Fr Thomas Plant, Anglican Priest and Comparative Theologian

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Good things come to those who wait

Good news! The world is going to end.

We don’t know how, or when, though there are plenty of people who think they do. The destruction of the world by nuclear Armageddon or coronavirus or climate change or asteroid is just around the corner, the newspapers say. And this is nothing new. The first hearers of the Gospel thought that they knew when the world was going to end, too. They thought they knew the signs, and they thought that it was coming soon. 

Now, there’s a date that every Christian should really know, and it is AD 70, the date where the Jewish temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans. This was the sign by which many faithful Jews thought they knew that the end of the world was coming. 

But Jesus told them that this was not the sign they should be looking for. The end of the world would not be heralded by the collapse of the social order, by institutions like the temple, or even by the extermination of all human life on earth, plan but by a catastrophe at the cosmic level. of course, Jesus didn’t know about the Big Bang and the big crunch theories, but surely he is talking about something like this, when the sun goes dark and the moon goes dull and the stars and planets fall. But, he says, nobody knows when it is going to happen. So, he says, stay awake! Be ready! Look for the signs of the Second Coming of the Son of Man. 

“Good things come to those who wait” used to be the strapline for Guinness beer adverts for over a decade. In one of them, an old man went off for a swim in the sea while he waited for the beer settle to perfection. But not anymore. They dropped those adverts in 2007. Maybe “waiting” doesn’t sell any more. 

You wouldn’t think so, to see the Christmas trees already out in the shops, but Advent is a time for waiting. Really, Christmas doesn’t start until 25 December. It goes on for twelve days, culminating with the Epiphany. And yet it seems that for many people, Christmas Day is the end of Christmas, not the beginning. Time to pack up your presents and dismantle the tree. The lead-up to Christmas, on the other hand, has become a time for rushing. A time for buying the right presents, working the extra shifts to afford them, getting ready to feed the five thousand, choosing which bits of the family to spend which days with. The pressure (for mothers in particular) to give everyone ‘the perfect Christmas.’ A time for stress, anxiety, panic buying.

So who is pushing it? Who is cracking the whip? Well, the same people who have appropriated every other Christian festival in the year to pressurise you into giving them money. The same people who put the Easter eggs out in January, the Hallowe’en gear out in September. It’s not in their interest to encourage you to wait. It’s not in their interest to give you time to meditate on higher things. It’s in their interest to rush you, push you, pressurise you into an endless cycle of purchase and consumption. As soon as they’ve given you one thing, they make you want the next, and they delude you into believing that that desire is coming from inside you. And so our calendar collapses into meaninglessness; times once set aside for rest and restoration of proper relationships, Sundays, holidays, all become nothing more than another “retail event.” As with time, so with space. The carpark and the shopping mall have replaced the churches which used to be at the heart of European and American communities, and it seems much of the rest of the world has followed suit. Instead, we’ve paved paradise, we’ve built glass and steel temples for the very idols which enslave our desires. We’ve enshrined the things we really serve. 

St Augustine once said to God in prayer, “our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.” Our hearts will never rest if they are set on the next and newest things. The marketeers will always be one step ahead, making sure that however much we have, we will always want more. To find rest, we must set our hearts on that which does not change. We must watch, and wait. And that is what Advent is about. It isn’t meant to be a season where we prepare frantically for Christmas gifts and meals. It’s not a matter of, “you’d better watch out, you’d better not cry, ‘cos Santa Claus is coming to town,” a sentiment I frankly find rather unsettling.  Because, for all Our Lord’s warnings to watch and wait, it’s not about being frantic and anxious at all. Rather, it is the season where we calm ourselves so that we are ready, waiting, in stillness for the second coming of Christ; for death, judgement, heaven and hell. For the end of time and space. 

But how is that good news? Well, let’s look for clues in the Gospel text:

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘In those days, after the time of distress, the sun will be darkened, the moon will lose its brightness, the stars will come falling from heaven and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory; then too he will send the angels to gather his chosen from the four winds, from the ends of the world to the ends of heaven.  ‘Take the fig tree as a parable: as soon as its twigs grow supple and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. So with you when you see these things happening: know that he is near, at the very gates. I tell you solemnly, before this generation has passed away all these things will have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.  ‘But as for that day or hour, nobody knows it, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son; no one but the Father.’

