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Homily: On the Liturgical Nature of Mission (with audio)

Given for Saint Paul’s Parish, Riverside, Illinois
On Proper 9, Year C, 2013 (BCP 1979): Isaiah 66:10-16 | Galatians 6:(1-10)14-18 | Luke 10:1-12,16-20

To say that names are “written in heaven” is Christ’s way of saying that one’s way of life matches with the way of life taught by Christ. We are all called to this way, this pattern of being and ordering our lives. And when we follow it, by the grace of God, our names too are written in heaven. In this pattern, Christ is at the center, and his presence speaks to us. His speaking, Luke tells us, sent out the seventy, to go ahead of him, as his speaking sends us out, to go in peace to love and serve the Lord; thanks be to God. And his speaking calls us all back to him for true reconciliation. Just as Christ counseled the seventy against the sin of pride, we must strive to remember that all things good, true, and beautiful come not from us, but from God’s acting. God, who lets-be. This is why it is said that liturgy is God’s theology, his own way of making himself intelligible.

But what would Christ have us do in between his sending us out, and his calling us back? Surely we are to be with people. Surely we are to share meals with those who do not know about Christ, or who have rejected his Good News. Now, our Lord knows that this work, this being with people, will not be easy, and it could even be dangerous. We Christians need only look around the news from the Church today in Syria and in Egypt, where clergy have recently been brutally murdered. Our Lord knows that this work, this being with people, will not be easy, and it could even be dangerous. And still, our Lord chooses for us to be as lambs in the midst of wolves, with no possessions that we prize above the Lord.

What else are we to do? We are to speak. We are not to be doormats, and merely silent. Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be to this house’. Do we say these words? Our faith tells us that the Lord will see to it that his peace rests with those who are ready to receive it. It is not for us to decide who is ready; our job is to speak the words. Now, to be ready to receive means that a person can hear the words ‘the kingdom of God has come near you.’ Notice that Luke tells us that these words heal. The words ‘God’s kingdom has come near you” heal. We must strive to present these words to others with integrity, with peace, and through love.

And in presenting these words, live them. For what is the kingdom of God? The kingdom of God is the Christ-centered life. It is a life lived according to what is known as a regula — a rule of life and prayer. The regula at its core is three-fold. Firstly, Christ’s actual and mystical presence in all people and things, yet concentrated and focused in the Sacrament of the Eucharist at Mass — this sacrament feeds us, and in so doing invites us to an adoration of all creation; secondly, praise of God the Father through the daily Office, for in the Office, the entire Church — in visible creation, in paradise, and in heaven — sings together in loving acknowledgement of God who is love transcendent; and thirdly, guidance by the Holy Spirit in our encounters with creation and our fellow man, often guided and framed by Scripture. Sacrament, Office, devotional Encounter. This is the pattern at the root of our Prayer Book. This is the pattern at the root of the Catholic faith.

Our Lord knows that this work, too, will not be easy. And so he calls us back to his presence. And so the way of life, Christ’s pattern, emerges: the liturgical life of presence, dismissal, and return. Whenever we need to, and not only when we return, we can ask for God’s help. God listens and wants to hear your voice; daily, regularly, whenever you want, for any reason at all! As Isaiah tells us, God responds to us also like a mother, and we her children. She feeds us from her breast, teaches us on the journey of life, enjoys our playful company. We can say that God’s mission is to mother all of creation and raise it to a new Jerusalem, the very Jerusalem to which Christ’s face has been set.

It is when we, sent out from Mass, help to feed, help to teach, help to enjoy the company of others that the Body of Christ spreads through the world and makes the whole of creation new. This is Christ’s victory. Some say that it is when we “get out of the way” that God acts, and there is truth to that, because it is God’s grace that acts, and nothing strictly of our own. But put another way, when we fully engage another person, face to face, heart to heart — as Christ will shortly face us in the Eucharist — God’s mission finds victory. When we fully attend to any situation, and seek to discern in it the unity of the Holy Spirit, God’s mission finds victory. Attending and engaging — what St Benedict means when he tells us to listen — this is the beating heart of Christ’s pattern of being, and it is how we are to be in our lives, as we seek and serve Christ in others. And through our attending, our engaging, our listening, we speak: we speak in our lives and in our words, the Good News that the Kingdom of God has come near to us, and to our neighbor.

Homily: “At the Cross Trembling with Mary”

An Eastertide mystagogy on the Liturgy of Good Friday.
[NB: Homily by Matthew Dallman.]

Our Eastertide mystagogy continues. This morning, Good Friday. The meaning of the Atonement. The meaning of our Lord’s death on the hard wood of the cross.

I think of two images. One is Mary holding the newborn baby Jesus (such as in the two icons here in the Church). The other is Mary holding the newly dead body of Jesus (such as in Michelangelo’s Pietà). We encountered the first back at the end of December. We encountered the second during the Holy Triduum and Good Friday. I think of these two images because the interplay between the two encounters can interpret the Atonement.

Why? Because of Mary. It is Mary, what we know of her experience and what we think her experience might reasonably have been, who interprets the Atonement in the fullest, most grounded sense. If we extend just a bit on both ends of these two images — just before holding the baby Jesus back to the Annunciation by the Angel Gabriel, and just after holding the body of her dead Son to the coming of the Holy Spirit in flaming tongues at Pentecost — here then we have the entirety of the Incarnation, and Mary was present through all of it. Mary’s presence. Mary’s prayer.

What comes to mind is music we heard on Good Friday:

Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
Were you there when they nailed him to the tree?
Were you there when they pierced him in the side?

Mary was. Mary was there. And so to look with Mary’s eyes, hear with Mary’s ears, feel with Mary’s touch, and to ponder with Mary’s heart — is to be mystagogical, is to invite her journey with Christ to animate our journey, to teach our journey. It is another way of asking Holy Mary, Mother of God, to pray for us.

Mary is the model, the exemplar, the pattern for being a disciple of Christ. Holding the newborn Jesus. Holding the newly dead Jesus. We are invited to do the same. To hold the newborn Jesus in our hearts. To hold the newly dead Jesus in our hearts. With the same delicate tenderness of Mary.

To ponder Mary is to ponder how she acted with such devout tenderness. Imagine how Mary must have looked at the world, her mindset. Remember that moment early in the life of her Son, with Simeon in Jerusalem. Simeon, righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel, beholding, blessing the baby Jesus. And then saying to Mary that a sword will pierce through her own soul also.

A sword will pierce through her own soul also. Mary lived her whole life in that mystery. Ponder that. Her whole life was mystagogical — spent discerning how this liturgical mystery was the source of meaning, that a sword would pierce through her own soul, also. Does it mean she’ll die by a sword? Or something else. And then that word “also”, does it mean a sword will kill her son? A real sword? A symbolic sword? But only just her son, or the souls of other people, too?

Simeon’s words must have been very disorienting for Mary. Perhaps it was difficult for her, a person like you and me, to find balance in life amid this strange mystery — the mystery of her son’s identity and vocation. When she and Joseph find Jesus at age 12 in the temple, maybe at that point she had forgotten or wanted to deny the divine possibilities of her son’s identity; thereby her son reproves her, for “where else would I be but in my Father’s house?”

And then later, at the Wedding at Cana, maybe the pendulum swung to the other side, amid this lack of beverage she called on him as a kind of divine magician. Fix this crisis! And he then reproved her, “woman, what have you to do with me? my hour has not yet come!”

A sword will pierce through her own soul also. This is a very strange and mysterious statement if you ponder it. And it leads directly to the foot of the Cross.

We are invited to live in the same way, in this life of discernment, pondering mysteries in our heart. And so when we discern, we are being like Mary. When we look through Mary’s eyes, hear with Mary’s ears, feel with Mary’s touch, and ponder with Mary’s heart, the meaning of the Atonement takes on a whole new dimension. To interpret the Atonement, through Mary’s eyes and with her heart, is to see each moment, each episode in the life of Christ in light of the mystery of this soul-piercing sword.

Like Mary, we live our lives with something of a sense of how it all will end. But there is a lot we don’t know day to day. Like Mary, we too struggle with balancing the faith into which we are immersed and plunged with our own sense of reality and the demands of everyday life? Coming to some kind of balance about the true nature of reality, this trinitarian nature of reality, this reality of God as invisible spirit that is at the heart of everything in creation, and all people — coming to balance about this day to day is a life’s work, and work that lasts beyond this life.

But at each moment, we are invited to the truth, and invited to accept, to surrender, in the faith shared with the whole Church gathered before the Altar, to the strangeness, the unfairness, the profound mystery of this death of Christ on the hardwood of the cross. To the strangeness, and the profound mystery of the altar, where we are invited to have our soul healed by The Word, eating his body and drinking his blood.

Perhaps we tremble at that thought, of eating body and drinking blood. Perhaps Mary trembled at the revelation of the person in her womb. She surely trembled when she realized she left behind her 12-year-old boy in Jerusalem. We can imagine she trembled at hearing in her son’s adult voice speaking to the disciples and the gathered masses with an authority beyond that of the prophets, beyond that of the priests, an authority that, at the time, and even now, can sound very strange. And undoubtedly she trembled at the sight, the sound, the smell, the touch of her bleeding, mangled, dead son, holding him in her arms, just as she held him as a little baby, wrapped in swaddling clothes, with the light of new life.

If you there when they crucified my Lord, and we were, then maybe sometimes, and even this holy day, and at this holy altar we will soon approach just as we approached the cross on Good Friday, giving our heart to God by means of the beautiful red flowers we laid at the Cross, maybe we can tremble.

May we all come to the altar, the table of our Lord, trembling through the eyes of Mary, trembling with the ears of Mary, trembling in the heart of Mary, trembling in the mystery; for by this mystery, with this mystery, and in this mystery — somehow lies everlasting life.

Notes on the Divine Office

(Notes taken from The Rock and the River, by Martin Thornton. New York: Morehouse-Barlow, 1965.)

What is the Divine Office?
(1) The Church’s daily offering of praise to God the Father through Christ; its fundamental emphases are corporate, objective, and self-effacing — the “pulse” of the organism.

  • A specific, attentive response to God who is at the heart of life.
  • An adult discipline.

(2) A doctrinal affirmation and grounding of insights gained through personal Devotion.

(3) A preparation, or ‘prologue’, to the Mass.

What is it not?
(1) Only an occasional act of worship, such as a Sunday service.

(2) A meditative practice or lectio divina.

(3) A variable liturgy, up to the whims of the moment.

What is the Divine Office for?
(1) Forming the basis of habitual recollection; a ‘tuning-in’ by the Church Militant to the perpetual adoration of God by the Church Triumphant: a ‘continuum of praise’.

(2) Providing solid food of maturity rather than affective sweetmeats of spiritual adolescence; it guards against subjectivism and sentimentality; provides support in periods of aridity.
(3) Giving practical expression of loving God: a practical, existential, concrete response to prevenient grace.

(4) Giving solid anchor amid a world of anxiety, terrifying change, mental and psychological disturbance — an aid to keeping sane.

(5) Giving ascetical emphasis to objective praise of God transcendent — the living affirmation of  God’s ‘otherness’ or ‘incomprehensibility’.

(6) Expressing corporate togetherness; it is the Church’s prayer and the Church’s praise: true community, true corporate identity: an expression of being-with-others, a vicarious “praying-for” on behalf of all.

(7) Guarding against legalism, individualism, and self-centeredness.

How is the Divine Office to be used?
(1) Location.

  • As a group or parish assembled in a physical space (i.e., a parish church).
  • Private recitation, or “secret discipline”: at home, in hotel room, at work, on a busor train or car: as “the beyond in the midst of life”.

(2) Means of articulation.

  • Sung or chanted.
  • Said or recited.

Homily: Savoring God’s Word

Deuteronomy 26:5-11; Romans 10:8b-13; Psalm 91; Luke 4:1-13
[NB: The Gospel is read by Father Thomas Fraser.]

In recent decades, there has emerged a movement of people who practice “Centering Prayer”. For those unfamiliar with it, Centering Prayer originates in the ancient Benedictine tradition of lectio divina, and presents itself as practice to cultivate an awareness of being and a deeper relationship with God. Centering Prayer spread through the teaching of it in retreats beginning in the 1970s.

The practice is actually quite simple. A person sits on the floor, or a pillow, or a chair. They choose a sacred word or short phrase that expresses their intention to consent to God’s presence and action during the time of prayer. A word such as Christ, love, God, Spirit, or any word or short phrase. Then commences the sitting in silence. When one notices in their mind any thoughts, feelings, desires, associations, images, one does nothing but silently return to their sacred word, as their anchor, their centering in God. Thoughts, awareness, centering word. That’s it – that’s the whole practice, recommended in 20-minute sessions, twice a day.

One of its advocates is a Trappist (Cistercian) monk named Father Thomas Keating. Once, in a retreat, Father Keating was told by a woman present at the retreat that it was obvious to her that she was not very good at Centering Prayer. Why, he asked. Because, she said, she couldn’t concentrate at all. Over the 20-min period, it must have been over a hundred times she had to return to her word. Ah, he said, smiling, but that is no problem at all. How wonderful to have turned over a hundred times to God. This move, amid thought or feeling back to God, is a simple dance very important to Christian life.

Confronted with the temptations of the devil, what did Christ do? What did he do but this very move; amid a desire of power over creation (the stone into bread); amid a vision of power over the political world (authority over all kingdoms); and amid a feeling of power over the Father’s very hand (forcing a saving by God’s angels), how simple and elegant is each of Christ’s responses. He turns from desire, vision, feeling back to God. His sacred words come from Deuteronomy: words spoken by Moses to the children of Israel, as they themselves concluded a wilderness experience. Theirs was 40 years; Christ’s 40 days.

Perhaps his wilderness was a study of Deuteronomy, in lectio divina — called a “feasting on the word” in four steps. First you take a bite of scripture (reading a phrase or word); then you chew on it (considering its meaning); then you savor it (a conversing with God); and then you digest it (a silent attentiveness). Doing this helps to make true sense of the Word of God, to make it one’s own. And why is this good to do? It is good because when confronted with a battle for our heart, we can walk in the ways of Christ to respond comfortably and peacefully not with our own words, our own will, but rather with that of God’s will and God’s words, whether from Deuteronomy, or elsewhere in Scripture, or even with the simple word, “Christ.”

The seed of all forms of sin is forgetting God. Adam and Eve forgot God. They thought instead of their own desires, their own selves. God called to Adam “where are you?” not because God did not know the whereabouts of Adam and Eve, but because he knew that they were now in the wilderness – physically present, but emotionally, spiritually “not there.” It is God’s words that return us to him. Not merely the specific words, but the biting, the chewing, the savoring, the digesting — or in the Prayer Book tradition, the reading, marking, learning and inwardly digesting: lectio divina lived on through the 16th-century upheavals.

This season of retreat, by God’s goodness we receive the bread and wine, fruit of earth and vine, the work of human hands. Will we make this a “sacrament to go”, as so much fast food take out? Or against such temptation, will we eat and drink God’s very words, seeking their meaning, savoring the glory these words give to God? And can the bread of life and our spiritual drink, the very living grace of God, heal our souls as the opening of our lives to the pregnant silence of God’s love that gives expression to all material things, and to the beating heart of every person ever born?

It is such a simple move: amid our thoughts, amid our feelings, amid our mental activity, amid our physical activity, amid our eating and our drinking, amid the retreat of Lent — remember God, on our lips, and in our hearts, for every one who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.

 


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Nine Texts toward Catholic Renewal in Anglican Parishes

If over the coming years a critical mass of faithful Anglicans become serious students of English spirituality, does that in fact enact a Catholic renewal?

That very question gets to the heart of the mission of Akenside Press. In our view, the answer to that question is a resounding yes. If our sense is accurate, immediately the task before us is revealed. Catholic renewal in Anglican parishes requires a concerted effort to focus all available energy on parish formation. It is just that simple. Within its liturgical and sacramental life, a parish does outreach to the hungry, the needy, the sick, the marginalized — and a parish does formation for its parishioners. Period.

Pentecost iconIf theology is food, then Catholics have the obligation to serve a good meal in our parishes. It follows, as was discussed in The Benedictine Parish, that the “clinic model” of parish life would be rejected in favor of a “religious community model” — that, again, beyond outreach ministry, formation is the only parish program. Such formation includes that of children and young adults, without question. Yet most immediate is formation of adults. Is there a more pressing need in the Anglican parishes than this? The passing-on, and renewing of, Anglican spirituality and theology that should have been happening for decades, but didn’t, needs to be concentrated over the next couple decades, else what chance does Anglicanism have to survive?

So, how should a parish formation curriculum be designed? To answer that, a key decision involves the primary theological source texts — the texts that not only are read closely (over years and decades), but in a more profound and long-lasting sense, act to provide devotional vocabulary and theological atmosphere for parochial life, in general. Such a group of texts is what the following list intends to be. This may not be a perfect list but it is meant to be a strong step forward in service of parish formation leaders. It is meant to consummate a movement within Anglicanism whereby we nurse its “sickly body” back to health by means of proven (yet still untapped) orthodox theological sources from the English tradition of spirituality. Two additional notes:

(1) List-making is a fool’s errand. Everyone immediately objects when their favorite writer or text is left off the list. That is understandable, but perhaps this consequence can be mitigated by a clear understanding of what the following list intends to be, and what it does not intend to be.

It does not intend to be an exhaustive list of all the books an Anglican bibliophile absolutely must own. We’ll leave such snobbery and elitism to others. Nor does this list intend to suggest that these are the only works worth studying. Such would be silly, possibly harmful. Every school of spirituality flourishes through interaction with a diverse array of theological perspectives. (Perhaps any remaining heartache would be alleviated if one pretends that #10 on this list is #1.)

