31 March 2019

An evening out at
the Mustard Seed
in a former convent

The Mustard Seed at Echo Lodge … fine dining in a country house setting in Ballingarry, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

I had dinner this weekend at the Mustard Seed in Ballingarry, Co Limerick. The Mustard Seed at Echo Lodge is on a small hill overlooking the village of Ballingarry, nestled in the heart of the Golden Vale, south of Adare and Rathkeale.

Guests at this country house, with its own unique ambience, can enjoy the tranquillity, fresh country air and walks in the surrounding hills and lanes.

Sitting on acres of manicured lawns, orchard and a working kitchen garden, this heritage hideaway is the only Blue Book Country House in the Limerick countryside.

It is surrounded by country lanes for leisurely strolls and close to the Ballyhoura Mountain range for more organised trails. The house looks across at Knockfierna, the highest peak in the landscape of the Mid-West, offering the perfect trek for even the amateur walker.

It is also close to Lough Gur, one of Ireland’s finest archaeological and historical gems.

The house was once known as Echo Lodge, and until the mid-20th century the house was home to Saint Mary’s Convent of Mercy and with an adjoining school.

This is an impressive, substantial country house with a symmetrical form, solid massing and is articulated by the finely cut limestone quoins.

Father James Enright began building the Roman Catholic parish church in Ballingarry the 1870s, before he was moved to Parteen in 1874. The church was completed by Father Timothy Shanahan. He found the parish priest’s house in Ballingarry, built by Father Enright, was so large that he decided it would be more suitable as a convent, and he brought the Sisters of Mercy to Ballingarry from Abbeyfeale.

Echo Lodge was built in 1884 as a three-bay, two-storey house, with a recessed centre-bay. Today it has a portico at the front or south-east, bay windows on the south-west side and first floor. In addition, the house has recent multiple-bay extensions behind on the north-west side, and on the north-east side that provide hotel accommodation.

The hipped slate roof has overhanging eaves, timber brackets and there are rendered chimneystacks. Lined-and-ruled rendered walls having limestone quoins and plinth course. Square-headed openings with bipartite one-over-one pane timber sliding sash windows having render keystones and limestone sills. Square-headed openings to bay windows and rear elevation having one-over-one pane timber sliding sash windows and limestone sills.

The round-headed windows to north-east side have one-over-one pane timber sliding margin sash windows and limestone sills. The round-headed openings at the portico, the south-west and north-east sides have fixed windows and limestone sills.

The portico has limestone Doric columns supporting a carved frieze with an inscription and an entablature, with flanking render Doric style pilasters. A flight of limestone steps leads up to the front doors entrance.

The pillared portico of the present house provides a decorative focus, and it is said it limestone columns were salvaged from nearby Grove House in the 1960s. Grove House was probably built around 1814 by Colonel William O'Dell, MP, and it was later used as a workhouse before its eventual demolition.

Echo Lodge is a well-maintained Victorian country house and it retains much of its early form and character, as well as many important original features including the slate roof and timber sash windows.

Dinner in the Mustard Seed at Echo Lodge … accompanied by a bottle of Passo del Tempio (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

We were there thanks to a generous and thoughtful gift and we were welcomed by John Edward Joyce, the General Manager, to this legendary restaurant with its warm, welcoming open fire, its warm hospitality and its superb food.

We had a table at the front window, and for starters we had risotto with blue-berried beetroots, fennel, blue cheese and pumpkin seeds; and salmon with gravlax yuzu, pickled squash, onion, yoghurt espuma and coriander oil.

Our intermediates were a salad of organic leaves with tomato and chili dressing, mushroom and wild garlic soup.

Our mains were Ravioli with leek and parmesan, spinach, artichoke crisps and king oyster mushrooms, and John Dory, with spinach, shitake, cauliflower and yoghurt purée and cockles.

It was all accompanied by a bottle of Passo del Tempio from Sicily, and followed by coffee.

The Mustard Seed is celebrating over 30 years of food and hospitality since 1985.

Its recent awards include: Host of the Year, Georgina Campbell 2019; Best Customer Service, RAI 2018; Best Front of House Team, Yeschef 2018; One Fab Day 100 Best Wedding Venues, 2018; outstanding Guest Experience, Georgina Campbell; Best Customer Service, Food and Wine Magazine Hideaway of the Year, Georgina Campbell; and Pet Friendly Hotel of the Year, Georgina Campbell.

The Library at the Mustard Seed at Echo Lodge in Ballingarry, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

April 2019, Holy Week and
Easter in the Rathkeale and
Kilnaughtin Group of Parishes

The Resurrection depicted in a fresco in Analipsi Church in Georgioupoli, Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Sunday 7 April (Lent 5):

9.30, Parish Eucharist (Holy Communion 2), Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton;

11.30, Morning Prayer, Saint Brendan’s Church, Kilnaughtin (Tarbert).

Readings: Isaiah 43: 16-21; Psalm 126; Philippians 3: 4b-14; John 12: 1-8.


517, Brother, sister, let me serve you (CD 30)
218, And can it be that I should gain (CD 14)
587, Just as I am, without one plea (CD 33)

Sunday 14 April (Palm Sunday, Lent 6):

9.30, The Parish Eucharist (Holy Communion 2), Castletown Church;

11.30, Morning Prayer, Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale.

Readings: Isaiah 50: 4-9a; Psalm 31: 9-16; Philippians 2: 5-11; Luke 23: 1-49.


217, All glory, laud and honour (CD 14)
134, Make way, make way, for Christ the king (CD 8)
715, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God the Lord Almighty (CD 40)

Monday 15 April:

8 p.m., Evening Prayer, Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton.

Readings: Psalm 36: 5-11; Hebrews 9: 11-15; John 12: 1-11.


217, All glory, laud and honour (CD 14).

Tuesday 16 April:

8 p.m., Late Evening Office, Saint Brendan’s Church, Kilnaughtin.

Readings: Psalm 71: 1-14; John 12: 20-36.


66, Before the ending of the day (CD 4)
218, And can it be that I should gain (CD 14)

Wednesday 17 April:

8 p.m., Compline, Holy Trinity, Rathkeale.

Reading: John 13: 21-32.

Hymn: 247, When I survey the wondrous cross (CD 15)

Thursday 18 April (Maundy Thursday):

8 p.m., the Maundy Eucharist, with Washing of the Feet, Castletown Church.

Readings: Exodus 12: 1-4 (5-10), Psalm 116: 1, 10-17; I Corinthians 11: 23-26; John 13: 1-17, 31b-35.


431, Lord, enthroned in heavenly splendour (CD 26)
432, Love is his word, love is his way (CD 26)
515, ‘A new commandment I give unto you (CD 30)

Friday 19 April (Good Friday):

12 noon to 3 p.m.: The Three Hours, Christ’s journey with the Cross to Calvary, Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton.

Saturday 20 April (Easter Eve):

8 p.m., The Easter Eucharist (Holy Communion 2), Holy Trinity, Rathkeale;

10 p.m., The Easter Eucharist (Holy Communion 2), Castletown Church.

Readings: Isaiah 65: 17-25; the Easter Anthems (sung as Hymn 286, CD 17); I Corinthians 15: 19-26; Luke 24: 1-12.


260, Christ is alive! Let Christians sing (CD 16)
258, Christ the Lord is risen again (CD 16)
255, Christ is Risen, alleluia (CD 16)

Sunday 21 April (Easter Day):

9.30 a.m., the Easter Eucharist (Holy Communion 2), Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton;

11.30 a.m., the Easter Eucharist (Holy Communion 2), Saint Brendan’s Church, Kilnaughtin (Tarbert).

Readings: Acts 10: 34-43; Psalm 118: 1-2, 14-24; I Corinthians 15: 19-26; John 20: 1-18.


286, The strife is o’er, the battle done (CD 12)
78, This is the day that the Lord has made (CD 5)
263, Crown him with many crowns (CD 14)

Sunday 28 April (Easter 2):

9.30 a.m., Morning Prayer, Castletown Church;

11.30 a.m., the Parish Eucharist (Holy Communion 2), Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale (with the Revd Joe Hardy).