Mark 13:24-32

This whole passage is saturated with language about light. The sun, the moon, the stars and planets our sources of light, of life, of gravity, of stability. Their motions give order to time and space. But they are going to end. 

Now this sounds bad. But look at what is going to replace them when the Son of Man comes: the greater light of God’s glory. Now this is the same glory as the light which Moses saw in the burning bush, which made his face shine when he came down from Mount Sinai, which Elijah experienced when he was taken up to heaven in the chariot of fire, which the chosen Apostles saw in Jesus when he was transfigured on Mount Tabor, which all Twelve experienced as tongues of fire at Pentecost. This glory is the uncreated energy of God, the Father of Lights, whose reflection we have seen in Christ, very light of very light, the light which shines in the darkness and which the darkness cannot overcome. 

This is why Jesus brings in what otherwise seems a rather odd allusion to the fig tree. It’s a sign of summer. The light of God which will illuminate everything at the end of time is like a endless summer day, so bright and warm that it makes even the sun itself, the blinding source of all our life and light, seem like a miserable, dark winters day. And that is good news.

We can, however, turn it into bad news for ourselves. Every one of us has within our hearts the fountain of God’s light. We are temples of the Holy Spirit. But every one of us also has the freedom to close the doors on that light. This is why Jesus warns us to keep a careful watch on those doors. Repentance, turning into our hearts and knocking up the doors, is the way to open them to that light so that we can get used to it brightness and warmth here and now. When we take communion, Jesus enters within us and batters those doors down, flooding us with light. We can begin to glow with that light, so that it spreads to all the people we meet and serve. But for those who refuse to open the door, for those who prefer to stay in the darkness and the cold company of the Devil, for those who prefer to hate and to use people instead of love them, when that bright light finally comes, have no doubt, it will blind and burn. For where the justice of this world fails, God’s will not. Forgiveness can come, but not without cost. Yet I think it must be said, that to those who have lived through pain and persecution at the hands of their persecutors, this too is good news. 

So yes, the world will end. We do not know when. And that’s why we must wait and watch and work to make it good news for ourselves and as much of the world as we can. By the grace of God, there is still time for us, sinners like me and you, to repent and to preach repentance to a sinful world. We need not be anxious, but we do need to be active; active without anxiety, for Christ Our Lord will come, whether we’re ready or not, to turn the light of his loving judgment towards us. 

As we receive Him in the Blessed Sacrament, may He strengthen our hearts, make us blameless, and increase in us His love. Amen. 

Theurgy, Reenchantment and the Music of Purity

Sample Chapter from my new book, The Lost Way to the Good

Steps up the sacred mount of Dewa Sanzan, Japan

“But th’holy men of God such vessels are, 
As serve him up, who all the word commands: 
When God vouchsafed to become our fare, 
Their hands convey him, who conveys their hands. 
O what pure things, most pure must those things be,                          Who bring my God to me!”                                      

George Herbert, The Priesthood

Ordained Deacon in the Church of England in 1624, George Herbert spent four years in prayerful deliberation before he accepted the gift of priestly orders. The responsibilities of the priest were awesome: to bind or remit sins, to preach and expound the Holy Scriptures and, above all, to administer the sacraments. As a priest, he could not dare defile those hands which would “serve up” God under the species of bread and wine. They must become vehicles as fit for the purpose as the pure and spotless host itself. Even so, Herbert was under no illusion that the gifts of Holy Communion could be impeded by the dirt of his hands or, for that matter, augmented by their cleanliness. True to Augustinian theology, as long as the minister was validly ordained, his personal unworthiness could not hinder the effect of the sacraments which, as the Church of England’s 26th Article of Religion has it, “be effectual, because of Christ’s institution and promise, although they be ministered by evil men.” Here, then, is the root of Herbert’s paradoxical verse: even as the priest’s hands “convey” God, it is God himself who “conveys their hands.” 

Herbert’s poem beautifully expresses the tenor of Dionysian theurgy, a development in the late Platonism of the pagan Syrian philosopher-priest Iamblichus. For Dionysius, if theosis – oneness or, as he sometimes expresses it, “Communion” with God – is the salvific purpose of all reality, then theurgy is the vehicle for its realization. Vitally, while this theurgy is the work of human hands, it is as its name suggests no less Theou ergon, the “work of God.” 