Yet what this does intend to be is a list of texts that can be studied devotionally by faithful Anglicans as the raw materials of a parish formation program. Yes, these works, studied by lay parishioners, guided by trained formation leaders — those faithful Anglicans who take their baptismal covenant seriously, who want to deepen their understanding about what it means to promise to seek and serve Christ in others. The works in his list do nothing ultimately but help us recommit to our vows to God.

thornton_ressourcement_map(2) This list is anchored without apology in the ressourcement sensibility of Anglican theologian Martin Thornton. His sensibility takes root in the simple insight that within Anglicanism lies a Catholic tradition — a Catholic “DNA”. He calls this Catholic tradition the “English School of Catholic theology and spirituality”. Its flowering was roughly Anselm through the Caroline Divines and the Prayer Book. It is a school strongly influenced by key Patristic and early Medieval theologians, and ultimately can be traced to the New Testament Church and the Celtic Church. Truth be told, not all scholars agree that an “English School” exists, but Thornton argues so persuasively, and anchors his entire corpus in Catholic theology as practiced in the English Church over the centuries of its varied life. For him, there is no question that the English School is Catholic — none whatsoever.

Yet one wouldn’t call Thornton a Tractarian or “Anglo-catholic”. These terms, at best, inaccurately describe him. Although he appreciates the fruits of that the Oxford Movement brought to an English church wrecked by Deism and highly respects Newman, Keble, and the other classic Tractarians, he does have criticism for the Oxford Movement. Truth be told, his strongest criticism is for their successors, whom he regards as lesser theologians who practiced a spirituality of “cafeteria catholicism” fashioned from various Roman Catholic (i.e., Tridentine and Counter-Reformation) spiritual sources. None of which he thinks as heretical, far from it, but this “Anglo-catholicism”, well-intentioned to be sure, has ironically led to a deeper submerging of the Catholic continuity at the heart of the English School, a continuity that runs through all centuries of the life of the Church (see diagram at right). He regards the Tractarians as significant historically, but not a primary source of ascetical theology.

This claim could be debated, but the simple point is to affirm the bias this list presumes. We regard the Oxford Movement, like the Reformation, as an episode in the life of the English Church, but nothing more than an episode. Within both, and beyond both, has lived a genuine tradition — the English School — that is distinct yet familial with other schools in the Roman, Orthodox, Old Catholic, and Oriental traditions. It is orthodox, and also surprisingly provocative and innovative. It has been for centuries an underground movement. Its “DNA” is Catholic. Although it currently is a “sickly body” in desperate need of nursing to health, nevertheless it is still alive — barely.

Now to the list.

Martin Thornton, English Spirituality1. English Spirituality, by Martin Thornton

This list begins with English Spirituality (ES) for the plain reason that I see it as the guidebook for Catholic renewal in Anglican parishes. This single work serves as a general commentary upon the entirety of the English School. There is no other work like English Spirituality, and it is nothing short of a monumental accomplishment. It is also a book that is somewhat surprisingly not that well known. This is both troubling and exciting: troubling, because one bemoans an ecclesial culture in the West that would ignore such a gem. Yet for the very same reason, one can only be excited and optimistic.

Why? We can be excited and optimistic because renewal is actually more attainable. Although sickly, Anglicanism has survived without this book. How much healthier will it be when the book is widely read, widely taught, and widely appropriated?

English Spirituality points the way forward. This work, published in 1963, and reissued in 1986, covers all the fundamentals necessary for Catholic renewal: the contemporary context, the nature of ascetical theology and liturgical asceticism, the essence of the English School, commentary upon a stunning array of theologians (see the above diagram for a summary) with analysis of the role each plays in English spirituality and its theology — all followed by an extended reexamination of the present age in light of the English school, with all eyes toward honest appraisal and renewal. His thesis is this:

Well in the background of contemporary theological studies is the English School of Spirituality; sane, wise, ancient, modern, sound, and simple; with roots in the New Testament and the Fathers, and of noble pedigree; with its golden periods and its full quota of saints and doctors; never obtrusive, seldom in serious error, ever holding its essential place within the glorious diversity of Catholic Christendom. Our most pressing task is to rediscover it (ES, 17).

To rediscover it. And there is simply no single book that will better aid that task than English Spirituality. It must be our guide until we nurse the Anglican organism back to health. We pray for the day that study of Martin Thornton’s English Spirituality is no longer a pressing need. Till then, quite literally, every orthodox Anglican needs to own this book, and use it.

Book of Common Prayer 2(a). The Book of Common Prayer

Any renewal of Catholic reality in Anglican parishes is going to begin, grow out of, and be rooted in The Book of Common Prayer. What is crucial is how we understand this book. The Prayer Book is not a collection of worship services. Rather, it is a comprehensive system of liturgical asceticism. Because it is the touchstone of the Liturgy, the Prayer Book is already central to Anglican parochial reality. That it is central to renewal of Catholic reality may be a surprise to some, but it shouldn’t be outlandish. For Thornton, the Prayer Book is “fundamental to all ages of English spirituality … is the development and consummation of our patristic and biblical tradition, it embodies the principles for which the fourteenth-century asceticists had been groping, and in its final form is the product of the Caroline age” (ES, 257). Unless you think the Prayer Book just dropped out of the sky, then you might consider the possibility (which happens in fact to be true) that in fact centuries of ascetical culture and experiment lie “behind the text” of the Prayer Book. What lies behind it is Catholic.

Indeed, its theological sources are complex. Yet its heart is the Rule of St Benedict, with which the Prayer Book has a “remarkable amount in common” (ES, 257). The basis for St Benedict’s Rule and the Prayer Book is the threefold Catholic Rule (see #5, below). Both presume and support a life of habitual recollection, or God-centered daily life. Both are designed for an “integrated and united community, predominantly lay” (ES, 258). Both “breathe a sane domestic spirit,” are “noted for prudence”, and are capable of nurturing “saintly doctors and saintly illiterates” (ES, 259). Thornton suspects that the fourteenth-century English theologians (e.g., Hilton, Julian, Kempe) would have welcomed the Prayer Book: it is in the Benedictine tradition, reflects a doctrine-devotion synthesis, and serves the faithful laity. Furthermore, it reflects the traditional English emphasis on the “unity of the Church”, where laypeople, deacons, priests, and bishops pray together. Sadly, too many scholars of the Prayer Book consistently miss the fact (via an incorrect hermeneutic lens) that it is a comprehensive and dynamic ascetical whole — a total system of Christian life. To this day, it is yet to be bettered. Because it orders Anglican asceticism, any digestion of the “good food” on this list happens through a “Prayer Book life”. One task of formation is to help Anglicans to regard the Prayer Book in this way.

Holy Scripture, revised standard version2(b). The Bible

Obviously the Bible is at the center of any Catholic renewal in parishes, whether Anglican tradition or any other. All of the other texts in this list presume a Scriptural life; that is, a biblical asceticism or biblical discipleship. Whether by way of daily Office lectionary, or through devotional and meditative immersion, the Bible is always daily, always central. The Bible is at the heart of everything. All Catholic ascetical theology is rooted in the Bible, which is the written experience of the Church through salvation history and the progressive revelation of God to the world.

It is a source book, or treasury, of ascetical possibility — quite literally on every page of every book. From the Bible originates the threefold Catholic Rule (see #5, below) and all of ascetical doctrine and practice is contained in embryonic form in the Lord’s Prayer. And any form of Catholic liturgy is simply, and nothing less than, the Bible arranged for prayer. It is worth noting that one of the cornerstone prayers of the Office is the “Benedicite, omnia opera” from the so-called “Apocrypha”: yes, by “Bible” we mean the New Testament and both canons of the Old Testament.

St Augustine, Enchiridion3. Enchiridion, by St Augustine

The vast majority of Augustine’s works are occasional. That is to say, he generally wrote not for academic purpose or to satisfy his own personal need, but in pastoral response to practical need. For example, The City of God was occasioned by the fall of Rome in 410. De Trinitate attempts to articulate the doctrine of Holy Trinity so as to relate to human psychology and pastoral application. Likewise, The Enchridion is a personal manual of faith and practice, written for a lay colleague named Laurentius. It is therefore an exemplary work of ascetical theology, which along with its brevity makes it perfect for a parochial formation program.

Its discussion centers around the theological virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity (Caritas) through a meditation on sin, grace, progress, and perfection. Its 72 chapters are generally short, often only one paragraph each. Yet its doctrinal content is profound, rich, and challenging. In general, one cannot overstate Augustine’s influence on Christianity. This book in particular is deceptively potent. Study of Augustine also prepares one to study Aquinas. Nevertheless, Augustine was “a thinker rather than an organizer. His spiritual doctrine is to be supplemented and demonstrated by St Benedict” (ES, 75). So to him we turn.

St Benedict, Rule, Regula4. Rule, by St Benedict

The Rule — or “Regula” (a word that notably also means “pattern”) — is not only a system of monastic order: it is a system of liturgical asceticism and theology. Its basis is as applicable to modern life as it was to patristic Italy. It consolidates what is fundamental to all Catholic spirituality, namely the “threefold Catholic Rule”: the Office, which supports Personal Devotion, both of which are connected to, and consummated by, the Mass. This is not only the basic pattern of Benedictine spirituality, but also the basic pattern of all Catholic spirituality, East and West. This three-fold scheme effects everything, and “provides a system of prayer which translates all the clauses of the Creed into practical terms and manifests a living faith in them” (ES, 77).

The Regula forms and undergirds the overall structure and practical application of the Prayer Book. No methods are taught, but because of its loyalty to Mass + Office + Devotion, the Regula forms the basis of a “continuous, progressive Christian life” (ibid). It instills stability, domesticity and habitual recollection (‘homeliness’), hospitality, community, and orthodoxy rooted in pastoral and ascetical reality. Benedict’s Rule sets the course and purpose of the overall ascetical life in the Church, and thereby that of the English School. Just listen to Benedict: “a school for the service of the Lord” through “nothing harsh or burdensome” to “advance in the religious life and in faith” so that “our heart expands” with “unspeakable sweetness of love” in a journey of perseverance so that “we may by patience share in the sufferings of Christ and deserve to have a share also in His kingdom” (Rule, prologue, translated by Leonard Doyle). The echoes of the Rule imprinted in the ascetical ethos of the Prayer Book could not be clearer.

St Anselm, Proslogion, Prayers, Meditations5. Proslogion, by St Anselm

Benedict, following Augustine, set an ascetical agenda for the whole Church. Owing to historical factors, Benedictinism (and its monastic offspring) had particular, even disproportionate, impact on the life of the English Church. And so it was Anselm, Benedictine abbot and then Archbishop of Canterbury, who was the “father-founder who first brought all the essential elements together” of English spirituality (ES, 156). Although not an asceticist in its narrow sense, from his work “all true English ascetical theology springs” (ibid). The Proslogion begins, ends, and liberally is filled with hymns to God. The subtitle of this work is “faith seeking understanding”. How appropriate: we begin with experience and are led to truthful articulation. Anselm’s work has enduring ascetical value because he understands that all theology is, and must be, applicable to worship. The so-called “ontological argument” is sadly misunderstood as philosophy; rather it is pure prayer that weds intellectual meditation with colloquy addressed directly to God, and ends in adoration.

His underlying approach is Benedictine, immersed in, and presuming a life under, Regula. He is the patriarch of the English School of Catholic theology and spirituality in that he sets the pattern, pioneered by Augustine and Benedict, of a “speculative-affective synthesis” (i.e., theological and emotional, doctrine and devotion, fact and feeling — “the deepest meaning of the Anglican via media“; ES 49). Without question, Cur Deus Homo?, the Monologion, and other works by Anselm are reward prayerful study. Yet the Proslogion (along with his Prayers and Meditations, see title at right, translated by Benedicta Ward) are more accessible, immediate, and therefore more appropriate to parochial formation programs. Meditation upon God as “that than which nothing greater can be thought” takes us, as it took Anselm, nowhere but to our knees.

Walter Hilton, Scale of Perfection6. The Scale of Perfection, by Walter Hilton

Thornton’s expert commentary in English Spirituality about Hilton’s 14th century classic can’t be topped. Here is an extended quote:

The Scale of Perfection, as the title implies, is a comparatively systematic work; a practical exposition of the spiritual life written for an English anchoress. It is a minor Summa in that it brings together all the elements of English spirituality and synthesizes the fundamental teaching of those who have made it up. The theological basis is from St Augustine, its ascetical emphases and religious psychology is Victorine, it has a Benedictine warmth, prudence, and optimism, and the devotional-speculative balance of St Anselm. Written in the unique devotional idiom of the Middle English language, its teaching remains impeccably orthodox within the framework of the Three Ways (ES, 176).

This work cements in the English School the importance of maturity and spiritual direction amid orthodox Catholic doctrine.

And as all classics in the English School, the Scale places fundamental importance on how prevenient grace runs through all of the Christian life. It presumes a Christian life practiced under Regula and in full participation in liturgical and sacramental life of “Holy Kirk” (Church). It is a Summa of asceticism through extended meditation upon moral theology, humility (“meekness”), love for the Sacred Humanity, meditation, aridity, discernment of spirits, the contemplative life, and orthodox doctrine. And it is a thoroughly mature and seasoned guide through the nature of sinful life, the burning off of sinful habits, and the journey through contemplative “murkiness” into nothing short of theosis: that is, in Hilton’s memorable words, “the reforming in the likeness of Jhesu”.

The best translation from the Middle English of Hilton is that Evelyn Underhill, who writes in her introduction that “no English devotional work has had so wide and enduring an influence” as the Scale, an influence (she notes) that lasted well into the Prayer Book era.

Julian of Norwich, Revelations7. Revelations, by Julian of Norwich

If Hilton is the preeminent spiritual director, perhaps Julian of Norwich (followed by Margery Kempe) would be the preeminent “client” under guidance. What can we say about Dame Julian? Whereas Anselm is “the supreme exponent” of the spiritual harmony at the heart of the English school, Julian of Norwich’s Revelations is the “single greatest work” that is illustrative of this spiritual harmony (ES, 49). Along with Hilton, Julian is central to the English School. Julian “perfectly expresses the English spiritual tradition” (ES, 203). Julian “is not in the least bit insular; rather she combines all the strands of our patristic lineage into a synthesis altogether new…. She prays in the [English] tradition itself” (ES, 203). See here for Thornton’s commentary on Julian in full.

Although it was Anselm who was the “father-founder” of the English School, and “spiritual father” of Julian herself, it was Julian who was at the heart of its first full flowering (ES, 202). Her work is “pervaded with a plain Benedictine spirit…. Not only her optimism, but her prudence and ‘domestic’ doctrine of the Church, all imply that Benedictinism inherent in all English spirituality” (ES, 205). That Julian already enjoys a contemporary audience of faithful Christians who study her work, learn from it, and use it, attests to the value of this work, perhaps in many ways still untapped and unrealized. Revelations is easily one of the most important works of theology in the English language, and Julian one of our most important theologians.

The recommended translation for beginners is that by Father John-Julian. Overall, the best translation is by Grace Warrack (1949) available online here.

 

The Book of Margery Kempe8. The Book of Margery Kempe

Martin Thornton regarded Margery Kempe’s Book as so primary to English/Anglican spirituality that he wrote an entire book about how to appropriately interpret and use its voluminous insights within the English ascetical system. The book is called Margery Kempe and its subtitle is “an example in the English Pastoral Tradition.” (For chapters 1 and 2, see here.) For Thornton, Kempe’s Book is of “unparalleled importance in clothing the system with living flesh and blood” (ES, 222). It “contains the solid core of English spirituality vividly alive” (Ibid). He acknowledges that some Anglicans may, and have, found her book difficult or even strange. He argues that problems may stem from a misinterpretation of what her book actually is. Previous, and even contemporary, scholars and commentators try to understand the Book as a work of devotional mysticism. Although Kempe may have indeed experience “mystical” moments, that does not make her, and hence her Book, “mysticism”. Rather, as Thornton argues, she refrains from attempts at mystical description and instead explains vividly and accurately “the ‘ordinary’ ascetical processes of recollection, meditation, and colloquy” (Margery Kempe, 4). If she qualifies as maybe a “minor mystic”, she is without question for Thornton a “major parishioner”. She “makes progress like most of us: not by climbing some spiritual ladder, not by turning meditative prayer into discursive prayer … but by making the same sort of prayers better and better year by year, and by manifesting her growth, not in heightened experience, by in works of charity and love for creation” (MK, 16). Hers is a Christian life whole, integrated, orthodox, bold, courageous, and humble. She not only can teach contemporary Anglicans; it appears that for our tradition to reinvent itself, she must.

The recommended translation is, again, in keeping with the Middle English idiom: “A modern version by W. Bultler-Bowdon,” published by Oxford University Press.

John Macquarrie, Principles of Christian Theology9. Principles of Christian Theology, by John Macquarrie

Here may be the most controversial entry on this list. Given that John Macquarrie died only in 2007, perhaps a fair case could be made that his inclusion is too soon. Yet two factors argue differently. For one, Macquarrie is firmly rooted in Anselm, Augustine, Aquinas, and thereby in the English School, even as the School progressed into its Caroline Age and dialogue with Luther, Calvin, and others — directly and indirectly, Macquarrie engages them all. In some quarters, he is infamous for the centrality that “Being” plays in his theology. Yet he is hardly the first theologian to employ the lens (see Anselm, Aquinas, Hilton, Julian, among others). Through his mode of theology called “existential-ontological”, he is thereby both doctrinal and pastoral. With this synthesis, Macquarrie is on the firm ground of the English School, even as his own emphasis on “Being” receives its own original stamp.

