Tag Archives: Catholic imagination

On Marian Imagination

Doctrine and dogma have consequences for our prayer life, that is, our relationship with God, and how that relationship is concentrated and focused into acts of prayer—normatively the threefold Regula, including private prayers myriad in variety.

What, then, is the consequence on our prayer of the Assumption of Mary? There are many, for Our Lady is a true panoply of grace. Yet fundamental to our understanding of Mary’s importance to our prayerful living is one that has to with what I have previously called the “Marian mode of perception.”

Because it is not just the “idea” of Mary, or her merits narrowly, that have been assumed into Heaven—but in fact her body—then despite how difficult that notion may be to get our heads around, what it must mean is that it is Mary as a totality, as a unity of body-mind-soul, who is in heaven as the Queen of Heaven as Lady of all the Angels.

The consequence, then, is this: it is Mary’s whole way of being that Christians aspire to achieve by the grace of God. This is the deepest meaning of “Mary, pray for us”: we ask her to be in relationship with us so that we may grow more like her, she who lives in the most perfect unity with Jesus, entirely through His grace, which filled her being from her conception immaculately—that is to say, vocationally. Being more like her, we are more like Jesus—this is but “sanctification” in Marian terms. (For more on the many meanings of “Pray for us,” see this homily.)

The more we are like Mary, the more our own souls might be overshadowed, our own spirit enlightened, that, in the words of Jeremy Taylor, we might conceive the holy Jesus in our heart, and may bear him in our mind, and may grow up to the fullness of the stature of Christ, to be a perfect man in Christ Jesus. Hence Mary is crucial for our understanding of Theosis.

Perhaps, then, what is often spoken of as “Catholic imagination,” sometimes called “sacramental worldview,”or more technically “analogical imagination”—perception of reality based upon countless profound analogies between ultimate divinity and creatures/creation, all anchored in Christ, our sole Mediator (i.e., the fundamental root, the cantus firmus, of all analogies)—might be more pastorally called “Marian imagination.”

Marian imagination seeks and serves Christ in all persons. Our exemplar in being a baptized Christian, Mary was the first person able to name divine reality as “Jesus,” the first person able to ask what it means to perceive the world as Jesus perceived, and the first person able to reconcile explicitly all things to, and by, Him—to see Christ as the telos of human beings fully alive. Marian imagination—Marian “awe,” Marian “heart”—is empowered by angelic injunction to live completely toward, and for, the Cross: “a sword will pierce through your own soul also” (Lk 2:35) becomes the actual corporate reality of the first Christians at Pentecost: “Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart” (Acts 2:37). We grow into this “Marian imagination,” just as Mary grew into full realization of who her son was—indeed, the episode of Jesus at age twelve at the Temple is crucial for safeguarding the fact that we, like Blessed Mary, grow into mature Christian sensibility.

Marian imagination sees all things as potential mediators of Christ’s love, the Holy Spirit revealing unity between creatures and God. It is a Marian imagination, then, that can recognize sacramentality whether in the sacred or the mundane, which is then lifted to the sacred. It is through Marian imagination that we lift our hearts to God, during Mass and everywhere else. “The core of Christian living in its fullness is an habitual awareness of Being, a constant but unforced anticipation of the divine disclosure.” (Martin Thornton, Prayer, p. 95.) And when sin separates us from God—from contemplative harmony with Him and His creation within our conditions of time and space—we can “flee” to Mary as oasis, knowing and finding consolation in the fact that we can never love Mary more than Jesus does.

And Marian imagination requires the daily and habitual oblation of prayer, of emptying ourselves in praise and thanksgiving to Holy God, transcendent and incarnate and immanent, which for the Church is summarized by the threefold Regula, where Divine Office culminates in the Mass and lives out in Devotion. Can we doubt that Acts 2:42, the biblical basis for the Regula, is simply the method the first Christians, overshadowed by the Holy Spirit themselves, were driven to use to begin to emulate Our Lady, who lived fully to be united with Jesus? Because Mary’s life, owing to the Annunciation, is trinitarian prayer itself.

Pray for us, O holy Mother of God, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ. Amen.

Archbishop Fisher: “We have no doctrine of our own”

“The Anglican Communion, with its fellowship of Churches, has a special responsibility at this time in the world. We have no doctrine of our own—we only possess the Catholic doctrine of the Catholic Church enshrined in the Catholic creeds, and those creeds we hold without addition or diminution. We stand firm on that rock. We know how to bring to bear on our Christian devotion and creed all the resources of charity and reason and human understanding submitted to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. So we have a freedom and embrace a faith which, in my belief, represents the Christian faith in a purer form than can be found in any other Church in Christendom. That is not a boast. It is a reminder to us of the immense treasure that is committed to our charge — the immense responsibility on us in these days to maintain unshaken those common traditions that we have inherited from those who have gone before us.”

That is Archbishop Geoffrey Fisher, 99th Archbishop of Canterbury, quoted in Church Times, 2 February, 1951, pg 1. Click here for a PDF of the entire front page.

 

Homily: “Catholic Imagination”

Delivered at Saint Paul’s, Riverside on the Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time 2016 (Proper 6, Year C)

A week ago, after Mass, a group of us from Saint Paul’s accepted the invitation from the Rector of All Riverside to accompany him to travel to Hyde Park to hear an address given at Catholic Theological Union. The speaker was Father Richard Fragomeni, who happened to have been one of my professors when I studied theology at CTU. And the topic of the talk was “the Catholic imagination.”

That is, as you well know, a principle that has become increasingly explored here at Saint Paul’s. Father Fragomeni, who in addition to being seminary faculty is the rector of the Shrine of Our Lady of Pompeii in Chicago’s Little Italy neighborhood, gave a talk both entertaining and enlightening. And as his talk neared the end, he took questions, one of which came from the Rector of All Riverside, who asked Fr Fragomeni if he might say a couple words about the notion of “meditation.” Because, I think, the afternoon Mass at CTU was about to begin, Fr Fragomeni being also the celebrant, his answer was perhaps rather short because of time. He did, however, follow up in an email to me the next day.

In the email, Fr Fragomeni wrote that a metaphor to understand what Catholic imagination entails is “mediated immediacy.” He went on to write that this metaphor “points to the hope that the presence of God/Christ, while immediate, that is, present among us, is not a direct presence, but a mediated one — through signs and symbols and dreams and bread and wine and oil and people and stars and cosmos and emptiness.” He concluded by writing, “Now that takes some imagination to inhabit that place: most apophatic, and most sacramental.”

Mediated immediacy. The presence of the God of Abraham, of Isaac, of Jacob — of the God who forgives all sins. And yet a presence, mediated by the things of creation; mediated by creatures. We know God first and foremost through his creatures. We discern the will of God through our relationship with creatures. And not only creatures such as bread, wine, oil, but people, animals, soil, mountains, rivers, and the rest. All of these can mediate — can be means of conveying — God’s presence. We are to be stewards of creation not so that we can control and manipulate the creatures of this world, but so that we can hear God through them.

