R.I.P. Fr. Joe Cassidy – Principal of St.Chad’s, Durham

Joe Cassidy

It is with much sadness that we have learned that the Revd Canon Joe Cassidy died yesterday, 28 March, after a short illness. He was 60.

Joe was a frequent commenter on this Thinking Anglicans blog, and also a valued contributor to our ‘just thinking’ series, writing challenging and pastoral pieces from a sound scholarly position. In the wider world he was the Principal of St Chad’s College, Durham, a place where many of our clergy have trained and where he will be much missed. Before joining the Church of England he had been ordained priest in the Roman Catholic Church, and was a member of the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits, in his native Canada.

The Dean of Durham, Michael Sadgrove, was his neighbour in the city, and has written this personal reminiscence.

To his wife Gillian and to his children and family we send our condolences.

May he rest in peace!

Simon, Simon and Peter (‘Thinking Anglicans’)


Thanks to Simon Sarmiento, of ‘Thinking Anglicans’, for the above, brief;  ‘In Memoriam”

“Joe had been a distinguished Catholic philosophical theologian and ethicist whose fine mind was already being recognised in his student days. His specialism was the thought of the 20th century Canadian Jesuit theologian Bernard Lonergan. Joe was a Canadian himself (and had the accent to prove it). In due course he himself joined the Society of Jesus where among a wide range of involvements he was a much valued retreat conductor and spiritual director. Accompanying others of every age on their spiritual journeys was close to his heart all his working life.” – The Dean of Durham – 

This excerpt from a moving tribute from the Dean of Durham Cathedral, encapsulates the loving provenance of God in the life, ministry and witness of His servant, Fr. Joe Cassidy, whose untimely demise will have saddened those of his own community at St.Chad’s, Durham – as well as many of his admirers from around the Anglican Communion who have benefitted from his eirenic and learned articles, published on ‘Thinking Anglicans’ and in other media. 

A married man, with wife and children, ‘Papa Joe’ was nevertheless interested in defending the cause for acceptance by the Church of homosexuals, and others in the community who might be considered marginalised or otherwise of little account.

His early death (aged only 60) will be mourned by more than his immediate family and friends at St. Chad’s. May he now rest in peace and rise one day with his Lord in glory!

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

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‘FULCRUM’ Event: Is the C. of E. Doomed to Fail?

Is the Church of England drinking in the last chance saloon? An invitation to discuss the future at our next Pivot^Point event on Thursday 16th April…

Dear Fulcrum Subscriber,

We realise this is a very busy time of year for many. But we wanted to let you know about our next Pivot^Point event – happening in a few weeks time.

Pivot^Points aims to get the conversation going about how we can play our part in growing God’s Kingdom. This series will look at a wide variety of topics, but will always revolve around that core theme. The next event is happening on Thursday 14th April from 6-8pm.

Earlier this year, a series of reports were published by the Church of England. In this session, we’ll attempt to explain what they mean, assess their strengths and weaknesses and answer the fundamental question: Will the reform and renewal programme play a part in reversing the decline in numbers in our congregations?

Our two speakers are:

The Rt Revd Pete Broadbent – Bishop of Willesden. He is the Chair of the Spring Harvest Leadership Team and was a longstanding member of the General Synod. He chaired the Church of England’s task group on simplification which has recommended wholesale changes to the way the church is administered.

The Revd Dr Ian Paul – one of the leading Christian bloggers in the UK. He is Associate Minister of St Nic’s, Nottingham, Director of Publishing at Grove Books and an honourary (sic) lecturer at the University of Nottingham. Ian has written about the Church of England’s reform process – especially as it affects ministerial training.

Chairing the event is The Revd Rachel Marszalek - Vicar of All Saints, Ealing. She’s a prolific blogger, involved in New Wine Women, the Junior Evangelical Anglican Network and the General Secretary of Fulcrum.

The event is happening in the newly opened conference centre at St James the Less, Pimlico – located very close to Victoria tube station. All you need to do to secure your ticket is to register via eventbrite simply by clicking here (also click that link for more information on the event).

Please pass this invitation on to anyone in your church (or anyone else!) who may be interested in this fascinating and vital topic.

With every blessing for a profound and joyful Holy Week and Easter,

The Fulcrum Team

This widely advertised ‘Pivot-Point’ conference, to be hosted by the Church of England’s Evangelical ginger group ‘Fulcrum’, promises to be a lively encounter – especially for those con/evos in the Church of England who happen to contest the way in which their branch of the Anglican Communion is handling its affairs into the future.

