About “The Purple Headed Mountain”

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[From the description posted to the book’s Facebook page. Coming soon for both e-book and print.]

The Purple Headed Mountain by Martin Thornton was the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Lent Book of 1962, with a Foreword by Arthur Michael Ramsey. Yet be not deceived, for this concise, 100-page work is a potent meditation written for all faithful Christians. It endures as a stubbornly contemporary and useful text for parish discussion groups, for catechists planning a formation program, for preachers seeking pastorally rich source material for the pulpit, and for personal devotional and theological study whether in Lent or any liturgical season.

In Thornton’s theology, genuine penitence is rooted in humility, obedience and prayer within the conditions in which we are born — discipleship amid, rather than divorced from, God’s creation. The biblical revelation insists that all of God’s creatures, cosmic and microscopic, are made good, yet do we persist in pretending otherwise? Ultimately for Thornton, penitence is the search for the truth of our vocation as given by God. Accordingly, sin prevents harmony with the created order and hence impedes true discernment of who God calls us to be.

In a surprising turn, Thornton offers fresh insight upon the traditional Seven Capital (or “Deadly”) Sins, which are intriguingly described as sins against creation and God’s will. This is no medieval rehash nor trite “list” of questions for self-examination. This is about Christian maturity. As Thornton writes, “It is wonderful to worship in York Minster, but if we cannot find God and fight Satan in a tin shed we are still in the spiritual kindergarten.” Perhaps most surprisingly, Thornton diagnoses and sharply criticizes what we call today “moral therapeutic deism,” nearly fifty years before the term was coined. All this one way or another impedes spiritual progress, yet the solution is not hairshirts and guilt-trips but sober analysis and a joyful heart.

Thornton explores examples in depth from the life of Our Lord, Jesus Christ — on the Cross, at Gethsemene and Cana, in the wilderness — and incorporates penetrating insights from the likes of Saint Thomas Aquinas, Saint Francis of Assisi, Hugh of St Victor, William of St Thierry, G.K. Chesterton and William Beveridge. Saint Mary Magdalene becomes a supreme example of the Thomistic doctrine that grace does not change, but rather perfects, human nature; with all her passionate zeal for Jesus, Mary Magdalene is in fact a model penitent.

Overall, The Purple Headed Mountain is a work of ascetical theology that demonstrates the familiar yet subtle Anglican synthesis of doctrine and prayer, thinking and feeling, reflection and action — all amid liturgical participation and sacramental imagination. By God’s grace and our obedient discipline in response, our lives can be sanely and honestly penitent: committing fewer sins, growing in compassion and sensitivity, and hence reforming into ever-greater likeness of Jesus, our Lord and Savior.