Ophelia drowned2a
Church of England

"What ceremony else?" Church of England to reform burial of suicides

 

“What ceremony else?” cries Laertes in Hamlet, as his dead sister Ophelia is buried to a single tolling bell with a meagre liturgy, as all suspected suicides used to be (and in some churches still are, even being refused interment in hallowed ground). No cross bearer, no incense, no holy water, no singing of psalms or a requiem; just a few flowers strewn in the path of the coffin. “What ceremony else?” Laertes demands to know in a more indignant tone. The officiating priest explains:

Her obsequies have been as far enlarged
As we have warranty. Her death was doubtful.
And but that great command oversways the order,
She should in ground unsanctified have lodged
Until the last Trump; for charitable prayers
Shards, flints and pebbles should be thrown upon her.
Yet here she is allowed her virgin crams,
Her maiden strewments and the bringing home
Of bell and burial.

This is Denmark, but Shakespeare was imbued with the Book of Common Prayer. The cause of Ophelia’s death was “doubtful”, and it was customary in England to bury suicides in unhallowed ground – often on a roadside – where an iron cross would be driven through the heart of the corpse and passers by would be invited to heap shards, flints and stones upon it. Laertes isn’t happy: “Must there no more be done ?” he cries. “No more be done!” the priest replies, expounding:

We should profane the service of the dead
To sing a requiem and such rest to her,
As to peace-parted souls.

Laertes is incredulous: angry at the unfeeling priest and dismayed by the heartless liturgical rules of canon law.

..I tell thee, churlish priest,
A ministering angel shall my sister be
When thou liest howling.

..Oh, treble woe,
Fall ten times treble on thou cursed head
Whose wicked deed thy most ingenious sense
Deprived thee of.

It is the second paragraph of Canon B38 ‘Of the Burial of the Dead’ which remains an offence to many:

2. It shall be the duty of every minister to bury, according to the rites of the Church of England, the corpse or ashes of any person deceased within his cure or of any parishioners or persons whose names are entered on the church electoral roll of his parish whether deceased within his cure or elsewhere that is brought to a church or burial ground or cemetery under his control in which the burial or interment of such corpse or ashes may lawfully be effected, due notice being given; except the person deceased have died unbaptized, or being of sound mind have laid violent hands upon himself, or have been declared excommunicate for some grievous and notorious crime and no man to testify to his repentance; in which case and in any other case at the request of the relative, friend, or legal representative having charge of or being responsible for the burial he shall use at the burial such service as may be prescribed or approved by the Ordinary, being a service neither contrary to, nor indicative of any departure from, the doctrine of the Church of England in any essential matter: Provided that, if a form of service available for the burial of suicides is approved by the General Synod under Canon B 2, that service shall be used where applicable instead of the aforesaid service prescribed or approved by the Ordinary, unless the person having charge or being responsible for the burial otherwise requests.

That is to say, instead of providing the normal funeral liturgy (whether BCP or Common Worship), “a form of service” might be considered more suitable. Should there be any question about whether the deceased who has “laid violent hands upon himself” was, in fact, “of sound mind”, the vicar must adhere to a subsequent direction:

6. If any doubts shall arise whether any person deceased may be buried according to the rites of the Church of England, the minister shall refer the matter to the bishop and obey his order and direction.

And, rather like the priest officiating at Ophelia’s funeral, some of those episcopal orders and directions might seem liturgically cold and pastorally unfeeling. And so the General Synod of the Church of England is to debate the matter, or, according to the Mail on Sunday, ‘Church of England to “legalise” suicide“‘, which is about as profound as the tabloids go.

Essentially, the motion before Synod will permit vicars to give people who kill themselves the same funeral service as those who die of natural causes. That is not to say that it might not be ‘tweaked’ to be a little more pertinent to the individual circumstances: a good parish priest will always seek to know as much as they are able about the deceased, in order to personalise and empathise. In that sense, the freedom to present “a form of service” that deviates from the norm must be available, not least because it is entirely possible for a robotic vicar to reel out the usual words without so much as a second thought for how they might sound to the lonely, desolated and traumatised. What guilt might some of their families feel that they did not do enough to prevent the tragedy?

But this amendment is not without increased significance in the context of the debate about ‘assisted suicide’. If those who opt for licit third-party ‘assistance’ in dying are to be granted Christian burial according to the BCP, why not those who commit suicide illicitly? If the Church manifests its disapproval of suicide (as a breach of the Commandment not to kill) by withholding or curtailing the funeral liturgy, is it to do so in cases where the deceased – who must, by (proposed) law, be “of sound mind” – has been ‘assisted’ into eternity?

This might all seem very liturgically trifling if not theologically irrelevant, not least because most (if not all) Anglican vicars are already granting suicides the same funeral rites as those who died naturally, invariably without any reference to their bishops. This particular canon law (if they know it exists) is routinely set aside, if only out of compassion for the bereaved family left behind to pick up the pieces. Why should the Church of England seem hostile at a time of grief and mourning? How is it compassionate and merciful to explain the finer points of Canon Law to those who are distraught? What priest can know beyond doubt whether the deceased was mentally imbalanced when they took those pills, jumped off the bridge or threw themselves under that train?

According to the Samaritans, the UK suicide rate is around 6,000 per annum. With all of these tragedies – each one an individual tale of mental trauma and suffering – it is the primary function of the Church of England to manifest pastoral care; to show God’s mercy and compassion; to weep with those who weep. It is no longer appropriate (if ever it were) for the Church to present hurdles to the bereaved which might cause them to conceal the true circumstances surrounding their loved one’s death in order to somehow ‘qualify’ for burial in accordance with the liturgy of the Book of Common Prayer. God knows, coming to terms with a family suicide is harrowing enough without the Church conveying to their family and friends that the manner of their passing might somehow deprive them of God’s mercy or separate them from His love.

Of course, the deceased might be in another place, along with unrepentant paedophiles, murderers, rapists and all those who have blasphemed against the Holy Spirit. But that is a matter for God’s judgment: liturgical discrimination against suicides is not a differentiation of any theological integrity or pastoral virtue.

  • Mrs Proudie of Barchester

    I am becoming Reformophobic…

  • The Explorer

    Would this be in response to the anticipated success of Lord Falconer’s Bill?

    • Dominic Stockford

      Exactly. The Church of England is preparing the way for it to officially accept what that bill proposes – at least one of the two local vicars would press for that.

  • Anton

    Whether the CoE should bury atheists is a different discussion. (An Established church in a secular society was not foreseen by its founders.) But the denial of a Christian burial to people who find their lives so unbearable that they choose to hand them back to God is a horrible church tradition which I would be glad to see gone. There has been excellent material on the website of the Christian Medical Fellowship about suicide in scripture and tradition. To which I would add that Mosaic Law does not condemn attempted suicides nor command that they or descendants of suicides be “cut off from Israel”.

    • dannybhoy

      Hm.
      I only found out where certain close family relatives were buried by the burial lot reference…
      I then discovered that the parents had chosen to be buried with their child who had committed suicide. That says an awful lot about parental love and the torment of a child who couldn’t cope with life, and of course the parents acceptance of the Church’s authority at the time..

    • avi barzel

      That would depend on one’s interpretation of what “Mosaic Law” is and how it is interpreted, Anton.

      In traditional Judaism the teachings imparted to Moses down through to the generations of Jewish sages and subsequent rabbinic interpreters and commentators also comprise “Mosaic Law.” The sources include Bereishis/Genesis 9:5 …“I will surely require an accounting for your life-blood,” Talmudic and post-talmudic commentaries and mesora/traditions, all of which condemn suicide. While suicides are not to be hurried with the same ceremonies and in Jewish cemeteries, Jewish religious courts have been reluctant to declare a deceased as a suicide. This is not out of consideration for the bereaved, which has little religious standing, but out of concern that the deceased was not of sound mind and was unable to form a sound judgment of his desires and actions.

      This of course may not be binding or relevant to Christians, but I bring it up to point out that Orthodox Judaism interprets its Torah and the borders of Mosaic law differently and that it does not tolerate or condone suicide.

      • Anton

        Avi,

        Genesis 9:5 is surely a statement that every man will be judged by the life he has lived and, in particular, what he has been willing to give it up for.

        In the presence of Orthodox Jews I should be more precise: When I wrote “Mosaic Law” I meant the written law ie that in the 5 books of Moses (“Pentateuch”). Unlike Orthodox Jews I do not consider the oral law to have been given to Moses at the same time, Pirkei Avot notwithstanding; my principal reason being that the written law does not refer to the oral law but the oral law refers continually to the written law.

