Benedict XVI–Northern Life

My thoughts on Benedict XVI are included here in this story by our local paper, The Northern Life.

More Advance Praise for The Blessed Virgin Mary (Eerdmans)

I am very happy to include here more advance praise for the Blessed Virgin Mary (Eerdmans), a book which I co-authored with Daniel Kendall, SJ. It will be released on February 28th and can be ordered by clicking on the link at the right hand side of the page. It is the last book on the list. The book has gone through a couple of versions (and one co-author!) and so is appearing later than was originally intended. But the delay, I think, made for a much better piece of work.

“This is a delightfully well-written account of Marian theology, which is unique in the extent to which it addresses the concerns of Protestants while also refusing to minimize Mary’s importance in God’s work of salvation. This book really gets to the heart of the Christian tradition, and will be of great value to students, pastors and general enquirers. It should appear on every undergraduate theology reading list.”

— Sarah Jane Boss

Director of the Centre for Marian Studies

University of Roehampton


“Before we begin arguing theologically about Mary, we should hear what Scripture and Christians in past ages have had to say on the subject. Now we can do just that, thanks to this splendid book by Tim Perry and Daniel Kendall. The writing is balanced and thoughtful, and the annotated bibliography is a goldmine of information. A must read for anyone concerned about Christian unity.”

— Joseph Mangina

Wycliffe College in the University of Toronto


“This accessible book on Marian doctrine and devotion should be warmly welcomed. It reflects the growing and constructive ecumenical convergence on the significance of the Blessed Virgin Mary for the lives of Christians and their churches.”

— Gerald O’Collins

Jesuit Theological College


Advance praise for the Blessed Virgin Mary!

Advance praise for our forthcoming book from Sarah Jane Boss, Director of the Centre for Marian Studies at the University of Roehampton: “This is a delightfully well written account of Marian theology, which is unique in the extent to which it addresses the concerns of Protestants whilst also refusing to minimise Mary’s importance in God’s work of salvation.  This book really tries to get to the heart of the Christian tradition, and will be of great value to students, pastors and general enquirers.  It should appear on every undergraduate Theology reading list.” You can pre-order by clicking on the link on the right hand side of this page.

Blessed Virgin Mary cover

Himmelfarb on New and Neo Atheism

Some readers might recall my atheist lectures.

Nice to see Gertrude Himmelfarb taking up a similar position here.

Book Announcement!

Here is the cover work for my new book, co-authored with Daniel Kendall, SJ. I am very proud of it. It is the last publication that has come from a sabbatical project that started all the way back in 2004.  The Most Holy Theotokos has blessed me with three books now, along with several journal and dictionary articles. This particular book is intended for students and is designed specifically for an undergraduate classroom. With a little adaptation, it might serve well in an adult Sunday School class. In both cases, it would act as a guide to and commentary on more important primary material that is easily available in English.  If that is what you’re looking for, here’s where you can pre-order.

By the way, none of this would have happened without the willingness of Dan Reid at IVP Academic and Alan Padgett, the former GT series editor to take a risk on a young scholar. I will always be grateful!

Canterbury Trials #12–On Forgiveness (Or the Nettle Part 2)

Michael Battle today led us in a series of discussions on conflict resolution and forgiveness. Again, much of the material was very good. And again, I found myself wanting to say “yes, but.”

I would say a hearty yes to the notion that forgiveness is not simply a discreet act or acts, but is in fact a way of life that is best defined as participation in the life of God. It is a cycle that is continuously on the move from contrition to forgiveness to repentance (note the order–that’s on purpose) to reconciliation and reunion only to start again. Short of heaven we are never at the stage where it forgiveness is completed and done.

I was particularly taken with the ordering of repentance Battle’s description–placing it after forgiveness. Repentance is a response to forgiveness not its predecessor. It is the re-ordering of the mind, heart, and act as a grateful response to the grace of God.

My caution here is similar to that expressed in my blog on petitionary prayer. Namely, while it is right and proper to name forgiveness as a way of life, it is also a discreet act, or series of discreet acts. And like petitionary prayer, those acts can be presumptive (as when one presumes that forgiveness automatically restores intimacy) or abused (forgiveness is misused as a means to gain control over another) and so on. But abusus non tolit usus, or so it seems to me.

Anyway, throughout, our time together focused on the subject of forgiveness (i.e., the person doing the forgiving). This makes sense given Battle’s notion of forgiveness as a lifestyle that is participation in God’s life. I wish we had had the time to talk about two other matters–namely, what it’s like to be the object of forgiveness, and the challenges and obstacles that lie in the way of asking for forgiveness.

