Saturday, 9 June 2012

Liturgy 1: Introducing Liturgy

Patrick Comerford

Church of Ireland Theological Institute:

Reader Course Day Conference

Saturday, 9 June 2012, Jenkins Room

14:45 to 15:45, Liturgy 1: Introducing Liturgy:


An understanding of the foundations of liturgy, including a comparison with secular liturgy in its social, domestic, political and cultural settings

Opening Prayer:

The Lord be with you:
And also with you

the strength of all those who put their trust in you:
Mercifully accept our prayers
and, because through the weakness of our mortal nature
we can do no good thing without you, grant us the help of your grace;
that in the keeping of your commandments
we may please you, both in will and deed;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Our opening prayer is the collect of tomorrow, the First Sunday after Trinity. It talks about collective prayer, God’s grace, and pleasing God in will and deed. In this module on liturgy, we are looking at how, in corporate prayer, we help people to approach God in both will and deed, thought and action, so that through worship we are, by God’s grace, in communion with God through Christ, and in communion with others through Christ.

This afternoon, I want to introduce us to the topics being covered in this module and in particular to develop an understanding of liturgical space, place, time and structure, with a critical comparison with secular ‘liturgies’.

(A) Introduction to Liturgy: ritual and symbol, meanings and language:

Some introductory remarks:

• Good and bad experiences
• Liturgy and our expectations
• Liturgy in the world today:

1, Drama (Plays, Opera, Pantomime).
2, The Cinema
3, Sport (Soccer, Rugby)
4, Domestic
5, Political and secular

• Liturgy not in the Book of Common Prayer:

1, Harvest Thanksgiving
2, Remembrance Sunday
3, Are these domestic/family, secular/political, folk/religious liturgies?

Not all liturgy in the Church of Ireland is to be found in The Book of Common Prayer (2004).

Examples include:

• Harvest Thanksgiving
• Remembrance Sunday
• Service of Nine Lessons and Carols
• Christingle Services

Some of these have been adapted in recent years by imaginatively tailoring them to a Service of the Word. But they were there long before we introduced f a Service of the Word. Are these domestic/family, secular/political, folk/religious liturgies?

And there are quasi-religious liturgies too:

• Orange marches
• Remembrance Day services

What do we mean by liturgy?

Liturgy is more than rite and words. The components of all liturgy include an understanding of the role and function of:

• liturgical space,
• liturgical venue,
• liturgical time,
• liturgical structure.

How do we apply this to liturgy of the Church?

What do we mean by liturgy?

The word itself means “the work of the people.”

The Greek word laós (λαός) means the people.

The laós might even mean the rowdy, the masses, the populace.

Liturgy is not necessarily a sacred word. Sometimes it even has vulgar connotations. Some examples include:

Laou-laou (Λαου-λαου): on the sly, sneakingly.

Λαουτζίκος (Laoutzíkos) ... the common people; we are all members of the laity

Laoutzíkos (Λαουτζίκος): the populace, the rabble, the riff-raff, the vulgar horde; this use is current during the strikes and protests in Greece about public spending cuts.

And it gives rise to secular words we all understand: the word basileós (βασιλεύς, modern βασιλιάς), for a king, literally means the one who goes before or leads the people.

The Greek word leitourgía (λειτουργία) means public duty. We now restrict this to the worship of the church, and even more specifically and restrictively to the ritual worship of the Church. In Greece, essentially, it is the Eucharist.

The word liton for a town hall is derived from λος, los, a dialectal variant of λαός (laós, people), is combined with ἔργον (érgon), work (werg- in Indo-European roots).

So basically liturgy means the “public work of the people”, the masses, all of us, for we are all members of the λαός, laós, the people.

Liturgy (λειτουργία, leitourgía) is a Greek composite word meaning originally a public duty, a service to the state undertaken by a citizen. Its elements are λειτος, leitos (from leos or laos, people) meaning public, and ergo (obsolete in the present stem, used in future erxo, etc.), to do.

From this we have leitourgós (λειτουργός), “a man who performs a public duty,” “a public servant,” often used as equivalent to the Roman lictor; then leitourgeo, “to do such a duty,” leitourgema, its performance, and leitourgía, the public duty itself.

The word comes from the Classical Greek word λειτουργία (leitourgía) meaning “a public work.”

In Athens, the λειτουργία (leitourgía) was the public service performed by the wealthier citizens of the city state at their own expense (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

In the Greek city-states, it had a different sense: some public good which a wealthy citizen arranged at his own expense, either voluntarily or by law. In Athens, the Assembly assigned liturgies to the wealthy, and there was a law by which any man who had been assigned a liturgy while a richer man had had none could challenge him either to undertake the liturgy or to exchange property with him.

In Athens, the λειτουργία (leitourgía) was the public service performed by the wealthier citizens at their own expense, such as the offices of:

The Gymnasium at Olympia, where the athletes trained ... the Gymnasíarchos superintended the gymnasium

Gymnasíarchos (γυμνασίαρχος), who superintended the gymnasium.

The Greek chorus in The Bacchai at the National Theatre ... the Choregós paid the members of the chorus in the theatre (Photograph: Tristram Kenton)

Choregós (χορηγός), who paid the members of the chorus in the theatre.

The hestiátoras gave a banquet ... and his public service finds a reminder in the modern Greek word for a restaurant, εστιατόριο (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

Hestiátoras (εστιάτορας) who gave a banquet to his tribe – the word survives in the modern Greek, meaning a restaurateur (the modern Greek word for a restaurant is εστιατόριο, a place of public service, where the public is served food.

The Triérarchos in Athens outfitted and paid for a warship for the state (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

Triérarchos (τριήραρχος) provided public service to the state in Athens by outfitting and paying for a warship for the state.

How do you see those four roles represented in those who provided the service of the people, the liturgy of the Church, today?


The meaning of the word liturgy is then extended to cover any general service of a public kind. In the Septuagint, the word liturgy (and the verb λειτουργέω leitourgéo) is used for the public service of the temple (e.g., Exodus 38: 27; 39: 12, &c). It then it came to have a religious sense: the function of the priests, the ritual service of the Temple (e.g., Joel, 1: 9; 2: 17, &c.).

Icon of the Priest Zacahary in the Temple

In the New Testament, this religious meaning has become definitely established. In Luke, 1: 23, Zachary goes home when “the days of his liturgy” (αἱ ἡμέραι τῆς λειτουργίας αὐτοῦ, ai hemérai tes leitourgías autou) are over. In Hebrews 8: 6 (διαφορωτέρας τέτυχεν λειτουργίας, diaphorotéras tétuchen leitourgías), the high priest of the New Law “has obtained a better liturgy,” that is, a better kind of public religious service than that of the Temple.