In our Gospel reading from Saint Luke, we have oil, and it is brought to Jesus, and it is used the anoint the feet of Our Lord. Although tradition for about 1,400 years interpreted this woman as Saint Mary Magdalene, the text does not name this woman, but to say she was a sinner. Perhaps she is not able to anoint the head of Jesus with oil because her humility keeps her low. Many of us, perhaps all of us, are similarly brought low by awareness of sins we have committed. We are brought low by the awareness of the wounds inflicted by sins — wounds upon ourselves, and wounds upon others.

And yet we are raised up by grace in our love for God. We are raised up when we give ourselves to God just as this woman gave herself to Jesus through this oil, and through her tears, through, even, the hair on her head. We are raised up by a God who wants to forgive us, wants to be immediate in our presence, mediated by the gifts we offer to him. Saint Luke is telling us that we do not have to know the right way to offer God ourselves and our gifts. There is not the sense that this woman was following a procedure, a step by step process of how to properly anoint Jesus. She just gave herself to God, thoroughly, completely, not holding anything back.

When we give to God our own best gifts, our own treasures; when we tell God we are aware of the specific sins we have committed, in that sense “give him our awareness”, our awareness becoming a gift we offer him — perhaps the most expensive, most prized, most special gift we can offer him — he responds with love. He responds with forgiveness. He responds with his presence — immediate, yet mediated by the gifts we offer to him.

Cover image “Jesus at Bethany” is licensed under CC BY 2.0 / Cropped from original.

What does ‘Remnant’ mean?

When we look at businesses or organizations as a whole, there tends to be a core group within the whole who constitute the “heart.” Not necessarily the ones who put in the longest hours or do the most taxing work, yet something irreplaceable and necessary rides on the shoulders of these core people: their vision, their behavior, their commitment. And through their work, the whole organization, all the way out to its margins, benefits and shares in, even can take on the character of, that core.

The Chicago Blackhawks of 2015 are a pertinent example. There is a spectrum that constitutes everything meant by “the Blackhawks.” Certainly much rides upon the shoulders of the players themselves, whom we can easily see as “the core.” Yet important also are the trainers, team management, all of the ticket-holders and fans, all the way to the kids who wear Patrick Kane jerseys at their neighborhood ice rink. All are part of the same “team” yet with different roles to play according to their gifts and vocation. Seen in this way, the “team” in the narrow sense becomes something of a wider “family.”

This manner of thinking can be applied to the Church, and particularly the Parish, with intriguing ramifications. The theological term used by the Church is “Remnant.” We find this in Saint Paul: “At the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace” (Romans 11:5-6). In the Authorized Version (popularly but inaccurately called the “KJV”), the term also occurs in The Revelation to John (12:17): “And the dragon was wroth with the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.”

To what does “woman” refer? Marian scholar Hilda Graef writes, “The early patristic tradition unanimously regards this woman as a symbol of the Church” (Mary: A History of Doctrine and Devotion, Chap. 1). Later patristic, medieval and modern tradition grew to see the “woman” as a composite symbol of both the Church and Blessed Mary. Writes Graef: “Mary is not merely the individual mother of Jesus, she is also the ‘daughter of Sion,’ the representative of the People of God.” This means that Mary is representative of the Remnant as seen in Elisha, Amos, Micah, First Isaiah, Zephaniah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Zechariah, Joel, Ezra, and Deutero-Isaiah. Furthermore, Remnant is directly implied by the stories of Noah (Gen 7:23), Abraham (Gen 18:12-32), Jacob (Gen 32:9), and Joseph (Gen 45:7). In each of these instances we see the common theme in two parts: 1. a person or small group of people chosen by God as His instrument and 2. upon whom the salvation of the whole world depends.

These are in fact complementary emphases. For without the core people who are chosen (elected) by God, who continue in the example of Blessed Mary and reform into ever-greater likeness of Jesus, what are the Saints but curious, even bizarre, people? Likewise, absent the participation of the wider community according to their gifts and talents, what claim can the Church possibly make to being “Catholic,” a term which means “universal” and “according to the whole”? And without the whole, “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Cor 12:7) is empty sentiment.

Now, just as the Blackhawks players must, in fact, play, the Remnant must do their work in relationship to the whole. This work is the perpetuation of Christ comprehensively and completely. A classic description of the Church is that it is the extension of the Incarnation of Christ. This in fact is a Remnant way of describing the Church: people who are to be the extension of Him. The preaching, teaching, healing, leading—all of what Jesus did—we can sum up as His Prayer, which was always in perfect adoration of the Father Almighty. By perpetuating His prayer, we perpetuate Him, by His grace—and actual people are called by God to do this. These people we call the “faithful Remnant” and together with their community, “the Remnant Parish”—all exercising their gifts and talents given by God for the common good.

It is a severe distortion to imagine that only the Remnant is going to heaven, a mistake some are tempted to make. Our Lord did not command his Apostles to baptize the nations so that, upon baptism, they would perish in eternal damnation. Rather, His command was for the salvation of the whole world. The faithful Remnant Parish is not pessimistically withdrawn from the world; Remnant is the opposite of retreat. Remnant means engagement, as Jesus himself was the Suffering Servant giving himself to all of humanity.

Our terms are that we are to “seek and serve Christ in all persons” from our Baptismal Covenant. Likewise, the faithful Remnant and Remnant Parish pray as a family on behalf of those members of society who do not sense any calling whatsoever to attend church, and even are actively antagonistic towards Christianity. Such a parish prays in part because others cannot or will not—Remnant prayer is “substitutionary prayer,” so to speak. This is particularly evident liturgically during the Prayers of the People: “Let us pray for the Church and for the whole world,” “For all people in their daily life and work” (Forms IV and VI). The Remnant Parish is distinct because called by God, yet is intimately and sacramentally connected with, and responding to, the concerns, challenges, problems and evils of the world through the compassion of Christ.

What emerges in relief are five, possibly startling, points for further pastoral, devout experimentation:

  • The Remnant are “the bearers of the community’s future existence” (Fr Leslie Hoppe, OFM, The Collegeville Pastoral Dictionary of Biblical Theology, p. 827). Canonical and local Saints teach us about who we the Church will become.
  • In the Remnant is an infectious holiness demonstrated through purity in worship, loyalty in faith, and complete abandonment to God and His Providence. Remnant prayer is the prayerful center of the Parish and is its central activity.
  • The Remnant serves the whole of the Parish. As Fr Thornton wrote, “It is the very heart which recapitulates and serves the whole; in fact the complete Body of Christ in microcosm, and its relation to the environment is the relation between Christ and the twelve, to their world. This palpitating heart pumps blood of life to all the body as leaven leavens the lump or salt savors the whole” (The Heart of the Parish, IV). The primary condition is that a parish “believes, practices, and teaches the full Catholic faith and supports and promotes authentic Catholic culture,” in the words of Fr Fraser. True catholicity implies locality.
  • The norm of parochial Prayer is the threefold Regula performed daily by the members of the faithful Remnant, elected by God to pray vicariously on behalf of all, and joined by the whole community as they are able, which typically means in the celebration of the Eucharist on Sundays and holy days of obligation. Remnant prayer truly pervades all.
  • Part and parcel of Remnant reality in the parish is Catholic imagination. To wit: “It is not, however, merely the human part of the created order that receives redemption and makes its true self-offering to God by joining ‘with the angels and archangels’ in the heavenly worship. The whole material realm in involved, for man is ‘nature’s priest.’ . . . Not only man, but the universe, will be transfigured and glorified, and in this transfiguration the great mystery of the Resurrection of the Body will be brought about” (20th-century Anglican divine Eric Mascall, in Christ, the Christian, and the Church, XIII and IX). Parochial activity overflows into all of life and involves the whole material realm.

