Tag Archives: holy Trinity

Homily: “On the most blessed and holy Trinity”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County, on Trinity Sunday, 2017.

I have said previously and will say again in the future that the Collects of the Anglican tradition, including those in our 1979 Prayer Book, are a goldmine. They are a goldmine for both theology and prayer, and even moreso are a goldmine for the proper balance between theology and prayer that found in the language. It is because the Collects are so important that they are to be prayed not just on Sunday at Mass, but prayed, along with other Collects, every day of the week that begins on Sunday, particularly in the daily Offices of Morning and Evening Prayer.

It is not every Sunday that the Collect perfectly matches with the Readings. But on this a solemn day, the Feast of the Most Blessed Trinity, a Feast celebrated throughout the western Church within the Catholic tradition, of which the Episcopal Church is a part, the Collect of the Day is composed in relationship to the Readings. Let us hear again the Collect and then consider how it helps us understand the readings provided us by the Lectionary of the Church. Continue reading

Julian of Norwich and Regula

In the sixth chapter of the Revelations, Julian teaches the following:

For our soul is so specially loved of Him that is highest, that it overpasses the knowing of all creatures: that is to say, there is no creature that is made that may fully know how much and how sweetly and how tenderly our Maker loves us. And therefore we may with grace and His help stand in spiritual beholding, with everlasting marvel of this high, overpassing, inestimable love that Almighty God has to us of His goodness. And therefore we may ask of our Lover with reverence all that we will.

This is a remarkable passage in several respects. Let us focus on Julian’s teaching about the doctrine of God, especially how she describes the Holy Trinity in the three dimensions of transcendent, incarnate, and immanent. Each of the three dimensions are alluded to in these ways:

  • The transcendent orientation is alluded to in the words “overpasses the knowing of all creatures.” This is the dimension of radical Otherness.
  • The incarnate orientation is alluded to in the words “we may with grace and His help stand in spiritual beholding.” This is the dimension of divine mediation.
  • The immanent orientation is alluded to in the words “how sweetly and how tenderly our Maker loves us.” This is the dimension of intimate immediacy.

These three dimensions correspond to how we understand and pray toward God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We speak of these dimensions as a way of making sense of the inexplicable and boundless mystery of the Holy Trinity.

Following Martin Thornton’s guidance, let us see that the primary value of the threefold Regula—Office-Mass-Devotion—is that in the doing of it, as the beating heart of our prayer life, we are regularly exposed and oriented to all three dimensions of God:

  • The Divine Office exposes and orients us to the transcendent dimension where we join the whole Body of Christ in the threefold Church to praise the Father Almighty: “high, overpassing, inestimable.”
  • The Mass exposes and orients us to the incarnate dimension as we behold, commune with fully, and receive into our bodies, the food of Christ’s love, Himself.
  • And Devotion (“private” prayer plus baptismal ministry) exposes and orients us to the immanent dimension as we are sent from the Mass to seek and serve Jesus Christ in all people and things according to our gifts and circumstances in our ministry based upon our personal relationship with Jesus through the Bible.

As the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is one God, our response to Him is ultimately all one prayer life, and one total response to God and His boundless identity. Regula organizes our response to our Triune God within the conditions of time and space. It applies the doctrine of the Holy Trinity—in fact, arranges the doctrine of the Holy Trinity for prayer, embracing the grace of Pentecost. Regula is “the participation in the divine life of the redemptive organism, is not clerical but the supreme example of the real work of the whole Church comprised of predominantly lay people.” (Thornton, The Rock and the River, p. 150.)

And result or outpouring of this redemptive work must be, as Julian teaches, more and more love of God, a more fulsome Catholic imagination, more and better prayer of intercession and petition—that “we may ask of our Lover with reverence all that we will”—knowing that those who comes to Jesus, He will not cast out (Jn 6.37).

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.

Homily: “On the Baptism of Our Lord Jesus Christ”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Solemnity of the Baptism of Our Lord Jesus Christ 2017, Year A.

