GOD, THE COSMOS AND EVERYTHING

I want to very briefly talk about a vision of the Cosmos, about the Master of that Cosmos – the Triune God – about the earth, about the destiny of man – about being at the pinnacle of mankind looking towards God and the future.

Having lived a long time, travelled widely, met a lot of people of all persuasions and done a lot of things in my life, I imagine that I now know a lot. That is ridiculous of course, for I know nothing, all I have is a few minor pointers. However I do have vision. Flawed perhaps, imperfect certainly and unrealised of course. A vision however that haunts me and which I feel impelled to impart. Human words however are so inadequate.

I have read and re-read the revelation of Jesus who was the Christ of God. I have had no such revelation as Saint John had, but I have read and re-read his revelation. I have read and re-read Julian of Norwich’s revelation. I have read the Old Testament revelations.

All of it points in one direction: To the absolutely Almighty Master-Creator, the Triune God that we rightly worship.

What is our worship however? “God is a Spirit and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.” Worship….λατρείαcaerimonium Both these words imply action – doing something – often in concert with others.

God is a spirit. Well we know nothing at all of the essence of God. We cannot picture Him, we have no idea if indeed He can be seen with our vision, we think that if we could “see” Him, it would be overwhelming and its as best that we cannot see Him. The point is however that He is “there”, He exists.

So what is it that we think that we know now?

Mankind has made enormous strides in understanding the basic structure of the physical world in the past hundred years or so. Strangely, the more we know about the physical universe, the more difficult it becomes to understand it. Most people for instance learned about atoms in school. They were pictured for us rather like little solar systems with a nucleus (sun) at the centre and lots of particles whizzing around it in orbits rather like planets. The picture satisfied most of what people wanted to know and they left it at that. That is not however what it is at all, and those who study and theorise about such things know perfectly well that that picture is wrong. It now appears that the “particles” that surround the nucleus are not really particles. They can be tested and react as “particles” but they also react as waves. In fact they are now held to be pieces of information. That’s right information. They “exist” at different levels in relation to the nucleus and their number and level determines the physical substance which they comprise.

In String Theory the physical world has ten dimensions, six of them hidden from view inside the Cosmos. M-theory gives our universe several extra dimensions that we cannot see – but it places these extra dimensions outside the created universe.

So was the “big bang” actually an explosion of information? The input that was needed to create the world?

We have precise knowledge, we can prove some things and and we can apply our knowledge – but not always with understanding. We know the mathematics exactly, but we cannot connect it to our experience of this world.

Quantum Theory rules the microcosmic world, from which the world that we see emerges, and Einstein’s General Relativity rules the cosmic world that we live in, these two cover everything that we see and know of the physical universe.

The Virtual Reality theory says that our world is a virtual reality that only exists by information processing beyond and outside itself, upon which it depends entirely. It further says that there is nothing inside the physical universe that exists of or by itself.

Try putting the extra dimensions of the universe and the Virtual Reality Hypothesis together and it becomes rather interesting. Information input… a word …. In the beginning …… God said Let there be light and there was light – the first creative action recorded in Genesis. God imparted information and it had a result. And Christians have known from the psalmist “For God spoke and it was; He commanded and it stood” In other words God is the source of each and every piece of information input into the processing which constantly creates the entire cosmos as the virtual reality hypothesis demands.

It follows that the universe must have at least one dimension outside it. In the Virtual Reality Hypothesis, the extra dimensions can be very large – infinitely so – and are outside this universe. It follows that the information input upon which our world depends, comes from outside our physical world, and there is a dimension beyond our physical universe from which it can come.

Christians have known since the new Testament that there were extra “dimensions” to the universe – Saint Paul mentioned them (I was caught up into the third heaven). And as Virtual Reality Hypothesis describes. So science seems to now be saying there is in fact a “place” for God and all that surrounds Him to “be” in physical reality.

Christians have known that heaven isn’t some sort of “supernatural” ethereal, imaginary “place” but that it is as real as what we see around us now. We are told that we have bodies in the afterlife.

Interesting thoughts. All, then that such an afterlife as Christians have, needs is information input – just as this world we have now requires. So perhaps we Christians ought to be at least looking at these scientific theories because they are getting perilously close to convergence with what we know already. Perhaps scientists all unknowingly are edging towards God?