What, in sum, does Remnant mean? Remnant doctrine emphasizes that God does His saving work through His Body. He works through the diverse gifts and graces He has given particular members to exercise for the benefit of all (see 1 Cor 12). As a whole, we are “ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us” (2 Cor 5:20). Remnant doctrine synthesizes fundamental Church’s theology (e.g., Incarnation, Baptism and all the Sacraments, the Church, Election/Vocation, People of God, Theosis) and emphasizes both corporate and individual aspects of our shared call to follow the example of Blessed Mary and all the Saints in obedient life dedicated to Jesus, extending and perpetuating the Catholic faith within Christ’s Church with infectious holiness and through vicarious, trinitarian prayer (Regula). Remnant doctrine teaches that the one Body of Christ shares in each other’s God-given gifts and graces, and is so doing we share in the prayer life of those particular souls, lay and ordained, who are elected by God to the full life of Christian prayer on this earth.

In short, Remnant means being Blessed Mary’s children. The Mother and Bearer of God—Theotokos—Saint Mary is also, we must proclaim, the Mother of the Remnant. Pray for us, O Holy Mother of God, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ. Amen.

Icon by the hand of Monica Thornton.

Homily: “Living with Marian Awe”

Delivered 19 April 2015 at Saint Paul’s, Riverside, Illinois.

Today continues our Eastertide mystagogy, which this year at Saint Paul’s, Riverside, focuses on the Baptismal Covenant, renewed by all of us at the Great Vigil of Easter. We considered last Sunday the important statement of our faith called the Apostles’ Creed. In the words, “I believe in,” first and foremost we are affirming our relationship with God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. For the Christian life has as its fundamental basis our desire to be in obedient relationship with the Holy Trinity, and for the Holy Trinity to be in saving relationship with us. Our saying of the Apostles’ Creed may seem like intellectual assent, but in fact it is all about relationship.

Today, we pass from the Apostles’ Creed to the first of the baptismal affirmations. The celebrant asks all of us: “Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?” And we respond by saying, “I will, with God’s help.” Now, there is a great deal to be said about this threefold affirmation, as well. I suppose that it might seem like a rather mundane affirmation to make. “Of course we affirm all that. That is obviously what we do as Christians, just as a matter of course.” And if we consider this affirmation in the plain sense of its words, that is true. For we do gather in sacramental fellowship to break eucharistic bread in the Mass, we hear and reflect upon the apostles’ teaching in the Bible, and we pray throughout the liturgy and sometimes elsewhere. Yet just as an iceberg shows only a portion of its true size above the water, the vast majority of its mass below and unseen, this affirmation has much to it beneath a mere surface analysis, and looking for depth is precisely the role of mystagogy, a term whose etymology shows it means a leading or guiding into mystery.

Now, this first affirmation has the outward form of a promise. The words, “I will, with God’s help,” have that ring, and to call it a promise is not wrong. But what does it mean to make such a promise on the event of our Lord and Savior’s holy Resurrection? Such is no ordinary evening in the Church, and so this promise is no ordinary promise, but takes on a special character that must be looked at with care and spiritual reflection. And, again, the importance of relationship comes to bear. We affirm our relationship with the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, with the breaking of bread, and with the prayers. And so even though we may from time to time not fulfill to the letter this affirmation, we who participate as best we can in the Catholic Church of Christ are never out of relationship with this affirmation in any total sense.

Thus it is better to say, we embrace the apostle’s teaching and fellowship; the breaking of bread, and the prayers. To call this an “embrace” acknowledges the fluctuation that routinely happens in the Christian life, day to day, and week to week—much as we embrace our closest friend or our spouse, knowing at times we will be emotionally, even spatially, distant and apart, but never totally out of relationship despite fluctuations in intensity.

But what is it, in this threefold affirmation, that we in fact are embracing? Well, we need to know that this affirmation is taken directly and without alteration from the 2nd chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, verse 42. You recall that this chapter is Saint Luke’s description of the beginning of the Christian Church at the Pentecost event. And so we are drawn to, as it were, hold in mind today also the Solemnity of Pentecost, just over a month away. The mystery of this baptismal affirmation has embedded within it something of the energy, and the explosion, of the Holy Spirit coming down, becoming known, lighting afire the hearts and minds and tongues of the gathered apostles, other disciples, and Blessed Mary the holy Mother of our Lord. And then Saint Peter preached, “These men are not drunk.” Rather, prophesy has been fulfilled, wonders made manifest and available, the moon turned to blood—we note that just two weeks ago, we saw just this kind of lunar eclipse, called a “blood moon.” And the Holy Spirit was poured out by God upon all flesh as a universal opportunity of grace for all. This Jesus, whom we crucified, God has raised up. And like the first Christians, of this we too are witnesses.

Now in his description of this tangible manifesting of the Holy Spirit in a way that demands nothing short of awe, holy fear, and even confusion, Saint Luke I think discloses to us the parallel between Mary and the first Christians. For just as Our Lady at the Annunciation experienced in overpassing awe the presence of the Holy Spirit, so were the apostles and the first Christians overpassed by the Spirit at Pentecost—and so, at the Easter Vigil, were we. By similar analogy, just as Blessed Mary, at the Presentation of our Lord at the Temple, was pierced through the soul by the words of Simeon, so, Saint Luke tells us in Acts, were the first Christians “cut to the heart” by the Pentecost event and the preaching of Saint Peter—and so, cut to the heart are we invited to be.

We should recall here that in biblical language, the heart is not the seat of emotions, but rather is the seat of the will. The biblical “heart” is by no means unemotional, but it has to do with our choices, our doing and pattern of behavior. We still have this meaning in everyday language when we speak of a person having “lost heart” in the doing of some activity. And so for the first Christians to be cut to the heart means they were confronted, and refashioned, with a new set of choices, a new way of life, a new normal of living together and of praying that brought to fulfillment the religion of their forefathers, of Abraham, of Isaac, of Jacob, of David.