So in Christian use, liturgy meant the public, official service of the Church that corresponded to the official service of the Temple in the Old Law.

In today’s usage, by liturgy we mean the form of rite or services prescribed by the Christian churches.

The liturgy of the Roman Catholic, the Orthodox Eastern, and some other branches of the Church centres upon the Eucharist.

In the Western Church, the principal services traditionally centred on the Eucharist

In the Western Church, the principal service is centred on the Eucharist. In the Roman Catholic Church, there are nine rites with distinctive liturgies, in various languages. The Orthodox Eastern Church has several liturgies.

But, in a broader sense, liturgy includes the divine office (given in the Breviary) and also services other than the Eucharist.

With the Reformation, the Reformers generally shifted towards the sermon as the focus of formal worship, and adopted vernacular speech.

In the 20th century, the liturgical movement sought to purify and renew the liturgy. This movement is a shared experience for all Western churches. The changes the liturgical movement ushered in include:

• the use of vernacular languages in the liturgies;
• participation of the laity in public prayer,
• a new emphasis on music and song.
• the formulation and reform of services.
• and wider awareness of the value of form itself.

Two factors often lead to confusion:

1, Liturgy often means the whole complex of official services, all the rites, ceremonies, prayers, and sacraments of the Church, as opposed to private devotions.

In this sense we speak of the arrangement of all these services in certain set forms – including the canonical hours, administration of sacraments, etc. – that are used officially by any local church. So liturgy means rite.

In the same way, we distinguish the official services from others by calling them liturgical. Those services are liturgical that are contained in any of the official books of a rite. In the Roman Catholic Church, for instance, Compline is a liturgical service, while the Rosary is not.

2, The word liturgy, now the common one in all Eastern Churches, restricts it to the chief official service only – the Eucharist or the rite we also call the Holy Communion. This is now practically the only sense in which leitourgia is used in Greek, or in its derived forms (e. g., Arabic al-liturgiah) by any Eastern Christian.

(B) Signs and symbols in today’s culture:

In our use of language today, we know the difference between signs, icons, symbols, indices, and what they actually represent or point us to:


Icons on computers serve as an international language

On the computer, icons serve as an international language:

• A half-open manila folder allows me to open a document or folder
• Who remembers floppy discs? A floppy disc is not a floppy disc: it is an iconic sign allowing me to “Save the Present Document”

These icons have international use and value. A new set of icons is developing for iPhones. But the icons work only if I can grasp the link between the sign and the function being carried out.


The weather cock on Christ Church Cathedral ... a weather cock on a church is not an icon, it is an index (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

Unlike an icon, an index does not look like the concept it is conveying:

• A weather cock points to the direction the wind is blowing.
• An arrow on the road points the direction for traffic – it could be fatal to confuse it with an icon, and think there was a danger of an attack by archers if I continue to drive on.
• A knock on the door: this is not about the sound, but is an indication that someone outside wants to get in. If I attend to the sound and count the rhythm, they may go away.
• Clues point to a criminal, they are not the crime and they are not the criminal.

All of these depend on habit and custom, convention and interpretation. If we use the wrong one, if I am in the wrong place, if we make the wrong use of one or misinterpret an icon or an index, this may be alienating and even life-threatening.

There are nine million bicycles in Beijing ... but they all need to know whether to stop or to go at red and green lights (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

During the Cultural Revolution in China, the colour red indicated revolution and therefore forward thinking. Green turned to red at traffic lights, and red to green. If you misinterpret the colours of traffic lights – in Beijing or in Dublin – you may find yourself in the wrong lane, at best, in the casualty ward or funeral home at worst.

I suggest on Sunday in your parish churches, the ways in which we liturgically use signs, symbols and space.

Church and State have their own language, symbols and expectations when it comes to public ritual … so too with theatre, sport and domestic occasions (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)


Ritual and symbol seen through the eyes of secular liturgy and ritual: Evaluating experiences, e.g., drug culture, sports, theatre, &c.

‘Liturgy’ and our expectations

‘Liturgy’ and ritual in the world today:

1, Drama/Theatre (Plays, Opera, Pantomime).
2, Cinema
3, Sport (Soccer, Rugby, Golf)
4, Domestic
5, Political and secular

Five working groups:

1, Drama/Theatre (Plays, Opera, Pantomime)

The Theatre of Dionysus, beneath the slopes of the Acropolis, where the tragedies and comedies of Euripides, Aeschylus and Sophocles, were first performed ... theatre has its own language and rituals (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Special language:

• Shakespeare’s English, silence in Beckett
• Opera: Italian for Verdi or Puccini, German for Wagner
• Rhyming-slang-type names in Pantomime (Stinky-Pooh).

Special Movements:

• Off-stage directions and voices
• Dramatised swooning and dying
• Raising up a dagger
• The final bow and encore

Special clothing

• You know who is the good fairy and who is the wicked step-mother
• Period costume.
• Clothing in opera often a very different cut; this is especially so in ballet
• At the Opera, the audience often dresses very differently too.

Sacred space

• The pit for the orchestra;
• The wings and off-stage;
• Where would we be watching Romeo and Juliet without a balcony?

Where would we be watching Romeo and Juliet without a balcony? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Responsorial language

• An important part of drama and opera
• There is a special form in pantomime:
“Look out, he’s behind you.”
“Oh yes he is, oh no he’s not.”

Signs (what do they point to?)

• Curtains close for end of act
• End of scene/end of act differentiated with an inner curtain
• Throwing roses at the diva (smashing plates in Greece)
• Chekov: if a gun on the wall, not for decoration, but symbol of later drama
• Curtain calls symbolise the end, but also invite participation in applause


• Important to know who is who in a play.
• A programme will name the producer, the director, the lighting team, stage hands ... even if not seen.

Special food?

• Interval drinks?
• People take picnics to the opera in Verona

The Opera at Verona is popular and informal … but often people dress differently for the Opera (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

What is alienating for you as a participant, as part of the audience?

• It is important to see and to hear.
• If you are a child at pantomime, then you need to be engaged, to participate, to enjoy
• What if the programme notes are not good?
• If the lighting is bad?
• If the actors’ movements don’t match the roles they’re acting.

2, Cinema

Special language

• Certainly a special time, not go in the morning.
• But even language can indicate your generational approach:
• Are they films, or movies?
• Are they westerns or cowboys.
• Is it the cinema?

