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The Anglican Spiritual Tradition, parts 1 and 2

By Martin Thornton

PART ONE
There is good reason for dividing this lecture into two unequal parts. I must first offer a brief resumé of what I take the Anglican spiritual tradition to be; then I should like to look rather more fully at the contemporary impact of our tradition, concluding with a somewhat dangerous game of attempting to read the signs of its future unfolding.

Pedantic haggling over the meaning of words is not the most exciting exercise, but it is apparent already that some attention must be given to that most ambiguous and abused term “Tradition”; paradosistraditio, literally a giving-over, or handing-over. Handing-over be it noted and not handing-down. Continue reading

Offices of Praise, Silence and Readings

This is my own pattern of offices, which is a threefold form. This form is built of a Prologue Office of Praise, a Holy Office of Silence, and a Daily Office of Readings. This can be summarized as, respectively, set-prayer, silence, and scripture. Most everything is chanted.

What this reflects is “devout experimentation” within Anglican tradition in which, informed by my study of Martin Thornton’s theology and inspired by his manifold insights, I have sought to update the threefold Regula given Benedictine, Cranmerian, and contemporary spiritual influences amid the post-Christendom and media-drenched conditions of today’s Catholic Anglican pastoral reality. Description follows below with the caveat that such explanations always read more complicated than they are in actual practice.

MORNING
First is the Prologue Office of Praise. If I do nothing else in the morning because of time, I pray at least this Office, which takes ten minutes to chant. It is a glorious surrender to God through seven ancient and powerful prayers of the Church, which are teeming with true orthodox doctrine and which “praise him for his mighty acts; praise him for his excellent greatness” (Ps 150:2), giving ascetical emphasis to the primordial God the Father. This Office raises our eyes to transcendent Ultimate Reality. (And it is excellent also as prologue to the Mass.)

Second, and immediately following the Prologue Office commences a Holy Office of Silence, through 30 minutes of Centering Prayer. Derived by Cistercian monks from The Cloud of Unknowing, it is a means to live-into, and hence mysteriously embrance, the holy space cleared by the Prologue Office. (For more on Centering Prayer, see this PDF). Centering Prayer as a whole cultivates presence with God in his incarnate glory: akin to Moses’ “Here I am” at the Burning Bush (Ex 3:4) or Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament; an ascetical emphasis, then, on the expressive God the Son, who reveals the Father. Heaven and earth are joined and we give our heart to God in love.

Third is the morning form of the Daily Office of Readings, directly after the Holy Office of Silence. After praise and silence comes devotional attentiveness to the movements of God Immanent through the rhythms of Psalms, Canticles and Lessons. Here we are listening to inspired, authoritative Scripture: hence the ascetical emphasis shifts to the unitive God the Holy Spirit, who leads us to God the Son. “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth.” (Jn 16:13.) 

Three notes about the Daily Office of Readings in particular:

  • in essence it is Archbishop Cranmer’s Office and conforming to the 1662 BCP. There are slight modifications: moving the Collect of the Day to first (having already moved the opening Preces to the Prologue Office of Praise), and settling on a uniform Collect for Mission as the third collect. Overall in the scheme of the 1979 BCP, this form is Rite I.
  • I chant the entire Daily Office except the Lessons. For the Psalms and for the settings of the Venite and Canticles (including the Quicunque Vult and Pascha Nostrum), I use Saint Dunstan’s Plainsong Psalter.
  • On days when I officiate Morning and Evening Prayer in my Parish, the typical 1979 BCP Offices are followed.

(Total time: 60 min.)

NOON
Prologue Office of Praise, and, unless my schedule on a given day does not permit, it is followed by a Holy Office of Silence.

(Total time: 40 min.)

EVENING
Prologue Office of Praise, then a Holy Office of Silence. Thereafter is the Daily Office of Readings in the same way as the morning, using the evening portion of Psalms, Lessons, Canticles and Collects. The previous note about Lessons applies here as well.

(Total time: 60 min.)

WAKING AND GOING TO BED

1. Upon waking in bed I say a brief and silent devotion in which I ask God for His presence. This lasts a minute or two. Oftentimes it is Julian of Norwich’s prayer:

God, of Thy Goodness, give me Thyself:
for Thou art enough to me,
and I may nothing ask that is less
that may be full worship to Thee;
and if I ask anything that is less,
ever me be in want,—
but only in Thee I have all. Amen.

2. Right before bed, under the covers, I silently recite a Short Office of the Apostles’ Creed, Our Father, Hail Mary, and Benediction, all memorized.

Martin Thornton, by Deborah Yetter

“The Principles behind Martin Thornton’s Theology”

[Note: The following essay was written for Formatio Online Journal, once published by the Ambrose Institute (of Nashotah House). It can be usefully seen as an introduction to my master’s thesis on Martin Thornton, available here to download .]

The Principles behind Martin Thornton’s Theology
by Matthew Dallman, May 2015

Martin Thornton’s theology has been “largely overlooked,” in the words of Dr Rowan Williams. He went on to say, “There is no good reason why he is not read today.”[1] Although Fr Thornton’s books on pastoral theology and prayer in the Anglican tradition have been read widely in the US and UK since the 1950s, absorbing and applying his insights remains a task begun by Anglicans yet far from finished. The tumultuous 20th century—the “culture war” battles within the wider Church, the collapse of Constantinian Christendom, rapidly changing technology and social norms, all within English post-WWII reconstruction, late-stage Lux Mundi theology, enduring Anglo-Catholic ritualism, emerging Evangelicalism and liturgical renewal, and the increasingly popular Parish Communion movement—seem to have impeded the deepest consideration of Thornton’s gifts to the Church.