What is a Chaplain?

Royal Army Chaplains' Department | National Army Museum

As the 11th hour, on the 11th day, of the 11th month of 1918, the First World War officially ended as Germany signed an Armistice agreement with the Allies. Ever since then, particularly in Europe, this day has been kept in remembrance of the nine million soldiers and five million civilians who died in that war, and all others who have died in wars since. In my home country, we wear red paper poppies as a sign of remembrance, and throughout the nation, a two-minute silence is kept at 11 AM.

Among those who served, and in many cases died, in the Armed Forces on both sides of that were the officers called “chaplains:” priests and pastors who look after the spiritual needs of the soldiers. Chaplains serve not only in the armed forces, but in hospitals, prisons, schools and universities, but we take the title of “Chaplain” from an ancient Roman soldier and saint whose feast day is, by strange coincidence, also on the 11th of November: St Martin of Tours. 

Martin joined the Roman army as a soldier in the fourth century, but after he was baptised, he left the army, and founded a monastery in what is now western France. Later, he was ordained priest and became Bishop of Tours. In his lifetime, he was regarded as a great example of what a Good Shepherd should be. 

But the most famous story about Saint Martin is from his time as a soldier. It is said that his unit was riding into the city of Amiens, a city in what is now France. Outside the gates, he saw a beggar, tired, cold and hungry. Moved by compassion, he took his red Roman army cloak and cut it in two with his sword, giving the beggar half of the cloak to keep warm. In a dream that night, he saw in the face of the beggar none other than Jesus Christ himself. 

St Martin and the Beggar, by Louis Galloche, c.1737

But what has this got to do with chaplains? Well, the Latin word for cloak is “capella.” After Martin was declared a saint following his death, his famous cloak was revered as a relic. People wanted to pray in the presence of the cloak which symbolised the saint’s kindness. So, the cloak was cut into lots of small pieces for wider distribution. Small churches or rooms inside other larger churches were built to house these pieces of cloak. These were soon named after the cloak as “capellae,” or “chapels.” The priests who looked after these chapels were called “capellani,” which is where we get the word “chaplain” from. 

Sunday Mass in a makeshift chapel during training

A chaplain is an ordinary priest, who does what every priest does. Like parish priests, we preach the Gospel, we celebrate the Mass, we proclaim the forgiveness of sins, we baptise, marry and so on. But unlike most parish priests, we tend to serve in institutions where most people are not committed Christians. That makes the example of Saint Martin all the more important to us. 

Partly, like the first chaplains with their pieces of the popular St Martin’s cloak, we have to be open to popular expressions of piety which may not fit neatly into the liturgical practices of the church. A major reason why the Blessed Sacrament became widely reserved in Church of England parishes from the 1920s onwards, despite considerable theological opposition, was because Army chaplains in the First World War found that they needed to be able to give dying soldiers the Sacrament quickly. They did not have time to say an entire service of Holy Communion according to the 1662 rite, which was then the only rite legally available to them. Chaplains in every walk of life find that they have to make liturgical concessions and new forms of prayer according to the contexts where they serve.

But also, chaplains have to be particularly prepared to see the face of Christ, as St. Martin did, In the faces of those who suffer in any way, regardless of whether we know that they are Christians or not. Like Martin, we have to be prepared to share some of our warmth and comfort with them, to put the proverbial cloak around their shoulders.

And fundamentally, I think, we have to prepare the way as best we can for the great Armistice, when there will be no enemies, no insiders and outsiders, no reason to fight, but all things and all people become one in Christ – which is what we pray for as we prepare for Advent. 





