What is it like to be forgiven? I am not talking about the weepy scenes of reconciliation on Dr. Phil, here, where all is made well just in time for the cameras to fade to black. In fact, I can imagine many scenarios where the experience of being forgiven is not pleasant at all. For to be forgiven is to have a judgment passed on one’s behaviour and one may not necessarily agree with that assessment. Of course, there are times when the assessment is wrong, but even when it is right, when it is an accurate statement of affairs to say, “You sinned against me; I forgive you,” I can easily imagine someone bristling against those words. Not least because many times that someone has been me.

The challenge of asking for forgiveness is similar. Again, it is very simple to craft scenarios where one may need to say, “I have sinned; please forgive me,” and yet have those words choke in one’s throat. A victim takes revenge on her abuser for example, in a way that cannot be justified by notions of justice or retribution. Here is a situation where power dynamics and history involved work against someone asking for forgiveness even if  that one can mentally recognize the need.

The point being, forgiveness is a whole lot harder than we want to think. And as Anglicans, seems to me at least, we’re pretty good at talking about how important it is to be forgiving, but not as as good at reflecting on what it means to need to ask for forgiveness and what it means to live as the object of another’s forgiveness when we’re convinced we haven’t done anything wrong. But those dynamics are precisely what need to be proclaimed, reflected upon theologically, and held before us if the conversation we know we need to have is going to go somewhere.

Canterbury Trials #11 Intrusions

Today, our group experienced political tensions in Kenya, religious violence in Nigeria, and the rather more mundane experience of mortality that comes with aging parents. And for me, what would have been just two more headlines were made very real by three of my colleagues who hail from these countries. Come Thursday, my friends Charles and Christopher and Dennis were going back to shepherd flocks in these countries.

That realization was a jolt; a reminder that there is a “real world” (of course, the scare quotes are on purpose) to which we will all be returning in a few days, a world whose reality needs to be challenged and overturned by the coming of the really real–the Kingdom of God.

It was with those thoughts in mind that I came to see the first half of Andrei Tarkovsky’s film, Andrei Rublev. It’s a very different kind of film from what I’m used to. There is, thus far, no discernible narrative; it is more a series of vignettes taken (rather loosely, I’m told) from the life of Andrei Rublev, the great icon painter of 15th century Russia.

Here was a man surrounded by the concerns of the “real world,” who nevertheless produced some of the greatest icons in all of Christian history. A man who, in the midst of tartar invasions and mindless violence, stayed true to the vision to which God had called him and did so without withdrawing from the world. Indeed, he left the safe spirituality of the monastery to live out his vocation in public (at least thus far in the movie). As a result, his iconography was a witness to the beauty of God in the world of his time and does so still today.

So, as my pilgrimage to Canterbury moves into its final days, I am confronted by the real world to which I will soon be returning. I thank God that I am not going back to Kenya like two of my colleagues, where Somali Islamic extremists are sowing violcence. I am grateful not to be going back to Nigeria with another of my colleagues, where Boko Haram is increasingly targeting Christians with bullets and bombs.

I am going to the safety and security of Canada. But even there, I feel very much that I am a stranger, that I don’t quite fit with the culture. Of course, feeling a sense of dis-ease, of lack of fit, with the world is precisely what the Christian is supposed to feel a good bit of the time. That’s what the vocation of the baptised is about. We have been baptised into Christ, and thereby been made citizens of a different country and subjects of a different king. And while we give penultimate allegiance to those powers at once instituted by God and defeated by Christ, our primary loyalty lies elsewhere.

And yet, the feeling of disease is not, for me at least, the call of God to the life of solitary prayer (not that I could anyway!). It is the call to live my vocation as a witness to a different way in the world, even as it seems that I understand the logic on which that world functions less and less.

Looking forward to the second half of the movie tomorrow night.

Canterbury Trials #10 To Be a Pilgrim

Today, we met with Archbishop Rowan again–when he saw us in the Cathedral this afternoon, he came over, winked and said, “We’ve got to stop meeting like this.” Sadly, we will. This was our last time with him. Amazing man. I think he should make a Canadian lecture tour once he’s nicely settled in Cambridge. What do you think?

Anyway, I’ve been thinking about pilgrimages. For two reasons.

First, that’s what this conference is, if not for all of us, certainly for the majority and certainly for me. I wasn’t joking a couple of posts back when I said this was my ad limina. It really was. It was a pilgrimage to the mother church, to the throne of St. Augustine, to cement in my own mind and heart, the vows I took before God, vows taken for the welfare of this global community as one of its priests, vows lived out in a community that gathers for worship at the Church of the Epiphany in Sudbury.