I am of the view that this may in fact be Providential. A farmer, Anglican priest and spiritual director who lived primarily in the UK yet also taught in the US (and almost became a professor at Nashotah House), Thornton’s voice in his 13 books remains remarkably sober, pastoral, and witty—yet rigorously theological and erudite. We often need some distance to appreciate brilliance.

His purpose was simple: he wanted to equip priests and lay catechists with the appropriate tools to teach prayer—liturgically, biblically, doctrinally, devotionally—that cultivates Anglican parish health within the Catholic Church toward our eventual union with Holy Trinity at the Second Coming of Christ. His value to us today is that he wrote in prophetic anticipation of the then-nascent reconfiguration of Christian life post-Christendom. That is, he wrote not to “keep the boat afloat” but rather to “pick up after the party.” Anglicans have got themselves into quite a predicament, to put it mildly. For Thornton, the recovery of Anglican strength and genius lies not in recreating past glory but rather ressourcement: creative re-application through prayer of what formed us in the first place. It should then come as no surprise that his theological outlook is anchored in the Book of Common Prayer seen as Regula, that is, as a corporate system or Rule of “ascetic” in the tradition of the Rule of Saint Benedict.

With respect to Thornton’s insight use of that term, “ascetic,” from time to time I am asked about a distinction he made in the 2nd chapter of English Spirituality, a chapter which is called “Meaning and Purpose of Ascetical Theology.” Here is what he wrote:

I have said that ascetical theology is primarily a practical and synthetic approach to all other branches of theology, and only in a secondary sense is it a “subject” within theology. It may be convenient to think of the first as “ascetical theology,” an approach or process of theological thinking, and the secondary subject as “ascetical-theology”: in the first phrase “ascetical” is an adjective, the second phrase is a compound noun. The second derives from the first; the subject grows out of the process.[2]

So Thornton distinguishes between ascetical theology and ascetical-theology, without and with a hyphen. The possible implications of the absence or presence of a hyphen may seem, it is true, like an odd topic to consider. What’s more, the conventional definitions of ascetical theology—“the science of the spiritual life” and “the science of human spiritual endeavor to attain to perfection,”[3]—do not clarify much here. To be sure, Thornton would hardly reject these definitions. Both were important to his re-reading of formative influences for their profound bearing on Anglican prayer life (ressourcement). This distinction between ascetical theology and ascetical-theology was in fact another key to that larger effort, and I think Thornton’s insight remains potent for us today.

Thornton surely felt constrained by the fact that “ascetical theology,” being then a well-worn term, could not be easily redefined or even re-thought. Today, our situation is not so constrained, ironically, because “ascetical theology” as a term has effectively vanished in much of the Church. Thornton would no doubt applaud all efforts to re-cultivate this mode of Christian thought, for it may be that the “spiritual hunger” reported across at least the western Church might be met by just this particular approach to the Christian faith. After all, spirituality is the stuff of ascetical theology no matter how it is conceived. Yet what, then, is a key to reviving ascetical theology along Thorntonian lines?

Basically Thornton made a distinction between a way of doing theology on one hand, and a practical subject within theology on the other. The latter—ascetical-theology—refers to the wide variety of practices of personal devotion, such as particular set-prayers and devotions, biblical or theological meditations, fasting practices, mortifications and other acts. This is what for many people is the common connotation of the term “ascetical,” and this is what is generally meant by the Oxford Dictionary definition. Commonly, such ascetical-theology is suggested by a spiritual director or guide, whether parish priest or other trusted adviser. Hence, Thornton also called this “applied theology,” that is, the art of applying theology to the needs of particular individuals.

Thornton in no way would diminish its importance. Asceticism, or ascetical-theology, is a primary subject of his still-popular Christian Proficiency, and the subject figures prominently in several other books. He devoted significant analysis to such topics of actual versus habitual recollection, colloquy, composition of place, the division of prayer, biblical meditation, the relationship between prayer, fasting and mortification, temperaments, the “Three Ways,” and the like. A distinguishing characteristic of Thornton’s theology, in fact, was his mastery of the ascetical-theology writings standard to his day. He drank deeply from early 20th-century Anglican ascetical writing from the likes of Underhill, Harton, Hardman, and Frost, as well as from Roman Catholic ascetical writing from the likes of Scaramelli, Baker, Ignatius, Guibert, Tanqueray, Goodier, and others. These and other writers provided what Thornton meant by “ascetical manuals and textbooks.” Indeed, Thornton mastered the rules before he sought to renovate them.

In so doing, Thornton grappled with the deeper question. What, he asked, might undergird such ascetical-theology practices? Ever the farmer and gardener, Thornton sensed that there must be a wider theological environment within which ascetical-theology is embedded, the existence of which gives ascetical-theology its ground, meaning and final purpose. If so, how would we describe such an environment?

