Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year! Praise the Lord!

Because of differences between the numbering of Psalms in their Septuagint version versus their Masoretic text, a Roman Catholic like Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) would have known it as Psalm 116, while Protestants call it Psalm 117. Under either nomenclature, it remains, at just two verses, the shortest Psalm in the Bible:
Every country in the world, praise the LORD!

All the people (in the world), praise him!
His kind love for us is very strong.

And he will always do what he has promised.

For all its brevity, the Psalm is not simple to translate. Here is the Hebrew original, with a literal translation beneath:

א הַלְלוּ אֶת-ה', כָּל-גּוֹיִם; שַׁבְּחוּהוּ, כָּל-הָאֻמִּים.
ב כִּי גָבַר עָלֵינוּ, חַסְדּוֹ-- וֶאֱמֶת-ה'לְעוֹלָם:

"Praise God all the peoples; laud Him all nations.
For His loving-kindness overcomes us; and truth God, mysteriously eternal, Praise God."
Contrasted in the second verse are two fundamental attributes of God: Chesed (Heb.: "loving-kindness"), and emet (Heb.: "truth, verity"). The former is all-encompassing, all-forgiving; the latter is absolute and never-changing. (For an outstanding exposition of the Psalm in light of these two poles of its composition, see this post.)

The only way I know to comprehend the depth of this two-line psalm, not having spent a lifetime immersed in the beauties of the Hebrew language, is to listen to a setting of it to music -- as it was intended originally to be heard (that is: sung, not spoken). And of all the settings of it which have been made over the centuries, there is surely none that matches this:


Laudate Dominum omnes gentes; laudate eum, omnes populi.
Quoniam confirmata est super nos misericordia ejus, et veritas
Domini manet in aeternum.

Gloria Patri et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto. Sicut erat in principio,
et nunc et semper, et in saecula seculorum. Amen.

This gem closes Mozart's Vesperae solennes de confessore (K. 339), most probably written for a liturgical occasion of great importance to his native Salzburg: the vespers performed on the feast day of St. Rupert (September 24) in 1780. (St. Rupert was the patron saint ["confessor"] of Salzburg, and along with St. Virgil was also the patron saint of its cathedral. You can read a fine study about the background for Mozart's composition by downloading this .pdf document.)

As commenter St. Nikao noted on an earlier post regarding Beethoven, this was a personally difficult time for Mozart, who had just lost his mother while the two were traveling, in Paris. As is so often true of Mozart, however, not a trace of his personal troubles is present in his music. While it may be said that Beethoven's music exalts mankind to the heavens, Mozart's music seems to have been made in heaven to begin with.

There are so many versions of Laudate dominum on the Web that it was impossible to choose the single best, though for beauty of articulation, the version with Genia Kühmeier above is difficult to improve upon. Nevertheless, I would like to commend to you at least three other versions, each with its own stellar qualities. This version by Cecilia Bartoli expresses a reverence for the text that remains fresh and innocent, never cloying:

There are two much older versions also available, each coming from a similar school of bel canto: here are links to a classic version by Lucia Popp, and to a rarely-heard recording of a 1987 performance at M.I.T. by a 21-year-old Cheryl Studer. (Note to self: don't bother trying to listen to any version which is performed in under four minutes; and the real test of a singer's abilities becomes apparent the more she risks taking five full minutes in which to exploit all of the music's glorious phrases.)

It is a fitting note on which to end the year: Praise the Lord, all ye nations!

A Guide to This Site

Anglican Curmudgeon is a site that focuses on stories about the Episcopal Church (USA) -- also known as "ECUSA" here -- and the larger confederation of churches to which it belongs, called the Anglican Communion. However, there are many articles dealing with politics, economics, the culture wars and other subjects, as well. Use this page as a first step into the variety of topics addressed on this site.

If you are interested in stories and topics involving the Episcopal Church (USA), please click on this link.

If you are interested in stories and topics involving the wider Anglican Communion, and religion in general, please click on this link.

And if you want to see stories and topics involving other subjects, please click on this link.

Happy hunting!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Episcopal Church (USA) - Site Guide

Use this page to lead you to pages collecting posts on specific topics involving the Episcopal Church (USA):

The Episcopal Church (USA): Its History
Special Topic: Changing the Constitution in 1901: Rejecting a "Hierarchical" Structure

The Episcopal Church (USA): How It Is Structured and Governed

Special Topic: The Current Constitutional Crisis in ECUSA

The Episcopal Church (USA): Litigation and Lawsuits - Including Specific Dioceses

Special Topic: How Did ECUSA Get Its Attorneys?
Special Topic: The Dennis Canon
Special Topic: The "Dog in the Manger" Series

The Episcopal Church (USA): Its Budget and Finances

Special Topic: How Much Does ECUSA Spend on Lawsuits?

The Episcopal Church (USA): Its General Convention and Meetings

Special Topic: The 2009 Church Follies

The Episcopal Church (USA): Its Presiding Bishop and Staff

Special Topic: The Presiding Bishop Defies -- and Defiles -- the Canons

The Episcopal Church (USA): Other Topics

Friday, December 24, 2010

A Christmas Special: Tipler's Virgin Birth Theory Revisited

A little over two years ago I put up this post to discuss Frank Tipler's argument, using available scientific evidence, for the Virgin Birth of Jesus Christ (from chapter VII of his book, The Physics of Christianity). This Christmas, I want to examine in greater detail the evidence he presents -- in particular, the genetic evidence derived from DNA analysis of blood samples taken from the Shroud of Turin and the Sudarium of Oviedo -- in the hopes that someone more familiar with this branch of molecular biology might pick it up, and either comment on it, take it further, or even (if possible) refute it.

[UPDATE 12/25/2010: A word to my readers: I am well aware of the scorn and ridicule that has been heaped upon Frank Tipler and his theories (here is just one such example). But it is far easier to denigrate than to engage. As you read the post that follows, I would ask that you keep the bigger picture in mind: We have two ancient artefacts, hundreds and hundreds of years old (if not thousands), each with its own independent history -- yet each of which has matching AB-type bloodstains, the source of which tradition assigns to the same person, who was unquestionably of the male gender. How does it turn out, after a scientific analysis possible only in the late twentieth century, that the stains on both cloths lack a key genetic identifier for maleness? That is the question I wish responsible people would address.]

First, some background: the Shroud of Turin, of course, is the name given to what traditionally has been considered as the linen burial cloth in which, as the Gospels all report, the women who prepared Jesus for burial wrapped His body. Its provenance and history are greatly in dispute, a dispute which was heightened by a radiocarbon analysis of a portion of the cloth done in 1988, which dated its origin to no earlier than the 13th century. However, evidence since that well-publicized test has accumulated to cast those results into doubt, and to validate the Shroud's origin as genuine (see the details discussed in this earlier post).

The Sudarium of Oviedo is the name given to the cloth which tradition assigns as the face cloth placed over Jesus' head when he was taken down from the cross, and which was found in the tomb, rolled up and separate from the other linens, after His resurrection (Jn 20:7). (It is not to be confused with the Veil of Veronica, another relic of the crucifixion, which was originally kept at St. Peter's, but is now at the Abbey of Monoppello, high in the Apennines.) The Sudarium's history is entirely different from that of the Shroud's. Its location in Oviedo has been documented since the eighth century; it was in Toledo for about eighty years before that.

Aged, brown blood stains have been described on both cloths for centuries, but actually documented to be human blood (type AB) only with the advanced analysis techniques of the twentieth century. And a recent, in-depth study of the Sudarium done in 1998 (the first ever performed, in contrast to the numerous advanced tests on the Shroud) confirms that the blood stains on each cloth match in placement, blood type, and pattern of spread, along with numerous other correspondences (such as pollen indigenous to Jerusalem) between the two cloths. If the two cloths at one time covered the head, the face and (for the Shroud) the body of the same person, then obviously the 1988 radiocarbon dating of the Shroud was thrown off due to some error in the sampling process.

If a match between the blood stains could be established by forensic analysis of their surviving DNA, then one could feel confident (a) of the Shroud's having a much greater age, and (b) of the absence of fraud or artifice in the creation of the stains and images on each cloth. And this is where Frank Tipler's book referenced above proved most interesting. For in the course of his investigations, he learned that a highly qualified team of researchers from Genoa, Italy -- including two molecular biologists who had invented the standard test for sex determination, had performed DNA analysis on the stains of both the Shroud and the Sudarium in 1995.

However, their results had been published not in a standard scientific journal, available easily to all, but only in an obscure journal in Italian devoted entirely to studies about the Shroud. As Prof. Tipler noted:
Furthermore, only the raw data were published. That is, the Genoa team published black-and-white Xerox copies of the computer output of the DNA analyzer. This is never, never done. Always, the data are presented in a neat table or figure, and they are accompanied by a discussion of their significance. The Genoa team made no effort to interpret their data. . . .
Prof. Tipler, in contrast, had no reluctance in interpreting the data -- that is, once it was arranged in standard tabular form, according to the number of base pairs in the amplicons on the agarose gel which resulted from a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) involving segments of the sample DNA. Now, let me provide a little more background, so those unfamiliar with the procedures of forensic DNA analysis can make sense of that last sentence.