Special Movements

• The blackout has its own ritual symbolism
• The usher’s light
• There is a wonderful Rowan Atkins sketch the illustrates the ritual acts appropriate in a cinema when people are watching a horror movie, and they are quite different to the ones I remember as being appropriate for young boys watching westerns
• What about how people behave at The Rocky Horror Movie or Mama Mia?

Special clothing

• The usherettes in the past
• Special clothing and behaviour for watching The Rockie Horror Movie.
• Special glasses for 3D movies

Sacred space

• Don’t stand up between me, the projector and the screen.

Responsorial language

• Yes actually, watch outside when people are leaving a movie.

Signs (what do they point to):

• How to find the exit, the loo and the food sales point; they too make a difference.


• Not just the roles in the movie
• The ticket seller,
• The ticket checker,
• The usher,
• the projectionist
• Each has a role that is different from my place in the audience

Special food?

• Popcorn!

What is alienating for you as a participant, as part of the audience?

• If the lights come on at the wrong time
• If the advertising goes on too long
• If others stand up or talk during the sacred moment.

3, Sports (Soccer, Rugby, Golf)

Villa Park ... like many English football clubs, Aston Villa has its origins in local church activities … but football has evolved its own rituals and language

Special language:

• technical terms:
• I don’t know what a birdie or an eagle is
• “Fore!”
• What does love mean in tennis?
• The referee’s whistle is a special sign language, with different meanings in one or two pips, and a long sharp blast

Special Movements:

• special entrances and exits
• addressing the ball
• lining up the teams at a cup final
• Shaking hands with the President
• The hakka
• The Mexican wave
• Waving bananas

Special clothing:

• Players’ clothing is distinct from the referee’s as well as from each other
• Special kit for the goalkeeper
• Golf!
• Tennis and Cricket whites
• Soccer supporters.

Sacred space

• The umpires behind the wickets
• The penalty box
• The tennis umpire’s chair
• The goal line
• The side line
• For spectators, the difference between terraces, or Hill 16, or The Kop.

Responsorial language

• Football chants and slogans
• “The referee’s a …”
• Where is it appropriate to sing The Fields of Athenry or Ireland’s Call?
• The drums among French rugby supporters
• The Mexican wave?

Signs (what do they point to?):

• Again, the Mexican wave?
• Yellow card, red card
• The flag at the hole on the green
• The goal posts
• The circle, and the penalty box
• The scoreboard in cricket


• Umpires
• Goalkeepers
• Linesmen
• Ball boys
• Ticket sellers
• Waterboy

Special food?

• Certainly at American football
• Strawberries at Wimbledon
• How often play at a cricket match adjourns for tea
• Captain’s dinner in a golf club
• Champagne, and popping corks at Formula 1

What is alienating for you as a participant or part of the audience?

• Sitting among the wrong supporters, at the Kop, Hill 16 or the Canal End
• Ladies’ day in golf clubs?
• Fixing times of matches to suit television viewers (in China)?
• Flares are a real bugbear at Greek soccer matches.

Cricket has its own clear distinctions when it comes to language, space, roles, signs, clothing and food … Paul Darlington makes 40 for Lichfield Diocese in the Church Times Cricket Cup Final (Photograph: Richard Watt/Church Times)

4, Domestic

Birthdays, wedding anniversaries, name days, Sunday dinner:

At our dinner table, even on weekdays, we like to have flowers on table, usually candles, bread, wine, a salad … then we know the table is set and we can begin dinner. We serve each other the food, we raise glasses, καλή όρεξη, bon appetite.
Special language

• Congratulations
• Many happy returns
• Condolences
• Many happy returns

Special Movements

• Blowing out the candles on a birthday cake
• Candles and flowers
• Who carves the Sunday roast

Special clothing

• One of my sons at the age of six started saying he wanted us to dress for dinner.
• Party dress / little black number, and when inappropriate.
• Wedding clothes nothing to do with church tradition

Sacred space:

• The table for a wedding anniversary
• Our dinner table: flowers, candles, a salad, bread, wine, often candles too

Responsorial language

• “For he’s a jolly good fellow ...”
• “Hip, hip ...”

Signs and icons (what do they point to?)

• The birthday cake.
• Birthday cards,
• Clinking glasses

Special food?

• Birthday cake
• Champagne
• The Sunday roast, Yorkshire pud?
• Is Turkey inappropriate outside Christmas/Thanksgiving?


• You don’t initiate singing happy birthday to yourself
• You don’t pop the cork at your own birthday

What is alienating for you as a participant, in the audience?

• When others don’t sing.
• When others don’t respond
• When others forget your birthday, or gatecrash.

It is alienating when others behave inappropriately, using wrong language, songs, signs, and movements at the wrong times.

How many remember clips of Marilyn Monroe popping up and singing … “Happy Birthday.” But it was inappropriate. She was and still is the focus of attention. Who remembers how old JFK was then?

5, Political and secular

Special language

• The speaker calling the house to order
• Invoking points of order
• Giving way

Special Movements

• The state opening of parliament
• The Lord Mayor’s parade
• Judges processing into court, “Please arise”
• Sitting on different sides of the house (hence, left and right)
• Waving order papers
• Speaking from the dispatch box
• Swearing in the jury/or the jury retiring
• The house adjourning

Special clothing

• Judges’ wigs
• The speaker’s robes
• The way Black Rod or a court usher dresses

Sacred space

• Please approach the bench
• The speaker’s chair.
• At parades, the reviewing platform, and who is seated where.
• The press gallery

Responsorial language

• Order, order.
• Hear, hear.

Signs/icons (what do they point to?)

• The woolsack
• A Mayor’s chain of office
• The keys of the city
• A judge’s wig or black cap.

Special food?

• If you’ve been on a jury you may not like to recall that
• But draw on other ritual food, like birthday cakes, popping champagne, &c
• The members’ bar


• The court bailiff
• Black Rod
• The Gentlemen Ushers
• The tellers

What is alienating for you as a participant/or in the audience?

• Parliamentary procedures can be alienating
• But look at the number of people who queue up to visit the Dail or Westminster.
• There are people with positive experience of being jurors … justice was done, and they had a good day
• The state opening of parliament.


In all of these, body language matters.

If I put out my hand for a handshake and you refuse it, who feels bad?

Do you give each other a kiss? When is it not appropriate?

An example of misinterpreted body language is easily provided by Greek head movements for yes and no, and can have consequences if I am in the line for a loo.