All of this points to one of Thornton’s most overlooked theological contributions. The answer lay in the question, what is ascetical theology in fact a theology of? The answer was this: ascetical theology is the theology of “ascetic.” A simple answer, yet should this surprise us? After all, consider the various departments of theology. Dogmatic theology is the theology of Christian dogma; moral theology is the theology of morality (choice and ethics); liturgical theology is the theology of liturgy; mariology is the theology of Mary, and so on. As a matter of course, ascetical theology would in some sense have to be the theology of ascetic. But what does “ascetic” mean?

Thornton spent significant time clarifying his use of ascetic. We find it as early as his second book (Pastoral Theology; later reissued as The Heart of the Parish), and it was firmly in place by the writing of English Spirituality, his seventh. What he meant by ascetic is an overall corporate model of total spirituality and growth (obedience and practical discipline).[4] Thornton anchored his insight upon the recognition that training and exercise—askesis—presupposes a “race” to run, else what is the training and exercise for? In Thornton’s theology, “ascetic” is a compound and technical metaphor of the active participation in the overall Christian race—more commonly, “journey”—that is, the obedient and disciplined following of Jesus. Biblically speaking, our journey can be said to begin with “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mk 8.34) and become ultimately fulfilled in “You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5.48). In other words, ascetic commences with the initial stirrings of the redeemed sense life and consummates in the eventual union with the triune God.

Ascetic, then, is an integral model of the contours of corporate obedience both actual and potential. Ascetic attempts to grasp the spiritual terrain of the threefold Church whereby the People of God follow Jesus along the penitential journey from sinfulness to perfection. Jesus disclosed this terrain himself through the Cross and Resurrection along with his promised Second Coming. The Church safeguards the boundaries through the doctrines of the Incarnation and Theosis. Yet this is a terrain of prayer, the obedient discipline of corporate Christian life. Hence ascetic, as a model, emphasizes the doing of Christianity, that is, corporate discipleship—“a comprehensive system aiming at wholeness, or better holiness, of life in Christ.”[5]

This provides the true meaning of ascetical theology. Simply put, ascetical theology is the describing, seeking, framing and pastoral shaping of ascetic for use in community life, which today most commonly means the parish. Ascetical theology is the theology of ascetic. The articulating of ascetic, always within actual, given contexts and fluctuating situations, is ascetical theology.

So how can this renew Anglican theological thinking? The renewal can come because ascetical theology in the Thorntonian sense is deeply committed to the Incarnation of Christ (in the widest sense inclusive of the entire life, crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth). The premise or underlying motif of his theology is “Every truth flowing from the Incarnation must impinge upon our corporate prayer.”[6] Applying that motif as ascetical theology means all thinking, reflecting, teaching, counseling and writing about God presumes the Christian reality of ascetic, teleologically and actually. All such theology emerges within an obedience-discipline environment that seeks to regard everything as potential food for spiritual reflection and growth. Theology done in an ascetical way brings everything to God and assumes all data, even the most arcane bit of doctrinal nuance or ancient liturgical evidence, and certainly all doctrine, dogma, liturgical rite, ministerial encounter and, yes, everyday experience, impinges upon—that is, has some degree of actual or potential relationship with—our corporate prayer life. Ascetical theology, the articulating of the Church’s corporate experience at every level and phase, means everything matters during our “journey” through obedience-discipline environment of ascetic. As Thornton summarized, “If theology is incarnational, then it must be pastoral.”[7]

This was the key to his ressourcement of Anglicanism’s formative influences and hence the Book of Common Prayer.[8] Expanding upon the traditional conception of ascetical theology was precisely what he proceeded to do in the riveting chapters of English Spirituality that weave together the ascetical insights of Augustine, Benedict, Bernard of Clairvaux, William of St Thierry, Thomas Aquinas, Anselm, Walter Hilton, Margery Kempe, Julian of Norwich, Richard Hooker, Lancelot Andrewes, Jeremy Taylor and the rest. This all was in full accord with the ressourcement spirit of Yves Congar (1904-1995)—for Thornton sought to move from “a less profound to a more profound tradition; a discovery of the most profound resources,” and he was primarily concerned with “the unity of the ever-living tradition” of the Church. Those were Congar’s words[9] but they easily could be a description of Thornton’s theology. Those resources, those voices—saints, doctors and divines—constitute much of what lie “behind” the Book of Common Prayer and clarify what it can still mean for us today as our corporate system of discipleship.

The great works of theology, as Thornton emphasized, are almost invariably occasional because they are ascetical. Such works are rooted in real people’s lives and challenges: their journeys with Christ by turns joyful, confusing, painful, yet seeking salvation through the hope of Christ. It is when theology loses touch with ascetic—that is, detached from the environment of pastoral reality and prayerful application—that theology risks becoming, in the words of Marshall McLuhan (1911-1980), a “theoretical or intellectual construct . . . purely a game.”[10] Rather, if the relationship between theology and ascetic is maintained, as Thornton would insist is crucial to Anglican tradition, a wider world of orthodox interpretation and prayer emerges that opens up our practice of the Christian life. Ascetical theology, whether by Thornton or anyone else, invites spiritual growth because it is always prayer speaking to prayer.