The technique of PCR was developed in 1983 by Kary Mullis, whose TED talk I featured earlier. The idea simply popped into his head one night as he was driving to his vacation cabin in northern California; he tried it, and the results surpassed all his expectations. The technique has been the foundation stone of DNA analysis ever since. Essentially, what it does, given a very small sample of DNA to begin with, is to make millions or even billions of copies of the sample in a "chain reaction" taking about three hours, so that there is enough ending material to analyze with standard laboratory techniques, including chromatography and gel electrophoresis. (Here is an excellent illustrated guide to the whole process.)

The way it works is by first heating the DNA samples to break the two strands of the double helix apart (this is called "DNA denaturation", or "DNA melting"). Once the strands have been separated, they are cooled down and put into a mix of DNA primers (short strands of DNA chosen for their complementarity with the sample being tested) and DNA polymerase -- a magic enzyme which, given a primer, goes to work and replicates the strands of the samples exactly. By successive heatings and coolings, more and more copies of the sample are created, separated into single strands, cooled, and then duplicated again, and again, and again, with the number of DNA copies roughly doubling each time -- hence the "chain reaction."

In running a PCR analysis on their samples from the Shroud and the Sudarion, the Italian researchers included a set of highly particular DNA primers generated from the gene for amelogenin, which plays a role in the building of tooth enamel. This gene appears on both the X- and Y-chromosomes in humans, but in distinctive forms: the allele (gene variant) on the X-chromosome is six base-pairs shorter than the allele on the Y-chromosome. ("Base pairs" are the pairings between the four fundamental nucleotides, or building blocks, of DNA.) And this very slight difference can be used to determine whether any given DNA sample comes from a male or a female, as a result. (Here is a link to a diagram of the genetic code for amelogenin, which shows precisely where the missing base pairs on the X-version differ from the Y-version; note that there are other slight differences between their codes, as well.)

Because of the difference in their respective lengths, the two alleles will show up at different places when the analysis is run on the results of the PCR amplifications (these are the amplicons I mentioned earlier) of the original sample. (In order to understand fully how the analysis produces its results, I highly recommend that those who have the time run through this interactive simulation of the process of gel electrophoresis in the lab.)

The results from female DNA will have only one band of the shorter base-pair length, while the results from male DNA will have two bands, one of the shorter, X-chromosome length, and the other from the longer, Y-chromosome variant of amelogenin. This was the DNA test for gender which was developed by two expert members of the 1995 Italian research team, as mentioned earlier.

The Italian team knew what they were doing. They took steps to eliminate "DNA noise" from contamination of the samples which might have built up from handling of the cloths by various people over the years. Even so, they apparently could not trust the results they ended up with, after all their careful analysis: the genetic signature of both samples, the one from the Shroud, the other from the Sudarium, showed only one band -- for the shorter (106 base-pairs), X-chromosome variant of amelogenin. (Depending on the length of the gene segment used as a primer for the PCR analysis, the X-allele of amelogenin will have either 106, or 212, base pairs, or "bp" -- see the diagram again for a depiction of the different segments used as primers in the test. The extra six base pairs for the Y-allele of amelogenin results in either 112 bp or 224 bp, depending again on the primer that is used for the test.)

With the foregoing as background, we are now ready to appreciate the results of the analysis by the Italian team, as reproduced by Professor Tipler in his book. Here are the results in tabular form, as he arranged them -- according to increasing base-pair length (click on the image to enlarge):

Professor Tipler does not elaborate on this tabular layout, and I have had to deduce, from my earlier experiences with forensic DNA analysis in court, just what the individual columns show. (If I err in any respect in what follows, I trust a knowledgeable commentator will correct me.) The left-hand column shows the index-mark, varying by time of retention, where the band in question appears in the results; in general, a higher index number means a longer retention time, because the segments with the greatest number of base pairs move slowest through the gel. The second column shows the average number of base pairs in that particular band, to a specified tolerance determined by the analysis software. The third column shows the height (intensity) of the band in question, which is proportionate to the amount of that particular allele in the amplified test sample; the total area of the band given in the fourth column also varies proportionately with the intensity. Finally, the number in the fifth column relates to the particular scan of the data run by the computer analyzer.

It is the numbers in the second column with which we are most interested. Both the analysis of the Shroud sample and of the Sudarium sample show results within the range expected for the 106 bp allele of amelogenin: 107.28 for the Shroud, and 105.27 for the Sudarium. (The variation of 1 in either direction from the specific bp number is due to a phenomenon called stutter which can occur during the PCR process -- see the article linked earlier for a more detailed explanation.) But there are no corresponding bands appearing in the 112 bp (+/- 1) range of the data.

This would ordinarily be the genetic signature of a female, with two X-chromosomes, and undoubtedly accounts in part for the reluctance of the Italian researchers to explain or comment on their results. With all of the precautions they took against contamination of the blood samples, how could the Y-allele of amelogenin have completely vanished from both samples, independently, over the years?

As Professor Tipler is at pains to point out, however, the presence of a single X-allele band, and the absence of any Y-allele band, is also consistent with another conclusion: that the person whose blood stained both cloths was that most rare of humans, an XX-male:
I propose that Jesus was a special type of XX male, a type that is quite rare in humans but extensively studied.17 Approximately 1 out of every 20,000 human males is an XX male. Such males are normal in behavior and intelligence but have smaller teeth, shorter stature, and smaller testes than normal males. They are usually identified as XX males because they cannot have children and ask doctors to cure the infertility. Normal males are XY, but there are only twenty-eight genes on the Y chromosome, as opposed to thousands on the X chromosome. Of these twenty-eight genes, fifteen are unique to the Y chromosome and thirteen have counterparts on the X chromosome.18 The genes with counterparts on both the X and the Y chromosomes are called homologous genes. An XX male results when a single key gene for maleness on the Y chromosome (the SRY gene) is inserted into an X chromosome. One possibility is that all (or at least many) of the Y chromosome genes were inserted into one of Mary's X chromosomes and that, in her, one of the standard mechanisms used to tum off genes was active on these inserted Y genes. (There is an RNA process that can tum off an entire X chromosome. This is the most elegant turnoff mechanism.) Jesus would then have resulted when one of Mary's egg cells started to divide before it became haploid and with the Y genes activated (and, of course, with the extra X genes deactivated).
17 Chapelle, Albert de la. 1981. "The Etiology of Maleness in XX Men." Human Genetics 58: 105-116; Guellean, Georges. et al. 1984. "Human XX Males with Y Single-Copy DNA Fragments." Nature 307: 172-73; Page, David C., et al. 1985. "Chromosome-Specific DNA in Related Human XX Males." Nature 315: 224-26; Andersson. Mea. et al. 1986. "Chromosome Y-Specific DNA Is Transferred to the Short Arm of the X Chromosome in Human XX Males." Science 233:786-88; Petit, Christine, et al. 1987. "An Abnormal Terminal X -Y Interchange Accounts for Most but Not All Cases of Human XX Maleness." Cell 49:595-602; Chapelle, Albert de la, et al. 1988. "Invited Editorial: The Complicated Issue of Human Sex Determination." American Journal of Human Genetics 43:1-3.

18 Jegalian, Karin, and Bruce T. Lahn. 2001. "Why the Y Is So Weird." Scientific American, February, 56-61.
Because the full-body image we have from the shroud does not match the parameter of the usual type of XX-male (the 1-in-20,000 example mentioned in the text, in which only the SRY gene is inserted in the X-chromosome, with a resulting smaller stature than other males), Prof. Tipler believes that Jesus may have been an even rarer exemplar -- indeed, a one-time-only species -- of XX-maleness, in which most, if not all, of the fifteen Y-specific genes were inserted into the X-chromosome:
Such a virgin birth would be improbable. If the measured probability that a single Y gene is inserted into an X chromosome is 1 in 20,000, then the probability that all Y genes are inserted into an X chromosome is 1/20,000 raised to the 28th power, the power corresponding to the number of Y genes. (Assuming that the insertion of each Y gene has equal probability and that these insertions are independent.) There have been only about 100 billion humans born since behaviorally modern Homo sapiens evolved, between 55,000 and 80,000 years ago. . . . Thus, the virgin birth of such an XX male would be unique in human history even if there were only two such Y genes inserted into an X chromosome. (I assume an upper bound to the rate of virgin birth is 1/300. Then the probability of a virgin birth of a male with 2 Y genes is 1/[300][20,000][20,000] = 1/120 billion.)
How could it be determined if Jesus were in fact such a unique individual? Unfortunately, the tests run by the Italians in 1995 did not search for any Y-genes other than the Y-allele for amelogenin. (Their black-and-white reproduction of their computer data also unfortunately left out the information from the different dye colorings, which would have enabled one to determine just how many different alleles were present, and the degree to which any contamination might have occurred. As it is, their data from just the Shroud show fourteen different alleles present in addition to that from the X-variant of amelogenin, where one would expect at most eight from the four other specific genes for which they tested. Without more data, it is simply not possible to account for the extra six which they show.) Prof. Tipler recommends that more modern tests be conducted on the stains on the two cloths, which could help to determine whether the DNA contains more than just one Y-specific gene, or only one, or two, and could also help to pinpoint any possible sources of contamination. Such tests could moreover dramatically enhance the likelihood that the blood on the separate cloths is from one and the same genetic source. (As it is, the data shows they share three specific alleles already.)