The question asked by the Church as a new body to Saint Peter and all the apostles was, “What shall we do?” This is a question not of belief, not of doctrine, but a pragmatic question of behavior (“pragmatic” deriving from a Greek word meaning “to do”). Saint Peter’s answer was, also, pragmatic: “Repent, and be baptized.” This, too, accords with our experience at the Easter Vigil and throughout the Christian life. “Repent”—that is, turn to God, lift up your heart, your pattern of behavior, to the divine. “Be baptized”—yes, be baptized if you are not already, but for those that are, even more “be a baptized person,” claim and own the unmerited gift given to you by God when you were incorporated into His Body. Appropriate who you are amid God’s presence here in our reality of time and space, with us and in us, and we in Him. Be whom God calls, elects, predestines, you to be.

It is precisely here, where the rubber meets the road, that the meaning of first affirmation of the baptismal covenant for us begins to become vivid. This affirmation is how we repent and claim our baptism. For us to continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, the breaking of bread, and the prayers, we embrace what the first Christians did as a body in their very first moments. We affirm our relationship with the Church at its birth. And we affirm our relationship with Mary, for this affirmation but elaborates upon her response to the angel Gabriel: she said, “Let it be to me according to your word.” We say, “I will, with God’s help.”

And so it is no surprise that Christian tradition has come to call this threefold affirmation the core pattern, or Rule of the Church: Regula for short. The Regula involves the “apostles’ teaching and fellowship,” or Devotion, meaning personal devotional ministry unique to each of us as individuals and as local parish families: how we share in and live out community life and serve the world around us guided by the Holy Spirit immanent and near, so doing in accord with the biblical revelation. It involves “the breaking of bread” of course called the Mass, which is the source and summit of our sacramental life and itself models catholic imagination and eucharistic worldview, for in taking Christ into our bodies we share in his loving, intimate view of creation. And it involves “the prayers,” or the Divine Office, the official, that is authoritative, set-prayer of the threefold Church based upon, and elaborating upon, the Our Father prayer given by Christ to his disciples as a means to address the Father through Jesus.

Regula, then, is the response as a Body to God’s presence and activity. Regula is how we live with Marian awe into the mystery of the Resurrection and the activity of the Holy Spirit. Regula is how we put into practice the faith of the Apostles’ Creed. It is how we enact the relationship with God in whom only can we find true rest. Regula is the repeatable aspect of baptism.

One final point is that the Divine Office may seem too much of a daily commitment. Here, the counsel of the Church is to commit to reciting the Our Father at least once a day, or better yet singing it, which brings forth our worshiping parish family to wherever we may be. And not just our parish family, but the whole Church. Through this prayer, we join as a active body—that is, Christians in the Church Militant, the Church Expectant, with the Saints, and with the Holy Angels in Heaven, all who sing the Our Father. Although we are not to become Angels, we are to become angel-like, insofar as we do what they do: unceasing praise to God Almighty at the foot of His transcendent Throne.

What a glorious, unitive Vision of God that must be! The Italian poet Dante, in his allegory the Divine Comedy, wrote that the sound of the angels’ hymn of praise is like the laughter of the universe. Not as in response to a joke, but as in Marian awe, the joyful response to the ineffable glory of creation redeemed. May we open ourselves in cooperation with God’s grace to embrace more fully the Rule of the Church, the threefold Regula, which arranges the doctrine of the Trinity for prayer; and in so doing, may we hear more and more the laughter of the universe, and ourselves live with Marian awe into, and as, Christ’s crucified joy. Amen.

Catholic imagination in Holy Week

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

“‘Spiritual but Not Religious’ as Seed of Evangelization: A Personal Tale”

[Note: This article appeared in the 9 September 2012 issue of The Living Church.]

Surely enough ink has been spilt about how the claim “I’m spiritual but not religious” reflects some sort of depravity. Whether it is a pervasive laziness or unthinking reaction to any whiff of institutional religion (usually the Christian Church) is unclear. Perhaps it is both. Perhaps it is the original sin for Westerners born into the global village. Perhaps it demonstrates the detrimental consequences of a culture that has become increasingly secular.

Regardless, the statement often meets scorn and derision. The Rev. James Martin, SJ, writes in The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything that “spirituality without religion can become a self-centered complacency divorced from the wisdom of a community” (p. 50). His is not an isolated reaction. “SBNR,” as it has come to be known, is widely seen as an irritating pose against any sense of obligation beyond oneself. SBNR adherents describe themselves on a Facebook page as people who “believe spirituality can exist outside of organized religion.” At heart, SBNR is clearly a declaration of spiritual autonomy.

But what if there is more to SBNR than first meets the eye, or at least an additional dimension? What if, for even a minority, SBNR expresses thoughtfulness, a grasping of something truly significant? What if the statement actually issues from a sensibility that can only find a proper home in Catholic Christianity?

If that were the case, then SBNR could be interpreted theologically, and in fact must be. But is there basis to do so? “Not religious” might seem to be an immediate disqualifier, but maybe it is not. Christ said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but by me” (John 14:6). Hence Alexander Schmemann calls Christ’s incarnation the “end of all religion” (For the Life of the World, p. 19). “But the hour is coming, and now is” (John 4.23), Christ said to the Samaritan woman at the well. This hour destroys cult and religion, which are born of separation between God and man, now obliterated by the Incarnation. “He has inaugurated a new life, not a new religion,” Schmemann writes, reminding us that pagans called the first Christians atheists. Christ is the “answer to all religion, to all human hunger for God.” John Macquarrie leads in the same direction when he writes that “to pray is to think in such a way that we dwell with reality, and faith’s name for reality is God” (Paths in Spirituality, p. 30). God is the Truth about life, full stop.

What’s more, our identity is only found through Christ, whose Incarnation inaugurated a new creation, a new reality. As Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger has written, “the question about what the human being is finds its response in the following of Jesus Christ” (“In the Beginning…, third homily, p. 58). The question Who am I? is ultimately christological, no matter how it is asked. To understand Christ’s revelation as merely one possible religious option among others is to miss the point. Our creed reads: “Through him all things were made. For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven.” Therefore we can speak of Christianity as the root of “not religious.”

Yet what of “I’m spiritual”? Here we need merely point to our liturgy, in which we confess our thankfulness to God “for the goodness and love which you have made known to us in creation”; God who is the “fountain of life and source of all goodness, you made all things and fill them with your blessing; you created them to rejoice in the splendor of your radiance.” To the extent that “being spiritual” — what Martin Thornton calls “being-aliveness” (Prayer, p. 49) — means apprehension of the beauty of creation, then, yes, being spiritual is the beating heart of Christianity.

Perhaps SBNR is not a sidetrack from, but rather a step along the road toward, Catholicism. My own journey reflects something of just that. I was raised in an Evangelical Lutheran Church in America congregation in suburban Milwaukee. Going to church every Sunday was something my family just did, and hence I did as well. I went through Sunday School, youth groups, and off to college without holding a modicum of ill will toward the Church, and in fact loving its music. Yet subsequently, outside of Christmas, Easter, and my wedding, I didn’t set foot into any church for the next 17 years. Simply put, nothing called me.

