Tag Archives: English School

A Layman Ressourcement Curriculum to Rediscover the English School of Catholic Spirituality

Martin Thornton put together an extraordinary syllabus for prayerfully studying English Spirituality, also known as the “English School of Catholic spirituality” or “Anglican spiritual patrimony.” He did this in the Appendix to English Spirituality, and it provides a very useful starting point to the study of a subject that is both narrow, with respect to other Catholic schools of spirituality, but also vast unto itself, because it stretches over multiple centuries, indeed over the life of the Church herself. Fr Thornton wisely saw the need for concrete directions and starting points in the study of the English ascetical and pastoral tradition, particularly if it is to be used by parish priests and catechists, as he intended, for spiritual direction and the deepening of prayer life of active parishioners.

Fr Thornton called his syllabus “A Course of Study in Ascetical Theology for Parish Priests and Theological Students of the Anglican Communion.” Quite a title. I have summarized it as his “ressourcement syllabus” in part to be more concise, but more to situate his insights properly and in the correct category. All of his insights into, and conceptualization about, the “English School of Catholic spirituality” must be seen not as a showy reading list for the theologically gifted, and not as a “pipe diagram” to show direct historical influences one thinker to the next.

Rather, all of this is ressourcement, which, according to Yves Congar, involves a conscious shift from “a less profound to a more profound tradition; a discovery of the most profound resources,” and is concerned “with the unity of the ever-living tradition” of the Church (Ressourcement: A Movement for Renewal in Twentieth Century Catholic Theology, 4-5). These are important characteristics. The first ensures the supreme priority of prayer, and the second catholicity within the One Church. And the purpose is rediscover an ascetical and pastoral tradition to foster the conditions for a newfound health in Anglican Christianity.

Fr Thornton’s syllabus makes a great deal of sense. It begins with the ancient and moves to the modern. It suggests three modes of study: “To study seriously,” “To read or refer to,” and “For mental prayer.” He coordinates ascetical writers that pair well together: Augustine with Hugh of St Victor, Benedict with William of St Thierry, for starters. And its overall shape moves toward the Book of Common Prayer, seen as ascetical system of total spirituality, and flows from it. The English School is alive and well in our day and age, though perhaps underground, and by focusing on the “most profound” voices, the Prayer Book tradition can be revivified: voices like Margery Kempe, Jeremy Taylor, and Saint Anselm.

Keeping in mind Fr Thornton’s intended audience (parish priests and theologically trained lay catechists), my own sense, having studied all the works in Fr Thornton’s syllabus, is that another grouping and progression of texts is possible, and perhaps more effective, for the faithful laity, perhaps the vast majority of them who would want to study the English School. Whereas Fr Thornton’s syllabus moved historically, I believe beginning more in the present and then proceeding towards in-depth study (for those who get that far, which would hardly be necessary) might be the way to go. I also sense that a more explicit attention to Blessed Mary is important, because a robust daily devotion to Our Lady seems to go hand in hand with spiritual health as well as creative prayer.

I am inclined towards such a ressourcement curriculum looking something like the following, which presumes growing and active embrace of the threefold Regula in the Prayer Book tradition. Those growing in maturity of faith invariably benefit from competent spiritual direction, especially learning the Rules for the Discernment of Spirits as taught by Saint Ignatius Loyola and if possible being directed through his Spiritual Exercises, nineteenth annotation (“for everyday life.”)

Admittedly my curriculum is not so neatly arranged as Fr Thornton’s into three categories. I suppose I wonder if, for the laity, those three categories are as useful as they might seem to be. To be sure, this is all “devout experimentation,” to use one of Fr Thornton’s favorite phrases. Yet it is an arrangement born of my own experience with the profound texts of English spirituality, past and not so past, both as a layman and now as a parish priest, catechist, and spiritual director.

For the rediscovery of the active ferment exemplified in the two great flowerings of the English School of Catholic spirituality—the fourteenth century “Mystical” era, and the subsequent sixteenth and seventeenth century Prayer Book era—the following texts (in this order, at least at the Introductory level) are recommended for study in parishes.