 The two advertised Speakers at this ‘conference’ will be examining the ways in which ‘Fulcrum’ believes the Church of England may be resiling from its responsibility for evangelism – as the national Church in England and Wales

Ostensibly, this conference is set to concentrate on the proposed reorganisation of the way in which the Church – amongst other proposed reforms – intends to deal with the future resourcing of ministry, principally through the authority of diocesan bishops, who have the task of accepting candidates for ministry, but who now will also be responsible for choosing how and where their candidates will be theologically educated.

This, of course, may be seen to threaten the economies of existing theological schools and colleges (some in universities), whose faculties are currently funded either by Church Trusts or by the State.

A recent Letter sent by theologians from various theological schools has already been addressed to Church authorities, protesting at the expected devolution of their centralised provenance to the bishops of individual dioceses of the Church. This would seem, also, to hand over selection of candidates for ministry – formerly exercised by a central authority (once known as CACTM: Central Advisory Council for Training for the Ministry) – to the dioceses in which they will be expected to serve.

While this is a serious matter for the Church, and for the theological institutions that currently serve the Church’s purposes in theological education, there will, undoubtedly, be other concerns that will exercise the proponents of each side of the arguments in debate.

While Bishop Pete Broadbent - a modern, Evangelical Bishop in the Church of England – is keen to forward the reorganization of the Church’s administration, to bring about what he sees as its necessary stripping down for evangelical action; his co-Speaker, Dr. Ian Paul, ‘ Associate Minister (sic) of St Nic’s, Nottingham, Director of Publishing at Grove Books and an honourary (sic) lecturer at the University of Nottingham’ is an ardent web-campaigner against Gay clergy and Same-Sex Marriage. He  is also concerned that the Church of England may be falling short of what he sees as its conservative evangelical duty to maintain the status quo in its judgement of matters of sexual morality.

Oh, to be a fly on the wall at this upcoming conference! It will be most interesting to see how these two, high-profile, Evangelical campaigners in the Church of England will asses the strengths and weaknesses of their Church, at this Fulcrum ‘tipping-point’ .

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

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Jesus: “Go and sin no more” – or else??

6 Reasons Stone-Throwing Christians May Need To Retire “Go And Sin No More”


It’s one of the classic contemporary go-to Christian social media rebuttals.

Whenever two followers of Jesus are engaged in a debate about showing love to all people, and whether love is love or love is sin-tolerance, invariably one of them whips out this little ditty as their trump card:

“… yes, but Jesus does say ‘Go and sin no more’, right?”

Well, sort of.

This is a quote pulled from John 8:1-11, a story of Jesus encountering a woman caught in adultery and it’s an absolute essential playlist track for people who want to appear loving, while justifying a decidedly non-loving stance, often regarding “homosexuals”, people with tattoos, or in general, folks they feel uncomfortable about.

It’s also one of the most misused, problematic, and downright dangerous Scripture soundbites in history, and here are six reasons we need to drop it from the rotation immediately:

1) Jesus does say “Go and sin no more” here, but
… it may not have actually happened.

If you look carefully, you’ll notice that this passage in the Bible is in italics and is heavily footnoted with the admission that this passage was not in the earliest recorded manuscripts. This means that the section was added sometime later as the Bible was being collated, and its authorship is unconfirmed. While this does not disqualify the text, or mean that it wasn’t an actual event from the life of Jesus captured by the gospel writers, there is not consensus by any means. It’s difficult enough to form a theology based on any one passage of Scripture, but this one is less secure than others with regard to reliability. Yet even if we ignore all of this and take the passage as bearing the full of weight of Biblical canon, there are quite a few other things to consider when throwing stones with it.

2) Jesus does say “Go and sin no more” here, but…
 he also says a lot more.

Jesus was quoted as saying all kinds of things to all kinds of people in the gospels.

Sometime he confronts someone individually on an area in their lives that he wants them to change, sometimes he gives them clear direction on desired conduct, but so many other times he simply cares for them, sits with them, eats with them, serves them; without agenda or prerequisite or condition. In the feeding of the multitude for example, which all four gospel writers record, we Jesus showing compassion and providing sustenance for a crowd of thousands. He doesn’t screen them all first to find those who are worthy of the meal, he doesn’t demand some outward repentance before they can partake, and he doesn’t place behavioral conditions on their invitation.

He simply feeds all who are hungry. Love trumps theology. Actually, often love istheology.

Yes, Jesus says to one woman “Go and sin no more”, but he also says a lot more than that. It’s extremely dicey to use one phrase from the lips of Jesus, and claim that this was his only response.

