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The Person of Jesus Christ (Lecture 5 of 5) by John Macquarrie

LECTURE 5
“The Uniqueness of Jesus Christ”
In his concluding lecture, John Macquarrie explores what is meant by the claim of uniqueness given to Jesus Christ by the Christian religion. How can we, who are thinking creatures without an “olympian” view upon all of reality, claim absoluteness or uniqueness for Jesus and His Church? Macquarrie points out that such an assertion might actually exhaust the Christian revelation, rather than express it. And how can we, finite beings, pass comparative and total judgement upon other religions without a complete knowledge of them? Given these difficulties, what, then, can be maintained?

What distinguishes Christianity is its claim to ultimate concern, which demands an utter commitment to its object in the fullness of human depth possible for us today. We cannot follow many paths or faiths with any kind of real commitment and knowledge. We must choose one path and follow it completely. Can we be fully committed to Christ yet open to the possibilities of truth being found in non-Christian religions? If Jesus Christ is the Eternal Logos and Word through whom all things are created, then “surely one is bound to acknowledge there must be truth in the many ways that the human mind has grasped something of the divine Word.” Macquarrie acknowledges truths found in Hinduism and Islam that can force us to confront truths found yet perhaps overlooked in the Christian religion. He counsels that we avoid (1) a judgmental approach to other religions, and (2) the aimless relativism of “all religions are as good as any other.”

Our contemporary world demands a spirit of mutual dialogue between Christianity and other faiths. In such a dialogue, both sides seek to learn from each other. Although the Christian doctrine of the Incarnation is unlike any doctrine found in any other religion, in other faiths there can be seen pervasively what Macquarrie calls a “groping toward Incarnation” that provides fertile ground for mutual dialogue and sharing in the divine Being. Dialogue, in fact, shows itself as an opportunity for a new kind of Christian mission, which also means humble love of our neighbor whomever that might be.

Rather than the problematic terms “uniqueness” or “absoluteness,” Macquarrie prefers that we Christians proclaim that Jesus Christ is definitive. Christ’s definitiveness is two-fold: (1) Jesus defines what it is to be a human being, and (2) Jesus defines the meaning of the word “God.” He is the goal of a mature, authentic humanity, the inexhaustible fulfillment of human glory. For Macquarrie, this depth of mystery is particularly revealed in the doctrine of the Second Coming of Christ. This is the consummation of reality that the Church believes Jesus brings, and will continue to bring, to the world. For even after 2,000 years, the Church has not fully explored the glory of His significance. We can, and must, see Jesus’s uniqueness in that sense, but in so doing we must not denigrate other expressions of faith. In Christ, “there is a constellation and concentration of those characteristics that belong to our deepest and most authentic humanity and which open to us also the way to the knowledge of God.” Amen.

keywords: Ascension of Jesus, anthropology, history of religions, (aimless) relativism, Enlightenment, non-Christian religions, Asian spiritual classics, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Søren Kierkegaard, Ernst Troeltsch, The Absoluteness of Christianity, Islam, Karl Barth, Paul Tillich, ultimate concern, syncretism, sentimentalism, Hinduism, violence, fellowship, religious dialogue, “the holy,” Buddhism, atheism, mysticism, Krishna, salvation, doctrine of Creation, asceticism, Eastern Christianity, John Hick, mission, doctrine of Incarnation, Bodhisattva, Vishnu, Raimon Panikkar, The Hidden Christ in Hinduism, Mother Theresa, Upanishads, Definitiveness, Being, Mystery, Second Coming of Christ, Nicene Creed, Bishop John Robinson, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Wolfhart Pannenberg, Resurrection

THE PERSON OF JESUS CHRIST
John Macquarrie
October 1984 to the House of Bishops of The Episcopal Church
Table of Contents
Introduction.
Lecture 1.
Lecture 2.
Lecture 3.
Lecture 4.
Lecture 5.

The Person of Jesus Christ (Lecture 4 of 5) by John Macquarrie

LECTURE 4
“20th-Century Western Christology: Barth and Bultmann”
This lecture begins with a comparison of the christologies of Karl Barth and Rudolph Bultmann, and concludes with a riveting contemplation of the Mysteries of Christ’s Preexistence, Nativity, and Descent to the Underworld. Firstly to Karl Barth, who, reversing 19th century theology, began his christology in the Word of God, in Jesus Christ. Christ is the living Word, as well as the written Word and the proclaimed Word. The entire Bible points toward Jesus, and revelation alone discloses the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. Barth thereby dismisses anabatic christology (“from below”). Yet Barth’s true contribution to christology is his theology of predestination: for Jesus is the “electing God and the elected man,” hence God has always had humanity in His nature, and all humans are in some sense and to varying degree elected by God and hence saved by Him. Macquarrie acknowledges this later movement in Barth’s theology sometimes overlooked in commentary on his theology. In the words of Barth, “For God, it is just as worthy to be lowly as to be high, to be near as it is to be far, to be little as it is to be great, to be abroad as it is to be home.” This is God being obedient to His own nature, having true integrity to His own self.

Moving to Bultmann, he asked the question, “Where in the New Testament is Jesus Christ explicitly called ‘God’?” Overall, Bultmann rejects metaphysical articulations of Christ’s nature. Only in the confession of the Apostle Thomas is an undisputed assertion so made. Bultmann stresses the event of God’s acting through Jesus’s words, preaching or teaching. Christ’s divinity is only to be confessed, rather than also worked out through systematic theology or philosophical theology. Jesus is the vehicle for the Word, for the kerygma or proclamation of salvation. Yet is Bultmann too dismissive of mystical and devotional aspects of Christian religion? Macquarrie suspects that is the case, as well as being too individualistic and episodic, at times. Yet despite critiquing Bultmann, Macquarrie affirms his insights into the importance of experience, decision, and personal commitment. Bultmann’s theology is a safeguard against any purely objective, impersonal conception of God. Christians are not merely to intellectually behold, but to cooperate, with God and His grace. Christ in His saving work opens a way for us, but inward transformation is required for salvation.

Macquarrie concludes this lecture with a meditation on the Mysteries of Christ. A significant aspect of Christianity is to bring out the tensions about Jesus Christ and to bring us to a new depth of recognition and life. Such depth begins with the astonishingly subtle writing of the four Evangelists. We are to be carried beyond mere literal interpretation into the deeper spiritual significance to which the facts of Scripture bear witness. “Poetry,” for Macquarrie, “is just as much a way to truth as scientific prose.” The Preexistence of Christ, for example, symbolically affirms that the personal life in the expression of the life of Jesus is the same life as that of God of all times and ages. Another is the Nativity of Jesus. This Mystery reveals the continuity and discontinuity of Christ; and in the Gospel of John, such a Mystery applies not merely to Jesus, but to the baptized People of God (Jn 1:13). And the Descent into the Underworld, a neglected Mystery, shows us that God’s saving work in Christ also reached back into the ages before the historical Jesus. The past, then, has not disappeared, but always remains near and present to God—that, following upon and fulfilling Einstein’s scientific insight, Time itself is a mystery.

keywords:  Chalcedonian Definition, anhypostatic, enhypostatic, Cyril of Alexandria, Karl Barth, Rudolph Bultmann, neo-orthodox, fundamentalism, doctrine of Holy Trinity, revelation, predestination, universalism, Christmas, Virgin Birth, Creation, Fall, Baptism, obedience and humility, kenosis, Søren Kierkegaard, conscience, The Christological Confession of the World Council of Churches, Arianism, Nicaea, kerygma, Karl Rahner, anonymous Christians, potency and potentiality, ontology, semi-Pelagianism, Augustine, vicariousness, cooperation with grace, “once for all,” salvation, John McLeod Campbell, sacramental principle, mysteries of Christ, poetry, Alfred North Whitehead, Preexistence of Christ, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Friedrich Schleiermacher, Albert Einstain, time, Ascension.

THE PERSON OF JESUS CHRIST
John Macquarrie
October 1984 to the House of Bishops of The Episcopal Church
Table of Contents
Introduction.
Lecture 1.
Lecture 2.
Lecture 3.
Lecture 4.
Lecture 5.

The Person of Jesus Christ (Lecture 3 of 5) by John Macquarrie

LECTURE 3
“Christology ‘From Below'”
Macquarrie continues with a description of christology that is “anabatic,” which can be said to be theology about Jesus that is “from below” and “goes up” to the divine nature of Jesus. It is in this approach, Macquarrie argues, that Christ’s humanity comes into its best and most accessible light. The question in this approach is, “How can a man bring to expression the life of God?” This means we place our focus on Christ, the man, and Christ, the event — the individual Jesus as well as the social relationships in which he was embedded. In short, historical analysis gives way to systematic theology. And in anabatic christology, Macquarrie sees the very method found in the experience of the first disciples and the beginnings of the Christian Church. For example, the Transfiguration of Jesus can be interpreted as a definitive moment when the humanity of Jesus was seen in its divine depth, and the preaching of Saint Peter at Pentecost articulates anabatic christology: “God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2.36).

Is this form of christology merely primitive, or is it an approach that must be continually proclaimed by the Church? Macquarrie argues for the latter, else the true humanity of Jesus can be obscured, as it has throughout Christian history. The key is the recognition that within the human condition is a principle of transcendence, of absolute being, and the possibility of transcending the human reality in favor of the reality of God. Macquarrie demonstrates that this very notion is present even in the secular, dechristianized and atheistic writings of existentialist philosophers as well as Holy Scripture. He considers Patristic theology from the likes of saints Augustine and Irenaeus, and agrees that the notion of “ready-made” humanity, whether in Adam and Eve, or in us, must be rejected. Ultimately, what we see is the importance of christology both anabatic (“from below”) and katabatic (or “from above”). They are complementary approaches to a single truth about God in Jesus Christ. The former stresses that Jesus was taken up; the latter stresses that God became incarnate. According to either approach, God came among us as a servant to declare Mercy and bring to birth the children of God, and as far as we know, the human being is the locus for the divine self-communication of God’s own presence. In the words of Celtic theologian Eriugena, “Man is both the recipient of theopanies and is himself a theophany.”

keywords: anabatic vs katabatic christology, modern historical presuppositions, Wolfhart Pannenberg, John Knox, Bishop John Robinson, Karl Rahner, Vatican II, Donald Baillie, Edward Schillebeeckx, Rudolph Bultmann, Karl Barth, Transfiguration, Acts of the Apostles, Adoptionism, Docetism, Gnosticism, homoousiosSpirit in the World, Thomas Aquinas, transcendental Thomism, absolute being, Friedrich Schleiermacher, Bernard Lonergan, Friedrich Nietzsche, Karl Jaspers, Martin Heidegger, Marxism, Neo-Marxism, Herbert Marcuse, mysticism, process philosophy, Charles Hartshorne, transcendent anthropology, Augustine, Irenaeus, Theophilus of Antioch, Deification (Theosis), Pelagianism, Incarnation, Enlightenment Deism, William James, Søren Kierkegaard, Holy Trinity, Dionysius the Areopagite, Mercy, monarachial model of God, neo-Platonist, Celtic theology, Johannes Scotus Eriugena, Chalcedonian Definition, 1979 Book of Common Prayer

THE PERSON OF JESUS CHRIST
John Macquarrie
October 1984 to the House of Bishops of The Episcopal Church
Table of Contents
Introduction.
Lecture 1.
Lecture 2.
Lecture 3.
Lecture 4.
Lecture 5.

Catholic imagination in Holy Week

For Holy Week, two thoughts on what we call today Catholic imagination, or what is also called a sacramental or eucharistic worldview. The first comes from Saint Augustine (Doctor of the Church, d. 430 AD), in an exploration of the ascetical meaning of the Genesis story of Cain and Abel (emphasis added):

Here we have the very heart of the earthly city. Its God (or gods) is he or they who will help the city to victory after victory and to a reign of earthy peace; and this city worships, not because it has any love for service, but because its passion is for domination. This, in fact, is the difference between good men and bad men, that the former make use of the world in order to enjoy God, whereas the latter would like to make use of God in order to enjoy the world. (City of God, XIV.7)

“Make use of the world in order to enjoy God.” This is another way of expressing a core insight from Saint Thomas Aquinas: that we can only know God through creatures, through our sensory perception of them. To think otherwise risks denying the immense particularity of the Cross: the Person of Jesus of Nazareth, nailed to the hard wood, dying.

With profound humility and reverence, this Holy Week we are invited to ask: What did that wood, those nails, feel like? From the beginning, the Church has taught that its very material—that Cross at that time in history—discloses profound, even incomprehensible mystery. In our corporate prayer, may we ask God to reveal His love for us still more through our meditation and contemplation in this week of Palm Sunday and the Holy Triduum. By God’s grace may we be able to “make use” of the wrenching scriptural drama this week, to “enjoy God”—that is, embrace, absorb, find eucharistic joy within and with others.

The second meditation comes from Richard Hooker (Anglican theologian, d. 1600), in an exploration of what it means to speak of a “personal presence of Christ”:

Impossible it is that God should withdraw his presence from any thing, because the very substance [i.e., being] of God is infinite. He filleth heaven and heart, although he take up no room in either, because his substance is immaterial, pure, and of us in this world so incomprehensible, that albeit no part of us be ever absent from him who is present whole unto every particular thing, yet his presence with us we no way discern farther than only that God is present, which partly by reason and more perfectly by faith we know to be firm and certain. (Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, V.51.iii)

Hooker is emphasizing that it is against the nature of Reality itself for creatures and material things to be unable to reveal, or point to, or disclose, the presence of God. The true fulfillment, or perfection, of all creatures is our triune God. Particular creatures and material things might not reveal God at a given moment in any significant way, to be sure. Our sinfulness can, and often does, impede our ability to find God in the ordinary and even the difficult. Also God’s Providence may be at a given moment to be seemingly “far away from us,” just as the Gospels tell us that Jesus often separated Himself from the disciples to go off and pray.

But the point is that nothing created—human or otherwise—is by definition and nature inanimate of God’s presence. This is the doctrine of Creation, emphasized throughout the traditions of the Church. A major factor in spiritual growth in a community and in a person is opening ourselves, day after day, to that fact and its possibilities for prayer. This Holy Week, with all our senses may we approach the Cross that recapitulates all material creation, and reform our likeness still more into the ever-flowing Love of Jesus, our Savior.

What does ‘Regula’ mean?

Note: An earlier form of this essay was published originally by Saint Paul’s, Riverside. For more, also see the online slideshow: The Prayer Book as Regula.


“Prayer must be seen as a theological complex of life, a spiritual and recollective continuum made up of a totality of prayers, offices, meditations, liturgical actions and the rest. It is an overall pattern of life, a system, or to use the technical term, a Regula.”
(Martin Thornton, The Function of Theology, chap. 1)

In a most useful definition, the 1979 Book of Common Prayer defines prayer as “responding to God, by thought and by deeds, with or without words” (p. 856). That definition in fact clarifies a great deal. First and foremost, it reminds us that God acts first. Despite our inclination to think otherwise, we ourselves do not initiate. Rather we respond: God’s actions—His presence, His grace—always comes before. He always invites our prayer.

I do not think I am the only person who, when hearing that definition, asks, “Is that how my prayer works?” The answer would have to be, yes: it does mean my prayer, your prayer, and any person’s prayer. But it also means “our” prayer, and in fact it means that before it means mine or yours.

So, then, how do “we” pray? In other words, how is it that we as a whole—whether all Catholic Christians or, by analogy, us at Saint Paul’s, Riverside—respond to God, by thought and by deeds, with or without words? Indeed, the answer may not be self-evident, or seem particularly worth consideration. Thinking of particular people in our parish, we even might be tempted to conclude, “Well, ‘we’ do not pray in any particular way!” List out how we all pray as individuals, according to our gifts and personalities; and then there is your answer to how “we” pray—a piety list.

There is truth in that. Yet to just end there would not account for important aspects of our relationship with God, which is prayer in the broadest sense of the term.

To wit, consider three aspects of our experience as the People of God:

1. “We” leads directly to “corporate.” So the first and perhaps most obvious dimension of our corporate prayer—how “we” pray—is that we attend Mass. The Mass, the summit of which is the holy Eucharist, is the primary gathering of parish members ranging from the most committed to the occasional visitor. We are gathered by the Holy Spirit around the Altar, and then we are invited to come still closer to receive, if prepared, the Sacrament of Christ’s Body and Blood—Jesus himself, the full and definitive revelation of the Father. “Do this in remembrance [that is, for the anamnesis, the ‘making actually present again’] of me” (Lk 22:19). And then in the Dismissal, we are sent “in peace to love and serve the Lord. Thanks be to God.” Mass is both summit and source, because of Jesus incarnate.