We create ritual and liturgy in every walk of society.

We are alienated when we are counted out, when we fail to understand what’s going on, or when it loses meaning for us.

In all of these, there are essential ingredients to make sure it works, and they usually include:

• Special language
• Special movements (including body language)
• Special clothing
• Special place and space
• Responsorial language
• Meaningful and indicative signs
• Assigned roles
• Perhaps special food.

We are alienated when:

• the wrong language, signs, responses, movements, roles are used
• when the right ones are misappropriated
• when we feel counted out
• when we fail to understand what’s going on
• or when the ritual or liturgy loses meaning for us.

And a good understanding of these social uses of ritual help us to understand when and how good liturgy works for us and for others, and how and why bad liturgy can be alienating for us and for others.

Worksheet for seminar/workshop:

Space and sign, meaning and timing:

Special language

Special Movements

Special clothing

Sacred space

Responsorial language

Signs/Icons (what do they point to?)


Special food?

Manual/facial actions:

What is alienating for you as participant/audience?

Some key texts and reading:

The Book of Common Prayer (2004).
The Church Hymnal (5th ed., 2000).
C. Hefling, C. Shattuck (eds), The Oxford Guide to the Book of Common Prayer (Oxford: OUP, 2006).
Graham Hughes, Worship as Meaning: a liturgical theology for late modernity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003).
Harold Miller, The Desire of our Soul: a user’s guide to the Book of Common Prayer (Dublin: Columba, 2004).

Paul Bradshaw (ed), The New SCM Dictionary of Liturgy and Worship (London: SCM Press, 2nd ed, 2002).

Next: 2,
The Book of Common Prayer (2004): understanding the liturgy and worship of the Church of Ireland.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. This essay is based on notes for a lecture at the Reader Course Day Conference on Saturday 9 June 2012.

Church History (Readers, 2012-2014)
1, From the Apostles to Constantine

An icon of the Church as a boat, including Christ, the Apostles and the Church Fathers

Patrick Comerford

Church of Ireland Theological Institute:

Reader Course Day Conference

Saturday, 9 June 2012, Jenkins Room

13:30 to 14:30, Church History 1: From the Apostles to Constantine


The development of the Church from the Apostolic, Patristic and Early Church to the Constantinian settlement.


Many of us are aware of either:

1, The story of the early Apostolic Church, found in the Acts of the Apostles and the Epistles;


2, More recent Church history: we are all familiar with the decade of commemorations for the events between 1912 and 1922.

But many of you may wonder about the hows and whys of Church History, and where it fits into any programme of theological, spiritual, pastoral and liturgical training. But let me first begin by challenging some of our understandings of history:

Is the present economic, political and constitutional crisis in Ireland an historic moment for us, socially, politically or economically?

Was the papacy of Pope John Paul II historic?

Did Bertie Ahern make an historic contribution to Irish politics?

It may be too soon, too judge any of these, it may be too early. I know a Byzantine historian who says that everything that happened before 1453 is history, everything after that is politics and current affairs.

What a later generation may describe as historic may not be what we see as momentous now, for it may not be seen as historic by a later generation.

Group work:

In your groups discuss and name:

● 2 important people in history
● 2 important dates in history.



T-shirts on a stall in the Plaka in Athens … We think the way we think because of Plato, Aristotle and Socrates (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Because of the conditioning of our family backgrounds and schooling, many of us think history is all about dates and battles, kings and generals. Is there anyone in this room who does not know the significance of these dates: 1014, 1066, 1662, 1690, 1798, 1916, 1927, 1945, 9/11?

Is there anybody who does not know the historical significance of Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Henry VIII, Napoleon, Nelson, the Duke of Wellington, Padraic Pearse, Wallace Simpson, Churchill, Stalin?

We find it more difficult when it comes to counting in memorable moments in history – events such as the death of Socrates, or when it comes to counting among the great figures in history people who gave us ideas (Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, Luther, Marx), or people who wrote great works (Aristophanes, Cervantes, Shakespeare), or were great artists and composers (Rembrandt, Mozart, Picasso).

How many of the two people in history you named were drawn from the English-speaking world? Think again of what you said in your small groups.

History shapes our memories; and memories shape our sense of history. This is important for how we see ourselves today, as products of our past. And it is important for how our neighbours see us as perpetuating that legacy from the past.

Why do Church History?

Archbishop Rowan Williams ... says Church History deepens our present thinking and helps us to think with more varied and resourceful analogies about our present problems

Why should we study Church History on course such as this?

The simple answer that is usually is that we learn lessons from the past.

Woody Allen has asked: Why does history keep on repeating itself?

He says it’s because people refuse to listen the first time round.

Quite a lot of us refuse to listen not so much to history, but to the presentation of history the first time round, particularly if it is presented in a dull, boring, pedantic and condescending way. And it’s dull and boring if it’s only about dates and battles, kings and generals, a chronology listing merely dates and names, without relevance to the present.

No! History is about how we have been shaped and how we are moving into the future. History is about a legacy. And if we fail to learn from the lessons, we cannot own the good and say goodbye to the past.

In his book on Church history – Why study the past? The quest for the historical church – Archbishop Rowan Williams argues cogently that Church History deepens our present thinking and helps us to think with more varied and resourceful analogies about our present problems.

The Church depends in many areas on an understanding of its history. And so Church history is used by theologians not just to prove arguments but to clarify what we are as human beings.

Is that how you have perceived Church History in the past?

Is your understanding of Church History relevant to your understanding of theology?

Is your understanding of Church History relevant to today’s Church?

Church History needs to be relevant to your faith, to your spirituality, to your worship, to your ecumenical endeavours, to your ministry and to your mission.

The Apostolic and post-Apostolic Church

The Apostles represented in statues on Saint Peter’s Basilica, Rome (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

This afternoon we begin by looking at the period that covers the formation of the Church and the development of our understandings of sacramental life, liturgical life and doctrine, in which we began to formulate in the Creeds, to set out the organisation of the Church, with distinctive roles for bishops, priests and deacons, organised within dioceses.

We are in the period of the first exciting missionary expansion of the Church.

This is the period that sees the emergence of a radical belief-system for both Jews and Greeks turn into a major religious force. This is a belief system that: challenges the worldview of Jews in the Middle East (the largest Jewish city at the time was Alexandria) and the worldview of the Mediterranean world (largely the Roman Empire, but also largely Greek speaking).

So we are looking at the history of Christianity after the life of Christ and the first Apostles.