Readings: Acts 5: 27-32 or Job 42: 1-6; Psalm 118: 14-29 or 150; Revelation 1: 4-8; John 20: 19-31.


646, Glorious things of thee are spoken (CD 37)
239, See, Christ was wounded for our sake (CD 15)
307, Our great redeemer, as he breathed (CD 18)

The Resurrection … a stained glass window in Saint Michael’s Church, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Mothers’ broken hearts,
expanding hearts, and
souls that are pierced

‘Mother and Child’ … a sculpture by Anna Raynoch in Auschwitz (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 31 March 2019: the Fourth Sunday in Lent, Mothering Sunday)

11 a.m.: United Group Service for the Fifth Sunday:

Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale.

The Parish Eucharist (Holy Communion 2),

Readings: Exodus 2: 1-10; Psalm 34: 11-20; II Corinthians 1: 3-7; Luke 2: 33-35.

The distress of refugee Syrian mothers and fathers seen by the artist Kaiti Hsu

May I speak to you in the name of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

I grew up on a solid diet of English boys’ comics, graduating from the Beano and the Dandy in the 1950s to the Victor, the Valiant and the Hotspur in the early 1960s, and books and films set in places like Stalag Luft III, such as The Wooden Horse and The Great Escape.

There were limited storylines, and the characters never had any great depth to them.

In those decades immediately after World War II, Germans were caricatures rather characters, portrayed as Huns who had a limited vocabulary.

And I remember how they always referred to the Vaterland. Somehow, seeing your country as the Father-land made you harsh, unforgiving, demanding and violent. While those who saw their country as a mother, whether it was Britannia or Marianne, or perhaps even Hibernia, were supposed to be more caring, empathetic and ethical, endowed with justice and mercy.

These images somehow played on, pandered to, the images a previous generation had of the different roles of a father and a mother.

So, culturally it may come as a surprise, perhaps even a cultural challenge, to many this morning, that the other Gospel readings provided for Mothering Sunday include a Parable that tells us what it is to be a good father, the Parable of the Prodigal Son.

Culturally we are predisposed to thinking of this parable as the story of the Prodigal Son. But this is not a story telling us to be wayward children. The emphasis is three-way: the wayward son, the unforgiving or begrudging son, and the loving Father.

Who is missing from this story? … the Mother of these two sons.

The people who first heard that parable – eager tax collectors and sinners, grumbling Pharisees and Scribes – may well have been mindful of the Old Testament saying: ‘A wise son makes a glad father, but a foolish son is a mother’s grief’ (Proverbs 10:1).

Or inwardly they may have been critical of the father, recalling another saying in the Book of Proverbs: ‘Train children in the right way, and when old, they will not stray’ (Proverbs 22: 6).

We all know what bad parenting is like. I know myself. I know what it is to have two sets of parents, and four sets of grandparents, who came with different gifts and different deficiencies. But I am also aware of my own many failings as a parent too, and hope on this Mothering Sunday that where I have failed as a father, a loving mother has been more than compensation.

In the story of the Prodigal Son – a story with which most of us are familiar with, I imagine – Christ rejects all the dysfunctional models of parenting we have inherited and received.

Those first listeners to this parable may well have had wayward sons and jealous sons, and the story, initially, would have been no surprise, would have been one they knew only too well.

But they no longer need to be challenged as adult children. The challenge they need is about their own parenting skills. And they may well have been distressed as they hear a story about a man who behaves not like a father would be expected to behave but like a mother.

Where was the mother of the Prodigal Son? Did she have a role in this family drama?

Had she been praying ever since her wayward son left home, asking God to keep him safe, to bring him home?

Perhaps it was her prayers that reached him in some way and reminded her son of home?

But the Father in the parable is also both Father and Mother to the Son.

He behaves just like a mother would in these circumstances.

He is constantly looking and waiting and watching for him until the day he sees him.

And when he sees him, instead of being the perfectly behaved gentleman he is filled up with emotions, he runs, he hugs, he kisses. He finds him clean clothes, he finds clean shoes, he feeds him. And like a good mother, he probably also tells him his room is made up, it has always been there for him.

The father of the Prodigal Son bucks all the images of parenting we have inherited: he is both mother and father to his children.

The sufferings and compassion of three images in recent times illustrate for me how loving parents can be reflections of divine majesty and grace.

I think of the pregnant mother, a qualified solicitor who had been homeless, told Valerie Cox on RTÉ radio some years ago how she was forced to walk the streets of Dublin because the hostel where she was staying would not allow her in until 7.30 in the evening.

Like the Prodigal Son, no one gave her anything and she had no proper bed at night. She was 6½ months pregnant, had an eight-year-old daughter, and Mother Ireland has betrayed her.

Or I think of Syrian mothers who are refugees crossing the Aegean Sea, and see their children drown just before they reach the shores of Greece … a story largely forgotten by media outlets today.

We see it as our problem rather than seeing it as a problem for the people fleeing war and savage violence.

Or I think of Nuala Creane, who spoke movingly ten years ago at the funeral of her son Sebastian, who was murdered in Bray in 2009. In a well-sculpted eulogy, carved with all the beauty, precision, delicacy and impact of a Pieta being sculpted by a Michelangelo, she told all present that ‘my story, my God is the God of Small Things. I see God’s presence in the little details.’

She spoke of the heartbreak and the choice that faces everyone confronted with the deepest personal tragedies, admitting, ‘Our hearts are broken but maybe our hearts needed to be broken so that they could expand.’

Broken hearts, expanding hearts, souls that have been pierced, rising to the challenge with unconditional love … this is how I hope I understand the majesty and the glory of Christ, at the best of times and at the worst of times.

How as a society – whether it is our local community, this island, or in Europe – are we mothers to mothers in need?

How, as a Church, so often spoken of lovingly as ‘Mother Church,’ do we speak up for God’s children in their time of need and despair?

I suppose, on this Mothering Sunday, that Christ had good experiences of mothering as he was growing up. Just a few verses before the parable of the Prodigal Son, he uses a most maternal image as he laments over Jerusalem and declares: ‘Jerusalem, Jerusalem … How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings …’ (Luke 13: 34).

The Christ Child, when he was born, was cradled in the lap of a loving mother who at the time could never know that when he died and was taken down from the cross she would cradle him once again in her lap.

But the experience of a mother’s loss and grief that come to mind in Lent is given new hope at Easter.

On Mothering Sunday, we move through Lent towards Good Friday and Easter Day, How do we, like Christ, and like so many suffering mothers, grow to understand those who suffer, those who grieve, those who forgive?

And so, may all we think, say and do be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

The Presentation in the Temple, carved on a panel on a triptych in the Lady Chapel, Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford/ Lichfield Gazette)

Luke 2: 33-35:

33 And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, ‘This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed 35 so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed – and a sword will pierce your own soul too.’

‘A well-sculpted eulogy, carved with all the beauty, precision, delicacy and impact of a Pieta being sculpted by a Michelangelo’ … a copy of Michelangelo’s Pieta in the Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul in Athlone (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Liturgical Colour: Violet.

The canticle Gloria is usually omitted in Lent. Traditionally in Anglicanism, the doxology or Gloria at the end of Canticles and Psalms is also omitted during Lent.

Penitential Kyries:

Lord God, mighty God,
you are the creator of the world.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Lord Jesus, Son of God and Son of Mary,
you are the Prince of Peace.
Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

Holy Spirit,
by your power the Word was made flesh
and came to dwell among us.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

The Collect:

God of compassion,
whose Son Jesus Christ, the child of Mary,
shared the life of a home in Nazareth,
and on the cross drew the whole human family to himself:
Strengthen us in our daily living
that in joy and in sorrow
we may know the power of your presence
to bind together and to heal;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Collect of the Day:

Lord God
whose blessed Son our Saviour
gave his back to the smiters
and did not hide his face from shame:
Give us grace to endure the sufferings of this present time
with sure confidence in the glory that shall be revealed;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Lenten Collect:

Almighty and everlasting God,
you hate nothing that you have made
and forgive the sins of all those who are penitent:
Create and make in us new and contrite hearts
that we, worthily lamenting our sins
and acknowledging our wretchedness,
may receive from you, the God of all mercy,
perfect remission and forgiveness;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Introduction to the Peace:

Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given:
and his name is called the Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9: 7).