2. “Loving and serving,” seen again as an aspect of prayer or total relationship with God, points toward how we try to recognize Christ in other people, and in creatures and creation generally, with or without words. We do this, to be sure, quite imperfectly; we often forget that creatures, all of them both great and small, find their true fulfillment in Christ. We forget all is made, and all is kept, and all is loved, by God. Clearly, the Calvinistic culture in which we live wants us to forget. Nonetheless we Catholic folk try as best we can to live a life consonant with Scripture, not contrary with core doctrines of the Church, open to God’s grace both grand and mundane; and we know (or have been taught) that meditating with the Bible can help here, along of course with formation. Despite the immense variety from one person’s life to the next, all of this the Church broadly calls “Devotion.” And Who beckons our Devotion but the Holy Spirit, “whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (Jn 14.26). Devotion is prayer guided by the Holy Spirit, immanent and intimate with us, personally.

3. Our Lord Jesus Christ, for all His inexhaustible abundance, in fact taught us one prayer directly: the Our Father (Mt 6:9-13 and Lk 11:2-4). Both words “Our” and “Father” are crucial. First, “Our”—is there a more corporate prayer than this one? one that more unifies Christians, everywhere in the threefold Church, including the Angels? And, “Father”—through Christ’s words, and hence through Him, we somehow, despite our frailty, can praise the Creator of you and me, all creatures and the universe itself. In teaching the Our Father—these words in this order—Jesus initiated the tradition of corporate, set-prayer that the Book of Common Prayer came to call “the Daily Office” or the “the Divine Office.” Through dozens of traditions in the universal Church over nearly 20 centuries, the Divine Office varies. Anglicans, within a predominantly Benedictine spirituality, developed a particular contribution that has endured for almost 500 years. But no matter the tradition or form of the Office, the underlying pattern shaped by the Our Father prayer always holds: the threefold Church, incorporated into and as Christ’s Body, giving pure praise to the Father. The Office is praise to God transcendent beyond time and space.

So we have corporate prayer that emphasizes, by turns, 1. Jesus incarnate, 2. the immanent Holy Spirit, and 3. the Father transcendent. Yet this is one prayer life, a threefold prayer life. This threefold whole responds to, because it is given order by, our triune God. The ordering of our worship to the stupendously rich reality of God: this is precisely what is meant by Regula.

As a term itself, Regula relates to “pattern” or “framework,” and is often translated as “rule.” Its use in the Church is very Benedictine, of course, but not exclusively. As a concept of prayer, it is derived directly from the Bible. “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, the breaking of bread, and the prayers” (Acts 2.42). Sound familiar? All of us embrace Regula every Easter Vigil when we renew our Baptismal Covenant (BCP, p. 293):

 

Celebrant   Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?

People        I will, with God’s help.

 

Respectively, “apostles’ teaching and fellowship” here means Devotion (or “devotional ministry”). “The breaking of bread” is obviously the Mass. “The prayers” is the Daily or Divine Office. What is important to see is that at the most central liturgy of the Church year, we affirm not merely the importance but the centrality of Regula to our corporate prayer life.

Regula, then, is no invention of the theologians. It is the basis for mature Christian prayer in community given by Our Lord and Savior and plainly described in the gospels. It is born of His direct teaching of prayer to His disciples (Divine Office), from His feeding people by His presence and word (Eucharist/Mass), and His ministry of healing, preaching, serving, listening amid fellowship with the Twelve, the Seventy, and followers of whatever number (Devotion). Perpetuating the prayer of Jesus, which is precisely what Regula enables, is nothing less than the lifeblood of full participation in His redemptive Body, the Church. It is the primary work of the People of God.

In sum, what does Regula mean? It means corporate, threefold prayer life — Divine Office – Mass – Devotion — given by Christ to live out doctrine of the Holy Trinity and render it truly existential and experiential. Regula is the basic means of discipleship, because it is the doctrine of the Holy Trinity arranged for prayer.  Regula is how “we” respond fully to God, by thought and by deeds, with or without words. Regula organizes for prayer all of redeemed reality as revealed by the triune God, because faith’s name for reality is God.

Within Anglican patrimony, Regula is the real three-legged stool.


“Loyalty to the basic threefold Rule—Mass-Office-Devotion—is always the prior ascetical discipline. It is the foundation of all Christian life, the essential work of the Church, the supreme intercession, the power of evangelism. It is of incalculably greater importance than all fasts, mortifications, and works whatsoever; the only function of which is to support it, without it all is a sham. As spiritual guides we must insist upon it; if we are true to the primitive Church, we must insist upon it; if we are true to our medieval heritage, we must insist upon it. If we think of Anglicanism in a narrower sense, let it be remembered that the seventeenth-century battles between Puritan [Calvinist] and Caroline [Catholic] churchmen were fought over the Prayer Book, especially over ‘set prayers’. They were battles for and against Benedictine principles.”
(Martin Thornton, English Spirituality, chap. 6)

Icon by the hand of Monica Thornton.

Homily: “No power in ourselves to help ourselves”

Delivered on the Third Sunday in Lent, 2015 at Saint Paul’s, Riverside, Illinois.

In our Collect today we pray “Almighty God, you know that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves.” Yet the question can be asked: Do we know that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves? God surely knows, but do we? Do we know this in our lives, in our experiences, in our relationships? This is the hard question.

All of us said Amen to this Collect. So we have at least accepted it as a statement of truth in our community. It is no criticism whatsoever to suspect that despite our basic accepting of the statement—and I think we can say that it was basically accepted, as none of us upon hearing it stood up and said, “wrong!” and walked out of Mass—despite accepting it, we might not be able to articulate the full depths of its meaning. For after all, who can articulate the full depths of the meaning of God? Only Jesus Christ, himself. Who can know the depths of our wretchedess an disorder? Only Jesus Christ, himself. Who can fathom the deepest dimensions of forgiving love? Only Jesus Christ, himself. So it is okay that we might not fully understand the doctrine that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves. By saying “Amen” we are allowing the possibility of being taught and shown what it means when the time is right.

When we say Amen we declare that we want to choose God. When we say Amen we put ourselves at his mercy and in his loving arms and under the shadow of his wings. Just as Blessed Mary Our Lady said to Gabriel, “Let it be to me according to your word,” our Amen submits ourselves to a Holy God that overpasses the knowing of all creatures, to a Holy God that sweetly and tenderly loves us. Our Amen asks that God fight for us against the Devil. He fought for us in the wilderness. He chose to willingly confront the evil one, to seek him out—through prayer and fasting.

He continued, as Saint John tells us today, in the temple. He made a whip of cords, and he drove out the merchants, their animals and the money-changers—not because they were evil itself but because their presence interfered with the true purpose of the temple. He drove them out in a fury: “Take these things away; you shall not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” Those words “you shall not” ring of the Commandments given to Moses on Mount Sinai. “You shall not” worship other Gods; you shall not take the name of the Lord in vain; you shall not forget the Sabbath; you shall not dishonor your father and mother; you shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness against your neighbor; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, servants, or possessions. And again today, “You shall not make the temple a house of trade.” This temple was destroyed, yet in three days it was raised up. Saint John tells us that the disciples understood Jesus to refer to the temple of his body.

And we must understand that we, the body of Christ, are his temple. “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God?” Saint Paul wrote to the Corinthians. We are his temple through Baptism, which orients us to the journey of Faith ahead; we are his temple through the Sacraments, which feed and nourish us, refresh us, with Hope; we are his temple through the prayer life or Regula taught to us by Jesus, which challenges us to embody Charity in all moments, in the face of our enemies and amid all creatures.

And as his temple, we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves. It all comes from God. As Saint Paul says, we can will what is right, but we cannot do it. We can recognize our disorder, our sin, our wretchedness, but we depend on Jesus to deliver us. It is Jesus who saves us; who absolves us. It is Jesus who acts in the sacraments. It is Jesus who gives himself to us on the Cross and at the Altar. It is Jesus who teaches us to pray. And it is Jesus who drives the merchants and the money-changers out of our mind, our thoughts, out of the temple of our body. Our body, as God’s temple, is and must be a temple of prayer. When we say “Amen” we too remember that he had said these things; we too believe the scripture; we too believe the Word which Jesus had spoken.

Almighty God, you know that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves: Keep us both outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls, that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

On Anglican Ethos, part 1 : an audio lecture

What it is about Anglican patrimony that gives it distinctiveness? What is it about it has made the Anglican Church unique, while still a strong, if troubled, member of the Catholic family of churches?

Father Thomas Fraser, the now retired rector of Saint Paul’s, Riverside (near Chicago) after 42 years, provides a lecture that addresses those questions in an accessible and authoritative presentation that is 52 minutes long. In this time of confusion about Anglicanism in England, the United States, and elsewhere, it can be difficult to see what makes us, in a healthy sense, “us.” Father Fraser provides a historical overview of what is called “the Anglican ethos,” as well as what it means for us, today.

“Anglican ethos” is a term that refers to how the feel and senseor “culture”—of Anglican life emerges from our tradition of liturgy, parish life, sacraments and monastic tradition. The Book of Common Prayer is absolutely crucial to this ethos, this “less tangible patrimony.” To understand it correctly, the Prayer Book must seen not as a collection of worship services, but rather as a Regula—or pattern, framework of corporate life that orders the threefold prayer life of Office-Mass-Devotion. This is the heart of what gives Anglicanism its ethos, its distinctive characteristics and quality. As Father Fraser says, “Regula is what forms our life. . . . No other western Church has as its liturgy its Regula.

In the course of his lecture, which is taken from a recent Adult Theology Class (a five-semester course taught for 35 years at St Paul’s, Riverside and mandatory for full membership in the parish), Father Fraser also describes how it was Martin Thornton who gave language and vocabulary to what older generations of Anglicans understood to be the Anglican ethos. It was well understood, he says, often implicitly. But not until Martin Thornton came along, particularly with his classic English Spirituality, was the general sense of our identity explicitly demonstrated to be consonant with, and a continuation of, Benedictinism. Father Fraser also describes how Anglicanism, seen broadly with the Book of Common Prayer as its foundation, is Catholic in its doctrine, practice and imagination.

Enjoy this lecture, study it, and share and discuss in your home parish. Listen to Part 2 here.

Marian Penitence

“Penitence,” wrote Martin Thornton, “becomes a search for the truth of one’s vocation” (The Purple Headed Mountain, Chap. 5). Penitence can take on this character when we accept the possibility, which the biblical revelation insists is fact, that all of God’s creation is an integrated, purposeful, lively unfolding with a unique role for each and every thing, including us. Certainly true penitence begins as Our Lord told Philip: “Follow me” (John 1:43). This becomes adventurous when it grows into a disposition of life: Be Following Him. If we are, in the phrase of English fourteenth-century writer Walter Hilton, to reform into the likeness of Jesus, that journey of holiness begins in finding harmony with our surroundings, as Jesus surely had with His, and goes awry without it.

Perhaps the only valid test here is moral theology: have I committed fewer sins? Sin is separation and paying lip service to the first line of the Nicene Creed is the height of Pride, the basis of all separation. Not only when receiving Communion, reciting the Office, or studying Scripture, but always and everywhere, are we choosing to follow—opening to, and in this sense, “thanking”—God Almighty as He actualizes in our lives? And do we use His creation and His creatures to His greater glory? For the revelation disallows any version of “God is not here and doesn’t much care.”

“Repent and be baptized,” is how Peter exhorted the first Christians (Acts 2:38). But as Paul reminded Titus, our baptism is more than a rite; it is a way of life, a sacramental status before God. Peter perhaps implied, “Choose God and then spend the rest of your life working out the implications of that choice.” Be baptized—just as we say, “be mature” or “be yourself”: our Lord demands we own our status, incorporated into Him “in virtue of his own mercy” (Titus 3:5). Baptism plunges us into Trinitarian reality through the glory of material water, fragrant oil, and audible words. Within such paradox lies enough food for Lenten mystagogy several times over.

To wit: “You will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man” (John 1:51). It was Saint Augustine who wrote, “Every visible thing in this world is put under the charge of an angel” (De diversis quaestionibus, 79). This staggering statement is also exemplary ascetical theology, the articulation of spiritual growth: for only through our sense perception is God’s presence available to us. As God called Our Lady by sensible means of Gabriel, we are called by God aided by the angelic host who through the visible and perceivable bring the invisible and incomprehensible beckoning before us, inviting adventure anchored in Christ.

[The above meditation is my contribution for Day 4 of Lent to From Dust to Triumph: Reflections for a Holy Lent published by Nashotah House.]

Martin Thornton’s Ressourcement Syllabus

[from the appendix to English Spirituality: An Outline of Ascetical Theology According to the English Pastoral Tradition, rev. ed. 1986.]

A Course of Study in Ascetical Theology for Parish Priests and Theological Students of the Anglican Communion

After delivering lectures on this and kindred subjects, I am invariably asked for a “reading list” by those of my audience whose interest has been stirred, or more likely, by those whose politeness and charity wish to give that impression. It is an immensely difficult request: we are not dealing with a “subject” with its own clearly defined literature, but with an approach to theology springing from, and leading back to, prayer. Neither are we dealing with scholars for whom theological study is their main job, but with busy parish priests and students whose burdensome curriculum does not include ascetics as such. This practical point is frequently forgotten by the compilers of such reading lists or courses of study; nothing is more frustrating to serious students and parish priests than to be given prescribed reading at the rate of twenty tomes a month, or to be exhorted to such scholarly ideals of sticking to original sources and eschewing simple commentaries. Since those giving this advice frequently spend their lives writing commentaries, one is forced to wonder what is the point of them all.

The following scheme is an attempt to avoid such impractical ideals. It is, I think, the sort of scheme that a serious reader of this present book—itself no more than an introduction—might naturally compose for himself. Spread over two years, in eight quarterly periods, the scheme suggests ten books to be seriously studied, which is possible to a parish priest giving only five hours a week to it. These books are listed in the first column. Column 2 lists twenty more books which might be “read through” rather than pored over; almost bedside books; or which may be referred to casually at odd free moments. The third column contains a selection of “devotional” books for use in private prayer, which fit in with the reading and which should give a fair picture of English spirituality in action.

My scheme is obviously suggestive: details may vary with personal choice, and it is not meant to be adhered to rigidly. The daily Office is of course assumed, as is meditative use of the Bible throughout. Anyone who finds difficulty with the Office might well bring in some of the Caroline devotional teaching much earlier than the last six months of the two-year period. I have omitted the fundamental “background” books like Harton, Pourrat, and Scaramelli: these might be regarded as general works of reference. I have also kep rather too strictly to the English School: we have seen how St Ignatius Loyola and the Carmelites can be usefully incorporated, while slight acquaintance with, say, the Rhineland Dominicans brings English spirituality into relief by contrast.

I have tried to keep only to books currently in print, and have included devotional books most of which are now available cheaply in paperback form. A few visits to a good theological library, however, would reveal extra riches, particularly in the form of seventeenth-century manuals of private devotion.

If five hours a week of serious study (column 1) are backed up by a similar period of mental prayer or spiritual reading, I think we might have a creative scheme not unduly arduous to the type of reader in mind. Remembering the central speculative-affective synthesis, the main columns also tend to become interchangeable: Anselm and Julian can obviously either be studied or prayed. With a little fluidity and ingenuity it will be found that the four yearly quarters more or less fit with the liturgical season (Advent-Septuagesima, Septuagesima-Easter, Easter-Trinity 10, Trinity 10-Advent). I do not think a parish priest following such a scheme need spend much time on sermon preparation or devotional addresses: nor do I think these would be sub-standard!

My own scheme here appended is neither perfect nor invariable, but as a pattern I hope it may be practical and of use.

For the specific recommendations in the Syllabus, see here.

“Music and Ascetical Theology”

(This is an essay by Martin Thornton published in the Programme for the Southern Cathedrals Festival, Salisbury, July 27-29, 1967.)

There is an old tradition which sees the relation between the Organist and the Vicar as roughly that between cat and dog: by domestication they manage to exist together without physical violence while remaining natural enemies at heart. Times have happily changed and the idea of a creative interplay between music and liturgy is now taken for granted. But liturgical theology is only a part of that larger whole which tradition usually calls ascetical theology, or sometimes simply “spirituality.” This is concerned with the whole of prayer, and the consequently of the whole of life: “religious experience,” wrote William Temple, “is the total experience of a religious man.”

The point is accentuated by current trends in the study of ascetical theology itself, especially as it is interpreted in existentialist and “secularist” forms of thought. Today “Prayer” means a total relation between man and God, embracing personal devotion, corporate worship, recollection, and even moral decision, within itself. Prayer implies a total spiritual continuum rather than some isolated “religious” exercise, and although the traditional adjectives “actual” and “habitual” retain their usefulness, the strongest possible stress is placed upon the latter concept. Some modern scholars would even deny any meaning to a prayer, or religious service, if these were regarded as isolated “acts.”

Like most “modern” movements, there is nothing very new in all this. The Hebrews were fully aware that prayer was a continuous activity of the whole man. Medieval devotion expressed the same fact in relating it to all five senses. Julian of Norwich describes the very union with God in these words: “And then shall we all come into our Lord, our self clearly knowing and God fully having: and we shall endlessly be all had in God: Him verily seeing and fully feeling, Him spiritually hearing, and Him delectably smelling, and Him sweetly tasting.” In classic spirituality the Eucharistic procession, with its colour, music, incense and movement, as preparatory to “tasting the Lord,” is the supreme examplar of the Gifts of the Spirit: the total activity of the whole man in the whole Church.