        • avi barzel

          As I said, Anton, I don’t of course expect Christians, or even non-Orthodox Jews to interpret the contents and meaning of the Torah, its nature and scope as traditional halachic, or Rabbinic Judaism does. Such core differences and disagreements are taken as a given.

          • Anton

            I think you are saying that this is not the place to discuss such core differences. That’s up to you; if you wish to start, however, there is the question of why the oral law acknowledged by the rabbis refers many times to the written law of Moses but not vice-versa.

          • avi barzel

            Hmm, yes, that would be hijacking the thread. Briefly, on your argument, all I can say is that I’m not sufficiently learned to agree with you that the written Torah doesn’t refer to the Oral Torah, directly or by inference, what the sages and rabbis may have said about it if such were the case, or whether it is of any relevance theologically. Neither am I entirely ignorant, though, and I can say with certainty that I have never encountered this issue as a mystery or a problem in any of my readings or study sessions.

          • Translation: Avi will pass on that one.
            *chuckle*
            How you keeping?

          • avi barzel

            Well, of course, Jack, neither Anton nor I accept each other’s premises or value each other’s interpretations. That leaves us with clever zingers to attempt to rhetorically knock our positions down which may work with indifferent adolescents, but not with leathery old war horses like us.. Messy and pointless; you and I have been there and done that.

            I’m well, thank you. Stupidly cold out here, but at least no ice storm yet, with trees and branches crashing and power-outs at least in Ontario. How ate you keeping, or more importantly (sorry old man), how’s your little granddaughter?

          • Jack’s granddaughter is an absolute joy, Avi. Lucy is 3 months old now. Happily, her mother or grandmother are always around when the inevitable crying starts and either food or bum changing is needed and joy is tempered by the realism that she is still a bundle of needs that require satisfying.
            Jack’s philosophy is that a man should only ever change nappies in very exceptional circumstances. He doesn’t go in for all this ‘new man’ malarkey. His job as her granddad is to cuddle her, play with her and generally have a good time. Indeed, he blames gender confusion on the mixing of care giver roles. There must be some Jewish wisdom on this matter deep within the Talmud. Lucy’s smile is a blessing and she is developing a hearty chuckle and sense of humour. Beautiful eyes and a very inquisitive nature. Jack loves her dearly.

            How are your children and that long suffering spouse of yours?

            As for blogging, if Jack thought he could convert you to the One True Faith he would give it a shot. However, it is interesting to learn about the Jewish perspective on issues as there is great wisdom in your faith, even if it is mixed with error. ;o)

          • avi barzel

            …gender confusion on the mixing of care giver roles. There must be some Jewish wisdom on this matter deep within the Talmud.

            HAHAHAHA! Now, Jack that’s a good one! A lot of philosophising to wiggle out of changing diapers. “Oh, I’m sorry dear, I’d love to change Lucy, but every time I do I spend weeks wondering whether I should pee standing up or sitting down.” A very creative approach, Jack, but if I had tried that one on my wife, she would have changed my gender for me on the spot with the nearest object. Perhaps daughters are more understanding….or resigned.

            There is also no specific halakhah I know of which prevents men from changing diapers, so forget emergency conversion as well. You are welcome to join in the Covenant, but no proper Bet Din will accept you on those grounds. Pleased to hear that a grand child brings you such joy; I hadn’t thought much of that phase, but lately it comes to mind and I look forward to it.

          • No, no … it’s soundly grounded in theology and in psychology, Avi.

            Men and women are different and we are called to different roles in life. Jack bets Cain was treated very differently to Abel by his parents – and just look what happened there. And who knows what the parenting qualities of the inhabitants of the 5 Cities of the Plains were like? This is an area in need of deep study and until Jack is satisfied his hypothesis is wrong he intends to play it safe with his granddaughter’s welfare. The feminisation of men and the masculinisation of women has a cause.

            How old is your daughter? Before marriage and parenthood comes that awful stage for a father called the ‘teenage years’ and boyfriends. Another invention of Satan – or, for you, a sudden upsurge of a manifestation of the ‘evil inclination’ before adulthood arrives.

          • avi barzel

            Way to go, Jack, never give up the battle. Behavioural psych, child development, cultural anthropology, biblical references…throw them all into the pot and hope it makes a good stew. They bought “global warming” so why not? I’m with you on that one…hated changing diapers…and perhaps you can save millions of men. Too late for me; caught myself getting upset over the return of 70s pastel-coloured lipstick lines the other day.

            Yes, the youngest is officially a teen now. Oh, yes, interesting age, but she’s kind to her dad; having most of the battles with mom. The boyfriend thing, well, in the Orthodox world dating is more of a public and group event for teens and young adults until it’s time for serious matches and then only half a dozen dates in restaurants or walks through zoos before engagement and marriage. They don’t even hold hands, not even a peck on the cheek good-bye, for goodness sake. Never thought my kids would be straighter than I was in the day, but given how things are out there, I shouldn’t complain. A secular friend thinks we are ogres as parents for controlling our children…but we never imposed or expected, and I don’t know any parents who have to lecture or limit their kids…it’s just the way things are in our cooky little Orthodox world.

          • Now now, Jack. While rejoicing in your delight in your granddaughter, and wishing every joy and blessing for little Lucy, my husband and I can assure you that the act of making a baby comfortable by removing a dirty nappy, cleaning the little dear and applying a clean nappy involves no gender confusion and is indeed a “gender-neutral” task 🙂 Even my teenage nephew managed to do it for my son, after some careful education about which end one applied the new nappy to 🙂

          • Sister Tiberia, if Happy Jack was meant to feed a baby God would have given him mammary glands which secrete milk. From this Jack has deduced God desires men and women to perform different roles with babies and infants. One being to leave all nappy changing to the primary care-giver, unless an unforeseen emergency arises. In this case, the responsibility falls to nearest available woman.

          • Anton

            Avi, you wrote to another that “neither Anton nor I accept each other’s premises… That leaves us with clever zingers to attempt to rhetorically knock our positions down which may work with indifferent adolescents, but not with leathery old war horses like us”.

            That is not an accurate summary of our dialogue to date. I agree that there is no point in any discussion that does not proceed from a shared start point. Our shared start point is the written Law of Moses in the Pentateuch. What is currently in question between us is the origin and authority of the oral Jewish law with which the rabbis supplement the written Law of Moses. Specifically, rabbinic Jews claim that it was given to Moses at the same time as the written law, handed down orally through the chain of transmission listed subsequently in Pirkei Avot, and written down for purposes of preservation in the Talmud generations after the destruction of Jerusalem. I claim that it was not given by God at the same time and consists of later commentaries (often wise) and unauthorised supplements to the written Law of Moses, and that the relevant part of Pirkei Avot (of which the first trace is contemporary with the rabbinic era) is a pious invention. In support of my claim is that the “oral law” refers to the written Law of Moses countless times but the written Law of Moses makes no reference to any parallel body of oral law. I welcome your response now that you know what our shared start point is. I also wonder why God might supposedly have given an oral component to the Law, in view of the fact (which God would know) that oral traditions invariably mutate whereas written ones don’t.

          • avi barzel

            No, Anton, this isn’t an accurate summary of our dialogue; it’s an accurate prediction of its inevitable trajectory. The Oral Torah tradition is axiomatic to Judaism, just as a slew of traditions are axiomatic to Christianity. An attempt to rationalize these away can only generate rhetorical zingers from both sides.This would be the case as well if were to attempt to prove, rationally, that the Gospels are inaccurate, mistranslated and misunderstood sectarian documents with no intrinsic legitimacy.

            But I don’t have to tackle your question from a theological angle, as it’s essentially philosophical. The Oral Torah is a continuum of instructions to humanity and to Jews. The generations before the Exodus, starting with Avraham Avinu, appear to have been given a Torah, a Torah in its literal meaning as “the Teachings,” by which the chosen actors formed their behavior, morality and a variety of philosophies. It was…and is…a paradign, an operational system with which our God-given intelligence interacts with Creation and the Almighty. You also ask, “I also wonder why God might supposedly have given an oral component to the Law, in view of the fact (which God would know) that oral traditions invariably mutate whereas written ones don’t.” I would begin answering this by pointing out the mystery as to why God built-in the mechanisms of atrophy and mutation into the organic parts of Creation. Clearly, He could have made us perfect beings; ones who don’t degrade because of our upright posture, do not suffer from a too small of a pelvis, whose cells do not mutate into cancers and so on. I would furthermore point out that the much maligned and misunderstood mechanisms of Creation, evolution and adaptation also provide glimpses into our roles and duties.

