Ad Fontes

Politics, Theology and Christian Humanism


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Óscar Romero on sin and the liberation struggle

Oscar RomeroTomorrow, 24 March, will be the thirtieth anniversary of the assassination of Archbishop Óscar Romero of San Salvador. San Romero is remembered for his radical faith that compelled him to take a stand against the US-backed right-wing military government of El Salvador. Although often associated with liberation theology, the Marxist theological movement that began in Latin America, Romero rose through the ranks of the church as a staunch conservative, demanding obedience to the church hierarchy and the government, and being openly critical of Marxist priests and the guerilla fighters.

However, it was the assassination in 1977 of Romero’s friend, the outspoken Jesuit liberation theologian Rutilio Grande García, who set up base church communities (Christian worker’s communes) in the poorest districts of the country, that was something of an epiphany to him, and foreshadowing of his own death. Romero said, “If they have killed him for doing what he did, then I too have to walk the same path”. Óscar Romero began to speak out against the assassinations and in defence of the poor. He remained critical of the Marxist guerillas, but grew in sympathy for liberation theology.

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My kingdom is not of this world

Christus Rex

Christus Rex

This coming Sunday is the Feast of Christ the King. I’m going to give a 3-minute wonder at the BCP communion (on Jeremiah 23.5–8 & John 6.5–14). In an emergency, I may have to preach at the parish eucharist also (on Daniel 7.9–10, 13–14; Revelation 1.4b–8 & John 18.33b–37), which is most definitely Christ the King.

I expect many sermons will fail to get across what ‘Christ is king’ means. In Year B of the Revised Common Lectionary, which draws to a close this coming week, we have John’s account of Jesus’ trial before Pilate (or is Jesus putting Pilate on trial?). The key phrase in understanding Jesus as king here is his words, “My kingdom is not of this world” (ἡ βασίλεια ἡ ἐμὴ οὐκ ἔστιν ἐκ τοῦ κόσμου τούτου, hē basileia hē emē ouk estin ek tou kosmou toutou). Again there is the danger of misunderstanding the line to think he is talking about heaven. That interpretation completely disarms and voids the words of any meaning. It is basically putting on Jesus’ lips the idea that he doesn’t care about earthly life and all that matters is ‘pie in the sky when you die’. Continue reading


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Two Christendom anniversaries

28 October is usually recognised as the feast of SS Simon & Jude in church calendars, but it’s also the anniversary of two difficult political moments in church history: one global (or at least European), the other English.

On this day in AD 312, Constantine defeated Maxentius in the Battle of Milvian Bridge, near Rome. Constantine certainly thought his victory, against the odds, to be due to divine intervention. At some point it became clear that the divinity involved was the God of the Christians. It is unclear whether the divine intervention was interpreted as Christian from the outset, , not, when it became considered Christian. Constantine and Maxentius were rival claimants to be emperor of the western half of the Roman empire, an empire still very much attached to the ancient Roman religion. Continue reading


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When democracy meant getting your sword

Battleton Holt, Edgehill; photo by Jonathan Billinger

Battleton Holt, Edgehill; photo by Jonathan Billinger

367 years ago today it all kicked off. The Battle of Edgehill on 23 October 1642 was the first major engagement of the English Civil War. As I sit in my study looking out on this bright but chilly day, with the puddles of yesterday’s rain still glistening on the tarmac, I can only begin to imagine what that day a few miles west of Stratford-upon-Avon was like.

Charles Stuart sr was a tyrant, an autocrat who ruled according to his own whim. While the House of Commons was not a great advert for power to the people, stuffed as it was with landowners and merchants elected on a very limited franchise, it was the nearest thing to democracy we had. This was a world before the revolutions of the US, France and Russia: no one had heard of a president running a country, and democracy was a dirty word. Continue reading


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Ad fontes of Christian humanism

I’ve recently updated my What page, so I thought I would also copy it here as a post for comment.

GarshuniAd fontes is a Latin phrase meaning ‘to the sources’, a favourite motto of Renaissance humanism. I am particularly thinking of Erasmus of Rotterdam with this phrase, recalling his invaluable biblical scholarship. Renaissance humanism both laid the groundwork for the Reformation and re-engaged with the writers of the early church.

The term ‘humanism’ is only applied retrospectively to this movement. The Oxford English Dictionary dates its earliest meaningful occurrence in the French humanisme of 1765, with the meaning of ‘love of humanity’, with a German reference to Humanismus from 1808 being used to describe the classical syllabus of the gelehrten Schulen (‘learned schools’, grammar schools). Our universities’ humanities divisions and faculties are named after this understanding of humanism. It didn’t take long for the term to acquire two more widely applied senses: the intellectual movement of the Renaissance and a philosophy oriented toward the human. There are a few sparse uses of the term ‘humanism’ to refer to a doctrine that Jesus Christ has a merely human nature (adoptionism, ebionitism and perhaps unitarianism), and Schiller used the term as a name for pragmatism; these are not my doctrines, nor my intended meaning. Continue reading