Tag Archives: Aelred of Rievaulx

THE PASTORAL PRAYER of Saint Aelred of Rievaulx

This short but brilliant work from Saint Aelred is now available from Akenside Press. You can read it online or download the complete PDF.

It simply takes my breath away, which perhaps comes off in the Publisher’s Foreword I wrote:

There are those works from the 2,000-year-old treasure of Christian literature that so burn with the presence of the Holy Spirit that little more can, or should, be said. While it is certainly no weakness of a work that some kind of commentary may be necessary for a proper appreciation of its insights—for this certainly applies to Holy Scripture, the Rule of Saint Benedict, and many more works, as well—we nonetheless ought give those gems which speak for themselves a special reverence within the broad devotional landscape.

The Pastoral Prayer of Saint Aelred is one such gem. is one such gem. Each line, often most every phrase, is so filled with honest self-examination and complete oblation toward God, that I am rendered speechless, thrown into prayer. But let me not say much more, else my words trod upon the inward savoring of the gloriously delicate insights of this venerated English Cistercian and abbot, a possibility terribly frightening.

I will say that I first came upon this work as part of personal study of the English School of Catholic spirituality, of which this saint is a key voice, that coincided with my chaplaincy internship at a Chicago-area hospital as a Candidate for Holy Orders. Asked to lead a devotion for one of the weekly group seminars, I shared Saint Aelred’s “Prayer for the Good of All.” That it spoke profoundly to these Christians—two Roman Catholics, a Lutheran, Presbyterian, and Seventh Day Adventist, along with myself, an Anglican—demonstrates that the Oratio Pastoralis can resound with any disciple of Jesus Christ who seeks, by the grace of God, to be spent on behalf of others.

Enjoy, and see also the other free books and audio we have made available. More is on the way!

Martin Thornton’s Ressourcement Syllabus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For the specific recommendations in the Syllabus, see here.