Introductory Texts

• Martin Thornton—The Purple Headed Mountain
• Fr Andrew—Our Lady’s Hymn, along with Mary: Grace and Hope in Christ, by ARCIC II
• Saint Benedict—Rule (with ascetical commentary)
• Saint Anselm—Prayers and Meditations
The Book of Margery Kempe, along with Martin Thornton’s commentary: Margery Kempe, An Example in the English Pastoral Tradition
• Jeremy Taylor—Rule and Exercises of Holy Living
• John Macquarrie—The Faith of the People of God

• Fr Andrew—Meditations for Every Day, then at will
• Saint Augustine—Enchiridion
• John Macquarrie—Paths in Spirituality

Intermediate Texts

• Martin Thornton—My God: A Reappraisal of Normal Religious Experience
• Julian of Norwich—Revelations of Divine Love
• Saint Anselm—Proslogion
• Readings at will from the Fleur De Lys devotional series—Saint Bonaventure, Saint Aelred of Rievaulx, William of St Thierry, Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, Hugh of St Victor
• Saint Catherine of Siena—The Dialogue
• John Macquarrie—Mary for All Christians

The Cloud of Unknowing
• Excerpts from The Ancrene Riwle
• Lancelot Andrewes—Preces Privatae
• John Keble—The Christian Year
• A. M. Allchin—The Joy of All Creation
• George Herbert—The Complete English Poems
• John Wesley—A Plain Account of Christian Perfection
• Charles Gore—The Epistle to the Ephesians
• William Temple—Readings in Saint John’s Gospel
• Excerpts from Anglicanism by More and Cross
• John Henry Newman—Parochial and Plain Sermons
• Martin Thornton—Prayer: A New Encounter, Christian Proficiency, and A Joyful Heart

Advanced Texts

• Thomas Aquinas—Compendium of Theology, then at will
• Michael Ramsey—The Gospel and the Catholic Church
• Augustine—De Trinitate, De Civitate Dei, and biblical commentary at will
• Richard Rolle—The Fire of Love
• Excerpts from the Victorine fathers, at will
• Sermons and writings from the Cistercian fathers, at will
• John Macquarrie—Principles of Christian Theology, then at will
• Kenneth Kirk—The Vision of God, and Some Principles of Moral Theology
• Eric Mascall—Christ, the Christian, and the Church; Corpos Christi, then at will
• Isaac Williams—Tracts 80 and 87 On Reserve
• Walter Hilton—Scale of Perfection

Header image of Saint Anne teaching Our Lady to read, at All Saints’, North Street in York.

English Spirituality meme courtesy Nathaniel Marshall.

Announcing our second Fellow-in-Residence

As the founder of Akenside Press, now in its almost sixth year of mission to aid in the rediscovery of the true Anglican patrimony of the English School of Catholic spirituality, I am most pleased to announce the continued flowering of an initiative—our Fellows-in-Residence program—planted six month ago and which promises to make creative strides and bear fruit.

This new flowering is the addition of our second Fellow-in-Residence, Ian Edgar. A Canadian by birth and a small-scale farmer for much of his adult life, Ian now lives in England and will be ordained, God-willing, a Deacon later this month on 30 June and serve two parishes in the Diocese of Chichester.

Ian will have three areas of focus in his Fellowship. Long inspired by the writings of Jean Vanier, founder of L’Arche, Ian will explore in his Fellowship possible areas of mutuality between the thought of Vanier and the English School of Catholic Spirituality. He will also explore whether study of the English School might yield new directions in prayer with respect to the issues of Full Communion with the Pope of Rome and the Eastern Orthodox Communion. The third area of focus for Ian will be the theology of the Faithful Remnant (a key theme of Martin Thornton’s theology) and inducing its rejuvenation within parish life.

To learn more about Ian and his journey, see here.

To learn more about the twofold ministry of our Fellows-in-Residence program, see here.

Welcome, Ian! Pray for his ministry as a Fellow-in-Residence, and for the overall ministry of Akenside Press to strengthen Anglican patrimony through the renewal of Catholic reality in Anglican parish life.

—Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B.

Announcing our first Fellow-in-Residence

As the founder of Akenside Press, now in its fifth year of mission to aid in the rediscovery of the true Anglican patrimony of the English School of Catholic spirituality, I am most pleased to announce the flowering of an initiative that promises to make creative strides and bear fruit. That initiative is our Fellows-in-Residence program.