Brothers and sisters, we have seen a great light, and on us and the whole Church has a great light shined. For to us a Child is born, to us a Son of God is given. He has been given for the salvation of all men, He has poured Himself out richly upon us. Think of what has been revealed to us through the Liturgy and the biblical revelation over the last two months: babes leapt in wombs, the mute and dumb sang joyously, souls have proclaimed the greatness of the Lord. Angels we have heard on high, shepherds and wise men have come to see the Child, and been shown the Child by His Mother, indeed the Mother of God, who bore God in her heart before she bore Him in her womb, a Mother of God who has felt and seen glory inexpressible. And the Holy Name of this Child has been revealed—Jesus, He who saves, He who loves, He who forgives, He around whom the stars and planets and moons arrange, He by whom lives are changed, journeys reordered, hearts opened.

All that has been revealed to us is wonder and awe. All that has been revealed cannot but soften the hardest of hearts, cannot but loosen the tightest of fears, cannot but open closed doors. And through these glorious seasons of Advent, Christmastide, and now into the season of Epiphany, what have we done but sing? What have we done but pray together in joy and hope? What have we done but reminisce of the Spirit’s presence in our lives, in our families, in our homes? What have we done but savor the holy? Continue reading

Offices of Praise, Silence and Readings

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

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

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

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

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

Three notes about the Daily Office of Readings in particular:

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

(Total time: 60 min.)

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

(Total time: 40 min.)

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

(Total time: 60 min.)

WAKING AND GOING TO BED

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

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

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

A Prologue Office of Praise: Antelogium laudis

For the praise and glory of his Name, for our good, and the good of all his holy Church.

PDFs: noted version | said version.


Preces

Officiant    O Lord, open thou our lips.
People     And our mouth shall show forth thy praise.

Officiant    O God, make speed to save us.
People     O Lord, make haste to help us.

Officiant    Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost.
People     As it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

Officiant    Praise ye the Lord.
People     The Lord’s Name be praised.

 

Jubilate Deo, omnis terra
(Psalm 100)

O be joyful in the Lord all ye lands *
serve the Lord with gladness and
come before his presence with a song.

Be ye sure that the Lord he is God;
it is he that hath made us and not we ourselves; *
we are his people and the sheep of his pasture.

O go your way into his gates with thanksgiving,
and into his courts with praise; *
be thankful unto him and speak good of his Name.

For the Lord is gracious, his mercy is everlasting; *
and his truth endureth from generation to generation.

Glory be to the Father and to the Son *
and to the Holy Ghost;

As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be *
world without end. Amen.

 

Benedicite, omnia opera
(Prayer of Azariah; abridged)

O all ye Works of the Lord bless ye the Lord: *
praise him and magnify him for ever.

O ye Angels of the Lord bless ye the Lord: *
praise him and magnify him for ever.

O ye Heavens bless ye the Lord: *
O ye Waters that be above the firmament
bless ye the Lord.

O all ye Powers of the Lord, O ye Sun and Moon,*
O ye Stars of heaven bless ye the Lord.

O ye Showers and Dew, O ye Winds of God, *
O ye Fire and Heat bless ye the Lord.

O ye Winter and Summer, O ye Frost and Cold, *
O ye Ice and Snow bless ye the Lord.

O ye Nights and Days bless ye the Lord: *
O ye Light and Darkness bless ye the Lord.

O ye Lightnings and Clouds bless ye the Lord: *
praise him and magnify him for ever.

O let the Earth bless the Lord: *
praise him and magnify him for ever.

O ye Mountains and Hills,
O all ye Green Things upon the earth, *
O ye Wells, O ye Seas and Floods bless ye the Lord.

O ye Whales and all that move in the waters
bless ye the Lord: *
O all ye Fowls of the air, O all ye Beasts and Cattle
bless ye the Lord.

O ye Children of Men bless ye the Lord: *
praise him and magnify him for ever.