The evidence presented for this view is from science not religion, it is scientific hypothesising based on what can be observed. We as people not involved in such esoteric work need to look at it with care, but there are certain things that we can understand, such for instance as the physical matter we generally take as “reality” is only 4% of the universe, with dark matter (23%) and dark energy (73%) making up the rest. If most of the universe isn’t the world we see, why would we assume that what we see is all there is?

A vision of the Cosmos, the Master of that Cosmos – the Triune God – the earth, the destiny of man – about being at the pinnacle of mankind looking towards God and the future. We as a species may have a long way to go – or a very short way to go, whatever the truth of that, the vision of who and what and where we are is of consuming interest. We in our time won’t know. What we will know is that there is a Master of the Universe and our future lies with Him. It behoves us therefore to align ourselves wholly with Him as far as we can right now.

The revelation of Jesus the Son of God is there for us to see. It outlines what we need to do to align ourselves with God. The Revelation of Saint John the Divine is there to underline the matter for us. For the moment, that total alignment with God is the most important thing for us as individuals to do. It ensures our future.

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ARE WE MOVING TOWARDS THE END?

 

It’s been tempting ever since Christianity started out, to think that we moving to the end of time and Christians have been reading the signs of their various times and thinking that the terrible events of the day, the wars and Christian lethargy point to an imminent end.

The Early Christians – including Apostles thought the end would be very soon.

In 1026 Richard II of Normandy lead a group of several hundred men on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land in the belief that the Day of Judgment had arrived – and so it has gone in pretty well every century since.

Think, for instance about the moslem onslaught on Europe beginning in AD 711 and continuing until Georgia was reconquered in 1878. Much of southern Europe was held by moslems until the 1500s.

Reason perhaps to imagine that all of northern Europe would be conquered and islam would prevail entirely over Christianity.

So, today, we face a resurgent islam again wanting to conquer Europe and this time being aided and abetted by Europeans who have no idea of the danger they face.

We look around us and we see the almost universal abandonment of any pretence at Christianity throughout the western world. There may be theoretically around 2.2 billion Christians in the world – but does anyone seriously imagine that more than 30 million are active, or that more than that would stand up for their faith?

And where will we find that 30 million? Mostly in Russia, Georgia, Serbia I suspect – plus Africa with only small pockets in Europe, the British Isles and the Americas.

The moslems – all of them – read and understand the requirement on them to kill those who oppose islam and refuse to convert. So as they slowly gain control of parts of Europe, expect that to start and internal refugees to mass and move within Europe. The “Displaced Persons” camps of post WW II will start all over again.

Not everyone will be martyred or put to death or suffer unbearable torture. Some will escape, for the Lord told us that He will keep us from that hour of testing, otherwise no one will be here to greet Him. He will keep us, some of us miraculously. He will move us through the spirit of God to safe havens. Some will be moved to true sanctuary cities or towns. Others will be kept safe and provided for because they will be living in the outskirts and hidden away from those that would seek to do them harm. Whatever our fate might be, we need to remain faithful until the end. Our kingdom is not of this world.

When, however, will that “end” come? The moslems invasion could well be no more than God permitting them to run loose as punishment for our abandoning Him. It need not signify the Second Coming.

The Book of the Revelation of Saint John the Divine is not a timetable for the end. Part of it deals with the Roman Empire as can be easily seen by those who know history. Part of it is a non-linear accounting of the end times. We have, however no clue in it for when that is. Probably quite deliberately so. We are told to live as if we die tomorrow. We must live as if we will answer for all our actions immediately. That is sufficient. We live therefore as if the Second Coming were in fact next Tuesday.

Packaged Faith

A friend of mine wrote this and I like it.  So I thought it would be a good start since I identify with it thoroughly.

bookstore

I was thinking about the old Church of Scotland bookshop at 121 George Street. It was a real bookshop. A real bookshop is one that only sells books and, apart from some Sunday school materials and the church magazine, this one only did sell books. It was not what you’d call decorated. Painted yes, and clean (apart from some dust around the secondhand seventeeth century divines) but lacking in nice veneers and soothing magnolia tints. But it sold books and plenty of them.