For two, read the latter third of Martin Thornton’s corpus. Macquarrie did nothing short of enact a redirection of Thornton’s thought. The last five authored books by Thornton all reflect a deep influence by Macquarrie and his existential-ontological approach. In Spiritual Direction, Thornton writes that Macquarrie’s dogmatic theology leaves out nothing of orthodox faith and teaching, and that it offers dogmatic theology a wholly new form of expression, framework, and setting. Are those not strong words?

Yet stronger still is the fact that of all the Christian theologians Thornton considers throughout his 13-book corpus, the most pages are devoted to the work of John Macquarrie and Principles (second place would be Eric Mascall). The entirety of Thornton’s later work Prayer: A New Encounter is spent in commentary upon Principles and its implications for asceticism and Christian life in total. Any fan of Thornton’s Christian Proficiency will come away after a study of Prayer with the clear sense that Macquarrie deeply impacted Thornton’s theology. He goes as far as to say that Macquarrie (unlike, say a Paul Tillich) not merely changed certain words according to existentialist use, but “done much more than this; by changing words he has changed prayer, by reinterpretation of the creed he has charged the revelation with new life” (Prayer, 175). What higher praise could an ascetical theologian give?

One can note here that Macquarrie’s work, The Faith of the People of God: A Lay Theology is an thorough and accessible summary of Principles and therefore could be more appropriate for parochial formation programs. But Principles itself, while hefty, is accessible and meant to be prayed with — written not in a propositional, scholastic mode of St Aquinas, but rather in a monastic, patient mode of Anselm or Hilton (or Julian, or Benedict, or Augustine). His theological mode is non-Thomist, non-Calvinist, non-Barthian, although in dialogue with all three. It is nothing less than the voice of the English School, articulated in comprehensive dogmatic for the first time. Time has arrived for Anglicans to discover (or rediscover) John Macquarrie, a writer of unmistakable maturity, orthodoxy, and witness to Christ.

Feeding of Five Thousand Icon10. Whatever text or texts you want

And this list concludes. Or it continues. Let it be said again: this is a syllabus of “good food” for Anglican parochial renewal, not an exhaustive list of every worthwhile book an Anglican must own. Of course any Catholic renewal in Anglican parishes in going to involve study and integration of theological insights of texts beyond those listed here.

Anglicans look to other sources within Anglican tradition. These include N.T. Wright, Ephraim Radner, Sarah Coakley, Alister McGrath, and John Milbank. Many seek renewal from the just-retired Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, or the late Arthur Michael Ramsey. Many still look to C.B. Moss and F.P. Harton. Other study Carolines like Richard Hooker and Lancelot Andrewes and Tractarians like Blessed John Henry Newman.

Anglicans look also the rest of the Christian world. These include the Eastern Church, to Orthodox theologians past and present: excellent examples are Alexander Schmemann and John Behr, as well as Eastern fathers (e.g., the Popular Patristic Series from St Vladimir’s Seminary Press). Anglicans look to the Roman Church, for quite understandable reasons: their tradition (like that of Eastern Orthodoxy) has immeasurable richness, including Pope Benedict XVI along with St Thomas Aquinas, Hans Urs von Balthasar, and far too many more to list here. Some Anglicans look to non-Catholic traditions, whether from the Reformation Era or present day — such as Martin Luther, John Calvin, and more recently, Karl Barth, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Still others see the “post-liberal” framework of George Lindbeck and Bruce Marshall for its renewal promise and framework.

All faithful Anglicans — and faithful Christians in general — look to the early Church for theological renewal, beginning with our noble army of Martyrs: as well we should. “Whatever text or texts you want” means that into the basic diet of the English School we integrate a variety of influences. Thornton himself is full of additional recommendations, in particular the Ancrene Riwle and works by Hugh of St Victor, Aelred of Rievaulx, Richard Rolle, Jeremy Taylor, and Eric Mascall.

The possibilities continue indefinitely. But throughout it all, let us not forget the English School. Let us return time and time again to its strength, its patience, its gentleness — let us live with these works — for they fuel nothing less than Prayer Book Catholicism.

Conclusion

So, Catholic clergy and lay formation leaders, take note. This list, an annotated bibliography of sorts, should be a resource for you to use for parish renewal. Our energies have to be focused in corporate immersion in these works, allowing them to creatively invite discernment, discussion, and reflection in parish formation programs. These works are so pregnant with devotional possibility, there really is no limit to ways these can be applied in a parish formation program in any number of specific courses or approaches. One could spend, say, a Lent on one work, such as Revelations. Or one could study a contemporary manual of prayer and supplement with key excerpts from one or more of these works. One could pick a doctrine, such as Sin, and do thematic readings from the English School. Or any other possibility, for from these works, myriad curricula can spring.

Nine texts toward Catholic renewal in parishesWhat is exciting about Thornton is that he is the first Anglican to persuasively articulate something that Anglicans accept instinctively: our theological sensibility and overall spirituality, at its best, is balanced. We just somehow know that Anglicanism has a balance between speculative and affective thought. We just somehow know that polarities indeed can be held in mutual tension: the corporate life (The Rule of St Benedict) with the spiritually directed life (The Scale of Perfection); the life of adoration (Anselm) with the life of oblation (Julian); that of doctrine assertively spelled out (Augustine) with the doctrine carefully attuned to existential reality of today (Macquarrie); the life of limitless possibility (the Bible) with the hard realities of disciple-making (Prayer Book). There is something in the DNA of Anglicanism that already recognizes these truths.

Thornton grasped all this fifty years ago and, somehow, found the words to describe it. Perhaps only now is the time right to apply his insights on a wide scale. Maybe Anglicanism has had to shrink to manageable size for real renewal. St Benedict, after all, regarded the ideal size for a monastic community to be 12 people. Let that sink in for a moment.

This list gives us solace. An MDiv is not required to learn from these nine works. All insights gleaned from prayer with them can be pointed back immediately to our experience in liturgical and sacramental life ordered by the Prayer Book. That what all of these “great books” serve to do — they support Prayer Book spirituality. For only through the liturgical asceticism of the Prayer Book can Catholic renewal in Anglican parishes emerge — as always, guided, fueled, and kept by the Triune God.

We conclude with prayer:

Heavenly Father, who caused all holy texts to be written for our learning: Grant that we, who are restless until we rest in you, may reform into the likeness of that than which nothing greater than be thought — He who lets-be our Being, He in whose service we have made a school; through the making, loving, and keeping of Holy Trinity, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Cover image “Appearance Behind Locked Doors” by Duccio di Buoninsegna is licensed under CC BY 2.0 / Cropped from original

 

Theology as Food

When a person looks sickly, perhaps with an obviously pale complexion, and shows a distinct lack of energy — obviously not his or her normal “self” — some reasonable responses would begin with questions that look at the ill health in terms of medical care. Perhaps the person has a virus, or needs surgery? Others might wonder about psychological trauma, and thus some sort of psychological counseling. Maybe they weren’t raised right, or endured some sort of psychological abuse.

Yet is it also not the case that so often, such a person is likely not eating a balanced diet of good, nutritious food? Plain common sense tells us this is often true: not always, but certainly not rarely. The signs can be unmistakable. We see a diet that is the result of bad habits: that might mean junk food, or one trendy “diet” after another, or too often a pattern of eating “take out”, with never a home-cooked meal.

What is this person eating? — we ask of the sickly body.

Anglicanism in the West is just this sort of sickly body. By any measure, it is simply not doing well: numbers, morale, ability to positively contribute to the wider Body of Christ, holy Church. Perhaps, as I have written, it is owing to a mass “identity crisis“. How can we interact with others when we don’t have a firm sense of who we are? Yet this identity crisis (which I believe is real, but also perhaps nothing new) may be not a leading indicator, but a lagging indicator — a symptom, not the underlying cause. For if indeed Anglicanism were sickly, would it not follow that it couldn’t sensibly articulate its own identity? After all, sickness impacts the capacity for rational self-reflection. And it impacts the ability to hear what others are saying, even as they are trying to be of aid.

Perhaps we then feel an urge to “tell” the sickly person who he or she is (or write bemoaning essays that seem to think that screaming will send the person back to health). But is that the best approach? We must be honest: to a person who is laid up in bed with something incapacitating, any kind of attempt to explain who they are “supposed to be” is not exactly pastoral. Maybe it is not wrong, but it is not likely to work. First things first: we have a person, sickly. Our actions must serve a process that nurses the sick back to health.

So, the question, asked in a pastoral way: what has Anglicanism been eating?

Is asking, “what has Anglicanism been eating?” appropriate? Of course by this analogy, I refer to theology. In current Anglican practice, particularly in parishes, what has been the theological diet? Have Anglicans been consuming and digesting a stable, balanced diet of nutritious food? Has our theological sustenance been made of real food, home-cooked and filling — or has it been ready-made? Have Anglicans been skipping square meals, in favor of artificial, mass-produced substitute? Have we bought our theological ingredients from local markets where we might know the farmers, or from “big box” mega-stores that stock products stuffed with preservatives and chemical additives, its “farmers” actually corporate executives? Or do we (gasp) import all our food?

Am I stretching this analogy too far?

Michael Pollan, Omnivore's DilemmaSometimes, we need to be reminded what the actual model for “good food” truly is. For this, we usefully look to the past. In his book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, author Michael Pollan defines “good food” as that which your great-great grandmother would recognize as “good food”. This does not mean that the definition can’t change or alter — far from it, for life involves change. It does mean that change with respect to “food” will be incremental. Change will come, but slowly enough for there to be unmistakable continuity across the generations.

If we were to import Pollan’s idea into theology, then what we are talking about is ressourcement, the seeking of our most profound resources. To keep Pollan’s idea, “good theology”  would mean that which our great grandmothers would have recognized as “good.” Perhaps such a definition might help to affirm what kind of theology actually belongs to our tradition. Because it was the stuff of their life. What worked for them — what fed them — should have at least a family resemblance to what feeds us. To see the model for “good theology” in something of the past (again, not to constrict the present, but to inform it) is to honor reality: we do not invent the Church. Rather, we are baptized into — even, “thrown into” — something we did not create, but instead creates us.

But Pollan is no theologian. His definition, if it is to work within theology as a strategy of ressourcement, must bear some amendment. With all due respect to the late great grandmothers out there (perhaps more than some were faithful Anglicans who would teach us a thing or two), we have to stretch what we mean by “great grandmother” to make sense within a context of historical theology. We have to look further back in our past.

One of our “great grandmothers” is the Caroline Age: roughly, 1594 – 1729. That is, the Caroline Age, broadly defined, is from Hooker’s On The Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity to William Law’s A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life. During this period, the Book of Common Prayer came to be, and came to be used and defended. Somehow, perhaps despite the intentions of its compilers, it “fit” within the English theological diet. While plenty was new, enough of the Prayer Book was still recognizable to 17th century English men and women as “good food.” And it is good food still today because we still use the Prayer Book.

But our ancestry is deeper still. Another “great (great) grandmother” is the Fourteenth Century: with the glorious theologies of Walter Hilton, Julian of Norwich, Margery Kempe and, Richard Rolle and The Cloud of Unknowing. During this period, the English mix of doctrinal, pastoral, ascetical and homely came to be, and came to find an authentic and legitimate character all its own. That this era was good food is also shown by the fact that its writers are still studied today.

While there may be other “great grandmothers,” such as the Methodist movement and the Tractarian movement, the 14th and 17th century “great grandmothers” take pride of place as our most profound great grandmothers, because represent the first and second flowerings of the English School of Catholic spirituality. Its rootstock is in Anselm, the School of St Victor, Aquinas, and the Cistercian fathers. The English School’s deepest roots are in Benedict and Augustine, the Celtic Church and the New Testament Church. To these we look as one would look to great grandmother.

What would it mean to ask whether our theology is recognizable by these great grandparents? Would Hilton, Julian, and Kempe detect a family resemblance between their theologies and our own today? Would the Carolines? (Would, for that matter, Anselm and Benedict?)

These questions lead us to this: to ensure that our food would be recognizable to them as their food means that we have to study the English School. Else, how can we know whether our food is recognizable to theirs? Many Anglicans already do study one of these theologians. Some devotionally read more than a couple. Therefore the proposal here is nothing outlandish. But do Anglicans consult both great grandmothers? If we do not, let us begin now, else how can we know whether our food today is legitimately “good food”? Let us consult our most profound great grandmothers and find out.

 


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Homily: “Why NOT Me?”

(Delivered on the Solemnity of the Baptism of Our Lord, 13 January, 2013, at Saint Paul’s, Riverside. NB: The Gospel According to St Luke read by Father Thomas Fraser)

In the words of today’s Collect: “Grant that all who are baptized into his Name may keep the covenant they have made, and boldly confess him as Lord and Savior.” So what does this mean, to boldly confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior? What does it mean for us to keep the covenant we have made?

Through the Daily Office, the covenant is recited every morning. Through the Easter Vigil, we all make present again our baptismal covenant. And yet it appears during Epiphany—fitting because epiphany is a word that means “manifestation” or “appearance”. With his baptism in the River Jordan, Jesus appeared to the world and manifested Himself as the Messiah, the Son of God, one of the Holy Trinity. Somehow this means something for our own baptism.

Epiphany begins in meditation upon the role that the Star of Light plays in guiding us to the truth of incarnation — the icon of which is the journey by the Wise Men to bring gifts to the new King. Their recognition represents the recognition of Christ’s reality being for all peoples, all nations, all souls. Christ’s reality — a universal reality.

Now, Luke’s account of Christ’s baptism is not an account of a Christian rite. Rather, this is a Jewish rite signifying purification—an ascetical act, part of holy living to prepare for the attainment of a closer communion with God. Jewish tradition often required this washing of baptism to stand in the presence of God. Jewish baptism was understood to restore the unclean to the state of a ‘little child’. Unlike Christian baptism, Jewish baptism was repeatable, even daily—less ontological, more existential.

Purification. A part of holy living. For a closer communion with God. Repeatable. As if a little child. Daily. Christian liturgical asceticism—that is, our Catholic life in liturgy and sacraments, growing in discipleship—integrates these principles into our practice of our prayer life. From the Jewish baptism tradition we receive possibilities for our prayer life.

Now notice that place matters. The River Jordan has very significant biblical history. Father Helferty spoke on the 3rd Sunday of Advent of “sacred space”. The River Jordan is sacred space. In Genesis, the Jordan valley was well watered everywhere like the garden of the Lord. It was a boundary to the Promised Land, where God would dwell with his people. Moses never crossed it, but rather he died before crossing. His death might be understood symbolically — that the Law is necessary, but it is not enough. It was Joshua (in Hebrew meaning savior and in Greek Jesus) who led the children of Israel and the Ark of the Covenant through the River Jordan in the miracle of its waters parting. A memorial was made of twelve stones taken from the riverbed, stones from under the feet of the priests. And later the prophet Elisha performed two miracles at the Jordan.

The Jordan is sacramental space in the “living memory” of the children of Israel, and in the present awareness of Jesus, who was for us baptized. That our Redeemer washed in the waters of this living memory means that we wash in these waters. It was for them, and is for us, an Icon. Only through the Jordan do we enter into the promised land of God’s kingdom. Christian prayer re-presences all of this—meditating on the River calls our mind to Christ. Calls us into righteousness — taken by the hand of God, and kept.

And in this place the mystery of Holy Trinity first manifested. This is the true nature of reality — trinitarian. Dimly hinted at, and in shadows before—surely Mary, Our Lady, had something of a glimpse through time, being a Jew soaked in Scripture, through the Annunciation by the Angel Gabriel and the birthing, nurturing, and pondering in her heart the life of her son.

But in this place the mystery of Holy Trinity first manifested. Thus to recognize, or perhaps participate in, trinitarian reality somehow is a way we keep our covenant. How can this be?

We notice that Luke describes a sense of expectation in the people. People were asking good questions: discerning. They were seeking Christ. We promise to seek and serve Christ in all people. Benedictines receive all guests who arrive as Christ. And we ask questions rooted in discerning our parish’s vocation, and each person’s God-given vocation. Our expectation usefully grows when we do so.

We notice that Jesus was listening. As St Benedict teaches, to pray is to listen. To listen is to pray. Note it is not particularly important to Luke how Jesus prayed. Just that he did. And in praying Jesus heard God the Father speak. The word of God is all powerful. Yet here “Thou art my beloved Son; with thee I am well pleased” within this overall setting seems something of a gentle persuasion. A quiet. Fitting for prayer. Fitting for prayer in the sacred space of the River Jordan. Our prayer in sacred space anchors in listening, perhaps blessed by gentle persuasion that grows over months and years.

Note that Jesus is not alone — Luke has removed John the Baptist from the scene. Yet people remain purifying, seeking closer communion with God. Even when we pray alone, we are never actually alone.

With the Father speaking, it seems we hear Christ’s thoughts, which hear the Father’s words. Christ does not speak during this event. He does not cry or life up his voice, or make it heard on the street. But he is empowered through his praying, his listening, and his experiencing. Can there be question that a man who bled, suffered, and died on the cross for us yearns for us to be empowered by him?

The heavens opened for Jesus — the holy spirit, in bodily form, as a dove. In Acts, St Luke understands this as an “anointing”. As we consider what “anointing” means, first notice the simultaneity of the moment — the Father’s speaking, the anointing of the Holy Spirit, and the Son as the outward expression of all three. All bound together existentially — distinct, but one.

Moments of truth are built upon this kind of simultaneity, aren’t they — we sometimes speak of “perfect storms”. The streaming of specific events coinciding and crashing and leaving us with nothing to do but — sigh in silence. Awake but overwhelmed. Even … “overshadowed”. Or as Julian of Norwich say, “over-passed”. Like Mary in her moment of truth at the Annunciation. As Peter, James, and John were overshadowed at the Transfiguration. As the hovering of God’s spirit over the face of the deep in Genesis.