What is one to conclude from all of this? (As I say, I hope that those who are more expert in these subjects will be stimulated to comment, or to write about it on their own blogs.) The point, I emphasize again, is not that science can offer any absolute "proof" or "disproof" of the Virgin Birth. (How God works His miracles will never be fully comprehensible to mortal understanding.) Instead, what fascinates in this investigation of artefacts which are in all likelihood at least two thousand years old is that they hold up so remarkably well to ever closer scrutiny and more extensive examination. There is plenty of room for skeptics to disagree, and for believers to find encouragement. With an open and contrite spirit, not being stubborn or willfully contrary, each individual must form his or her own conclusions, based on what is at hand at the moment. Such is the essence of the grace which God bestows upon us.

A Merry Christmas to all!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Using the Bible to Date the Nativity

In the previous posts in this series examining the historical and astronomical evidence for the date of the Nativity, we saw how all the ancient, non-biblical sources point to a date that, in our present calendar, would fall somewhere between August of 3 B.C. and July of 2 B.C. This also ties in well with our interpretation of Josephus to say that Herod died within a few weeks after the very visible lunar eclipse which occurred on December 29, 1 B.C.

Using the evidence of Jupiter's meanderings in the skies in 3-2 B.C., we saw that the phenomena associated with it began with a close conjunction with the planet Venus on August 12, 3 B.C. near the constellation of Leo, traditionally associated with the "lion of Judah." Then, beginning on September 14, 3 B.C., Jupiter (the "King planet") began a series of three conjunctions with the "King star", Regulus, also in the constellation of Leo. After passing it on the 14th, Jupiter continued westward, then doubled back in retrograde motion to make another conjunction with Regulus on February 17, 2 B.C., and moving westward again, made its third conjunction with the King star on May 8, 2 B.C. It crowned its wanderings with a truly spectacular, and very rare (since it was so close the two planets could not be told apart) conjunction with Venus in the evening skies of June 17, 2 B.C. It closed out by moving ever farther westward until it appeared in the southern skies over Jerusalem (in the direction of Bethlehem), where it came to a standstill (before beginning retrograde motion again) exactly on December 25, 2 B.C., and stayed in place until January 6, 1 B.C. (You can watch short movies of all of these phenomena in this earlier post.)

All of the foregoing observations are based on solid astronomical facts, since with computers we are able recreate how the heavens would have looked over any given spot on Earth, at any time in the past or future. Although the significance of the extremely rare and bright conjunction in June of 2 B.C. was first heralded by Roger Sinnott in an article in the December 1968 issue of Sky and Telescope, the notion that it could be the phenomenon described in Matthew chapter 2 took quite some time to catch on. Much of the latter-day credit has to go to Dr. Ernest L. Martin, the author of The Star that Astonished the World, first published in 1991 and still available in a reprint of the second edition in 1996.

Dr. Martin's account of the Nativity ties in two other sources from the Bible itself, which I would like to discuss in this post. They are both rather more indefinite than the astronomical data covered thus far, but they are each worthy of an attempt to reconcile them with that data. The first begins with this passage from the Book of Revelation, chapter 12, verses 1-6:

12:1 Then a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, and with the moon under her feet, and on her head was a crown of twelve stars. 12:2 She was pregnant and was screaming in labor pains, struggling to give birth. 12:3 Then another sign appeared in heaven: a huge red dragon that had seven heads and ten horns, and on its heads were seven diadem crowns. 12:4 Now the dragon’s tail swept away a third of the stars in heaven and hurled them to the earth. Then the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that he might devour her child as soon as it was born. 12:5 So the woman gave birth to a son, a male child, who is going to rule over all the nations with an iron rod. Her child was suddenly caught up to God and to his throne, 12:6 and she fled into the wilderness where a place had been prepared for her by God, so she could be taken care of for 1,260 days.
"[A] woman clothed with the sun, and with the moon under her feet, and on her head was a crown of twelve stars. . . ." Many commentators have struggled with the interpretation of this passage. In verse 5, John's reference to Psalm 2 (vv. 7-9) makes it clear that he is speaking of the birth of the Messiah, and so the woman described can only be Mary, while the dragon is John's symbol for Herod, who tried to kill Jesus after His birth. Others have seen the woman as a symbol of Israel generally, and there have been interpretations still more far-fetched.

Ernest Martin interprets the passage astronomically. He points out that the woman is described as "in heaven" in vs. 1, and that the sun and the moon both attend her. He sees this as an inescapable reference to the constellation of Virgo, the Virgin, which lies along the ecliptic with the other eleven constellations of the zodiac ("the twelve stars" in her crown). He points out that for the sun to "clothe" her, it would be in the middle of the constellation, between her head and her feet. The sun does this, of course, once a year. It passes through that region of Virgo (150-170 degrees along the ecliptic) in the course of about twenty days. But in all that time period, there is only an extremely narrow interval when the moon could simultaneously appear at her feet (between 180-187 degrees). In September of 3 B.C., that would have occurred precisely on the 11th of the month, between the hours of 5-7 p.m., local time, just after the sun had set.

What is significant about sunset on September 11, 3 B.C.? Dr. Martin points out that it was the beginning of the Day of Trumpets, the first day of Tishri, Rosh ha-Shanah, the start of the Jewish civil year. No other nearby year has such a precise alignment of the sun and moon in Virgo at just that significant moment in the Jewish calendar, which matches John's description in Revelation 12:1. The significance of the Day of Trumpets, Dr. Martin shows, is its symbolic connection with both the beginning and the end of the earth. In Jewish tradition the earth, with its fruits ripe for Adam and Eve to eat in the Garden of Eden, was created in autumn, on 1 Tishri. And in the Book of Revelation, John's passage describing the arrival of the Messiah occurs right after the blowing of the seventh and last trumpet (ch. 11:15).

Here is another movie, from the Starry Night software program, showing the sun in Virgo and the movement of the moon at Virgo's feet, as the skies would have appeared over Jerusalem on September 11, 3 B.C., from about 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. (To make things more visible -- the moon is just a sliver, because it is a new moon at the start of Tishri 1 -- I have eliminated the glare of daylight, and just shown the whole sky as dark.) In the video, the top green track is the orbit of the Sun as it is passing through the middle of Virgo, and the lower green track is the orbit followed by the new moon (I apologize for the illegibility of the labels -- you might try viewing this in the full-screen mode, by clicking the button at the lower right):

For Dr. Martin (and several others), the concurrence of these astronomical events with the significance of the date for the Jewish calendar, and with the passage from John's Revelation, clinches the matter: Jesus the Messiah was born precisely on September 11, 3 B.C., just after sundown and the start of the Jewish New Year. To support this conclusion, he draws on one more ancient source: the Gospel of Luke, with its references in the first chapter to the birth of John the Baptist, about six months before Jesus:

1:5 During the reign of Herod king of Judea, there lived a priest named Zechariah who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah, and he had a wife named Elizabeth, who was a descendant of Aaron. 1:6 They were both righteous in the sight of God, following all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blamelessly. 1:7 But they did not have a child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both very old.
1:8 Now while Zechariah was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, 1:9 he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to enter the holy place of the Lord and burn incense. 1:10 Now the whole crowd of people were praying outside at the hour of the incense offering. 1:11 An angel of the Lord, standing on the right side of the altar of incense, appeared to him. 1:12 And Zechariah, visibly shaken when he saw the angel, was seized with fear. 1:13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son; you will name him John. 1:14 Joy and gladness will come to you, and many will rejoice at his birth, 1:15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He must never drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even before his birth. 1:16 He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. 1:17 And he will go as forerunner before the Lord in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers back to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared for him.”
1:18 Zechariah said to the angel, “How can I be sure of this? For I am an old man, and my wife is old as well.” 1:19 The angel answered him, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. 1:20 And now, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will be silent, unable to speak, until the day these things take place.”
1:21 Now the people were waiting for Zechariah, and they began to wonder why he was delayed in the holy place. 1:22 When he came out, he was not able to speak to them. They realized that he had seen a vision in the holy place, because he was making signs to them and remained unable to speak. 1:23 When his time of service was over, he went to his home.
1:24 After some time his wife Elizabeth became pregnant, and for five months she kept herself in seclusion. She said, 1:25 “This is what the Lord has done for me at the time when he has been gracious to me, to take away my disgrace among people.”
1:26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, 1:27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, a descendant of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary. 1:28 The angel came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one, the Lord is with you!” 1:29 But she was greatly troubled by his words and began to wonder about the meaning of this greeting. 1:30 So the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God! 1:31 Listen: You will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. 1:32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of his father David. 1:33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and his kingdom will never end.” 1:34 Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I have not had sexual relations with a man?” 1:35 The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called the Son of God.
1:36 “And look, your relative Elizabeth has also become pregnant with a son in her old age – although she was called barren, she is now in her sixth month! 1:37 For nothing will be impossible with God.”1:38 So Mary said, “Yes, I am a servant of the Lord; let this happen to me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.
Dr. Martin picks up on two clues from this passage: first, Zechariah was of the "priestly division of Abijah", which is to say, the eighth of twenty-four divisions of priests in the duty cycle at the Temple, where they would serve for exactly one week twice each year (not counting the three great feasts of Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles, when all the courses would serve together). In 4 B.C., he calculates that the first course of the division of Abijah would have fallen between May 19 and May 26. Allowing time for Elizabeth to conceive, and then to progress to her sixth month, Dr. Martin concludes that Mary became incarnate with Jesus in December of 4 B.C., so that she would deliver the infant 280 days later, on September 11. John the Baptist would have thus been born six months earlier (the second clue: in Mary's third month), about March 10, in 3 B.C.