3) Jesus does say “Go and sin no more” here, but… he also says something else justbefore that.

In their mad rush to instruct someone else to “go and sin no more”, so many Christians conveniently leave out the fact that immediately before this, he tells the watching crowds; those would-be judges, to ‘drop their stones’, after which they do and then walk away. The true power of this story is that in the end, it is one played out between one woman and Jesus: a sinner and a Savior.

The stone throwers get no say. They do not get to step in between another human being and Jesus. They are allowed no delivering of condemnation, no administering of justice, no bringing of another to repentance. They are dismissed by Jesus.

He alone gets to tell the woman to ‘go and leave’. He alone gets to do that today, too. God speaks individually to people’s hearts. His Spirit convicts. What words He chooses to speak is not our business. Using this story as a guide, we only get to receive and to obey the direct command, to drop our stones and leave.

4) Jesus does say “Go and sin no more” here, but… no one seems terribly concerned about her partner.

Adultery requires two people, at least if my understanding of anatomy holds. Yet there seems to be little concern among the stone-throwers here about the man involved, and that’s for good reason. The setting of this story is a theological trap designed to test Jesus; a Jewish rabbi who had exhausted the patience of the religious leaders, for pushing back against the prevailing rigid legalism of the day, one that often saw the letter of the law obscuring the spirit of the law. If the stone-throwers truly and purely wanted justice here, they would have brought the man to face punishment as well. Whether this was simply the case of a woman used as a religious prop to trip Jesus up, or whether there is some cultural gender bias on display we don’t know, but clearly the heart of the story here is not Jesus admonishing a sinner, it’s Jesus putting self-righteous sinners condemning another sinner, in their place. When we use this passage to police someone else’s conduct, we’re often unwittingly placing ourselves in the line of fire.

5) Jesus does say “Go and sin no more” here, but… he was speaking to a straight woman caught in adultery.

Jesus was addressing something here that he had clearly defined as a sin elsewhere in the gospels. He was speaking specifically to a heterosexual person committing adultery. When he references the “life of sin” she needs to leave, he is referencing that specifically and her solely. It is an individual direction to a specific person. We can’t simply remove this statement of Jesus from its context and slap it onto to someone else, simply because we want to. It is a story placed in the gospels for a specific purpose, and that purpose is not to provide us ammunition to call out people we disagree with.

Unless you’re talking to a straight person caught in the act of adultery, you may want to rethink attacking with this Scripture. (Actually, I’m hoping you’re already rethinking it).

6) Jesus does say “Go and sin no more” here, but… we don’t know if the woman actually did, and what Jesus’ reaction was if she didn’t.

Why does Jesus tell the woman to walk away from the life she’s living? We don’t really know, because Jesus refrains from doing something most of the modern stone throwers usually do: place a penalty on disobedience. He doesn’t say “Leave your life of sin or go to Hell”. He doesn’t say, “Leave your life of sin or I will shun and reject you.” He could simply be telling her to leave, because the life she is engaging is damaging her and he is calling her to a less hurtful, more joyful path. Jesus could be speaking here as a loving shepherd as much as a threatening judge. And since we don’t get a glimpse into the woman’s response, perhaps she, like the rest of us, means well and then quickly stumbles afterward. But that isn’t the point.

Again, Jesus and Grace get the last word.

Sadly, old habits are tough to break, and this short passage will continue to be used flippantly by Christians as a brutal, vicious weapon; out of context, regardless of the questions around its authenticity, and without consideration of the intent of the writer, but I hope that you’ll reconsider your own handling of the story.

The greatest truth about this passage, is that we don’t get to wedge ourselves between anyone else and Jesus.

My friends, be very, very careful of both the stones, and the Scriptures you throw out there at people.


“Thinking Anglicans’ (a favourite blog-site of mine)  blog led me to this extraordinary review of the dominical saying of Jesus, to the woman ‘caught in the act of adultery': “Go and sin no more”. The author of this article, John Pavlovitz posits a pretty convincing explanation of the circumstances in which Jesus issues such a word of pastoral counsel.

Most often seen – at least by conservative Christians – as a ‘Word of Warning’, John Pavlovitz essays the opinion that, rather than a word of warning against a qualification for Hell-fire and Damnation, this is uttered by Jesus as a purely pastoral injunction, designed to protect her from the problems associated with casual sexual associations – that are destructive: both of her own reputation, and also of the community ethic of protection against the consequences of such illicit relations.