You chose the Blessed Virgin Mary
to be the mother of your Son
and so exalted the humble and meek;
your angel hailed her as most highly favoured,
and with all generations we call her blessed:

The Post Communion Prayer:

Loving God,
as a mother feeds her children at the breast,
you feed us in this sacrament with spiritual food and drink.
Help us who have tasted your goodness
to grow in grace within the household of faith;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.


Christ the Son of God, born of Mary,
fill you with his grace
to trust his promises and obey his will:

The grave of Samuel Johnson’s mother and father in Saint Michael’s Church, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Alternative words to use at the Peace:

Dr Samuel Johnson’s ‘Last Letter to his Aged Mother,’ written 250 years ago on 20 January 1769, reads:

Dear Honoured Mother:

Neither your condition nor your character make it fit for me to say much. You have been the best mother, and I believe the best woman, in the world. I thank you for your indulgence to me, and beg forgiveness of all that I have done ill, and all that I have omitted to do well. God grant you his Holy Spirit, and receive you to everlasting happiness, for Jesus Christ’s sake. Amen. Lord Jesus receive your spirit. Amen.


569: Hark my soul, it is the Lord (CD 33)
541: God of Eve and God of Mary (CD 310)
125: Hail to the Lord’s anointed (CD 8)

The Presentation in the Temple … a fresco in Analipsi Church in Georgioupoli in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

Material from the Book of Common Prayer is copyright © 2004, Representative Body of the Church of Ireland.

Praying through Lent with
USPG (26): 31 March 2019

‘Jesus meets the Holy Women’ … Station VIII in the Stations of the Cross in the Friars’ Graveyard at Gormanston College, Co Meath (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Today is the Fourth Sunday in Lent [31 March 2019], and Mothering Sunday. Later this morning, I am presiding and preaching at the Parish Eucharist in Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale, Co Limerick (11 a.m.).

During Lent this year, I am using the USPG Prayer Diary, Pray with the World Church, for my morning prayers and reflections.

USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) is the Anglican mission agency that partners churches and communities worldwide in God’s mission to enliven faith, strengthen relationships, unlock potential, and champion justice. It was founded in 1701.

This week (31 March to 6 April 2019), the USPG Prayer Diary is focussing on the theme of Climate. This theme is introduced this morning with a short article from the Church of South India’s Green Schools programme, which is inspiring a new generation to care for the environment:

‘We train students to observe and watch nature. This is the best education we can give them because nature will reveal its treasures to the students. Observing nature with respect and curiosity will change their mindset, which is the primary goal of the Green Schools programme. We aim to catch the students when they are young and give them training in sustainable values in the hope that this can start to solve the present ecological crisis. Interestingly, we’ve noticed that primary school students respond better than high school students.

‘We also organise training for teachers and clergy in the dioceses. Mona Robert, a teacher at Dornakal Diocese High School, said: ‘The sessions inspired me. From now on I would like to read the Bible keeping ecology in mind. I was impressed by the significance of tigers, the guardians of the forest, and how they are [badly] treated. Also, because water is the main resource for all living beings, it should be used carefully, so we have to educate people about this.’

‘In Medak Diocese, teacher K Hepsheba reported: ‘We learned how everything in the universe is interrelated. If we care about nature, nature will care for us’.’

Sunday 31 March: The Fourth Sunday in Lent :

Creator God,
the heavens declare your glory
and the earth your generosity.
Forgive our exploitation of your gracious provision
and through your bountiful goodness
guide our efforts to be better stewards of your creation.

The Collect:

Most merciful God,
who by the death and resurrection of your Son Jesus Christ
delivered and saved the world:
Grant that by faith in him who suffered on the cross,
we may triumph in the power of his victory;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Lenten Collect:

Almighty and everlasting God,
you hate nothing that you have made
and forgive the sins of all those who are penitent:
Create and make in us new and contrite hearts
that we, worthily lamenting our sins
and acknowledging our wretchedness,
may receive from you, the God of all mercy,
perfect remission and forgiveness;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Continued tomorrow

Yesterday’s reflection

30 March 2019

Saint Dubhán and Hook Church are
part of the story of Hook Lighthouse

The ruined Hook Church or Saint Dubhán’s Church at Churchtown, north of the Hook Lighthouse in Co Wexford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

Hook Head and the Hook Peninsula in south-west Wexford includes hidden coves, some important mediaeval sites, including the Hook Lighthouse, and some important architectural and archaeological sites, such as the castles at Fethard, Dungulph, Houseland, Slade and Kilclogan, and Loftus Hall.

The area is replete with legends, myths and tales about the giant Finn Mac Cumhal, Celtic saints and monks, Anglo-Norman landings, ghostly sightings and early Ogham stones.

But this is also an area with a rich collection of churches, monastic sites and holy wells, including the churches at Templetown, the abbeys at Tintern and Dunbody, and early church settlements.

Hook Church or Saint Dubhán’s Church at Churchtown, seen from the north-west (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

On the way back from visiting Hook Head and the Hook Lighthouse, I stopped to visit the ruins of Hook Church or Saint Dubhán’s Church at Churchtown, linked with Saint Dubhán, who came to the Hook from Wales in 452 AD and established a monastery on the site of the lighthouse.

The date given for his arrival is just 20 years after the supposed arrival of Saint Patrick in 432, and while Saint Patrick is said to have been working in the northern part of the island.

Saint Dubhán is said to have lit the first warning beacon for ships at Hook Head shortly after his arrival. This beacon was maintained by the monks for 700 years until the lighthouse was built.

Saint Dubhán built a church and soon the whole peninsula was known as Rinn Dubháin. The name Dubhán can be translated into English as a ‘fishing hook’ and so, it is said, the peninsula became known as Hook Head.

Saint Dubhán is said to have been an older brother of Saint Elloc, the patron of Templetown, and is name is remembered at Saint Elloc’s Well or ‘Toberluke.’

The later chancel in the ruins of Hook Church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

The church was later attached to a house of Augustinian canons. Mediaeval references date from 1245, when the chaplains of Saint Saviour of Rindeaun were urged to maintain the lighthouse.

The remaining ruins of the church date from the 13th or 14th century. The nave dates from the 13th century and the chancel was added later.

Looking into the Hook Church from the original east wall of the mediaeval church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

The original east wall of the mediaeval church, now in the centre of the church, includes remains of antae or projections of the side walls beyond the gable, and there is evidence of a round-headed window in which a doorway was inserted to give access to the later chancel.

The nave, which was extended in length, and the later chancel survive almost complete. The original nave is earlier, and the east wall has remains of antae and a destroyed window over the chancel arch.

The nave was extended at the west end and provided with opposing round-headed doorways towards the west end. The doorway on the north side has a stoup in situ. There are corbels at the west end to support a gallery and the west gable has an unusual double bellcote.

The surviving piscina in the chancel of the Hook Church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

There is a blocked door towards the east end of the north nave wall. The chancel has a three-light ogee-headed window with glazing grooves on the wall and a statue shelf and niche at the north end of the east wall. There are three small windows on the south wall and one on the north wall. There is a piscina, aumbry and Easter Sepulchre in the chancel.

Inside the Hook Church at Churchtown, Co Wexford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

The names of local families buried in the surrounding churchyard include: Barry, Chapman, Colfer, Connelly or Connolly, Crowley, Dunne, Fanning, Fortune, Holland, Kavangh, Kennedy, Mason, Moran, Murphy, O’Brien, Power, Wallace and White.

Saint Dubhán was commemorated on 11 February, and his story is still told as part of the guided tours of the Hook Lighthouse.

Looking out through one the three small windows of the south wall in the Hook Church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Praying through Lent with
USPG (25): 30 March 2019

‘Jesus falls the Second Time’ … Station VII in the Stations of the Cross in the Friars’ Graveyard at Gormanston College, Co Meath (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

During Lent this year, I am using the USPG Prayer Diary, Pray with the World Church, for my morning prayers and reflections.

USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) is the Anglican mission agency that partners churches and communities worldwide in God’s mission to enliven faith, strengthen relationships, unlock potential, and champion justice. It was founded in 1701.

This week (24-30 March), the USPG Prayer Diary is focussing on the theme of Gender.

The Prayer Diary introduced this week’s theme on Sunday [24 March 2019] with a report from on the Skills Training Programme for Women and Girls, in Kurnool, an initiative of the Nandyal Diocese in the Church of South India.

Saturday 30 March:

Give thanks for our God-given imaginations that seeks solutions in the face of problems and for the creative spirit that inspires our vision of what is possible.

The Collect:

Merciful Lord,
Grant your people grace to withstand the temptations
of the world, the flesh and the devil
and with pure hearts and minds to follow you, the only God; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Lenten Collect:

Almighty and everlasting God,
you hate nothing that you have made
and forgive the sins of all those who are penitent:
Create and make in us new and contrite hearts
that we, worthily lamenting our sins
and acknowledging our wretchedness,
may receive from you, the God of all mercy,
perfect remission and forgiveness;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Continued tomorrow

Yesterday’s reflection

29 March 2019

By ‘Hook or by Crook’,
I was determined to
see Hook Lighthouse

The Lighthouse and visitor centre at Hook Head, at the south-west tip of Co Wexford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

It is part of folklore in the south-east that when the Anglo-Normans arrived in Ireland in 1169-1170, Strongbow vowed to take Waterford City ‘by Hook or by Crook’ – referring to Hook Head in Co Wexford on the east bank of Waterford estuary, and Crook village on the west bank in Co Waterford.

Later versions say the phrase was used by sea captains to express their determination to make the haven of the bay in bad weather using one headland or the other as a guide. Others imagine the phrase is derived from a vow by Oliver Cromwell to take Waterford by Hook or by Crook, by fair means or foul.

Recently I travelled from Waterford through New Ross, by fair means rather than foul, to visit the Hook Lighthouse at the end of the Hook Peninsula in south-west Co Wexford, which claims to be the oldest operational lighthouse in the world. It has been voted one of Ireland’s favourite attractions and visiting it is a truly unique experience.

Looking out to sea at Hook Head (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019; click on image for full-screen resolution)

The present lighthouse traces its story back to the first purpose-built lighthouse, built 800 years ago in the early 13th century by Strongbow’s son-in-law, William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke. But a beacon may have stood on this site from the fifth or sixth century, associated with Saint Dubhán and his followers, said to have built the first Hook Church at Churchtown nearby.

The monastery at Churchtown was founded by Saint Dubhán in the early fifth century. The peninsula became known as Rinn Dubháin (Dubhán’s headland). According to tradition, the monks kept a warning beacon to warn sailors of the dangers of shipwreck on the rocky headland.

Tradition claims Saint Dubhán set up a form of beacon as early as the fifth century. The Hook is known in Irish as Rinn Dubháin, Saint Dubhán’s Head. His name sounds like the Irish word duán, meaning a fish hook, and so Hook Head acquired its name in English.

The entrance to the ‘Monks’ Chapel’ at the Hook Lighthouse (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

The Anglo-Normans landed in 1169-1170 at Bannow and Baginbun in south Wexford and Passage in Co Waterford, all visible from Hook Lighthouse. They quickly took over much of the south and east of Ireland, and Richard de Clare, Earl of Pembroke (‘Strongbow’) became Lord of Leinster.

Strongbow’s daughter Isabella married the powerful knight William Marshal in 1189, and he succeeded his father-in-law as Earl of Pembroke and Lord of Leinster. He founded New Ross, 30 km up river, as the port of Leinster, and in the early 13th century he began to develop Leinster, building castles, founding towns and bringing in English tenants.

The Lighthouse structures have survived since the early 13th century (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

The precise year of building the lighthouse is not known, but Marshal first came to the area in 1201, he died in 1209 and the first map that shows the lighthouse serving its function is dated 1240, so construction must have taken place between these dates. He probably built the tower of Hook in 1210-1230 as a landmark and light tower to guide shipping to his port at New Ross.

Exhibits in the lighthouse suggest Marshal was inspired by the Pharos or Great Lighthouse at Alexandria and the Crusaders’ Lighthouse at Acre which he would have seen during the Crusades.

The small group of monks at Hook Church at Churchtown nearby were the first custodians of the light. They became the first light-keepers and may have helped to build tower. For centuries, the light was provided by a coal-fire beacon. The monks lit warning fires and beacons all through the years to warn sailors of the dangerous rocks on the peninsula.

Climbing the 115 steps of the mural stairway within the wall of the Lighthouse (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Hook Lighthouse is a fascinating example of mediaeval architecture. The tower stands four storeys high, with walls up to four metres thick. The tower has three rib-vaulted chambers in the lower tier, while the upper, narrower section would have carried the warning beacon.

These two tiers are connected with a mural stairway of 115 steps within the wall. The tower was built of local limestone and the original building survives intact. The first tier is 13 metres in diameter at the base and has three storeys, each with its original 13th-century stone fireplace.

The thickness of the wall contains a number of mural chambers, including two garderobes or toilets. The upper tier is 6 metres in diameter: originally it supported the beacon fire, which was later replaced by the lantern.

The thickness of the wall contains a number of mural chambers (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Mediaeval references dating from 1245 show how the chaplains of Saint Saviour of Rindeaun, or Hook Church at Churchtown, were urged to maintain the lighthouse. The monks left the tower at the dissolution of the monastic houses during the Reformation and were replaced by the lighthouse keepers.

For several centuries after it was built, the Tower remained under the control of the civic authorities in New Ross. Annually, the Sovereign or Mayor of New Ross and the burgesses or town councillors asserted their authority over the waters at the Hook by firing an arrow into the sea at Hook Head.

A new, coal-burning lantern was installed at the top of the tower in 1671 to replace the old beacon light, and further improvements were made in 1704.

The monks left the tower at the dissolution of the monastic houses during the Reformation (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Meanwhile, the ownership of the Hook and the tower passed to Henry Loftus of nearby Loftus Hall. Nicholas Loftus, known as the ‘Extinguisher,’ threatened to close the lighthouse in 1728 unless the authorities agreed to an increase in the rent he collected.

The coal fire was finally abandoned in 1791 when a whale oil lantern 12 ft in diameter was installed with 12 lamps was installed.

An Act passed by Parliament in 1810 transferred control of all lighthouses on the Irish coast to the Corporation for Preserving and Improving the Port of Dublin.

New gas lights were installed in the Hook Lighthouse in 1871, lit by gas manufactured in the enclosure known as the gas yard.

Fog signals at the lighthouse were a warning to seafarers during dense fog that can descend suddenly on the peninsula. The fog signal was essential in days before radar and radio. Fog guns at the cliff edge were fired every 10 minutes. These were replaced by explosive charges set off at the top of the tower on an extending arm. Finally, a compressed air horn or hooter blasted every 45 seconds during fog.

Three houses were built for the lighthouse keepers in the 1860s. Paraffin oil became the source of power in 1911, and a clockwork mechanism changed the light from fixed to flashing. This mechanism had to be wound up every 25 minutes by the keeper on duty.

Finally, in 1972, electricity became the power source, and light-sensitive switches were installed to control the lantern. The Hook Lighthouse was converted to automatic operation in March 1996, and the last light-keepers who had climbed the stairs and tended the light for generation were withdrawn from the station. The lighthouse.

The lighthouse was automated in 2011 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

The Hook’s foghorn was heard for the last time in January 2011, when all the foghorns were turned off. It was felt that the technology on modern ships was so advanced that the foghorn was no longer needed.

The lighthouse is now operated by the Commissioners of Irish Lights, the Irish lighthouse authority, and is monitored remotely from Dun Laoghaire. Despite local claims, the Hook Lighthouse is the second oldest operating lighthouse in the world, after the Tower of Hercules in Spain.