But this ideal integration of prayer and life, this spiritual continuum which expresses the whole faith, is easier to talk about than to achieve. Even its partial achievement is the fruit of a prolonged, disciplined struggle, and it is with this that ascetical theology is concerned. I would therefore define it as “the theology of prayer, in its totality, together with those physical, mental, psychological and emotional discipines which nurture and support it.”

Ideally all Christian prayer is Trinitarian in form: it is offered to God the Father, through the Son, within the Holy Spirit. But again this is easier said than done, so the Church in her traditional wisdom is content if our total life of prayer contains all the theological emphases which flow from the doctrine of God the Holy Trinity: transcendence and immanence, praise and petition, objective and subjective, corporate and individual, penitence and joy, and so on. The traditional pattern of achieving this spiritual health, or “balance,” is the synthetic complex of the divine office, the Eucharist, and our uniquely personal devotion, each with their proper stresses, aims and emphases. Very briefly the divine office is mainly concerned with the corporate praise of God the Father by the Body of Christ, so it calls for a good deal of self-effacement and emotional discipline from each member of the congregation. The Eucharist is also offered to the Father, in the Spirit, but it is plainly centred upon Our Lord as Redeemer. Eucharistic worship is, therefore, less regimented and offers the worshipper more psychological and emotional freedom.

Now what does all this mean to Church music? Can we widen the inter-relation involved from liturgical to ascetical consideration? All I can try to do is to raise some points and ask some questions of a very elementary kind. Let me hasten to confess that I am a music-lover of the strictly consumer kind, a non-productive drone whose technical knowledge is as near to nill as makes no difference.

My starting point is with the modern (and ancient) insistence on such key words as “integration,” “continuum,” “totality,” and so on. If the divine office, the Eucharist, and personal devotion are inseparable, then so are the practical elements of worship: posture, rite, ceremonial, emotion, cognition—and music. Worship is the total response of the whole man. So music cannot be relegated to an addendum, and I should deplore phrases lie the “use of music” in liturgy, or “music as handmaid of liturgy.” I should prefer to say that if prayer is the activity of the whole man in particular (“spiritual”) mode, or if thought is the cognitive action of the whole man, then music is worship in its musical mode. No doubt the musician will applaud this view, but we must go further. It follows that if music is given this autonomous value its emotional and psychological impact must coincide with the basic disciplines and emphases of ascetical theology itself. What does this say to the composer of liturgical music?

I think it says several things which I can only hint at in—musically speaking—kindergarten terms. First, if a composer is concerned with a setting for the Mass, or with the composition or arrangement of Eucharistic hymn-tunes, then he may indulge in an absolute freedom of expression. Because of the Trinitarian “balance” of the Eucharistic action almost anything can be fitted in somewhere during some liturgical season. But if he is writing music for the Psalter, or the Canticles of the divine office, a more disciplined approach is required: the theological emphases and ascetical purpose have to be considered. Apart from the relation between words and music, can these ascetical stresses be musically interpreted?

I suppose that, in the last resort, all music is received subjectively; the same music makes a different impression on different people. Yet, in kindergarten terms, there seems to be a possible classification from an ascetical theological point of view. Because the divine office is strictly corporate, could we suggest that its music should be of a kind which tends to unite listeners, like a military march or more subtly, dance or ballet music? And is there not some distinction between music that “takes you out of yourself” and music which “stirs one up inside;” psychologically between music to which the listener “goes out” and that which he “receives”? I suggest, very tentatively, that My God, how wonderful Thou art to Turle’s tune is of the former kind; Bach’s O Sacred head surrounded is of the latter. Whatever the intrinsic quality of the music, only the first hymn is ascetically suitable in the divine office, while both could be used eucharistically. The first is an “office” hymn because it is addressed to God Almighty and transcendent and I think the music inspires outgoing praise. The second is subjective and meditative, and again I think the music assists towards a penitential meditation. In fine, is it possible to conceive a type of “office-music” which might be described by some such phrase as allegro elevato?

This, I suggest, is the prior emphasis: in composing or choosing Church music the first question is what is this particular service for within the total complex of Christian prayer? Is it a question of giving praise or receiving inspiration? Of being the Church or of being a unique person within it? Yet our popular hymnals, for example, would appear hardly to have got around to this prior point. “Office” hymns need a long section to themselves, while “Holy Communion” and “General” amount to much the same thing. Arrangement according to liturgical season obviously has its point for music can express the mood of Christmas, Lent and Easter better than words, but this is a secondary consideration. The sort of music we have come to associate with Advent and Lent is usually quite impossible in association with Matins and Evensong—at these or any other seasons—because it is unsuitable for the prior emphases of the divine office as such.

Although I have tried to say something about moods, emphases and so on, I have been careful to avoid any dogmatism about an actual type or idiom of Church music, and this, too, is consonant with modern ascetical theology which will have nothing to do with a “sacred-secular” distinction in this or any other context. Yet I think this very point might throw a little light on discussions about musical tradition. In any such discussions between a group of clergymen two things are bound to happen. Some devout old boy is sure to get up and say that plainsong is the Church’s music and there can be no other. Then a vigorous young curate will counter with a plea for “pop” and hootinanny: we’ve got to get “with-it.” Obviously nobody wins, but ascetical theology might even help with this situation. I should say that a very strong case could be made for plainsong as the supreme vehicle for the proper offering of the divine office; not because it is tradition or even because it sounds nice, but because it combines the objective-corporate-self-effacing stresses that are here required. But does it follow that Eucharistic worship and other liturgical acts are also bound to this one form? Ascetical theology, especially in its modern trends, would have to say No.

Cover image “The Forerunners of Christ with Saints and Martyrs” by Fra Angelico is licensed under CC BY 2.0 / Cropped from original

“The Purple Headed Mountain” is now for sale!

The Purple Headed Mountain by Martin ThorntonDecember 16, 2014 marks the return of Martin Thornton’s classic text, The Purple Headed Mountain, to in-print status. Just shy of 53 years after its original printing by London’s Faith Press, we at Akenside Press are very glad to reissue The Purple Headed Mountain — an “authorized reissue” as we received permission from Monica Thornton, Martin’s wife, to reissue all thirteen books of his corpus.

All new artwork, all new typesetting, and a new introduction by yours truly. We discussed it in house for quite some time, we did a 5-week short course on the book at Saint Paul’s, Riverside, we sought outside opinions on whether the book remained topical (across the board, the answer was a resoundingly affirmative), we solicited advice on how best to present the book as well as contextualize it, and we did all the hard, boring stuff of book production — and now, with great pleasure and humility, we can say that you can now purchase the book here. How gratifying!

Simply put, this is a text that can be put to immediate use in Anglican parishes who are seeking to support and sustain Catholic reality — that is, faith, culture, imagination, theology, practice. It is both accessible and sophisticated, intelligent and practical. It connects doctrine with life, and on every page, even every paragraph, it evokes prayer and contemplation. As Archbishop Michael Ramsey wrote in the Foreword,“At every point there is a down-to-earth practicality about its treatment of the spiritual life.” This is orthodoxy both adventurous and awe-filled.

You can find a longer description of the book on our Facebook page. Meanwhile, here are the nitty, gritty details:

$12.50
106 pages
5 in x 7 in
ISBN: 978-0-692-34106-3
Perfect bound
Color cover on 80-lb paper, natural
Inside pages on 70-lb paper, natural

A new introduction by Matthew Dallman
Original foreword by Archbishop Michael Ramsey
Original author’s preface by Martin Thornton

Further description at the book’s ordering page. Order your copy today!

Homily: O ye Saints of the Holy Catholic Church

Homily delivered on the External Solemnity of All Saints, 2014 at Saint Paul’s Parish, Riverside, Illinois.

Almighty God,” our Collect begins, “you have knit together your elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord: Give us grace so to follow your blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those ineffable joys that you have prepared for those who truly love you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

It has been said, not altogether inaccurately, that if you want to know what Anglicans believe in terms of doctrine, look at their Collects. At each Mass, the appointed Collect receives pride of place at the culmination of the Entrance Rite, which is what brings us back together, after a week of ministry according to our gifts and circumstance. The Collects are arranged in a very intentional way to correlate with the turning of the liturgical year. And in terms of their doctrinal content, the Collects express doctrine not in a straight, you might say, dry academic way. Doctrine rather is expressed in the Collects in a way that integrates with Prayer.

For those of you who have spent any time devotionally reading the works of Saint Anselm, who has a fundamental role in English, and hence Anglican, spirituality, you might notice a similarity between the style of Anselm and the style of our Collects. It is not, here is some doctrine and dogma, and over here is some high devotional words. No, in Anselm, in our Collects, and I would say in authentic Anglican life, there is an integral balance, in the Benedictine sense, of intellect and action, head and feeling, study and wilderness, dogma and love.

So what of this Collect, appointed for this, the Solemnity of All Saints? Can we look to this Collect for insight into what Anglicans believe about this feast? I believe we can. And I would go further than that — for what we have in this Collect is not only an authentically Anglican view of All Saints, but one deeply Catholic because it expresses Remnant theology. So let’s have a look.

Almighty God, you have knit together your elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord. So, we talk in this parish about Catholic vision, and every once in a while, as a counter example of what is not Catholic, every once in a while we talk a little bit about something called Calvinism. Perhaps you have heard of it? Well in this “adoration” part of the Collect, where God’s nature or acts are praised in pure adoration of who He is, there is this word “elect” that is of course something of a buzz word in the Catholic-Calvinist debate. Often it means predestination. Some people are predestined, according to historical Calvinism, as God’s “elect” to be saved; and others predestined to be damned. It is a nasty bit of theology, and the Catholic faith holds this to be heretical. Yet why, then, is the word “elect” part of our Collect? If our Collects express our doctrine, and this Collect says “elect”, are we Calvinist in our doctrine?

Not at all. The word “elect” is there because it has everything to do with the Saints. It has everything to do with those who we already call Saints, those treasure-troves of holiness; and with those yet to be Saints, those departed who have proceeded to the next stage of their lives, the intermediate state of Paradise, to further complete their journey of theosis, of being reforming into likeness of Jesus. And it has everything to do with Saints yet born, and yet to die. Because being a Saint is a vocation. Saints are called by God. As Martin Thornton wrote (in The Function of Theology), God makes Himself present — often confronting the person with the resurrected Christ — which issues in personal dialogue or “colloquy”, which is what is meant generally by “mental prayer”, an interchange between minds: the mind of the saint and the mind of Christ. This is how the “voice of God” is “heard” by the spiritual ears of the dedicated mind. This is an existential way of understanding what it means to be “elect.” It means being called by God.

You have knit together your elect. All of this is of God’s initiative, or “prevenient Grace.” Certainly an archetype of all this is Abraham, called by God. This was a calling that tested his resolve, tested his faith, even to the point of sacrificing Isaac his son. Abraham indeed was confronted in the same ways Saints are confronted — completely, demanding the whole person, not just the mind, the emotions, or the body, but all of it, for prayer is loving God in a total way.

You have knit together your elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord. This means, simply, the Church. It expresses our baptismal promise in the Apostles’ Creed: “I believe in the holy Catholic Church, the Communion of Saints.” That is not two statements, but one expressed two ways. For the holy Catholic Church IS the communion of saints. Those saints of the past, of the present, and of the future. Saints in this sense includes the Angels, and pride of place goes to Our Lady, Blessed Mary Holy Mother of God, Lady of all Angels and Saints. And the Church of Saints, in all its glorious diversity of expression, of gifts, of time and place — all of it is expression of God, an expression of the mystical Body of Jesus Christ.

Give us grace so to follow your blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living. Again, the ability to follow comes from God’s action, prevenient grace. And we are to follow the Saints. We are to learn about them. They are alive. “Communion of Saints” is also a statement about their present condition. They join us at the altar, they watch over us, and make themselves available to us. It is a very good form of devotional meditation to imagine what their lives were like. We often have only scanty details of history about them. This can also be a gift, for it allows us to more easily to see our lives in theirs, and their lives in ours.

The saints, as Pope Benedict XVI wrote, “are the true interpreters of Holy Scripture.” He continues, “The meaning of a given passage of the Bible becomes most intelligible in those human beings who have been totally transfixed by it and have lived it out.” That is another way of saying that the lives of saints — both for their heroism and their failures — mediate what Scripture authoritatively points toward: the activity of God, his divine providence.

Saints also point to the proper interpretation of the Beatitudes. Those who are blessed — are poor in spirit, mourn, are meek, hunger and thirst for righteousness, are merciful, pure in heart, are peacemakers, and are persecuted for righteousness sake. This list of terms might sound imposing — and in truth, the responsibilities of the Christian life are imposing from one perspective — but as Thornton wrote (in English Spirituality) this list can be described as the following qualities: “poor in spirit” means humility, sensitive to spiritual things; “mourn” means being sympathetic and penitent, “meek” means understanding the joy of life, “hunger and thirst for righteousness” means “craving progress toward union with God”, “merciful” means compassionate, “pure in heart” means constant in religious participation (Office, Mass, Devotion), “peacemaker” means prudent in searching for harmony among men; and “persecuted for righteousness’ sake” means fortitude amid the battle against sin.

Forgive me for breezing through these, for each of them is enough food for a homily itself. But I am just touching on them now to point out that the life of the Saint, which is the life the Christian faith calls people toward, involves qualities and characteristics that are not alien to our everyday experience. All we can do, all Saints every did, all God asks, is to respond to God as his activity is made available to our senses and our mind — according to the gifts and talents we are given by God. Not some other gifts and talents, but those we have, used not for selfish interest but rather for the greater glory of God.

That we may come to those ineffable joys that you have prepared for those who truly love you. Listen to these words! Ineffable joys — joy beyond our ability to imagine or conceive. Prepared by God — because he wants us, yearns for us, fundamentally desires us. Prepared for those who truly love you. This is what Remnant really means. The faithful Remnant are those called by God, who respond to God’s calling, and by his help learn to truly Love him in all moments and activities of their being, beginning in this life and continuing to the next. The Saints, and sainthood whether known officially or unknown, is what we mean by “faithful Remnant.” The Beatitudes are not just qualities of holiness. They are qualities of Jesus himself, qualities in their perfect form, yet available to us by the grace of God wherever we happen to be in our journey. The Beatitudes are a description of the Remnant — those called to fully live out the ministry initiated by Jesus himself — to live out and perpetuate Jesus whether in a monastic community or in a secular community such as Saint Paul’s Parish, Riverside, Illinois.

And it is a life built on sacramentality or Catholic imagination, the Sacraments themselves, built on absorbing Scriptural insight, built on joy, built on obedience, built on community. And, fundamentally, built on love.

O all ye Saints of the holy Catholic Church — O ye holy Men and Women — pray for us.

About “The Purple Headed Mountain”

PHM_cover

[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.

To Be Called by Jesus

Homily delivered on the Solemnity of Saint Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist, 2014 at Saint Paul’s, Riverside, Illinois.

“Jesus saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax office; and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he rose and followed him.”

Immediately we should ask, “What does it mean to follow Jesus?” And furthermore, because Jesus said, “Follow me,” we should ask, “What does it mean for Jesus to call us?”

Our Collect reads, “We pray that, after Saint Matthew’s example, we may with ready wills and hearts obey the calling of our Lord to follow him.” And so the Collect gathers together the two questions — what does it mean to follow Jesus? and what does it mean for Jesus to call us? — in a neat little package that if taken seriously, has to do with the very core of being Christian today.

So, how do we answer these questions? And how do each of us in our own unique devotional lives come to grips with the implications? One thing is certain: all of us are called in some way; God’s calling is an actuality in our lives, because we are here at Mass. Each of us here has chosen God rather than the alternative. The very act of choosing to be here, of choosing God, means that we are avoiding sin, in that sense “repenting,” because to be separate from God is sin and by being here we all intend therefore not to be separate from God, but to be closer to Him.

So it is not that we should look at Matthew as if what he did in following the call of Jesus is alien to our experience. It is not. Now, our gospel does present Matthew’s response as rather instantaneous and perhaps there is something to be gained in understanding that Jesus’s call to us, whenever it happens, should be not merely heard but obeyed — responded to with active listening. Our Collect also speaks of having ready wills and hearts. Matthew, despite his lifestyle, or perhaps because of it, is shown to have had a ready will and heart. He is an example of discipleship to us.

Blessed Mary, as the Church teaches, is the model disciple, and we can see here that Matthew’s response to Jesus’s call is analogous to Mary’s response to God when he bestowed upon her a vocation to be the Mother of God. Just as Mary’s response was immediate, so was Matthew’s.

I mentioned a moment ago that it may have been because of Matthew’s lifestyle that he had a ready will and heart. I say this because we must always remember the insight that comes from St Thomas Aquinas — that grace does not destroy our nature; rather, grace perfects nature: fulfills our nature. God’s actuality in our lives means that when we become more truly human, truly at home in God’s creation, truly at home in being a creature of God and the humility that requires, more truly in this world — when we accept that God wants us to follow him in this life, in this situation, in this context, with these challenges — this is when we truly cooperate with the grace, the love of God that came before our awareness of it, yet if obeyed, will carry us to the glorified existence in the power of the Holy Spirit through our incorporation into the glorified Body of Jesus the Christ.