We can debate whether Christianity was founded by Christ, by the twelve, or by Saint Paul. But many of the key founding figures of Christianity never met Christ – they include not only the Apostle Paul but the Gospel writers Saint Luke and Saint Mark.

Christianity spread initially from Jerusalem throughout the Middle East places such as Syria, Assyria, Mesopotamia, Phoenicia, Asia Minor, Jordan and Egypt. By the 4th century it was successively adopted as the state religion in:

● Armenia (301)
● Georgia (319)
● Ethiopia (or Abyssinia, the Aksumite Empire) (325)
● The Roman Empire (380).

By the Middle Ages, Christianity was the principal religion throughout Europe, and later we shall see how the story of the missionary expansion of Christianity in the early modern era in Asia, Africa and the Americas is intricately tied in the story of European mercantile and colonial expansion, during the Renaissance and in the wake of the great explorations.

Throughout its history, Christianity has been shaped by persecutions, schisms and theological disputes that have resulted in many distinct churches.

But there is nothing new under the sun, and this was true too of the Early Church immediately after the apostolic period.

Early Christianity grew from a first century Jewish development to a religion that spread throughout the Greek-speaking and Imperial Roman world in the Mediterranean basin and beyond.

We can divide Early Christianity into two distinct phases:

1, The Apostolic Period, when the first apostles were alive and led the Church
2, The Post-Apostolic or Patristic period, when an early episcopal structure developed, and when persecution was often intense.

This early period of Church history came to an end, as did the Roman persecution of the Church, in AD 313 in the reign of the Emperor Constantine the Great. In 325, he was instrumental in calling the First Council of Nicaea, which was the first of the seven Ecumenical Councils, and Church History then moves into a new phase.

1, The Apostolic Church:

Saint John the Divine in the cave on Patmos … The Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, the Epistles and the Book of Revelation contain the earliest accounts of the beliefs of the first Christians and the Apostolic Church

The Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, the Epistles and the Book of Revelation contain the earliest accounts of the beliefs of the first Christians and the Apostolic Church, which we find in early creeds, hymns, sermons and declamations, and the early sufferings of the first Christians, including the martyrdom of Stephen (see Acts 6: 12 to 7: 59) and James the son of Zebedee (Acts 12: 2), and the arrests of Saint Peter (12: 3) and Saint Paul.

The Apostolic Church was the community led by the apostles, and perhaps by some of Jesus’ own family members, including James the Brother of the Lord.

In the Great Commission, the Risen Christ commands that the Gospel should be brought to “all nations” (Matthew 28: 19), to Jerusalem, “all Judea and Samaria, and the ends of the earth” (Acts 1: 8).

Our primary source for the post-Resurrection period is the Acts of the Apostles, which gives us an account of the life of the Apostolic Church, through the great missionary journeys of the Apostle Paul, until his house arrest in Rome.

The first Christians were either Jews or proselytes – converts to Judaism. Yet, the Great Commission involves “all nations.” In the early chapters of Acts, the apostles continue to worship in the Temple, and Paul and Barnabas go first to the Jews and then to the Gentiles (see Acts 13; 46, 18: 6).

Saint Paul preaching in Thessaloniki ... a fresco in the Cathedral Church of Saint Gregory Palamas (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The first early division in the early Church was between the Judean Jews and the Greek-speaking Jews, with the Greek-speakers claiming their widows were discriminated against. This dispute was solved with the appointment of the first seven deacons (see Acts 6: 1-6).

The next difficulty facing the Church was the debate about whether non-Jewish or Gentile converts to Christianity needed to become Jewish, accepting circumcision and the dietary laws so they could become Christians.

Peter’s vision in Joppa seems to settle the debate about food laws (see Acts 10: 9-16). When Peter baptises the Centurion Cornelius and his household in Caesarea the debate about circumcision seems to have been be settled (see Acts 10: 44-48). While the conflicts continued (see Acts 11: 1-18; 15: 1-5), the arguments seem to have been settled at the Apostolic Council of Jerusalem (see Acts 15: 6-21).

The entrance to the Basilica of Saint John in Ephesus: local tradition says Saint John the Divine lived on this site after his exile on Patmos ended, and wrote his Gospel and Epistles here (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

But there were still those who continued to argue for the necessity of circumcision. They were labelled Judaisers, and the conflict that continued explains much of the dialectic in the Johannine writings which are so often misinterpreted or misrepresented as being anti-Jewish or anti-Semitic.

The Early Church also came into conflict with some Jewish religious authorities, leading eventually to their expulsion from the synagogues as Christianity developed a distinct identity, separate from Rabbinic Judaism.

The name Christian (Χριστιανός) is first given to the disciples in Antioch: χρηματίσαι τε πρώτως ἐν Ἀντιοχείᾳ τοὺς μαθητὰς Χριστιανούς … “and it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called “Christians” (Acts 11: 26). The word Christian may have been first used as a term of reproach, a derogatory term, or to mock those who followed the teachings of Christ.

2, The Post-Apostolic Church

The Church Fathers … in a Greek Orthodox icon

Some of the important leaders of the Post-Apostolic Church include Polycarp of Smyrna, Clement of Rome and Irenaeus of Lyons. These leaders were said to have known and studied under the apostles personally, and so they are known as the Apostolic Fathers.

The post-apostolic period concerns the time after the death of the Apostles (say, around the year 100 AD. This period continues until the persecutions come to an end with the legalisation of Christian worship under Constantine the Great.

The Coliseum in Rome seen from the Irish Dominican church at San Clemente … large-scale persecution of the Church begins under the Emperor Nero in the year 64 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Larger-scale persecutions of the Early Church begin in the year 64, when the Emperor Nero blamed the Christians for the Great Fire of Rome that year.

Although not recorded in the New Testament, Church tradition says that it was under Nero that both Peter and Paul were martyred in Rome. For 250 years Christians suffered from sporadic and at times intense persecutions for their refusal to worship the Emperor, and were executed for a refusal seen as stubborn treason.

A Mediterranean sunset in Thessaloniki … how did Christianity spread so rapidly in the Mediterranean basin? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Yet, despite these persecutions, Christianity religion continued to spread throughout the Mediterranean region. So, we might ask, from a disengaged pint of view why did Christianity succeed. Indeed, why did Christianity even survive?

There is no agreement among historians when it comes to these questions.

For some Christians, this success is simply a natural consequence of the truth of the Christianity and fulfilled through the providence of God. Yet, as Christians, we would not accept such claims for the initial successful spread of either Buddhism or Islam.