It had a tea-room too which was very unusual for bookshops in these days with tapioca pudding on the menu on Monday and Wednesday and crowded with old ladies in serviceable hats and sensible shoes lured by cheapness and churchiness. Espressos and cappuchinos were still as unknown as they had been in the days of Miss Jean Brodie (whom I am sure never crossed the threshhold). The old ladies never actually bought books, perhaps a copy of ‘Life and Work’ on their way out to pore over on the bus back to Cramond or Morningside, but the shelves of William Barclay (the man who never had an unpublished thought), John Owen, Robert Lewis Dabney, J C Ryle, John Bunyan and collections of cloth-bound sermons by A W Pink were reverentially undisturbed except by the odd theology student strayed down from New College. It was therefore the place to be for young ladies hoping to become ministers’ wives but I wasn’t one of them. Perhaps they thought I was a wannabe lady minister.

Then it changed. It became brighter, breezier and pastel-hued. The number of books went down and the number of non-Presbyterian books went up, videos and cassettes appeared in quantity as did magazines, and a good proportion of the books that were left were soft theology, comfy reads, self-help and Christianity-lite. Or as my friend Jean used to say, “lo-alcohol religion with nothing to gladden the heart” just more world-weary tripe about how to be a successful Christian. The craggy, dour, dog-collared old chaps who had once graced journal covers (frightening you off sin for a month) and whose lectures and sermons were advertised disappeared to be replaced by cheerful young men and women with carefully coiffed casualness back in the day when an unbuttoned shirt collar was heart-flutteringly trendy and occasionally in those oh-so daring blue jeans. It’s almost impossible to remember now but thirty years ago people still wore suits and hats to church here.

I got tired of those faces very quickly with their perfect skin and de rigueur cheerfulness, that certain sort of girl-next-door, wholesome Christian cheerfulness that makes me feel jaded and avoidant. Or as Jane Austen put it, “pictures of perfection make me sick and wicked.”

I started going to the Catholic bookshop. It was run by an elderly gentleman and his two spinster sisters, all very devout, and was crammed into two tiny 18th century shops thrown together and full of all manner of thing. Secondhand books with old dust from their original attics and new cobwebs. Encyclicals with impressive Latin names. Lives of saints, real and imagined, each one lovingly photographed in plaster of paris on the cover (try telling those old ladies that St Philomena wasn’t real and their soft, kindly wrinkles would transform into something that would stop a gorgon and beads would be clicked on your behalf at Sunday Mass for weeks to come). A pensive Bernadette Soubirous peered down from dim old photographs over crucifixes, waxen effigies of holy corpses, daguerrotypes of 19th century cardinals and sweetly tinted images of the Little Flower, Jesus Himself blonde and simpering, heavy blood-red glass votive holders, and Virgin Marys so pious that you wanted to smack them resulting in meditative journeys home on the subject of what the penance might be for that thought.

I pored over plastic rosaries, holy water bottles in the shape of Our Lady of La Salette, miraculous medals, pamphlets of novenas, the odd relocating monstrance and no end of sentimental, melodramatic and perhaps even true stories of cures at Lourdes as well as the lives of the visionaries of Fatima. I also discovered Monsignor Ronald Knox and Sister Edith Stein as well as new (to me) works by Cardinal Newman and Fr Gerard Manley Hopkins, SJ.

And then the brother and sisters retired and new people took over and it became glossy and bright. Today you would call it “pinnable”. And then unsurprisingly, to me at least, it closed.

The premises now hawk hideous tourist tat and I never pass it without a momentary prayer for the nice old people and a little sniff of regret because there is within me that which likes portraits of long dead religious and that indefinable smell of tallow-and-something that Catholic churches have and this shop had too.

And this is the problem with much of the way Christianity is presented today in bright, clean pastels. It’s smooth and glossy, a sort of Instagram gospel, and I don’t trust it. I loathe the way the faith is packaged, it’s not just Christianity, it’s your Christianity, and I want to smack the purveyors of it like the smugly demure madonna. Christianity should never be comfortable. It should be – it is – joyful but it’s not Instagrammable; if it doesn’t hurt, if it provides easy answers, if it dishes out bilge such as “God will never give you more than you can handle” then it’s denying the brokenness of the system we live in and it’s useless. It’s an empty box. Who wants that at Christmas?

BYZANTIUM AND US

 

 

The Byzantine Empire – or rather the later Roman Empire as its people thought of it – was undoubtedly great. The greatest empire of its day. To be there in Constantinople in office was to be at the very cutting edge of the world.

In technology, Byzantium, being a great empire had to look to its armies and navy, and consequently it was inventive in weaponry with flame throwers, grenades and trebuchets. Manufacture and innovation of weaponry were highly regarded, particularly in metallurgy, chemistry and mechanics.