So we should not think that Matthew did anything else but respond properly to his situation as Jesus revealed it. And what was his situation? As a tax collector, Matthew worked in a kind of toll-booth. He worked in that tollbooth to collect fees on goods, probably the fish caught nearby. As something of a cog in the government’s financial system, perhaps his relationship with those fishers was one of exploitation. Such people are not “doers;” they take from doers. That is the essence of the relationship, even when done without malice.

Whatever the details of his life, by being a tax collector, in light of the presence of Jesus, Matthew saw himself out of harmony with his surroundings, his life, his context, those fishermen. When we listen to Jesus, really listen by choosing — actively choosing — to open our hearts, the Church teaches that we are brought from disharmony with our surroundings to harmony; from dissonance to consonance; from blurry to focused; from jumbled up and messy to organized and ordered.

It is useful to recall that earlier in Matthew’s Gospel, in chapter 4, Jesus told Peter and Andrew, when he called them, that he would make them “fishers of men.” So we can see that Matthew moved from being a collector of money from the activities of fishermen to being a fisher, to being an apostle of the kingdom of heaven, which is true. Whereas from the hard work of others he once collected money, through being in relationship with Jesus, he was thrust directly into intimate relationship with the very people from whom he probably used to be at arm’s length. Jesus brings us closer to people; our sensitivity to people and their lives increases.

Why? Because of grace. Grace makes us more alive. We need the grace, revealed by Jesus, because without Him our lives are out of harmony; in that sense, sinners; less alive hence more dead; or in the Benedictine sense, out of balance.

Jesus balances, Jesus harmonizes, Jesus makes us more alive because of his grace. As it was then, it is now. But this movement of grace is not abstract, intellectual, or magicial. It is incarnational: it happens through activity. But which activity?

If we distill his activities to their fundamental essence, we see a pattern. The grace of Jesus spread through meals together, dining together, communing against the conventions of the day. This is Eucharist.

The grace of Jesus also spread through his adoration of the Father; his perfect prayer. His Father, and through him, our Father. This is the Office.

And what’s more, the grace of Jesus spread though his life lived with people, healing, teaching, listening, leading, breaking open Scripture in new ways. This is Devotion, the ministry of our baptism.

This pattern of three activities — Office, Eucharist, Devotion — are core practices that Jesus calls us to do. He calls us to them because these are his activities, and we are called to follow him, to be His Body left behind to continue His ministry. Following him means we respond to his call to order our lives around Him, and His grace. Just like Saint Matthew.

It is through these activities, as a pattern called regula, that we deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Jesus. Regula is how Jesus taught us to pray, to worship God. And it is through these activities — codified for Anglicans in our Prayer Book — that we are given, by the grace of God who came to us and continues to come to us, a right view of our state before God which, in the words of the late Archbishop Michael Ramsey, enables true vision instead of a vision clouded with unrealities. A true vision of the truth of our vocation.

Saint Matthew, pray for us.

Why pray the Office?

One of the primary reasons to pray the Divine Office is because it works. Many Christians report just that, and they go further and call the daily Office one of the most important aspects of their spiritual life. It is the core of what “being religious” actually means, in terms of behavior.

But what are we saying when we say “it works”? I think we are saying that it raises our eyes to God Almighty. The Office is the reliable and time-tested way to recognize the dimension of the Blessed Trinity — of reality — that is wholly transcendent and “other.”

God is one, and “we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity, neither confounding the Persons, nor dividing the Substance,” in the words of the Quicunque Vult. Yet we speak in our Creeds of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We do not “confound the Persons” when we gently recognize the threeness of reality of God: in His nearness, named the Holy Spirit; in His incarnation, named God the Son, Jesus Christ; and in His otherness, named God the Father.

This recognition orders — that is, directs — our Prayer. Coordinating these three emphases demands a system, and that system is called “Rule,” or better, “Regula.” By Regula, we mean the threefold framework, summarized as “Office-Mass-Devotion,” for response to the threeness of divine reality. In short, we mean exactly what is described by Saint Luke as the first acts of religion by the first Christians:

“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, and the breaking of bread, and the prayers” (Acts 2:42).

  • Devotion (the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, baptismal ministry rooted in the Bible) emphasizes the nearness of the Holy Spirit.
  • Mass (the breaking of bread) emphasizes the Son who communicates Himself to us.
  • Divine or daily Office (the prayers) emphasizes the Father Almighty.

The early Church recognized that Jesus of Nazareth was a man long before they realized he was God in His full and definitive revelation. In other words, the early Church realized Three before they realized One. The doctrine of the Holy Trinity was developed over time as the Church recognized the true depth that had been revealed to them. It is not wrong for us, by analogy, to do the same.

The mystery in the ultimate sense involves seeing the three realities of God cohere in one being, or substance. That perhaps is a lifelong journey, as well as into the next life. The basic point is that the Divine Office is the sturdiest way in this life to recognize something of ultimate reality beyond time and space, and to do so simply and orderly every day. This is consistent with the fact that what the Office is built upon is the Our Father set-prayer, as I have previously written. The Office is built upon the words Jesus gave us — His words, His set-prayer, His praying for us.

Yet if we understand the Office are centered in the Father, are we splitting God apart in our prayer? Is this some sort of crypto-modalism? In fact it is nothing of the sort.

We can never attain to a completely synthetic view of what God has revealed Himself to be. For that would involve a level of unified knowledge which can belong to none but God himself. Such a simple and simultaneous knowledge of what God is must exist in God Himself. But we on our part must be content to approach the sanctuary from the outside and from a number of different points of view.

This is from an essay by Lionel S. Thornton (no relation to Martin) called “The Christian Conception of God” in a book called Essays Catholic and Critical from the 1930s.

To put that in other words: our lived journey toward glorified being in Christ, codified as the doctrine of theosis, begins by approaching the three Persons of God more or less one at a time. (This occurs simultaneous to our confessing at all times the doctrine of the Trinity.) And, over time and into our next life, we grow by Grace into the synthetic, unified, full trinitarian truth. That is, what we experience consciously eventually matches what the Church teaches about God.

As children we learn about God by first being introduced to Jesus and his ministry. Our understanding of God deepens and widens as we get older and begin to consider and grapple with the activity of the Holy Spirit beginning in Acts, Chap. 2. Perhaps it takes a certain maturity to begin to really grapple with God the Father, as wholly other, the transcendent creator of all. Ascetically, the divine Persons can only be understood when considered together, so there is no harm in particular study of one of them, for the other two Persons will have to come in at some point.

With the Office in particular, with its dry repetition that, unlike Mass and Devotion, gives little to nothing to us in the moment, we can begin to truly experience the sheer immensity of God and his vast creation. How else, save the Divine Office, do we pray with thanks to the dimension of God beyond the conditions of time and space? ontological and axiological Other?

The Divine Office is our joining into the ceaseless praise offered to the Father by the Saints and Angels as the Body of Christ himself. It is Christ who makes up for our frailties and completes our prayer, and it is the Holy Spirit, Saint Paul tells us, whose power allows us to even say “Our Father.” So despite the emphasis in the Divine Office being given to the Father, it is still thoroughly trinitarian Prayer.

In sum, our prayer life rooted in Regula — associating Mass with the Son, Devotion with the Holy Spirit, and Office with the Father — is an “ascetical application of trinitarian dogmatic,” to quote Martin Thornton. Over time and through use, these “different points of view” become by the Grace of God a single woven tapestry of praise to one God, so that our glorified worship is to “Unity in Trinity and the Trinity in Unity.” And absolutely nothing less.

“Whither Christian Baptism?”

The Times (UK)
March 11, 1972
By the Rev. Dr. Martin Thornton

The practice of Infant Baptism is a non-biblical, undogmatic, yet nevertheless venerable tradition, which arose and continued according to three pastoral factors. The Church was the unique and exclusive channel of truth and salvation; everything outside was degradation and vice. The family, and especially the Christian family, was a close-knit unit within which harmonious disagreement was impossible. Later came Christendom, wherein Church and state more or less coincided; secular law originated in moral theology, baptism followed birth, nationality and religious allegiance overlapped. None of these factors pertain any longer. The Church continues to believe in Christ’s unique revelation, but other world religions can no longer be dismissed as “pagan;” God’s relation with his creation is wider than the Church. Members of modern families now think differently, vote differently, believe different things, and get along pretty amicably on the principle of mutual respect. Despite various national pretenses, Christendom is shattered.

What of theology? To simplify, perhaps over-simplify, there are two poles of thought. The ancient Catholic tradition insists that the sacrament of Baptism is an objective act of God, whereby the recipient is mystically incorporated into the Body of Christ. Subjective human considerations are insignificant. The opposite view is that the efficacy of divine sacramental action demands a minimal human response, which is impossible to an infant recipient. In terms of pastoral responsibility both views meet at the same practical point. By the latter theory infant baptism is meaningless; by the former it achieves far too much. For we must now humbly recognize sincere agnosticism, accept the autonomy of anti-institutional Christianity, and honour the particular spiritual genius of each world religion.

Significantly, more and more Western people are attracted to the ascetical ethos of the East. Infant baptism according to the Catholic view precludes for ever any such spiritual freedom or choice. It becomes analogous to the medieval child-marriage; it cannot be dissolved whatever the circumstances. The baptized non-believer—according to this theory—has acquired a status, or had it thrust upon him, against which he rebels. His life must be a living lie. This is surely one of many powerful arguments for the deferment of Christian initiation until the age of reason and discretion.

The traditional compromise has been the bisection of the initiatory process into two separate rites: baptism and confirmation. Recent studies and pronouncements have shown that this is no solution. Either baptism is the full Christian initiation, which makes confirmation superfluous (the view recently propounded), or confirmation somehow or other “completes” the sacrament which thus renders baptism meaningless—another reason for deferment to a later age.

What then are parents supposed to do? How can they make a responsible and indeed devout decision? The agnostic and non-believing parent can only decide for baptism on the grounds of superstition, convention, or the “Christendom ” principle. By Catholic doctrine the implications are horrific.

What of sincerely Christian parents? Obviously they are in no way immune from social and theological change. Their faith, prayer, teaching and example in no way guarantees genuine faith for their child in 15 years’ time. Should he then embrace another religion or none they may be deeply disappointed but they need no longer regard him as depraved or damned, or even as a family outcast. It will be argued that for Christian parents infant baptism constitutes an act of faith; so does non-baptism. In fact the traditional practice could be subconsciously evasive; baptism and leave it to God, but why not refrain from baptism and still leave it to God? The latter could well constitute the more creative and responsible decision.

If it is now argued that Christian initiation is of corporate as well as individual significance, that it is a building up of the total Body of Christ, then I must agree while pointing, nevertheless, to the “Christendom” error. If the Church is to regain Catholicity in the deepest sense of its unique, self-giving service to the whole world, then it must first be rid of nominal members whose integrity is threatened by their being Christians against their will and conviction.

Cover image “Baptism of Jesus” is licensed under CC BY 2.0 / Cropped from original

“The Diverse Riches of Prayer”

By the Rev. Dr Martin Thornton
The Times (UK)
14 December 1968

The Creeds grew out of the first disciples’ confrontation with Christ, that is out of “prayer,” and they remain the only source of responsible experiment in prayer. But these formulae need reinterpretation in every age; spirituality constantly changes with new situations and “traditional” prayer presents itself not as some simple set pattern but in a gloriously rich diversity.

All the great names in the unfolding story of Christian devotion were startling innovators in their day. Now, as then, “modern” theology is the Church’s attempt to make intellectual sense of the Gospel as it impinges—or fails to impinge—upon the practical situation. “Modern” prayer must grow out of this foundation.

The unquestioned emphasis in world-wide theological thought is now centered on the doctrine of creation. This is not “new” but a revival of a traditional strand of spirituality traceable from Saint Paul through Saint Benedict, the School of Saint Victor, the Friars Minor and the Dominicans, up to Teilhard de Chardin. There are some significant pointers as to where this movement is leading.

First, creation, including human society, is to be wholeheartedly affirmed, because God is active within it and because it has its proper share in Christ’s redemption. Thus prayer is seen primarily as a contemplative union with created things rather than as a series of discursive “acts” of meditation: it is a question of intuition rather than of intellectual understanding; more a living continuum and less of a series of pious exercises; a quest rather than a duty.

It is from this perfectly orthodox and historical strand that responsible Christians are led to reject the rigid timetables, methods, and disciplines of former times. The current concern with society and its various relationships, with the sanctification of daily work, with a continuing “holy worldliness,” all spring from the same theological source.

Secondly, it is from a revival of interest in the doctrine of creation, not from outworn controversies, that modern spirituality becomes more eucharistically oriented. Therefore other liturgical acts and cults—whether Anglican mattins or the cult of the Sacred Heart—are likely to diminish in popularity and meaning. A further decline in “church-going,” even among the faithful, could be a quite legitimate outcome, and we should not panic because it has all happened before: St Bernard criticized the Cluniacs for spending too much time in chapel; both Franciscan and Jesuit have lifted the divine office from the choir into the market-place.

Thirdly, moral disciplines, which support prayer, are thoroughly world-affirming, because creation is part of man not merely an arena in which he strives. Moral “permissiveness” and the rejection of “asceticism” are little more than new names for certain forms of probabilist casuistry: both may be unwise, but they do not necessarily spring from irresponsible laity. Saint Benedict, no less than the modern radical, was insistent that the created environment was to be loved not rejected. The Church has always warned against austerity for its own sake, and against “asceticism” in its more exaggerated forms, while the doctrine of a thorough-going “detachment from creatures” has but a fleeting place in the total story of Christian spiritualist.

Throughout history theological stresses come and go, the pendulum swings, and it has often swung too far in one direction or another. This may well be true of the present exciting, and potentially creative situation, and we should be warned of three of the more apparent dangers.

First, prayer is always response to the prevenient divine action, and this implies some sort of disciplined daily pattern of devotion. Tradition insists that the ancient ideal of “holy worldliness” is never achieved without it, and the not unhealthy revolt against too rigid methods, rules, and time-tables, could leave us only with an unattainable ideal.

Next, the intuitive, prophetic, inspirational aspects of Christian life upon which both modern prayer and theology place so much stress, themselves demand the seedbeds of quiet silence, solitude, and withdrawal. These, too, can be exaggerated and they may become pietistical, but they can never be wholly eliminated.

Lastly, is the overriding danger of immanentism: there must always be a central place for the pure praise of God Almighty, or we are in danger of bringing our God so much into the market-place that he turns out to be something less than the Holy and Undivided Trinity.

Cover image “Christ Acheiropoietos” is licensed under CC BY 2.0 / Cropped from original

John Macquarrie and panentheism, part 1

A former dean of Nashotah House, Robert Munday, has written a blog post that, in the course of stating his pehttp://akensidepress.com/blog/wp-admin/post.php?post=1130&action=edit&message=1rspective and feelings about the recent announcement that the Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church, Katherine Jefferts Schiori, has been invited to preach at The House (where I am studying in a distance MTS program), mentions in passing the theology of John Macquarrie.

John Macquarrie by Deborah YetterBecause Akenside Press strongly and unapologetically affirms Macquarrie’s theology as a cornerstone for Anglican renewal and Catholic imagination — for starters, see here, here, here, and here — this post and the next two will respond to this portion of Munday’s post and try to examine the points Munday tries to make about Macquarrie. He actually packs quite a bit of stuff into just a few sentences, and given Munday’s stature in the eyes of many Anglicans, it is worth taking a look at what he wrote to see if there is any merit to his criticism. So in no particular order, that is what I’ll do starting with this post. (Note, I will not spend any time on this blog dealing with the larger controversy between those who support and do not support the invitation to the Presiding Bishop.)

Munday writes that “the fact is that Macquarrie’s understanding of God is best understood as panentheism” (emphasis his). As support, Munday first cites Wikipedia (I suppose to define the term “panentheism”; I know, I know, but we all do it sometimes) and then a passage taken from John Macquarrie: a Master of Theology, which is a work of commentary by Owen F Cummings published in 2002 with a foreword by Macquarrie himself.

The first question is simple: is Munday correct? Is “panentheism” the best way to characterize Macquarrie’s understanding of God? That is the first open question I will deal with.

My own sense, as a student of Macquarrie’s work, would be to say, “No, that is not the best way to characterize Macquarrie’s articulation of the doctrine of God.” It might be “a” way, or “part of a way”, but there are other ways, and Macquarrie doesn’t spend much time with the term, except to mention it, note it, and move on. When I teach Macquarrie’s theology of God, I talk about “Being” and “Holy Being”. Those two terms, which really are one for Macquarrie, provide a surplus of pastoral challenge within an adult catechesis environment. It also matches with Macquarrie’s own approach to the doctrine of God, a focus on “Being”. But that is just my view from the perspective of catechesis, not technical academic theology.

