sums it up rather well.

    Homosexuals have been subjected to a great deal more persecution than Catholics in recent history. It’s about time someone stood up for them. Obviously none of the major religions are willing or able, so I’m glad the government stepped in. And I was pleased to see that my MP voted in favour of the bill.

    Your claim that Christians no longer have the right to refuse work on Sundays is a huge overstatement. In the case in question, the judge was at pains to point out that his ruling did not “… amount either to a ringing endorsement of an individual’s right not to be required to work on a Sunday on the one hand, or an employer’s freedom to require it on the other.”

    If you re-read James Preece’s article, you’ll notice that the baronesses he quoted are referring to shop workers, not care workers. The woman who brought this case to court was employed at a children’s care home. It was written in her contract that she could be required to work on Sundays. And yet she refused to do so, when asked.

    You might be amused to discover that it was in fact an Anglican bishop who stated to the tribunal that abstaining from work on Sunday was not “core” to Christian belief. You can read the judge’s ruling in full here.


    1. Thank you Phil and Fred for clarifying one of the subsidiary points I made.

      Whatever the opinions expressed by the judge in his judgment, it is the judgment itself that sets the precedent. Part of that precedent is that sabbath observance is not a core belief. That an anglican prelate offered this advice doesn’t amuse me, but it does be use me. The established church has long ceased to represent anything approaching “core” Christianity yet its opinion has been cited as the standard of accepted Christian belief on this issue. In reality it is not, though in civil law it now seems to be.

      Same-sex marriage is not about standing up for homosexuals, but about the nature of marriage and the power of the state to redefine it. Clouding the issue with arguments about supposed inequality is to miss the point that orthodox Christians are trying to make. Catholicism is in fact prepared to stick up for the basic human rights of homosexuals, but to disobey God’s law is not a human right at all, though it is a human power. The Church should never be forced to condone it, let alone bless it.

      But my main point still stands: government and judiciary are whittling away the right of Christians to follow their beliefs (notwithstanding the weaknesses in the lady’s case in this instance). Christianity has very often been a thorn in the side of governments which is why history is full of attempts to buy it off, to marginalize it, or to remove it entirely.

      Same-sex marriage was not part of the Tory manifesto before the last election, so the people are having legislation forced on them that they did not know was coming. So given that dirty little trick, and given the persecution of Catholic priests for long after the Reformation, Mr Cameron’s assurances reassure me not one bit.

      Sorry if my hysteria is off-putting.



      1. “The Church should never be forced to condone it, let alone bless it.”

        Fortunately, no church has ever been forced to do anything of the sort.

        As regards your main point — has the right of Christians to practise their faith been curtailed by the government and judiciary? Apparently, yes. But in actual fact… no, not really.

        Most of these cases have been dragged through the courts by a lobbying group called Christian Concern and its legal counterpart, the Christian Legal Centre. Almost all of their legal challenges have ended in failure, but their press releases (which invariably gloss over serious flaws in their cases) have succeeded in creating the impression that Christians really are being persecuted in this country. A cynic might even conclude that this is their deliberate intent.

        Some examples:

        • Their press release regarding the children’s care worker who was sacked for refusing to work on Sundays makes no mention of the fact that she was contractually obliged to do so.

        • When announcing their support of the Exeter nurse who was ‘banned’ from wearing her confirmation cross at work, they didn’t mention any of the compromise solutions that she had refused. (The Mail and Telegraph went on to publish all sorts of nonsense about this case.)

        • Duke Amachree, the homelessness officer for Wandsworth council who was sacked for making the ‘merest mention of God’ had in fact subjected a terminally ill woman to a 30-minute barrage of religion.

        What do you think? Is the Christian Legal Centre upholding core Christian values, or is it bringing discord instead of harmony? I’m going with the latter.


  2. Fr Hugh writes, “Catholicism is in fact prepared to stick up for the basic human rights of homosexuals, but to disobey God’s law is not a human right at all, though it is a human power.” In fact and in practice, Catholicism cannot do both — it cannot support the human rights of homosexuals while excluding them from any social institution. If we take “God’s law” to include Jesus’ injunction to love neighbor as self and understand “as self” to mean “as equal to self,” then one cannot “stick up for” the equal human rights of homosexuals while treating them differently from others with regard to any social institution, including marriage. Our behavior is the proof of our beliefs.
    Whatever may be the definition of ‘marriage,’ it functions as a secular, social institution and legal arrangement with benefits to the partners, as well as a ‘holy state’ to Christians. The state has legitimate interests in marriage as an institution, interests ranging from the welfare of children to the protection of property and stability of society. For this reason, no religious organization may own or control it. And as a matter of historical fact, marriage has changed dramatically over the centuries: it has included polygamy sanctioned by religion, the complete subordination of women (see Casti Connubii which calls the equality of women in marriage a “crime”) and loss of their legal rights, the ‘selling’ of girls to pedophiles in exchange for land or wealth, and many other abuses of human rights. Mitigation and eradication of these evils have resulted from secular reforms, often championed by individual Christians, but not by the Church as such in campaigns of social transformation.

    Even in a nation with an established church, it is irrational to worry that the state could ever coerce clergy to preside over same-sex marriages. While same-sex partners have a legitimate claim of justice to the institution of matrimony wherever the state recognizes marriage and legislates for it, no one may claim the right to a church wedding! Same-sex marriage offers no challenge to “the right of Christians to follow their beliefs.” Indeed, it offers a challenge to follow Christ’s example in treating all as equally worthy of the benefits of human society.


    1. Thank you for saying your piece, though I reject it almost entirely.

      Catholicism cannot do both — it cannot support the human rights of homosexuals while excluding them from any social institution.

      There are two errors here. One is that access to “any social institution” equates to a human right. It most patently does not. I am a man, but I am denied membership of the Girl Guides, a famous social institution. This is only right, since I can have no human right to be a member. The second error is that marriage can bed adequately defined as a social institution. It cannot. It is a religious, Christian indeed, institution that was embraced by the state when states were mostly Catholic, and has been maintained even in secular states because it has an essential and positive social effect. Marriage is a religious institution that has suited the secular state for its role in social cohesion and (hitherto) promotion of moral conduct.

      So to say “whatever may be the definition of marriage” is to miss the point completely: the definition is crucial to the institution of marriage and its social effect, which is a social effect willed by God. A human attempt to change the nature of marriage, by changing its definition, will change its social effect, and for the worse. Marriage is not a tool of social equality, as if social equality were even possible. Please don’t kid yourself with the false notion that social reforms for the better (and same-sex marriage is not for the better, by the way) have come only from secular sources. For example, it was the Church that changed the the social perception of rape in certain parts of the world as the vandalism of a piece of a man’s property to a sexual offence against the person of the woman.

      And we are most definitely right to worry that clergy will be coerced into attempting to marry same-sex couples (though of course in God’s eyes it will be no marriage at all). The state has forced Catholic adoption agencies to close in this country because it insists they adopt out to homosexual couples.

      And actually, some people may indeed claim the right to a church wedding: Catholics in good standing, of age, not previously married, freely desiring to join in a permanent relationship with a member of the opposite sex who fulfils the same conditions, who are desirous of raising children – they may claim a right to have their marriage covenant made within the Church. Likewise, if I am a Catholic sinner who sincerely repents of some grave sin I have committed, I have the right to confess and receive absolution in the Church.

      a challenge to follow Christ’s example in treating all as equally worthy of the benefits of human society

      Christ gave no such example! Read the gospels carefully.



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