Now Dr. Martin has given this scenario a lot of time and thought, and it makes for engrossing reading. My only problem with it is that it does nothing with the spectacularly rare conjunction of Venus and Jupiter on June 17, 2 B.C., except to make it an event sufficiently unusual to trigger the decision of the magi in the court at Seleucia to travel to Jerusalem and worship the new King of the Jews. (It also does not offer any explanation for what the shepherds would have seen in the fields on the night of September 11, 3 B.C.) In pondering this question, I asked myself: just how old would Jesus have been on June 17 of 2 B.C. if he had been born the previous September 11? What event in his early life could we associate with the conjunction of Venus and Jupiter?

I counted up the days, and lo and behold! there are exactly 279 days between the two dates. Now go back to Dr. Martin's invocation of the average gestation period of 280 days to account for the birth of John the Baptist, and you will have some idea of my thinking. If we assume that the incarnation of Jesus in the Virgin Mary occurred at the beginning of the Jewish New Year in 3 B.C., then the spectacular conjunction of the Mother planet with the King planet, again in the King constellation of Leo, on June 17 in 2 B.C. would exactly mark the Messiah's birth!

Under this scenario, the earlier conjunction of Venus and Jupiter on August 12, 3 B.C. could have heralded the Annunciation to Mary by the Archangel Gabriel, with the incarnation following just one month later, and the birth following just nine months and nine days after that. This was now all coming together.

The shepherds would certainly have been out in the fields in June, just after lambing season -- and they, too, would have seen the conjunction which made the Star (which would not have been anywhere evident in the skies on the eleventh of September, nine months earlier). And as for John the Baptist? A birth date of June 17 for Jesus would place his birth in December of the previous year, meaning that Elizabeth became pregnant with him in early March of 3 B.C. But remember -- there were two priestly courses of Abijah each year. If the first occurred from May 19 to May 26 of 4 B.C. (and some say it was later, depending on when Nisan 1 in 4 B.C. was reckoned), the second occurred six months plus two weeks later (to allow for the feasts of Pentecost and Tabernacles), in mid- to late December of 4 B.C. Luke is vague about the amount of time that lapsed between Zechariah's return home, which would have been about the beginning of our January, and the start of Elizabeth's pregnancy, but a  February-March date for the commencement of Elizabeth's pregnancy would not clash with his account (see above).

All in all, then, I think the best use of the astronomical data, which are a given, as a fit to the historical record we glean from Scripture, puts the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem on the 17th of June in 2 B.C., when it was accompanied by the most spectacular conjunction in the night sky the world had ever seen, and which will not recur, as I calculated in this post, for another 177,270 years. The Annunciation would have occurred at the time of the earlier Jupiter-Venus conjunction on August 12, 3 B.C., in the sixth month of Elizabeth's pregnancy, and the Incarnation would have taken place on the Day of Trumpets, the first day of Tishri (September 11, 3 B.C.).

The point of this exercise, I emphasize, is not to let astronomical science determine, let alone lay down markers for, our faith. The precise date of Jesus' birth is no longer of such theological importance as it might have been for his fellow Jews at the time. No doubt Mary told the whole story to Luke, who set it down faithfully as she remembered it, with all of the personal details. We who read his account today, however, may rest assured that there is an actual, first-person report which underlies his Gospel.

This completes my series of posts on the Nativity. However, on Christmas Day, I will revisit my post about Frank Tipler's analysis of the evidence for the Virgin Birth, and will put up the data as he first reported it. In all of this, I am struck by the realization that the more we are able to discover about the past through new scientific techniques and methods, the better Holy Scripture stands up to the scrutiny we give it. For which I say: Deo gratias!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Federal Court Issues Stay in Ft. Worth Trademark Case

I resolved to stay away from ECUSA's litigation troubles during this season of the nativity, but I still have to report to my readers breaking news, if it is important. And this is important news: the federal district court in Fort Worth today issued a one-page order staying all further proceedings in the trademark infringement action brought by the rump diocese of Fort Worth and its "corporation" (which does not actually exist, for reasons I explain below). The stay will remain in effect until the court resolves the pending motions by the real diocese of Fort Worth and its real corporation to intervene in the case to protect their property rights in their name and corporate insignia.

With an apparently unlimited litigation budget in Texas, the Episcopal Church (USA) and its puppet diocese of Fort Worth have tried all manner of strategies to accomplish an end run around the courts of Texas and achieve a quick victory in their dispute with Bishop Jack L. Iker and his Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth. (Note to readers from ECUSA: "Episcopal" means "of, or having to do with, a bishop". It does not necessarily mean "affiliated with the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America." ECUSA has no trademark in the word "Episcopal", which is used by a number of churches within the Anglican Communion.)

As you can read in the series of earlier posts linked at this page, the history of the litigation in Fort Worth is a complex one. Here is the Condensed Version.

After Bishop Iker and his diocese left ECUSA in November 2008, the Presiding Bishop staged her usual coup in the territory of that diocese, organizing the dissenting parishes, calling on her own a "special convention", and arranging for the election of a "provisional bishop" who could immediately be used as the figurehead in a lawsuit against Bishop Iker. The strategy is to pretend that "dioceses can never leave the Church; only people can" -- hence, go into court pretending to be the "one and only Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth", and sue in both its name and in the name of its associated Corporation.

That strategy ran aground on a Texas court rule, which allows the defendant in any case to challenge the legal authority of the plaintiffs' attorneys to file the pending lawsuit. Bishop Iker simply argued that he was the head of the Corporation and the Diocese of Fort Worth, and he had not authorized either Kathleen Wells or Jonathan Nelson to bring suit in the name of the Corporation or the Diocese.

The trial court judge agreed that Ms. Wells and Mr. Nelson had not made a sufficient proof of their authority, but he put off striking their pleadings, as required by the Rule. Bishop Iker took a special review proceeding to the Fort Worth Court of Appeal, which ordered the trial court to strike all the pleadings (including a pending motion for summary judgment) that had been filed by the two attorneys.

Nothing daunted, the same attorneys went into another Texas court, in Hood County, where in a separate lawsuit they claimed again to represent the "Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth" and its Corporation. That court eventually stayed the Hood County action pending the outcome of the original proceedings (in Tarrant County).

By now, Bishop Ohl had replaced Bishop Gulick as provisional bishop of the rump diocese. His next move was to add some more attorneys, and to have them bring a brand-new lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Fort Worth area -- once again, using the name of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth and its Corporation. This time, they sued just Bishop Iker as defendant, and claimed that he was infringing on their trademark, and making illegal use of the official corporate insignia.

As emerged somewhat later, in preparation for this lawsuit the plaintiffs had actually gone and registered the diocesan name and insignia with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. In order to do so, their attorney had to swear to the USPTO that "to the best of his/her knowledge and belief, no other person, firm, corporation, or association has the right to use the mark in commerce." He had not informed either Bishop Iker or his diocese of the application for registration; nor had he told the USPTO about the Texas litigation, in which his clients had asked, among other things, for the same relief they sought in the new federal case. Their ability to obtain that relief in the State court lawsuit had been curtailed by the ruling from the Court of Appeal, which forbade them from suing in the name of the entity they claimed owned the trademark -- and hence their attempt to do an end run in federal court.

Bishop Iker responded to the lawsuit, and his diocese and its Corporation filed for leave to intervene in the action, to protect their property rights. The Corporation's proposed complaint in intervention sought as a remedy to have the plaintiffs' federal trademark registrations canceled, on grounds of fraud and misrepresentation.

Bishop Ohl and his attorneys filed objections to the motions to intervene, claiming that only ECUSA could determine which entity was the proper Diocese of Fort Worth, and so was entitled to use the name and the insignia. They asserted that ECUSA's "ecclesiastical determination" of that fact in Bishop Ohl's favor was unreviewable in any civil court.

Bishop Iker responded, and showed how the federal lawsuit was an attempt to evade the ruling by the Texas Court of Appeal, which had ordered the plaintiffs' attorneys not to file any further pleadings in the name of the Corporation or the Diocese. Bishop Ohl argued in response that the Court of Appeal's decision was only an interim ruling, and not a final judgment which could be binding on the federal court.

Then the California Court of Appeal's decision came down in the San Joaquin case, involving similar facts with Bishop Schofield. (I discussed that decision in detail in this earlier post.) The rump diocese tried to take advantage of the Court's language in that decision holding that ECUSA's recognition of Bishop Lamb and his diocese was binding on the civil courts, and could not be challenged. It argued that the decision furnished guidance to the federal court in resolving the problem of which was the real diocese of Fort Worth.

However, recall that the Fresno Court of Appeal also held that the fact that Bishop John-David Schofield was the bishop of the Anglican Diocese of San Joaquin was just as much an "ecclesiastical fact" which could not be challenged in any civil court. Had the Court of Appeal regarded ECUSA's recognition of Bishop Lamb as conclusive, it would never have reversed the trial court's decision to that effect and remanded the case to that court for resolution of the disputed property issues on neutral principles of law.

Today, Federal District Judge Terry R. Means in Fort Worth showed that he grasped what ECUSA and its rump diocese were trying to do. His one-page order (not yet posted on the diocese's website; I'm sure it will be shortly) contains the following language:
Before the Court is Defendant’s Emergency Motion to Stay (doc. 31). By the motion, Defendant seeks a stay of all proceedings in this cause, except for the motions to intervene (docs. 10, 12), pending the Court’s ruling on the motions to intervene. Defendant explains that the Court’s resolution of the intervention motions will have dispositive implications on the remaining proceedings.