Overall, Thornton’s “hyphen without and with” distinction amounts to a matter of emphasis. “Ascetical-theology” is an important subject within theology; its personal, individual emphases focus on the applied practices of obedience and discipline. “Ascetical theology,” on the other hand, has a decidedly corporate emphasis and presumes the doctrines of Incarnation and Theosis in order to articulate the ascetical environment upon which the People of God journey. Thus several of the key principles of Thornton’s theology are ascetic and ressourcement. From both he derives his understanding of the Book of Common Prayer as our fundamentally Catholic and Benedictine system of ascetic, as well as his particular paradigms of ascetical theology and ascetical-theology.

Our Lord taught Saint Peter and all practitioners of theology, when he said, “Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven” (Mt 16.17). Theology in the Thorntonian sense demands that everything, whether mundane or sublime, be interpreted as food for discipleship because the true purpose of everything is only revealed by God Almighty—the maker, lover, and keeper of all things bright and beautiful, the telos of all creatures great and small.


[1]. The first statement is from personal email correspondence and the second from a private interview granted me on July 2, 2014 in Cambridge.

[2]. Martin Thornton, English Spirituality: An Outline of Ascetical Theology According to the English Pastoral Tradition (Cambridge, Massachusetts:0 Cowley, 1986), 20.

[3]. F. L. Cross and E. A. Livingstone, The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (London: Oxford University Press, 1997), 144 and 1543.

[4]. Thornton acknowledged the term’s wider connotation meant an “ascetical person” such as the “Desert Ascetics.” The original Greek noun, askesis, meaning “exercise, training,” derives from the verb, askein, meaning “to exercise.”

[5]. Martin Thornton, The Heart of the Parish (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Cowley, 1989), 10. This book was originally published as Pastoral Theology: A Reorientation.

[6]. Matthew Dallman. Catholic and Anglican: Motif, Model, and Operations in Martin Thornton’s Theology. Master’s thesis. Nashotah House Theological Seminary, 2015. For a good but incomplete statement of Thornton’s premise, see English Spirituality, 21.

[7]. English Spirituality, 21.

[8]. Thornton’s ressourcement—that is, retrieving and re-reading patristic, medieval, and modern theologies in light of his theological motif and model—shares important similarities with the Nouvelle Theologie in the Roman Catholic tradition and with aspects of Paris School in Orthodoxy.

[9]. See Gabriel Flynn and Paul D. Murray, eds., Ressourcement: A Movement for Renewal in Twentieth-Century Catholic Theology (Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2012), 4–5.

[10]. Marshall McLuhan, The Medium and the Light: Reflections on Religion (Toronto: Stoddard, 1999), 82.

The Divine Office, “Devotionalized”

It is my sense, based on wide observation, that the Divine Office, through well-intentioned use, has in fact become “devotionalized.” It has become optional, and it has become overly burdened by the dozens of variations through the Church. This, owing more to social and technological upheaval than to anything else, I suspect is true in many if not most places.

Let me speak more technically. By “devotionalized” I mean in the sense of Thornton’s theology of the threefold RegulaDivine Office, Mass, and Devotion, each having particular characteristics. Whereas, according to his reasoning, the Divine Office emphasizes the Father and the Mass the Son, Devotion emphasizes the immanent Holy Spirit, who guides and teaches in radically personal ways according to gifts, temperaments, and local conditions. So to claim “devotionalization” is simply to observe that instead of being a point of Unity in the Church Militant—that is, laypersons, clergy and religious praying in basically the same way—the Divine Office today signals our differences and our personal choices.

This may sounds like a perfectly reasonable development, and in many ways it is. People have different temperaments and spiritual dispositions, so it follows that allowing for liturgical variety is a good thing. Yet without a shared Divine Office form, what tangible unity in prayer do we ever actually have? None, in our current state, is the answer. Within the Anglican world, some do the Daily Office one way, others do it another way. Some do the Liturgy of the Hours, others use monastic forms, and even some use the Breviary. The American Prayer Book provides Rite I and Rite II, as well as a form for Individuals and Families. The Church of England provides a 1662 form, as well as a variety of options in Common Worship. All to the good, yet where is our Unity, then? Variation upon variation of Morning and Evening Prayer ridicule the very claim of “common” anything.

It is always instructive to look to Jesus Christ’s primary teaching on prayer. Amid his example of devotion to a variety of people around him, as well as his eucharistic command, we must always remember that the only prayer he directly taught was the Our Father, and the first Christians used it as the exemplar of corporate set-prayer. That is, the basis of the Divine Office in both scripture (Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:2-4) and tradition (Didache, chapter 8) is the Our Father. It is set-prayer—a formula for eschatological praise by His children. Seen, as the Church always has, as both an actual prayer and an exemplar for prayer to the Father (and hence, liturgy itself), any such prayer which seeks to have a transcendent emphasis beyond our conditions of time and space must follow its established pattern. In short, that pattern is 1. invariable, 2. eschatological, 3. objective, and 4. corporate. Because the Our Father is each of these, it follows that the Divine Office, when it is fulfilling its ascetical need, corresponds to these attributes.