だから、神様の唯一さは、寂しさではありません。十字架の上に亡くなった方は、父が聖霊 によって塗油してくれたメシアというみ子でした。神は父と言と聖霊なので、神は唯一なのに、寂しくありません。その言と聖霊が神と別なものだったら、神は創造する神とは違う神になります。神のみ言は神の心、または神の想像力ですから、心のない人間は本当に人間と言えないのと同じように、もし神に心がなかったら、そのものは神だと言えません。聖霊も同じ通りです。神の外からのものではなくて、神自分自身です。私たちの聖霊に与えてきた命は神以外から与えたものだけではなくて、神様から出るものです。「 私たちは神の中に生き、動き、存在しているからです。」

もし誰かが、キリスト教の創造の物語は聖書の中のどこにあるかと聞いたら、 もちろん創世記にあると示してあげると思います。 でも、 創世記は創世の物語の 一部だけです。 世界の元を確かに知りたいなら、 十字架につけられた方の槍に貫かれた脇腹を眺めなければならないのです。その傷の中では創造の意味を表す御言は三位一体の命への門みたいなように開けています。



でも、私たちはそれを一人で頂くのはではありません。神は私たちに与えられた愛だから、私たちが神と一体になることができるが、一人一人ではそれは不可能です。隣人と一体にならなければ、神と一体になれないのです。むしろ、隣人を通じて、神と一体になるはずです。もし私はキリストを個人的に自分のものとできると思えば、実は、愛を持ってなくて、神を知らないのです。「My own, personal Jesus」(私の個人的なキリスト)の考え方は大きな間違いだと思います。確かに、その考え方は祭壇では通用しません。聖餐式で神の愛を実際に経験すれば、その愛を隣人にあげないわけにはいかない。それは愛の意味です。愛は新型コロナウイルスより感染力が強いものですが、人に与えなければ、成長しないのです。だから、キリストの「神を愛しなさい、隣人を愛しなさい」という掟を守りなさい、と言いますが、結局、愛は命令できることではありません。ただ主イエスの言われたことだけでしたら、あまり意味はないと思います。むしろ、主イエスが私たちを十字架と聖餐式によって愛してくれたから、その掟は意味があります。どの自然法則よりも深い超自然的な掟で、文化や国にも関わらず、全てのもののためなのです。全てのものを神の一体に引き込めるための法則なのです。私たちの外からきた掟ではなくて、私たちの心の中に無償で頂いた贈り物です。その贈り物はまず十字架につけられていた方の脇腹から流れる形、今ではパンとぶどう酒の形で与えられて、「神が 全てにおいて全てとなられるため」、私たちと全てのものを神と一体化させます。神の一体さは、全てのものの一体さのためだからです。

An Old Commandment

A man hangs dying on a cross in the heat of the Middle Eastern sun. A spear is thrust into his side, and from his heart flow blood and water. 

God is one and God is love.  He revealed himself as one on mount Sion, as love on Golgotha. And it is through the love God gave on Golgotha that we come to know what his oneness really means. 

If the man hanging on the cross were just a man, his death would be tragic. If he were just a great moral teacher, his death may shock us into taking those teachings more seriously. But this is not just a man.  This is the incarnation of the word by which the Father speaks all things into being.  This is the incarnation of the Wisdom By which God gives order to the universe, a treasure beyond price sort by sages throughout the world.  This is the incarnation of the love on account of which there is anything rather than nothing,  and with which God showed such great favour to his servant, Israel.  The breath he breathes is the same spirit of the Father which gave life to Adam.  The water which flows from his side is the heavenly fountain which springs forth for eternal life. The blood is his immortal life given as food for the world. 

And so, the oneness of God is not the oneness of one alone. The One who died on the Cross was Messiah, the Son of God anointed by the Father with the Spirit. The oneness of God is a oneness that is three: for if the Word and the Spirit were separate from God, then God would not be the sort of God who creates. God’s Word is, if you like, God’s mind, God’s imagination: but a mindless God would be no more God than you would be who you are without your mind. Nor is the life God gives us something external to himself, as though anything could really be external to God: the life-giving spirit is a gift not just from God, but of God, in whom we live and move and have our being. 

I suppose if someone asks you where to find the creation story in the Bible, you would naturally point to Genesis.  But the genesis is only part of the story.  If you want to know the real origins of the universe, you must look to the  pierced side of the crucified one.  For it is here that the word is opened for us like a gateway into the oneness of God,  and the purpose of creation is revealed. 

Remember that in Genesis 2, Eve was formed from Adam’s side.  From then, man and woman’s yearning for one another would  give humanity a means of experiencing the ardour of God’s love for his creation. The consummation of that yearning in marriage would give them a taste of God’s creative oneness. What comes from the side of the new Adam, Christ, is something more profound still. For from his body comes  the body of the church, flesh of his flesh, a bride united with him in an inseparable bond. Through marriage to Christ, the whole world is drawn into oneness with God.