Second, the conference has been surrounded by pilgrimages. We watched The Way about Thomas Avery’s pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago de Compostella; we walked 10km of the ancient Pilgrims’ Way from Chilham to Canterbury; we celebrated the millennial anniversary of the translation of St. Alphage to his current resting place at the north end of the high altar–a translation that was a penitential pilgrimage for King Canut; we met this afternoon with Kurt Cardinal Koch and talked about the ongoing pilgrimage that is the ecumenical dialogue between Anglicans and Roman Catholics.

The conclusion I’ve come to–whether it’s earth-shattering or not, I’ll leave to you to decide–is that I much prefer the metaphor of pilgrimage to journey for the Christian life. I was never comfortable with the latter, which has become a trope in Christian (and other) spirituality. I used to think the discomfort was simply a result of the ubiquitous nature of the metaphor. We share our journeys. We are all at different stages on our journeys. We may have to journey apart even if we would prefer to journey together. We, it seems, can’t ever stop talking about our journeys long enough to just, well, walk somewhere.  If I might paraphrase a bricklayer from Texas, “blah blah blah, journey, blah blah blah.”

But over the week, my discomfort has become more specific. I don’t like journey because journey can, and often does, leave me in charge. I can journey to Toronto; you can journey to Iqaluit; we may for a time journey together, but in the end, we’re headed to different directions. I can journey alone or I can journey with a group. Journey is all too often all about me on my great voyage of self discovery.

Not so the pilgrim. The pilgrim has a definite destination, whether to the gate of heaven that is (or at least was) the Shrine of St. Thomas Beckett at Canterbury Cathedral where the knees of millions of pilgrims have worn a grooves in the marble, or Santiago de Compostella where pilgrims’ hands have worn a pillar at the entry. As a pilgrim, I am going somewhere. And specifically, I’m going to heaven.  And on this very specific journey, I am not in charge.  I have, like another Pilgrim, entered at the narrow gate.

The pilgrim never journeys alone. Medieval pilgrims travelled in groups for the very practical need of safety. But even today, pilgrimage–the real thing–is not a solitary undertaking. It is an even undertaken by a community, and that community is constituted by the common destination. Thomas Avery would never have befriended Joost, Sarah, or Jack from Ireland based on common interests or likeability or anything else. What brought them together was the Camino. I am not alone on my pilgrimage; I am part of a community. I am part of a community constituted by our common Lord and our common destination. Left to my own devices, I may not have chosen this community as my travelling companions. But like I said, I’m not in charge.

Third, the language of pilgrimage helps challenge the narcissism that drives so much of the spirtuality of our age. Self-discovery certainly happens on the pilgrimage–you’ve read about a fair bit of mine. But at the end of the day, self-discovery isn’t the point of a pilgrimage. God-discovery is. And God and I have connected. No, no Damascus-road or otherwise charistmatic (small “c”) connections. But a quite, growing sense of confidence that I am where God has called me and, whatever discomforts lie ahead, I will face them with God’s blessing and presence.

A couple of days back, we sang Percy Dearmer’s adaptation of John Bunyan’s hymn, “To Be a Pilgrim.” I’ll end this post with his words:

He who would valiant be ’gainst all disaster, Let him in constancy follow the Master. There’s no discouragement shall make him once relent His first avowed intent to be a pilgrim.

Who so beset him round with dismal stories Do but themselves confound—his strength the more is. No foes shall stay his might; though he with giants fight, He will make good his right to be a pilgrim.

Since, Lord, Thou dost defend us with Thy Spirit, We know we at the end, shall life inherit. Then fancies flee away! I’ll fear not what men say, I’ll labor night and day to be a pilgrim.


Canterbury Trials #9 On Discipline and Power

This morning, Bishop Josiah led us in an intensive study on the concept of discipline. Hard subject. But, one ordinands and clergy need to talk about since we vow to uphold the doctrine and discipline of Christ as this church (in my case, the Anglican Church of Canada) has received them. And the marks of the church for Reformed Christians include, along with the Word of God truly preached and the Sacraments rightly administered, discipline faithfully applied (as noted and defended within our Anglican family by Nicholas Ridley, one of the Oxford martyrs).

Discipline, Josiah observed, was a weak point in our communion, and he spoke movingly of two examples from his own church in Nigeria, one in which discipline was faithfully applied and one where it had failed to take place for a number of years to devastating results.

In my own (very limited) parish experience discipline is hard to think about, let alone enact. And this morning was a good opportunity to think about why. Even when we remove–as we should–notions of punishment from discipline for the more biblical ieas of correction, admonishment, and instruction, the faithful application thereof means that there are going to be awkward conversations from time to time in parishes, many of them (though by no means all) between priest and parishioner(s). These conversations are obviously fraught with difficulty because of the power dynamics involved. And neither I nor of my clergy colleagues want to be “that priest.”