When trying to explain this final word of Jesus, to the woman he has just rescued from community violence; I have expressed the thought that – in view of his obvious care for her in this particular situation; Jesus might well have said, in today’s language of rebuke: “Go and behave yourself – or you’ll find yourself in this pickle again!”

It is hard for me; as a priest, who takes very seriously the plea of Jesus at His crucifixion, when he asked God to forgive his enemies with the words: “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do”; to believe that Jesus would be any less gentle towards a woman, whose sin was somewhat less than that incurred by Jesus’ torturers and murderers.

When we realise that Jesus once said that goodness (holiness) “Belongs to God alone” – Matt.19:17 – we begin to understand that cultic purity might be less important to God than the realisation that, without God, our delusion of self-righteousness is vain. Only ‘in Christ’ are we able to overcome our human culpability for our sins. This is why, at the Feast of Christ’s Resurrection at Easter, we can proclaim: “Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us – there fore let us keep the feast: Not with the old leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth”. 

My very favourite hymn at this time of the year is that which begins with the words:

“My sing is love unknown – My Saviour’s love to me – Love to the loveless shown that they might lovely be. O, who am I, that for my sake, my Lord should take frail flesh and die?” (English Hymnal 86)

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

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C.of E. Theologians protest at Devolution of T.E. to Dioceses

Changes in training prompt resignation and protest letter

Madeleine Davies

by Madeleine Davies – ‘CHURCH TIMES’ – Posted: 27 Mar 2015 @ 12:12

Click to enlarge

Envisaging problems: Dr Sarah Coakley

A PROPOSAL to devolve decision-making about ministerial training to the dioceses, opposed by 17 theological educators in a letter to the Church Times today, prompted one member to resign from the task group behind it, it emerged this week.

The Revd Dr Sarah Coakley, professor of divinity at the University of Cambridge, sent a resignation letter to the group four days before the report – Resourcing Ministerial Education - was published (News, 16 January). In it, she lists several reservations about the report, warning that it is “anodyne and misleading”. She describes the devolution to the dioceses as “the most disturbing part . . . I must be blunt: I simply do not believe there is sufficient qualitative theological understanding in most of the dioceses to protect the sort of aspirations that this report promotes.”Resourcing Ministerial Education”, presented to the General Synod in February (News, 20 February), proposes that “decisions about training pathways for individuals should be made in the diocese, in consultation with the candidate.” A “standard level of grant for tuition” will be given to each recommended candidate from a central fund, to which all dioceses contribute. This grant “may be used in a range of ways as the diocese sees fit, providing the training is from an approved provider”.

In her letter, Dr Coakley writes that she agrees “wholeheartedly with all the goals and aspirations” of the report, which envisions a 50 per cent increase in ordinations by 2020.

But she goes on to warn that devolution to the dioceses will be “profoundly undermining of all these good goals. . . Indeed, since there is no theology of ministry articulated in the report itself, one can hardly expect one to emerge in the course of individual bishops making decisions about ‘flexible pathways’, or taking on over-50s candidates without a BAP.

“Further, as the report itself acknowledges (but does not resolve), a huge set of problems can be envisaged about how to deploy clergy around the country in places of greatest need or effective pastoral abandonment, given the new plan for the financial support of clergy training.”

She warns that “Synod is likely to sign on to this report without realising what its fuller implications are . . . Why is the threat to the future of some residential colleges, often voiced openly in the committee, hidden in the actual report?”

Dr Coakley’s concerns echo those outlined in a letter to the Church Times today, with which she agrees “wholeheartedly”. The letter warns that, if the devolution to the dioceses goes ahead, “a casualty will be the strong links built up over many years with university theology and religious studies departments” and that “the public, intellectual engagement of the Church of England with pressing contemporary issues will suffer accordingly”.

The signatories call for safeguards against cost being “the most important factor in determining an ordinand’s pathway of training and formation for ministry”, and warn that diocesan boards of finance will be discouraged from “investing in what will inevitably look like a higher-cost training route.”

On Tuesday, the Bishop of Sheffield, Dr Steven Croft, who chaired the task group, welcomed the letter. Previous reports had, he said, “affirmed the high value the Church places both on some ordinands engaging with university departments of theology and with the resourcing of future theological educators”.

He drew attention to a proposal in the current report for “special national funds” to “continue to resource gifted individuals”, including in “foundational theological work leading to teaching or research”. He also offered reassurance that “decisions made by dioceses about training pathways will not be made simply on the grounds of cost but will prioritise the formational needs of the candidate and the wider church expressed through the new Bishops’ Guidelines.”