Blazing a trail into unchartered yet exciting waters will be our first Fellow-in-Residence, Nathaniel Marshall, Obl.S.B. Being an Oblate in the Saint Benet Biscop Chapter of Saint John’s Abbey, Collegeville, Nathaniel is profoundly committed to Benedictine spirituality, which is at the ascetical heart of the English School and thus any conception of Anglican patrimony. In additional to Benedictine spirituality, Nathaniel’s specific areas of research will include the writings of Father Andrew, S.D.C. (Henry Ernest Hardy, Anglican priest), Plainchant and the daily Offices, and the Domestic Church.

To learn more about Nathaniel and his journey, see here.

To learn more about the twofold ministry of our Fellows-in-Residence program, see here.

Welcome, Nathaniel! Pray for his ministry as a Fellow-in-Residence, and for the overall ministry of Akenside Press to strengthen Anglican patrimony through the renewal of Catholic reality in Anglican parish life.

— Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B.

Guest homily: “On Rebuilding the House of God”

Offered to the Saint Benet Biscop Chapter of Oblates, Saint John’s Abbey, Collegeville MN, by the Rt Rev. Michael G. Smith, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of North Dakota, September 16, 2017

“Cyrus the king issued a decree: Concerning the house of God at Jerusalem, let the house be rebuilt, … Also let the gold and silver vessels of the house of God … be restored and brought back to the temple which is in Jerusalem (Ezra 6:3,5).”

Way to go, King Cyrus! What a great idea he had to rebuild the house of God. Or rather, what an incredible plan God had to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem, and what a great idea it was to use King Cyrus in its implementation. If only we could be so blessed as to be chosen to be used in God’s plan to rebuild the house of God.

The Venerable Bede, commenting on this sixth chapter of Ezra, wrote: “All the writers of sacred Scripture, promise good things for the builders of the holy church if they do not tire from adversities and cease from their holy labor. For divine help will be present, by which the Lord’s house that has been begun may be brought to completion in the heart of their listeners by their believing and living well.” It sounds like Bede had internalized wisdom from the Rule of Benedict.

A little over a week ago, in my Facebook feed, there appeared a post which stated: “Bishop Lopes of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter recommends reading this fine lecture by Prof. Tracey Rowland on ecumenism today and its future.” And so I read the lecture, and, Bishop Lopes, you were right, it was worth the read.

Professor Rowland is an Australian and she writes about what she calls “receptive ecumenism” and “re-weaving the tapestry ecumenism” and how she sees both types in the Ordinariate. What caught my attention, however, was when she notes that many Christians find themselves divided across rather than along, confessional lines because of very different answers to fundamental theological questions within a particular community.

For example, “a Catholic who believes that scripture is normative for one’s faith and practice is closer to a Sydney Anglican in matters of belief and practice than he is to a fellow Catholic who says that what is written in the Gospels needs to be re-contextualized with reference to contemporary social theory.” If you know anything about Sydney Anglicans, that is a remarkable statement, and a sign that the house of God is truly being rebuilt.

But I’m sure the very same could be said about those of us here present, whether we identify as Roman Catholic or Anglican. There is probably less theological difference between us than between us and fellow members of our respective communions. Part of our mission as members of the St. Benet Biscop chapter of St. John’s Abbey Oblates is to foster ecumenical dialogue and prayer between Anglicans and Roman Catholics. Is it possible that the Lord might just use us in some way to rebuild the house of God?

Whether, from a Roman Catholic perspective, we value the temple’s “gold vessels” of the Anglican patrimony, or from our Anglican view of cherishing the restored “silver vessels” of the English school of catholic spirituality, we share much in common. And now we share our holy father, Benedict.

Jesus reminds us again this evening that the one who hears his word and believes in the One who sent him, has eternal life. We, my sisters and brothers, are on a journey from death to life (John 5:24). As St. Benedict writes in the Prologue of his Rule: “As we progress in the way of life and in faith, we shall run on the path of God’s commandments, our hearts overflowing with the inexpressible delight of love.” May it be so for us, and may the Lord use us to rebuild the house of God. Amen.

[In the photo, L to R front row: Bishop Steven Lopes; Fr. Jack Augustine Barker, Obl.S.B.; Bishop Michael Aidan Smith, Obl.S.B.; Fr. Matthew Cuthbert Dallman, Obl.S.B. Back row, L to R: Fr. Bill Thorfinn Brenna, Obl.S.B.; Br. John-Bede Pauley, O.S.B.; Mr. Stephen Aethelwold Hilgendorf, Obl.S.B. For more information, go here.]