After review, the Court agrees. Therefore, in the interests of judicial economy and fairness to all parties involved, the Court GRANTS the motion.
Once again, in an attempt to do an end run around the State courts, ECUSA had filed in the federal court action a motion for summary judgment, making all the usual "hierarchical" arguments. But once again, their strategy has been rebuffed. The courts have uniformly told ECUSA and its attorneys thus far: "Not so fast. You cannot assume the very point at issue by pretending to be what you have not shown yourself to be. Since there is admittedly only one 'Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth' and one 'Corporation of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth' (no one else having filed any incorporation papers under that name), you have not demonstrated how you are legitimately in charge of those entities. Until you do so, you cannot come into court pretending to be them from the outset."

We will have to see what Judge Means eventually rules on the motions to intervene, before being able to say definitively that ECUSA's strategy has not worked. But the fact that he would stay all other proceedings in the case until he decides to allow Bishop Iker's Diocese and Corporation to come into the case to protect their own property interests cannot be a favorable omen for Bishop Ohl and his attorneys, or for those who are underwriting the enormous legal costs of all these proceedings.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Dating the Nativity: New Considerations

A year ago, I put up a series of three posts which tried to use various kinds of historical and scientific evidence in order to hone in on the date of Christ's birth. The first post dealt with the evidence of Herod's death. This establishes what historians call a terminus ad quem -- a date before which Christ must have been born, because we know that Herod was alive at Jesus' birth (and for some time afterwards, since he ordered the death of all children born in Bethlehem during the previous two years). Josephus, the first-century Jewish historian, includes one key piece of evidence in his account of Herod's last days: he states that a lunar eclipse occurred shortly before Herod died. We saw that combining the evidence of Josephus with the astronomical record of lunar eclipses in the last B.C. years (scroll down to the very bottom; NASA's computer numbering counts the year 1 B.C. as "0000") gave the best result for Herod's death as occurring in January of 1 B.C (according to Jewish tradition, Herod died on 2 Shebat, or January 26 of that year), following an eclipse on January 12. (The eclipse dates given in the article on Herod just linked are in error, and should be disregarded in favor of the dates shown in the previous link.)

Since writing that post, I have been pointed to another lunar eclipse that occurred in 1 B.C. -- but eleven months later, on December 29. The argument for this latter eclipse turns upon the fact that it would have been much more visible to people in Palestine, because the eclipse became visible shortly after sunset, while on January 12 the moon's umbral phase did not even begin until six hours after sunset (see this article for details).

As the article by John Pratt just linked points out, the December eclipse also allows for a better fit with the events Josephus records as occurring after Herod's death. How does it work, however, in relation to my second post last December, which discussed how the earliest Christians all converged upon a date for the nativity between 3 and 2 B.C.?

The point at issue here turns on the subtleties in the account of the visit by the wise men (magi, or court astronomers) in Matthew, chapter 2. To describe the infant Jesus, Matthew uses the Greek word paidion in verse 9, which is usually translated as "young child, little boy [or girl]." (See this link for other verses which use the word.)

The Greek word for "infant" or "baby", however is brephos -- as used in Luke 2:12, when the angel told the shepherds they were to look for "a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger." It is a word used only by Luke in the Gospels; Matthew does not use it at all.

If Jesus was born most probably (as we shall see) in May or June of 2 B.C., and the Jewish Parthian astronomers (the "magi" -- see my third post of last year) arrived to worship and give him gifts in December of that year, then having Herod on his deathbed just a few weeks later is a bit of a push. Adding another eleven months to Herod's life allows for plenty of time for the Wise men to avoid Herod on their return trip, for Herod to hear about it later, and then to give the order for the Massacre of the Innocents. This, then, would fix the time of the Holy Family's flight into Egypt, where they would have had to stay for only another seven months until Herod died.

Accordingly, I am revising my preferred chronology somewhat. It now looks like this:

May-June, 2 B.C.: Jesus born at Bethlehem, where Joseph has gone to be enrolled in an empire-wide tribute to Augustus' rule.

June 17, 2 B.C.: "Star of Bethlehem" super-conjunction of Jupiter and Venus observed throughout the East; the Jewish astronomers at the Parthian court put this phenomenon together with Jupiter's earlier conjunctions and conclude that a new King of the Jews has been born to their west, in Judea. They make preparations and start on a journey to worship him.

December 25, 2 B.C.: As Jupiter comes to a standstill over Bethlehem in the skies to the south of Jerusalem, the wise men, having visited Herod in his palace, find their way to the Christ child, who is now about six or seven months old (no longer a brephos). Joseph and Mary have in the meantime moved from the stable where Jesus was born, and found lodging in a house (Mt. 2:11 -- oikia).

January-February, 1 B.C.: The court astronomers quietly begin their return to Parthia, avoiding any meeting with Herod (who by this time of year has probably gone to the mineral baths, on the Dead Sea).

April-May, 1 B.C.: Herod learns he has been tricked, and that the wise men are long gone. Joseph, warned in a dream, has fled with Mary and Jesus to Egypt. Based on what the astronomers had told him earlier about the time of Jesus' birth, and allowing for their possibly mistaking the time of conception (see my post next week on this) as the date of birth, Herod orders the massacre of all children in Bethlehem born within the preceding two years.

December 29, 1 B.C.: Herod puts to death a Jewish rabbi and his pupils by burning them alive (they had offended him by pulling down the graven image of an eagle which he had ordered erected on the Holy Temple). That night, everyone sees a blood-red lunar eclipse.

January, 1 A.D.: Herod falls ill, and despite numerous attempts at a cure, dies on the 26th of the month (Shebat 2).

February-March, 1 A.D.: Post-mortem ceremonies take place in Judea to mark Herod's passing; Archilaus assumes the throne after the Passover on March 26 of that year.

April-May, 1 A.D.: Joseph is told he may return from Egypt, because Herod is dead. He does not return to Judea, however, because Archilaus is just as cruel and arbitrary as his father was (Mt 2:22). So he takes his family to Nazareth, where Jesus turns two years old.

Still to be placed in this chronology are the events in the heavens which preceded the birth of Jesus, and which heralded the Annunciation and Conception. I shall take those up in my post next week. And I shall conclude this series of posts with another look at the evidence for the Virgin Birth of Jesus.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Untold Story of Beethoven's "Eroica"

It is December 16, the 240th anniversary of the birth of Ludwig van Beethoven in Bonn, in what was at the time the Electorate of Cologne (Köln), before Germany came into existence. From now until the start of the New Year, I banish all topics from this blog which have to do with politics, economics or other assorted areas for complaint -- including the Anglican Communion in general, and the Episcopal Church (USA) in particular. Instead, I shall focus on my other interests, mainly music and the Nativity.

And what better subject to begin these next few weeks of posting, than Ludwig van Beethoven? Born in 1770, by 1793 he was already a celebrity and popular performer in what was then the musical capital of the world -- Vienna. But four years later, after a severe bout of typhus, he began to notice that his sensitive hearing was impaired. By 1801 he was seeing different doctors in an attempt to halt his steadily increasing deafness, and he wrote long letters to two of his closest friends describing the anguish he was going through at the thought of a musician losing his hearing. In one of them, he said: “Often have I cursed the creator and my existence, [but] Plutarch has taught me resignation; I will, if it’s otherwise possible, brave my destiny, even though there will be moments in my life when I will be the most miserable of god’s creatures.”

The year 1801 also brought him his first imperial commission -- to write the music for a ballet to be staged by Salvatore Viganò, the imperial ballet-master, on the legend of Prometheus, the Greek god who is credited with bringing the gift of fire to mankind. A dancer himself, Viganò wrote the scenario to allow himself to star not as Prometheus, but as the first man, whom in his story Prometheus fashions as a clay statue, along with the first woman. The ballet opens with stormy music as Prometheus, running from the wrath of Zeus at his theft of fire from Vulcan's hearth, rushes in and uses the Olympian flame to kindle life into the two figures of clay.

Slowly the figures animate, and begin to move about clumsily. Beethoven's music at this point is a series of halting chords --

-- which he contrasts with the graceful leaps and turns in which he depicts the dance of the god, excited with the success of his work.

(Click on the examples to enlarge them. The careful listener will hear the exact same scenario -- from stormy introduction, through hesitant, staccato chords, to graceful dance -- in the opening bars of the finale to the Eroica symphony.)

Prometheus, however, soon becomes disillusioned with the awkwardness of his creatures, and briefly contemplates ending their existence before hitting upon a plan: he will take them to the court of Apollo, the god of the arts, where they can learn the skills of music and dance.

Viganò's scenario was designed to reflect back the glories of his employer, the court of the Emperor Francis and Empress Marie Therese. The entire second act of the ballet takes place before Apollo, seated on his throne, as various Muses instruct the humans in their arts in a series of set pieces for which Beethoven composed striking music, ranging from martial to entirely pastoral in character. Then the Muse of tragedy, Melpomene, confronts Prometheus and accuses him of giving life to creatures who must inevitably face death, since unlike the gods, they cannot be immortal. By way of illustrating her point to the startled humans, she strikes down Prometheus, who falls lifeless at their feet. (The act of a woman killing a man on stage was revolutionary for its time, and Viganò got the controversy and publicity he desired.)