It should be pointed out Macquarrie meant for his systematic theology to be used. That is, he meant for it to be used to teach ordinary Christians the fullness of the Christian faith. He meant it to be supportive of prayerful exploration of orthodox and catholic doctrine — discursively, meditatively, and contemplatively. He wrote his theology always with an eye toward its use for catechesis of actual pew-sitting folk; this is a tremendous gift of his approach and a characteristic that should always been kept in mind when evaluating his theology — that there is a strongly pastoral and ascetical character to Macquarrie’s dogmatics.

John Macquarrie, Principles of Christian TheologyNow, Macquarrie does mention the term “panentheism”. In Principles of Christian Theology (revised, 1977), which is 525 pages of text, there is only one mention of the term. I excerpt below the passage in which its single mention is embedded. In the next post, I’ll generously excerpt from the other book of his books to mention the term (he wrote almost 30 books), which is called In Search of Deity (1984). There, “panentheism” shows up a number of times in discussion. I will try to do an exhaustive search of his other books to see if the term pops up elsewhere. I suspect it does not, but I will see.

Let me also add that Principles ought always be the baseline text to look at first when considering Macquarrie’s theology on any theological doctrine or topic. Depending on the particular Christian doctrine or topic, Principles may or may not constitute Macquarrie’s final word. In the case, for example, of christology, it most definitely does not constitute his final word, as he wrote at least two significant christological works subsequently, those being Jesus Christ in Modern Thought (1990), and Christology Revisited (1998). But in all cases, no matter the doctrine or topic, always first look to Macquarrie’s articulation in Principles as the point of departure. (This is also true for Macquarrie’s sacramental theology; too often people look at his excellent A Guide to the Sacraments without first giving thorough and patient study to Principles, which provides a fuller account of the underlying philosophical framework.)

The following excerpt comes from the end of chapter 5 of Principles of Christian Theology, a chapter called “Being and God”. I’ve added paragraph numbers for reference. The question to consider as one read this is how much emphasis in Principles, his primary dogmatic text, does Macquarrie in his own words give to “panentheism”? To see it in action, skip to paragraph 15.

13. But let us return to our main theme. The assertion “God exists” is not to be taken as meaning that there is to be found a being possessing such and such characteristics. “God exists” is a way of asserting what would perhaps be more exactly expressed as the holiness of being. But it is precisely the assertion of the holiness of being which is denied by atheism, so that our manner of interpreting the expression “God exists” in terms of God as being, makes not the slightest concession to atheism. It does, however, rule out obsolete and untenable mythological and metaphysical ways of thinking of God.

14. If it is allowed that the equation of God with being is not to be identified with atheism (for, rightly understood, it is the very opposite), what are we to say to the charge the our view is a kind of pantheism? Such a suggestion is equally wide of the mark, and rest on a gross misunderstanding. It has already been made clear that Being not only is not a being, but is not the sum of beings or the totality of beings or an all-inclusive being. Being “is” the transcendens, and this term indicates not only God’s distinction from the world but his “wholly other” character as over against whatever is within the world. Yet at the same time, the acknowledgement that there “is” no being apart from beings, and that being “is” present-and-manifest in every being, guards against an exaggerated transcendence of God, such as has been common in recent theology, and seeks to do justice to his immanence.

15. Would then our identification of God with being constitute a variety of panentheism, understood as the doctrine which on the one hand opposes pantheism by holding that God’s being is more and other than the universe, but which on the other differs from traditional theism in stressing the intimacy of God’s relation to the world? Perhaps the view I have been putting forward can be described as panentheistic, but the word is not important, for panentheism is itself really a variety of theism, one which takes care to stress God’s immanence equally with his transcendence.

16. At this point we must try to clarify the notions of transcendence and immanence as applied to God’s relation to the world. In calling God “transcendent” we mean that he is other than the world, indeed, that there belongs to him a different order of being; and further that God’s being is prior to the being of the world. It seems to me that both of these points are adequately recognized in the understanding of God as being. Being is of a different order from the beings, and the dynamic letting-be of being is prior to the derivative existence of the beings, whether persons or things. The concept of transcendence implies therefore that there is an element of asymmetry in God’s relation to the world, and clearly this is essential to any truly theistic view, as opposed to a pantheistic one. But it does seem to me that in much traditional theism transcendence was stressed to the point at which any conception of immanence was almost lost. The traditional view worked with what might be called a “monarchical” model of God, that is to say, God was conceived as an exalted being bearing absolute rule of another being, the world — though admittedly this other being was of a different order. Still, both were beings, and the relation between the two was conceived as entirely asymmetrical: God affects the world, but the world does not affect God; God is entirely self-sufficient, so that the world adds nothing to him; the world is a product of the divine will, quite external to God and with the suggestion that God might have created or refrained from creating and it would have made no difference. It is at this point that the dialectic of theology demands that we take up the question of God’s immanence. If we understand God as being, then his immanence in the world is just as fully recognized as his transcendence; the relation is that of being to the beings rather than that of one being to another, and we have seen that being is present and manifest in the beings. The traditional monarchical model is then qualified by what may be called an “organic” model of the God-world relation. This alternative model allows for some elements of symmetry and reciprocity in the relation of God and the world: God cannot be conceived apart from the world, for it is his very essence (letting-be) to create; God is affected by the world as well as affecting it, for creation entails risk and vulnerability; God is in time and history, as well as above them.

17. All of these matters will receive fuller discussion later, but they are already implicit in the thought of God as being. This is not a confusion of God and the world, but it is a recognition of their intimate relatedness, and this accords in turn with a fully dialectical understanding of the transcendence and immanence of God.

18. The term “God” then is adequately indicated on the frame of reference by the expression “holy being.” It follows that “God” has a twofold meaning: an ontological meaning, in so far as the word denotes being, and an existential meaning, in so far as it expresses an attitude of commitment to, or faith in, being. These two meanings belong together in the word “God” and are inseparable. The word is the key word of religion because it already expresses the basic religious conviction — that fact and value belong together, that being which gives being is also gracious being. The assertion “God exists” may be expressed in another way as meaning that being “is” no alien or neutral over against us, but that it both demands and sustains, so that through faith in being, we can ourselves advance into fullness of being and fulfill the potentialities of selfhood.

19. From now on, I shall use an initial capital for “Being” when the word is used as an alternative for “God”. This will conform to traditional usage and will also distinguish this particular meaning from others. But we must be careful not to let this word “Being” betray us into a static notion of God. We have seen that Being always includes becoming, and that the essence of Being is the dynamic act of letting-be. So our thought of God is parallel to our way of thinking of the self or soul, expounded in an earlier chapter. In both cases, we have abandoned the traditional “substantial” (reified) conceptuality in favor of one that takes time and becoming seriously.

(Principles of Christian Theology, 1977, V.21.13-19)

I hope that is enough to give a sense of both Macquarrie’s own relationship to the term “panentheism” (paragraph 15) — Macquarrie seeks to “stress God’s immanence equally with his transcendence” — as well as a significant taste of his theology of the doctrine of God, with respect to the relationship between God’s transcendence and God’s immanence.

Obviously there is more to say about God theologically, and Macquarrie does so. In chapter 9, Macquarrie moves to the explicit doctrine of the Trinity; in chapter 12, the Person of Jesus Christ; and in chapter 14, the Holy Spirit. And God shows up in some way or another in each and every paragraph of the whole book, and so the whole book does have to be taken into account before one says “Macquarrie’s doctrine of ___________ is ___________.” This is true of any great theological thinker.

In the next post, I’ll excerpt from In Search of Deity. And after that I’ll begin to evaluate Munday’s criticism given Macquarrie’s own words.

Exciting stuff for Akenside Press!

I wanted to tell you about some very exciting stuff happening. It all amounts to an amazing opportunity with high-upside for Anglicanism:

(1) As I wrote a little while ago, we have received permission from the family of Martin Thornton to reissue all thirteen of his books, which we will do in the coming years. Here are my copies of each title:

In the reissuing process, each book will require its own particular “TLC” because each has something significant that needs updating. I am not referring to Thornton’s text. No — it is always glorious. I am talking about citations, references, missing prefaces, and things like that. But because this will occupy such a great deal of our efforts going forward, I’ll leave this for future posts. There is quite a bit more to say.

(2) I will be spending a month in England and Wales this summer to meet with the Thornton family (his wife and daughter) and do research for a book I will write that introduces Thornton to a wider audience, something never before written. I plan to call it Martin Thornton: Introduction and Selected Writings. My research will take me to libraries and locales that include London, Oxford, Cambridge, and Wales.

Dr Rowan Williams, ret. Archbishop of Canterbury

Dr Rowan Williams, ret. Archbishop of Canterbury

(3) While I am there I will meet with ++Rowan Williams, one on one, in Cambridge. I wrote him asking if he would speak with me about Martin Thornton, and … he agreed! He also called our booklet The Benedictine Parish “finely produced” and that he would be quoting from it in a lecture he was giving to clergy. Just incredible! Our meeting is scheduled for July 2 in Cambridge.

(4) To raise funds for the remaining expenses (travel, bare minimum book production costs), I have launched a Kickstarter campaign. I hope to reach $3970 in this campaign, which lasts until 13 March. So far after 3 days, I have received $1,600 in pledges and am 40% toward my goal, which is very good. But it is an “all or nothing” affair, and the campaign does not at least reach my goal, I get nothing.

Watch this video I made for the Kickstarter campaign. By clicking on the “K” you will be taken to the fundraising page.

Any and all help is needed — financial, prayer, spreading of the word. Please help!

Let me also recap some of the endorsements of what Akenside Press has been and will be doing. I mentioned ++Rowan said my first booklet is “finely produced”. Additionally:

“You are doing important work.”
The Rt Rev. Daniel Martins
Bishop of Springfield, Illinois, and
Chair of the Board of Trustees of Nashotah House Theological Seminary

“You and your press are a blessing.”
The Rev. Dr Steven A. Peay
Dean for Academic Affairs, Nashotah House Theological Seminary

regarding The Benedictine Parish:
“I hope this book is widely read and widely influential.”
The Rev. Dr Louis Weil
Professor Emeritus of Liturgics, Church Divinity School of the Pacific

regarding our reissuing of Martin Thornton’s books:
“A great service to the Anglican world, and beyond.”
Dr Christopher Wells, executive editor of The Living Church magazine

What blessings, each and every one. So please support our Kickstarter campaign — with your prayers, word of mouth, and if you can, a financial pledge!

Announcement: Akenside Press will reissue Martin Thornton

Martin ThorntonWe have an important huge announcement to make:

Akenside Press will reissue Martin Thornton’s books!

Akenside Press has received permission to reissue all thirteen of Martin Thornton’s books. We have received this permission directly from the Thornton family. Previously, Thornton’s work has been published by the likes of S.P.C.K., Hodder and Stoughton, and in the United States, by Cowley Publications. All of his books are currently out of print, although Wipf and Stock has made available six of his books in reprint form, which is certainly better than nothing.

What Akenside Press will do is gather together the different versions of his books and offer them in single, correct form. Yes, there are notable textual differences between, for example, the UK and US versions of Christian Proficiency from 1959 and Prayer: A New Encounter from 1972. Sometimes Thornton’s own text was altered; other times the prefatory materials differed. In nearly all cases, the footnotes he provides to key sources reference out of date versions of those texts (such as in the case of his voluminous citations in Prayer: A New Encounter of John Macquarrie’s Principles of Christian Theology, the 1st edition not the revised 2nd edition). We will gather the texts together, removed any discrepancies, update the citations, collect all prefatory material (forewords, prefaces, which also differ between versions) and release authoritative editions of each of his books, working directly with his family in the process. Yes, this will be an enormous task, one that will require my travel over to England, which I will do this summer (stay tuned for that news coming soon).

As we prepare for releasing his titles, what Akenside Press will do first is publish a medium-length volume of “Selected Writings” of Thornton. These selected writings will be taken from each of his 13 books. Many Thornton fans have read one or more of his “big four” books: English SpiritualityPastoral TheologyChristian Proficiency, and Spiritual Direction. Yet he has nine more, each of which is brilliant in its own right. And none of the “big four” was Thornton’s own favorite. That prestige belongs to Margery Kempe: An Example in the English Pastoral Tradition from 1960. He wrote this as part of his research for English Spirituality. He pointedly regarded as “a poor mystic but an excellent parishioner” who can teach us today. His interpretation of Kempe’s Book must be read by more Anglicans, and Akenside Press will make that happen, first through excerpts (along with excerpts from the other 12 books) and later in its full, complete form.

What will begin the collection of selected writings will be a substantial introduction to Thornton’s biography and theology written by, well, me. I will be meeting with Thornton’s wife Monica and his daughter Magdalen this summer, along with other people. What is important with any significant theological figure is not only the biography and theology, but the milieu in which the person lived: the wider environment. When a picture of the milieu is grasped, then the biography and theology become all the more poignant and incarnational. I’m going to England to gain an understanding of that milieu, look through Thornton’s collected papers, interview his family members, and be awash in the parts of England that Thornton himself lived in.

We hope to publish “Introduction and Selected Writings” within one year’s time. After that, we will bring out one Thornton book at a time until all 13 have been reissued.

Why do this? Because Akenside Press holds strongly that it is through the guidance of the prophetic theology of Martin Thornton and John Macquarrie that the renewal of Anglicanism lies. Their work is thoroughly infused with Catholic imagination. Macquarrie is the dogmatic theologian of the catholic imagination, and Thornton is the ascetical theologian of the catholic imagination. Their theologies go hand in hand with each other, as the latter half of Thornton’s corpus directly indicates. And so to reissue Thornton’s work is to bring this Catholic theology in front of Anglican eyes and to invite a deeper and wider response to Christ according to the traditions of Anglican Christianity.

The Anglican world desperately needs the voice of Martin Thornton to be heard wider and louder. It is one of the most brilliant, articulate, erudite pastoral and ascetical voices in the entire history of Christianity. We believe he is a doctor of the Church and a saint (as we believe Macquarrie to be both doctor and saint). We believe that Thornton understands Anglican theological identity better than anyone before him. Each of his books remains relevant to our situation today. And it will be our honor and profound privilege to help to educate others with his theology, to help the Anglican Church as well as the wider Catholic churches, and to continue the conversation about the heart of Anglican Christianity that Thornton’s own voice has helped to keep alive.

Martin Thornton on the English School of spirituality

So, Thornton fans rejoice!
And please pray for Akenside Press. We need your support!

Is the Psalter the heart of the Divine Office?

It is often said, by way of catechesis, that the Psalms constitite the heart of the Divine Office. Herein, I propose a slight, yet ascetically significant, modification: instead, what if it the Psalms really are at the heart of the devotional life?

Let me attempt to explain. Because Akenside Press has made a commitment to the renewal of the Catholic prayer life, we have agreed that the task of reviving the praying of the Divine Office is not an option, but a necessity. For our own part, we encourage all to give the Divine Office of Praise a look, and better yet, to try it for six months or more. You might try it first for the Noonday. Or you might try it once a day, in the morning or evening. It works anytime, and in all places: Always and everywhere to give thanks to God.

Now, particularly in Anglicanism, there is a high regard for the Cranmerian Office of the Prayer Book, and rightly so. It has stood the test of time, and weathered a great deal of change in society and ecclesial life. One might reasonably fear the loss of all things good and Anglican if the Cranmerian Office is lost. So much else has changed, and Anglicanism as a whole is in such a sickly state. We have to hold on to the essence of what Cranmer did in 1549. It is Benedictine, it is Catholic. It is a weighty tradition, they say.

And they have a point.

However, evidence is accumulating from scholars like Paul Bradshaw, an Anglican, that the story of the history of the Divine Office we have now is far richer and more complicated than it was in the 16th century. Particularly, the claim the “the psalter is the heart of the Office” — something one hears constantly — is coming under legitimate scrutiny.

In the service of helping to make known the insights and research of Bradshaw, below are three excerpts from a journal article he wrote for Anglican Theological Review. All emphasis is added. Some additional commentary follows.

(1) “In the last few decades, however, liturgical scholars have become increasingly aware that the daily office was not a new creation in the fourth century but developed organically out of earlier traditions of daily prayer among Christians going back to the very beginnings of the church, and moreover that the monastic form was not the only pattern that the office took as it developed in the period from the fourth century onwards.

“Based on the practice of some-but not all-Jews in the first century, early Christians were expected to pray several times a day, and again in the middle of the night, the latter not being quite as extreme as it sounds to modem ears in an age when not all the hours of darkness were needed for sleep and little else could be done in the limited artificial light available. These times of prayer, usually observed by individuals on their own or within their households rather than in larger gatherings, did not center around the reading of the Bible the limited availability and cost of obtaining manuscript copies of the text, to say nothing of the low level of literacy among many of the believers, would in any case have rendered this extremely rare-but in praise on behalf of all creation and intercession for the salvation of the world. At first such occasions did not even include the use of psalms, which-like the public exposition of the rest of the scriptures belonged instead to the periodic corporate gatherings of the local Christian community, and especially their eucharistic meals. Only gradually did some psalms of praise begin to form a part of the times of daily prayer for those who were able to observe them communally.