FLAME THROWER

Flame thrower

HAND GRENADES

Hand grenades with shrapnel

Mathematics, and science with Greek and Arabic influence, was to the forefront, there were places here for innovators and academics. Byzantine scientists continued the tradition of the great Greek mathematicians, but went further and put their mathematics into practical use. In early Byzantium the mathematicians Anthemius of Tralles and Isidore of Miletus used mathematical formulae to build the great Hagia Sophia cathedral, a technological breakthrough for its time (and for centuries afterwards) due to its geometry, design and height.

HAGIA SOPHIA AS BUILT

Hagia Sophia Cathedral as it was built

More than this however, here in the great city was the centre, for here was also the centre of Christianity, here was the great cathedral – the architecturally innovative greatest church in the world.

The clergy held a special place, in part due to education, but also having more freedom than their Western counterparts, and having a Patriarch in Constantinople who was considered to be the head of the Church. The Church in fact ruled a much larger empire and dealt personally with the Master of the Cosmos.

HAGIA SOPHIA TODAY

Hagia Sophia Cathedral today close to 1,500 years later

And it was here in the great palace that the Emperor and his administration ruled a far-flung empire, requiring a civil service of magnitude to rule so ethnically diverse an empire as gradually the people became better educated throughout it.

628px-Western_and_Eastern_Roman_Empires_476AD(3)

The Eastern and Western Roman Empire

BUCOLEON PALACE

The Bucoleon palace

Education within the population was considerably more advanced than in the western countries, primarily because there was a school system, meaning that there were high literacy rates.

Men who would study, and who were themselves capable and outstanding, travelled to Constantinople to take their place in this great city whether in the Church or as academics.

Byzantine education was based upon the ancient Greek system that comprised a tripartite structure but was far more widespread throughout the country than in ancient Greece. The structure included the elementary school, secondary school, and higher education.

Schools were spread throughout the countryside and in towns. This ensured that literacy was fairly widespread – quite different from Western Europe where there was no real system except in some particular places. Secondary schools in Byzantium were mostly in the larger towns and tertiary education took place only in Constantinople itself.

Constantinople was a bustling place to be, by AD 400 there were some 300,000 people in it – by AD 560 there were around 800,000. So it was no mean city by any standards. A centre of learning, of the Church, and especially of trade, set on the Golden Horn where ships from the north and ships from the south came to trade.

Here, if one had the intellect, one could soar, here was the one place in the universe where it really happened, where one was at the centre of real influence, where the universe – material and spiritual – came together.

So, by the standards of its day (and a whole lot later) Constantinople was indeed the place to be.

But what of us, in these British islands? Well, despite Victorian ignorance of this period, it was certainly not a dark age and modern scholarship is finally making that clear.

The Church – the same Church that was in Constantinople actually arrived here earlier than it arrived in Greece or Rome. It is historically recorded by a number of contemporary/near contemporary writers that it came here with the first bishop Aristobulus sent from the Church in Jerusalem via Tyre in AD 37 – and it never went away. With the Church usually comes education. However the Church as it established itself in Britain, while believing the same things that the rest of the Church did, organised itself somewhat differently. Unlike other places it did not see itself as an institution. It was more a movement amongst the people. It had bishops, but they had no dioceses, they were with the people, more clan based than anything. By the AD 400s it had many monasteries and these rather than dioceses tended to be the centres of learning, the hubs of the Church.

The Britons generally could be fairly well educated, particularly on topics such as religion, philosophy, geography and astronomy. The Romans often employed Britons as tutors for their sons. There was, however no British education system. The Druids had “colleges” where there was real learning of renown and these colleges converted quite easily to Christianity, continuing their role as teachers and community leaders. Indeed these colleges in many instances turned into Christian monasteries.

Such was the learning associated with the Church in the British Isles, that its fame spread across Europe, especially with the British missionaries who went as far as Germany and even Kiev.

The incoming Anglo-Saxons were however pagans and destroyed the Church wherever they gained control. The Church and its learning retreated, only to send missionaries back. Eventually by the eighth century most of the country was again Christian with the exception of those parts invaded late in the first millennium.