A married couple is united as one flesh, but Christ has given himself to us in a sacrament more intimate even than the bond of marriage.  He gives himself to us in a way that we cannot give ourselves to one another, as food.  Our true nourishment, which lasts beyond the body, is the word and wisdom of God himself, and he gives himself to us absolutely and completely;  he gives himself to us to be consumed. At the altar, we do not receive the bare memento of an historic death.  We receive the life-filled Wisdom of God himself. 

We do not receive it alone. Because God is love, given for us, we can become one with him. Yet we cannot become one with God without becoming one with our neighbour. Rather, we become one with God through becoming one with our neighbour.  If I think that I can own Christ, personally and exclusively, keeping him all for myself, then I do not have love, and so I do not have God. The mean minded idea of me and my God has no place at the communion rail. If I know God’s love in communion, then I cannot help loving others.  Love is infectious, more infectious than the coronavirus, and it only grows when you give it away. 

This is why, in the end, love cannot really be “commanded” in the way we usually understand the word. It is no good Jesus just ordering us to love God and love our neighbour. Love has to be experienced.  It is only because Christ has loved us first, on the cross and in the Eucharist, that his commandment makes sense.  It is a commandment that is written into the fabric of the universe more deeply than any law of nature, and a universal commandment, for all people in all times and places.  It is the commandment which draws all of creation, in all its wonderful difference, into the oneness with God for which we were made.  

But, it is a commandment which we cannot obey as something coming from outside us. Rather, we have to receive it as a free gift within: a gift given to us in the beginning on the cross, and now in bread and wine, making us into one body, so that in the end God may be “all in all.” (1 Cor 15:28)

Michaelmas greetings!

Some fine work from


The Lost Way to the Good: new book coming soon from Angelico Press

The West has lost its way. But which way was it? And can any Western way really be worth following any more?

Disoriented by postmodern relativism and critical theory, many seek refuge in the old certainties of religious or political traditions, from Tridentine Catholicism to Enlightenment Liberalism. But these paths are only recent forks off a wider, older road: a way which belongs as much to the East as to the West, and can unite Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and more in pursuit of the truly common Good.

This Way is the nondualistic philosophy of Eastern or “theurgic” Platonism. Claiming Indian and Egyptian roots, it entered mediaeval European universities through the works of Dionysius the Areopagite. Overshadowed in the West, it continued to thrive in Eastern Christian and Sufi spiritual teachings that spread along the Silk Road, giving a basis for creative dialogue with Taoists and Buddhists. 

Thomas Plant will guide you on a spiritual and metaphysical journey with Dionysius from Athens to Kyoto and the True Pure Land Buddhism of Shinran Shonin. Find out where the West deviated from the track, and how even radically different religious traditions can unite to resist the divisive forces of Western secular modernity. 

Fr Thomas Plant is Chaplain of Rikkyo University, Tokyo, and Fellow of the Cambridge Centre for the Study of Platonism, where he leads the Muslim-Christian research project, Metaphysics Across Borders. Since writing his doctoral thesis on the comparative philosophy of Dionysius and Shinran, he has been involved in longstanding active interfaith dialogue with Shin Buddhist clergy and academics in the UK and Japan. Plant has been a contributor to Living Church, The Mallard, The Eastern Buddhist, Faith and Worship and Third Way. He lives in Ikebukuro with his wife and daughters, and enjoys practising Aikido and playing the shakuhachi flute. 


brown human eye
Photo by Jonathan Borba on

私たちは人間として外の原因をよく責めるでしょう。例えば、お金が石油や武器やセックスなどのことに「誘惑される」と言いますが、最近の日曜日の朗読によると、私たちの罪は外からじゃなくて、自分の心の中から出ることです。口に入れるものじゃなくて口から出るものそして汚い手じゃなくて汚い心は罪の原因だとイエスが言われました。学食の扉の上に書いてある古代ローマの弁護士キケロの言葉の通り「Appetitus rationi oboediant」、つまり「欲望は理性に従うように。」その逆にもし心が欲望の奴隷になれば、罪が生まれてしまうのです。






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