As we are when something of life’s reality manifests itself to us. Discloses to us. The birth of a baby. The death of a loved one. Getting a new job. Losing a house. Discerning a vocation. Remembering that you will die. Lost in confusion.

To situations where reality particularly focuses, whether in a peak moment, a valley moment, or an ordinary, everyday moment, how do we respond? We can, and often do, say “why me?” To the challenge, we shrink a bit. Sometimes we mentally run away. Sometimes we actually run away.

Luke doesn’t say whether Christ, as he did in the Garden of Gethsemane, experienced any hint of “why me?” That he settled on “why Not me” is quite clear as we will encounter in several weeks on the 1st Sunday of Lent when we continue liturgically from this moment in Luke’s gospel.

In conversation with Gabriel, Mary, the model of following Jesus, questioned, to be sure. She discerned. This issued in a strong but gentle “why NOT me?”: the words “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” capture both gentleness and boldness.

When we, through the grace of God, turn our “why me?” into “why NOT me?”, complaint transforms into opportunity; moaning into possibility; avoidance into adventure. The silver lining, the sense of adventure, the empowerment—to genuinely experience all this is, I suggest, to be anointed by the Holy Spirit. To be anointed is to feel bodily the possibilities of Why NOT Me.

noahThe anointing of the Holy Spirit, as a dove in bodily form — ought we not recall Noah? Blessed Noah, faced with unspeakable prospects of destruction, death, and chaos, said why NOT me, a Yes to God’s words. Above the rains he made a dwelling. And waited. And waited for a dove in bodily form — through the emergence of this dove, Noah, his family, and the creatures were restored to right relationship with creation. Saying Yes reconnected them to the earth. Saying yes grounded them. Not just a lining in silver; a lining in rainbow.

So what does this all come to? I suggest it comes to this: when we pray, why me becomes why NOT me. Not transaction but dynamic movement. A movement led, guided, by God’s grace. Prayer says yes to the movement of grace in our hearts. This movement in prayer is how we keep our baptismal covenant. Prayer through Mass, Office, Devotional reading and study, and ministry to seek and serve Christ in others—together a regula, Catholic Rule, or Rule of Life—that we live and breath and presence to others—this is how we boldly confess him as Lord and Savior, even in our gentleness.

The glorious company of the Apostles at Pentecost said Yes. The goodly fellowship of the Prophets said Yes. The noble army of Martyrs said Yes. The Holy Church throughout all the world, says Yes.

Saying Yes to God — Yes to this moment, in this moment, through this moment — yes to this moment as Icon—means we renounce Satan, the evil powers of this world, the sinful desires that draw us from the love of God — to say Yes means to Jesus we say “I do”.

Bless the Lord, my soul! Lord God, how great you are. On you may all your people feed — and know you are the bread indeed, who gives eternal life to those — that with you died, and with you rose.

 


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Notes on Luke’s account of the Baptism of our Lord

There are several things to recognize in the account in the Gospel According to St Luke of Christ’s baptism in the River Jordan. I’ll take note of what I’ve found, doing so in no particular order. Here is the passage (according to the BCP lectionary):

As the people were in expectation, and all men questioned in their hearts concerning John, whether perhaps he were the Christ, John answered them all, “I baptize you with water; but he who is mightier than I is coming, the thong of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form, as a dove, and a voice came from heaven, “Thou art my beloved Son; with thee I am well pleased.”

1. One is how appropriate this moment in Scripture is during the celebration of Epiphany. The word “epiphany” means “manifestation” or “appearance”. With his baptism in the River Jordan, Jesus “appeared to the world and manifested Himself as the Messiah, the Son of God, one of the Holy Trinity” (T. Hopko, The Winter Pascha, ch 31). Epiphany in the West begins with the liturgical meditation upon the role that the Star of Light plays in guiding us to the truth of the incarnation of God in the person of Jesus of Nazareth — a guiding that is modeled by the Wise Men who bring gifts to the new King. Their recognition of Christ’s Kingship represents the recognition of Christ’s reality as for all peoples, all nations, all souls. Christ’s reality is a universal reality. In each of the Gospel accounts, Christ’s public ministry began. It “showed itself”. The nature of his mission was disclosed for the first time: to the world, but also (perhaps) to himself.

2. The baptism that all four Evangelists chronicle is not a Christian baptism. Rather, the nature of this baptism is that of a Jewish rite “signifying purification or consecration” (“Baptism”, Jewish Encyclopedia). It was an ascetical act “to form a part of holy living and to prepare for the attainment of a closer communion with God”. To say that the baptized person is now “illuminated” meant to a Jew that he or she “now belongs to Israel, the people beloved of God”. This Jewish rite was an “absolutely necessary condition to be fulfilled” by a person and was called a “seal”. In early Jewish literature, never canonical or binding for Christians, Adam and Eve “stood up to the neck in the water, fasting and doing penance—Adam in the Jordan for forty days, Eve in the Tigris for thirty-seven days”. In early Jewish homiletical tradition, the repentance of Israel issues in “the spirit of God (hovering like a bird with outstretched wings), manifested in the spirit of the Messiah, will come [or “the Holy One, blessed be He! will spread His wings and bestow His grace”] upon Israel”, and baptism was required to stand in the presence of God. Unlike Christian baptism, Jewish baptism was repeatable. Thus it was more existential than ontological. For some Jews, daily baptism was required “in order to pronounce the name of God in prayer in perfect purity”. Baptism cleansed from the “impurity of idolatry”: Talmudic commentary understood Pharaoh’s daughter’s bathing in the Nile to have been for this purpose. The theology of baptism in general was derived not primarily from biblical Law but through practice. By way of accrued symbolism, the baptism restored the unclean to an “original state of a new-born ‘little child'”, and the baptized were “suddenly brought from darkness into light” (for all quotes, ibid.)

3. Place matters: the River Jordan itself has a very significant biblical history. It may easily be understood as “sacred space”. The Jordan valley was “well watered everywhere like the garden of the LORD” (Gen 13.10). Moses, in leading the children of Israel to the Promised Land, never crossed the River Jordan. This River was a boundary to the Promised Land — “the place where God would dwell with His people providing them with the endless blessings of His presence” (Hopko, ch 33). Moses instead died before crossing this boundary. This might be symbolically understood that for us the Law is necessary to salvation, but not itself sufficient. The Law is not enough. It was Moses’ successor, Joshua (which literally means Savior, and is the Hebrew form of the Greek word Jesus) who leads the children of Israel to the Promised Land. Joshua’s crossing issued in a parting of the waters in the presence of God’s people, including the Ark of the Covenant. This allowed the people of God to pass through into their place of final destination. The Lord commanded Joshua to remove twelve stones from the Jordan, where the priests stood, and pile them together for an eternal memorial of this miracle given by the Lord (Josh 1-4). Additionally, The Jordan was crossed by Elijah and Elisha on dry ground (2 Kings 2:8, 2:14). God thrived through Elisha performing two other miracles at the Jordan: God healed Naaman by having him bathe in its waters, and he made the axe head of one of the “children of the prophets” float, by throwing a piece of wood into the water (2  Kings 5:14; 6:6). Thus the River Jordan is a “sacred space” because it is part of the “living memory” of Israel. That Christ washed in these waters means that we wash in these waters through our baptism, the action of which is His. We cannot just wash in “any old river” and be clean; God says no. “Only through the Jordan do we enter into the land of the living, the promised land of God’s kingdom” (Hopko, ch 33). The waters of the Jordan sanctify us forever.

trinity4. Continuing the theme of “appearance” and “manifestation” from paragraph 1, this event manifests for the first time the mystery of Holy Trinity. This is the true nature of reality. The true nature of reality is triune — that is, God is Holy Trinity. This is a truly great mystery. Triunity was hinted at dimly and in shadows through the previous covenants with Israel. Blessed Mary, Our Lady, surely had some glimpse of triune reality in her life lived as a Jewish woman (soaked in Scripture), her “Yes” to God through the Annunciation by Gabriel, and her giving birth, nurturing, and pondering in her heart the life of her son, Jesus of Nazareth. We note that with the public emergence and manifestation of Christ as Messiah comes the emergence of the Holy Spirit as a “unique divine person” (Hopko, ch 32). We can observe the pattern by which Jesus himself recognized triune nature. Amid the communal rite of baptism and a widely shared sense of “expectation” and discernment, heaven opened: God the Father “spoke” to Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, in bodily form as a dove, descended upon him. This pattern involves prayer, experience, reflection, sacred space, and a corporate (rather than individual) basis for life. (This pattern is repeated and retrieved by the apostles in the Lukan narrative of Pentecost; and here St Luke more explicitly associates the Holy Spirit with the sense of fire to which John the Baptist alludes.) Thus we can learn from Christ: for how Jesus realizes the triune nature of reality should be a model for how we realize triune nature.

5. Luke’s narrative emphasizes that Christ is the full and final revelation of God. This happens through Luke’s details: What is left out of the the Gospel reading (vv. 19-20) is that Herod imprisoned John. Christ’s anointing (or recognition of triune reality and his own true nature as God the Son) follows after the ministry of John the Baptist rather than overlaps it (Luke Timothy Johnson, The Gospel of Luke, Sacra Pagina Series, vol 3, p. 67). Furthermore, unlike the Markan and Matthean accounts of the Baptism of our Lord, the Lukan account shifts all attention to Jesus. Here there is no sense that John baptized Jesus; Luke “virtually removes John from the scene” (ibid, p. 71).  He extends the distance between John’s baptism and Jesus. Rather, it seems as if the baptism, and triune anointing, occurs amid a crowd of Jewish people. All of this reinforces two conclusions: John the Baptist is the final prophet of the Old Testament, and Jesus Christ (although continuous in many respects with all of the biblical history of the children of Israel) is a unique and singular emergence to the world of God’s nature and God’s identity.

transfiguration6. In addition to comparing this moment to Pentecost, we can compare this moment to the Transfiguration story (Lk 9.28-36). In both cases, we the readers are given access to an “empowerment and declaration that takes place between God and Jesus in the communication that is prayer” (Johnson, p. 71). In both cases, what happens is a mix of public and private, of objective reality and subjective recognition. Particularly in the baptism narrative, we are somehow privy to the thoughts of Christ. This is the first such access we have in Luke. Luke’s first words from the mouth of Jesus are in the temple as a boy of age 12. But here (as in the Lukan Transfiguration narrative)  he does not even speak. He prays, he listens, he experiences. In all of this, he discloses his true nature for others to witness and behold.

7. From Luke there is a strong emphasis on the physical nature of the Holy Spirit. The dove was “in bodily form, as a dove”. It is useful to recall biblical precedents for “structural similarity” (Johnson, 71). Such precedents include the Annunciation (1.35) and the angelic song (2.14) from the infancy narrative. In the Annunciation, the Spirit “comes down” and reveals the name of God; what’s more, this power will “overshadow” Mary. This brings to mind the “hovering” of God’s spirit over the face of the deep in Genesis 1.2, and points again to the Transfiguration narrative, where “a cloud came and overshadowed” Peter, James, and John. And provocatively, Luke’s emphasis on the physical nature the Holy Spirit as a dove calls to mind the dove over the waters in Genesis 8.8 at the end of the flood. There, it was the dove sent by Noah that acted as an agent of completion to the event of the flood. Through the dove, Noah and the rest on the Ark were restored to right relationship with creation. All was well again. Through the dove came a uniting, a reconciling, a harmonizing with creation. And the action of the dove issued in God’s speaking to Noah (which parallels God’s speaking to Jesus), God’s articulation of his covenant with all peoples, a visible disclosure (the rainbow), and a sense of mission for Noah (“be fruitful and multiply”). When we recall that following all Gospel accounts of the baptism of Jesus is the commencing of Christ’s public ministry, his own mission becomes a fulfillment of the promise God made to Noah.

emmaus8. Concluding thoughts. Any reflection upon Scripture is best served through the lens of ascetical theology. That lens issues in the question: how does this passage impinge on my own life of prayer. Another way to say that is to ask, what can I take from this to help me be a better disciple of Christ, to “delight in his will and walk in his ways”?

The baptism of our Lord in the River Jordan demonstrates to us that prayer life rooted in Christ is trinitarian. When we rooted our prayer life in Christ, we are at the River Jordan with him, and he for us. The way the ancient Jewish people understood baptism (as a daily event) is the way Christians understand prayer (a daily, and even ongoing and continuous happening).

Christian prayer life is a matter of discernment, colloquy, and purification. We discern through patient reflection and contemplation given the facts, situations, and challenges our life poses to us. We colloquy through conversation with God and by opening ourselves to listening to God’s disclosure. We purify through our receiving of the Sacraments, particularly Penance and Eucharist, which restore the holiness of our Baptism and seals the ongoing activity of the Holy Spirit throughout our prayer.

As we discern, colloquy and purify we shouldn’t feel the necessity to be able to come to words about our experiences — that is, what are sensing God’s will might be. We can take solace that Christ didn’t immediately come to terms, either. What does give us solace is that our prayer in Christ washes away our separation from him, and from the true nature of reality.

When we root our prayer life in Christ, we acknowledge the words of God the Father, that Jesus is his beloved Son. This acknowledging is praise to God the Father, praise that Christ mediates. Christ-centered prayer likewise gives praise to the Holy Spirit, not a mere afterthought or decoration on this moment, but rather a real, physical, personal Being that unites our biblical imagination with the Annunciation, the Transfiguration, Pentecost, and the covenant and mission that issued from the end of the Flood. Thus Christian prayer is modeled by Christ’s baptism: an act of Christian prayer is an event of Trinity; a life of Christian prayer is a journey to the realization of Trinity. In reuniting with triune reality through prayer in Christ, we become reconciled to God’s creation. And it begins as Christ modeled and thus how St Benedict began his rule: we must listen.

Neither “Liberal” nor “Conservative”; and a whole bunch more

Father Thomas Fraser, who is rector of St Paul’s Parish, Riverside, Illinois (and theological consultant to Akenside Press) recently wrote a number of short pieces that he distributed to the parish. These are posted at the “Catholic FAQ” page on the parish’s website, along with a number of others. In each case, he touches on topics that are crucial to any renewal of Catholic reality in Anglican parishes.

QA_150In one, he responded to the question, “Is St Paul’s Parish liberal or conservative?” He began:

St Paul’s is neither liberal nor conservative in the popular sense of those words. St Paul’s is theological. That is, it takes the historic theology of the Universal Church very seriously; and faithfulness to Catholic theology – not partisan politics or “being PC” – is the basis for all judgments, decisions, teaching, formation, and practice here.

Read the whole piece (PDF). In my own opinion, that parishes work to cultivate a theological culture, rather than a political culture, is absolutely essential to Catholic renewal. As Father Fraser goes on to say, of course any parish is going to have for its members people of both liberal and conservative persuasions (and the grey areas in between). But what is at the center of this culture — a political agenda (whether liberal, conservative, or mixed), or God and His theology (i.e., the liturgical and sacramental life)? Unless it is God and His theology, then any renewal will simply not last. An ideological rather than theological renewal might stir up activity for a time, but it will peter out. A theological culture is centered around truth: God, ultimate reality.

In another piece, even shorter, Father Fraser gives a brief explanation of why the parish service leaflet says the following:

Being Benedictine means that St Paul’s is
Christian, Catholic, Anglican, Episcopalian
in that order. And we are here to stay.

Those words themselves are almost thought-provoking enough. What he says about them you can read here. Personally, I love that those words are in our parish service leaflet. They serve to keep our ecclesial priorities in order, because the emphasis is on spirituality and theology rather than polity (which is important but over-emphasized).

In a third piece, he responds to the question, “What is St Paul’s relationship to ‘the larger church’?” Owing to the fact that this subject is perhaps more complicated, I will give a longer excerpt from Father Fraser’s response:

As I have said so often, theology really is important to all of us; it is not just something of interest merely to those sorts of people who like that sort of thing. Here we see again the crucial importance of ones doctrine of the church.

In general the Protestant teaching about the institutional (“visible”) Church is that the Church is a human sociological institution (like schools and universities, hospitals, libraries, etc.) whose basic function is Christian fellowship, inspiration, and education. In general in Protestantism the only operative salvific/theological element is the person’s own “individual relationship with Jesus Christ as one’s personal Lord and Savior.” Therefore if one has a relationship with a church body it implies/proclaims/certifies that the person accepts that church body’s teaching and practice, i.e. its fellowship, inspiration, and education.

The Catholic Doctrine of the Church (held by the Early Christian Church and continued unbroken to the present by Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Anglicans, Old Catholics, and the Oriental Churches) is that the Catholic Church is a Sacrament, the foundational Sacrament that actually makes present the Kingdom of God and administers the seven Sacraments, the principal means by which God gives His people salvific grace.

This means that the “visible” (institutional) Church on Earth was established by Jesus Christ Himself to continue His Incarnation – to be His physical Body here authoritatively continuing His ministry – until He returns again at the end of the age (the Parousia). The Catholic Church is indwelt by the Holy Spirit and is a divine, not a human, institution. Anglicanism teaches, based on Our Lord’s own teaching, that the Catholic Church while not infallible (it can err) is indefectible (it cannot remain in error; in the fullness of God’s time, the Holy Spirit will lead it back into all truth). What, therefore, is indispensable about the Church (“the deal breaker”) is not its immediate fellowship, inspiration, or education, but its sacramental validity.

And he goes on to say a good deal more, all of which I recommend.