O let Israel bless the Lord: *
praise him and magnify him for ever.

O ye Priests of the Lord, O ye Servants of the Lord, *
O ye Spirits and Souls of the Righteous
bless ye the Lord.

O ye holy and humble Men of heart, bless ye the Lord: *
praise him and magnify him for ever.

O Ananias, Azariah, and Misael, bless ye the Lord: *
praise him and magnify him for ever.

Let us bless the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit: *
praise him and magnify him for ever.

 

Te Deum laudamus

We praise thee O God; we acknowledge thee to be the Lord. *
All the earth doth worship thee the Father everlasting.

To thee all Angels cry aloud, the Heavens and all the Powers therein; *
To thee Cherubim and Seraphim continually do cry,

Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Sabaoth; *
Heaven and earth are full of the majesty of thy glory.

The glorious company of the Apostles praise thee. *
The goodly fellowship of the Prophets praise thee.

The noble army of Martyrs praise thee. *
The holy Church throughout all the world
doth acknowledge thee;

The Father of an infinite Majesty,
thine adorable true and only Son; *
Also the Holy Ghost the Comforter.

Thou art the King of Glory O Christ. *
Thou art the everlasting Son of the Father.

When thou tookest upon thee to deliver man, *
thou didst humble thyself to be born of a Virgin.

When thou hadst overcome the sharpness of death, *
thou didst open the Kingdom of Heaven to all believers.

Thou sittest at the right hand of God, *
in the glory of the Father.

We believe that thou shalt come to be our judge. *
We therefore pray thee help thy servants
whom thou hast redeemed with thy precious blood.

Make them to be numbered with thy Saints, *
in glory everlasting.

O Lord save thy people and bless thine heritage. *
Govern them and lift them up for ever.

Day by day we magnify thee, *
And we worship thy Name ever world without end.

Vouchsafe O Lord to keep us this day without sin. *
O Lord have mercy upon us, have mercy upon us.

O Lord let thy mercy be upon us as our trust is in thee. *
O Lord in thee have I trusted; let me never be confounded.

 

Kyrie, eleison

Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy. Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.

 

Pater Noster

Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy Name,
thy kingdom come,
thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those
who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
and the power, and the glory,
for ever and ever. Amen.

 

Ave Regina Caelorum

Queen of the heavens, we hail thee,
Hail thee, Lady of all the Angels;
Thou the dawn, the door of morning,
whence the world’s true Light is risen:
Joy to thee, O Virgin glorious,
Beautiful beyond all other;
Hail, and fare well, O most gracious,
Intercede for us alway to Jesus.

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


Concerning the Prologue Office of Praise

The Prologue Office of Praise is to be recited at least once per day; ideally it is memorized. It is commendable as a distinct hour for prayer, or to follow the Prologue Office of Praise with the Holy Eucharist, or Matins or Evensong (Morning Prayer or Evening Prayer), or a significant period of silent prayer (i.e. Centering Prayer).

In this Office, the term “Officiant” is used to denote the person, clerical or lay, who leads; “People” denotes all gathered. When prayed by a group of people, the Officiant recites the first phrase of each of the seven prayers, and the People recite the rest. It is appropriate to stand for the Prologue Office when sung or said as a group.

A shortened form of the Prologue Office for families with young children is Preces, Jubilate, Kyrie Eleison, Pater Noster, and Ave Regina Ceolorum.

For more, read “The Case for a Prologue Office of Praise.”

Icon of the hand of Monica Thornton.

Homily: Faith’s name for reality is God

Delivered on Trinity Sunday, 31 May 2015, at Saint Paul’s, Riverside, Illinois.

This past Thursday was the 8th anniversary of the death of Father John Macquarrie. He was without question a major theologian in the 20th-century Church, and remains known to this day quite literally around the entire world. What’s more, Fr Macquarrie had a special relationship with Saint Paul’s, Riverside. In addition to being the seminary professor who taught dogmatic theology to our rector, the two remaining friends in the decades thereafter, Fr Macquarrie preached four times in this church, from this pulpit.