The old keepers’ houses were turned into a visitor centre and the lighthouse was opened to the public as a tourist attraction in 2001. The visitor centre includes a gift shop, art workshop, exhibits and a café, and guided tours are available seven days a week.

The guided tour takes visitors up the 115 well-worn spiral steps of the tower to explore the thick-walled chamber, following in the daily and nightly steps of the former light keepers.

A life-sized hologram figure of Saint Dubhán tells of dark and cold nights spent with his fellow monks in the fifth century warning sailors against the dangers with a beacon they kept alight on the headland.

Further up, Strongbow’s son-in-law, William Marshal, is introduced as ‘the greatest knight that ever lived.’ Marshal’s hologram tells of his empire in south-east Ireland and how he built the lighthouse tower in the 13th century to guide shipping up the estuary and the river to his port at New Ross.

The balcony offers spectacular views across the Hook Peninsula, over Waterford Bay and out across Saint George’s Channel, where the Irish Sea meets the rolling Atlantic.

Looking out to sea from the tower (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

In June 2011, Hook Lighthouse was listed first by the Lonely Planet among the ‘Top 10 Flashiest Lighthouses,’ was described as ‘the great granddaddy of lighthouses.’

The phrase ‘by Hook or by Crook’ was used by Washington Irving in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (1820) and by Ernest Hemingway in The Snows of Kilimanjaro (1938), and the phrase was featured in the opening scene in the British television series The Prisoner (1967):

No 6: Where am I?
No 2: In the Village.
No 6: What do you want?
No 2: Information.
No 6: Whose side are you on?
No 2: That would be telling. We want information… information… information.
No 6: You won’t get it.
No 2: By hook or by crook, we will.

Having visited the Lighthouse at Hook Head, I went in search of the origins of the phrase ‘by Hook or by Crook’ – did it originate with Strongbow’s determination, or Cromwell’s, to capture Waterford, by fair means or by foul?

It is highly unlikely that Strongbow spoke English, still less that he spoke it well enough to make rhyming puns in the heat of battle, or that he knew the intimate details of local topography long before the area had been conquered – or properly mapped.

The first recorded use of the phrase ‘by hook or by crook’ is in 1380 in the Controversial Tracts of John Wyclif.

The origin of the phrase is obscure, with one explanation that it comes from the customs regulating which firewood local people could take from common land: they were allowed to take any branches they could reach with a billhook or a shepherd’s crook.

So, the phrase was already in use for almost 300 years before Cromwell’s arrival at the gates of Waterford, which deprives historians of finding even a hint of humour or witticism in his language and commands.

The Lighthouse at Hook Head has a story that dates back 800 to 1500 years (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Praying through Lent with
USPG (24): 29 March 2019

‘Veronica wipes the face of Jesus’ … Station VI in the Stations of the Cross in the Friars’ Graveyard at Gormanston College, Co Meath (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

During Lent this year, I am using the USPG Prayer Diary, Pray with the World Church, for my morning prayers and reflections.

USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) is the Anglican mission agency that partners churches and communities worldwide in God’s mission to enliven faith, strengthen relationships, unlock potential, and champion justice. It was founded in 1701.

This week (24-30 March), the USPG Prayer Diary is focussing on the theme of Gender.

The Prayer Diary introduced this week’s theme on Sunday [24 March 2019] with a report from on the Skills Training Programme for Women and Girls, in Kurnool, an initiative of the Nandyal Diocese in the Church of South India.

Friday 29 March:

Pray for the Women’s Skills Training Centre in Kurnool, that the training it provides may teach skills that will change the lives of women and young girls for the better.

The Collect:

Merciful Lord,
Grant your people grace to withstand the temptations
of the world, the flesh and the devil
and with pure hearts and minds to follow you, the only God; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Lenten Collect:

Almighty and everlasting God,
you hate nothing that you have made
and forgive the sins of all those who are penitent:
Create and make in us new and contrite hearts
that we, worthily lamenting our sins
and acknowledging our wretchedness,
may receive from you, the God of all mercy,
perfect remission and forgiveness;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Continued tomorrow

Yesterday’s reflection

28 March 2019

Lenten Study Group 2019:
2, The Nicene Creed

An icon of the Council of Nicaea, with the Emperor Constantine and the bishops holding a scroll with the words of the Nicene Creed

Patrick Comerford

Lent Study Group 2019:

The Rectory, Askeaton, Co Limerick

2, The Nicene Creed,

8 p.m., 28 March 2019


Four Lenten study evenings are taking place in the Rectory at 8 p.m. on Thursdays in Lent. These evenings are open to all parishioners and friends:

1, Thursday 21 March: The Apostles’ Creed;
2, Thursday 28 March: The Nicene Creed;
3, Thursday 4 April: The Athanasian Creed;
4, Thursday 11 April: The 39 Articles.

At one time, it was expected that all members of the Church would know and be able to recite the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments and the Apostles’ Creed.

These were once the minimum requirement for Confirmation, and to ensure everyone could learn them by rote then were often painted on boards behind the altar or on the east end walls in parish churches.

Today, few people may know the Apostles’ Creed by heart, and fewer still may know that while the Apostles’ Creed has its origins in the confession of faith required in the Early Church in Rome for Baptism.

How many people know, for example, that we use the Apostles’ Creed at Morning Prayer and Baptism, and it is the Nicene Creed that we use at the Eucharist or Holy Communion?

The Preamble and Declaration (see Book of Common Prayer, pp 776-777), which could be described as the constitutionally foundation document of the Church of Ireland, says that the Church of Ireland shall ‘shall continue to profess the faith of Christ as professed by the Primitive Church.’

This evening we are looking at the Nicene Creed. Although it is not found in the New Testament, Anglicans have always accepted it as one of the ‘Ecumenical Creeds,’ alongside the Apostles’ Creed and the Athanasian Creed.

So, this evening we are looking the Nicene Creed, its origins, how we use it, asking how it differs from the Apostles’ Creed, and looking at its strengths and its weaknesses.

The ecumenical creeds as we understand them within the Anglican tradition are three in number: the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed and the Athanasian Creed.

The tomb of Lancelot Andrewes in Southwark Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The place of the Nicene Creed in Anglican understanding:

These three Creeds have long been accepted as an integral part of Anglicanism. Article 8 of the 39 Articles states: ‘The Three Creeds, Nicene Creed, Athanasius’ Creed, and that which is commonly called the Apostles’ Creed, ought thoroughly to be received and believed: for they may be proved by most certain warrants of holy Scripture’ (The Book of Common Prayer 2004, p 780).

The common focus in Anglican theology is based on an appeal to scripture, tradition, and reason. But this was expanded in the dictum of the early Caroline divine, Lancelot Andrewes (1555-1626):

‘One canon reduced to writing by God himself, two testaments, three creeds, four general councils, five centuries and the series of Fathers in that period … determine the boundary of our faith.’

In other words, Lancelot Andrewes is saying the tradition of the Church in Anglicanism finds its foundations in the three creeds – the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed – the decisions of the first four General Councils of the Church (Nicaea, 325; Constantinople, 381; Ephesus, 431; and Chalcedon, 451); the first five centuries of the history of the Church, and the corpus of Patristic writings.

In providing this succinct summary of the foundations of tradition, Andrewes was influential for all of Anglicanism. So, for example, after the Caroline restoration in the 17th century, John Bramhall (1594-1663), Archbishop of Armagh, declared that he would admit all to Communion, especially the Lutherans, but also Greeks, Armenians, Abyssinians, Russians, and all who confess the apostolic creed and accept the first four general councils, even Roman Catholics ‘if they did not make their errors to be a condition of their communion.’

In 1888, the third Lambeth Conference passed a resolution that led to the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral, which states that Christian reunion could be based on a number of principles, including the acceptance of ‘The Apostles’ Creed, as the Baptismal Symbol; and the Nicene Creed, as the sufficient statement of the Christian faith.’

In recent years, other creedal statements have made ecumenical contributions and had ecumenical impact. These include, for example, the Barmen Declaration, drawn up by Confessing Christians in Germany in opposition to the claims of the Nazis in the early 1930s, and the Kairos Declaration, published in South Africa at the height of resistance to apartheid.