So these are questions that we have to address in Church History.

A map showing the spread of Early Christianity

Some of the explanations we might consider include:

● Christianity offered an improve lifestyle or way of life.
● Christianity offered an attractive combination of the promise of a general resurrection of the dead with the then popular Geek belief that true immortality depends on the survival of the body, with Christianity providing a practical explanations of how this could happen.
● The promise of future life, which held out hope no matter how bad or good present circumstances were.
● The use of koine Greek, the common language of the Mediterranean basin for trade and administration made the New Testament and other early Christian writings accessible to a wide pubic.
● The reports of miraculous powers exercised or experienced within the primitive church.
● The apparently pure morals of these early Christians.
● The sense of belonging akin to family kinship within an increasingly self-sustaining and self-governing society.
● Easy transport and communications systems across great distances along the shorelines of the Mediterranean.

Early Church structures

Saint Ignatius of Antioch ... referred to the Church as a “Eucharistic community” which realises its true nature when it celebrates the Eucharist, and defined the Church as the local community gathered around its bishop, celebrating the Eucharist

In the post-Apostolic church, bishops emerged as overseers of urban Christian populations, and clerical structure emerged with:

1, The επίσκοπος (epískopos), plural ἐπίσκοποι (epískopoi), literally the overseer, by which we now mean the bishop.
2, The πρεσβύτερος (presbyteros), plural πρεσβύτεροι (presbyteroi), the elder(s) or priest(s).
3, The διάκονος (diakonos), plural διάκονοι (diákonoi), the deacon or deacons.

This structure emerged slowly and at different times in different places.

In the Acts of the Apostles we see a collegiate system of government in Jerusalem though headed by James, traditionally regarded the first bishop of the city (see Acts 11: 30, Acts 15: 22).

The harbour of Réthymnon in Crete … Paul leaves Timothy in Ephesus and Titus in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford 2010)

Paul leaves Titus behind in Crete In Acts also, Saint Paul ordains presbyters in the churches he founds (see Acts 14: 23). In his letters to Timothy and Titus, we can see a more clearly defined episcopate, and we are told Paul had left Timothy in Ephesus and Titus in Crete to oversee the local church (see I Timothy 1: 3; Titus 1: 5). Saint Paul commands them to ordain presbyters or bishops and to exercise general oversight, telling Titus to “rebuke with all authority” (see Titus 2: 15).

The term presbyter is often not yet clearly distinguished from the term overseer or bishop (see Acts 20: 17; Titus 1: 5, 7; I Peter 5: 1).

The earliest writings of the Apostolic Fathers, including the Didache and the First Epistle of Clement, indicate the Church may have used two terms for local church offices: presbyters, which was an interchangeable term with episkopos or overseer; and deacon.

Clement, a 1st century bishop of Rome, in his Epistle to the Corinthians, refers to the leaders of the Church in Corinth as bishops and presbyters, but uses the term interchangeably.

A colonnade of 14 Corinthian columns on the west side of the Stoa of Smyrna … Saint Ignatius of Antioch wrote four of his letters while he was a prisoner in Smyrna (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

By the end of the 1st century, church structures become clearer. In the writings of the Apostolic Fathers, and in particular the writings of Saint Ignatius of Antioch, who was said to have been a student of Saint John the Evangelist, the role of the episkopos is important and clearly defined:

● “It is clear that we must regard a bishop as the Lord Himself” – Epistle to the Ephesians 6: 1.
● “Let the bishop preside in the place of God and his clergy in the place of the Apostolic conclave, and let my special friends the deacons be entrusted with the service of Jesus Christ” – Epistle to the Magnesians 6: 1.
● “You must never act independently of your bishop and clergy.” – Epistle to the Magnesians 7:1.
● “Be as submissive to the bishop and to one another as Jesus Christ was to His Father, and as the Apostles were to Christ and the Father; so that there may be complete unity, in the flesh as well as in the spirit.” – Epistle to the Magnesians 13: 2.
● “Equally, it is for the rest of you to hold the deacons in as great respect as Jesus Christ; just as you should also look on the bishop as a type of the Father, and the clergy as the Apostolic circle forming his council; for without these three orders no church has any right to the name.” – Epistle to the Trallians 3: 1.
● “Follow your bishop, every one of you, as obediently as Jesus Christ followed the Father … The sole Eucharist you should consider valid is the one that is celebrated by the bishop himself, or by some person authorized by him. Where the bishop is to be seen, there let all his people be.” – Epistle to the Smyrnaeans 8:1.
● “A man who honours the bishop is himself honoured by God, but to go behind the bishop’s back is to be a servant of the devil” – Epistle to the Smyrnaeans 9:1.

[Quotations from William Stanford and Andrew Louth, Early Christian Writings, The Apostolic Fathers (London: Penguin, 1987 ed)].

It is clear that by the time of Saint Ignatius a single bishop was expected to lead the Church in each centre of Christian mission, supported by a council of presbyters and a group of deacons.

As the Church continued to expand, new churches in important cities were provided with their own bishop. Presbyters and deacons were sent out by the bishop of a city church. In time, the bishop changed from being the leader of a single church in one urban area to being the leader of the churches in a given geographical area.

At the end of the 2nd century, Clement of Alexandria writes about the ordination of a bishop, using the words bishop and ordination in their technical meaning.

By the 2nd century, bishops are defined also as the only clergy entrusted with ordination to the priesthood or presbyterate and the diaconate.

At the beginning of the 3rd century, Hippolytus of Rome describes the ministry of the bishop as that of the Spiritum primatus sacerdotii habere potestatem dimittere peccata, the spiritual primacy of sacrificial priesthood and the power to forgive sins.

The ministry of the deacons included tending to the poor and sick.

In the 2nd century, the episcopal structure is also given the support of claims to apostolic succession, first articulated by Ignatius of Antioch, in which a bishop becomes the spiritual successor of the previous bishop in a line that is traced back, step-by-step, to the apostles themselves.

Early Christian writings and art

The study of Early Christian writings or the writings of the early Fathers of the Church is known as Patristics. Some of the notable Patristic writers or Early Fathers of the Church include:

● Saint Ignatius of Antioch
● Saint Polycarp
● Saint Justin Martyr
● Saint Irenaeus of Lyons
● Tertullian
● Saint Clement of Alexandria
● Origen of Alexandria

These Early Christian writings in the period immediately after post New Testament period can be divided into two types of works:

● theological
● apologetic

Apologetic writings seek to defend the faith by using reason to refute arguments against Christian beliefs and teachings.