Paul Bradshaw(2) “The traditional Anglican assertion that the daily offices ought to be founded upon the recitation of the whole Psalter and the systematic reading of the Bible is at least questionable. The regular use of every single psalm has a long history, but arises only out of the monastic movement. The rest of the church in the fourth century, and Christians in the centuries prior to that, felt no obligation to do so, and seem to have restricted their use of the Psalter in worship to very few psalms or parts of psalms. Nor is there any sign that Jewish worshippers before them made much use of the canonical psalms, and the claim sometimes made that Jesus would have known them all and sung them regularly in the synagogue lacks any evidence. Even the modem synagogue only ever makes use of about half the psalms in the course of the year.”

(3) As for Bible reading rather than praise and intercession having been at the heart of early Christian daily devotion, that too seems to be a false reading back of Anglican practice into the world of the first believers. This is not to say that studying the Bible was not important to them or that they did not take the opportunities that were possible for them to do that. But it is to say that it was something different from their practice of daily prayer, which had quite a distinct orientation. As God’s priestly people, Christians were committed both to the oblation of their whole life to God and to priestly worship—the constant offering of praise to the creator and redeemer of the world on behalf of all creation and of prayer and intercession for its present needs and its ultimate salvation. It could therefore be argued that the intense emphasis on the recitation of the Psalter and the reading of scripture each day has rather obscured this older tradition. Regular Bible reading is—or should be—a vital part of the healthy spiritual life of all Christians, but it is not—or should not be—to the detriment of their vocation to engage in prayer of a rather different kind.”

Bradshaw, Paul F. “The Daily Offices in the Prayer Book Tradition”. Anglican Theological Review, 95:3 (Summer 2013), 447-460.

From these historical insights comes the ascetical question, in line with Martin Thornton, what, exactly, is the Office for? If the theological answer Thornton develops is correct — objective praise to God the Father by the whole Church as Christ’s Body then why, exactly, must the Psalter be recited entirely to fulfill that sort of praise? As Thornton writes:

Martin Thornton, The Function of TheologyLet us be honest: if the constant repetition of a curious translation of a set of ancient religious folksongs, interspersed with doubtful legends relating to a primitive tribe, is the Church’s way of inspiring love, devotion, intellectual understanding, and religious edification, then the Church is not just out of date, it is insane” (The Function of Theology, p. 88).

Knowing Thornton, he means that tongue-in-cheek, even impishly. To be clear, he treasures the Old Testament, and a central theme of his theologythe faithful Remnant, as well as key paradigms of the art of spiritual directioncome from it. Yet here his inquiry demands an answer as to how the lectionaries of Psalter and Lessons accomplish objective praise to the Father by the Body of Christ?

Now, to suggest that daily lectionaries might not constitute objectivd praise specifically is not to condemn Scripture, far from it. But it is to inquire, he insists, whether the practice of the historic Anglican Office, particularly the Psalter and Readings, accords with the theology of the threefold Regula, that is, corporate prayer aligned with trinitarian dogma, understood in a more broadly Catholic context, inclusive but not limited to its historic Anglican expression.

Thornton argues that it is not the Psalter, but the Lord’s Prayer, that better grasps the theology of the Office — the answer to the question, What is it for? This is because the Lord’s Prayer addresses, adores, and petitions our transcendent Father through words directly given to us by Jesus as explicit instruction in how to pray. It is set-prayer. And what’s more, the first indication in Christian history of the Office is from The Didache (early 2nd century). It indicates that the Lord’s Prayer is to be used, three times a day, as corporate prayer. That sounds an awful lot like the Office. And there is no mention at all of the Psalter recited every day, week, or month.

Let us consider pastoral facts of today. Very few people, even those who are otherwise completely committed Christians, do the Prayer Book Office. Can this be denied? Thornton points out that we should hardly be surprised. Cranmer’s Office form was arranged for a completely different kind of society than ours — a pre-industrial late medieval village-centered society of peasants — a society where people could easily go to their parish church on the way out to the fields or the shop, and then easily go to their parish church on their way back from the day’s work, before going home. It is a lovely sentiment, today. But it is the reality of very few Christians in the West, if anyone at all.

Now, it seems that the claim the “the psalms are the heart of the Office” does ring true for Benedictinism and its regal tradition. But how far does that truth really go for is today? There are two points to be made:

(1) Generally speaking, today’s committed Anglicans are not monks and nuns. Anglicanism, of course, is Benedictine because of an inherited “ethos” primarily, a “DNA”. But it is not so owing to our literal doing of monastic practice. Saint Benedict’s Rule influenced, but was indeed supplanted by, the Prayer Book as the corporate Regula.

(2) St Benedict developed his rule in reaction to desert monastics. And it was only those monastics who placed such a high priority on recitation of the entire psalter. There appears to be zero evidence that this was a value of the actual pre-Constantinian church.

Book of Common PrayerYet we as Anglicans, if we are to be true to our tradition, ought continue to live and pray according to fundamentally Benedictine paradigm — a Catholic culture, Catholic imagination, as practiced according to a Benedictine ethos. Perhaps what “fundamentally Benedictine” means actually is to pray according to Regula: that is, a prayer life that fosters balance, stability, recollection, and mystagogy. And perhaps what “fundamentally Benedictine” also means is community, that is the unity of the prayer life between priest and laity: for prizing that solidarity is another highly commendable characteristic of the Cranmerian Office, and particularly important contribution to the Catholic Church by Anglicanism. There is no reason why it should not be able to continue. In fact, according to the theology of the Regula, that the Office must be capable of being prayed by the entire community is a necessity, is it not? Clericalism, particularly with respect to the Divine Office, is to be rigorously avoided, on theological grounds.

Perhaps the historic use of the entire recited psalter was an instrument and means to a greater end: that end being balance, stability, recollection, and mystagogy (etc). All of the Church since the Day of Pentecost has been seeking balance and stability in the prayer life. Saint Benedict very much found that for monastic community. But is that tool required to achieve balance, stability, recollection, and mystagogy (presuming, of course, orthodox doctrine, sacramental and liturgical life) in today’s Church? Of course the Psalter is fundamental to the prayer life, in general. But the Psalter by itself does not serve balance and stability. Something else does, and we see it in Acts 2.42. That is the Regula. In other words, might it be not the Psalter, but in fact the Regula, that is what is fundamentally Benedictine?

Thornton seems to think so. He writes, “The greatest Benedictine achievement … is the final consolidation of the threefold Rule of prayer which is absolutely fundamental to all Catholic spirituality…. Here is the basic Rule of the Church which, varying in detail, is common to East and West, monastic and secular, to all the individual schools without exception, and which forms the over-all structure of the Book of Common Prayer” (English Spirituality, p. 76). How Benedict formulated his Office is very important to understanding his view of monastic prayer. But to apply his insights beyond monastic contexts, but into secular contexts, means we look first to Regula as what is fundamental about Benedictinism.

Of course, St Benedict’s Rule did work, very well, as a response to the excesses of desert monasticism, which were stretched the devotional life too far as a norm for the vast majority of people, despite the apparently widespread intrigue and secular curiosity of their life and prayer. It would be wrong and strange to suggest that the Benedictine monastic paradigm of practice is anything but glorious, fundamentally Catholic, and Church-preserving, for that is exactly what Benedictinism did: preserve the Church amid serious social strife, and did so for 1500 years and counting.

The danger is making particular “liturgics” into idols. Yet even more, to claim the Psalter exemplifies the true, fundamental character of the Benedictine Office is to risk obscuring what Thornton points out: Saint Benedict’s genius was in the overall system of prayer. So any interpretation of the Divine Office, whether it issues in reform of it or mere refinement, must situate the Office within an overall theology that underpins Regula. Because without an overall theology of prayer, the justification becomes too close to the “church’s national anthem” of “we’ve always done it that way”. And that simply won’t do when vital reform and renewal is needed.

Akenside Press is committed to Anglicanism as a Benedictine way of doing Church. And we are committed to solidarity with the pre-Constantinian Church (PDF). Both sought a Regula for a recollected life by the light of Jesus Christ. The pre-Constantinian insight is that doing so is spontaneous, joyous, and total. The Benedictine insight is that doing so requires balance, stability, and integrated life.

So what, then, for the Divine Office?

It seems that seminary life, certain cathedrals, and monastic houses would continue to benefit from the Cranmerian Office. Perhaps even some parish churches if their congregation is mostly from the nearby neighborhood. But for the rest of us who are, for better or worse, part of the “highly mobile global village” — that is, we move around a lot and lead active, busy lives that don’t orbit our parish church in any geographic way — a different Divine Office as an option seems not just appropriate, but long overdue. Yes, the American Prayer Book has shorter forms, “Daily Devotions for Individuals and Families”. These are perfectly acceptable, and can be memorized. But if one is going to memorize, isn’t it better to memorize a summary of the entirety of God’s story?

The Divine Office of Praise offers that. It is to be sung, memorized, and hence deeply absorbed and internalized. It tells a full story of God’s might acts of creation, salvation, and reconciliation. It is by itself catechetical, and owing to its heavily reliance on the Doctrine of Creation, encouraging of mystagogy — “O ye works of the Lord, bless ye the Lord; praise him and magnify him for ever!” And as an endeavor that takes about ten minutes, and can be done with children as young as two years old — always, and everywhere we praise Him — it recognizes that we don’t live in a pre-industrial, agricultural, medieval village anymore.

Finally, what about, then, the Psalter? The answer is surprisingly simple: of course we are to be devoted to the Psalms. One way to maintain the centrality of the Psalms is making them part of, not the Divine Office, but one’s broader devotional life — that is, read and prayed with slowly, through lectio divina, in a meditative-approach: at one’s leisure, or perhaps as part of a communal, devotional formation groupall of which is summed up as seeing the Psalms as a partthe heart!of a Daily Office of Readings.

In short, we suggest a rearranging that moves the Psalter from one part of the Regula to another, from Divine Office to Devotion. Hence the Psalms become the heart of our devotion rather than used for corporate set-prayer. Is this unreasonable? It may seem strange, but it follows from understanding first the Divine Office on theological grounds (that is, doctrinally), and then understanding how to match practice with the theology. By following this method we remain on a safe, orthodox path.

In the way described here, the Regula now possesses (1) a Divine Office both theological and socially realistic for clergy and laity alike, (2) a Devotional life that regards the Psalter (and all of Holy Scripture) as the authoritative thesaurus of our emotional, mental and spiritual experience in minstry—as the heart of our devotional life. And then where both of which find source, summit, and concentration: (3) in the Mass, the central corporate eventing of Christ’s most focused presence.

All of this amount not to a “revolution” in Regula, but rather a theologically defensible re-tooling that accords with orthodox doctrine and Catholic practice, yet acknowledges and adapts to social reality: something Cranmer himself did expertly in 1549. Is it not high time that we do that ourselves, today, for the sake of the Church?

The Case for a Prologue Office of Praise

“It is not sufficient to participate regularly in the Eucharist, with its unequal stress on individuality and formalism; rather we have to be eucharistic people. We have to live perpetually in the eucharistic context and this means preparation in the form of constant attempts to resolve the underlying paradoxes involved. The cosmic and the local, with stress on the former because the contemporary balance veers strongly towards the other side. Then the corporate and the personal, for the same reasons in the same order, and the immanent-transcendent balance which boils down to an application of the doctrine of the Blessed Trinity: which says it all.”

Martin Thornton, A Joyful Heart, Chap. 11

 

“The only real fall of man is his noneucharistic life in a noneucharistic world.”

Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World, p. 35

INTRODUCTION

From the earliest moments of the Christian Church, in part influenced by our Jewish heritage, a fundamental aspect of the life of the disciples of Jesus was to enact formal set-prayer. Jesus bestowed upon us the “Our Father” prayer, the Pater Noster. It is the model for set-prayer: particular words in a particular order to give thanks as a body to God the Father. We now call this the Divine Office.

In simple terms, the purpose of the Divine Office is to praise God and to magnify God, day by day: an “office of praise.” Christians do so because it teaches us who God is. This habitual activity becomes what William of St Thierry termed “necessary obedience.” God is Maker, Lover, and Keeper of all creation; His truth indeed endures forever, and knowledge of Him invites deeper participation in the goodness of Christ’s eucharistic holiness. Internalizing who God is prepares us to receive the Sacraments and to see all of creation eucharistically.

Nonetheless, relationship with God is always conditioned by societal context, and today many Christians increasingly live within media-rich environments where travel over significant distance is the daily norm. God works within our conditions, and so must our prayer life: grace perfects nature, as Saint Thomas taught. Yet, oddly, the Divine Office form standard today within Anglican patrimony has remained largely unchanged over almost 500 years, then introduced to a late-medieval, rural society of largely illiterate peasants ruled by a monarch; theirs was a society that lived and worked under the shadow of the village church. Ours is a post-industrial “global village” where the preferred church can be several miles away.

Social conditions change. Saint Benedict and Thomas Cranmer boldly and pastorally amended their Divine Office forms so as to tune into God more efficiently, given their social conditions. We seek to do the same, and the Prologue Office of Praise (Antelogium laudis) seeks to nurture a reunified Church Militant that in many ways, despite its strengths given by grace, has been torn apart by the jumbled, even dissociated, conditions of a mobile, secularized society in an satellite-driven information age. In Anglican patrimony the Divine Office was fashioned as the heart of common prayer. Yet today, because the Divine Office has developed so many variations, such unity—whereby laypersons, deacons, priests and bishops pray together in the same way—appears obscured at best, and in some places lost. For those that do daily liturgical prayer, the variety of options—numerous Prayer Book iterations, Common Worship, the Liturgy of the Hours, the Breviary, and more—are on one hand a blessing, yet erode ascetical unity, upon which the daily set-prayer hinges.

Even worse is that many people do not do any kind of daily liturgical prayer. For these souls, the routine of life for the Faithful finds little space and clearing for the Divine Office. Yet because the Divine Office is a baptismal obligation, and unity is an important characteristic of Anglicanism, something must be done.

The pastorally minded corrective begins by going “back to basics” as means for creative, necessary renewal. But how do we do that without sacrificing orthodoxy and catholicity, nor the enduring insights of Benedictine spirituality, nor the basic worship pattern of Prayer Book heritage?

THE THEOLOGY BEHIND THE DIVINE OFFICE

The key is to see corporate prayer as a dynamic, theological whole. At its core, orthodox and Catholic prayer is responding to God within our baptismal status, and has been since the cosmic explosion of the Pentecost event. “Faith’s name for reality is ‘God,'” wrote Anglican theologian John Macquarrie. Prayer life can be said to be full, integrated, embodied, Catholic, and orthodox when it is an active and intentional response to God-named reality.

But how do we name reality as God? To us it has been revealed that reality for the Christian is a diversity of three-in-oneness: reality in the dimension of its “transcendent otherness,” which is named God the Father; reality in the dimension of its “immanant nearness,” which is named God the Holy Spirit; and reality in the dimension of “incarnate mediation,” which is named God the Son, Jesus Christ, named in our liturgy as our only Mediator and Advocate. Catholic reality, and hence its prayer life — liturgical, sacramental, salvific — is ultimately derived from, and correlated with, nothing less than the Doctrine of the Trinity.

Prayer is responding to God. How are we to respond? Our triune God — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — invites a threefold response that Anglican theologian Martin Thornton appropriately called Regula, meaning “pattern” or “framework.” Gloriously formulated for 6th-century monastic life by Saint Benedict and for 16th-century secular life by Cranmer (and in many other ways within the family of Catholic churches), the basis for Regula in scripture is the “apostles’ teaching and fellowship, the breaking of bread, and the prayers” (Acts 2.42). Today the terms are, respectively, Devotion (that is, baptismal ministry), Mass, and Divine Office; these are distinct, but interwoven and irreducible. More than mere formula or framework for organizational discipline, Regula is dynamic praxis; for Thornton, it is the lifeblood of participation in the divine life of the redemptive organism, the Church.

Regula is the doctrine of the Trinity arranged for prayer. It orients us to the threefold reality of God. Devotion orients to the immanent dimension: increasing openness to the Holy Spirit who is infinitely variable to us in time and space and who reconciles us to Christ, the definitive revelation of the Father. Divine Office orients to the transcendent dimension: surrender to our heavenly Father, wholly and invariably otherness, our source and origin from whom the Holy Spirit proceeds to unite us to the Son. And Mass orients to the incarnate dimension: mediated communion with the real presence of Jesus Christ both deity and man — fully transcendent as the Son of God, fully immanent as human being. Yet this is all one response, one prayer life, to love heavenly God who loves us beyond measure and yearns for our spiritual growth. As Saint Athanasius wrote, God became human so that humans might become God — that is, through Himself and His sacraments, we might become numbered with His saints and, in the words of Walter Hilton, reformed into the likeness and holiness of Jesus.