          • Anton

            Dear Avi, neither of us can know how our dialogue would go. I am aware that the Oral Teaching/Law is regarded as equally axiomatic with the Written Law of Moses by many Jews (I would not say “Judaism”), but I am challenging that axiom and offering specific grounds for doing so, ie that the Written Law of Moses never mentions a parallel body of oral law but the oral law refers again and again to the written Law. You are declining to engage with that issue. (I don’t think many readers will find your analogy with imperfections in our biological bodies helpful in elucidating the relationship between the Written and Oral Law of ancient Israel.) That is your privilege and I can have no objection to it. With His Grace’s implicit permission, nevertheless, I don’t mind having my own axioms, namely the gospels, questioned. Apologetics is always worthwhile and according to one verse in the New Testament I must “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have; do this with gentleness and respect”.

          • Anton, Happy Jack has been on his travels over the Christmas period. He has come across many ‘scholars’ who have presented ‘evidence’ supporting this:

            “the Gospels are inaccurate, mistranslated and misunderstood sectarian documents with no intrinsic legitimacy.”

            How would you answer that one?

          • Anton

            Jack, I haven’t the time to answer, in detail, hypotheticals phrased by people I ultimately agree with – you and I agree that the Hebrew scriptures and New Testament are canonical – and in any case it’s a statement not a question. As an outline response, what grounds for saying that they are inaccurate? Mistranslated – not much nowadays and can anybody give an example that still makes any significant difference? Sectarian – yes of course, the church is a messianic branch of Judaism that (I believe) God licensed to go global. No intrinsic legitimacy – mere rhetoric, means what?

          • The simple answer is: Faith.

          • avi barzel

            Anton, the bottom line is that you don’t accept Oral Law because you are Christian. Acceptance of the Oral Law would compel you to accept Rabbinic Judaism. Conversely, I cannot accept positions which invalidate the substance of the Oral Law because that would take me outside of normative Judaism, into heresies, non-Jewish religions or Reform and Conservative Judaism, both of which are currently imploding and collapsing.

            The second point I made is that I simply don’t know enough to lay out a philosophical/theological defense of the Oral Law. This has already been done by generations of rabbis, including Maimonides and others who fought against the rejection of the Oral Torah by the Karaites and other heretical movements and eventually won, and also subsequent generations of sages and rabbis who maintained this mesora/tradition against Christianity, Islam, the Spinosas, the Jacobsons, Geigers, Holdheims and Zunzes and now neo-Pahganism under the label of Modernism. You make an intelligent point, pose intelligent questions, but if you want your challenge tested, your best model is the scientific one, where one first tests a hypothesis by attempting to falsify it with past, existing and even self-generated counter-points.

            The third reason is the halakhic prohibition about engaging in theological debates from those of other faiths. The reasons for this, as I understand it, are that such endanger Jews physically, if not at the time or place of the debate, eventually in the future or in other locations; that those with insufficient learning as myself will provide an inaccurate or false representations of Judaism’s essential dogmas.

            But at least in my mind, the most compelling reason to drop inter-religious debates over doctrine in tolerant societies and between social and legal equals of different faiths and traditions is futility. As much as I see myself as a rationalist, I recognize that religion does not rest on rationalist principles, on good arguments, compelling “proofs,” challenges, twists and such. No amount of “evidence” will convince me that the Oral Torah has no legitimacy, just as no amount of “evidence” will convince you that your Gospels are illegitimate. If this were to happen, we would simply fail in our respective faiths, duties and loyalties.

          • Anton

            Avi, let’s clarify the word “accept”. As a Christian I do not consider myself to be under the Law of Moses, but I often read the Written Law of Moses in order to learn about God because He reveals much about His concerns therein. Like King David, I love pondering it. I wish more Christians did.

            You have a lengthy way of saying No Comment! But what if something in the Oral Law contradicted something in the Written Law of Moses…?

          • “But what if something in the Oral Law contradicted something in the Written Law of Moses…?”

            Lol …. have you read the Talmud? It’s a conversation between great minds. There is an answer for everything and even answers to questions that have never been asked.

          • Anton

            Not systematically Jack, but parts of it certainly. This is a powerful set of arguments against the Oral Law having been given to Moses alongside the written law, adduced by karaites (Jews who accept the Written Law but not the Oral Law as authoritative):
            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karaite_Judaism#Views_on_the_Mishnah

            Comments on the karaites are not relevant to comments on these arguments…

          • dannybhoy

            ” But what if something in the Oral Law contradicted something in the Written Law of Moses…?”

            That’s what rabbis and theologians are there for..
            (that’s meant to be funny not offensive)

          • avi barzel

            PS: Or I could have simply referred to Jack’s seemingly off-hand, but actually brilliant approach. below.

          • dannybhoy

            Shalom Avi!
            Blessings to you and yours. Has your daughter hit you with any exciting news?

  • carl jacobs

    I thought this practice originated in the Catholic concept of Mortal sin. A man who kills himself both commits a mortal sin and cuts himself off from the sacraments. The funeral liturgy must therefore reflect this determination – at least for a Catholic. Am I wrong?

    Funerals of course are for the living. They make no difference to the dead. The form of the liturgy matters only in the truth it communicates to the living. There is a delicate balance here between saying what must be said to uphold the truth, and respecting the feelings of the grieving relatives and friends. If the only purpose of the liturgy is to help people in their grief, then it has been improperly fashioned. The Church should never make reassuring statements about the destiny of the dead simply to soothe the Living.

    The way to fix this is to provide Christian burials only to Christians. I suppose this is a feature of a Established church, but I don’t understand this blanket application of Christian funerals to those who have no connection to the Faith. It’s not supposed to be just a ritual of life and death. It’s supposed to means something more.

    • The Explorer

      My tentative understanding is that suicide is mortal sin to Catholics, but to Protestants does not necessarily mean denial of salvation. The C of E, part Catholic and part Protestant, has historically been tugged in both directions. Ophelia’s funeral in ‘Hamlet’ reflects the conflicting pulls. What is key to both traditions is the destination of the soul as a result of the action.
      For those who see death as the end of everything, the issue is rather different. Life is a balance sheet of pain and pleasure. When pain outweighs pleasure, without prospect of reversal, cessation makes sense. A funeral then becomes a celebration/recognition of the positive aspects of the individual life. With no prospect of anything beyond, what else could it be?

      • Dominic Stockford

        You both have much sensible to say here.

        It is the Roman view of suicide that causes this problem – and it is their “ceremony” (as Shakespeare puts it) that is therefore put out.

        Protestantism, allows for individuals (and for situation ethics) in a way that Romanism does not. It accepts that when someone has a serious mental health issue (William Cowper, for example) which leads them to end their own life the same blanket attitude should not be taken towards them.

        As for funerals for the unbelieving, well, I would rather never do them – although pastoral and spiritual concern for the living leads me to do so when I am (or my congregation is) personally approached to do so. As a Free Church that is not so often. I will only take a funeral service where I am ‘in charge’, and can direct the service and its contents in a Christian manner. I will NOT have secular songs during a funeral, and I pretty much insist on using the BCP service, with a Biblical sermon.

        People on here may be amazed, but no-one has ever yet stormed off in a huff because they can’t have what they want. The nearest it came to that was recently when the unbelieving (though church going) family of one of our own members, who was a wonderful Christian lady, demanded all sorts of liberal claptrap. They didn’t in the end, as they realised the stink that would be caused in the local community if they did so would be greater than the hassle of having to listen to the gospel and have a genuinely Christian service. The son with a bit more about him prevailed over the daughter, who would rather have had some kind of concert with wishy-washy nonsense about how nice everyone is and how God loves everyone so everyone will go to heaven no matter whether they acknowledge him or not.

      • dannybhoy

        William Cowper 1731-1800 suffered from serious bouts of depression and even contemplated taking his own life on more than one occasion. Yet he wrote some beautiful poetry and hymns..
        http://www.puritansermons.com/poetry/cowpindx.htm
        What would have happened to him?
        It’s another reason why I don’t accept that each of us are especially created of God: we are born as a result of the mixing of our parents genetic make up, including the imperfections..

        • The Explorer

          I agree: both about the imperfections, and about Cowper.

          • dannybhoy

            Good! Some Christians get quite upset when I say that. I was taught to believe that each of us are born exactly as God intended. Over the years I began to question it, and now I believe God loves each one of us despite the imperfections and offers salvation to us regardless.

        • “I don’t accept that each of us are especially created of God”

          Dangerous road that one, Danny.