The pattern of Devotion, on the other hand, is essentially the opposite on all counts. Devotion is infinitely variable, focused on and within particular context, largely subjective, and uniquely personal. Seen scripturally in Jesus’s walk with the disciples on the Road to Emmaus and liturgically in the Passing of the Peace, our works of Devotion come and go, they vary constantly over one’s lifetime. There is an important point here: Devotion itself is not optional; but how we do Devotion is completely up to the individual. All is rooted in the biblical revelation, yet Devotion is quite different person to person, because people are quite different from one another. What reveals Jesus in the world, that is, the sacred humanity, for one person does no such thing for another person. We all have different gifts and talents, along with particular situations of family, locality, society, language, custom, etc. The Church teaches that the faithful are to be guided by the Holy Spirit in their Devotional life, and one size never fits all.

Hence, to “devotionalize” the Divine Office is to allow it to edge closer and closer to a performance of Devotion, away from the objective, invariable—and yes, away from the one-size-fits-all, because according to the Our Father, a very important building block of prayer in fact does fit all. When “devotionalized,” the ascetical emphasis shifts—from focus on the our frail offering of praise to the Father made perfect only through His Son and hence sheer transcendence—again, the Our Father—instead to the Holy Spirit immanent who binds us to Jesus through His creatures  in unique and wholly personal ways. The shift is from the radical Otherness encapsulated in the Our Father set-prayer to the radical Immediacy of “The Peace of the Lord be always with you” in infinite variation and manifestation. Ascetically these are both necessary but simply are not the same, and we confound the workings of the Body to think otherwise.

The Divine Office is devotionalized when, taken away from its sheer objectivity of set-prayer, it becomes made instead of options, variations and preferences both local, parochial, and personal. This or that “may be said,” on this or that day or season, or not said at all—we do this, we don’t do that; I personally do this, I do not like to do that, etc. How often do we hear this when people talk about the Divine Office!

Let me say, despite my last statement—this is all good and holy. People have particular needs, particular access to technology, particular day to day realities of family, work and transporation. It is a great gift that there continues to be a demand for daily prayer, and a hungering for something of ancient origin. No one who currently uses a personally designed approach to the Divine Office need stop what they are doing. My only plea is to stop calling it the Divine Office. Call it, instead, a “Daily Office of Readings,” something with a relatively stable structure but plenty of lattitude for change and variation. For is this not what we have, today?

Why do I ask we stop calling that the Divine Office? Only because one must so stretch and contort reason to draw actual, tangible correlations between the wildly variable Prayer Book Office forms of today and the Our Father prayer, that such a case collapses. And if we lose that correspondence and precedent, then we lose or at least obscure a fundamental connection between corporate prayer and Jesus’s own direct teaching.

Furthermore, I ask because there is a real need, if the doctrine of the Holy Trinity is to be used and applied rather than merely assented to and adored as an object, to establish and commit to a mode of corporate prayer that simply and unmistakably is oriented to the Father Almighty. That is, we must, if we are to be orthodox, have a fundamental place for praise intended for a Person who is radically, ontologically, and axiologically Other. Yes, the current Prayer Book Office forms mention prominently “Our Creator” and similar language, and yes we do so during the Mass, and certainly many people do so as a personal choice within their Devotion.

But that is not enough. The doctrine of the Trinity insists that such praise—to God who is truly incomprehensible and beyond our knowing—who created the cosmos—must be as elemental as Mass and Devotion. Transcendent praise must be as specific and liturgically obvious as mediatorial and immanent praise. Within the threefold Regula, the only foundation available is the Divine Office. Therefore it must be oriented strictly to the transcendent Father and therefore must take as paradigm the Our Father prayer and its attributes. Because if transcendent praise is not the focus and telos of the Divine Office, there simply is no where else within the Regula it can find such prominence.

Now, God is One; transcendence is not “better” than immanance. “We are compelled by the Christian verity to acknowledge every Person by himself to be both God and Lord,” to quote the Quicunque Vult. Yet with this shift, which has been several centuries in the making, nothing liturgically authoritative has replaced ascetical transcendence of the Divine Office properly understood, which along with ascetical immanance and mediation, are fundamental to our baptismal DNA.

Trinitarian doctrine dicates that we need to pray transcendently, immanently, and incarnationally—and there is no single method or mode to adequately cover all three in a single performative action. These three orientations, to be sure, synthesize to some degree through time, increasing spiritual maturity and growth in holiness, particularly in the Church Expectant, and full, complete synthesis is nothing sort of the heavenly Vision of God in the Church Triumphant. Yet in our fallen conditions of space and time, the synthetic and whole Vision of God is grasped through glass darkly, which means a sort of sequential “Now we pray to God Beyond, now we pray to God Incarnate, now we pray to God immanent”—exceptions of course abounding—not because of who God is but because of who we are as contingent beings.

Because of a devotionalized Divine Office, we have seen an attempt mitigate this shift by alteration elsewhere within the threefold Regula. Specifically there are those who try to turn the transcendent emphasis of the Mass, as it were, “all the way to eleven.” The renewed attention to Rite I in some quarters is an example. This attempt seeks to take the already meditatorial emphasis of the Mass and add to it a sense of still more “Otherness”—loading up that side of the balance. This is what the recent uptick in likewise well-intentioned advocacy for Ad Orientem is really all about, as well as the initatives toward a Latin Mass in Roman Catholicism. Hence the loss or diminishment of pure transcendence in the Divine Office is compensated for by a more transcendent Mass liturgic—or so goes the ascetical logic, all well-intentioned.