At this point, Beethoven expresses the humans' grief at their mentor's apparent death. But in the sketches for this scene, he interrupts himself to jot down an idea for what is unquestionably a funeral march, in the key of C minor:

Notice also that Beethoven has written the word "Sinfonia" above his sketch, the music of which bears a striking resemblance to his sketches in 1803 for what will eventually become the slow movement (a Marche funèbre) of his Third Symphony. In the illustration below, we compare the phrase on line 6 of the image above with a passage from the Eroica sketchbook, as published by Gustav Nottebohm in 1880:

The humans' sorrow at the "death" of the immortal Prometheus is short-lived, as the god Pan leads in a merry band of followers who awaken the god from his trance. There are festivities and joyful dances all around, and the humans -- first the woman, and then the man -- begin to show the stirrings of love for each other, which they express in two solo dances. These gave Viganò and his beautiful co-star, Maria Casentini, the chance to show off their talents, and at the same time, served to illustrate for the story of the ballet how far the humans had progressed under the tutelage of Apollo's Muses.

The climax of the ballet is a celebratory dance in which all partake -- the humans alongside the gods. Having reached the apotheosis of their art, the man and the woman are fit to partner with the gods themselves, and Beethoven uses one his most memorable themes to give expression to their triumph:

Beethoven was to return to this theme in three more of his compositions, written after the ballet. It obviously took on a special significance for him, as he drew parallels with the gods' unjust punishment of Prometheus, for bringing divine gifts to mankind. In just the same way, Beethoven believed himself being unjustly punished with the loss of his hearing. During the period 1801-1804, while he employed the "Prometheus theme" ever more elaborately in his compositions, culminating in the finale of the Eroica symphony, Beethoven worked through his suicidal depression and anger, and emerged fully resolved to make music even though he would be deaf for the rest of his life. The compositions born from that crisis, which reached its severest point at Heiligenstadt in the fall of 1802, are among the most glorious ever written -- and served to break music out of its classical mold, in order to inaugurate the Romantic Age.

And Napoleon? Far from being the Eroica's inspiration, as so many have surmised, he was only its dedicatee -- an idea which came to Beethoven when he was entertaining the thought of moving to Paris, and performing his new symphony there. His Viennese patrons, however, caught wind of Beethoven's plans, and increased the generosity of their stipends to him. Then Napoleon crowned himself Emperor of the French, and Beethoven scratched out his dedication to him in a furious rage, later scrawling sarcastically in its place: "to the memory of a great man."

(Click the image to enlarge it.)

You can read the full story of the Eroica's genesis over at my other blog, All Things Beethoven. For his birthday today, I just wanted to point out the parallels between the ballet The Creatures of Prometheus and the Third Symphony. As explained above, the ballet scenario takes us through the struggle of the humans to learn their arts and skills, the tragic death of their protector and mentor, their joy and celebration at his being restored to life, and the apotheosis of the finale where they become partners with the gods themselves in celebrating through music and dance. This mirrors exactly the four movements of the Third Symphony. The compositional tie-ins are revealed in the sketchbooks; the themes of the works reverberate in sympathy.

In the progress from Creatures to the Eroica, we have one of the great untold stories of one man's everlasting triumph over deafness and despair. Happy birthday, Ludwig!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

An Extraordinary Convergence

Mark this day -- the fifteenth of December, 2010. Within hours of each other, two news organizations at such opposite poles as National Public Radio and National Review have put up stories that illustrate the same phenomenon: the craziness of over-regulation without thought for the consequences, and the refusal to acknowledge or take responsibility for the consequences.

Take the NPR story first: it is about the unintended consequences of regulations removing the phosphates from kitchen and laundry detergents:

Is your dishwasher not working the way it used to? Earlier this year, with little fanfare, detergent makers reworked their formulas.

This was supposed to be good for waterways. But it turned a simple chore into a frustrating mystery for many people across the country.

A couple of months ago, Sandra Young from Vernon, Fla., started to notice that something was seriously amiss with her dishes.

"The pots and pans were gray, the aluminum was starting to turn black, the glasses had fingerprints and lip prints still on them, and they were starting to get this powdery look to them," Vernon says. "I'm like, oh, my goodness, my dishwasher must be dying; I better get a new dishwasher."

Young's not alone. Many people across the country are tearing out their hair over stained flatware, filmy glasses and ruined dishes.
The reason for the deteriorating results is not strange or difficult:
This summer, detergent makers took phosphates out of their detergents.

Seventeen states banned phosphates from dishwasher detergents because the chemical compounds also pollute lakes, bays and streams. They create algae blooms and starve fish of oxygen.
And because seventeen states banned phosphates, the result for national manufacturers was the same as though all fifty states had banned them:
Susan Baba from Procter & Gamble says the company had no choice. It just wasn't feasible to make detergent with phosphates for some states and without them for others.
But bureaucrats did not foresee the environmental consequences in the real world:
"You know, this isn't really a huge environmental win," [Susan Baba] says.

That's because phosphates are wonder ingredients. They not only strip food and grease from dishes but also prevent crud from getting reattached during the wash. So she says without phosphates, people have to wash or rinse their dishes before they put them in the dishwasher, which wastes water. Or they run their dishwasher twice, which wastes electricity.
So people end up using more water and more electricity just to get their dishes as clean as they used to be after a single washing. That's a result one can be proud of.

Now, go to this absolutely riveting piece by Victor Davis Hanson at National Review, called "Two Californias":
The last three weeks I have traveled about, taking the pulse of the more forgotten areas of central California. I wanted to witness, even if superficially, what is happening to a state that has the highest sales and income taxes, the most lavish entitlements, the near-worst public schools (based on federal test scores), and the largest number of illegal aliens in the nation, along with an overregulated private sector, a stagnant and shrinking manufacturing base, and an elite environmental ethos that restricts commerce and productivity without curbing consumption.

During this unscientific experiment, three times a week I rode a bike on a 20-mile trip over various rural roads in southwestern Fresno County. I also drove my car over to the coast to work, on various routes through towns like San Joaquin, Mendota, and Firebaugh. And near my home I have been driving, shopping, and touring by intent the rather segregated and impoverished areas of Caruthers, Fowler, Laton, Orange Cove, Parlier, and Selma. My own farmhouse is now in an area of abject poverty and almost no ethnic diversity; the closest elementary school (my alma mater, two miles away) is 94 percent Hispanic and 1 percent white, and well below federal testing norms in math and English.
What follows is a vivid description of the economic devastation wrought in the last 25 years by lax immigration and welfare policies, by environmental folly (restricting water delivery to the most fertile land in California in order to provide "protection" to the delta smelt -- see this previous post), and by bureaucratic obsession with precisely the wrong things. You must read the whole piece to get its cumulative effect; excerpts here cannot do it justice -- but here is one:
California coastal elites may worry about the oxygen content of water available to a three-inch smelt in the Sacramento–San Joaquin River Delta, but they seem to have no interest in the epidemic dumping of trash, furniture, and often toxic substances throughout California’s rural hinterland. Yesterday, for example, I rode my bike by a stopped van just as the occupants tossed seven plastic bags of raw refuse onto the side of the road. . . .

In fact, trash piles are commonplace out here — composed of everything from half-empty paint cans and children’s plastic toys to diapers and moldy food. I have never seen a rural sheriff cite a litterer, or witnessed state EPA workers cleaning up these unauthorized wastelands. So I would suggest to Bay Area scientists that the environment is taking a much harder beating down here in central California than it is in the Delta. Perhaps before we cut off more irrigation water to the west side of the valley, we might invest some green dollars into cleaning up the unsightly and sometimes dangerous garbage that now litters the outskirts of our rural communities.

We hear about the tough small-business regulations that have driven residents out of the state, at the rate of 2,000 to 3,000 a week. But from my unscientific observations these past weeks, it seems rather easy to open a small business in California without any oversight at all, or at least what I might call a “counter business.” I counted eleven mobile hot-kitchen trucks that simply park by the side of the road, spread about some plastic chairs, pull down a tarp canopy, and, presto, become mini-restaurants. There are no “facilities” such as toilets or washrooms. But I do frequently see lard trails on the isolated roads I bike on, where trucks apparently have simply opened their draining tanks and sped on, leaving a slick of cooking fats and oils. Crows and ground squirrels love them; they can be seen from a distance mysteriously occupied in the middle of the road.

This is simply great investigation, and great writing: California's major news media have missed this entire story. What I mainly want to point out, however, is the extraordinary convergence between Professor Hansen's conclusions and those in the NPR story cited above. Let me set up his conclusions with this quotation:
Do diversity concerns, as in lack of diversity, work both ways? Over a hundred-mile stretch, when I stopped in San Joaquin for a bottled water, or drove through Orange Cove, or got gas in Parlier, or went to a corner market in southwestern Selma, my home town, I was the only non-Hispanic — there were no Asians, no blacks, no other whites. We may speak of the richness of “diversity,” but those who cherish that ideal simply have no idea that there are now countless inland communities that have become near-apartheid societies, where Spanish is the first language, the schools are not at all diverse, and the federal and state governments are either the main employers or at least the chief sources of income — whether through emergency rooms, rural health clinics, public schools, or social-service offices. An observer from Mars might conclude that our elites and masses have given up on the ideal of integration and assimilation, perhaps in the wake of the arrival of 11 to 15 million illegal aliens.

Again, I do not editorialize, but I note these vast transformations over the last 20 years that are the paradoxical wages of unchecked illegal immigration from Mexico, a vast expansion of California’s entitlements and taxes, the flight of the upper middle class out of state, the deliberate effort not to tap natural resources, the downsizing in manufacturing and agriculture, and the departure of whites, blacks, and Asians from many of these small towns to more racially diverse and upscale areas of California.