A number of his books are in our parish library, and they are exemplary works of prayerful Catholic theology within the Anglican tradition. He wrote for all levels of commitment, from the beginner to the proficient to the more perfected. Yet I think of all the tremendous insights he shared, one insight stands above all the rest, at least for me. It is this: Macquarrie wrote, “Faith’s name for reality is God.” Let us spend some time reflecting on what it means to say, “Faith’s name for reality is God.”[1]

In Christianity, God is spoken of in many ways. Two of the more common are as spirit and as love. God is also spoken of as transcendent: quoting Saint Anselm, “That, than which nothing greater can be thought.”[2] God is said to be incarnate: Jesus of Nazareth as our sole mediator and advocate. And God is spoken of as immanent and near: inscribed on our hearts, our very breath of life.

Many ways indeed to speak of God, yet “Faith’s name for reality is God” in fact sums all of that up. When we speak of reality seen with the eyes of faith, we are speaking of what is true, what is authentic, what is genuine, and what actually exists—against the illusions in life which are distortions of reality, truth obscured by falsehood through temptations by the Devil. For the People of God—we who deny ourselves, have picked up our cross and follow Jesus—God is what is true, what is authentic; God is what is genuine, what actually exists; God is love. And we experience reality as love, as unmistakable spirit. We experience reality as transcendent, incarnate and immanent. Our prayer life, as Regula, is oriented toward those three dimensions of reality.

macq_faithsnameHoly Scripture provides countlesd examples that demonstrate the truth of Fr Macquarrie’s insight. I suggest we briefly consider three.

The first example is Moses. In our Old Testament reading, Moses was confronted at the Burning Bush. Called by the Spirit acting through an angel, what he heard he recognized as the truth of his people, suffering yet affirming God and His providence through Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Can we doubt that Moses, in this revelation of God named “I AM,” was filled with the Holy Spirit, and cut to the heart with divine love for God and his people’s vocation to be the means through which God himself is revealed to the cosmos? Can we doubt he experienced transcendent mystery? “God-named reality”, I think, describes precisely what Moses perceived, in this and all of his subsequent ministry.

The second example is Blessed Mary. Our Lady was confronted at the Annunciation. Look at what Mary’s tremendous moment of prayer and perception disclosed! It disclosed the angelic, who spoke of the Holy Spirit, which would come upon her. It disclosed the son she will bear: Jesus, the Son of the Most High, which refers to the Father. This reality—which I have suggested can be called “Marian awe”—indeed was God-named. It was Trinity-named.

The third example is Our Lord, himself, at his Baptism in the River Jordan. Emerging from the water, he heard his Father’s voice: “Thou art my beloved Son; with thee I am well pleased.” And the Spirit descended upon him like a dove. Jesus’s perfect faith saw this reality perfectly, and it was God-named, animated as fully trinitarian reality. In a unique and singular way, Jesus’s Baptism was a confrontation with God-named reality, in which he is the divine mediator. Trinitarian reality was his life! It is only because of Jesus’s own eyes upon reality that we might be able to name reality “God.”

Note also that in each case, the responses of Moses, of Mary, and even of Jesus to the activity of the Holy Spirit can be summarized by words we say ourselves in the Our Father—for in essence, all three respond with “Thy will be done.” For them and for us, the words “Thy will be done” are the beating heart of what it means to respond to God: another reason the Our Father is the model of all prayer, because here it enshrines obedience.

It is an ancient formulation to speak of our obedience as prayer to the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit. Yet I think it is perhaps more revealing to reverse that order—that we pray in the Holy Spirit, through the Son, to the Father Almighty. This order emphasizes, with Saint Paul in the Epistle reading today, that “we are led by the Spirit of God.” We cannot follow Jesus without the Holy Spirit, and so as a matter of course any grasping of the true significance of the word “Father” is impossible without the Holy Spirit.