Yet in so doing, what gets thereby diminished is the mediatorial balance in the Mass between transcendence and immanence, found solely and wholly in Christ alone. The Mass, because it is anchored in the Real Presence of Christ, must be BOTH transcendent and immanent, which is precisely what is meant by “Incarnate Christ our sole mediator,” because he alone is both perfectly divine and perfectly man. It is to be both transcendent and completely everyday and local. This is not a case for or against Ad Orientem or Ad Populum; rather this is a plea to examine the underlying ascetical principles inherent in corporate response (prayer) to the Holy Trinity.

If we follow the approach of Martin Thornton, then the way to deal with the obvious fact that far too few Christians pray the Divine Office—in short, to accept pastoral reality—is to anchor all analysis in doctrine and theology rather than the often insidious “rationale” of the Church’s National Anthem—”But that’s the way we’ve always done it”—which usually avoids reality and celebrates corporate Self rather than God Almighty. Liturgical tradition and ritual history have their place, but that place must take a back seat to doctrine, theology and pastoral reality—which is to say, a back seat to Our risen and glorified Lord incarnate eternally as well as amid the conditions of time and space. To ask hopefully not too obnoxious a question—if we saw Jesus siting on a park bench in prayer just after dawn, do we really think we would find Him reading Morning Prayer from the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, or the Liturgy of the Hours?

My own remedy to devotionalization is the Divine Office of Praise, which grows out of Thornton’s analysis over nearly thirty years, his tentative suggestions in Prayer: A New Encounter, as well as my own analysis and devout experiment in my family and at my parish with a group of devout souls. Although it may seem like a radical rethinking, in truth what I propose is a rearrangement. The Cranmerian form of the “Daily Office,” as well as anything similar to it, such as the “Liturgy of the Hours,” I refer to now as The Daily Office of Readings.

For Anglicans, the Daily Office of Readings will look very familiar, and this is intentional. Cranmer was on to something, and his Benedictine (and perhaps Cistercian) ascetical insights were brilliant. Yet we, the faithful People of God, are no less at the same point in the pilgrimage as Saint Benedict was when he wrote his Regula than we are at the same point of Cranmer when he wrote his. Social conditions around Cranmer were radically different than the social conditions around Benedict, and our social conditions today are radically different as well. We need to find what Martin Thornton called “Unity in the Church Militant.” We used to have it through the original Books of Common Prayer. But it has been lost over the centuries as the Cranmerian form, and all like it, have become devotional options rather than our anchor in daily togetherness.

In chapter 2 of his magisterial work, The Liturgy of the Hours in East and West, Robert Taft writes, “The first explicit, unambiguous reference to a system of daily prayer in the primitive Church is Didache 8, which gives the Matthean ‘Our Father’ with the doxology ‘For yours is the power and the glory unto ages,’ followed by the rubric, ‘Pray this three times a day.” He then proceeds over the subsequent 360 fascinating and informative pages to effectively ignore both that fact and any ascetical consequence it might have.

If you boil down my argument, it is essentially to stop ignoring the practice of the New Testament Church. It is time to treat the Divine Office as Jesus and the first Christians did—as a faithful elaboration of the Our Father. That means a Divine Office that is simple, memorizable, eschatological, invariable and objective. Let a Divine Office of Praise, in its ten minutes of doctrinal and ascetical glory, be the anchor of Unity in the Church Militant. All Christians can do this Divine Office—laypersons both young and old, deacons, priests, bishops, and even religious.

This does not mean abandoning our weighty tradition, for we can and should continue to use a Daily Office of Readings, or any similiar form, as we are able to—many are not, yet clergy often are required to as part of their ordination vow, and religious as part of their four-fold or seven-fold pattern of daily prayer.

My view is that If a primitive, invariable Divine Office form — the Our Father — worked for the first Christians living into the staggering experience of Pentecost, then I see no theological reason for anyone to insist that a form analoguous to it cannot work for us today.

 

On Anglican Ethos, part 2 : an audio lecture

What it is about Anglican patrimony that gives it distinctiveness? What about it has made the Anglican Church unique, while still a strong, if troubled, member of the Catholic family of churches? The answer for many is, what makes Anglicanism unique is called the “Anglican ethos.” Anglican ethos is a term that refers to how the feel and senseor “culture”—of Anglican life emerges from our tradition of liturgy, parish life, sacraments and monastic tradition.

Father Thomas Fraser, rector at Saint Paul’s, Riverside (near Chicago) for 40 years, provides the second half of his lecture that addresses those questions in an accessible and authoritative presentation that is 53 minutes long.

In this time of confusion about Anglicanism in England, the United States, and elsewhere, it can be difficult to see what makes us, in a healthy sense, “us.” In addition to the outline begun in Part 1, where he stressed the importance of The Book of Common Prayer as the Anglican Regula, in Part 2 Father Fraser outlines the five basic characteristics of Anglican uniqueness. The characterics are 1. Catholic theology, 2. an Evangelical spirit (that is, the Evangelical Counsels), 3. a Patristic foundation, 4. a Search After Truth and Quality of Life, and 5. Intellectual Openness and Individual Freedom.

Listen to Part 1 of “Anglican Ethos” here.

See also:

What does ‘Regula’ Mean?
What is ‘English Spirituality’?