I was a seeker, only elsewhere. First it was through music, which my paternal grandmother, herself a faithful church person, taught me to love as a spiritual reality. During college I became a “Phishhead,” tapping something of the search for beauty in the band’s 25-minute free-form jazz performances. After college I developed a meditation practice through free workshops at a Zen monastery in Minneapolis. Later it was through study of the works of the American philosopher Ken Wilber, who assembled a particularly intriguing mix of psychology, biology, and spirituality. Wilber asked me to write a couple hundred pages of research that would make his work more accessible to working artists, and after 18 months I started my own (now-defunct) web journal — no longer to proselytize for Wilber, but to develop an online community of artists seeking to live in a reasonably balanced, philosophical, spiritually aware way.

During this time something of a vague call to the Church appeared. It grew after I finished one year of adult education in a Great Books program offered by the University of Chicago, where discussions of Scripture inspired me to see the central place of the Bible in the history of thought. Elsewhere, I discovered Mortimer Adler and Marshall McLuhan. Learning that Adler was a late-life convert to Anglicanism and that McLuhan converted to Roman Catholicism long before “the media was the message” was deeply intriguing to me.

Then the first of my four girls was born. The question Where does this new life actually come from? led to the doors of local churches, yet the first places we knocked didn’t feel like home. We tried a couple of Lutheran churches, then a Roman Catholic parish (to investigate the Latin Mass). Later we tried a local Presbyterian congregation. Finally we found a Catholic Anglican parish that seemed like a fitting community in which a family might thrive. And so we have. My girls and my wife (a filmmaker) all feel perfectly at home. And I am now four semesters into graduate work in theology, discerning a call to the priesthood. Without doubt I was hungry and thirsty for righteousness, that “contemplative awareness” of the Christological truth of “one’s place in creation and one’s relation with God” (Thornton, Prayer, p. 56).

Before finding our parish, was I “spiritual but not religious”? Yes. And yet nothing of my journey from SBNR to Catholic Anglicanism felt like a leap or momentous change from that sensibility. Instead, it felt like a somewhat surprising, yet seamless and natural, next step. If there was a leap at any point it came later, in realizing how much there is to learn about Church vocabulary, and how little my wife and I knew before our formation began.

Yet, in another sense, we knew more than we thought we did, and perhaps this is true for many people. As our rector teaches, something of the “grammar” of English Catholic spirituality is imparted simply through one’s experience of life. To be sure, the Holy Spirit led us (back) to the Church. But the Spirit kept his identity secret till we were ready to bear it. Through beauty in works of art and literature and the landscape of Creation, in people’s lives, in farmers’ markets, the Spirit made himself known, challenging us to explore deceptively simple questions like Where does beauty come from? and Whom are we thanking when we feel thankful?

Among those who adopt — more or less articulately — SBNR as their identity, there already resides a seed of evangelization. To open oneself to the silent beauty of a flower in bloom is a step toward understanding the loving adoration of Christ in solemn liturgy. The silence, and the love, are the same.

The evangelical challenge is to show rather than tell, starting from the profound sacramentality of all things. A theology of creation is iconographic, and as Macquarrie writes, “to believe in creation is already to believe in the Church” (Principles of Christian Theology, p. 347). Both notions could bear refinement for purposes of evangelization. True thoughtfulness about our being in the world and about “all ye Green Things upon the Earth” might very well require a “Catholic imagination” that yearns for the ancient and renewing liturgies of holy Church, supplemented with the support and guidance of ecclesial community. As Thornton writes, “the taste of coffee, the smile of a child, the embrace of lovers, the smell of a cherry tree, the sound of music, or any such experience can be holy communion … a sharing in the sacred humanity” (Prayer, pp. 105-06). This is nothing less than the Christhood of all human experience — the world charged with the grandeur of God. Holy, holy, holy.

Homily: “‘Yes, but How?’ Blessed Mary and Vocation

Delivered on the Fourth Sunday of Advent, 2014 at Saint Paul’s, Riverside, Illinois.

How delicate these last days must have been for Mary—these last days before the birth of her son, Jesus, the son of the Most High. These last hours when, as it does for women about to go into the ever-deepening cycles of labor, the time becomes ever-fuller, the senses heighten, each breath a bit more noticed, a bit more conscious and intentional. Having lived for nine months with Gabriel’s message, perhaps her mental life was like what we call today “centering prayer”—her centering word, “Jesus.” Each breath, one breath closer to seeing Him, to holding Him. Each breath, one breath closer to hearing Him cry, to feeding Him, rocking Him to sleep. Each breath, one breath closer to being changed by Him—not into a different person but into more of who she was called by God to be from the first moments of her own immaculate conception: the Theotokos, the Mother of God, the bearer of He who will reign over the house of Jacob for ever.

Unlike Adam and unlike Eve, Mary was never apart from her God-given vocation. She was never cut off from God’s will for her. Early Christian legends about Mary—non-canonical and not part of the authoritative biblical literature, to be sure, but still widely read and disseminated in the early Church, and hence influential in Christian tradition and our living memory today—told of Mary being conceived to her elderly parents, Anne and Joachim, also through a kind of angelic annunciation. The angel said, “You shall give birth to a daughter who shall be blessed throughout the world,” as one legend tells it. It was said, “all of the house of Israel were happy with her and loved her.” Those around her, and her parents at her conception, saw, or perhaps intuited in a still unfocused way, a mystery about Mary—something of who God made her to be. Her vocation was woven into her being, inseparable from her existence, and never denied by her family, her priest, or Mary herself.

It may be that the Annunciation that Saint Luke describes between Mary and the Angel Gabriel was in fact not the first moment that Mary learned of her vocation. It may be that, like the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan, where Jesus is given but the fullness of his own vocation through the descent of the Holy Spirit as a dove and through the words of His Father—“Thou art my beloved Son with thee I am well pleased”—because we know that something of his vocation to be the Second Person of the Holy Trinity was not only known before this baptism, by the twelve year old Jesus as well as his parents and relatives, yet somehow by all creation knew of Jesus, through whom all things were made, all things perfected—for Mary, too, there were inklings of her vocation, her predestined identity, while still in her mother’s womb, and upon birth and her subsequent development, all of which was then confirmed by Mary by her glorious words to Gabriel: “Let it be to me according to your word.” And so, Our Lady’s “Yes” to God can teach us about the Sacrament of Confirmation, when one learns about and then accepts his or her vocation to the general priesthood, the ministry of the laity, what is taught in this parish as a form of ordination.

For just as with the Sacrament of Confirmation, the person accepts Jesus to be the central focus of the rest of his or her existence, in his life and into the next, so with Our Lady. Gabriel tells Mary that she is to be the Mother of Jesus, that the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God. Mary accepts this invitation, confirms this vocation given by God—and her son becomes the ever-blazing heart of the rest of her breathing.