Then Professor Hansen poses a paradox: why is it that illegal immigrants are the first to tout their strong allegiance to the countries they came from, and to insult the courtesies of their host country, while at the same time protesting vehemently any proposed measure or enforcement which might lead to their deportation? He responds:
I think I know the answer to this paradox. Missing entirely in the above description is the attitude of the host, which by any historical standard can only be termed “indifferent.” California does not care whether one broke the law to arrive here or continues to break it by staying. It asks nothing of the illegal immigrant — no proficiency in English, no acquaintance with American history and values, no proof of income, no record of education or skills. It does provide all the public assistance that it can afford (and more that it borrows for), and apparently waives enforcement of most of California’s burdensome regulations and civic statutes that increasingly have plagued productive citizens to the point of driving them out. How odd that we overregulate those who are citizens and have capital to the point of banishing them from the state, but do not regulate those who are aliens and without capital to the point of encouraging millions more to follow in their footsteps. How odd — to paraphrase what Critias once said of ancient Sparta — that California is at once both the nation’s most unfree and most free state, the most repressed and the wildest.
So California overregulates the only things it can touch -- and drives out the last vestiges of its productive economy in doing so -- while through laxity and indifference its very heart is being transformed into the equivalent of a dirt-poor, third-world country, with all its environmental, social and economic problems. The regulators obsessed with the volumes of toilet tanks are doing nothing to prevent the emergence of an entire culture where outdoor "facilities" are what people use. Those officials who fine people for not recycling trash correctly do nothing about the piles and piles of trash simply dumped along rural roads.

But they really feel good about their regulations, because they embody all the right priorities.

Now do you appreciate the extraordinary convergence which occurred on this day? Maybe something good can come out of this. I wait with bated breath to see if this was a one-time phenomenon, or whether people from both poles of the social divide really are starting to come to their senses.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Perfect Illustration

Yesterday's ruling from Judge Henry Hudson of Virginia, which invalidates the mandate of Obamacare in a carefully reasoned, forty-page opinion, provides the perfect illustration for my thesis that leftists do not care about constitutional rules, or limits; they simply do what they want to do at a given moment, and leave it to others to provide the justifications for what they have done.

Let us go back to the time when Obamacare was under consideration in Congress, before it passed. There occurred this interview between CNS News and Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, who as Chair of the Judiciary Committee oversees the public hearings on nominees to the Supreme Court: "Where, in your opinion, does the Constitution give specific authority for Congress to give an individual mandate for health insurance?"

Sen. Leahy: "We have plenty of authority. Are you saying there is no authority?" "I’m asking--"

Sen. Leahy: "Why would you say there is no authority? I mean, there’s no question there’s authority. Nobody questions that."
Right, Senator Leahy -- no one who thinks as you do questions whether Congress has the authority to compel every American to purchase health insurance. But fortunately, that is why we have the federal courts.

As the linked article goes on to explain, the problem with the Obamacare mandate is precisely that it relies upon the general police powers of government, which under our federal system are the exclusive province of the several States. Congress has only those powers delegated to it under the Constitution, plus the subsidiary powers necessary to implement its delegated powers. But the power to force people to purchase a service or commodity does not fall within the ambit of any of Congress' delegated powers -- otherwise, as Senator Orrin Hatch (also a constitutional scholar) pointed out during the debate on Obamacare:
If we have the power simply to order Americans to buy certain products, why did we need a Cash-for-Clunkers program or the upcoming program providing rebates for purchasing energy appliances? We could simply require Americans to buy certain cars, dishwashers or refrigerators.
The argument, however, that Congress lacks the power to enact certain legislation is a non-starter for Democrats who think as Senator Leahy does: "No one questions our authority." Or, as Nancy Pelosi put it, even more succinctly, in response to another CNS News reporter's question: “Madam Speaker, where specifically does the Constitution grant Congress the authority to enact an individual health insurance mandate?

Pelosi: “Are you serious? Are you serious?"

When the reporter assured her that his question was a serious one, Ms. Pelosi simply shook her head, then turned and took a question from a different reporter.

Pelosi and Leahy evince, in the incredulity with which they greet the legitimate questions they were asked, the same arrogance as does the current Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church (USA). The only difference is that there is a much smaller press corps, and far fewer opportunities, to ask hard questions -- such as "Where in ECUSA's Constitution is the exemption that allows you to go into a Diocese, unseat the Standing Committee, and install your own Standing Committee and provisional Bishop?" Or: "Where does Canon IV.9 say that you do not need to get permission to inhibit a bishop before you can ask the House to depose him?"

Well, there is one more difference -- and it is the decisive one. When Congress exceeds its powers, there are federal courts which can hold its acts unconstitutional. The Episcopal Church has no counterpart to the federal courts.

While some may deplore the lack of ecclesiastical courts with the power to define acts of its officials as unconstitutional, I do not. As I said in my previous post, in that way the Church can become exactly what God intended it to be -- for good or for ill. Its entire mission rests upon the spiritual integrity of those who lead it. When that integrity is held uppermost, the Church will grow and prosper. But when it is subordinated to personal ambition and power, the Church will spiral into a decline.

I leave it to the reader to surmise where the Church is now.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Constitutional Crisis in ECUSA (Pt. VI): The Dennis Canon

This sixth post in a series covering the constitutional crises that presently engulf ECUSA will take us into the labyrinths of the Dennis Canon (text may be read at the link). "Adopted" illegally and by stealth on the next-to-last day of General Convention in July 1979, it has been embroiled in controversy ever since it first came to light in litigation, after lying dormant for some twenty years. One of the first cases in which it was asserted resulted in a ruling that the Canon was not self-executing, and could not create a trust in church property without the written consent of the parish, as the property's owner. But in many other court cases, the Canon has withstood attack because of the courts' deference to obiter dictum, for which former Justice Blackmun must take the blame.

It is the constitutional aspect of the Dennis Canon that interests us in this post -- not its constitutionality under federal or state law, but under the constitution of ECUSA. The questions of its constitutionality group themselves into topics, each of which is addressed below.

1. Controversy Surrounding the Passage of the Canon

Father George Conger personally examined, in the Episcopal Church Archives, all the original papers relating to the passage of the Dennis Canon at General Convention 1979. He first wrote up his findings in a post on his blog, which has links to his scans of all the contemporary documents. Although he could not find the crucial piece of evidence which would have definitively proved that the House of Deputies voted for its final passage on the next-to-last day, he concluded that there was circumstantial evidence that it did so. He subsequently submitted his findings and documentation in the form of an affidavit which sought to raise a disputed issue of fact on the Canon's validity in the New York case involving Church of the Good Shepherd in Binghamton. (I discussed his affidavit and its evidence in detail in this prior post.)

Subsequent to that affidavit, experts in canon law have researched the issue further, and have turned up more disturbing evidence that if the Dennis Canon was voted on by the House of Deputies on the next-to-last day, it was passed unconstitutionally. The reason is that any such action on the Dennis Canon would have required a halt in the day's business to approve a suspension of the House's Rules, which at the time required as follows (emphasis added):
22. Except by a vote of two-thirds of the members present, no new business requiring concurrent action shall be introduced in this House after the third legislative day of its session and no matter which originated in this House and which requires concurrent action by both Houses shall be considered by the House after the ninth legislative day.
What eventually became the Dennis Canon originated in the House of Bishops as Resolution D-24, introduced by the Rev. Canon Walter Dennis of New York. (Even though it was a member of the House of Deputies who proposed it, the measure was assigned by agreement to the House of Bishops' Committee on Canons for initial action.) It was amended in that Committee, and when it came to the floor, the Bishop of Kentucky proposed a further amendment to make it effective on the day that it passed -- a highly unusual provision, to say the least, since it meant the Canon would take effect with no advance notice or warning of any kind to the dioceses and their eight thousand parishes. But the amended version was not passed by the Bishops until the fifth legislative day (September 13), which would have been the first business day on which the House could have been asked to consider the Canon in the form as it had been amended by the Bishops, i.e., as "new business" in that House which required concurrent action.

Such a late introduction of the measure to the House required a vote by two-thirds of its members for it to be considered in accordance with Rule VI.22 just quoted, but there is no record of any such vote being taken; the measure was simply referred to the House's Committee on Canons. It was not approved by that Committee until September 17 (Report No. 32; see page 3 of this link), which was the eighth legislative day. Even if the Resolution had become "new business" in the House when it was received on the fifth day, therefore, its consideration on the tenth day would again have required a two-thirds vote of the Deputies on the floor. The day's agenda shows that no such vote was scheduled, and there is no evidence whatsoever that any such suspension of the Rules ever occurred.

Nevertheless, the Canon made its way into the printed version of the Constitution and Canons following the 1979 Convention, and there it has remained ever since -- to the utter shame and disgrace of the Church. Why shame and disgrace? Because since the year 2000, the Canon has been the occasion of more litigation, and more money wasted all out of proportion to the values of the individual properties at stake, than any other single act of the Church. Let us turn to what the lawsuits are all about.

2. Controversy Over the Canon's Interpretation and Application

On its face, the Dennis Canon purports to declare a trust which exists on every single piece of Episcopal parish-owned property (both real and personal -- from the dirt and the landscaping to the hymnals and prayer books) across the full extent of the Church. (I am unaware of any attempts by foreign dioceses in ECUSA to enforce the Canon.) But the trust is not an ordinary trust, because the same language that purports to create it goes on to provide that the parishes may use their properties in any way they choose -- they may throw away the old hymnals and replace them with new ones; with diocesan approval, they may even sell the parish property and move to a new site.