 

 

On Anglican Ethos, part 1 : an audio lecture

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

Father Thomas Fraser, rector at Saint Paul’s, Riverside (near Chicago) for 40 years, provides a lecture that addresses those questions in an accessible and authoritative presentation that is 52 minutes long. In this time of confusion about Anglicanism in England, the United States, and elsewhere, it can be difficult to see what makes us, in a healthy sense, “us.” Father Fraser provides a historical overview of what is called “the Anglican ethos,” as well as what it means for us, today.

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

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

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

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.

Homily: O ye Saints of the Holy Catholic Church

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The Diverse Riches of Prayer”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ascetical theology and Catholic imagination

When we speak ascetically in the Catholic sense as Martin Thornton did — against and beyond the Anglican ascetical writers of the early 20th century such as Evelyn Underhill, Oscar Hardman, Bede Frost, C.F. Rogers, H.S. Box, and F.P. Harton — we are liberated from their more limited “theology of ascetical practices” into ascetical theology that is wider and far more provocative. Following Thornton, to speak ascetically means “articulating the church’s corporate experience.” As Thornton wrote in 1960 in reference to that former crop of Anglican ascetical writers, “we need an ascetical ascetical-theology”.1 Theirs was too narrow and leaned individualistic. His critique did honor their contributions (he was particularly fond of Harton’s Elements of the Spiritual LIfe), but sought to push reflection on the theology of prayer still deeper, more corporate, and more Catholic.

“Catholic” must mean that the particular is analogous to the whole. The very word means “according to the whole.” If a person, a family, a parish, a church is to be Catholic, then its being in the particular must be a microcosm of the Church, the true whole. In all practicality, this means having a comprehensive and active relationship with the Catholic Faith once for all delivered to the saints. It means having a Catholic imagination.

As Thornton wrote in 1978, doctrine and prayer are two sides of the same coin.2 The “use” of these coins or tokens comprises the doing of theology. This sheds intriguing light upon the term “orthodox”. Following Thornton, to be orthodox really means that the corporate prayer life is in full accord and balance with the doctrines that comprise the Faith of Holy Church.

Ascetic corresponds with dogmatic, in other words. Prayer life that lives into and through Christian doctrine is orthodox. Seen in this way, “orthodoxy” becomes not an intellectual litmus test but an exciting adventure. It is a matter of living! Furthermore, this renders the Benedictine emphasis on “balance” as a still more penetrating insight into the nature of Catholic life. Life is a risk and a struggle, and we often lean too far in one direction, only to be pulled back to the other, else we fall over and must get up. The same applies to the balancing of doctrine and prayer life.

In Acts 2.42, we learn that the first Christians “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” This threefold framework — respectively, Devotion-Mass-Office — is called by Thornton “Regula“. He appears to be the first Christian writer to do so.

If “Catholic imagination” was alive and active from the first moments of the Church, and why would it not be, then it is clear from the biblical revelation that Catholic imagination and Regula go hand in hand. There is no better example of this than Acts chapter 2: verses 1-41 are Catholic imagination — “baptismal” imagination, if you like. And then comes verse 42: Regula as the response of the community. So to the question, “what is Catholic imagination?”, one must look to the 2nd chapter of Acts as the basis. We ought use Acts 2 prayerfully to open our own hearts to God’s presence in our Christian family.

Hence Regula is not a concept, but rather an articulation the church’s corporate experience. Regula is the heart of ascetical theology in the Thorntonian sense. Or, put another way, Catholic imagination is the “stuff” of Regula. It very well may be a doctrine itself, the doctrine of the Regula. Regula is one side of the token; Catholic imagination is the other.

Hence it makes sense that Catholic imagination has been diminished in the West, because the centrality of Regula has been diminished in the West. You cannot have Catholic imagination without robust Devotional-baptismal commitment out in the world, without a robust Eucharist as the focusing and concentrating of all creation, and without a robust Office that is the daily activity of the People of God, an engine to catalyze devotion and love to God by ordinary Christians, rather than the obligation of the parish priest only!3

We can further reflect upon Catholic imagination when we look at the doctrines of the Trinity, the Church, and the Incarnation.

From the doctrine of the Trinity we can see that Regula is a threefold responding to a Triune God. Divine Office emphasizes praise to the Father through Jesus in the Spirit. Mass emphasizes Communion with Jesus who reveals the Father in the Spirit. Devotion emphasizes guidance by the Spirit to Jesus who reveals the Father. And yet, through it all, it is not three prayer lives, but one prayer life that integrates into seamless praise, communion, and guidance: of, with, and by God. This is the basis of Catholic imagination.

From the doctrines of the Church and Incarnation, we see that Jesus sent the Holy Spirit into the cosmos in order that the Holy Spirit would bring and unite all things to Him and fully reveal the Father. God became man so that man might become God.

Hence in the Church Militant, all things of creation can become sacramental, the God-given exemplars being the seven Sacraments. This process is the basis of our Devotional-Baptismal activity: being Christ’s hands and mind in the world so that the Holy Spirit’s activity can guide all people.

In the Church Expectant, God’s children can become sanctified, or (if you will accept the expression) sanctoral, in the adjectival sense: more and more saintly and holy. God’s adopted children are given the opportunity to continue their growth and reformation into the likeness of Christ. This process is the basis for the Mass, where we commune with the entire Church in a mystical family that shares in the love of Christ which finds consummation (on earth) in the Eucharist.