Renewal tends to happen when basic questions are asked and explored anew. In this case, “what is ‘church’?” and within that, what is it for? As he has said in other writing — such as this one — there really is an enormous difference between how “church” is defined according to a general Protestant understanding and how it is defined according to a Catholic understanding. One might say that the difference boils down to taking the words, “One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic” seriously, with each word pointing to and consummating profound theological recognitions. How these recognitions begin to reorient and reorder one’s life in Christ in terms of everyday living become, to paraphrase Marshall McLuhan, “the message”.

pentecostThe Church is, after all, not an end unto itself, but rather a “medium” by which the incarnation, life, and mission of Jesus Christ is extended and grown. The “message of this medium” involves our total life, ontologically changed and then fed by the Sacraments, continuously in relationship with God’s immeasurable love whether we recognize his grace or not. But it does matter that we attempt to recognize his loving grace. To do so, even when we don’t want to, is the call of the Christian life of prayer.

It is not that what we do is the fundamental bottom line for salvation. No — it is not what we do, but what God does, and how God imagines us. But we are called to respond. Our Prayer Book says it succinctly: prayer is responding to God, by thought and by deeds, with or without words. Notice the emphasis on action, even as ‘action’ here is broadly defined. We are not called to be doormats amid a watching of God’s beautiful emanations all around us in creation, as if salvation is like watching the correct television show. There is no place for passivity in the life dedicated to walking with Christ. We are called to activity.

All of this is fully in line with the recognition that Anglicanism is pragmatic — that is, rooted in doing, in practice (some call this ‘praxis’). Unlike schools of spirituality that are “confessional” (where membership requires assent to a list of doctrinal propositions) or “charismatic” (where membership requires an affirmation of an individual spiritual experience), the English-Anglican School roots membership in doing.

This is, however, to say more than merely a churchy version of “half of life is just showing up”. Why? Because “just showing up” is I suppose active, but only minimally so. It is far too passive to be an authentic response to God’s calling. Yes, you have to “show up” to the Liturgy. But the Liturgy is not a movie, nor a theatrical performance. The Liturgy is God making Himself known to us through profound conversation and interaction. The Liturgy presuppose participation of a particularly profound kind. It is rather an immersion: the senses, the mind, the body, the heart.

And it is not just on Sundays and days of Holy Obligation. The liturgical life is continuous, Sunday to Sunday, Easter to Easter. As Martin Thornton writes, “the ‘liturgy’ is not worship, it is a system”. This system is the dynamic interaction of Mass, Office, and personal devotion (usually Bible meditation). It bleeds into, and fuels, the ordained ministry of the Laity — the people of God — to seek and serve Christ in others and in all of creation. To say that the liturgical life is continuous is simply to take God’s love seriously: it is immeasurable, it comes before and precedes anything we do — this is what “prevenient grace” means. Any pragmatic School of spirituality makes prevenient grace central to its self-understanding.

The English-Anglican School is pragmatic, yes. But perhaps it is better to call it “ascetical”. The term “pragmatic” has virtually lost all sense of its original meaning, rooted in “to do”. It now is commonly recognized as meaning practical and non-ideological: “what works”. The common definition leads in a different direction than a life lived following the steps of Christ. I guess if you meditate upon that common definition, you might still be able to detect echoes of the original meaning. But that is stretching too far. Ascetical is better, and a term from the Pauline Epistles and the early Church.

To say that the Anglican School is ascetical recognizes that the daily participation in the liturgical and sacramental life of Christ is participation rooted in our response to become disciples of Christ, and to deepen our relationship with, and likeness to, God (theosis). To call the Anglican School ascetical recognizes that this participation is a journey — one that proceeds through one’s entire life and into the next (from the Church Militant to the Church Expectant and hopefully to the Church Triumphant).

To call the Anglican School ascetical is to recognize that God’s plunging of our identities into the vast possibilities of Triune reality and discernment — a plunging accomplished through the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation — must issue in activity that is led by Christ. His own baptism in the River Jordan models this. Upon his immersion in water, Jesus heard God the Father speaking and was anointed by the Holy Spirit. And his ministry thus officially began.

“Pragmatic” is being there. “Ascetical” is being Triune.

Anglicanism’s identity crisis

In the West (at least), Anglicanism has an identity crisis. Are we Catholic? Are we Protestant? Are we Evangelical? These are three of the fundamental questions. Additionally and relatedly, are we an Ancient Church? Are we a product of the English Reformation? Those are two more. What’s more, are we united as Anglicans? If so, how by the good Lord is that the case?

Akenside Press firmly understands Anglicanism to be a school of Catholic theology and spirituality. That others would take a different view is self-evident, which we why our true identity must be stated, restated, and repeated in such strong terms. Our shared narrative, in the opinion of Akenside Press, has to be retuned.

One solution is to deemphasize the role of polity. Too many Anglicans (in the West, at least) root our identity in polity — Henry VIII and that era, and post–civil war 1662 and that era, are two common source-points for the beginning of Anglicanism, as a polity. These days we have a multiplicity of polities within Anglicanism. But for our identity, why use polity as the primary criteria? Isn’t that a bit odd, if you think about it, for the average committed pew-sitting Anglican does not practice their faith according to polity. They practice their faith according to traditions rooted in theology and spirituality, anchored in The Book of Common Prayer. Any polity is nothing that lends itself whatsoever to spirituality or ultimate truth. There is nothing inherently theological about “polity”. Polity is just a system of organization. That is the core point.

Is a polity necessary? Of course polity is necessary, for order and organization are necessary. This is not a claim for the destruction of the institutional dimensions of life in the Body of Christ (as if such a thing were even possible). But it is a call to recognize how often we think, act, and react according to polity rather than theological/spirituality school or tradition. Polity, whether TEC, ACNA, CoE, many more in and beyond Anglicanism do not deserve, per se, all the attention they receive. Polity ain’t the main attraction. Should polity receive some attention, maybe less than 1%? Ok, but can we give the rest to theology and spirituality?

To which polity did the Noble Army of Martyrs claim membership? (Don’t know the reference? See the Te Deum.)

You see, polity gets in the way of what’s really important. Polity is a shield we use, even a weapon with which some fight. Perhaps, to be charitable, we can see why polity has become so important. Perhaps it has something to do with the rise of the Information Age amid two World Wars, threat of nuclear annihilation, and the “global village” that long has threatened to wipe away local culture and flavor in all parts of the world. In other words, in times of stress, we cling to our polity. We do so because it is objective, and a badge we can wear. We can hold up that badge and say to others, “I am this (insert polity here)!”.

As a thought experiment, try for a moment to do some imagining. Get your inner John Lennon groove on and …. “imagine their are no polities it is easy if you try.

Well, maybe not that easy. But do try. What does the Church, right now, look like without polities? How would we understand Christianity?

I would suggest that we confine the possibilities to taxonomies that are theological, because the Church is fundamentally theological phenomena. So what are the possibilities? A taxonomy rooted in doctrine (or doctrines) is one; but that might be too narrow. One rooted in ecclesiology is another; but that might get us back to polity and denominational confusion, back to where we started.

I argue that the best taxonomy (particularly if one is concerned ultimately with unity within Christianity) is that of schools: schools of theology/spirituality. Such a taxonomy gets at what unites us, what divides us, but allows for a healthy amount of grey area (which is appropriate given that Christianity is a big tent, and should be). And the taxonomy of schools immediately suggests a complimentary relationship between the various schools. Not triumphalism, but partnership: schools have certain gifts, certain emphases, certain weaknesses. Schools learn from within their own tradition, but also through dialogue and mutuality with other schools.

Exploring this taxonomy, what emerges are patterns of behavior and thought: patterns of attitudes and priorities (about the Bible, about Liturgy, about Sacraments, about Doctrines/Dogmas, about the Kingdom of God, about Creation, etc.). You would see patterns of competency, of temperament, of style. Spend some time thinking about this. You might find that removing polity as a taxonomy in favor of taxonomy rooted in school of theology/spirituality yields interesting and unexpected bedfellows. How many Anglicans practice a truly Catholic spirituality, for example; and how many practice a functional congregationalism? How many Anglicans are functionally Roman Catholic? Or Eastern Orthodox? Or Baptist?

One of the gifts that Anglicanism has been given is a truly rich tradition of theology. No one has better demonstrated this than Martin Thornton, in his English Spirituality. What his work shows is that Anglicanism should be defined as a school of Catholic theology and spirituality. It is a school that is distinct yet complementary to other Catholic schools. It can be traced to the New Testament Church. Whether any Christian school must be able to trace itself to the NT Church is an interesting open question. I wonder if it might be the case that, if it can’t trace itself to the NT Church, that school has not yet understood itself properly. It would seem to me a kind of necessity, as a Christian, to be able to trace a continuity of theology and spirituality to the NT Church, no?

Spirituality and theology unfold in time and space, but they are not strictly bound by particular contexts. Old Saints become oddly contemporary, don’t they? We can adopt something of a 2nd century Christian spirituality, for example, rooted in what we know about 2nd century theology. How unlike this are polities. Polities come, and polities go, and are necessarily particular to their context — much like the weather in slow-motion. When it is stormy one day, and sunny the next, do we find ourselves with two entirely different lives according to the weather? Or do we have continuity from one weather pattern to the next, being the same people with the same general outlook and same general sense of priorities, but simply responsive in different ways to rain and sun? As with weather, with polity. We respond to our polity, but we aren’t shaped by our polity (or we shouldn’t be). We ought be shaped by our corporate prayer, for praying shaping believing. We don’t pray polity: we pray theology (God’s theology, to be precise).

Ok, back to theology and Anglicanism. The point is to consider how Anglicanism looks, feels, and lives as an organism without undue attention to the various Anglican polities. I have posed the suggestion that it is perhaps our disproportionate attention to polity that has contributed to, or perhaps created, the identity crisis plaguing us. And I have suggested that removing polity as the primary lens to understand Anglicanism issues in a recognition that Anglicanism is a theological and spirituality-based phenomena that is traceable to the NT Church. It is, in short, a school.

Now, tackling the nature of the identity crisis in Anglicanism would be the subject of enormous work. We can only hope to grapple with a problem this severe in incremental fashion, bit by bit, seeking a tipping point through a critical mass of people who understand (a) the problem, and (b) possible solution. For the challenge, put in positive terms, is to renew Anglicanism. To aid in that is the mission of Akenside Press, particularly renewal at the parish and family levels. Books have to be written, yes. But hearts have to be persuaded, behaviors changed. It is work we have to do, but it will take time. By my lights, this work is precisely what the Holy Spirit has led Anglicanism to confront as a corporate family. Who are we? What is our theological tradition? How do we talk about it? How do we make our tradition beneficial to the Body of Christ? What are the impediments?

In that spirit, reflect upon the following quote, from H.R. McAdoo, from his excellent work The Structure of Caroline Moral Theology, chapter 1, “The Anglican Approach to Theology”:

While a narrow local patriotism in theology would be disastrous, there is something strangely unreal in the prevalent neglect of the heritage of Anglicanism. Barthianism, Thomism, and even Counter-reformation thought posses a following in the English Church, and the study of the fathers [ed.: “and mothers”] of Anglicanism receives but a fraction of its rightful need of attention. A wide acquaintance in theology, ranging from patristic to the modern exponents of Continental confessional theology, is obviously desirable, but the danger lies not in grafting such study on an existing theological stock, which were admirable, but in making it the background. There follows a loss of root and idiom, and by neglecting those specifically Anglican presuppositions latent or expressed in classical Anglican thought and writings, we risk becoming mere theological vagantes.

When we let go of polity, it is this sort of stuff that shows up: that is, how we actually act theologically. What McAdoo is diagnosing is that Anglicanism, in practice, tends to choose for its own theological background non-Anglican theological traditions. Think about that for a second. We have chosen for our background non-Anglican theology. Instead of Anglican theological tradition, what have we used? We have used at various times in Anglicanism St Thomas Aquinas and his “Thomistic scholasticism”; or we have used Calvinism, and his successors, including Karl Barth and Alister McGrath and their “neo-orthodoxy”, whether high-church or broad-church; some have used (both via positiva and via negativa) the Liberal Protestantism of Schleiermacher;  or some (that is to say, Tractarians) have used theology from the Counter-Reformation spirituality. Yes, of course: the vast majority use the BCP for liturgy. But for talking about theology, reflecting about doctrine, understanding theological identity, or (perhaps most importantly) for forming Christians young and old, instead of our tradition, our school, we go elsewhere. That is McAdoo’s point.

McAdoo calls this “strangely unreal”. I would say it is downright bizarre. Talk about a recipe for identity crisis!  It would be one thing if we did not have a tradition to speak of. But we do! Ours is the NT Church to Celtic Church to Augustine to Benedict to Anselm to Julian of Norwich (and her contemporaries) to the Carolines to John Macquarrie (with plenty of folks in between). This is a glorious tradition, of Saints and blessed theologians! Why would we not want to root ourselves in this tradition? Nobody else does, in any central or primary way. Hey, here’s an idea: maybe we should — hey, it might be kinky.

The take away is this: consider that polity-identification gets in the way of theological- and spiritual-identification. Polities come and go: slowly, to be sure, but they do go. Out of expedience and facticity we have to operate through our polity. Again, this is not a call to pretend like we can destroy polities. But right now, as Anglicans who are living a tradition that by any measure (in the West, at least) is on life-support, let’s allow God to nurse the patient back to health. The best food is the Word of God. The best meal plan is our liturgical and sacramental life. The best diet is our school of theology and spirituality. Let’s claim who we are, and do so with all humility, commitment, and love for God.

 


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On Anglican Patrimony and the English School of Catholic Spirituality

What is Anglican patrimony? In terms of its significance for spirituality and prayer, it is the name used latterly to refer to that infectious ferment of Christian activity and culture alive through various phases in the British and English lands, as well as its ecclesial heirs. It did not begin in 1833 with the Assize Sermon, nor in 1660 with the Restoration, nor in 1549 with the Book of Common Prayer, nor in 1534 with the Act of Supremacy, nor in 1213 with Papal feudalism, nor in 664 with the Synod of Whitby.

All these moments initiated major episodes in the life and ascetical practice of the faithful Remnant within this tradition or “school” of the Church—the English School—influences upon it being varied: anchoritic, Benedictine/Cistercian, Franciscan, Dominican, Caroline, Ignatian, Wesleyan, to name several of the primary ones. Yet Anglican patrimony actively ferments in any age through growing relationship in Christ, despite its often turbulent and chaotic relationship to social history.

Anglican patrimony as the English School issues in a comprehensive way of being Christian—through liturgy and hymnody, as well as less tangibly but more fundamentally through patterns of parochial, pastoral, and ascetical theology—and indeed at its best constitutes a school that is a full member of the glorious family of Catholic schools of spirituality.

Our task is to rediscover it, teaches Martin Thornton in English Spirituality, which, along with Pastoral Theology, is a true masterpiece. “English School” is one of his most used phrases.

The conception of “schools of spirituality” is out of fashion in some, mostly academic, circles. It deserves to be restored. To understand what is meant by “schools of spirituality,” let us turn directly to Thornton and read from the second chapter of his book, Margery Kempe: An Example in the English Pastoral Tradition. (This is an excellent book that deserves wider reading.) This was, in fact, Fr Thornton’s favorite book; and Kempe, his favorite figure within English tradition. She was his favorite because, against the tide of academic criticism, he saw Kempe as a “poor mystic . . . but first-rate parishioner,” and a “major ascetic.” That is, he interpreted her Book  according to ascetical principles that animated all of this theological thinking, and in so doing, found in her Book a rich resource of pastoral and ascetical examples that parish priests and catechists can use to teach habitual recollection, biblical meditation, colloquy, and a great deal more immediately valuable to parishioners who desire to grow in their spirituality and faith.

Keep in mind that this book was written in 1960, and in the excerpt below, a couple moments might benefit from updated language and some tweaking. There is obvious reference to England that might be less applicable elsewhere in the Anglican world. Be that as it may, I suggest you focus on the main points about (a) what a school is, and (b) what it means for Anglicanism to have within its patrimony such a school:

A school of spirituality is the local and corporate expression of the great Pauline doctrine of diverse gifts within the unity of the Mystical Body; and it is the logical consequence of the Incarnation itself. In one sense, Jesus Christ, the Second Adam, recapitulates the whole of humanity within himself, and the doctrine issuing form this fact is dogmatic, changeless, and Catholic. On the other hand, Jesus is a man, with a particular personality and temperament. His own spiritual life, and his death, redeemed the whole world, yet he lived within the pattern of a particular strain of first century Judaism. The prayer of Christ is the prayer of humanity, because all true prayer is prayer in Christ. But Christ’s prayer was also very specialized; it was a synthesis of the Priest-Prophet Jewish tradition: Christ belonged to a “school”.

Christ belonged to a school. That is a remarkable claim to make, yet it is consonant with the main streams of historical analysis of the 20th century, which usefully situate Jesus within the context of first-century Judaism. Fr Thornton continues:

From this balance between the total body and the unique characteristics of every human soul, there arise the great Catholic schools of spirituality, all differing according to temperamental and racial traits yet all in harmony with the dogmatic facts of the one faith. As seven musical notes are arranged and woven into an infinity of harmonies, so the clauses of the Creeds, by emphasis and arrangement but without omission, are woven into the rich diversity of Christian spirituality. One of the most impressive arguments for the true universality of the Catholic Faith is that it is so readily qualified by any number of adjectives: Eastern and Western, French, Italian and American, Franciscan, Cistercian and Carmelite. It is impossible to speak in the same way about Western Buddhism or African Confucianism.