          Each of us is given a unique created soul that is placed in a body. The body is subject to a variety of imperfections, including our brains. However, the soul, though damaged and wounded through the Fall, is the centre of our conscience and through it we have access to God. How the soul, body and mind interact is the unknown.

          Yet, we are all unique, foreknown by God, who also foreknows the demands placed on us by our bodily imperfections and the times we live in.

      • Anton

        ALL sins are mortal sins in the sense that without Jesus Christ they would deny us salvation. The only possible meaningful use of the phrase is not that of certain church traditions but those sins for which people were to be executed under the Law of Moses.

        Can one be a genuine Christian, ie have salvation, and commit suicide? To quote from Hamlet, THAT is the question.

        • The Explorer

          It’s a good point: especially if one thinks of the list of sins in 1 Corinthians 6:10 that would deny possession of the KIngdom.
          One could, I suppose, commit suicide as a result of mental illness. Can one be a genuine Christian, and be mentally ill? (Linus would no doubt have an opinion.)
          I have a problem with Hamlet’s soliloquy. “The undiscover’d country from whose bourne no traveller returns.” Is that meant to include Christ? (Not to mention the Ghost.)

          • Anton

            I suggest that Shakespeare was a nominal Christian. His plays would have been as great but not have had as universal an appeal had they been more Christian. How different they were from the old Catholic theatre of the mystery plays expounding the gospel and miracle plays about the lives of the saints!

          • dannybhoy

            “Can one be a genuine Christian, and be mentally ill?”
            Surely that depends what form and outworkings the illness takes?

          • The Explorer

            Agreed. And that brings in your point about genetic imperfections. If one can be a Christian and be physically ill (as I know to my cost), I believe one can be a Christian and be mentally ill. That’s not the same thing as being spiritually ill.

          • dannybhoy

            We are in agreement. It ties in with one of my central themes that we should love one another and be slow to judge (condemn) another believer who is struggling.
            I sometimes think that if we Christians worked harder at relationships we might find our prayers would be far more effective.

          • CliveM

            Can you think of a mental illness that Christians can’t get?

          • Jack can – “normality”.

          • CliveM

            Is anyone normal?

          • Nope.

          • CliveM

            But you can be abnormal but not mentally ill.

          • If there’s no such quality as “normal” then how can one be “abnormal”?

          • CliveM

            It is normal to be abnormal!

            However of more interest, what is it your getting at?

          • Nought … Happy Jack does that sometimes.

          • CliveM

            Ok, I was worried I was being especially stupid!!

          • You might think that, Jack could not possibly comment.

          • CliveM

            Thanks………!

          • dannybhoy

            Clive
            He does that to throw you off balance or to see how sure you are of yourself….

          • dannybhoy

            I disagree.
            There is a degree of normality that allows us all to understand another person, interact with them, cooperate with, do research with and even fight wars together.
            So you’re both wrong! What you should have said is that we all have funny little quarks and imperfections, and ways of looking at things that make us unique and (sometimes) interesting..

          • Hmmm …. “a degree of normality” is an interesting concept.

          • dannybhoy

            Everything I posit is interesting Jack.
            Even if it’s subsequently proved wrong
            -or abnormal….. 🙂

          • dannybhoy

            I am tempted to say Tourettes Syndrome, but again it depends what form it takes.

            Anything that includes physical violence or blasphemy would be kinda hard to reconcile with our faith, and might in fact have other (spiritl) causes..
            Wny?
            What are you about to confess this time?
            😉

          • Tourette’s Syndrome has physiological causes.

          • CliveM

            DB

            their is a clue in the word illness. If it’s an illness ( and it is) then anyone can get it. Including Tourette’s in all its forms.

            I know of several mentally ill Christians who have been further damaged by a belief amongst some Christians that mental illness is incompatible with faith. That is a lie. Many (most) mental illnesses have some sort of physiological basis. Mental illness isn’t a weakness of personality or faith, it is an illness, like cancer is an illness, and people need the same support and understanding.

          • dannybhoy

            “If it’s an illness ( and it is) then anyone can get it. Including Tourette’s in all its forms.”
            Not sure about that.
            A doctor or psychologist or psychiatrist whop only accepts the physical realm might say that all abberational behaviour has physical causes. But what are we to do with the demoniacs and possessed not only recorded in the Bible, but documented instances in our modern times?

          • CliveM

            I had a friend at University who had his mental illness demon cast out. Stopped taking his pills as a sign of faith, was in hospital with a major breakdown within the week.

            Frankly I think you can be on VERY thin ice, trying to deal with mental illness as some form of demonic possession.

          • dannybhoy

            I don’t disagree and could give you similar examples.
            But that’s not what I said, is it Clive?

          • CliveM

            Ok what is it you’re saying?

            A glib answer would be IF its demonic, it’s not mental illness.

          • dannybhoy

            Yes, that would be glib, but that’s not what I said though is it?
            I said,
            ” But what are we to do with the demoniacs and possessed not only recorded in the Bible, but documented cases in our modern times?”
            So like you I would start with the assumption that an illness mental or physical, has a biological cause,

            BUT!
            what do we do (or perhaps “make of” is clearer), with those Bible instances where our Lord diagnosed the cause as demonic, and those documented cases of some kind of possession where a minister (even a Cof E one) has cast out a tormenting ot controlling spirit?

          • CliveM

            Apologies will have to come back later to you on this!!

          • dannybhoy

            Not needed old pal.

          • CliveM

            “Can one be a Christian and mentally ill?”

            If one can have cancer, or MND or have flu or a cold etc, then yes you can be. Why would their be a difference?

          • Cressida de Nova

            Can one be a Christian and mentally ill? LOL….Have you actually read all the posts on this blog? Happy New Year Clive !

          • CliveM

            Happy New Year Cressida.

            I had read all the comments that had been done at the time I made my comment, but due to massive work commitments I haven’t been able to keep up.

            Which is a pity as their are something’s I would have liked to have said on this issue.

        • Martin

          Anton

          Why would any sin be sufficient to deny salvation to those who are saved?

          For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

          (Romans 9:38-39 [ESV])

          • Anton

            Martin,

            Indeed it is possible to sin yet not lose salvation. I do not, however, accept “once saved, always saved”. In the passage you quote from Romans 8 (not 9 !) St Paul asks rhetorically “What can separate us from the love of Christ?” and then lists things that cannot separate us. But sin can in some circumstances separate us from God, and sin is not on Paul’s list. And who is ‘us’? Believers, obviously; but what if our sins gradually cause us to cease to believe?

            The New Testament is full of warnings about failure to reach your destination. The failure of most of the Israelites
            to reach the Promised Land is used as a warning in 1 Cor 10 and Hebrews 4. Paul, writing in the Greek world with its interest in athletics, often compares life to a race; what counts is how you cross the line, i.e. your faith at your death. Further warnings are found in parables of shoddy servants and unready bridesmaids (Matt 25). Again, why bother if believers are ‘once saved, always saved’? Nowhere does scripture set out a clear statement of this claim; in contrast, Jesus says of the believer who overcomes, in Revelation 3:5, that “I will never blot his
            name from the book of life,” implying that other names can be blotted out (or else why not give a positive word of encouragement, rather than a promise not to do
            something negative?) Perhaps the parable of the sower gives a clue to the characteristics of those who were once saved but cease to be (Luke 8:4-15). Paul exhorts certain members of the congregation at Rome to “consider the
            goodness of God to you, provided that you continue in his goodness; otherwise you will be cut off” (Romans 11:22). Peter says of certain people that “If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and saviour Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and are overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning” (see 2 Peter 2:20-22). Hebrews 6:4-6 says that “It is impossible for those who have once been
            enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance”. Finally, the Greek verb tenses used in the New Testament more often
            denote a continuing action than conventional English translations indicate, for example ‘we who are [being] saved’ and ‘we who [continue to] believe’.

          • Phil R

            You don’t earn your own salvation so how can you lose it?

          • Anton

            The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away, in correlation with our faith in him at any given time.

          • Phil R

            Sorry I have been away for a few days.

            So… God loves you only because you are “good” then

          • Martin

            Anton

            Indeed it is possible to sin yet not lose salvation. I do not, however, accept “once saved, always saved”. In the passage you quote from Romans 8 (not 9 !) St Paul asks rhetorically “What can separate us from the love of Christ?” and then lists things that cannot separate us. But sin can in some circumstances separate us from God, and sin is not on Paul’s list. And who is ‘us’? Believers, obviously; but what if our sins gradually cause us to cease to believe?