In the Church Triumphant, all of God’s holy creatures, including those fully sanctified, become angelic, in that all join with the angels in their activity of ceaseless praise and thanksgiving for the primordial God the Father (we do not become angels, but become as like them as possible in our activity). This process is the basis for the Divind Office, where we unite as the Body of Christ (all states of the threefold Church) in praise for Our Father to sing with the Angels, “Holy holy holy”.

In sum, Catholic imagination is spontaneous and organic response by the People of God to the presence of the Holy Spirit who calls us into deeper recognition and working out of our baptismal status. It is the response by Christians whose lives are ordered by the doctrine of Regula. Catholic imagination sums up the activity and processes alive within the Christian family that are preserved (akin to yeast) in the additional core doctrines of Trinity, Church, and Incarnation. Catholic imagination is sacramental, sanctoral, and angelic. And the scriptural basis for this is the second chapter of The Acts of the Apostles, the Church amid the energy of its baptismal status.

Following Thornton’s reasoning, if a corporate, that is to say parochial, Christian existence cannot be seen to be ordered by Regula — daily Office, weekly (or daily) Mass, constant Devotion — then not only can a community not claim to be Catholic, but it cannot claim to be orthodox either, no matter what its intellectual claims on various Christian doctrines may be.

Why? Because for Thornton, the proof of all doctrinal pudding is in the doing. For a parish family to leave out, ignore, or under-emphasize either Office, Mass, or Devotion — or God forbid, two of them — causes immediate violence to the doctrines of Trinity, Church, and Incarnation. Regula is the living out of those doctrines, a making-real through participation in grace; without regula, these doctrines and all others are little more than interesting intellectual wordplay and emotive wall-building.

All of this is something of what “breaks forth” when ascetical theology is correctly understood.4 It is necessary to see “ascetical theology” not as the theology of ascetical practice, but as the articulation of the Church’s corporate experience. Asceticism presupposes Catholic ascetical theology. And once you step into that terrain and begin to grapple with articulating the Church’s corporate experience, catholicity ensues.

1 Martin Thornton, “Anglican Ascetical Theology, 1939–60,” Theology 63 (August 1960): 313-319.
2 Martin Thornton, “Prayer and Incarnation,” Christian 4, no. 4 (1978): 317-324.
3 See Martin Thornton, Prayer: A New Encounter and The Function of Theology.
4 Thornton continued to reconfigure “ascetical theology” in a more Catholic direction with English Spirituality (see chapter 2). Over his entire career, he continued to develop its characteristics and differentiate it from the former “theology of asceticism”. The formulation “the articulation of the Church’s corporate experience” shows up in a book review he wrote in 1984: Martin Thornton, “Spirituality for Ministry,” Pastoral Psychology 32, no. 4 (Sum 1984) 287-288.

Is the Psalter the heart of the Divine Office?

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

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

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

And they have a point.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what, then, for the Divine Office?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Homily: Watchfulness through Regula

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Icon by the hand of Monica Thornton.

Homily: Renaming Our Experiences (with audio)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Homily by Matthew Dallman
Given at St 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.

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.

The Prayer Book as Regula, a Slideshow

If the first Christians were Catholic, it was because of their threefold prayer life (Acts 2:42) seen as the total, systematic means for repentence and baptismal reality taught by Saint Peter and the Apostles. That is the template, or Regula (Rule), of Catholic life; the threefold Regula orders the repeatable dimensions of Baptism by which we repent. The Book of Common Prayer, being a Regula inherited primarily from the tradition of Saint Benedict, also orders in a unique way such a comprehensive corporate response, with emphases of its own yet leaving nothing fundamental out. Therefore Catholic renewal within Anglican parochial tradition, that is, Catholic Anglican vitality, demands through a more profound embrace of the total life of obedience ordered by Prayer Book heritage. Veni, Creator Spiritus!

click for slideshow


See also: What does Regula mean?

Icon by the hand of Monica Thornton. 


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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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 the English School of Catholic Spirituality

That within Anglicanism is a school of Catholic spirituality is a view that derives from Martin Thornton and especially English Spirituality, which, along with Pastoral Theology, is his masterpiece. It is one of his most used phrases.

But what does the term mean? 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. And incidentally, this was his 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.” 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 much more.

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 be 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”.

Note well: Christ belonged to a school. Have you ever considered that possibility? He 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. He is saying that the Catholic Church is the totality of musical possibilities (think a piano, if you like, and all the possible tonal combinations). Each school plays the piano and weaves and realizes its harmony differently because that is the nature of incarnation. 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.

Back to 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 St Benedict, eventually into St Anselm (which decidedly brings in St Augustine), later the Victorines, Julian of Norwich and others into The Book of Common Prayer, and so on. I’ve assembled the more comprehensive map of ressourcement at right. Characteristic of our school for Thornton 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 Anglicanism 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 anti-Catholic folks within Anglicanism would not be happy. 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 Anglicanism as a school of Catholic spirituality directly presents a renewal agenda: in parish formation programs, get to know our tradition! That is, renew 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 Book of Common Prayer. At that point we can 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.

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.

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.