The analogy to music is profound. The claim here is that the Catholic Church is like the totality of musical possibilities (think a piano, if you like, and all the possible tonal combinations). Each school, within the totality, plays the piano and weaves and realizes its harmony differently because that is the nature of Incarnation, where the Eternal entered the local. No one plays the piano exactly like anyone else. But as the deep harmony of music is ever-present and ever-animate in and through all piano players, the underlying Catholic unity—love, beyond abundance—is ever-present and ever-animate in and through all Catholic schools.

Take a moment to soak that in.

Now, back to Fr Thornton:

Within all this wonderful richness, and as a true part of Catholicism, stands the English school of spirituality. And in a period of pastoral flux such as we now experience, I believe it to be of the first importance that we pay more attention to our own particular tradition. Whatever liturgical or ascetical experiments we wish to try, it is wise first to decide whether they are likely to grow and flourish on English soil. This does not mean insularity, but it does suggest a measure of solidity upon which our individual and parochial spirituality can be built, embellished, if need be, by facts from foreign traditions. It is one thing to decorate a room in an English country house in the Japanese style: it is quite another to build a row of cottages in that style in the middle of a Norfolk village. The latter is analogous to our present neglect of English spirituality in favor of Oratorian, Carmelite, and Salesian methods. Let me say at once that there is nothing wrong with any of these methods — nor with Japanese architecture — but if they are to be useful to use they must be incorporated into our own tradition. First our own tradition must exist in a flourishing state and, if this is to be, it must be re-studied from its sources, and we must pay special attention to its greatest periods.

He goes on to describe how English spirituality is traceable to the Celtic Church, through Saint Benedict, eventually into Saint Anselm (which decidedly brings in Saint Augustine), later the Victorines, Julian of Norwich and others into The Book of Common Prayer, and beyond.

(At right is assembled the more comprehensive map of ressourcement, and see here for an explanation of that diagram.)

This amounts to a truly Catholic ferment within the Anglican spiritual tradition. Characteristic of the English School is (1) superb synthesis between Affective and Speculative strains of Catholic spirituality, (2) a spirit of optimism and theological humanism, and (3) a constant an thorough-going insistence upon the unity of the Church—religious and secular, priest and layman, bishop and people: all are knit together in the One Body of Christ. Thus English/Anglican pastoral reflections are “warm, ‘homely’, domestic” that prizes the “uniqueness of each individual soul growing happily within the corporate order of the Church.”

That is what it means, for Thornton, to refer to Anglican patrimony as possessing, historically as well as presently, the English school of Catholic spirituality within it. Whether we should do so remains an open question. Presumably people intellectually or temperamentally against aspects of the Catholic Faith within Anglicanism would not be eager to do so. On the other hand, plenty of good Christian people of whatever stripe might not be persuaded by an English theologian they have never heard of before (Thornton, by and large, remains unknown to the majority of Anglicans). The postliberal movement might want to correct or fine-tune. And of course Thornton might be just completely off-base in this entire analysis.

But at this point in a very weakened Anglican state of being, we are begging for renewal. If Anglican renewal is understood to be a parish- and family-rooted phenomenon (I think that is the only truly sustainable location for renewal, although all dimensions of Anglicanism ought play a role), then the envisioning of true Anglican patrimony as a school of Catholic spirituality directly presents a renewal agenda: in parish formation programs, get to know our tradition! Understand how the Book of Common Prayer came to be, and how it functions as the anchor of a total system of spirituality, or “Regula.

Fr Thornton’s explanation of the English School involves the bringing together of voices from twenty centuries of history because they resonate deeply with the ethos and theology of the Book of Common Prayer. To properly and reverently embrace the Book of Common Prayer, and to ensure it retains its place within the prayer life of faithful Anglicans, let us renew our intentional engagement with our inherited conversation—talk formally and informally about ideas, say, from Julian of Norwich in parishes and at the kitchen table—so that we can slowly but surely nurse our tradition back to health and regain a healthy sense of self, rooted in the most ancient and therefore sustainable tradition. May we flourish again toward our ever-constant mission to be a fruitful and sustaining partner in the wider Catholic Church, the Mystical Body of Christ. Or as Thornton writes in English Spirituality (p. 14):

Well in the background [of contemporary Anglican studies] remains the English School of Spirituality; sane, wise, ancient, modern, sound, and simple; with roots in the New Testament and the Fathers, and of noble pedigree; with its golden periods and its full quota of saints and doctors; never obtrusive, seldom in serious error, ever holding its essential place within the glorious diversity of Catholic Christendom. Our most pressing task is to rediscover it.

To rediscover it.

Responding to a reader’s question

Responding to this post, a reader asked:

Thank you for your continuing work on the theological map for Anglican renewal. I was wondering what you think about the Eastern fathers as possible sources for Anglican renewal as well (this seems implied by the mention of Desert Monasticism). I guess I’m wondering if catholic in this scheme might include Eastern and Western Catholicism…

Part of my response:

This whole matter requires a bit of delicacy, because what I’m about to say could be misinterpreted. First and foremost, anyone can read anyone they want. But secondly, your question gets at the question about what Anglicanism is. Some say Anglicanism is a bastard child of the 16th century; others more charitably see it as a denomination; others see it as a matter of polity. But I follow Thornton and understand Anglicanism to be a school of Catholic spirituality. There are many such schools, each with their particular theological tradition and pastoral gifts. But a school is a “school”. We have a curriculum, we have a culture, we have (one might say) a “dialect”. All schools have a curriculum, have a culture, have a dialect….

At my parish, we constantly explore the question, “how do we articulate and communicate authentic Anglicanism to others?” The idea being that by doing so, we can help to enact a Catholic renewal within Anglicanism.

Yet that question answers itself if you explore its presuppositions. “How to communicate?” presupposes Anglicanism can be spoken. That Anglicanism can be spoken presupposes that Anglicanism has a theological conversation. That Anglicanism has a conversation presupposed that it possesses an articulated theology or theological tradition.

Or simply: if we can talk about Anglicanism, we must have a theological identity. So, what is our theological identity?

But this is just a portion of my response. To read more, head to the discussion at our Facebook page, and feel free to participate.





The basic library of Anglican renewal

As a visual of the core moments of the map of Anglican historical theology (as researched by Martin Thornton), here is the basic library of Anglican renewal:

This is a library of points of departure, rooted in the guiding light of holy Scripture (the Christian thesaurus, or “treasury”) and manifested through The Book of Common Prayer (the source and summit of Anglican liturgical/sacramental asceticism; i.e., Catholic Rule or regula). This is a doable, manageable list, is it not? St Augustine’s Enchiridion, the Rule of St Benedict, the prayers and meditations of St Anselm along with his Proslogion, Lady Julian of Norwich’s Revelations, and John Macquarrie’s Principles of Christian Theology — handled any which way, these are tools for Anglican renewal. These tools invite, nay beg, their use in Anglican parishes and in Anglican homes for reflection, meditation, discussion, and catechesis —  in a word, formation. Or in another, mystagogy, the savoring of Christ’s mysteries.

The renewal of which Akenside Press is most mindful is that of the grassroots — to animate and re-animate with Catholic reality according to the Anglican school. Of particular focus are parish formation programs and living room discussions by families. What strikes me about the theologians in this basic library is that each has a special and unmistakeable power to animate. Each is accessible, anchored in a devotional balance between intellect and affect, reflects and concentrates key movement in Anglican development (the Anglican school of Catholic spirituality), and is congruent with our strong root-stock in the monastic/liturgical mode of theological appropriation. This is not an exhaustive list of possibilities, but a basic list of resources that perhaps are our most pregnant. These are works that can refuel our imagination, rebalance our lives in Christ, and renew our ability to communicate Anglican culture to others … and ourselves.





Trinity through Anglican historical theology

First, some background. Part of the work of renewing Anglicanism in parishes is finding through-lines in our tradition. Our theological tradition is, of course, nothing to sneeze at (if you are unclear on that point, I invite you to click on the map at right, and of course give serious study to Martin Thornton’s English Spirituality). But perhaps as a  place to start, and as an ongoing point of departure, we could say that the axis of our tradition is understood in its simplest form through five theologians: Augustine, Benedict, Anselm, Julian, and Macquarrie. These are the non-negotiables, you might say. They are not optional for Anglicanism. Thus you might call them our “core theologians”.

I mean this term lightly but I do mean it. Through their works, the main contours of the Anglican school of theology/spirituality show up, although of course are not exhausted. These five, within our liturgical life via the BCP, are the bare minimum to get a working sense of the whole tradition, enough to be a solid point of departure toward the study of any theologian one wants to study.

Immediately it is clear that parish formation groups would be well served to know these theologians, and know them well. So one task for parish formation groups is to make connections in their work on various doctrinal points, to see how our tradition has understood a particular doctrine, for example, and to see how it develops through the ages. All done through prayer, of course — through our continuous relationship with God, a relationship under the Catholic Rule (or regula) of Mass + Office + Devotion. The point is not merely to learn information, but to sow seeds of formation, and water those already sown.

Ok, enough of the background. This post promised “Trinity through Anglican historical theology”. Here is a small example as a demonstration of what is possible. I selected the doctrine of holy Trinity, and found a sentence or two from our five core theologians:

For this is the fullness of our joy, than which there is nothing greater: to enjoy God the Trinity in whose image we have been made.
(Augustine, De Trinitate, I.8.16)

We believe that the divine presence is everywhere and that ‘the eyes of the Lord are looking on the good and the evil in every place.’
(Benedict, Rule, 19)

God is that than which nothing greater can be thought.
(Anselm, Proslogion, 2)

The fullness of joy is to behold God in everything.
(Julian of Norwich, Revelations, 35)

Being is present and manifests itself in every particular being, but most of the time we may miss it altogether. We have already described the revelatory situation in which, so to speak, our eyes are opened to Being, and this happens because Being has itself grasped us and communicated itself to us.
(John Macquarrie, Principles of Christian Theology, 9.34.12)

Between these five thoughts, there are connections here to be made — the ground is fertile! Of course other sentences could be selected — that’s all part of the formative possibility and opportunity, especially given how superb our theological tradition actually is. And opportunities abound amid the theology for direct reference to holy Scripture, such as And this is eternal life, that they know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent (Jn 17.3). That can be reflected upon alongside the thoughts of Augustine, Benedict, Anselm, Julian, and Macquarrie.

No matter the particular selections, the task in our parishes is to join the conversation started by our core theologians (a conversation that is already latent in our experience through participation in liturgical life via The Book of Common Prayer).  In this case, the task is to explore devotionally the doctrine of Trinity along the lines suggested by our theologians through use of their language in these five thoughts. Their specific language ought be the point of devotional departure. Here, we see the discussion about Trinity could easily segue into a discussion about the nature of revelation. Segues and tangents, too, are the point. These have to be prayed with, privately as well as corporately. It might be that parish formation groups might explore these kinds of questions:

What do we make of these ideas?
How are these similar? or different?
What are the claims made about God?
About creation?
About sin?
About salvation?
How do these impinge upon our prayer life?

Each of the five theological thoughts is pregnant with Christian meaning. Each awaits our lectio divina. In their own way, each thought is an icon. Each issues in a profound recognition of Christ, who Himself is the Perfect Icon of the Father. We are invited to sink into these icons — to sink into Being — and follow where the Holy Spirit leads, and how He leads. We are invited to live with God, to become more like God (theosis).





Our theological map as “conversation”

I was pleased to see Bishop Daniel Martins nod approvingly at my essay on our map of Anglican historical theology. He wrote on Facebook, “Some impressive analysis by Matthew Dallman, whose project it is to keep the work of Martin Thornton in front of Anglican eyes.” A blogger named JD Ballard responded, as well. Ballard comments:

I wonder if reacquainting ourselves with our fore-bearers in the faith might help us find our way forward… might lead us to a much longed for renewal.

My thoughts exactly. Renewal always involves returning to the sources — aka “back to basics”. And how to reacquaint ourselves, at the parish level, is precisely where my focus is right now. This is the “challenge” that I am choosing to face.

The works that make up our tradition do issue in a curriculum that is comprehensive and, in one sense, large. Just look at the map. But to be well-acquainted with it does not present itself, at least to me, as a thoroughly impossible task. There are many texts, but there aren’t that many. In even rougher outline — Augustine’s Enchiridion, Benedict’s Rule, Anselm’s Proslogion, Julian’s Revelations, and Macquarrie’s Principles of Christian Theology, all guided by the Book of Common Prayer  and that is plenty good food for a parish journey.

And of course, the concrete texts aren’t the whole story. Our theological tradition emerges from the marriage of texts within Anglican communities over our history. Our tradition, like any tradition, is what some call a “cultural-linguistic phenomenon”. That is fancy jargon. What is means is simple, however. How our conversation, as Catholic people in a variety of life situations and contexts, relates to the texts is as important as the actual words on the page. We are a family that lives around The Word. This life is through space and time. How we as Anglicans encounter The Word liturgically, sacramentally, corporately through the history of the Body of Christ makes for what we might call “our conversation” — all Anglicans, all Christians, all Saints, gathered around the table in conversation — listening to, feeding upon, and responding to, The Word. As Julian writes, “And what can make us rejoice in God more than to see in Him that He rejoices is us, the highest of all His works?” This is the essence of our conversation.

At St Paul’s Parish, our rector has charged us with a question: how do we communicate authentic Anglicanism to others?

My thought has been that before we talk it, we must know what “it” is. That is to say, we first must be able to identify our tradition. Hence the map, as a rough estimation of our tradition of theology as it has unfolded through history. That is step 1.

Step 2, therefore, after we know what “it” is, is clear: we must “live it”. We have to put ourselves in dialogue with these works, as best we are able, and make them our own (i.e., “appropriate” the texts).

As Ballard says, we ought “reaquaint” ourselves with our tradition. Start with Augustine, Benedict, Anselm, Julian, Macquarrie, and proceed as you will to the others. Perhaps this seems imposing. It has to me, to be honest. But I’m wondering now whether the task of doing so starts with an immediate recognition: we are already acquainted with this map — because of the Book of Common Prayer! We are “Prayer-Book Catholics”, and because we are, we are participating in the “Anglican conversation”, aka the map, by virtue of our liturgical life — what Thornton calls “the Catholic regula” of Mass + Office + Devotion. Our liturgy — which is to say, our form of Catholic liturgy — is both the source and summit of our experience. This is to say, our liturgy is the source and summit of our “Anglican conversation”, in its fullest, most supreme, most actualized sense. O Lord I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof. But only say The Word, and my soul shall be healed. Our liturgy feeds us. Furthermore, our liturgy is a school; it teaches our conversation.

To reacquaint is to listen. “Listen!” is the first word of The Rule of St Benedict. Thus the “how to reacquaint” method perhaps emerges: within our liturgical life in Anglican parishes (which in its fullest sense is both Mass and Office), we read devotionally in our parish study groups works from the map. We talk about them in our small groups, and we allow the Holy Spirit to feed us, lead us, and unite us. We simply intend, and follow through with, to listen to the Holy Spirit through the works of our tradition. Doing so does two things: (1) it renews our understanding of who we are as Anglicans — the nature of prayer in the Anglican tradition, and (2) it gives us vocabulary that builds upon the vocabulary supplied by parochial formation courses.

These steps seem reasonable to me because we are already doing them. Yet to have the goal at least sketched out — the goal is to be able to respond to God in conversation with others — would seem to me to make the whole enterprise cleaner and more purposeful. Thornton, as usual, captures our task perfectly: “Any satisfactory spirituality … especially Anglican spirituality, can only evolve by serious study of our ancient tradition, plus bold experiment.” The task is ours to perform.





Duccio di Buoninsegna - Appearance Behind Locked Doors

Martin Thornton’s Ressourcement Map for Anglican Patrimony

INTRODUCTION
At some point any serious, committed Anglican—particularly someone who has heard that Anglican identity, despite what others may say, can be thoroughly Catholic, though distinct from Roman, Eastern Orthodox, Old Catholic, and Oriental Catholic—is likely going to confront a simple but serious question: What is the nature of Anglican theology?

This is a good question. Perhaps for Catholic Anglicans, it is a crucial question, because this particular question takes us to the the heart of an increasingly important question: what is authentic Anglican identity? Anglicanism has a decades-long crisis of identity on a variety of fronts, but none more important than our spiritual identity. With the emergence of the Anglican Ordinariates, the stakes have been raised. Historic Anglicanism in communion with the historic See of Canterbury needs to have its true patrimony (spiritual, liturgical, and pastoral) brought to the foreground of common Anglican life, in order to recover and rebuild what otherwise is an imploding tradition.

Many Anglicans know, and all should, that Archbishop of Canterbury Geoffrey Fisher (d. 1972) famously said about Anglicanism, “We have no doctrine of our own.  We only possess the Catholic doctrine of the Catholic Church enshrined in the Catholic Creeds, and these creeds we hold without addition or diminution.  We stand firm on that rock.” These words ought be repeated widely in parish adult formation programs. Fisher’s statement is profound, scriptural, patristic, and humble. Its truth guides our tradition.

Yet while intimately related, there is a difference between doctrine and theology. To put the matter perhaps too simply: Doctrine (and dogma) constitutes the “what” of Christian belief; on the other hand  theology emerges when doctrine is worked with in or “kneaded” in prayer according to pastoral realities. Theology manifests in the life of particular traditions or spiritual schools. Theology indeed rightly becomes spirituality, seen as a corporate phenomenon: or more specifically, as “spiritual theology.”

Indeed, Archbishop Fisher’s insight remains correct: Anglicanism has no unique doctrine of its own. But at the core of Anglicanism is something unique: not doctrine, but rather a “school of Catholic spirituality.” Spiritual schools do not concoct new official doctrines. Rather various Catholic traditions work with, or again, knead, the doctrines of holy Church has defined according to the whole—the Vincentian Canon is ever-useful: “Care must especially be had that that be held which was believed everywhere, always, and by all.”