Christian art emerges relatively late, with the first known Christian images emerging ca 200 AD.

The oldest Christian works of art are not icons but paintings from the Roman Catacombs, dated ca 200 AD, and the oldest Christian sculptures are from sarcophagi, from the early 3rd century. We may look at this later when we look at the debates ant icons.

Early heresies

The correct interpretation of the faith has been a major concern for Christianity from the beginning. One of the main responsibilities of bishops in the early Church was to guard correct beliefs and to refute heresies, so that defining orthodoxy becomes a major issue in the history of the Church in the first four or five centuries, and even after that.

The earliest doctrinal controversies are often Christological. In other words, they were about Christ, his divinity and his humanity.

● Docetism, which emerges at the turn of the second and third centuries, held that Christ’s humanity was merely an illusion, thus denying the incarnation, or that God became fully human.
● In the middle of the second century, Marcion held that Christ was the Saviour sent by God, and Saint Paul was his chief apostle. But he rejected the Hebrew Bible and the God of Israel. His followers, the Marcionists, believed that the wrathful Hebrew God was a separate and lower entity than the all-forgiving God of the New Testament.
● These beliefs had some similarities with Gnostic heresies, in that both were dualistic.
● Dualistic groups maintained that reality was composed of two radically opposing parts: matter, seen as evil, and spirit, seen as good.
● Arius (250/256-336) of Alexandria and Arianism held that Christ, while not merely mortal, was not eternally divine and was, therefore, of lesser status than God the Father.

What would emerge was a clear Trinitarian understanding of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, one being with three hypostases or persons. This would be defined in the Nicene Creed, and we shall look at this development at a later stage.

The canon of the Bible

A copy of the King James Version of the Bible, dating from 1611, in Lambeth Palace … how did the Early Church decide on the contents of the New Testament?

The period that we are looking at this afternoon also sees the emergence of an agreement among Christians about what is and what is not part of the Bible.

The Early Church saw the Bible as used the Old Testament found in the Greek translation of the Bible we know as the Septuagint (LXX), and the New Testament developed over a period of time.

The writings attributed to the apostles circulated amongst the earliest Christian communities. The Letters of Saint Paul were circulating in collected forms by the end of the 1st century. In the early 2nd century, Justin Martyr mentions the “memoirs of the apostles” or the Gospels. By around the year 160, Saint Irenaeus is referring to four gospels.

By the early 3rd century, Origen of Alexandria may have been using the same 27 books as we now accept in the canon of the New Testament, although there disputes still arose and debates still continued over the canonicity of some books, including Hebrews, James, II Peter, II and III John, and the Book of Revelation.

Most of what is now the New Testament was universally acknowledged from the middle of the 2nd century or earlier. The Muratorian fragment shows that a set of writings similar to the New Testament was recognised by the year 200.

In his Easter letter in 367, Athanasius of Alexandria gives the earliest known and exact list of the books in the New Testament. The Synod of Hippo in North Africa in 393, approved the New Testament as we have it today, along with the Old Testament book in the Septuagint.

These decisions were repeated in 397 and 419 at the Councils of Carthage, which were under the authority of Saint Augustine, who regarded the canon as closed. The commissioning of the Latin Vulgate edition of the Bible ca 383 was instrumental in fixing the Biblical canon in the West, and in the year 405 Pope Innocent I set a list of the sacred books.

But these bishops and councils never claimed to be defining something new. Instead, they said they “were ratifying what had already become the mind of the Church.” And so, we find unanimity on the canon of the New Testament in the West by the 4th century and in the East by the 5th century.

The end of persecution

The Rotunda in Thessaloniki, built by the Emperor Galerius ... his reign marked the end of the persecution of the Church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Galerius who had once been one of the leading figures in persecution of Christianity, issued an edict in 311 that brought to an end the Diocletian persecution of the Church. Galerius reigned for another two years, and was then succeeded by Constantine the Great, an emperor with distinctively pro-Christian sympathies.
Constantine the Great … his victory brings freedom for Christians and marks the beginning of Christendom

Constantine had first come into contact with Christianity through his mother, the Empress Helena. Ahead of the Battle of the Milvian Bridge in 312, he commanded his troops to adorn their shields with the Cross following a vision he had the night before. The battle was decisive, and after his victory Constantine become the Emperor of the West.

The accession of Constantine was a turning point for the Church, marking the end of persecution and the beginning of Christendom. After his victory, Constantine supported the Church financially, built basilicas, granted privileges to the clergy, such as exemption from certain taxes, promoted some Christians to high office, and returned property confiscated during the reign of Diocletian.

Between 324 and 330, Constantine built a new imperial capital at Constantinople, which had churches within the city walls but no pagan temples.

Constantine also played an active role in the leadership of the Church. In 316, he acted as a judge in a North African dispute concerning the Donatist controversy. Then, in 325 he called the first Ecumenical Council, the Council of Nicaea, to deal primarily with the Arian heresy.

The council agreed on the Nicene Creed, which professed there is “One Holy Catholic Apostolic Church.”

In calling the council, Constantine established a precedent for regarding the emperors as responsible to God for the spiritual health of their subjects, and having a duty to maintain orthodoxy. The emperor was to enforce doctrine, root out heresy, and uphold the unity of the Church.

Finally, Constantine was baptised on his deathbed.

Constantine’s eventual successor, Julian the Apostate, was on becoming emperor renounced Christianity and embraced Neo-Platonism. He began reopening pagan temples, and modified old pagan beliefs so that they resembled Christianity traditions, with an episcopal structure and public charity. But his death brought to an end the last imperial threat to Christianity.

Christianity as the Imperial state religion

The 4th century palace complex in Thessaloniki … the Emperor Theodosius I made Christianity the state religion of the empire under the Edict of Thessaloniki in 380 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Constantius II (337-361) and Valens (364-378) had personally favoured Arian or Semi-Arian forms of Christianity, but Valens’s successor, the Emperor Theodosius I, supported the Trinitarian doctrine set out in the Nicene Creed.

On 27 February 380, the Edict of Thessaloniki, issued in the name of Theodosius I, officially adopted Christianity as the state religion of the Empire.

The Church quickly adopted the same organisational boundaries as the Empire, so that geographical provinces, called dioceses, corresponded to imperial territorial divisions. The bishops, who were located in major urban centres, oversaw each diocese.