And can we doubt that what also was announced to Mary was a sacramental imagination, a Catholic imagination? Can we doubt that Gabriel’s message permanently sealed Mary’s very being, her very view of all reality? Whether it was an abrupt shift in conscience, or one gradual, is difficult to say when we remember that Saint Luke’s account of the Annunciation comes 90 to 100 years after the fact, give or take a decade or two. Perhaps Saint Luke wisely leaves this detail out, and invites us to consider Mary’s reaction to Gabriel, to live into this experience as we are able—what it would be like to be in her shoes. For every moment when we ourselves have a hint or a glimpse into the truth of our own vocation, who we are meant, even predestined by God, to be, then by analogy we are just like Mary with Gabriel. For some of us, the truth of our vocation startles us, shocks us, throws us for a loop. For others of us, we are not so much as disoriented as we sink into a state of deep awe and wonder, even speechlessness. Aspects of our past come together; we see them as providential: we thought we were alone that moment so many years ago, but God was there, gentle guiding us toward Himself. Some of us resist or even deny our vocation. Yet can be there a more troubling form of sin that to deny God’s will for us? It is nothing less than the Capital Sin of pride, the root sin, and it is deadly.

Let it be said loud and let it be said clear—to question, to inquire, to be puzzled by, and to not fully understand our vocation is absolutely not a form of sin. God reveals His will for us when we are ready to receive it, when we can bear it, when the time has a fullness about it, a consonance within it, and we are able to respond. He knows that our vocation will be heavy, will be weighty, truly, like an anchor. I daresay he expects us to inquire to him, even argue with him, to examine this revelation with the full capacities of our earthly life—our reason, our intelligence, our emotions, our bodies, and our heart, the seat of our choosing.

If it sounds wrong for me to say that God expects us to inquire and argue with him about our vocation, then Mary too was wrong, for she said, “How shall this be, since I have no husband?” But she is not wrong—she is not questioning God’s authority, nor his power. Mary believed God. She took His presence very seriously. It is a sign of our seriousness, of our maturity, when we can believe in God’s utter sovereignty and at the same time honestly interrogate what God appears to be telling us. This is called “the discernment of spirits,” and the key to it all is humility, is openness before mystery. God knows how powerful and how provocatively deceptive Satan can be, how skillful Satan is in twisting God’s words into grave distortion, as he did with Adam and Eve. God equips us with brains with which to think, communities and families with which to discern, the mystical family of the Church through the parish with which to live, he provides opportunities for us to verify and test our vocation. God gives us sacraments and our liturgical prayer life.

“How shall this be?” is the question that is the foundation of being a disciple. In still shorter form, the question is “Yes, but how?” This by analogy is the same question the first Christians asked of Saint Peter at Pentecost, the second chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, also a product of Saint Luke’s authorship—for after they heard Peter preach on text from the Prophet Joel, how the sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, and about the crucifixion and the resurrection of Our Lord, and that God has made Jesus both Lord and Christ, how what was kept secret for long ages but now disclosed and made known to all nations—what was the first response from the people but the words, “Brethren, what shall we do?” A “Yes, but how?”—an echo of Mary’s own devout interrogation of God.

It is not self-explanatory how to center our lives around the Incarnation, Crucifixion, and Resurrection of Christ Jesus, truly God and truly Man. It is not a matter of merely being “good people.” It is not a matter of merely reading the Bible on one’s own. It is not a matter of merely learning the right doctrinal words in the right doctrinal order. It is not merely about coming to Church. It is not merely finding quiet moments to talk with God. It is all that and a whole lot more, according to the pattern of the Church, its Regula. Spiritual guidance or direction is essential to work through what seems like an overwhelming jumble of spiritual possibilities, of spiritual insights, of doctrine, of piety.

When presented with the fullness of God’s purpose in creating us, and his promise for us, “Yes, but how?” becomes perhaps the only sane response. By asking God, and our priests, our catechists, and the holy people in our lives, “Yes, but how?” “How shall this be?—and then, listening to God’s answer—we invite God to lead us still closer to him, ever closer to Christ’s nature, ever closer to who God has called us to be, has chosen us to be, in him before the foundation of the world. We need to be reminded daily of Mary’s commitment to God so that our own commitment to God becomes more like Mary’s. Without a daily relationship with Mary’s commitment to God, a daily relationship within our conscious prayer life, we deny ourselves the sure and certain means for being formed more fully into disciples of the Son of the Most High.

Pray for us, O holy mother of God. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

Icon by the hand of Monica Thornton. 

“The Purple Headed Mountain” is now for sale!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About “The Purple Headed Mountain”

PHM_cover

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Ode to Millicent”; a poem by Martin Thornton

Ode to Millicent
Or Franciscus Redivivus

By Martin Thornton
(published in The Countryman, Summer 1972)

I was digging up potatoes in the garden of the Rectory,
In cold October sunshine, working steadily along,
Neither burdened by the labour nor the time that it would take me,
All enveloped in potatoes; millipedes; another row.
I was digging up potatoes in the garden of the Rectory;
Forget-me-not, convolvulus, more millipedes, and dock;
I was digging up potatoes, when I stopped.

And lit my pipe.

So I meandered, daydreamed, convolvulus and smoke rings,
Bird songs, thistledown, millipedes and daisies,
Men and ladies, boys and girls, convolvulus and babies,
I was digging up potatoes: when I stopped.

For God said stop.

And millipede stopped.

And God said: Benedicite! I wish to introduce Miss Millicent Pede.

And I said: Good afternoon Miss Pede.

And she said: Shall I sing you a song?

And I said: Yes please.

So she sang:

This is a song that has never been sung
Since the dawn of creation, when things first began,
God conceived me, designed me, and gave me legs: one—
And ninety-nine others in case that went wrong;
The Trinity made me, with infinite care,
With other such creatures his friendship to share;
For He’s fond of me, loving me all of my life,
And He also made rabbits and maggots and mice,
And bears and black-beetles and lizards and lice.
It’s marvellous, too, that He also produces
Donkeys and ducks and remarkable gooses,
And Einstein and Schweizer and Liebniz and Paine
And Martha and Mary and Emily Jane.
Yet the infinite glory I’m sure you’ll concede
Is that God is so fond of Miss Millicent Pede.

Then I dug some more potatoes in the garden of the Rectory,
In cold October sunshine, working steadily along.
I felt elevated, edified, incomparably comforted,
Excited, thrilled, and sanctified by Sister Milly’s song.

I have dug up lots of learning in the lecture room and library,
In dull December darkness reading rapidly along,
I have read about the attributes ascribed to the Divinity
By Paul and Mark and Matthew, Thomas and Tertullian,
I must hasten to refresh my mind, by Bellarmine or Bede:
But the God whom I can worship is the One who loves Miss Pede.

“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

Homily: On Martin Thornton and the Eucharist

Homily delivered on the Solemnity of Corpus Christi 2014 at Saint Paul’s, Riverside, Illinois.

Now, it was not quite parallel to that moment that Saint Augustine described in his book, Confessions, when it was a little boy in a garden who pointed to a Bible and said to Augustine, “tolle lege,” that is, “take and read.” This was Augustine’s famous conversation moment, when he read in St Paul’s Epistle to the Romans to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” — have a God-centered life, and to throw off his selfish ways.