            The trouble is, if it were sin that were separating us from God it would be ourselves, and Paul makes it clear that no one can separate us from God.

            The New Testament is full of warnings about failure to reach your destination. The failure of most of the Israelites to reach the Promised Land is used as a warning in 1 Cor 10 and Hebrews 4. Paul, writing in the Greek world with its interest in athletics, often compares life to a race; what counts is how you cross the line, i.e. your faith at your death. Further warnings are found in parables of shoddy servants and unready bridesmaids (Matt 25).

            And the NT is also full of assurances that Christ will never lose any that are His. That we also have exhortations to work at our salvation shows that we are here for a purpose.

            Again, why bother if believers are ‘once saved, always saved’? Nowhere does scripture set out a clear statement of this claim; in contrast, Jesus says of the believer who overcomes, in Revelation 3:5, that “I will never blot his name from the book of life,” implying that other names can be blotted out (or else why not give a positive word of encouragement, rather than a promise not to do something negative?)

            On the contrary, there is no indication that a name would be blotted out.

            Perhaps the parable of the sower gives a clue to the characteristics of those who were once saved but cease to be (Luke 8:4-15).

            The parable of the sower indicates that the perseverence of belief is based on the preparation of the soil. The one who prepares the soil is God and when He has prepared the soil none are lost. The only ones lost are those sown on unprepared soil.

            Paul exhorts certain members of the congregation at Rome to “consider the goodness of God to you, provided that you continue in his goodness; otherwise you will be cut off” (Romans 11:22). Peter says of certain people that “If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and saviour Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and are overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning” (see 2 Peter 2:20-22). Hebrews 6:4-6 says that “It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance”.

            But those are the ones who have never been saved, like those who grew on unprepared soil. Ephesians 2 tells us that faith is the gift of God, how then would it be possible to lose that faith?

            Finally, the Greek verb tenses used in the New Testament more often denote a continuing action than conventional English translations indicate, for example ‘we who are [being] saved’ and ‘we who [continue to] believe’.

            When God saves us we are justified, no longer under condemantion our sins are paid for. However our life from that time on is a process of sanctification, as we are made more like Him.

          • Anton

            “When God saves us we are justified, no longer under condemantion our sins are paid for. However our life from that time on is a process of sanctification, as we are made more like Him.”

            A life of sanctification is made possible from that point, but it is not inevitable. You point out that the NT is also full of assurances that Christ will never lose any that are His. Indeed, but that summary fails to grasp what I was saying about Greek verb tenses; a better summary would be “…any that abide in Him”. But what of those who willingly walk out of the sheepfold?

            To take this any further we need a contextual definition of “saved”. I propose that it means for these purposes someone who, if killed instantly by an unexpected event, would finally spend eternity in the New Jerusalem spoken of in Revelation 22, and not in the lake of fire. (You’d be surprised how imprecise the terms Heaven and Hell can be.) Now, I assert that it is possible for someone who is at one time saved in this sense to be unsaved at a later time.

            You might seek to preserve your position by saying that those who give up church attendance, Bible study, prayer etc and revert to a life of sin never really were saved. But how can you know that? We are frequently exhorted not to judge in that sense.

          • Martin

            Anton

            God justifies us at conversion, and from then on He works at making us fit for Heaven, a work we share in:

            Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. (Philippians 2:12-13 [ESV])

            And when God has spent all that effort is He going to let one of us fail? Remember that nothing can separate us from God:

            No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 9:37-39 [ESV]

            I’d say we came under the heading of things present and any other creature. God has changed us, we aren’t going to walk out of the sheepfold.

            Saved, surely, is simple. It means we are no longer subject to the penalties, Christ has paid for our sins, past present & future on the cross. We are no longer the slaves of sin but slaves of righteousness, born again with a new nature.

            How can we know that those who leave us were never saved, the Bible tells us the answer to that:

            They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us. (I John 2:19 [ESV]

          • Again, that’s a truism, Martin. The saved are those foreknown to God and given His efficacious grace. Who knows what happens in the final moments of one’s life and what grace God will send?

          • Martin

            HJ

            Those who God has chosen before the foundation of the Earth are those whom God has efficaciously saved. God does the saving and He cannot fail.

        • ….and a difficult question. Can you be a Christian and commit adultery? Tell a lie? Make an incorrect tax declaration? Believe some incorrect doctrine? watch internet porn? Drive carelessly?

          Thank God the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from ALL sin (1 John chapter 1)

        • What your asking is whether a Christian will never find themselves in a situation of such stress and pressure, or suffer from mentally illness, to the point where they are not responsible for their actions.

      • Suicide, objectively, denies salvation because it is a sin that kills grace in the soul and separates us from Christ. However, subjectively, the person may not be culpable for the act because of a range of personal factors.

    • dannybhoy

      It’s because Carl, there is still no separation between Church and State in out country, so these anomalies exist and will increase. I agree with a separation, but to do so now would cause all sorts of problems.

    • Martin

      Carl

      I know of nowhere in the Bible where such an exclusion is made. And of course the Bible tells us that nothing can take away the salvation of the saved.

      • carl jacobs

        Martin

        To what exclusion do you refer?

        • Martin

          Carl

          Excluding from Christian burial.

      • “And of course the Bible tells us that nothing can take away the salvation of the saved.”
        That’s just a truism, Martin.

        • Martin

          HJ

          It’s the truth.

  • Dreadnaught

    an iron cross would be driven through the heart of the corpse and passers by would be invited to heap shards, flints and stones upon it

    Nice touch.

    Well I suppose its evangelism of a sort; no doubt there were staunch voices raised against abandonment of the practice as there were recently against female bishops.

  • The Explorer

    In ‘The Discarded Image’ (Ch 3) C S Lewis asks where the prohibition on suicide in Christian ethics comes from, since it is not as specifically biblical as the prohibition of murder. (Unless you treat it as self-murder: my point, not Lewis’.)
    Lewis cites Cicero’s ‘Somnium Scipionis’. As a soldier may not leave the garrison without permission, so you may not leave this life without the orders of him who gave you a soul. Cicero, Lewis surmises, may have got the idea from Plato’s ‘Phaedo’. We are the property of the gods, and property must not dispose of itself.
    Lewis does not make a value judgement: his task in the book is simply to trace the origins of Western ideas.

    • I was taught (a long time ago, rightly or wrongly), that the Catholic prohibition was based on Christ’s teaching about the only unforgivable sin being the sin against the Holy Spirit – despair, the refusal to believe in or to accept God’s mercy through repentance. But the priest went on to say that attached to this was the assumption that the suicide was in sound mind, which English law for a long time considered them not to be, and the assumption that if indeed they were in sound mind they had not indeed repented in the final seconds which is between them and their Maker alone, On that basis he commended them to the mercy of God, and said the Catholic rites for the dead over them, which will probably have some Catholics here spitting nails (mentioning no names!).

      I suffered from severe cyclical depression for many years, and at one point came very close to taking my own life, because in the state I was in at the time, it seemed the only logical choice left. Thank God I didn’t do it. Because many years later I can look back and see just how incapable I was of making any rational decision at that time, But that wasn’t how it looked to me – then.

      • Now, now Sister Tiberia. The Catholic priest in this instance acted in full accord with Church teaching and with Canon Law.

      • The Explorer

        Hello again, Sister T. The unforgivable sin is a difficult issue: especially since whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven.
        The context of ‘Matthew’ 12:31, when the Pharisees accuse Christ of working miracles under the influence of Beelzebub, reflects an unforgivable refusal to acknowledge God’s power. Suicide doesn’t come into it.
        However, since despair leading to suicide is also a refusal to recognise God’s power I can see exactly where the Catholic prohibition is coming from, and it makes sense. But we Protestants would say the unforgivable sin is wider than suicide: ultimately the refusal to acknowledge God.
        Lewis’ book is about the medieval attempt to synthesize Christian and pagan thought. Epicurus would have been rejected outright, but much of value was found in Plato. Aristotle, Cicero and the Stoics.

      • Cressida de Nova

        Happy New Year Sr Tibs !

        Catholics who would spit nails over this are not Catholic in essence in the true meaning of what a Catholic is.

        Just are small quibble…all sins are forgivable providing there is true remorse and atonement.

      • dannybhoy

        Again we who are strong in faith should stand with those who struggle.
        There are times when exhortation simply doesn’t help. Love, prayer and human contact can be more effective.