Moments of the life of Jesus Christ reveal Regula, the fundamental pattern of holiness. Besides the Pater Noster, given by Jesus to be our set-prayer, His baptism in the River Jordan points to the Divine Office, an objective daily ritual of corporate repentence that, through Jesus, discloses God’s identity and story. The feeding miracles of Jesus point to the Mass, where we too are fed by Jesus and his love for us. And the myriad episodes where Jesus heals, preaches, teaches, and eats with others point toward Devotion, ministry to the creatures of the cosmos in relationship with Scripture. Regula, then, is the means by which we live; Regula articulates our corporate experience of being Christ’s Body, and the means by which we cultivate the theological virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity.

THE PURPOSE OF THE DIVINE OFFICE

Through Thornton’s theology, the specific purpose of the Divine Office as a whole is clarified. First given by Jesus to his disciples as the Pater Noster (“Our Father”), as mentioned already, the Divine Office is transcendent reaching toward and joining with the unceasing praise by Angels, the Archangels, and all the Company of Heaven. The whole Body of Christ sings the Divine Office in the power of the Holy Spirit to glorify God the Father Almighty, “primordial Being,” in the words of John Macquarrie. To glorify the unchanging Father warrants an unadorned yet beautiful recounting of His radical otherness and cosmic creativity. God invites us to abandon ourselves and surrender in Holy Fear to the light inaccessible, the mystery incomprehensible. To live daily as if in the orans posture: this is what the Office is for. Its purpose is not to “sanctify the time” but to pray to the Father as Jesus would have us pray: “an eschatological proclamation of the salvation received in Christ, and a glorification and thanksgiving to God for that gift,” in the words of Roman Catholic theologian Robert Taft, SJ. Simply put, the Pater Noster is the germ of God’s theology.

Accordingly, what the Prologue Office of Praise seeks to do is make Catholic theology unmistakably evident within its text and enacted in its performance. Its invariable, fixed, and unchanging form seeks to revivify the entirety of the scheme of daily Offices. It is intended to support the underlying, and original, purpose of the Divine Office as a whole: Marian awe in the face of radical otherness.

In the Prologue Office of Praise (Antelogium Laudis), we celebrate the beyond-time and space, unfathomable reality of heavenly God as mediated by His mighty acts of creation, salvation, and reconciliation, initially revealed to the Old Testament prophets and the Children of Israel, and consummated definitively in the Incarnation of Christ as announced by the Holy Spirit through Angel Gabriel to Blessed Mary, Ever-Virgin, our exemplar in discipleship and witness to Christ: Our Lady truly is the Mother of the Church. As such, the purpose of the Divine Office, more refined, is to invite daily through praise the unfathomable presence of divine otherness that confronted Blessed Mary. This is an otherness that confounded her in holy fear, that taught her, that empowered her. And, by baptismal incorporation into the Body of Christ, this mystery can do so for us, in a continuous and gradual unfolding of God’s revelation of himself.

As Mary intercedes that we may be made worthy to receive the promises of Christ, we enact obedience to the grace of God through the Divine Office. It is prologue in that it prepares us — hones us — by means of the Holy Spirit to adore, and then receive, Holy Communion. Through this heavenly food we can become Christ’s out-poured and kenotic love, most precious as it is most plenteous, in the words of Dame Julian of Norwich. But Saint Paul instructed, before we eat and drink, we are to discern the Body (1 Corinthians 11.29) — such discernment is our daily work: the Divine Office on Monday prepares us for Eucharist the following Sunday. To take the Christian claims seriously means every morning is a test of faith. Yet our obedience, often difficult and even dry feeling, patiently teaches us about Jesus and our baptismal incorporation into Him. A genuine sacramental outlook upon all of creation is a gift from God, yet we must always remember that Blessed Mary had her moments of arid boredom, too.

Likewise, our obedience means internalizing, absorbing, and living-out God’s theology. This ascetical responsibility coincides with the pastoral fact that in a mobile society, a “global village,” there is simply less time available for daily formal set-prayer. Might not this fact also be of divine providence? Yet we cannot forswear orthodoxy, which would deny our baptism, so a Prologue Office of Praise, which can be prayed amid a hectic, busy life as an ascetical minumum, seems quite overdue.

A NEW ADDITION 

What must be stressed is that a Prologue Office of Praise is not intended as a substitute for the Cranmerian Office, the Liturgy of the Hours, or any form currently in use. The Prologue Office of Praise does not replace what is used now, but rather is meant to add to the daily round of set-prayer. One can continue to do Morning and Evening Prayer as one always has, along with the daytime Hours of Terce, Sext and None. The suggestion here is to chant or recite the Prologue Office of Praise as another “hour” for daily set-prayer. This could be for a first hour of the day, for an hour right before Sunday Mass, for a Midday hour, for an evening before sleep.

Why make this addition? The primary reason is for ascetical unity — a truly common prayer. We need to pray a common prayer, knowing it as common prayer. Being a concise form, it is perfect for the home, to cultivate the “domestic Church.”

Another is that this Office form catechizes. Refined to its bare theological core, the Prologue Office becomes a sturdy rock of daily doctrinal catechesis for young and old alike, experientially absorbed through memorization and singing. This points directly to the theological virtue of “Faith,” what Macquarrie called “existential knowledge” and Aidan Kavanagh called “theologia prima.” This Prologue Office of Praise is fittingly seen as a pledge of allegiance to God, an eschatological proclamation of faith, the basis for “a school for the service of the Lord” in the Benedictine sense: it teaches as much through the mere habit of it as it does through its content. Our lives showly adjust to the truths embedded in this Office.

It catechizes also because of its predominant focus on doctrine. This Antelogium Laudis is a theological and experiential expansion of the Pater Noster by means of the Nicene Creed. Analyzed as a whole, its text proclaims a variety of authoritative doctrine, the crucibles of the Church’s historical experience. Doctrines include that of Prevenient Grace, Baptismal Incorporation, Remnant and Adoration in the Preces; God and Metanoia in the Jubilate; of Creation, Angels, the People of God and Remnant in the Benedicite; of Incarnation, the Church, Atonement, Resurrection, Parousia and Theosis in the Te Deum; of Penitence and Adoration in the Kyrie Eleison; of the Kingdom of God in the Pater Noster; and of the Theotokos and Assumption in the Ave Regina Caelorum — these and more, directly from scriptural and scripturally derived prayers primarily of patristic ethos. Yes, these are canticles and hymns, but embedded within them is Catholic imagination: tremendous theology and glorious doctrine ecumenically celebrated.

Why the emphasis on doctrine? Because to sing the Antelogium Laudis is to confess doctrinal truth, a constant need in the Church no matter the age. And as in the patristic era, particularly prior to Constantine, doctrinal confession manifests through joyful performance and almost secretive memorization: to memorize is to internalize, to internalize is to embody, to embody is to teach by example, with or without words. We are to serve the Lord with gladness and come before His presence with a song (Psalm 100). Singing forms us, and formation through catechesis, as theological reflection in relationship with doctrine and experience, is the beating heart of evangelization.

CONCLUSION: AN ORTHODOX AND BENEDICTINE PASTORAL SOLUTION

To reconcile the pastoral situation today with our baptismal obligation, an orthodox solution is to add a Prologue Office that is comparatively shorter, more accessible, more doable, more explicitly doctrinal — and a Benedictine and Cranmerian solution is to restore a common Office able to to be sung by laity and clergy alike: a true unity of the Church Militant. This counteracts a clergy-only Divine Office, too often our situation today, upends the entire theology of historic Prayer Book heritage. It is called the Book of Common Prayer not for nothing.

All of which is to say, this Prologue Office is pastorally attuned for a missional Church in a mobile, “post-Christian” society. It is doctrinally vigorous, yet ascetically realistic. It does not require paging through books, does not discriminate against the illiterate, young or old, and can be sung anywhere and at any time, whether in the morning, noonday, or evening: whenever the holiness of beauty is disclosed (Psalm 29).

This Office is also family-friendly. For those with young children, its second half — Kyrie Eleison, Pater Noster, and Ave Regina Caelorum — is a gentle place to start for adult and children alike, and it is quickly memorizable. Subsequently, the Jubilate can be added, followed in turn by the Benedicite and Te Deum, first in portions and then in their entireties. Because even the youngest of children, through the help and example of their parents, day by day can magnify God, and worship His Name ever world without end. May we join Ananias, Azariah, and Misael, the three holy children — saved by God in the fiery furnace of His abundant and gracious love. And in so doing, may we sing — may we trumpet! — our love of our heavenly Father, who confers upon us our very being, and who gives for our salvation His only Son, Jesus Christ.

As a final note, the reason that the Prologue Office of Praise uses classic, non-contemporary language — also known as “sacral English” — is two-fold. The first is to be consistent with the sensibility of the Pater Noster, the prayer that controls the theology of the Divine Office; despite it too being non-contemporary, it is nonetheless beloved today — “art,” “thy,” and “thine” are familiar precisely because the prayer is used. Likewise, the more one uses the JubilateBenedicite, and Te Deum, the more “ye,” “hath,” and the rest become familiar and second nature.

And the second follows from the first. Without question, the sacral English translations simply sing better: the phrasing and literary sensibility of that era have more musicality and hence more poetical allure. Contemporary does not necessarily mean improved, and a persuasive case can be made that contemporary translations of these prayers obstruct rather than edify. The translations selected here are better to sing, theologically more transparent, and, in the case of the Benedicite, shorter. The choice therefore is obvious. We are, after all, to bring the first fruits of our ground into the house of the Lord our God (Exodus 23.19). Not only Truth, and not only Goodness, but also Beauty adores our Maker, our Lover, and our Keeper — for He is their source.

CONCLUDING PRAYER

Heavenly Father, who bestowed upon your Church from its first baptismal moments the grace of Regula: capacitate us to love you, the Lord our God, with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our Mind; and likewise enable us by your presence to love our neighbor as our self, that our life in response to you can indeed become holy, holy, holy; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, our comforter, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Icon by the hand of Monica Thornton. 

 

On Apostolicae Curae and Anglican Orders

Father Thomas Fraser, rector of St Paul’s Parish for 38 years [now 42 years], offers this important perspective on the status today of the Papal encyclical Apostolicae Curae and its claim (always disputed by Anglicanism) that Anglican orders are “absolutely null and utterly void”. This perspective is explained in two parts, over two audio MP3 files, above.

In Part I, he retraces key points in history, going all the way back to King Henry VIII, Queen Elizabeth, and continuing through the Oxford Movement and the Irish Potato Famine, including the important figures of Cardinal Manning and of course Pope Leo XIII. These points of history are crucial for a full understanding of the question of validity of Anglican Orders. Father Fraser argues that Apostolicae Curae is not theologically rooted, but rather politically rooted.

In Part II, Father Fraser’s narrative continues into the mid to later 20th century. He touches on key attitudes and beliefs on this question held by major players in the Western Church, including Pope Paul VI, as well as Harry Smythe, director of the Anglican Centre in Rome. We see just how close Anglicanism and Roman Catholicism had progressed toward unity in the 1970s. He further reminds us that the laying on of hands by Old Catholic bishops at the ordination of Anglican bishops essentially removes any residue of doubt that Anglican orders today are valid. Although it must be pointed out, Anglicanism has always understood the validity of its orders to be secure.

On Catholic Anglicanism

(Note: This is a description of Catholic Anglicanism written by Father Thomas Fraser, rector of St Paul’s, Riverside, Illinois.)

When we speak of “Catholic Anglicanism” we mean:

1. an Anglicanism which is defined by, and in all things understood in, the perspective of the fullness of its almost 2,000 year history, not understood as being founded in and defined by the second half of the 16th century;

2. an Anglicanism in full communion with the ancient See of Canterbury, whose core norms and practice are consistent on all levels — provincial, diocesan, parochial — with the teaching of the Anglican Communion worldwide, as expressed by the council of Anglican primates, archbishops, and diocesan bishops known as the Lambeth Conference;

3. an Anglicanism which upholds the historic teaching of the undivided Catholic Church as defined by its seven General Councils:

  • The Church on earth is a divinely instituted sacramental body established by Jesus Christ, which will be indwelt by the Holy Spirit until Christ’s coming again at the end of the age;
  • The Church on earth, while not infallible, is “indefectible,” that is, it cannot remain in error. In the fullness of time the Holy Spirit will lead it into all truth;
  • Christ gave the authority and power to interpret his revelation and apply it to the ongoing life of the Church (to “bind and loose”): to his apostles as a body (neither to any individual bishop alone or any local synod of bishops nor to every individual Christian). Therefore only a general council of all the bishops in the apostolic succession can authoritatively interpret matters of faith and morals (de fide) and alone constitutes the dominically established magisterium of the holy Catholic Church;
  • The Church has three states: “militant” on earth, “expectant” in paradise, and “triumphant” in heaven;
  • Salvation is a lifelong process or journey beginning with justification (which comes through Baptism) and continues with sanctification (which comes principally, though not exclusively, through the other sacraments);
  • Seven sacraments objectively convey salvific grace, including the sacrament of Holy Orders: bishops, priests, and deacons in the Apostolic Succession.

We promote and support an understanding of Anglicanism which — in the words attributed to Archbishop of Canterbury Geoffrey Francis Fisher (1945-61) — proclaims that “we have no doctrine of our own. We only possess the Catholic doctrine of the Catholic Church, enshrined in the Catholic Creeds, and those creeds we hold without addition or diminution.”

Angels and the Catholic Imagination, part 3: Angels are Sacramental Beings


Angels and the Catholic Imagination, a homily series
HOMILY I | HOMILY II

Homily 3 of 3: “Angels are Sacramental Beings”
Given at St Paul’s Parish, Riverside, Illinois

We conclude this morning this three-part homily series on the Holy Angels with an exploration of the relationship between angels and ascetical theology. That is, the relationship between angels and the articulation of the church’s corporate experience, for that is what “ascetical theology” means.

Doctrine is to be used. Doctrine is the beginning, not an end. That is why I began with doctrine two weeks ago — the doctrine of Angels. The Holy Angels are all about God. They are created beings of spirit that can be perceived only with spiritual eyes. Angels are innumerable and in nine orders. They are named because of their activity. They were created with the words, “Let there be Light”. And so they announce God’s creative Word. They serve the Light. They minister to the church and to us, so that we perceive the light with our spiritual eyes. So that our lives are ordered to the Light. So that we as the church are ever-growing toward the light.

All of that is the way we begin to talk about angels and the church’s corporate experience. We continue when we simply recognize that insofar as we are biblical people, a people whose lives are lived sacramentally and liturgically according to the Catholic Rule of Mass + Office + Devotional Ministry, a people who thereby look to Scripture as the thesaurus of our corporate experience, and whereby Scripture and the Holy Tradition of the Church’s corporate experience mutually interpret one another — then angels already help to articulate the Church’s corporate experience. There are over 300 appearances of angels through the Bible, from the book of Genesis to the Book of Revelation, through both canons of the Old Testament to the New Testament, and with Moses, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

And because of their centrality to the experience of Blessed Mary and her encounter with the archangel Gabriel, through whose announcement to Mary the whole of godly creation is a becoming, on its way to the New Jerusalem; their centrality therefore to her entire mystagogical life — a life savoring the mystery of her Son, pondering in her heart — a mystagogical life lived toward the foot of the cross — because we relive the actually making present again of an angel of the lord to the shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. “Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a savior, who is Christ the Lord” — because, ultimately, of our baptism: the Church’s corporate experience is angelic!

The angelic is not an option. It is not a “app” for our cellphone we can choose to download or not. We are amid the angelic presence at all points and in all ways in our life! To recognize this, to be conscious of this, to be aware of this, to be caught by this, to be curious about this, to ponder this — for the angelic to impinge upon our prayer life, our quiet moments, our playful and engaged moments, our moments serving others — to accept the fact, the reality, that all that is perceived by the Church is ministered to by the angelic, is loved by the angelic, is interpreted to us by the angelic — this is nothing less than what catholic people have been doing since Gabriel’s encounter with Mary. This is nothing less than what catholic people have been doing since the confrontation of the twelve disciples by Jesus of Nazareth. Mary’s pondering in her heart IS our model for a catholic imagination. It doesn’t mean we understand all of it. It doesn’t mean there isn’t chunks of angelic theology that confuse us, or sound strange, or even remote. It doesn’t mean that we “get it all now”. We won’t get it all now. But the food of angels we already eat; the air of angels we already breath; the presence of angels we already imagine.

The angelic is like another layer of the reality we have all been living since our baptism. This layer of reality, present in its fullness no matter who much or how little we have perceived it, invites our participation. The angels rejoice when one sinner repents — when one sinner’s mind is transformed, when one sinner’s conscience is expanded and ordered to the Light of Christ — when the woman, having lost one of her ten coins, lights a lamp, sweeps the house, and intercedes to seek that coin. Could it be that this woman is Mary, her nine coins being the nine orders of the angels, and the one lost coin, humanity? Mary is the Queen of the heavens, and Lady of the Angels. Maybe something of this is part of the meaning of the parable of the Lost Coin.

So what remains to be said? Let me suggest something that might be a simple, condensed summary of everything we have so far discussed.