Anglican doctrine is Catholic doctrine, as believed everywhere, always, and by all (which is never to suggest its use is merely static and perfunctory). The foundational doctrines include the Doctrine of God, Creation, the Church, Atonement, Blessed Mary, Sacraments, and many more. These are reflected in the Catholic Creeds and in the Liturgy (both Mass and Offices).

But the nature of Anglican spiritual theology flows from Catholic doctrine as it has lived and breathed in the British lands and her ecclesial heirs. And it is in this sense that we are entitled to claim a particular “theology.” Saint Anselm defined “theology” proper as faith seeking understanding. To expand upon that: theology is the manner by which faith in the orthodox doctrines of holy Church seeks to develop both language and practice in the dynamic life of Christian communities. Immediately we perceive that “the manner by which” presupposes a plurality of theologies. The Church lives out doctrine in different ways according to time and place. It is by virtue of being an incarnational religion that different theologies emerge in the working out in actual Christian lives of doctrine universal to the whole Church from its first moments to today. Different schools have their differing languages and differing practices—within the Mystical Body of Christ exist a constellation of complementary living theologies. This is all well and good, and thoroughly orthodox. Because there are various Catholic schools within the historic Church, it follows that there are various Catholic theologies.

So, amid this plurality, the many strands of catholicity within the Church, what is Anglican theology? What is our school of Catholic theology, born of historic Anglican experience and worship?

ENTER FATHER MARTIN THORNTON
I propose that Martin Thornton has given Anglicanism—and the Church—a permanent gift, which is articulation of the contours of the English School of Catholic spirituality in his text, English Spirituality. This text is already well-loved and appreciated in Anglicanism, certainly in the United States (although also in many quarters effectively unknown). It is the go-to book to discuss ascetical theology and is a resource for pastoral theology. Yet neither application exhausts the book’s gift. The true significance is still more profound: it is nothing less than a thorough map of the “English School,” of Anglican patrimony in its thickest sense; that is, of Catholic Anglican theology in its lineage, prepared for ressourcement and pastoral application within parish life

What does “ressourcement” mean? The French theologian Yves Congar defined it as conscious movement from “a less profound to a more profound tradition; a discovery of the most profound resources” (Ressourcement: A Movement for Renewal in Twentieth-Century Catholic Theology (Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2012), 4–5). From Fr Thornton, we have a clear sense of what the core curriculum for rediscovery of our most profound resources might be for Anglican theology. Fr Thornton’s might be the very first instance that the contours of our school of spiritual theology have been thoroughly and concisely articulated.

My master’s thesis details this argument at length. The term “ressourcement“, to be sure, is nowhere his corpus, because the term only came into fashion in recent decades. I will not rehearse here the extended argument that Thornton makes, because it is nuanced and does require participation in Anglican liturgical and sacramental life to fully appreciate (as any school would require). Here, rather, is a broad diagram Thornton’s ressourcement map. This is a broad-brush perspective intended to orient Catholic Anglicans to the genuine root-stock of our theological breeding, which is the English School of Catholic spirituality.

Here is the diagram (PDF here), with commentary to follow:

The middle column is the primary strand of theology whereby today’s living expression of Anglican patrimony corresponds with the New Testament Church. Overall we see a series of “divines,” or periods of flourishings led by theological writers. Building on Patristic and Monastic Divines, there were in Thornton’s view two “flowerings” of the English School. The first was in the 14th and 15th century with the quartet of Rolle, Hilton, Julian, and Kempe—and he also saw The Cloud of Unknowing as central, as well. Let us call this group our “Medieval Divines.” The second flowering was the introduction of the Book of Common Prayer and the resulting Caroline Age, the “Caroline Divines.” Fr Thornton defined the latter more broadly than most: from Hooker’s Lawes through Law’s A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life—essentially the seventeenth century. In terms of the side columns, we see Sts Augustine and Aquinas as the most influential across the ages.

The there are also “Evangelical Divines” (Wesleyans), “Tractarian Divines” (Keble, et al), and “Ecumenical Divines” (Mascall, Ramsey, Macquarrie, et al). The adjective “Ecumenical” simply refers to the fact that these theologians—the full list is longer, of course—lived in an age of marked ecumenism and ecumenical exchange within the Church both East and West, including the Second Vatican Council, which despite ecclesial disunity, impacted the entire Church. Additionally we see how the English School, and hence Anglicanism, has within it Franciscan, Dominican, Victorine, and especially, Cistercian influences.

Speaking of Archbishop Ramsey, he wrote an article called “What is Anglican Theology?“. I do recommend it, yet one must immediately note his answer is not to outline a curriculum, but to describe our Anglican method. Thornton talks about method, as well, in English Spirituality—he calls our method “speculative-affective synthesis”; but this can be described different ways, so Ramsey’s piece is useful. The “how” is just as important as the “what.”

Yet do grasp the difference: above is Thornton’s understanding of the core curriculum of Anglican ressourcement. Thus something of this map is how Anglicanism has been, and must continue to be, a theological tradition, and not merely a methodological tradition—again, nothing short of being one of the genuine schools of Catholic spirituality.

Again, whereas English Spirituality has been interpreted and used as a guide for ascetical theology (a good thing!), I suggest its fullest gift is as a clear presentation of our true lineage of historical spirituality—as well as a helpful general commentary upon each of the major theologians living in our tradition, ancient and more contemporary, which is summed up as ressourcement. I believe that discerning and then living out explicitly our true inheritance of theology (as of 1986 when Thornton died) would go a long way toward long-term resolution of the identity crisis that plagues contemporary Anglicanism, and has hobbled Anglicanism for far too long of time. It is not a panacea, to be sure, but a thoroughly helpful guide, not merely to be looked at but used. Thornton invites you to pray with the works of our tradition, and English Spirituality is an expert-level commentary to help you as you do.

REDISCOVERING OUR TRADITION
Rediscovery always involves returning to the sources—or, “back to basics”. How do we bring about rediscovery of the English School at the parish level, where the rubber meets the road?

The works that make up our tradition do issue in a curriculum that is comprehensive and, in one sense, large. Just look at the map. But to be well-acquainted with it does not present itself, at least to me, as a thoroughly impossible task. There are many texts, but there aren’t that many. In even rougher outline — Augustine’s Enchiridion, Benedict’s Rule, Anselm’s Proslogion, Julian’s Revelations, Margery Kempe’s Book, Jeremy Taylor’s Rules for Holy Living, and Macquarrie’s The Faith of the People of God, all guided by the Book of Common Prayer  and that is plenty good food for a parish journey. (See also Fr Thornton’s “Syllabus for Anglican ressourcement“, which is longer yet intended for study over multiple years.)

And of course, the concrete texts are not the whole story. Our theological tradition emerges from the marriage of texts within Anglican communities over our history. Our tradition, like any tradition, is what some call a “cultural-linguistic phenomenon”. That is fancy jargon. What is means is simple, however. How our conversation, as Catholic people in a variety of life situations and contexts, relates to the texts is as important as the actual words on the page. We are a family that lives around The Word. This life is through space and time. How we as Anglicans encounter The Word liturgically, sacramentally, corporately through the history of the Body of Christ makes for what we might call “our conversation”—all Anglicans, all Christians, all Saints, gathered around the table in conversation—listening to, feeding upon, and responding to, The Word. As Julian writes, “And what can make us rejoice in God more than to see in Him that He rejoices is us, the highest of all His works?” This is the essence of our conversation.

How do we communicate authentic Anglicanism to others? Before we talk it, we must know what “it” is. That is to say, we first must be able to identify our tradition. Hence the map, as a rough estimation of our tradition of theology as it has unfolded through history. That is the first step.

The second step, after we know what “it” is, becomes clearer: we must “live it.” We have to put our prayer in dialogue with these works, as best we are able, and make them our own (i.e., “appropriate” the texts). This happens through competent guidance by parish priests and lay catechists. The texts of our school, any school in fact, do not easily present themselves for use in prayer as easily as we might like.

Nonetheless, rediscovery is a matter of acquainting ourselves with our tradition, as our tradition. Start with Augustine, Benedict, Anselm, Julian, Taylor, Macquarrie, and proceed as you will to the others. Perhaps this seems imposing. It has to me, to be honest.

Yet the task of doing so starts with an immediate recognition: we are already acquainted with this map—because of the Book of Common Prayer. We are “Prayer-Book Catholics.” And because we are, we are participating in the “Anglican conversation”, the ressourcement map, by virtue of our liturgical life—what Thornton calls “threefold Regula.” Our liturgy is both the source and summit of our experience. It follows that our liturgy is the source and summit of our school of spirituality, in its fullest, most supreme, most actualized sense. O Lord I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof. But only say The Word, and my soul shall be healed. Our liturgy feeds us. Furthermore, our liturgy is a school; it teaches our conversation.

To rediscover is to listen. “Listen!” is the first word of The Rule of St Benedict. Thus the “how to reacquaint” method perhaps emerges: within our liturgical life in Anglican parishes (which in its fullest sense is both Mass and Office), we read devotionally in our parish study groups works from the map. We talk about them in our small groups, and we allow the Holy Spirit to feed us, lead us, and unite us. We simply intend, and follow through with, to listen to the Holy Spirit through the works of our tradition. Doing so does two things: (1) it renews our understanding of who we are as Anglicans—the nature of prayer in the Anglican tradition, and (2) it gives us vocabulary that builds upon the vocabulary supplied by parochial formation courses.

These steps seem reasonable to me because we are already doing them. Yet to have the goal at least sketched out—the goal is to be able to respond to God in conversation with others—would seem to me to make the whole enterprise cleaner and more purposeful. Thornton, as usual, captures our task perfectly: “Any satisfactory spirituality . . . especially Anglican spirituality, can only evolve by serious study of our ancient tradition, plus bold experiment.” The task is ours to perform.

CONCLUSION
Obviously one could add complexity to this map in any number of directions with myriad additions. I’m unfairly lumping all the Caroline Divines together, for example, several of whom were in significant dialogue with, and critique of, various Reform theologies, not to mention an array of Fathers. The same could be said for the Evangelical Divines, the Tractarians and in particular Newman, and the Ecumenical Divines.

Acknowledging possible amendments to this diagram, let us not make it too complex. Or better, let it grow more complex through bold and devout experiment knowing the rootstock and key flowerings of our spirituality. What Thornton has provided is the foundational map of our school of Catholic spirituality. In other words, we can add to it—after all, our school, if it is to be a living school, must be dynamic—but we ought resist subtracting from it, because to do so risks a deformed picture of who we are and how we have tended to follow Christ by means of the Holy Spirit. Clearly, seminary application of this map could spring from Thornton’s curriculum; yet at the parish level for formation courses, even this basic outline provides an ample treasury of resources for reflection and devotional/doctrinal study, not to mention endless homiletic application.

Richard John Neuhaus wrote, “Almost five hundred years after the sixteenth-century divisions, the realization grows that there is no via media.” Well, all hinges on what via media actually means. For Martin Thornton, it means the “speculative-affective synthesis”—that is, Benedictine balance of thought and feeling expressed in prayerful, creative action, which for him was a primary characteristic of the English School of Catholic spirituality. And as to whether there is no via media, figures such as Richard Hooker, Lancelot Andrewes, Jeremy Taylor, John Wesley, John Keble, Charles Gore, Evelyn Underhill, William Temple, Michael Ramsey, John Macquarrie, Martin Thornton and, well, a lot more all argue against Neuhaus’ view. And, although I am biased, I think they get the better of it, by a long shot.

Cover image “Appearance Behind Locked Doors” by Duccio di Buoninsegna is licensed under CC BY 2.0 / Cropped from original





The Contours of Prayer in the Anglican Tradition

To study prayer in the Anglican tradition is to study the English school of Catholic spirituality. The language of any school of spirituality is known classically as “ascetical theology”, which is the theology and practice of how we walk with God. A scriptural example of ascetical theology is St Paul’s First Epistle to the Thessalonians, which is filled with instruction, advice, and coaching (to use contemporary terms) to the community in Thessolonica about how to make their community more Christ-centered.

Martin Thornton, the premiere Anglican ascetical theologian, a perhaps one of the more important ascetical theologians in the history of the Church, has suggested that the English school of Catholic spirituality has produced through its history a balanced spirituality, what he calls a “synthesis” between intellectual and affective poles; that is, between thinking and feeling. Our most well-known examples include Anselm, Julian of Norwich, Walter Hilton, Richard Rolle, and Margery Kempe. These writers through their work demonstrate their own walking with God as examples of how we might do so ourselves, creatively, imaginatively, and rooted in orthodox doctrine. And of course, our school is thoroughly Benedictine, and Benedictinism is enshrined in our Book of Common Prayer.

Thornton suggests that one of the primary tests for catholicity is whether a tradition or school follows the Rule of the Church. By this he means “the Liturgy“, understood comprehensively and ascetically. that is, the “three-fold regula” which is a systematic (yet fundamentally dynamic) relationship between Mass, Office, and Devotion. That our corporate life, including our confession of official doctrine, is ordered by regula directly determines our ecclesial typology, that is to say, our type of Church. Our typology, our spirituality, our prayer tradition, is pragmatic (cf Harvey Guthrie in Anglican Spirituality). What fundamentally makes one an Anglican is one’s doing with the Church what the Church does liturgically, sacramentally, and empirically; this is to be pragmatic. Our tradition is neither “confessional” (that is, membership is determined by assent to an extra-liturgical doctrinal statement; ala Augsburg Confession, Westminster Confession, or Creed of Pius IV), nor is it “charismatic” (that is, membership is determined by a common, subjective religious experience). Our Anglican basis of membership in our school, our pragmatic basis, is full and active participation. A pragmatic school of spirituality is necessarily an existential school of spirituality, for membership presupposes active choice and decision, the very ingredients of existential reality. This basis for membership is not only Anglican, but it is also patristic, for it is the model of the early Church. This Church, Thornton tells us, was one of spontaneity, simplicity, and cheerful joy (even in the face of martyrdom). It understood Psalm 100 quite well: O be joyful in the Lord all ye lands; serve the Lord with gladness and come before his presence with a song.

Our prayer tradition, which Thornton further describes as domestic and parochial, is understood and assumed to be a journey taken as individuals within a corporate body. It is thus fully Anglican, and thus thoroughly Catholic according to our school of spirituality, to treat liturgy and specifically liturgical creeds and formulas as catechetical tools to be used on a journey. For any journey, but particularly a journey of walking with God, a journey that lasts all of this life and into the next, we benefit from good maps. The Church provides devotional maps: the books of Scripture, our liturgy, our creeds. These are to be not idolized, but used. These are tools: guides for our walk. So for Martin Thornton to write a book (Prayer: A New Encounter) on the notion that the contemporary age, like all ages in the life of the Body of Christ, our understanding of our tools might very well need updating, sharpening, repairing, or even overhauling, is hardly surprising but rather the plainest of common sense. The formula for which Thornton is drawing a “new devotional guide map” is the Apostles’ Creed. His premise is adopted from John Macquarrie (another thoroughly Catholic Anglican): (1) I live in the world (which is our existential starting point), and (2) I believe in the Creed, which is to say that we accept the Creed as an ontological given — it is a study of our relationship with God, with holy Being, a study we did not write ourselves but was given to us through baptism.

The crux of the book, and what might be understood as the philosophical crux of the English school of Catholic spirituality, is this: “what is the meaning of ‘Being’?”

Note first and foremost that the question immediately lends itself to devotion and contemplation. Take an orange. We can describe easily the attributes of an orange. Yet when we grasp its being, its fundamental “is-ness”, and still more when we grasp that its attributes presuppose and require its being, and still more that we can only grasp its being by going through the attributes of the orange, what can this process demonstrate but precisely the method by which we read holy Icons. Only by going through, and reckoning with, and participating in, the physical attributes of an Icon can we grasp its fundamental Being, which is Christ; and only through Christ can we reach the Father. For as we acknowledge in the Nicene Creed, Christ is “of one being with the Father”. Grasping the Being of the orange models the grasping of the Christ of the Icon.

Thus the relationship between beings and Being is nothing more or less than the relationship between physical attributes of an Icon and Christ. If one can understand how to use an Icon devotionally, one can understand how to use “Being” devotionally. For the difference between being — that is, things, entities, items, whether physical or not — and Being is precisely the Incarnation. The Incarnation renders “being” (lowercase b) open to “Being” (uppercase B). Because of the Incarnation, our being is thrown open and given a “clearing” for the possibility of total relationship with God. That is, the Incarnation gives us a gift. Because of the Incarnation, we have the possibility to recognize, develop, and deepen the ontological continuity between our being and God, who we devotionally might understand as “Personal Holy Being”. Just as the being of the orange is prior to, and fundamental of, its attributes, Holy Being is prior to, and fundamental of, created beings and their attributes. For he has made us and not we ourselves; we are his people and the sheep of his pasture (Ps 100).

“Being” is, and can only be, devotional. The question of “what is the meaning of Being?” leads into questions such as:

(1) What is the meaning of creation?
(2) What is the purpose of creation?
(3) What is the meaning of our existence?
(4) What is the purpose of our existence?

These are all devotional questions. These are questions about the nature of Being, and about the nature of God and God’s creation. We learn in Exodus that God is “I am that I am”. This very name calls us to devotion about Being of the most fundamental and profound degree that through it we can truly speak of “holy Being”. Julian of Norwich did nothing less than “read” that acorn for its expressive Being as an Icon of Christ.