The Revd Dr Jeremy Morris, Master of Trinity Hall, Cambridge, one of the letter’s signatories, said on Wednesday that there remained a lack of clarity about cost determining the pathway, or safeguards for the future of residential training: “That is why we feel it is very important to make this stand now.”

The chair of the northern DDO group, the Revd Peter Clement, said on Tuesday that “quite a lot of concern” had been expressed at a recent meeting about “losing central expertise if things are devolved to the dioceses”. He pointed out that “people are sponsored to be ordained in the Church of England as a whole, not just for one diocese.”

Alex Irving, an ordinand and DPhil candidate at the University of Oxford, said: “Preserving the traditional form of residential learning in collaboration with academic institutions will go a long way to ensuring the stability of focused learning and research through which the Church of England can contribute to, and be shaped by, contemporary theological scholarship.

“Moreover, the established links between the training of clergy and universities provides the necessary context for the development of those who will educate clergy in the future across the global Anglican Communion.”

Consultation on the report is under way, involving both the dioceses and theological educational institutions. Dr Croft said that he envisaged there being “firmed-up proposals” by early Autumn, and synodical scrutiny in February 2016.


With the diminution of financial resources in the Church of England for the training of new ordinands – of whom there is expected to be a surge of new entrants in the very near future – it seems that the Mother Church is advocating a more hands-on control and management of clergy theological  training by individual dioceses.

According to some of the signatories of the letter of professional theologians, who have expressed their doubts about this new move in clergy training, there are those who see an alarming devolution of the influence of residential Theological Colleges – a situation that might well see the closure of some of these establishments.

Here is the opinion of one of the signatories to the Letter:

“The chair of the northern DDO group, the Revd Peter Clement, said on Tuesday that “quite a lot of concern” had been expressed at a recent meeting about “losing central expertise if things are devolved to the dioceses”. He pointed out that “people are sponsored to be ordained in the Church of England as a whole, not just for one diocese.”

This indicates an opinion, shared by signatories, that the current central administration of theological education in the Church of England is too valuable an instrument to be  left in the hands of individual dioceses – to decide on where and how their candidates for ministry should be afforded appropriate theological formation.

The resignation of The Revd Dr Sarah Coakley, Professor of Divinity at the University of Cambridge, sends a serious warning to the authors of the report: “Resourcing Ministerial Education”. In her letter, she lists several reservations about the report, warning that it is “anodyne and misleading”. She describes the devolution to the dioceses as “the most disturbing part . . . I must be blunt: I simply do not believe there is sufficient qualitative theological understanding in most of the dioceses to protect the sort of aspirations that this report promotes.”

Bearing in mind the undisputed fact that candidates for the sacred ministry are generally put forward for ordination by their local bishop; one might see why the Church of England wants to de-centralise decisions to be made about what form of theological formation is recommended for a diocese’s individual candidates. However in de-centralising decisions like this; one may wonder how this will affect the viability of the current theological institutions, that exist for the theological education of Anglican students in a variety of contexts; suited, quite often, to the spiritual aspirations and churchmanship of the candidate concerned.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

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Holy Thursday/Good Friday – a Disciple’s Reflection

+ You knew your hour had come, Lord, when you

asked us all to share with you in one last meal.

So, in the room we gathered – innocent

of what it was you wanted us to know

about your passing – soon to be achieved.

+ How soon, not one of us had even guessed

until, in solemn ritual, you made it plain

that what we were about to share was more

than just the common loaf and cup you blest –

no less than resurrection from the dead!

+ But first, by sign and symbol you proclaimed

your Father’s will in making bread and wine

a sacrament – an essence of yourself –

to be surrendered, shortly, on the Cross;

uniquely, to redeem the world from death.

+ And then, as if to drive the lesson home –

about our need to practise servanthood –

your stooped to wash our feet, though Peter stood

in protest at this seeming blasphemy,

until your quiet word had cautioned him.

+ Then, when the meal was eaten, Judas left

to do what he determined was for best.

If only we had known his purpose to

betray you, his departure we’d delay,

not knowing yet that he would rue the day.

+ Our hearts were full of love for you that night,

unwary of the drama that would be

unravelled in Gethsemane, near dawn;

when, tired and weary, we would fall asleep,

while you, with God, your fateful tryst would keep.

+ Then came the Roman soldiers to arrest

you, Jesus, and our hearts were stricken sore –

to think that one of us had been the cause

of your betrayal to the Temple priests,

through whose authority you now were bound.

+ And then we followed you to Herod’s court

where Pontius Pilate washed his hands of you.