It is this: that Angels are sacramental beings. Angels, by their nature, bestowed by the words, Let there be Light, point the church toward an attitude. An attitude that is sacramental. Now, as our Prayer Book, which is catholic, says, the sacraments are outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual grace, given by Christ as sure and certain means by which we receive that grace. And the historic Catholic Church cerebrates seven sacraments. Sacramentality is not the same, but is intimately related. It is more general. If the sacraments are specific liturgical and ritual patterns of ontological grace, then sacramentality is what results from the Christian life of sacraments. In the words of John Macquarrie, “this is a sacramental world.” We don’t recognize that by logical syllogism: it is an existential attitude one learns through participation in the liturgical and sacramental life of the Body of Christ.

This is a profoundly joyous and grace filled attitude! This is the attitude of the first Christians, Christians willing to die as martyrs! It is the attitude of Christians throughout history who realize it and celebrate the sacramentality of all of creation. This is the attitude we are invited to deepen through Holy Communion at the Altar of Christ, this Holy Table around which are all the angels, the archangels, the entire company of heaven, and at which we are joined with all the saints, known and unknown, as well as our Lady, the queen of the heavens, and Lady of all the angels.

Angels are sacramental beings. And the way to join with them is to allow them to light us, to guard us, to rule us, to guide us. It is to ascend and descend with the angelic — ascending in our gathering around the Word and Table at Mass, descending as we are dismissed into mission to enact our baptismal covenant and to empty ourselves in love for others.

And it is to sing with them every day through the prayers common to the whole Church; that is the Office, which teaches us in the doing of it to be like angels, who are all about God. Let us conclude with a prayer.

May we all be joyful in the Lord, serving the Lord with gladness and coming before his presence with a song. May we know that it is He who has made us, and not we ourselves. May we regard all of creation as God himself does, as very good, and in so doing see all of God’s works as a profound blessing, so that we praise him and magnify him forever. May we join with the angels who cry aloud, the heavens and all the powers therein, with the Cherubim and Seraphim who continually cry, Holy Holy Holy, Lord, God of Power and Might, heaven and earth are full of your glory. May all of our lives be centered around the king of Glory, the everlasting Son of the Father, who having overcome the sharpness of death, opened the Kingdom of Heaven to all believers. May we sing in all our moments, Lord have mercy! Christ, have mercy! Lord, have mercy! May we be all emboldened by angels innumerable, like Mary was by Gabriel, as we boldly sing, Our Father who are in heaven! Hallowed be thy name! And may we ever in our hearts know something like the profound, the startling, the beautiful song of the angels to the shepherds keeping watch over their flock by night, Glory to God in the Highest and peace to his people on earth! Amen. Amen!

Icon by the hand of Monica Thornton.

Homily: Watchfulness through Regula

Offered for Saint Paul’s, Riverside on the Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time 2016 (Proper 14, Year C)

We return this morning to the theme of watchfulness — of being awake, of waiting, of being ready, of knowing, correctly. We after all are being told that Our Father who art in heaven wants to give us the kingdom of God. Doing so is his good pleasure. He has prepared for us a city, the New Jerusalem. Amazing! And so we do well to pay attention to these words and to meditate upon them, and to ask ourselves, what can these words mean for my prayer life, for our prayer life? Christ is telling us that his Father, and Our Father by adoption through baptism, wants to give us the kingdom. There is no hesitance on the part of God. It is his good pleasure.

So, what holds us back from receiving the Kingdom of God?

St Luke invites us to consider that it is our own lack of watchfulness that holds us back. We are not awake. We are not waiting. We are not ready. And thus we don’t have proper knowledge. Those are four negative statements. But do they indicate anything unrealistic? For if we were already awake, already waiting and ready, already taught, the notion of growth into the likeness of Christ, of journeying with Christ to the New Jerusalem, of theosis, would be unnecessary and even absurd.

No, the catholic understanding of the Christian life is that we must become more awake, more attuned, more ready and waiting. Knowing the necessity of that challenge is knowledge that is crucial to salvation. When we realize the challenge that our Lord presents us as we follow him and walk in his ways, we immediately become more humble. And who is more awake, more ready and waiting, than the humble man or humble woman or humble child?

Let me suggest that to be watchful is to be in a condition where you are able to be taught. Able to receive. Able to be open. This presents our challenge as one that involves increasing humility. Where our cup is emptied so as to be filled with God. How can we become more watchful?

Our collect today begins with, “Grant to us, Lord, we pray, the spirit to think and do always those things that are right, that we, who cannot exist without you, may by you be enabled to live according to your will.” How can we become more watchful? Well, for one, we are invited to always remember that God gives us being. God enables us to live. And to think and to act with righteousness.

How do we remember this, on a daily basis? For Christ does appear to want us to remember this on a daily basis — unceasingly, says St Paul. And how do we remember this, not merely on our terms, as private individuals, but how do we remember, how are we watchful, on the terms of Holy Church, of which we are members?

The Church, from its beginnings, has understood the answer to that question has to do with living our lives according to rule, or “regula”. The fundamental pattern that undergirds Christian life: the dynamic relationship between active and conscious participation in Mass, daily Office, and Personal Devotion.

Mass of course means attendance at the Sunday Eucharist, where we are right now, and for those able, daily Eucharist — and it is centered around the concentrated, gathered, focused presence of Christ and his Sacraments.

Office means an invariable set of prayers said or sung everyday, often morning and evening but at least once a day — and it is centered around the transcendent God the Father and holy awe at his wondrous creation.

Personal Devotion means living a scriptural life, scriptural encounter with the world, where scripture is the thesaurus of our experiences in fulfilling our baptismal covenant, through ministry, in serving the poor, needy, hungry, and in relating to all of creation, of which we are to be stewards — and it is centered around the immanent Holy Spirit, our comforter, who brings us to all truth.

A life lived according to Rule — a system perfected by St Benedict’s Rule and reflected in our Book of Common Prayer no matter the version — teaches us, coaxes us, gently guides us, or to use an older expression, learns us. Rule invites us to be more watchful, naturally, every day, every week. We can become more attuned to Holy Trinity — to the transcendent God the Father (through Office), the immanent Holy Spirit (through Personal Devotion), both of which find consummation at the altar of Christ, both fully God and fully man, both transcendent and immanent, the definitive expression of God’s word that brings all of creation into being, and yet to who’s altar we shortly will proceed. We are not worthy that he should come under our roof. But by him and his sacraments we are healed: more awake, more ready and waiting, more enabled to live according to his will. May your treasure be in a Christ-centered life. And may your heart be there.

Icon by the hand of Monica Thornton.

Homily: Renaming Our Experiences (with audio)

Homily by Matthew Dallman
Given at St Paul’s Parish, Riverside, Illinois
On Proper 9, Year C: Genesis 18:1-10a | Psalm 15 | Colossians 1:21-29 | Luke 10:38-42

St Luke’s narrative of Christ’s journey to Jerusalem continues, just as our journey — the journey of the Body of Christ — continues to the new Jerusalem, whereby the journey that begins in this life to grow into the likeness of Christ finds completion, fulfillment, and perfecting in the life to come. And so Christ’s journey in Scripture is our journey now. Amid the hostile lands of Samaria, he enters a village — that is to say, Jesus and the disciples, numbering 70 if not more — and this group is received. They are received by Martha and welcomed into her house, and there in her house is Martha’s sister, Mary.

(As a point of clarification, this is the only moment in Luke’s Gospel that Martha appears. And although we might be tempted to hear the names “Martha and Mary” and associate them with the sisters of Lazarus who is raised by the dead in the Gospel of St John — Mary being Mary Magdalene — biblical scholars suggest this is a less-than-justifiable connection to make. The Mary here is probably not meant to be interpreted as Saint Mary Magdalene, and at least in this gospel, Mary and her sister Martha do not have a brother named Lazarus.) This need not be a problem, for not associating between the Gospels of Luke and John allows us to focus more freely on this story, and how this story helps us understand our journey into deeper likeness of Christ.

As I said, Christ and his movement were received by Martha and Mary. This strikes an immediate resonance with perhaps the most quoted instruction from the Rule of St Benedict. In chapter 53 of his Rule, St Benedict writes, “Let all guests who arrive be received like Christ.”

Now St Benedict wrote for communities of residential monks and nuns. And although the Book of Common Prayer is a thoroughly Benedictine approach to liturgical and sacramental spirituality, one being as comprehensive as the other, and although the Prayer Book is in fact a rule, or regula, in spiritual and ascetical continuity with Benedict’s Rule, we still must reinterpret Benedict’s instruction — first because of its basis in scripture such as in our Gospel reading today, but also because we are not residential monks and nuns living in semi-enclosed community, but, with the exception of our rector, non-residential Christians. All of us have chosen to be here and to live by the Prayer Book and not the Rule of St Benedict strictly. We should acknowledge the difference between the Rule of St Benedict and the Prayer Book, but we should also acknowledge the profound consonance between the two. We do this when we reinterpret his instruction to “Let all guests who arrive be received like Christ.”

We note, too, that our Old Testament reading from Genesis echoes this theme of receiving. Abraham and Sarah receive The Lord. The pericope begins with Abraham, in sacred space of the oaks of Mamre, lifting up his eyes and beholding three men. He and Sarah do provide excellent hospitality, according to the standard of their age — all their attention was centered on their guests. By the end of the pericope, the “they” of the three men become “the Lord” in singular. How that happens is a mystery for us to savor.

But it does appear that when we practice thorough-going hospitality, the presence of the Lord becomes more deeply felt — here, through the presence of God’s providence, revealing that Sarah will indeed bear a child in the spring when the Lord’s presence returns. This recalls, too, words from our baptismal covenant, to “seek and serve Christ in all persons”. To practice hospitality is to seek and to serve Christ in all people. Hospitality is a baptismal responsibility.

In this light we could return to St Luke’s account of the presence of the Lord amid Martha and Mary, and ask, how did they receive Christ’s presence? What does their “seeking and serving” look like? The answer is somewhat obvious: Martha became, we should say, understandably preoccupied by the concerns and obligations of hosting this gathering; Mary, on the other hand, sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. The indication is that Mary’s choice is the closer one to the will of God.

But I would propose that a better question is, how does meditating on this moment impinge upon our prayer life? How does meditating on this moment invite us to deepen how we receive Christ? This is how we are invited to read all of Scripture — as baptized members within the fellowship of the living Church, to allow scripture to feed, inspire, and articulate our experience — poetically, adventurously, contemplatively, looking for its life rather than a mere message that proves something — a teaching and leading into all truth. Through Scripture, too, is how Christ’s presence comes into our own.

And so our Lord invites us to ask, when have you felt his presence? How have you felt moments of openness, even profound openness? A sensing of something of an expansiveness? Or even a deep beauty to the moment, however it has manifested? Truth be told, your sensing may also have come amid a very low moment in your life, when you may have been, you might say, pummeled by reality. Such a moment — whether a peak moment or a valley moment or an everyday moment — it may have been in childhood, it may have come in adult life — we are invited to name these moments as the presence of God. We are invited to find in these moments, to discern in them, what St Paul calls the “glory” of their mystery, this mystery that Christ is in you, in us, and that we are in Him. Naming is central to our journey.

If we choose not to attempt to name these moments, then in fact we are not practicing hospitality to his presence, we are not receiving the Lord’s presence as it came to us. It is OK — it must be OK — if at the time of this visitation, we did not understand that presence to be God. We are in good company there, because neither Abraham nor Sarah understood the three men to be divine. And Martha, although she seemed to perceive the Lord’s presence a bit more, did not really demonstrate any holy fear of God — in fact, she directly accused her sister to Him, and even ordered Christ to do something — both of which are “no-nos” because they don’t recognize God’s true nature. And neither should we accuse Martha, for that is to do to her what Jesus reproved Martha for doing to her sister. Note, Mary’s portion is the good one also because she does no accusing.

No, God invites us to look back at our life’s experiences, and, as it were, “re-name them”. This is the process of discernment, and it is through discerning — prayerful inquiring — that we grow in likeness of Christ by his grace. Renaming through prayerful inquiry is central to the Christian life.

Shortly we will all come to the altar, to the Lord’s table, where the presences of Christ — in all of creation, in our gathering as the People of God in this sacred space, in the words of scripture proclaimed today, in the person of the priest — these presences are gathered up, focused, concentrated in the Sacrament of the Eucharist, where bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ, his true and mystical presence. We do this week by week, often day by day. This experience is named “Christ”, because all of our experiences in creation can be named “Christ.”

Preview of “The Person of Jesus Christ” lecture series

macquarrieThis is an 18-minute audio excerpt of the forthcoming title from Akenside Press. The Person of Jesus Christ is a lecture-series by John Macquarrie from 1984. The entire lecture-series on contemporary christology is nearly four hours long and includes five separate lectures as Macquarrie deals comprehensively with this crucial area of theology from multiples perspectives. And it is crucial, for how we understand Christ is how we understand all of creation, to say nothing about humanity, our own sinfulness and salvation, and Almighty God himself.

This clip is from his third lecture, where he begins to detail a christology “from below”, technically called “anabatic christology”. In an anabatic approach, which does have precedence in the New Testament, one begins from the person of Jesus Christ, and then works toward his divinity.

Enjoy this preview! The full lecture series which you can download in MP3 form will be available soon.

Regula, Sacred Space, and Sacred Time

The Church is Christ’s body, and He is the head of the body. In this sense, the Church is the “extension” of the incarnation of God. As John Macquarrie wrote, “the Church is an ongoing incarnation. It has not yet attained ‘to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.'”1 The Church therefore is still on the way toward, in Walter Hilton’s classic term, “the likeness of Jhesu.”

The Church is on a journey of reforming, a journey that is reflected by the Catholic doctrine of the threefold Church — militant, expectant, triumphant. Hence the Church’s offering of worship is itself a growing, a becoming, a journey “on the way” from sinfulness and disorder to sanctification and likeness to Jhesu.

This journey is initiated by the ontological action of Christ in the sacrament of Baptism, is affirmed in the sacrament of Confirmation, is fed by the sacrament of Eucharist, navigated by the sacrament of Reconciliation, ordered (for some) by the sacrament of Matrimony, healed by the sacrament of Unction, all of which are made valid by the sacrament of Orders. Indeed modeled by the Eucharist, but in fact through each sacrament, anamnesis occurs: the actually-making-present-again of Christ, who, as Dix wrote, is “presently operative.”2

All of this is an outline of how the life of the Body in its becoming, through the actual presence, or presences, of Christ, the head of the Body. What gives this outline a living — or more properly, “ascetical” — shape or pattern is the Catholic rule, or Regula. This Catholic rule is threefold: the pattern of Mass-Office-Devotion. As Martin Thornton wrote, “Here is the basic Rule of the Church which, varying in detail, is common to East and West, monastic and secular, to all the individual schools without exception, and which forms the over-all structure of the Book of Common Prayer.”3

The full regulaIt is here how we see sacred space and sacred time serve our journey toward likeness of Jhesu. Sacred space refers to the specific environment or environments whereby the Regula is embraced and enacted. The parish church (usefully, Thornton refers to the parish as an “organism”) houses the altar and tabernacle, is the gathering place for the local community of the People of God, is the normative location where the Word of God is proclaimed, and where corporate participation in the liturgy — which is “God’s theology”,4 God’s own way of making Himself intelligible — invites growth in the Body of Christ. Hence, sacred space is where the People of God are sacramentally and corporately capacitated for our journey.

Sacred time refers to the variety of narratives that animate the threefold Regula. These narratives are centered around the life of Jesus of Nazareth, how the events and actions of His life reinterpret all of salvation history in the Old Testament, and these narratives detail crucial events and actions of Christ’s Body, the Church, in its early days and years. Further, sacred time animates the lives of the apostles, prophets, martyrs, and the saints. “The saints are the true interpreters of Holy Scripture.”5

Through sacred time, ever-cyclical yet ever-new, we are invited into deeper likeness to Jhesu by walking with Christ’s on His own steps, beginning with His being the expressive agent of all creation as narrated in Genesis, by learning his way: “If any man will come after Me (i.e., will be My disciple), let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me,”6 and by studying Saints, whose lives are icons of Christ. Sacred time is the eschatological entirety of the paschal mystery in the slow-motion of time and space.

In short, the Body of Christ, of which He is the head, is on its way to salvific likeness of Him by means of His sacraments. The threefold Regula gives this journey pattern and shape. Sacred space (normatively the parish) gives this journey its corporate housing for the People of God. And sacred time animates the journey through the variety of narratives — the glorious abundance! — that tell of Christ’s presence, His anamnesis, that invites us to His glory.

 

1 John Macquarrie, Principles of Christian Theology (London: SCM, 1977), XVII.69.viii. ; Eph 4.13.
2 Dom Gregory Dix, The Shape of the Liturgy (London: Continuum, 2005), 245.
3 Martin Thornton, English Spirituality: An Outline of Ascetical Theology According to the English Pastoral Tradition (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Cowley, 1986), 76.
4 David Fagerberg, Theologia Prima: What is Liturgical Theology? (Chicago: Hillenbrand, 2004), 15.
5 Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth (New York: Doubleday, 2007), 78.
6 Luke 9.23. Cf. Mt 16.24; Mk 8.34