You know the one–the priest who exercises his or her power in a mean and coercive way, even if ostensibly to a good end. Perhaps the Grand Inquisitor in the Brothers Karamazov is the most extreme example of a cleric corrupted by the use of coercive power to serve “the greater good.”

So, how does the faithful application of discipline take place in a time and place where one is (justifiedly) suspicious of claims to authority and power? That was the question that Bishop Josiah’s presentation prompted and left unanswered.

I wonder if I can get my bearings from the doctrine of creation in which God’s power is not power over a resistant but lesser, pre-existing stuff, but is more basically, the power to call into being that which has no existence of its own. That is true power, but not “power-over” (i.e., the kind of coercive power that every parent knows about–“because I’m your dad!” power). Or perhaps christologically, where power is not the power to conquer God’s enemies with 10 000 angels, but the power of resurrection. Both of these understandings of power–the one creative, the other subversive and apparently submissive–are interrelated in that neither involves coercion. And yet, both are legitimately powerful–the acts accomplish their intended objectives. God speaks and the world is created. Christ is raised and death is defeated.

Now, if that is the kind of thinking about power we are to bring to bear on matters of church discipline, what does it look like? This is not an abstract question for me, nor is it for any of us in ministry. For at some point, we are going to have to ask someone to take a break from teaching Sunday School, or serving on a committee, or even–in my tradition, following due process and with the Bishop’s full knowledge and support–to stop presenting themselves at the altar to receive the sacrament until repentance and reconciliation has taken place. (I must stress that I don’t have any specific situations in my own parish in mind for any of these!)

When I have to engage in those kinds of conversations, even if I do so, as Bishop Josiah reminded us based on Matthew 18, humbly, honestly, prayerfully and with a view to forgiveness, I will be exercising power which will look and feel coercive if not for me then certainly for the person on the receiving end. So, how do I keep in mind the kind of power that is creative rather than coercive, redemptive rather than punitive? How do I exercise discipline faithfully such that, hopefully, it is is experienced by all as creative and redemptive rather than coercive and punitive (if not at the immediate time, at least eventually)?

I have no answer to these questions just now. They really are disturbing for me. This one will be with me a while longer. I would be grateful for any advice. Especially from those of you in ministry–do these kinds of questions trouble you? What does the faithful application of discipline look like to you? I know that a couple of you wear episcopal purple–I would be especially grateful for your help!

Canterbury Trials #8: Ad Limina

“To the threshold.” That’s what ad limina means. It refers to the obligatory visit of some in the Catholic hierarchy to the thresholds of Sts. Peter and Paul, not only to make pilgrimage to their tombs, but to show their loyalty to St. Peter’s successor.

Today, I made my ad limina: Lambeth Palace, to a room where I and my colleagues had an hr. with Archbishop Rowan for  free discussion. We had already met informally, as I’m sure you recall, at the reception following the installation of Prof. Kathy Grieb as a Six Preacher at Canterbury Cathedral. (And he will meet with us again on Saturday evening, this time with Kurt Cardinal Koch, the new president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity).

Having met him twice now, the one word that summarizes my experience of the man is accessibility. He is genuinely interested in all sorts of people, though impatient with the press. “When I strive to be simple, they say I’m simplistic; when I write on more complex subjects, they say I can’t be understood. There’s no pleasing them.” Can’t say as I blame him. Anyway, my impression was that he was very warm and the disappointment at his departure from the See of Canterbury I spoke of in my previous post has only been sharpened by the time he spent with us this afternoon.

The questions we asked were wide ranging, covering everything from the clergy’s family life, to relations between the Africans and the Americans, and scholarship. I asked about the transition from the academy to the parish. I found his answer quite striking. First, he said, the task–which was always to be a teacher of the faith–remained the same, even as one had to taylor reflections to suit one’s audience. When he said this, I was immediately reminded of his Letter to Lulu. Which manages to cover notions of necessary being, creation out of nothing, revelation and incarnation in ways not only Lulu, but my own Hugh could understand. It’s a pretty high bar for my own children’s stories, but I’ll keep trying.

Second, Rowan also spoke of the task common to academic theologians and parish priests as that of making the world of the Bible a world people can live in. An absolutely arresting image. It is my task as a preacher and teacher not to apply the Bible to the real world, but to make the real world of the Bible available to people trapped in any number of false ones. This is not a new insight for me and has been one that I have striven for in my preaching and teaching especially since coming to the Epiphany. But it was wonderful to receive the imprimatur, so to speak, for my intuitions.

I will take both of these images with me. Speaking of images, a couple of you have asked why no pictures. The short answer is, I left the cord to connect the camera to the desk top at home and the computer lacks a port for the picture card. So, hang in there. I’ll be posting them either here or on Facebook as soon as I am back.