As we look at the Ecumenical Creeds, we can ask ourselves:

● How relevant are these Creeds for today?

● What we would put in or keep out if we were asked to join the first committees set the tasks of writing the Creeds?

● What are the reasons for some people objecting to the creeds?

● What about some modern expressions of our faith in parallel creeds?

The Church of Aghia Sophia in Nicaea

The Nicene Creed:

Although we know the creed used at the Holy Communion or the Eucharist as the Nicene Creed, this is not what it actually is.

The Creed, which was approved at the Council of Nicaea in 325, was drawn up to defend the orthodox faith against Arianism, and includes the term homoousion (consubstantial, of one substance with) to express the relationship of the Father and the Son in the Godhead. Four anti-Arian anathemas were appended to the original Nicene Creed and came to be regarded as an integral part of the text.

But what we know and use as the Nicene Creed is a longer formula, used in the Eucharist in both the East and West. This is more accurately known as the ‘Niceno-Contstantinopolitan Creed.’ It is said to have been adapted at the Council of Constantinople in the year 381, although it may have been endorsed rather than drafted at that council, using the baptismal creed then in use in the Byzantine capital.

From the time of the Council of Chalcedon in the year 451, this Creed has been the defining creed of the church.

Some foundational assumptions

First of all, let us look at some of the presumptions we can bring to this evening’s discussion:

1, The Creeds are formative:

The Creeds help us to approach the essential importance of what we believe, as Christians, and why. They have served this purpose for most of us throughout our experience of worship, perhaps since early childhood. They are an expression of the faith of the Church, not of the individual Christian.

2, The Creeds are for use in worship:

The Vatican wants to return to using the words ‘I believe …’ at the opening of the Creeds. The Nicene Creed as in Holy Communion I in The Book of Common Prayer 2004 opens: ‘I believe …’ (The Book of Common Prayer, p 182). The Apostles’ Creed in Morning Prayer is also expressed as an individual statement of faith: ‘I believe …’ (pp 95, 112). But in the modern versions, the Nicene Creeds opens with the words: ‘We believe …’ (p 205).

The English language version is based on the Latin version that opens in the singular, Credo in unum Deum … But the original Greek version opens with that statement in the first person plural, Πιστεύοµεν εἰς ἕνα Θεὸν …

The Nicene Creed, like the Apostles’ Creed, is best spoken in communion with other Christians, and is only best understood within the context of an act of worship. At first glance it does not appear to be a prayer. Who are they addressed to?

If we think of them as canticles, like Gloria or Magnificat, we can find ourselves using them in worship in new and surprising ways.

3, We can meditate on the Creeds:

Despite their primary place in worship, the Creeds are a mystical statement of our faith, and, of course, we can meditate on them, in the same way as we can meditate on a piece of spiritual writing, prayers from our favourite prayer books, psalms, canticles or readings from Scripture.

By meditating on them, phrase-by-phrase, we can bridge the historical and the contemporary, the popular and the ecclesial, the objective and the subjective.

In an exercise like that, we can bring together our catholic heritage (objective creed) with an evangelical response (its personal and communal meaning).

The Nicene Creed and the Four Ecumenical Councils:

Like most doctrinal statements, the Nicene Creed was not written in one sitting, nor was it written in a vacuum. This creed was developed, worded, phrased and edited at the Ecumenical Councils of Nicaea (325), Constantinople (381), Ephesus (431) and Chalcedon (451), and the version we have in The Book of Common Prayer (2004) is not the one and only, definitive, ecumenical version.

An icon of the Council of Nicaea

The First Ecumenical Council, Nicaea (325):

At the first draft of the Nicene Creed in 325, the principal was the heresy of Arius of Alexandria, a priest who taught, among other peculiar beliefs, that Jesus Christ, ‘The Son,’ was a creation of the ‘The Father.’

A popular way of expressing this belief for those who agreed with Arius was: ‘There was a time when he [The Son] was not.’ Arius taught that the Father, in the beginning, created (or begot) the Son, who then, with the Father, created the world. For Arius, then, Christ was a created being; his ‘god-ness’ was removed.

Alexander, the Patriarch of Alexandria, summoned Arius for questioning, and Arius was subsequently excommunicated by a council of Egyptian bishops. In exile in Nicomedia, Arius wrote in defence of his beliefs. His following and influence grew to the point that the Emperor Constantine called a council of bishops in Nicaea (Νίκαια, present day İznik), where the first draft of what we now call the Nicene Creed was promulgated by a decided majority as a creedal statement of faith – and a firm rejection of Arius’ teaching that Christ was the ‘begotten’ son of an ‘unbegotten’ Father.

The principal argument for the full deity of Christ was made by Athanasius, a deacon in Alexandria who later succeeded Alexander as Patriarch of Alexandria. The Creed the bishops assented to in 325 is, for the most part, contained in the Nicene Creed as it appears in the Book of Common Prayer (2004), beginning with ‘We believe in one God …’ and ending immediately after ‘in the Holy Spirit’ (The Book of Common Prayer, p 205).

The purpose was clear: to refute the teachings of Arius and to affirm the orthodox doctrine of One God in Three Persons with specific attention to the Christology of the Son.

The Second Ecumenical Council, Constantinople (381):

However, the Council of Nicaea did not end the Arian controversy. By 327, the Emperor Constantine had begun to regret the decisions of 325. He granted an amnesty to the Arian leaders and sent into exile Athanasius, by now Patriarch of Alexandria, who continued to defend Nicene Christianity.

An additional heretical teaching by Macedonius – who was twice Bishop of Constantinople (342-346, 351-360) – denied the divinity of the Holy Spirit. The followers of Macedonius were referred to as pneumatomachians or ‘fighters of the spirit.’ These pneumatomachians also believed that God the Son was a similar essence of substance as the Father, but not the same substance.

Macedonianism taught that the Holy Spirit was not a person – or hypostasis – but merely a power of God. The Spirit, then, was inferior to the Father and the Son.

Yet another group, led by Bishop Apollinarius, who opposed the teaching of Arius, argued that Jesus did not have a human soul and was not fully human.

In 381, the Emperor Flavius Theodosius convoked the First Council of Constantinople, the second meeting of bishops (also known as the Second Ecumenical Council). Among the influential theologians at the time were Saint Gregory of Nazianzus, Patriarch of Constantinople, who presided at the Second Ecumenical Council, and Saint Gregory of Nyssa, two of the Cappadocian Fathers – the third being Saint Basil the Great.

The Cappadocian Fathers

At that council, the bishops reaffirmed and expanded the Nicene Creed of 325 to address further questions about Christ’s divinity and humanity. They added five articles to the Creed concerning the Holy Spirit: the Lord, the giver of life; who proceeds from the Father (see John 15: 26); who is worshiped and glorified with the Father and the Son; and who has spoken through the prophets.

This expanded and modified Creed became the definitive document on the doctrine of the Trinity: one God in three persons or hypostases. Although more Councils and heresies followed, the Creed was essentially codified in 381 and received in 431 when the Council convened to discuss the Nestorian controversy.

Saint Mary’s Basilica … the Double Church where the Council of Ephesus met in 431 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Third Ecumenical Council, Ephesus (431):

The Emperor Theodosius II called the Third Ecumenical Council at Ephesus in 431 to address the Nestorian controversy. Saint Cyril of Alexandria was a central figure in the Third Ecumenical Council as its spokesperson and president.

Nestorius, who was Patriarch of Constantinople, objected to the popular practice of calling the Virgin Mary the ‘Mother of God’ or Theotokos (‘the Bearer of God’). Nestorius taught that the Virgin Mary gave birth to the man, Jesus Christ, not God the Logos.

Nestorianism taught the Logos only dwelt in Christ, whose physical body provided a kind of temple for the Logos. Nestorius promoted the term Christotokos for Mary: the Mother of Christ (‘the Bearer of Christ’).

Having summoned Nestorius three times to no avail, the Council condemned his teaching as erroneous and stripped him of his bishopric. The council declared Christ to be both a complete man and complete God, and upheld the Virgin Mary as Theotokos because she gave birth not just to a man. The Council declared the text of the Creed, in its present form of 325 and 381, as complete and forbade any changes.