ESCOMB CHURCH

Escomb church – one of many surviving churches from the Anglo-Saxon period

A large body of literature survives from Anglo-Saxon England in both Latin and Old English. Some of it resulting from King Alfred’s policies of education when because of falling standards of literacy and learning, he focused on the production of manuscripts written in English rather than Latin. The Old English translation of the Ecclesiastical History of the English People written in Latin by Bede (AD673–735) and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, an historical work in Old English were also instigated by King Alfred. Other writings in Old English include sermons, saints’ lives and wills. Anglo-Saxon laws were written in Old English rather than in Latin. Medical texts (and there were a few) were written in both Latin and Old English.

About 30,000 lines of Old English poetry survive in manuscripts dating from the late tenth and early eleventh centuries.

ANGLO-SAXON CHRONICLE

Part of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle

There is no doubt that by the late second half of the millennium, Christian Britain was functioning in a similar harmony between Church and State that can be seen in Constantinople, we have examples of the Witenagemot passing legislation a number of times in the eighth century concerning the Church, and we know that particularly by King Alfred’s time there was no clear line dividing them.

WITENAGEMOT

A Witenagemot session

As far as we know, contact between Byzantium and Britain was due to The Church and trade. The trade that had existed between Britain and the Mediterranean for several thousand years, persisted mainly through the far western ports, the Bristol Channel and Cornwall. The Church, because there was a fair traffic of clergy to and from Britain right from the beginning. Britain – both British and later Anglo-Saxon-British was by no means cut off, a backwater indeed the scholarship of the British Church made it an important centre for European Christianity.

We also know that after the Great Schism of 1054, there were many British soldiers serving in the army of Byzantium, particularly the Varangian Guard.

With the papal-Norman invasion, Britain was forcibly taken into schism with the Church.  King Harald’s widow and children fled to Byzanitine Kiev.  1500 ships full of English refugees arrived in Constantinople and were given a kingdom on the Crimea where they proceeded to build a London and a York

As you can see, the connecting thread through all of this is Orthodox Christianity in both places. That Christianity, while the same, was yet different. In Constantinople it was the Church of the Empire, an institution, very clearly defined and powerful while in Britain it was much more the Church of the people and while influential, it was not yet institutional. It did not become that grand institution until the coming of the papal Normans.

At the beginning of the second millennium the Church in the Byzantine Empire, was at the peak of its world influence and power. Rome, had become a provincial town and its church of little importance, the Carolingians couldn’t compare with Byzantium as a centre of power or Christian civilisation. The empire extended from Mesopotamia to Naples and from the Danube to Palestine. The Church extended its rule far beyond the empire, to Russia,  and north Africa.

Since the early days of Constantine and Justinian I the idea was that there was to be a single, unified Christian society, run by the empire and the Church, and that was still the case in the late Byzantine empire. At the heart of this was the Emperor. The Emperor had a place in the Church’s worship whereby he could not celebrate the Liturgy, but he occasionally preached sermons and on some feasts censed the altar. The life of the empire was a unified whole, and there was no real line of separation between Church and State, they formed a single organisation, within which were two distinct roles, the clergy and the imperial power working in close co-operation, yet each being autonomous there was a ‘symphony’ or ‘harmony’ of the two.

BYZANTINE COURT

The emperor with his army far left, civil servants and on his right a Bishop, a Priest and a Deacon.

This was evident in Byzantine law drawn up under Justinian. Emperor John Tzimisces: ‘I recognise two authorities, priesthood and empire; the Creator of the world entrusted to the first the care of souls and to the second the control of men’s bodies. Let neither authority be attacked, that the world may enjoy prosperity.”

BYZANTINE CHURCH INTERIOR

A Byzantine church interior

Thus it was the Emperor’s duty to summons Church councils and to enforce their decrees, but it was beyond his power to dictate the decrees themselves: it was for the bishops and clergy gathered in council to decide what the true faith was. When for instance a serious question arose, the Church acted alone – the iconoclast controversy although involving emperors was successfully rejected by the Church. Church and State were closely associated in running the empire, but neither was subordinate to the other.

The Byzantines strove to create an empire that was entirely Christian in its principles of government and in its daily life, in fact nothing less than an attempt to apply the fullness of Christ’s Way.

Today we can see a modern version of this in Russia, with the selfsame Orthodox Church that was in Byzantium and the Russian State working very closely together under successive Orthodox Christian presidents, much as the former Tsarist government worked with the Orthodox Church in running its empire. So it continues today. One can hope that over the following decades Russia will sort out a method of making this work ever better.