  • Inspector General

    One feels the priest would not be doing his duty to God if he omitted to mention that suicide is not available to us. It is forbidden. There, that didn’t hurt the bereaved too much, did it ? Or was there a further gush of tears on hearing those words. The family wanted a Christian burial for the loved one who deserted them, and that is exactly what they should get. Even if it results in some discomfort or indignation suffered by the grieving…

    On the subject of doing yourself in, don’t throw yourself under a train. The biggest victim is more than likely the driver. They will be traumatised. Many are off work for weeks, months even. Some never return to driving trains. In 2004, one complete bastard decided to commit suicide by parking his car on the level crossing at Ufton Nervet, Berkshire. He took out six others too when the train hit him, including girl passengers aged 9 and 14.

    We can’t stop you lot topping yourselves. But how about a bit of care and consideration for those who want nothing to do with it…

  • Malcolm Smith

    While they are at it, is the Church of England considering what to do about funerals for the unbaptized and the excommunicated, as per Canon B38(2)?

    • grutchyngfysch

      Are there actually *any* excommunicated Anglicans, whatsoever?

      UKIP members maybe.

      • dannybhoy

        Oi!

  • Some 25 years or so ago I attended the (Anglican) funeral service of a chronically depressed patient whose death by her own hand I had failed to prevent, although I don’t know what more I (or anyone else) could have done. She was a professing Christian who simply could not get free of a clinging cloak of misery. The minister rightly made the point that the church did not condone suicide, but the question of denying her a ‘Christian burial’ did not arise. This was at a Southampton church well known for taking an Evangelical view.

    John Piper has a very good short talk on suicide on his ‘Desiring God’ channel. He of course strongly advises against it but argues that as he would not expect to lose his salvation if after walking with Christ for years he had a flaming row with his wife, stormed out of the house, drove recklessly and died as a result, so he would not assume that suicide inevitably is a one way ticket to hell.

    Suicide cannot be recommended unless materialism is true. But it isn’t.

  • This seems quite a reasonable change to Happy Jack – provided the Church of England does not condone or support ‘Assisted Suicide’ (self murder) in any shape or form. This would be misleading people.

    For centuries the Catholic Church prohibited funerals and burials of individuals who committed suicide. A few distinctions were allowed for burials in exceptional circumstances, but Catholics were generally denied funerals as a way of underlining it was a grave sin and also discouraging it. In recent years, however, the Church reversed its prohibition and takes a more lenient view.

    The Catholic Church condemns suicide on the principles of the sanctity of life and the sovereignty of God, human stewardship and not ownership, and the prohibition against killing. Our life has been given to us to use and to make fruitful but it belongs to God and it is not for us to end when we so choose.

    Suicide is a gravely wrong moral action. Objectively, it is a grave sin and can lose us salvation. However, for a sin to cost someone their salvation the objective action (the taking of one’s own life) must not only be grave. The person must also know that it is wrong and must give full consent of the will. In the case of suicide, a person may not have given full consent of the will because the personal circumstances surrounding suicides may mean that they are not voluntary acts and so, while they may morally wrong they are not always blameworthy. Fear, force, ignorance, habit, passion, mental illness and psychological problems can impede the exercise of the will so that a person may not be fully responsible or responsible at all for an action. Thus, while acts of suicide are objectively immoral, the degree of culpability for suicide depends upon the state of mind in which the act is done.
    (Are you paying attention, Carl?)

    The Catechism states, “Grave psychological disturbances, anguish, or grave fear of hardship, suffering, or torture can diminish the responsibility of the one committing suicide” This qualification does not make suicide a right action in any circumstance. It does make us realise that the person may not be totally culpable for the action because of various circumstances or personal conditions.

    The Church prays for those who have committed suicide knowing that Christ will judge the deceased fairly and justly. It is the belief of the Church that only God can read the depths of our soul. Only He knows how much we love Him and how responsible we are for our actions. The Church’s view is that we should leave the judgment of those who commit suicide to God. The Church still teaches that there is Hell, understood as a definitive separation from the love of God but leaves it to God to decide who should go there.

    Again, the Catechism states, “We should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives. By ways known to Him alone, God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentance. The Church prays for persons who have taken their own lives”. Therefore, the Church offer Mass and burial for the repose of the soul of a suicide victim, invoking God’s tender love and mercy, and His healing grace for the grieving loved ones. The Church also prays for the close relations of the deceased, that the loving and healing touch of God will comfort those torn apart by the impact of the suicide.

    Canon Law no longer specifically mentions suicide as an impediment to funeral rites or church burial. Canon 1184 of the Code of Canon Law mentions only three cases of those who can be denied funeral rites or a church burial:

    (i) a notorious apostate (someone who has renounced the Christian
    faith), a heretic (someone who holds or teaches doctrines contrary to those of the Church) or a schismatic (someone who has broken away from the church);
    (ii) those who requested cremation for motives contrary to the Christian faith; and
    (iii) manifest sinners to whom a Church funeral cannot be granted without
    causing public scandal to the faithful.
    These restrictions apply only if there has been no sign of repentance before death.

    A particular case of suicide might enter into the third case – that of a manifest and unrepentant sinner. In most cases, however, studies of the underlying causes of suicide shows that the majority are consequences of an accumulation of psychological factors that impede making a free and deliberative act of the will. Thus the general tendency is to see this extreme gesture as almost always resulting from the effects of an imbalanced mental state and so it is no longer forbidden to hold a funeral rite for a person who has committed suicide, although each case will be studied on its merits.

    • Anton

      Would the change to which you refer be from one inerrant position to another that is incompatible with the first?

      • Not at all. The praxis remains faithful to the doctrine. Suicide remains a grave sin. What the Church ‘developed’ was its understanding of sin and the culpability of man.

        The Church has always believed that only God can read the depths of our soul. Only He knows how much we love Him and how responsible we are for our actions. We should leave the judgment of those who commit suicide to God. The Church also teaches the Holy Spirit is active in our final moments of life.

        • dannybhoy

          “The Church has always believed that only God can read the depths of our soul*. Only He knows how much we love Him and how responsible we are for our actions. We should leave the judgment of those who commit suicide to God.”

          Absolutely.
          * I would apply that principle to other situations too!

        • Anton

          Precisely what element of Catholic teaching is held to be inerrant, please?

          • These two elements, Anton:

            The Catholic Church condemns suicide on the principles of the sanctity of life and the sovereignty of God, human stewardship and not ownership, and the prohibition against killing. Our life has been given to us to use and to make fruitful but it belongs to God and it is not for us to end when we so choose.

            It is the belief of the Church that only God can read the depths of our soul. Only He knows how much we love Him and how responsible we are for our actions. The Church’s view is that we should leave the judgment of those who commit suicide to God. The Church still teaches that there is Hell, understood as a definitive separation from the love of God but leaves it to God to decide who should go there.

          • Anton

            Apologies Jack, my question was not clear. I meant precisely what element in Catholic teaching on any subject is held to be inerrant?

          • Oh, do leave it out Anton ……….
            Life is short and Happy Jack has a grandchild.

          • Anton

            If you are going to prick me with lines like “Canon Laws 1311 and 1312 concern possible penal sanctions against “Christ’s faithful”. As a protestant, you are therefore safe from prosecution” then you must expect a bit of knockabout in return. So a single example in all of Catholic church history in which it changed its mind over such matters would suffice to disprove inerrancy, would it not?

          • “So a single example in all of Catholic church history in which it changed its mind over such matters would suffice to disprove inerrancy, would it not?”

            Oh please …. if you must then do give it a go, Anton.

            Provide one clear, incontrovertible example where the Church has contradicted itself and Jack will listen. The burden of proof rests with you. However, please try to leave out slavery, usury, religious freedom, ecclesiam nulla salus, and all such examples as answers are readily available elsewhere.

          • Anton

            At the Council of Trent it was formally asserted that those who knowingly remain outside the Roman Catholic church (meaning, in context, protestants) would not find salvation. At Vatican 2 they were declared to be “separated brethren” who may indeed be saved. So, was Rome’s inerrant position in error before or after Vatican 2?

            I also presume that the Vatican would not torture a man for heresy unless he was against doctrine regarded as inerrant. (Do correct me if Rome was willing to torture on a whim.) So, Galileo was threatened with torture for maintaining heliocentrism…

            Rome today is powerfully against capital punishment, stating in paragraph 2267 of the catechism that “the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity “are very rare, if not practically non-existent.” Not a view it took in mediaeval times…

          • Anton, how terribly disappointing. You haven’t demonstrated anything. All you’ve done is ask Jack questions and cited some odd references.