Every trust has to have a trustee. The Dennis Canon does not name the trustee as such, but leaves the implication that the Diocese to which a parish belongs is the trustee. Unlike a normal trust, however, the trustee in this case does not hold and keep actual possession of the property, or take care of it for the benefit of the beneficiary. Instead, the legal owner of the property retains title and possession to it, which is why the Dennis Canon never shows up on any certificate or chain of title -- and which is also why most parishes remain blissfully unaware of the trust's existence.

Until, that is, they vote to leave the Diocese to which they belong. If that happens, the Dennis Canon implies (but does not literally say) that their right to occupy and use the property as its legal owner terminates. And in that way, the Dennis Canon operates not like a trust, but rather like a defeasible fee -- a form of ownership which is taken upon a given condition, and which terminates when the condition no longer holds. (Many English country estates, for example, were held on condition that their owner leave a male heir -- like Mr. Bennett's home in Pride and Prejudice.)

However, in law, a defeasible fee is created by an original grantor, who owns the land in question, and who then deeds it to a grantee to have and hold the property on condition that something happen, or remain always the same -- such as "use the property for church purposes." If the condition subsequently fails, then depending on how the grantor's deed was worded, one of two things can happen: (1) the land reverts to the grantor (or his heirs, if he is no longer living), or (2) the land passes automatically to a third party as designated by the original grantor. (Example: A deeds Blackacre to B "on condition that he use it for a school, but should such use ever cease, then C and his heirs shall have the right to enter and take possession of Blackacre.")

The Dennis Canon meets none of these criteria. There is no original conveyance to the parish on any particular condition; most grants of land to Episcopal parishes are grants in fee simple absolute -- i.e., upon no conditions whatsoever (check your deeds and see). Yet the Canon has been held by many courts to establish a condition on the parish's fee simple title -- in other words, the Canon (according to these courts) in one stroke automatically converted the title of 8,000+ parcels of property across the nation from fee simple absolute into a fee simple on condition that the parish remain part of the Episcopal Church (USA). The Canon does not name the person or entity who is entitled, on the failure of the condition, to enter and take over the property -- but the courts again have come to the rescue, and held that the diocese in which the parish is located can do so.

How can this be? The reasoning, thanks to Justice Blackmun's obiter dictum in Jones v. Wolf, runs like this: If a national church is organized so that it governs and controls all of its inferior branches, then it can express a trust in its constitution, and the member parishes being subject to the constitution, will become subject to the trust, "provided it is expressed in legally cognizable form." The Episcopal Church's Dennis Canon, however, fails the test on each of these points: (a) there is no "national Episcopal church" which "governs and controls" all Episcopal parishes; (b) the trust is not expressed in ECUSA's constitution, but only in its canons; (c) it is not, as just explained, expressed in the "legally cognizable form" of a trust; and (d) individual parishes are subject to diocesan canons, not to national ones. (The clergy are subject both to national and to diocesan canons, but that is because they are ordained into the Church. Parishes are members of the diocese to which they belong, and only dioceses are members of ECUSA. General Convention, for example, has no power to legislate the terms of individual vestry members.)

So the Canon ought to be a non-starter in the State courts, but as regular readers of this blog well know, the courts are none too well informed on the subtleties of church canon law, and are all too susceptible to the blandishments of ECUSA's attorneys about its being a "hierarchical" church, with total control from the top all the way down. There are now about fifteen cases which ECUSA's attorneys can string-cite together as "precedent" on that point. They are a disgusting monument to the ignorance of the law, and not exactly the courts' finest moment. ("If the law says that," Charles Dickens' Mr. Bumble famously observed, "the law is a ass!")

Application of "neutral principles of law" ought to resolve the matter. Under that doctrine, ECUSA is held to the same standards as any other property owner: if he wants to create a trust on property he owns, he signs a writing to that effect, and thereby sets up the trust. But here again, the courts (and ECUSA's clever attorneys) have found a way to evade the problem of not having a writing signed by the owner of the parish's property: they argue that when the parish agreed upon its incorporation, or upon its admission into a diocese, to be "bound by" or "subject to" ECUSA's Constitution and Canons, it thereby "signed" the required writing to agree that the Church (as its agent, ostensibly) could place its property into a trust for the Church's benefit. What "neutral principles" was intended to exclude coming in the front door -- the idea of a "hierarchical" church being able to bypass ordinary principles of property law -- has in that way come in by the back door.

A few courts -- most notably the Supreme Court of South Carolina -- have seen through the scam, and have refused to give it any effect. But on the whole, the legal record is a sorry one, unless you are the attorneys for an unscrupulous church that is more interested in punishing dissenters than it is in following the precepts of St. Paul. ECUSA, in short, rejects Paul's teaching on that point (as it does with others of his teachings, as well), and is unashamed to haul fellow Christians -- the majority of whom actually paid for the properties, and kept them up for so many years -- into court.

3. Is the Dennis Canon a Proper Exercise of the Powers of General Convention?

This is the crux of the matter: how was General Convention granted the power to legislate a trust upon individual parishes' property?

One answer -- which is no answer at all -- is to say that it was enacted by General Convention, at which the parishes were represented by their lay and clergy deputies. But it was illegally enacted (see section 1 above), and measures which are passed in violation of the rules do not take effect. Moreover, even if the deputies had followed the rules in passing the Canon, that still does not answer the question: where did they get the authority to enact such a Canon?

Let me bring the issue into sharper focus by positing an extreme example. Suppose a canon were passed in the stealth of the night (i.e., illegally, with no one noticing or objecting to the illegality) at General Convention which said:
Every Episcopal parish church shall be painted off-white, with gray trim, and its front door shall be painted red.
Where would the General Convention's authority to pass that canon come from? Do you see what I mean? Either General Convention is a body with delegated powers, or else it is a body of unlimited powers. As those who will take the trouble to read this series of posts (click the link for Part I) will learn, General Convention most decidedly is not a body of supreme and unlimited powers, but exercises only those powers which have been delegated to it. There were no powers delegated by the parishes directly to General Convention; none whatsoever. Instead, they delegated some powers to their dioceses, and then those dioceses delegated some of their powers to General Convention. The powers so delegated are to be found not in ECUSA's canons, but in its Constitution.

You will search ECUSA's earliest and current Constitutions in vain for any delegation of authority to dictate how Church property is to be held, purchased, encumbered, or sold. (When the first Canon on that topic was adopted in 1868 -- the predecessor to current Canon I.7.3 -- it provided, as it always has since, that the sale or encumbrance of parish property required the approval of the ecclesiastical authority in the diocese, subject to such exceptions as the diocese might provide. The Canon thus was not an exercise of a national delegated power at all, but instead a recognition, or declaration, of where such power lay: with the individual dioceses.)

The problem is that ECUSA itself has no court or other body with the power to interpret its Constitution, or to declare a canon "unconstitutional". For that reason, an unconstitutional Canon unfortunately has been found enforceable, and enforced, in secular courts -- and that only because the secular courts are barred by the First Amendment from entertaining questions about the ecclesiastical constitutionality of Church legislation. (Indeed, I have contemplated recommending to my fellow chancellors that the next suit brought by a bishop to enforce the Dennis Canon be met with this objection, based on the words of Canon IV.14.2: "No Member of the Clergy of this Church may resort to the secular courts for the purpose of interpreting the Constitution and Canons, or for the purpose of resolving any dispute arising thereunder . . .". Someone also ought to bring a presentment against the bishop for violating the Canon.)

So the Church is, in the end, whatever it says it is -- which is exactly how God intended it to be. If a Church wishes to pursue all manner of ungodly goals and purposes, that is the kind of church it will be. We are witnessing today the spectacle of a Church tearing itself apart for the sake of unconstitutional power being asserted by those in a position to do so. Few are trying to check the powers so asserted; most are going along with the flow, like blind sheep.

History has not been kind to institutions which betrayed their founding principles. The Roman Republic succumbed to the Caesars, because the latter simply marched in and took over. Later, the Roman Empire tore itself apart through civil wars, and a resulting inability to defend itself -- because it had run out of money to pay for a sufficient defense force of trained soldiers. Instead, the last emperors saw to their own safety and security first -- for all the good it did them in the end.

The powers at 815 Second Avenue have taken over the present-day Episcopal Church (USA). Questions of constitutionality do not even impinge upon them; they simply do what they want to do, and dare anyone to oppose them. Meanwhile, they are running through the coffers at an alarming rate, and borrowing is at an all-time high. (As history again demonstrates, keeping an empire up and running is a very expensive proposition.)

The Dennis Canon has served as the Trojan Horse, if you will, of the Episcopal Church (USA). It was a last-minute grab for unconstitutional power -- seduced into being by the ill-considered blatherings of one long-winded judge, and rushed through the church legislature without the slightest attention to substance or procedure. Like its counterpart in Troy, it lay quiet and dormant until the time when the forces within it could spring out as a total surprise to the parishes they attacked. Aided and abetted by unwitting secular courts, the element of surprise has carried the day ever since. But the longer the Church relies on it to maintain power, the weaker the Church itself becomes.

"All power corrupts, but absolute power corrupts absolutely" (Lord Acton). Look in the mirror, ECUSA -- your current leadership is corrupt, and is on its way to being absolutely corrupt. And corruption is the decay that brings on decline.