And after you refused to fight your cause:

committed you to crucifixion’s thrall –

Saviour and victim, sacrificed for all.

+ Your Blessed Mother Mary, and our John,

were with you to console you to the end.

While we, the rest of your disciples, fled –

afraid of what might happen if we stayed –

to share the price you knew that must be paid


Father Ron Smith (The Collection of N.Z. Poetry & Prose: Media Publishers Ltd. 2001)

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Judas – and the Pilgrimage to Nowhere

Pilgrimage to nowhere
26 March 2015 by Peter Stanford – ‘THE TABLET’

There has long been an ambivalence about the man who was both the ultimate betrayer and the means by which God’s plan was fulfilled. The author of a new book visits the lonely place where the renegade apostle took his own life

The short, stout, balaclava-wearing Greek Orthodox nun peers out round the half-opened red metal front gate of St Onouphrius’ Monastery. “You’re very lucky,” she pronounces.

Since the 1890s the monastery has been the only lived-in structure on Hakeldama, originally the Aramaic hagel dema, sometimes rendered as the Greek Akeldama, meaning “Field of Blood”, and the spot below the Old City of Jerusalem where Christian tradition holds that Judas Iscariot ignominiously committed suicide after betraying Jesus.

The monastery is a small, fortress-like compound, clinging to the rock face and surrounded by high walls. These are topped by barbed wire, above which peep the branches of trees. Perhaps a Judas tree, the pink-flowering Cercis siliquastrum, which got its name because, reputedly, its branches once played host to Judas’ rope?

“We’re closed,” says the nun, with a short-sighted smile, “but I’ll let you in.” The notice board outside specifies the monastery’s brief weekly opening hours, including this particular morning and this precise time, but it feels rude to point it out as she hospitably swings the door open.

We step into a wide, glazed porch area, with large picture windows looking out northwards towards the Old City, and the white, marbled steps made up of gravestones in the Jewish cemetery as they climb up the slopes of the Mount of Olives. Around us are a couple of dusty plastic tables with cellophane-wrapped floral covers, which might once have belonged in a cafe, long since abandoned. In one corner stands a small, crudely constructed piety stall with sachets of dried herbs for sale, plus booklets and prayer cards about St Onouphrius, a fourth-century hermit monk believed to be buried here. But, curiously, not so much as a passing reference to Judas.

There are, the nun reveals guilelessly, only two sisters living in the monastery now (a third died recently) and – here she gestures to the walled garden behind her, visible through an open gate – it is all getting too much for her. A pile of pruned olive tree branches and ripped-up geranium stalks lies by the entrance, waiting to be removed.

I’m starting to wonder if I’ve come to the wrong place, and eventually find a gap in her monologue to slip in the name of Judas. There is an immediate pause, and then the nun sighs impatiently. “You are welcome to look round,” she says, suddenly weary, “but the garden is private.” She turns to retreat into it.

“Is there a particular place in the monastery where Judas’ death is marked?” My question is addressed to her back. I’m choosing my words as neutrally as I can, but a part of me is hoping that she will point to a tree.

The nun shakes her head. “Our chapel is through there.” She points to an arch at the other end of the porch and then she really does disappear through the garden gate, closing it firmly behind her. I am left all alone in this peculiar place, where visitors apparently no longer come, and Judas is he-who-must-not-be-named.

I had not exactly been expecting an all-singing, all-dancing celebration of Judas’ life – the sort of dramatic re-enactment pumped out by an overhead projector onto a video screen that has become de rigueur in historic houses nowadays. But it had seemed reasonable, in planning this visit, and given the long – though admittedly thinning – trail of pilgrims’ accounts of coming to the spot, to hope for some sort of discreet memorial: a plaque, perhaps, to mark the supposed place of Judas’ death, with solemn words and an unspoken warning not to follow in the traitor’s footsteps; or else a prayer card on offer, or an invitation to light a candle, as an opening to a deeper reflection upon his story, and the still unresolved questions it poses.

Whether, for example, to abhor Judas, in line with the Church’s traditional and lurid blanket condemnation of him as Satan’s tool, or to be swayed by the gentle recasting of his role as God’s agent that has gone on in recent times. Out-and-out traitor or cog-in-the-wheel of a divine plan? That was the headline-making question reportedly posed in 2006 by Cardinal Walter Brandmüller, then the head of the Pontifical Committee for Historical Sciences.