            Jack suggests you visit this website and research the answers there:

            http://www.catholicculture.org/

            All the answers are available through its search facility and various other links are suggested. Should these matters become relevant to the theme of future articles on this blog, Jack will happily engage with you on them.

          • Anton

            I ask questions because when I point out to Catholics these examples of how Rome has changed from one “inerrant” view to another “inerrant” view that is inconsistent with the first – so that one or other inerrant view was errant, thereby disproving inerrancy – they either (a) go quiet, which my asking a question makes very obvious, or (b) they refer me to very general websites and tell me to, er, go refute myself. As you have done. Is it because you are unable to refute my counterexamples yourself?

            Should you not reply, I am content for His Grace’s readers to decide for themselves from our exchange to this point.

          • “I ask questions because when I point out to Catholics these examples of how Rome has changed from one “inerrant” view to another “inerrant” view …. “

            So you “point” these things out, do you? To do so properly requires you to cite the explicit teaching on ‘ Ecclesiam
            Nulla Salus’. (Btw, it wasn’t formulated at Trent). You would then have to cite a teaching contrary to the doctrine. You’ve done neither and want Jack to respond?

            “Is it because you are unable to refute my counterexamples yourself?”

            Not at all. You haven’t presented any case. All you’ve done is make a few assertions without setting out your arguments. Really, that is just lazy. And most Catholics probably sigh deeply when you “point out” your “discovery” and refuse to play your game.

            “I am content for His Grace’s readers to decide for themselves from our exchange to this point.”

            That’s fine by Happy Jack. His Grace’s readers have all witnessed exchanges on these issues and will understand how fruitless they are.

          • Anton

            I’ll dust out my detail on Trent resolutions, but meanwhile let me ask: Do you deny that Trent asserted that those who knowingly remain outside the Church of Rome would not find salvation? No ducking please. Meanwhile, let us consider Unam Sanctam, Boniface VIII’s Bull a few centuries before Trent asserting that “it is absolutely necessary for salvation that every human creature be subject to the Roman Pontiff”. That is in stark contradiction to Vatican 2 which referred to protestants as “separated brethren” capable of finding salvation. You have also declined to answer whether heliocentrism was part of Catholic inerrant dogma at Galileo’s time or whether people were to be tortured simply on a whim; do tell me which. If the former than there would since have been a change from one inerrant doctrine to its opposite. Then there is capital punishment regarding which I have quoted from the Catholic catechism and contrasted it with extensive practice by the Inquisition. Here are three changes of teaching from one inerrant doctrine to an incompatible one, a fortiori negating inerrancy, do they not?

          • Anton, Happy Jack doesn’t duck issues. He just doesn’t like wasting his time.

            “At the Council of Trent it was formally asserted that those who knowingly remain outside the Roman Catholic church (meaning, in context, protestants) would not find salvation. At Vatican 2 they were declared to be “separated brethren” who may indeed be saved. So, was Rome’s inerrant position in error before or after Vatican 2?”

            You do indeed need to do a bit of research into Catholic doctrine if you want to know the answers to these questions. The doctrine ‘Ecclesiam Nulla Salus’ preceded Trent by some centuries and Vatican II didn’t change it. It softened it to meet the circumstances of the 20th Century.

            It was the Fourth Lateran Council, in 1215, which formally declared: “There is but one universal Church of the faithful, outside which no one at all is saved.” Vatican II is stated it thus: “Whosoever, therefore, knowing that the Catholic Church was made necessary by God through Jesus Christ, would refuse to enter her or to remain in her could not be saved.” Nevertheless, “those also can attain to everlasting salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God and, moved by grace, strive by their deeds to do His will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience.”

            The belief of the Church remains that there is no other *objective* means of salvation for any one other than through the Catholic Church. No other religion or Christian church is pleasing to God since they teach contrary to the Catholic Church who alone is the ark of salvation.

            The Church teaches is the only *objective* means for salvation but this need not be the only means of salvation. If a person belongs to another religion or even another Christian church, that person will not be saved *because* of their religion but may be *despite* it. The possibility of someone being saved outside the Church is simply that – a possibility. It does not mean ‘probability’ or even a ‘good possibility’, but only a possibility. What is being taught here is a theoretical and theological possibility only. Any non-Catholic will be judged on their culpability for not accepting the true faith. He will be held to a standard consumerate with the opportunities that are presented to him and the access he had to the Church’s teachings. And sloth nullifies pleading ignorance before God.

            “I also presume that the Vatican would not torture a man for heresy unless he was against doctrine regarded as inerrant. (Do correct me if Rome was willing to torture on a whim.) So, Galileo was threatened with torture for maintaining heliocentrism…”

            As for Galileo, from what Jack understands he was not tortured and was treated well. Do you have evidence to the contrary? Galileo claimed his theory trumped the literal account in the bible about planetary motions – that it proved the bible was wrong. Not wise. He moved the debate into a theological realm and away from science. He also wrote a book insulting the Pope. Again, given the times, not wise. There was no formally declared doctrine involved as none had been declared about creation or the literal accounts in the bible about planets etc. There was no issue of Church infallibility and no doctrine was changed. Not a pleasant episode but not one that demonstrates changes in doctrine.

            “Rome today is powerfully against capital punishment, stating in paragraph 2267 of the catechism that “the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity “are very rare, if not practically non-existent.” Not a view it took in mediaeval times.”

            And this shows what? The Church still accepts it is a sanction available to the State. No doctrine was altered.

          • Anton

            Jack, I consider that you are taking refuge in legalism and in distinctions without differences in order to try to preserve the claim that Rome’s teaching is unchanging and inerrant when it is neither. You are free to say that I have not demonstrated it but that means only that I have not demonstrated it to your satisfaction and I am content at this point to let His Grace’s readership decide.

            Regarding Galileo, I did not say that he was tortured, did I? As for “treated well”, he was threatened with torture and placed under indefinite house arrest (during which period he died). If that happened to you, would you say that you were “treated well”?

            To my knowledge Galileo nowhere challenged the Bible, only Catholic tradition dating from an era when less science was known. Claims that a “literalist” reading of the Bible are geocentric don’t move the debate forward, as comments that “the sun rose” (eg 2 Sam 23:4) are obviously relative to the observer. If he makes clear that he did consider that he was challenging the Bible then I’d welcome an exact reference.

          • “I consider that you are taking refuge in legalism and in distinctions without differences in order to try to preserve the claim that Rome’s teaching is unchanging and inerrant when it is neither.”

            But you are really ignorant of the Catholic Church’s teaching because you haven’t actually taken the time to find out what they are. You’ve acknowledged this elsewhere.

            “I have not demonstrated it to your satisfaction and I am content at this point to let His Grace’s readership decide.”

            So this is really just an exercise in ‘grandstanding? You don’t want to understand Catholicism; you just want to pick at what you have already decided in ignorance are its faults.

            “To my knowledge Galileo nowhere challenged the Bible, only Catholic tradition dating from an era when less science was known.”

            “To my knowledge” is the give away comment. A good source for the Galileo affair, written by a historian not sympathetic to Rome, is: Giorgio de Santillian ‘Crime of Galileo’. (London: Heinemann, 1958)

            And do remember this affair took place in an age when a large number of “witches” were subject to torture and execution by Protestants in New England. The Catholic Church today acknowledges that Galileo’s condemnation was wrong and has expressed regret for his mistreatment.

          • Anton

            Jack,

            Thank you for the reference to Santillian. If you have it, would you tell me what chapter in Galileo’s own writing challenges the Bible rather than Catholic tradition? I have English translations of some of Galileo’s work and access to a serious university library.

            I admit that this exchange with you has educated me, although you are wrong to say that I took my position in advance and in ignorance.

            Rome’s official teaching for centuries (eg Unam Sanctam) was that Christians who knowingly remained outside it (meaning, in Trento’s context, protestants) would not find salvation. In Lumen Gentium from ‘Vatican 2’ it was still asserted that those who remained outside ‘the church’ would not find salvation, but the definition of ‘the church’ was subtly altered. (Of course, the community of the saved is a practical definition of the church; extra ecclesiam nulla salus – “outside the church there is no salvation” – is essentially tautological.) In Lumen Gentium the church was said to ‘subsist in’ the (Roman) Catholic church rather than be identical with it; and the precise meaning of ‘subsist in’ was left open to be argued over by theologians and canon lawyers. It had to be left open, because if Rome had said
            that protestants who made informed choice not to be Catholics might find salvation then that would have constituted a reversal of its ‘inerrant’ teaching – which would consequently have been shown to be in error on one side of the change. The cost of making it up as you go along while trying to remain consistent with all that has gone before is muddying of the water to such an extent that no non-trained person can possibly understand what is being said. That is in total contrast to the clarity with which Christ spoke to the everyday folk for whom his message was intended. It means that Rome is able to
            quote whichever view is opposed to that held by somebody it dislikes, or say “Yes, we always believed that” about things it had long denied in practice. The associated Vatican 2 document Unitatis Redintegratio treated protestants according to the notion that they are ‘separated brethren.’ Protestants should welcome the Catholic recognition that they are in some sense brothers, but real
            progress can come only if Rome acknowledges that mediaeval condemnations – which unlike modern documents are totally unambiguous – are wrong, and doing that would mean Rome renouncing the notion of inerrancy, which precludes genuine dialogue.