The Fourth Ecumenical Council at Chalcedon in 451

The Fourth Ecumenical Council, Chalcedon (451):

Flavius Marcianus, Emperor of the Eastern Roman or Byzantine Empire (450-457), called the Fourth Ecumenical Council at Chalcedon (Χαλκηδών, present-day Kadıköy), across the Bosporus from Constantinople and now a suburb on the Anatolian side of Istanbul.

Once again, this council was concerned with the nature of Jesus Christ. Monophysitism, from the Greek mono (one or alone) and physis (nature) argued the Christological position that Christ had only one nature, which was Divine. While Christ was human, they believed, his less-perfect human nature was dissolved into his more perfect divine nature.

The council condemned Monophysitism and reaffirmed that Christ has two and complete natures as defined by previous councils. These two natures, the Council argued, operate harmoniously and without confusion. They are not divided or separate, as the Nestorians argued; nor did they undergo any change, as the Monophysites contended.

The Council gave a clear and full statement of orthodox Christology in a document defining the union of the divine and human natures of Christ. This document, which concentrates specifically on the nature of Christ, reflects a very clear, final statement on the orthodox theology that Christ is at once man and God.

The statement declares that is the unanimous teaching of the Church that Christ is perfect in humanity and in divinity; truly God (an Alexandrian notion) and truly man (an Antiochian notion); consubstantial with God and with humanity. It established the absolute limits of theological speculation, using words like ‘unconfusedly,’ ‘unchangeably,’ ‘indivisibly’ and ‘inseparably.’

For Anglicans, the 1888 Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral does not list the Chalcedonian Creed among the fundamental doctrines for Communion based on scriptures, creeds, sacraments and the historic episcopate.

The Chalcedonian Creed does not appear to contain any doctrine concerning the Holy Spirit, nor does it use the word Trinity. This is a single paragraph lifted from a larger document that speaks about the decisions reached at Nicaea in 325 by the ‘318 Fathers’ in attendance and at Constantinople in 381 by the ‘150 Fathers’ in attendance.

The filioque … ‘and from the Son’

A heavily disputed clause was added to the Nicene Creed in 589 by the Third Council of Toledo primarily to counter Arianism among the Germanic peoples. Where the original Creed reads ‘We believe in the Holy Spirit … who proceeds from the Father,’ the amended creed reads ‘… from the Father and the Son.’

Pope Leo III forbade the addition of the filioque clause (the words ‘and from the Son’) and ordered the original Nicene Creed to be engraved on silver plates so that his conclusion would not be overturned in the future.

The filioque clause was one of the causes that eventually contributed to the Great Schism between East and West in 1054. A resolution of the 1988 Lambeth Conference called for the removal of the phrase ‘and the Son,’ but it still appears in the 2004 Book of Common Prayer.

Andrei Rublev’s icon of the Holy Trinity: an invitation to enter into the mysteries expressed in the Creed

Reading the Nicene Creed

A useful framework for reading the Nicene Creed is provided in the Orthodox Church, where the Nicene Creed is sometimes divided into 12 sections for catechesis. Each of these 12 sections of the Creed is helpful as we pray and enter into the mystery of the Creed:

We believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is,
seen and unseen.

The Father, the One who is Creator, cannot be seen by his human creatures. Yet all authority in heaven and on earth belongs to the Father.

The earlier version in the Book of Common Prayer (p 182) says:

‘I believe …
and of all things visible and invisible:’

The Apostles’ Creed says nothing about ‘all that is, seen and unseen.’

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father.
Through him all things were made.

Instead of ‘eternally begotten,’ the earlier translation says ‘begotten … before all worlds.’

Instead of ‘true God from true God,’ it says, ‘Very God of very God.’

Instead of ‘of one Being with the Father,’ we had ‘Being of one substance with the Father.’

Instead of ‘Through him all things were made,’ we had ‘By whom all things were made.’

The Apostles’ Creed omits everything from ‘eternally begotten of the Father …’ to ‘through him all things were made.’
Christ, the Word and Son of God, is at the centre of all creation, and through whom all things are made.

For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven,
was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary,
and was made man (truly human).

The Apostles’ Creed says nothing about our salvation, nor does it say he was ‘incarnate by the Holy Spirit.’

Earlier this week, we celebrated the Feast of the Annunciation (25 March 2019). What do we mean by saying he ‘was incarnate by the Holy Spirit’?

For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.

The Apostles’ Creed makes no reference to ‘us and our salvation.’

We are just a short time away from Holy Week, three weeks away to Good Friday (19 April 2019), three weeks from recalling the Cross, the death of Christ. The Cross is the place where death and life confront each other, where death gives way to resurrection and eternal life.

On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;

The highlight of Lent is not Good Friday … it is the Resurrection and Easter Day.

There is no reference in the Apostles’ Creed to the Scriptures.

What is meant here by the Scriptures? Is the resurrection a story we are to find in the Gospels and the Epistles? Or was it fulfilling the promises of Scripture already received?

he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

The Ascended Christ, the Son, is now seated at the right hand of the Father.

The figure at the right hand of an emperor or king was his spokesperson, his word. What he said was the word of the king himself.

He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.

Instead of ‘the living and the dead’ we once said ‘both the quick and the dead.’

The Apostles’ Creed does not refer to the kingdom without end.

This is the Christ who will return again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and to usher in his Kingdom, which will have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit,
the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father
[and the Son]
who with the Father and the Son is worshipped and glorified,
who has spoken through the prophets.

The Apostles’ Creed makes a very cursory acknowledgement of the Holy Spirit.

The action of the Holy Spirit transfigures and transforms, and it is through the Holy Spirit that we are invited to experience new life, especially through the Holy Mysteries of Baptism, Chrismation (Confirmation), Eucharist, and Marriage.

The Spirit pointing us towards the Word, revealing to us who Christ is. The Son is begotten of the Father, the Spirit proceeds from the Father.

The Orthodox prayer to the Holy Spirit begins: ‘O Heavenly King, Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, who art everywhere present and fillest all things, Treasury of blessings and Giver of Life …’ In the Creed, the Holy Spirit is the Lord, the Giver of Life. This sense of the Spirit as the source of life, everywhere present, filling all things, contributes to one of the distinctive insights and approaches of Orthodox theology, which is intimately bound up with daily life. There is no such thing as theology which is purely intellectual. If theology fails to change me, if it fails to flood me with light, then it is ineffective.

We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.

The earlier version omitted the word holy, saying instead ‘one Catholic and Apostolic Church.’ The Apostles’ Creed says refers simply to ‘holy catholic Church.’

‘The Church is the body of Christ, the fullness of the Holy Spirit, and the abode of the Holy Trinity. It is not primarily a sociological phenomenon, but a gift of God the Holy Trinity. That is why we speak in the Church about the mystery of the graced human person living in time the eternal mystery of the Trinity.’ – [The Church of the Triune God: The Cyprus Agreed Statement of the International Commission for Anglican-Orthodox Dialogue, 2006, I/22, p 18.]

We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.

The Apostles’ Creed says nothing about baptism or the forgiveness of sins.

Every human person is made in God’s image, and as such is made in the image of the Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Each person who is baptised actually enters into the life of the Trinity in a unique way, and takes his or her first steps on the path toward divinisation – a path only to be realised in its fullness in the eschaton.

We look for the resurrection of the dead,

The Church is the Communion of Saints, and the promise of the resurrection is for both the living and the dead.

and the life of the world to come. Amen.

How do we give evidence of our vision of the future, the coming of the kingdom and the life of the world to come?

How relevant are the creeds today?

We all know how church reports are produced. If you were asked to join a committee drafting the Apostles’ Creed or the Nicene Creed, what phrases or sayings would you keep in? What would you say is importance to a relevant and contemporary expression of the Christian faith today that has been omitted from the two Creeds most used in the Church of Ireland today?

This exercise is best done in small groups where we can look at the two Creeds, and compare and contrast them.

In our discussion, let us think of:

● three things you would delete;

● three things you would want to expand on;

● three things you would want to include that are not there now.