Plain and white on the outside, save for the trademark onion dome of Greek Orthodox churches, the monastery’s chapel is small, cluttered and low-ceilinged, with stalactites of hanging lamps dividing up the inside space that is mostly burrowed out of the rock face behind. Its primary purpose, it quickly becomes apparent when I manage in the gloaming to locate the light switch, is to honour the obscure St Onouphrius.

Back in Jerusalem, layers of story, from whichever faith group was then controlling the city, are superseded by new layers, put down by new rulers, from a different faith tradition, once they wrest control. And on and on as the city has passed back and forth through the hands of Jews, Christians and Muslims to this day. Yet, probably because of all the competing claims to the ownership of the places that exist, now and apparently always, this is also a city where the surface layer of history is notoriously thin, allowing previous authorised versions to leak through.

Here at Hakeldama, the current top layer is a historically tenuous connection with a fourth-century hermit. Very little is known about Onouphrius, and even within these crumbs there is no real link to Jerusalem. No wonder so few people come to visit. So why has it happened? Why has the cult of an obscure saint been written so large as to all but obliterate the shadow that Judas’ corpse, hanging on the end of a rope, casts over his “bloody acre”?

I’m still puzzling over that one when a previous layer peeps through. As I search in the darkened corners of the chapel, I come across a single, dusty icon, dated 1912, hidden behind an Ovaltine-coloured marble plinth. It makes a crude but revealing attempt to weave Onouphrius into Judas’ traitorous tale. The richly decorated panel, in greens, reds and blues against a gold background, features most obviously the risen Christ in the centre, the blood still flowing crimson from the wounds made by the crown of thorns on his head. Around this dominant figure, though, is arranged a series of small vignettes, telling in chronological order those three best-known gospel episodes in Judas’ journey to this place. Plus an extra two.

It kicks off in the top left corner with Judas being rewarded for betraying Jesus to them by the Jewish chief priests with a swag bag, marked with the number 30 in red, in case there were any room for doubt as to what it contains. Judas’ countenance is monk-like behind his beard, but otherwise inscrutable – neither villainously licking his lips at the prospect of spending his ill-gotten gains, nor troubled by selling out his leader so cheaply.

The conventions of icon painting, favouring flat, two-dimensional, slightly featureless faces, rule out any strong hints as to the emotional or psychological temperature, but there is one visual clue. Judas’ hair has a copperish hue, the artist picking up on a long tradition in Christianity of portraying him as a red-head which, according to medieval writers, was the sure sign of a moral degenerate. Shakespeare, in As You Like It, likens Orlando’s hair to Judas’ red mop, describing it as “the dissembling colour” and one that reveals “a deceiver from head to toe”.

Moving over, in the top right-hand corner is the Judas kiss by which he identified his master to the soldiers in the Garden of Gethsemane. Here, Judas is much shorter than Jesus, as if to emphasise his moral inferiority. His upturned face now carries with it just a touch of malevolence. He purses his lips as he reaches towards the impassive, saintly face of God’s son to land his kiss, but there is no physical contact.

In the bottom left corner is the first addition – the remorseful scene from Matthew’s gospel that is usually overlooked in the standard three-act account of Judas’ place in Christian history. Here, an emotionless Judas attempts to hand back to the Jewish authorities the 30 pieces of silver, but fails, leaving the coins scattered on the floor.

Before moving on to his demise in the final corner, however, the icon painter conjures from nowhere an image of a heavenly angel giving the bread of the Eucharist to St Onouphrius, immediately recognisable from the other representations around the chapel by his Rapunzel-length white beard and simple loincloth of leaves, befitting a hermit monk living in the Egyptian desert.

The artist’s intention seems to be to substitute an image of the monastery’s patron saint receiving the Communion bread instead of Judas. In three of the four gospel accounts, Judas is named as attending the Last Supper, where Jesus inaugurates what remains the central sacrament of the Christian Church. Theologians have long been troubled by Jesus’ willingness to allow Judas to be there in this key event for the future life of his Church. This is, after all, an apostle who he knows is about to betray him. Here, that unease is clumsily sidestepped by painting out Judas and inserting Onouphrius instead.

The story can then move seamlessly back on track to its usual conclusion: the death of Judas, hanging by a rope from a branch. His robe is now green to match the foliage – compared to the blue or yellow of earlier – and his eyes are shut. His face is suffused, I cannot help thinking, with a kind of peace; certainly not agony, though potentially a wish to be forgotten. He doesn’t look like a man expecting Hell, the eternal fate Christian tradition has given him, in the company of his seducer, the Devil.