But if one looks back at one’s life, and discerns moments when a change of direction in life occurs, for me this would certainly be one of them. What am I talking about?

It was almost four years ago that I was celebrating my 36th birthday. I had just completed my first year of seminary courses at Catholic Theological Union, and I wouldn’t start courses at Nashotah House until the coming fall. That morning, Hannah asked me, “it is your birthday, so what do you want to do?” I said, “let’s go to a book store. Let’s go to Half-Price Books.” This is a used book store chain, with a number of outlets around the country and several in the Chicago suburbs. “Ok, so we’ll go to Countryside,” she said. “No,” I said. “The one in Niles on Touhy Ave near that leaning tower thing up there.” “There’s a Half-Price in Niles?” she asked. “Yep,” I said. “And it is bigger than the one in Countryside, so let’s go there.” She agreed, and, because the girls were listening in, I added, “and after that we can go get some ice cream at Oberweiss,” to which there were cheers and happy sounds.

We drove to Niles, arrived at the bookstore, and being a student of theology, I made a bee-line for the theology section of the bookstore. Thumbing through the books, at one moment I came upon a book the title of which immediately grabbed me. It was English Spirituality, by Martin Thornton. Immediately I noticed that this book described my own experience of St Paul’s Parish. It wasn’t in direct ways, as this book was really pastoral theology — that is, intended for clergy and lay catechists as a help of their particular ministries. But it was in the feel of the words and ideas, the pacing, the sensibility. It just felt like here. And as I later came to affirm, it felt clearly Anglican. Clearly Catholic and of Catholic imagination. Clearly Benedictine — by my lights, it is the writing of Martin Thornton, along with John Macquarrie, where the best and most useful examples of Catholic Anglican imagination patiently lie, waiting for the Church to wake up and recognize it.

Why does all this matter on this particular day? In addition to being the Feast of Corpus Christi in this particular year, June 22nd is also the day when in 1986, that is 28 years ago, when Martin died in Crewkerne, England, in the English county of Somerset which is in the south-west corner of England.

He was 71 years old. He was survived by his wife, Monica and their daughter Magdalen, both of whom are still alive and very active. Martin Thornton’s gravestone describes him very simply: a farmer, a priest, and an author. As a farmer, he was one of the early adopters in England of sustainable agricultural practices, this would be during World War II. As a priest, both in parishes as well as being the Canon Chancellor at Truro Cathedral also in southwest England, he specialized in spiritual direction, which is the application of theology to the life of prayer, usually through one on one meetings between the spiritual director and the client, that is to say, the person seeking direction. And as an author, he wrote thirteen books, the first in 1948 and the last in 1986.

He had a number of areas of focus in his writing. The first is the prayer life at its core — the threefold regula of Office-Mass-Devotion, the beating heart of our baptismal life; that is, our behavior, what we do. Another is spiritual direction. Martin strongly held that spiritual direction is one of the historic strengths of Anglican Christianity before and after the 16th century yet has been neglected over the last 150 years. Another focus was the realities and needs of ordinary Christian men and women, boys and girls. He felt their needs had become overlooked by serious works of theology: what does it mean to be a parishioner, he explored. Another focus was the theological endeavor itself — how do we do theology today given our social realities? — he particularly focused on what is known as “ascetical theology,” which are the words and concepts that the Church uses to articulate our experience of theosis, of the journey both joyous and difficult of becoming better disciples and being reformed into greater likeness of Jesus Christ. In these and other areas, Martin Thornton was a genuinely orthodox and Catholic Anglican: someone thoroughly immersed in English and Anglican history, theology, and practice, and because of that, a true innovator and forward-thinker. As he wrote, the “reinterpretation of the Gospel to every age is itself an integral part of orthodoxy.”

Do we hear these words? The “reinterpretation of the Gospel to every age is itself an integral part of orthodoxy.” To be orthodox is not to simply rehearse a laundry list of correct doctrines as some sort of litmus test — do you check off the correct boxes on the test? Nor is it to simply reinvent the Christian faith according to the whims and trends of contemporary society. If it feels right, let’s affirm it! No, we believe in the living God, not a god of museum history, or a god who has been wrong for 2000 years, but the active and loving God of history, and of this present moment, and of this present circumstance and of these social conditions.

And, appropriate for this Feast day, we believe in the living bread that came down from heaven. The living bread come down to redeem us and feed us. Martin Thornton taught on the Eucharist and this is part of his teaching. Yes, the living bread comes down to redeem us, but also, you might say in the “other direction,” our world is taken up into the heavenly realm. The bread and the wine, both work of human hands — the kneading and baking of the bread, the fermenting and bottling of the wine — are received by us from God, are directly of the goodness of the Lord, the God of all creation — these are taken into God. This bread is taken into God, and hence breadhood itself, the very nature of bread. This wine is taken into God, and hence winehood itself, the very nature of wine.

The nature of bread and the nature of wine are that they are created by God! If their nature is given by Christ their fullest natures in the Eucharist, then through the Eucharist, all of creation is taken up into God. The very nature of creation — creaturelihood, you might say — is taken up into the heavenly realm.

Our food, then, is of the heavenly realm. And this is of significance not only for our own personal salvation, but just as importantly, for all of creation. All of God’s creatures. The Eucharist is the greatest intercessory prayer there is. The Prayers of the People are very important in their particularity and specificity. But the ultimate Prayer of the People is the Eucharist. Because through each Eucharist, through each taking up of creation into God, into the heavenly realm, all of creation grows more and more like Christ. This Eucharist, right here, right now, is the best thing that can be done for the entire universe, the cosmos of planets, stars, nebulas, galaxies and the rest, the best thing we can do for society.

This is something of what Martin Thornton teaches about the Eucharist. This is what he would have us consider. His teaching was never that this must be intellectually understood as one understands that 2 plus 1 equals three. His teaching is that this theology — this profound theology of the Eucharist that redeems creation, redeems reality — that this theology is to be prayed with; is to be contemplated; is to be thought about is to be at the center of our own lives, and at the center of our community gathered around this altar, and those communities gathered around altars everywhere on Earth. To pray with this, to contemplate it, to wonder about it, to question it and even interrogate it, and to celebrate it, for the Eucharist is an incredible gift of love from God.

The Lord opened the doors of Heaven: and rained down manna also upon them to eat:
He gave them bread from heaven: So men did eat angels’ food, alleluia!

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.