          • Anton, the Church still teaches the only sure and certain path to salvation is through faithful membership of the Catholic Church and participation in its sacramental system as channels of grace. Vatican II presented this in a more positive way. It sees other Christian churches as defective and as not having the full means of salvation available to them. Presentation of doctrine and its implementation does not mean there has been a change of doctrine.

            As for Galileo, Jack can assist your research no further. He just reiterates there was no doctrinal reverses involved in Rome’s dealings with his situation.

          • Anton

            Indeed; we couldn’t possibly admit that Rome has erred, could we? Its assertion of inerrancy simply precludes genuine dialogue. I too could say that I was inerrant and not be able to prove it, but perhaps having read the Bible I have a little more humility.

          • Anton

            Jack, “Extra ecclesiam nulla salus” is, for any Christian, simply a definition of the church – the collective of the saved. Now, you can shout that this means the Church of Rome as loudly as you like, but that doesn’t necessarily make it so.

          • Anton

            Dear Jack, So Vatican 2 actually says that protestants who know of the Roman Catholic church will NOT gain salvation? A Yes or a No would be helpful, however much or little else you wish to say. I am starting to wonder if Rome, far from having a clear position on too many things as I had thought, in fact often makes pronouncements whose consequences are contradictory, allowing it to come down on any side of any argument as it wishes.

          • Anton, can you comprehend the written word? Jack gave the position of the Church:

            Any non-Catholic will be judged on their culpability for not accepting the true faith. He will be held to a standard consumerate with the opportunities that are presented to him and the access he had to the Church’s teachings. And sloth nullifies pleading ignorance before God.

            “I am starting to wonder if Rome, far from having a clear position on too many things as I had thought, in fact often makes pronouncements whose consequences are contradictory, allowing it to come down on any side of any argument as it wishes.”
            There you go, a demonstration of insight. Rome does not claim to have all the answers about salvation – unlike more rigorist protestant sects.

          • Anton

            Jack, it is ironic that I ask a question and say “A Yes or a No would be helpful, however much or little else you wish to say” and your response includes “can you comprehend the written word?” yet fail to include either word. How much easier it is to have it both ways and put out clouds of verbiage!

          • Jack is not bound by your desire for certainty in the answers he gives. There will be a ‘yes’ and a ‘no’ for individuals and its up to you to work out which side of that line you might be on.

    • Cressida de Nova

      Well explained Catholic dogma. Shame about centuries of cruelty practised previously. I wonder how many of the former decision makers are languishing in hell for being such heartless bastards. You either have a heart or not despite the century you live in. Some things about humans never change.

      • “I wonder how many of the former decision makers are languishing in hell for being such heartless bastards.”

        Now, now, Cressida. We don’t know they were heartless bastards. Before we understood suicide and the possible contributory social and psychological factors behind it, it was regarded as a grave sin that resulted in damnation of the soul because it was assumed people were acting freely and knew what the were doing. Publically the Church had to oppose it – it still must. Even today, with all our ‘science’ and ‘understanding’, we don’t know the degree of personal culpability involved in individual situations which is why the Church takes the position it does.

  • sarky

    I’m no bible scholar, but didnt samson and david commit suicide?

    • The Explorer

      There are six specific suicides in the Bible: Abimelech, Saul, Saul’s armour bearer, Ahithophel, Zimri and Judas. Samson’s primary aim was to kill Philistines; his own death in the process was incidental.
      The presence of something in the Bible does not necessarily mean it should be emulated. It may be there as a warning of what not to do.

      • sarky

        Yes, but the bible doesn’t speak against it, it just happened with no comment.

        • Albert

          That does not imply endorsement. Sometimes the Bible mentions things without condemning them because they are so obviously wrong (e.g. they are condemned somewhere else). For example, not every instance of sorcery is condemned: it’s just obvious. Suicide is killing oneself. Killing innocent people is wrong in the Bible, ergo.

      • Anton

        Sarky, for a fine study of suicide in the Bible and in Jewish and Christian tradition please find chapter 3, titled “Suicide down the ages – a Judeo-Christian perspective” of the Christian Medical Fellowship’s pamphlet about Euthanasia. (That’s ample information to google.) It discusses the cases that Explorer mentions.

        • avi barzel

          Just as a warning about what will happen in the UK as well, the legislators here in Canada are moving toward legalization of assisted suicide, something I never thought would happen in Canada. It is a done deal, only the technicalities need to be worked out, as it turns out that only 18% of our population is opposed to this. It’s a lost battle and the only think those of us who oppose assisted suicide can do is to attempt to prevent the inevitable slide to doctor and insurance provider assisted euthanasia by fortifying the rights of the elderly and disabled.

          • Anton

            Agreed Avi. Do you follow Ezra Levant, by the way? He’s a transatlantic hero of mine.

          • avi barzel

            On occasion. I’m generally on his side of issues, but I’m ambiguous about him mainly because the fellow is sloppy with his challenges and tends towards hyperbole. In-house, among conservative thinkers this makes makes him interesting and refreshing, but in terms of promoting conservatism to a sober and centrist-to-left leaning Canadian public, his approach is marginally successful, if not ineffective.

            The hard reality is that social conservatism is currently in retreat on many issues and unfortunately, given our situation and resources, our strategic and tacticsl focus should be in maintaining a credible and inspiring position in a hostile or at best indifferent environment, rather than pissing off potential allies for little gain.

      • avi barzel

        The presence of something in the Bible does not necessarily mean it should be emulated. It may be there as a warning of what not to do.

        Best, most concise summary, in one sentence, of this principle I’ve come across. And Albert’s, below, is quite good as well: That does not imply endorsement. Sometimes the Bible mentions things without condemning them because they are so obviously wrong (e.g. they are condemned somewhere else).


        You boys have had your cereal and orange juice this morning, I see.

        • The Explorer

          Thank you, Avi. Praise comes no higher.

    • dannybhoy

      Nope. David died an old man…
      1st Book of Kings 2:10>
      “Then David slept with his fathers and was buried in the city of David. 11 And the time that David reigned over Israel was forty years.
      Samson was killed as the result of an architectural flaw leading to a structural failure..

  • Alan Wilson

    Just to explain clergy colleagues practice, they do not, technically, set aside canon law in giving contemporary suicides Christian burial. Adrian Hilton may not know, but the real Archbishop Cranmer must have, that the provisions of canon law relate specifically to the ancient Coroner’s verdict of “felo de se.” Amongst its other consequences, property of those who had “laid violent hands on themselves,” formally speaking, was forfeit to the crown — yet another disincentive to suicide. Such verdicts were regarded as anachronistic in the early eighteenth century, though there is said to be an instance of one being delivered by a Leeds coroner in 1866. No contemporary Church of England clergyman, therefore, has ever had to bury anyone who, in the meaning of the canons, had laid violent hands on themselves. Just saying’

    • Greetings to the Bishop of Buckingham from Happy Jack.
      Tell me, sir, do you support sweet Rosie’s support for Assisted Self Murder Suicide? Being a biblical scholar who has read the bible in its original language and studied it for many a year, how do you square this with clear Scriptural message not to murder?
      Jack’s Church (he is not a Muslim or a Pelagian) teaches that suicide is a grave sin based on the principle of the sanctity of life and the sovereignty of God. We are given life as human stewardship and not ownership. The prohibition against killing stands because life has been given to us to use and to make fruitful but it still belongs to God and it is not for us to end when we so choose.
      Has the bible been misunderstood or does its truth on this now bend in the wind too?

  • Leacock

    As someone who has struggled with such things I must say that I deeply disagree with this change. No funeral service shall help the dead, but the Church recognizing the evil of the act of Suicide may very well help to prevent others from falling down. The Church’s duty is towards the living, and sugar coating things is nothing but leading sheep out into wild pastures and abandoning them to the raving wolves.