If it is oblivion Judas is seeking, however, then here at Hakeldama his wish has been granted. The backdrop to this concluding scene is blank. There is no representation of Hakeldama; not even a hint of a hill, a garden or the Jerusalem skyline. The place of the betrayer’s lonely demise has been moved to no man’s land – out of sight, out of mind.

Peter Stanford is a Tablet columnist. This article is adapted from his new book, Judas: the troubling history of the renegade Apostle, published by Hodder and Stoughton at £20.


Of the offerings on the Internet this morning, my eye caught this fascinating summary of a new book, by ‘Tablet’ Writer, Peter Stanford, on the Judas phenomenon. 

On a visit to Akeldama – the Field of Blood – where the former disciple Judas Iscariot was said to have hanged himself, after his betrayal of Jesus to the High Priest’s party in the Garden of Gethsemane – before his crucifixion and death at the hands of the Romans; the author discovers little to commemorate the the presence of Judas – except for some iconography representing the dramatic moments of the betrayal, the perfidious kiss, receipt of his 30 silver coins, and his attempt to return them to the Jewish authorities – presumably in an act of belated repentance for what had happened through his intervention.

I once heard that there is a strand of Orthodox belief that is inclined to teach that Judas has already been forgiven and rehabilitated by Jesus for his act of betrayal; so that it is all the more interesting to learn of this Greek monastic community, which seeks to preserve the memory of an obscure Saint – Onouphrius – who is seen in an icon to have replaced Judas as the recipient of the Eucharistic Bread at the Last Supper. Curious, too, is the fact that the iconographer chose to depict Judas’ kiss of betrayal as not actually being in contact with the face of Jesus – not unlike what is called the ‘air-kiss’ of casual observance today!

For me, personally the role and place of Judas in the Betrayal of Jesus has always been shrouded in mystery. I have always wondered whether the Love of God is so great, as to even have pardoned Judas – because of his obvious remorse which, though, came too late to avoid the awful consequences of his disaffection for Jesus. ‘Tis not, surely, beyond the bounds of possibility – especially when we heed the message of the Angel Gabriel to the Blessed Virgin Mary at her Annunciation: “For nothing is impossible for God!”

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

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First Female Diocesan Bishop in C. of E.

Press release From:

The Queen has approved the nomination of Venerable Rachel Treweek for election as Bishop of Gloucester.

The Queen has approved the nomination of the Venerable Rachel Treweek, BA, BTh, Archdeacon of Hackney, for election as Bishop of Gloucester in succession to the Right Reverend Michael Francis Perham, MA, whose resignation took effect on the 21 November 2014.

Notes for editors

The Venerable Rachel Treweek (nee Montgomery) aged 52, studied at Reading University and trained for the ordained ministry at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford. She served her first curacy at Saint George and All Saints, Tufnell Park in the Diocese of London from 1994 to 1997 and was Associate Vicar from 1997 to 1999.

From 1999 to 2006 she was Vicar at Saint James the Less, Bethnal Green and Continuing Ministerial Education Officer for the Stepney Episcopal Area. From 2006 to 2011 she was Archdeacon of Northolt in the Diocese of London. Since 2011 she has been Archdeacon of Hackney. In 2013 she was elected as Participant Observer in the House of Bishops for the South East Region.

Rachel is married to Guy, Priest-in-Charge of two parishes in the City of London.

Her interests include conflict transformation, walking and canoeing.


It just had to happen! Shortly after Australia appointed its First Female Diocesan Bishop, the Mother Church of England has come up with its own First Female Diocesan Bishop.

It took the Province of Canterbury (C. of E.) a while to get into gear with the appointment of Women Bishops – pipped at the post by the Province of York, which now has no less than two Women Bishops, both Suffragans and not Diocesan Bishops, but Bishops just the same.

However, Canterbury’s First Woman Bishop (of Gloucester) is also the First Diocesan Woman Bishop, a Bishop in the Church of England who will also be welcomed soon as the First Woman Bishop with a seat in the House of Lords. Now this really is a FIRST that only the Church of England – among all the Provinces of the world-wide Anglican Communion – can offer.

Here is the announced from the Church, received here today: 

The Church of England issued a press release welcoming the Royal Assent which includes this:

“Under the terms of the Act, the Venerable Rachel Treweek, Archdeacon of Hackney, who is announced today as the next Bishop of Gloucester will become the first female diocesan bishop to join the Bishops’ Benches in the House of Lords.

“Archdeacon Rachel will take the place vacated by the Bishop of Leicester, Tim Stevens, who retires on July 11. She will be introduced into the House of Lords after the summer recess”.

Now this really is progress!

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

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