John Macquarrie and panentheism, part 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Announcement: Akenside Press will reissue Martin Thornton

Martin ThorntonWe have an important huge announcement to make:

Akenside Press will reissue Martin Thornton’s books!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Martin Thornton on the English School of spirituality

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

The Person of Jesus Christ (Lecture 1 of 5) by John Macquarrie

LECTURE 1
“The State of Christology in the Present Age”

Presiding Bishop John Allin introduces John Macquarrie to the House of Bishops’ gathering. In this first of five presentations over five days, Macquarrie subsequently outlines his entire lecture and previews each of the five areas of christology that he will examine. Christ is at the center of our faith, and seeking to understand Christ — that of christology — is always a central task. Christology, as a discipline, is in a state of transition, he believes, owing to the fact that classic christological theology took an abrupt turn as a result of Enlightenment-era theological thinking. Christology became subservient to Deistic, natural religion and its two-fold axis of reason and experience. He touches on the theological thought of Kant, Schleiermacher, and like humanistic christology. And he presents his own approach to christology as one that begins with the humanity of Christ and then reaches to his deity. He believes we ought understand “who Christ is” through analysis of “what Christ does”. Overall, in his entire five-part lecture, Macquarrie seeks to address the questions of christology that contemporary thought has raised and contemporary theology has attempted to explore.

keywords: Councils of Nicaea and Chalcedon, Chalcedonian definition, Reformation, Martin Luther, Philipp Melanchthon, Enlightenment, Rationalism, Deism, natural religion, Immanuel Kant, evil, Friedrich Schleiermacher, liberal-Protestantism, Edward Schillebeeckx, sin, bliss, christological heresies, Bishop Charles Gore, Bishop John Robinson, Hans Küng, two-natures doctrine, legend, mythology, Apostles’ Creed, New Testament, St John’s Gospel, Synoptic Gospels, biblical criticism, Divine Logos, humanity of Christ, Nicene Creed, docetism, incarnation, metaphysics, one substance, Albrecht Ritschl, Rudolf Bultmann, value judgments, existentialism, magic, eucharist, medicine, immortal substance, atonement, interpersonal relations, human solidarity, Vatican II, polemic versus dialogue

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

On Catholic Anglicanism

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

When we speak of “Catholic Anglicanism” we mean:

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

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

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

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

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

Angels and the Catholic Imagination, part 1: Angels are all about God

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

Homily 1 of 3: “Angels are all about God”
Given at St Paul’s, Riverside, Illinois on Michaelmas 2013

It is fitting that on this feast of St Michael and All Angels, I have an announcement. This is the first of three homilies on angels that I will be giving; part two is next week, part three in two weeks. This morning, the identity and doctrine of angels; next week the scriptural descriptions of angels, and then concluding with the impact of angels on our spirituality and corporate experience.

If that sounds like a lot, well, as angels say, Be Not Afraid! At least I keep telling myself that.

My daughter Twyla told me something yesterday that I wanted to tell you all. In a moment when it was just her and me, driving in our little silver car down the Stevenson expressway, I asked her, “What do you think angels are all about?” What she said was, “Angels are all about God.”

I do not think I could express it any more succinctly. Angels are all about God. The key is the word “about.” It is because the Church teaches that the doctrine of angels is twofold. On one hand, “about God” transcendently, as if “around God”, serving and worshiping God, the countless throngs of angels that stand before God to serve God night and day, beholding the glory of his presence, and singing praise unceasingly “Holy, Holy, Holy Lord, God of power and might” (which we will shortly join them in singing). And on the other, “about God” immanently, the meaning of angels is not themselves, for we are commanded not to worship them; their meaning is ultimately God — they disclose God’s good news of redemption and salvation in ways that we can perceive and then pass on to others. Angels do both: they about God praising Him, and they are about God’s disclosure of his Good News to humanity so that we, too, might more and more praise him and magnify him forever.

The church over its history has seemed to settle on nine different orders of angels, although we ought not take such speculative formulations too rigidly: the nine orders of angels are Seraphim, Cherabim, Thrones, Dominations, Virtues, Principalities, Powers, Archangels, and then Angels (which include guardian angels of which each of us has one). The number of angels is said to be beyond our imagination, which is to say innumerable. To me, that is the key thing. Not the nine orders — it is that they are innumerable. That is worth pondering in our hearts what it means to say that the angels are innumerable.

Angels are created beings of spirit; they have no physical bodies and hence are invisible to the eye. So to “see an angel” cannot mean to witness physically with the eye; rather, to see must mean to perceive. For indeed angels have everything to do with perception of all things, all emotion, all truth, all beauty, all goodness. About this I will say more shortly.

Angels are named because of their activity. “Angel” means “to announce”. What they do is what they are named. For example, Michael means “who is like God” because he confronted prideful Satan with that very question. Satan means “the opposer” or “the accuser” because of his accusing activity toward God. Their identity is their activity. We will reflect more specifically on angels in holy scripture next Sunday in the second of the three homilies.

Angels were created at the very beginning of God’s creation, probably (as we will discuss next time) through the very first words of God, “Let there be light” and there was light, that is, angels of the light, which all angels first were, until a certain some of them rebelled against God and became fallen angels of darkness. Because angels are so intimately bound up with creation itself, angels have a strong correlation to our understanding of the doctrine of Creation, including our own stewardship of the world and its inhabitants, and our relationships with other people. Angels can greatly aid us to love both our neighbor and our enemy as ourselves. And so angels have a great deal to say about our spirituality, about our growing into unity with God through likeness with Christ, about theosis, You might say that angels are the original raisers of consciousness, against which all other forms of consciousness-raising are pale comparisons — except maybe a cold pint of frosty alcoholic beverage after the kids go to sleep. But not only consciousness raising, but conscience raising. They help us respond more fully to God’s will and calling, and hence they help us progress spiritually by helping us choose to commit fewer and fewer sins.

Because angels are different orders of creation from man, when we die we do not become angels, any more the vocation of dogs when they die is to become human. But just as dogs are trained by man in a loving relationship, we might say we are trained by angels in a loving relationship, all of which points to God. This topic of spirituality personal and corporate experience will be looked at more closely in my third homily in two weeks.

And so as we prepare to walk to the altar to commune and to dine with angels and archangels, and all the company of heaven who enlighten us, guard us, rule us, guide us and all people from the moment of their conception through this life and into the next life — as we prepare to join with the angels at Christ’s table to praise God and to magnify God, to taste and see that the Lord is good, and after we are sent out in mission to evangelize — a word that means to announce well — through our thoughts and actions shared with our neighbors, what I ask you to take away, if anything, are two things: One is what Twyla said: that angels are all about God, about him praising, and about his salvific grace.

And the other is something once written by St Augustine in a short occasional treatise where he responded to 83 questions with … 83 answers. He wrote, “Every visible thing in this world is put under the charge of an angel.” If that is true, is that not a staggering thought? And again, not only seen, but perceived.

Every perceivable thing in this church … in coffee hour … once you go outside to your car … you notice the rest of the day … the rest of the week… at work, at home, when you travel…the rest of your life on this planet … the rest of your journey in the next life … in this cosmos, in this universe of countless galaxies!

Every perceivable thing in this universe is put under the charge of an angel, and angels are all about God. If it is true — I don’t know what to say! Does not all of reality light up, as if, pardon me, a cosmic switch was flipped on and all of creation dazzles like the waving robes of those whose faces see God? And what can we say confidently but the words of Jacob? How awesome is this place! This is truly the gate of heaven.

Go to HOMILY II.

Icon by the hand of Monica Thornton.