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Out of the question: C. Wesley’s ‘first-born seraph’

17 November 2010

Write, if you have any answers to the questions listed at the end of this section, or would like to add to the answers below.

Your answers

The Archbishop of Canterbury wrote (Features, 24 September) of the hymn “And can it be” that it is intensely biblical. What is the biblical origin of “the first-born seraph”?

“And can it be” is an intensely biblical hymn, as the Archbishop says, and as is typical of many of Charles Wesley’s hymns. The Companion to Hymns and Psalms gives 15 biblical references for this hymn alone.

The “first-born seraph” is a reference to 1 Peter 1.12. The paragraph begins by referring to “the grace that was to be yours . . . [v.10] . . . in regard to the things that have now been announced to you . . . — things into which angels long to look [v.12].”

The first-born seraph is presumably the most senior, whose seniority still does not entitle him or her to look into the salvation revealed in Christ to all humanity.

(The Revd) Christopher Jones

A seraph is one of the several kinds of supernatural beings somewhat like angels which attend on God, such as are described in Isaiah 6. Angels are superior to us (Psalm 8.5). But only God himself is uncreated, and thus all these beings must have had a creation.

Although some rabbis have taught that the angels were “flying things” created by God on the fifth day, it is generally accepted that they were created before the Genesis account of material creation.

Charles Wesley’s hymn is accepted as referring to his so-called conversion (which in fact occurred well after the brothers had committed their lives to Christ in missionary work). In his hymn, the death of Christ was seen as a mystery that could not be understood, not even by the most privileged of the creation, the seraphs attending on the enthroned Godhead. There is a parallel in Paul’s “O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgements and how inscrutable his ways!” (Romans 11.33).

Christopher Haffner, (Reader)
East Molesey, Surrey

Where, in the rules and terms of employment, does it state that the clergy are allowed only one day off per week, when the rest of the working world has a full weekend?

When I served on the Post-Ordination Training Group in the diocese of York in the mid-1970s, we discovered that the amount of time a curate had off depended on the beneficence of his incumbent. Some curates were having four full weeks p.a. (some considerably more), while others struggled to be given a week p.a.

As a result, Stuart Blanch, the Archbishop of York at that time, wrote to all the clergy, stating that the time off p.a. for curates should be a day off per week (i.e. 52 days), plus four Sundays and 21 other weekdays, i.e. 77 days p.a. The letter also concluded that this should be standard for incumbents as well.

Whether this letter was circulated solely within his diocese or throughout his province, I do not know (I regret that it was one of the letters I destroyed when I retired); nor do I know whether there have been other instructions regarding time off since then.

(The Revd) Gwyn Murfet
Walney, Cumbria

Your questions

If a person may not be ordained if he or she is in debt, how will the Church cope with a graduate with a debt of £27,000 who has obviously a vocation to the priest­hood? A. A.

With the advent of more flexible and varied patterns of clergy deployment, remuneration, and retention, how may parsonages may be used? May a priest in residence or incumbent share his or her house with other people who are not relatives? And may he or she accept remuneration for doing so either in rent, board, or kind? What are the principles that inform the answers? A. B.

Are the Homilies now ever used? What status do they have in the Church of England’s doctrine? Where can they be seen? Anon.

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