Difficulties with the Creeds

Can you imagine the different kinds of experience many have with the creeds:

● Some are suspicious of authority, and want to come to truth-claims in individualistic ways.

● Others are not yet prepared to make professions of faith, and have intellectual questions about issues arising from the creeds.

● Some individuals and congregations find the creeds to be irrelevant to daily life, and see little need for them in worship. I am sure some of us are aware of a handful of parishes that can go Sunday-after-Sunday without using the Lord’s Prayer and the Apostles’ Creed, and the Nicene Creed.

How do we discover the connections between a profession of faith during Sunday worship, our struggle with issues that are in the Creeds or not in the Creeds, and our daily lives, the decisions, dilemmas and actions we face each day?

Difficulties and possibilities in working through the phraseology:

Some of the difficulties people can have with the Creeds and phrases in them would never have arisen at the time they were drafted:

God as ‘Father’ prompts questions about sexism.

God as ‘maker of heaven and earth’ leads to reflections on faith and science. How does this relate to the Dawkins debate?

That Christ ‘suffered’ surely relates to the sufferings of his followers too, the sufferings of the Body of Christ. How do we understand the suffering of Christ and the problems surrounding suffering in the world today? Why does God allow suffering? This is the problem we know in theology as theodicy.

His descent into hell forces questions about the impossibility of a godless world. There is a debate at the moment between Roman Catholic theologians about the descent into hell.

● Are there reaches in the depths of hell that Christ cannot descend to?

● If so, are there parts of me, or some people, that are beyond redemption?

● If so, then how can Christ be God incarnate if all things are not possible for him?

● If not, then what do we mean about salvation and redemption?

● Are there dangers of slipping into universalism?

● And why do we see them as dangers?

To believe in the Holy Spirit is to acknowledge the necessity of change in the individual and new creation in the community. Where does the Holy Spirit dwell today?

That the creed is completed with an affirmation of hope – ‘the life everlasting’ – is surely a cause for gratitude and praise.

Our ancestors in the faith stood to say these words, they reflected on them, and they put them into practice. To claim this life, summarised in the Creeds, is to say yes to the riches of a glorious heritage from the past and also to the present life that is given to us, as well as to the future. Have you thought of life everlasting from that perspective?

Some other objections to the Creeds

Some of the other objections to the creeds that we might discuss include:

1, The filioque: this phrase was introduced into the Nicene Creed in the early Middle Ages in a series of unilateral decisions in the Western Church.

The words ‘and from the Son,’ are a Western addition to the Creed as it was originally agreed on by a Council representing the whole Church, East and West.

They correspond to the Latin word filioque (fili = Son, -o = from, -que = and), and the controversy about them is accordingly known as the Filioque controversy.

If we are looking for a statement that can be taken as common ground by all Christians, East and West alike, it clearly cannot include the filioque. On the other hand, Western Christians will be unwilling to have it supposed that they are repudiating the statement that the Spirit proceeds jointly from Father and Son.

Some would suggest that we print the Creed with the filioque either in brackets or omitted altogether, but with the understanding that, while assenting to the resulting statement does not commit anyone to belief in the Dual Procession of the Spirit, neither does it commit anyone to disbelief in the Dual Procession.

2, Sola Scriptura: those who hold to this principle, argue that the Bible is the only rule of faith, and nothing else should be imposed on believers. But in response, it could also be said that Arians and Jehovah’s Witnesses, for example, would also agree with this principle. How do we protect and ring-fence what we regard as essential doctrines or beliefs found in Scripture?

3, Freedom of conscience: Some fear that any required confession of faith might usurp ‘a tyrannical power over the conscience.’ But once again, what are the limits to the Christian faith beyond which a group or church loses its place within the mainstream Church? Are Non-Subscribing Presbyterians part of the Christian Church? What about Quakers? What about claims by Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons to be Christians? Who decides, and what tools or aids help us to decide within an ecumenical context?

4, Creedalism: There are those who argue that ‘Creedalism’ leads to nominal Christianity. They would say that a mental assent to the doctrines of the Creed has often served as a substitute for true conversion and has led to dead orthodoxy. But to even use a term like ‘dead orthodoxy’ demands some definition of orthodoxy.

5, Limiting the bounds of knowledge: Some argue that the use of confessions or creeds could give a false confidence that the truth in Scripture is exhausted by that confession or creed and thus true growth in the knowledge of the Scriptures becomes difficult. They say there is a danger that someone could feel that knowledge of the confession is enough and will consequently isolate himself from the dynamic of the living Word of God.

6, Restricting inquiry: Still others might say a creed can be used to repress genuine searching, to give artificial answers to questions, and to threaten those who are in a stage of inquiry and so tyrannise the tender consciences of believers.

7, What they leave out: If, as the Reformers said, the Church is where the Word of God is preached and the Sacraments are duly ministered (see Article 19, for example), where are these referred to in the Creeds? Apart from one passing reference to one baptism in the Nicene Creed, there is no other reference in the creeds to Baptism, the Eucharist, preaching or the mission of the Church; and there are no references to the implications of faith for discipleship, daily life and ethics ... there are no references to morality, sexuality, family life, slavery, sexism, business ethics, personal behaviour, because they are about Orthodoxy and not about Orthopraxis.

8, What they leave in: Does the Athanasian Creed say we believe in salvation (and damnation) by works? It says:

And they that have done good shall go into life everlasting:
and they that have done evil into everlasting fire.

Some concluding thoughts

God creates all people, men and women. He creates out of love, for a specific purpose, making our destiny eternal life with him. This destiny is called divinisation, and it means that we are created to experience life within the Trinitarian communion of persons.

What exactly this divinisation consists in we do not know, for it is a mystery known only by God. Our participation in the life of the Trinity will not make us sharers in this mystery in the same way each of the Persons in the Godhead shares in it. But God has, in a very real way, entered into the mystery of our humanity, so that we may enter into the mystery that is his communio personarum. Saint Athanasius said: ‘For the Son of God became man so that we might become God.’ By this he did not mean that we will become divine ourselves, but that through his incarnation in Jesus Christ, God has invited us into his life.

‘The deification … of the creature will be realised in its fullness only in the age to come, after the resurrection of the dead,’ Vladimir Lossky has written. [Vladimir Lossky, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church (Crestwood, NY: Saint Vladimir’s Press, 2002), p 196.]

‘This deifying union has, nevertheless, to be fulfilled ever more and more even in this present life, through the transformation of our corruptible and depraved nature and by its adaptation to eternal life. If God has given us in the Church all the objective conditions, all the means that we need for the attainment of this end, we, on our side, must produce the necessary subjective conditions: for it is in this synergy, in this co-operation of man with God, that the union is fulfilled. This subjective aspect of our union with God constitutes the way of union which is the Christian life.’

Selected reading:

The Book of Common Prayer, the Church of Ireland, 2004.

Alison, CF, The Cruelty of Heresy (London: SPCK, 1994).
Ayers, Lewis, Nicaea and its Legacy (Oxford: OUP, 2004).
Bettenson, H, and Maunder, C (eds), Documents of the Christian Church (Oxford, OUP, 3rd ed, 1999).
Challenge to the Church: The Kairos Document (London: Catholic Institute for International Affairs and British Council of Churches, 1985/1989).
Geitz, ER, Gender and the Nicene Creed (New York: Church Publishing, 1995).
Gregorios, Paulos, Lazareth, WH, and Nissiotis, NA (eds), Does Chalcedon divide or unite? (Geneva: World Council of Churches, 1981).
Micks, MH, Loving the Questions: an exploration of the Nicene Creed (New York: Seabury, 2005).
New Patterns for Worship (London: Church House Publishing, 2002).
The Road to Damascus: Kairos and Conversion (London: Catholic Institute for International Affairs and British Council of Churches, 1989).
Stevenson, J, and Frend, WHC, Creeds, Council and Controversies (London: SPCK, revised ed, 1989).
Young, Frances, The Making of the Creeds (London: SCM Press, 1991/2002).

Next week (3 April 2019): The Athanasian Creed.