Five dioceses came to hold special eminence, and their bishops were recognised as patriarchs:

● Rome
● Constantinople
● Jerusalem
● Antioch
● Alexandria

The prestige of these sees was strengthened by claims to apostolic foundation. The Bishop of Rome claimed to be the Primus inter Pares or “the first among equals.” The Patriarch of Constantinople claimed precedence as the bishop of the new capital of the empire, the New Rome.

Next: 2, The Councils of the Church and the shaping of the Creeds.

An icon of the First Council of Nicaea in 325

In all, seven Ecumenical Councils were called, mainly to deal with Christological disputes:

The First Seven Ecumenical Councils, as commonly understood, are:

● Nicaea I (325)
● Constantinople I (381)
● Ephesus (431)
● Chalcedon (451)
● Constantinople II (553)
● Constantinople III (680-681)
● Nicaea II (787)

The first Councils of Nicaea (325) and Constantinople (381) condemned Arius and Arian teachings as heresy and agreed on what we call the Nicene Creed.

The Council of Ephesus (431) condemned Nestorianism and agreed that Mary is the Θεοτόκος (Theotokos), the “God-bearer” or “Mother of God”.

The Council of Chalcedon (451) affirmed that Christ has two natures, he is fully God and he is fully human, distinct yet always in perfect union. Thus, it condemned Monophysitism and would be influential in refuting Monothelitism.

We shall also look at some of the Later Church Fathers or Patristic writers, who included:

● Augustine of Hippo
● Gregory Nazianzus
● Cyril of Alexandria
● Ambrose of Milan
● Jerome
● John Chrysostom
● Athanasius of Alexandria

Some of these fathers suffered exile, persecution, or martyrdom; many of their writings are translated into English.

Required or recommended reading:

General Church History:

David L Edwards, Christianity, the first Two Thousand Years (London: Cassell, 1997).
Diarmuid MacCulloch, A History of Christianity (London: Penguin, 2010).
John McManners (ed), The Oxford Illustrated History of Christianity (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990).

Irish Church History:

Alan Acheson, A History of the Church of Ireland (Dublin: Columba, 2nd ed, 2003).
JR Bartlett, SD Kinsella (eds), Two Thousand Years of Christianity in Ireland (Dublin: Columba, 2006).
Brendan Bradshaw, Dáire Keogh (eds), Christianity in Ireland, Revisiting the Story (Dublin: Columba, 2002).

World Anglicanism:

Kevin Ward, A History of Global Anglicanism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006).

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral Dublin. This essay is based on notes prepared for a lecture on Saturday 9 June 2012.

We have dreams for the future

The Mansion House, Dublin … the venue for today’s annual general meeting of the Irish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (Irish CND) Photograph: Patrick Comerford

Patrick Comerford

Last Sunday, in a moment of total exhaustion, I found myself watching Reeling in the Years on RTÉ.

And five items seemed to dominate the news in 1983:

● The nuclear arms talks were deadlocked.
● Ronald Reagan unveiled his ‘Star Wars’ plan for a defensive ‘missile shield’ in the sky.
● The Irish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (Irish CND) staged a major demonstration in Dublin against the ‘Star Wars’ proposals.
● Irish CND organised the ‘Arms are for Linking’ demonstration in which thousands of ordinary people came to link arms between the US and Soviet embassies in a single-file line from Orwell Road in Rathgar to Pembroke Road in Ballsbridge.
● Brave women – many of them from Ireland – occupied Greenham Common in Berkshire in an effort to block the deployment of Cruise missiles.

And there, in front of the cameras, were the Lord Mayor of Dublin, a future Government Minister, and the future President of Ireland, identifying with CND and decrying the nuclear arms race.

But, despite the television images, these were not the heydays of CND.

These were days of great terror and fear, and we should not forget that.

The commentator said the women had failed to stop the deployment of cruise missiles at Greenham Common.

But they did not fail.

They succeeded.

Their costly action was a success.

The missiles are no longer deployed in Greenham Common, and the land has been returned to public use.

But the nuclear arms race has not stopped.

Just because it is now safe for Irish football fans to visit Poland and Ukraine for football matches does not mean the nuclear missiles have been dismantle or the nuclear arms has come to a stop.

And we still need to mobilise, still need to organise, and still need to win over the hearts and minds of politicians and presidents, and the people.

Earlier this year, we saw the launch of the international appeal, ‘Arms for the Rio Appeal: Disarmament for Sustainable Development.’

This appeal recalls how 20 years ago, during the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, the international community connected environmental and development challenges. This connection, now known as sustainable development, was accepted as the challenge of the decade.

But peace and disarmament issues were excluded at the time.

With the Rio+20 Summit due to take place this month, the organisers of this appeal point out that it is now time to include both issues into the discussion.

This is an initiative of the International Peace Bureau (IPB), to which Irish CND is affiliated, and other worldwide networks for peace. It has the support of numerous Nobel Peace Prize laureates, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Jody Williams, and Adolfo Peres Esquivel.

Global military spending last year amounted to $1740 billion – despite the fact that one billion people are suffering from hunger, even more do not have access to safe water or adequate health care and education, and in the developed world, as we know too well, millions are without work.

It is blindingly obvious that the Millennium Development Goals cannot be realised while the world squanders its wealth on militarism.

Today’s climatic and environmental conditions exacerbate this imbalance. In addition, the current economic crisis has made the world’s governments reduce spending on critical human needs and is once again hitting the weakest the hardest.

However, seemingly unlimited financial resources are available for military jets, tanks, ships, bombs, missiles, landmines and nuclear weapons.

Indeed, the technological developments in the arms field have become more and more sophisticated and murderous.

The signatories of the new Rio appeal are demanding that governments seriously address the neglected issue of peace and disarmament, and agree on a global plan for disarmament for sustainable development at the Rio Summit, later this month (20 to 22 June 2012).

The funds that are freed-up could be used for social, economic and ecological programmes in all countries.

They propose that, starting next year (2013), military spending should be cut back substantially, that is, by a minimum of 10 per cent per annum.

Their aim is to launch a dynamic towards sustainable development, which could start by establishing an internationally-managed Fund with a capital of more than $150 billion.

And they want to see this plan for “Disarmament for Sustainable Development” included in the final document of the Rio Summit.

They are right when they say that without disarmament, there can be no adequate development.

And without development, there will be no justice, equality and peace.

We are not people who dream of the past.

We are people who simply live for today.

We are people who have dreams for the future.

The Revd Canon Patrick Comerford is President of the Irish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. This presidential address was given at the annual general meeting of Irish CND in the Mansion House, Dublin, on Saturday, 9 June 2012.