Thus the notion that “Being” can be devotional, as well as the existential-ontological approach to theology more generally, is at root absolutely nothing innovative or new. The study of Being (a.k.a. “ontology”), or in more strictly ecclesial terms, “prayer”, immediately demands a contemplative awareness that embraces our sense-experience. And contemplative awareness brought forth through the study of Being brings us square to the awareness that God, that holy Being, is only grasped through beings — that is, through God’s manifest creation. For precisely this reason, we can carefullly, but truthfully, affirm along with Thornton that Christianity is the most materialistic of all ways of life. Being, holy Being, Personal Holy Being, pours itself out — “lets-be” — all of creation, past, present, and future. And only through relationship with creation’s being-aliveness — modeled fully and finally by the Incarnation, itself the perfect Icon — can we seek understanding, or seek to grasp the significance, of our walk with God. We say in simple terms of philosophy: beings disclose Being. Or in simple terms of the Church: the Incarnation discloses God.





Martin Thornton’s sacramental view of the natural world

This is an extended passage from Martin Thornton’s first book: Rural Synthesis: The Religious Basis for Rural Culture. The book was published in 1948. In this passage, you will note how he builds upon the Church’s understanding of Christology (the nature of Christ and the Incarnation) toward an application to how we understand the natural world Christologically. To my mind, this is utterly fascinating stuff. Enjoy:

Now the orthodox Christian conception of the Incarnate Christ is that He is both perfectly and distinctly God and perfectly and distinctly Man, and that He is One Person. The full significance of this fact is beyond the range of human understanding, and the exact relationship between the human and Divine natures can never be finally ascertained by finite human intelligence, but we can acquire some perception of vital significance by a process of elimination; if we cannot directly explain what this relationship is, we can glimpse much of its meaning by definitely asserting what it is not. The orthodox doctrine as contained in the Chalcedonian Definition has in fact by largely formulated by the rejection of the Christological heresies of the fourth and fifth centuries.

Looking back from the Definition, so to speak, the form of these four errors becomes quite obvious and simple; we can deny that Jesus Christ is perfectly and distinctly God — the heresy of Arius, or we can deny that He is perfectly and distinctly Man — the heresy of Apollinarius. Then we can accept that He is both a human Person and and Divine Person conjoined, that He is in fact two Persons, two Christs, one human and another Divine; this is the error of Nestorius, which was followed by its direct opposite in the heresy of Eutyches, or Monophysitism, which regards Christ as One Person and One Nature, a mixture of both human and Divine, neither of which can be perfect, distinct, and complete.

Now it is plain that all that can be perceived as sacramental is subject to the equivalent four errors: the denial of one or other of the two parts of the sacrament; the failure to relate the two parts together; and the failure to distinguish between them….

The application of the same principles to The Sacramental Land will give us, therefore, similar errors pertaining to the approach to agriculture and rural economy…. Within the unity of The Land we have an ‘outward and visible sign’ consisting of the physical soil, the visible and material world of nature which springs from and is sustained by it: plants, trees, hedges, farms, and buildings; everything, in fact, that we can see within the ‘countryside’. From these surroundings evolves an invisible spirit, a Numinous atmosphere, which results from the uses made of nature by man in communion with God.

Thus, the erroneous approach to The Land, equivalent to Arianism in Christology, would consist of denying the existence of any such spirit; it would regard the soil as a material mechanism rather than a living organism, overemphasize the scientific in agriculture, and suggest that fertility was not a vital force to be cultivated by skillful farming but a material substances to be mined. ‘Land-robbing’ would be justified; and such conception of ‘land-sense’ or ‘rural prophecy’ would be categorically rejected, any sort of skill of vocation in agricultural work would be unnecessary, and the sole qualifications for successful farming would be an academic knowledge and physical strength.

Similarly, Apollinarianism, the opposite Christological heresy, finds expression in rural economy with the attitude of extreme sentimentality, the quest for The Land’s ‘pure spirit’ and the refusal to recognize its practical and material side. It is the approach which converts the countryside into the ‘man-eating orchid’ of Eric Gill, and looks upon the farm-worker as some spiritual idealist possessed of some strange philosophy which scorns such needless things as decent wages and hygienic living conditions. In agriculture, ‘rural Apollinarianism’ shows up in an exaggerated belief in the ‘natural order’, scorning all mechanical and scientific knowledge through refusing to recognize that the soil, whatever it may be besides, has physical and material properties which can be visibly examined and chemically analyzed. It is precisely the same error which misinterprets the idea of ‘faith-healing’, thereby refusing the benefits of medical science.

Nestorianism, or Dualism in philosophy and psycho-physical parallelism in psychology, is reproduced in the tendency to divide The Land into two unrelated values, the practical and the aesthetic. It is the error giving rise to the idea that agriculture is but a useful, practical industry, carried on amid surroundings which for some obscure reason happen to be beautiful and in need of passive protection; the divorcement, that is, of the beautiful visible sign from the spirit which creates it, or the failure to conceive The Land as one cultural whole, wherein beauty and utility go hand in hand.

Finally, both the rural and theological equivalent to Monophysitism in Christology may be expressed by the same single word, namely Pantheism. This is the belief that God and the natural world are one or in agriculture that fertility is God. We find this particular heresy recurring to some extend in all erroneous approach to the rural environment and always leading, by devious routs, to the same unhealthy conclusion: the adoration of nature.

Now we can carry this process of adaptation a stage further: The Person of Christ is the basis of the Christina religion, all its dogma flows from the fact of the Incarnation, and this doctrine, as we have seen, does not oppose the eschatological by the ethic, nor faith by moral practice, but rather tends to co-relate them in correct perspective. This correct ratio, however, does not necessarily grant equal value to the opposing factors, for we can truly say that the eschatological kingdom of God which is to come is a greater human goal than social Utopia in the temporal world; and that good works cannot create faith but flow from it and are therefore subsidiary to it. The Christian faith, embodied in the Church and sacraments, may be regarded as the extension of the Incarnation of the Son, and similarly the perpetual power of fertility may be regarded as the extension of the original creation of the Father.

(from Rural Synthesis: The Religious Basis for Rural Culture, 1948, pp. 70-74)





The Benedictine Parish is for sale!

Big news — The Benedictine Parish is now available for purchase! We can ship the book domestic and international. More information, including a secure shopping cart, can be found here.

From the description of the book:

The Benedictine Parish is a conversation between a priest and a parishioner. Father Thomas Fraser is the rector of St Paul’s Parish, Riverside, Illinois, where Matthew Dallman and his family are members. In this conversation, Father Fraser and Matthew discuss what it means for the parish, over the course of three decades, to have come to understand itself to be Benedictine and Catholic in The Episcopal Church.

A cradle Episcopalian, Father Fraser details his own spiritual journey in the Church that led him to help spearhead the rebuilding of this once-dying parish. The effort involved making a radical break: out was a “clinic model” built upon typical parish programs. What grew instead was a “religious community model” centered in the formation of its members as well as a liturgy that is monastic in its paradigm.

The Benedictine Parish is an invitation to participate in the questions and challenges that many mature Christians are increasingly facing. This book suggests that perhaps we, the children of God, might not only endure through, but also prayerfully thrive in, an era increasingly secular and torn by social discord. There are no easy remedies in parish life; yet as Father Fraser reminds us, it all does come down to two words: “preferring Christ”.





Announcing the book, “The Benedictine Parish”

The Benedictine Parish:
A Model to Thrive in a Secular Era

Matthew Dallman with Father Thomas Fraser

Akenside Press’s first title! From the description:

The Benedictine Parish is a conversation between a priest and a parishioner. Father Thomas Fraser is the rector of St Paul’s Parish, Riverside, Illinois, where Matthew Dallman and his family are members. In this conversation, Father Fraser and Matthew discuss what it means for the parish, over the course of three decades, to have come to understand itself to be Benedictine and Catholic in The Episcopal Church.

A cradle Episcopalian, Father Fraser details his own spiritual journey in the Church that led him to help spearhead the rebuilding of this once-dying parish. The effort involved making a radical break: out was a “clinic model” built upon typical parish programs. What grew instead was a “religious community model” centered in the formation of its members as well as a liturgy that is monastic in its paradigm.

The Benedictine Parish is an invitation to participate in the questions and challenges that many mature Christians are increasingly facing. This book suggests that perhaps we, the children of God, might not only endure through, but also prayerfully thrive in, an era increasingly secular and torn by social discord. There are no easy remedies in parish life; yet as Father Fraser reminds us, it all does come down to two words: “preferring Christ”.

More information here. The book is available for pre-order, now. Just send an email to orders@akensidepress.com.





“I am baptized, therefore I adore”

How do we understand the work of the Holy Spirit in baptism? That question immediately demands two more: first, what is the source of our understanding? and second, what is the content of our understanding?

To the first, we recognize that historic, Catholic Anglicanism affirms with the whole Church lex orandi, lex credendi. Our liturgies state our doctrine. There was, after all, never a time that the holy Church was not liturgical. Hence our primary source for how we understand baptism in terms of doctrine is our baptismal liturgy, which summarizes the biblical revelation and the revealed experience of the Church for two-thousand years. As Saint Basil (d. 379) writes: “we must make our confession of faith in the same terms as our baptism. Since we have received those terms from the baptismal tradition, [we] glorify God with the same terms we use to profess our faith.”

As far as the second question, within Anglican parrimony we can look to the historic Book of Common Prayer for useful points of departure. The 1662 BCP reads: “None can enter into the kingdom of God, except he be regenerate and born anew of Water and of the Holy Ghost.” Thus the Spirit is the key to “entry into the Christian life,” writes John Macquarrie. The Spirit brings “the regenerating grace of baptism,” according to Basil. Yet here we must be clear; for as Macquarrie reminds us, ultimately “Christ remains the true minister of every sacrament.”

The Spirit begets sanctification. The liturgy reads, “wash him and sanctify him with the Holy Ghost,” and this echoes Saint Basil: “the water accomplishes our death, while the Spirit raises us to life. . . . If there is any grace in the water, it does not comes from the nature of the water, but from the Spirit’s presence.” Basil calls the Spirit “the perfector,” which is to say, He who seasons and matures us, who strengthens us, the “holy Comforter,” in a term that is traditional but still meaningful.

Baptism puts us into a mystical relationship with God. The key moment of the 1662 liturgy — “I baptize thee in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost” — bears this out. And look here at this curious word, “name.” As Heidegger points out, to name is “to command,” “to invite,” “to call forth.” To be baptized is to be called by God; therefore baptism sets in motion a process only through which we are able to discern God’s will. Or as Basil summarizes, “to worship in the Spirit implies that our intelligence has been enlightened.” Because of the Spirit in baptism, Schmemann emphasizes, the world is again Eucharistic. Basil resounds, in a most startling passage:

Through the holy Spirit comes our restoration to Paradise, our ascension to the Kingdom of Heaven, our adoption as God’s sons, our freedom to call God our Father, our becoming partakers of the grace of Christ, being called children of light, sharing in eternal glory, and in a word, our inheritance of the fullness of blessing, both in this world and in the world to come. Even while we wait for the full enjoyment of the good things in store for us, by the Holy Spirit we are able to rejoice through faith in the promise of the graces to come.

The Spirit, he continues, gives “the baptism of salvation.” Macquarrie reminds us that the word “baptism” means “to plunge” or “to immerse.” Through the Spirit, the baptized person is immersed in a universe of saving grace. Only the baptized can truly say, “all is grace.” The new creation of baptism — “the beginning of life, the first of days”, writes Basil — transforms being-in-the-world from the salvific scarcity of Original Sin to the salvific abundance of our prior Original Righteousness (that is, pre-Fall).

The Spirit enables us to model our lives on Christ’s example. Because the new creation is Eucharistic, “all things belonging to the Spirit may live and grow in him,” reads 1662. We are able to receive salvific grace, the things belonging to the Spirit. Through His workings in baptism, the Spirit prepares us to receive the Sacraments that provide strength and renewal of our baptism.

This is how we can speak of each Sunday is a “little Easter” — which is to say, a renewal of our baptismal vows. Macquarrie here reminds us that baptism is “not only a turning to Christ; it is a turning with Christ or in Christ. . . . This sharing in Christ’s own baptism . . . is also a kind of ordination, a call to the lay apostolate, to share in the general priesthood of the Church.”

The Spirit, Himself a gift, also gives gifts. Through Confirmation (a mature affirmation of the baptismal ordination vows), we receive through the Spirit the “manifold gifts of grace” (1662). This is to say, simply but astonishingly, the Spirit renders more expansive our consciousness — what we are aware of. The Spirit establishes new boundaries of perception, to use a phrase from the 1960s.

Only in the Spirit can we truly “adore.” That word’s true meaning is seen etymologically from the Latin, ad + orare, literally “to pray toward.” Basil writes, “It is the unique function of the Spirit to reveal mysteries” and we must prefer nothing but Christ in our daily disposition. From 1662, “daily increase in thy Holy Spirit more and more, until he come unto thy everlasting kingdom.” Baptism begins a journey. Perhaps this points to the pithiest way to understand what the Spirit does in baptism. For His presence and actions enable nothing less than the capacity for theosis, the uniting with God body and soul. Hence one might say, contra Descartes’ “cogito ergo sum” a genuinely Christianized improvement: “I am baptized, therefore I adore.”

Works cited
Basil. On the Holy Spirit. Translated by David Anderson. Crestwood, New York: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1980.

Heidegger, Martin. What Is Called Thinking? New York, New York: Harper, 1976.

Macquarrie, John. A Guide to the Sacraments. New York, New York: Continuum, 1997.

Schememann, Alexander. For the Life of the World. Crestwood, New York: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1960.

The Book of Common Prayer. 1662.





On Catholic Anglicanism

Herein is brief but weighty description of Catholic Anglicanism from a theological consultant to Akenside Press, Father Thomas A. Fraser, longtime Rector of Saint Paul’s, Riverside near Chicgo. What follows was originally posted at the website of The Living Church, where Fr Fraser once served as president of its board of directors:


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 of 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.”


See also:

Martin Thornton’s Map for Catholic Anglican Ressourcement

Belief Enshrined in Worship: the Catholicity of Anglican Patrimony

The Prayer Book as Regula

Ascetical theology and Catholic imagination





How Jesus sounds in the soul

From The Ladder of Perfection by Walter Hilton (d. 1396):

How the secret voice of Jesus sounds in a soul, and how the enlightenment of the soul by grace may be called his voice:

The secret voice of Jesus is true, and it makes the soul true. There is no deception in it, nor pride, nor hypocrisy, but gentleness, peace, love and charity; it is full of life and grace. So when this voice speaks to a soul it may be so powerful that the soul puts aside what it is doing, whether it is praying, speaking, reading, thinking or working, and listen in rest and in love to the sweet sound of this spiritual voice. In this tranquility Jesus reveals himself to the soul. sometimes as a master to be feared, sometimes as a father to be respected and revered, and sometimes as a spouse to be loved. The soul becomes absorbed in a wonderful reverance that cannot be transcended. It feels secure and at deep rest, and desire only to remain in this state. It is in touch with the good of Jesus and by the grace of that touch it is made whole and safe, knowing Jesus alone. The only things it sees and feels are his goodness and favor.

This feeling can come without any special study of the Scriptures, and with few words at the mind’s disposal, although the soul may use words to express the feelings of the heart. Because of this gracious feeling the soul is separated from the love of the world or any thought of it; it takes no heed of it.

Grace may bring certain enlightenment to the soul which I call the voice of Jesus, for it is the intention of Jesus to make the soul his perfect spouse. Because this cannot be done suddenly, Jesus in the wisdom of his love uses many wonderful ways to unite himself with his chosen soul. He woos it as a lover, he shows it his wonders and gives it precious gifts, always promising more and showing deep affection and courtesy.





Anselm’s devotional poem

From The Proslogian:

Come now, little child.
Turn awhile from your daily work;
hide yourself for a little time from your restless thoughts,
cast away your troublesome cares; put aside your wearisome distractions.
Give yourself a little leisure to talk to God, and rest awhile in him.
Enter the secret chamber of your heart,
shutting out everything but God,
and that which may help you in seeking him.
And when you’ve closed the door, seek him.
Now, my whole heart, say to God:
‘I seek your face;
your face, O Lord, do I seek.’

I will seek you by desiring you,
and desire you in seeking you.
I will find you by loving you,
and love you in finding you.
I praise and give thanks to you
that you made me in your image,
so that I can remember you,
think of you,
love you.
But so darkened is our image in me
by the smoke of my sins,
that it is useless unless you restore it.
I do not seek, O Lord, to search out your depths,
but only in some measure to understand your truth,
which my heart believes and loves.
I do not seek to understand so that I may believe,
but believe that I may understand.
For this I know to be true:
that unless I first believe I shall not understand.





On the place of the 39 Articles

“It is important to understand that this was a political solution to an internal conflict that threatened the survival of the nation. The Articles of Religion (“Thirty-Nine Articles”) were a document which established legally what constituted “non-conformity” for the purposes of prosecution in the secular courts, that is, the legal boundaries of conformity to the Use of the Book of Common Prayer (what an individual did and said publicly, not what one believed). The Thirty-Nine Articles, however, are a specifically English legal document, not a theological statement of world-wide Anglicanism.”

Taken from “What is the place of the Thirty-Nine Articles in Anglicanism now?“, published by Akenside Press and free available along with other essays at our sister page, Anglican Catholic FAQ.





Reconciliation

Some thought provoking links to start the week:

(1) From Catholicity and Covenant: “He calls us into Galilee“.

(2) Also from Catholicity and Covenant: “Broken bread and Reformation era saints“.

(3) The Anglican – Orthodox Dialogues: “The Church of the Triune God” and other agreed statements.

Plus a moment in holy Scripture:

“Beloved, let us love one another; for love is of God, and he who loves is born of God and knows God.” (I John 4.7)