Hence we can boldly and resolutely affirm that for the Christian faith, if God is love, then true love itself cannot be without the Holy Spirit. That fact was demonstrated way back in the 5th century in the thinking of Saint Augustine, a doctor of the Church and highly influential on Anglican tradition. What Augustine taught was that if God is indeed love, then God must be three. Love, you see, to be Love, requires a Lover, a Beloved, and the Loving between them.[3] The Father so loved that he gave to the cosmos his own Beloved Son. The loving between them is the Holy Spirit, their shared will. Lover, Beloved and Loving being necessary for Love, God therefore is three: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Trinity Sunday, in fact, is a tremendous solemnity of divine love.

When we are born of the Spirit, we become incorporated into the Body of Christ, and hence into the loving relationship between Father and Son: their reality, shared with us. Because the Father loves the Son, and the Son perfectly prays to the Father, their reality gives us order and direction. We are given order because to love the Lord our God with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our mind, and with all our strength is the true way of life. We are given direction because, likewise, we are to seek out our neighbor, to love our neighbor as ourselves—seeking and serving Christ in all persons. Reality is the marriage of love and truth. Faith’s name for reality is God.

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, one God described to us and to the whole Church, all might, majesty, dominion, and power, now and forever. Amen.

Icon by the hand of Monica Thornton.


[1] John Macquarrie, Paths in Spirituality, 2nd ed. (Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse, 1992), 30.
[2] Saint Anselm, Proslogion, Chap. 2.
[3] Saint Augustine, De Trinitate, VIII.5.xiv.

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.

The Person of Jesus Christ (Lecture 3 of 5) by John Macquarrie

LECTURE 3
“Christology ‘From Below'”
Macquarrie continues with a description of christology that is “anabatic,” which can be said to be theology about Jesus that is “from below” and “goes up” to the divine nature of Jesus. It is in this approach, Macquarrie argues, that Christ’s humanity comes into its best and most accessible light. The question in this approach is, “How can a man bring to expression the life of God?” This means we place our focus on Christ, the man, and Christ, the event — the individual Jesus as well as the social relationships in which he was embedded. In short, historical analysis gives way to systematic theology. And in anabatic christology, Macquarrie sees the very method found in the experience of the first disciples and the beginnings of the Christian Church. For example, the Transfiguration of Jesus can be interpreted as a definitive moment when the humanity of Jesus was seen in its divine depth, and the preaching of Saint Peter at Pentecost articulates anabatic christology: “God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2.36).

Is this form of christology merely primitive, or is it an approach that must be continually proclaimed by the Church? Macquarrie argues for the latter, else the true humanity of Jesus can be obscured, as it has throughout Christian history. The key is the recognition that within the human condition is a principle of transcendence, of absolute being, and the possibility of transcending the human reality in favor of the reality of God. Macquarrie demonstrates that this very notion is present even in the secular, dechristianized and atheistic writings of existentialist philosophers as well as Holy Scripture. He considers Patristic theology from the likes of saints Augustine and Irenaeus, and agrees that the notion of “ready-made” humanity, whether in Adam and Eve, or in us, must be rejected. Ultimately, what we see is the importance of christology both anabatic (“from below”) and katabatic (or “from above”). They are complementary approaches to a single truth about God in Jesus Christ. The former stresses that Jesus was taken up; the latter stresses that God became incarnate. According to either approach, God came among us as a servant to declare Mercy and bring to birth the children of God, and as far as we know, the human being is the locus for the divine self-communication of God’s own presence. In the words of Celtic theologian Eriugena, “Man is both the recipient of theopanies and is himself a theophany.”

keywords: anabatic vs katabatic christology, modern historical presuppositions, Wolfhart Pannenberg, John Knox, Bishop John Robinson, Karl Rahner, Vatican II, Donald Baillie, Edward Schillebeeckx, Rudolph Bultmann, Karl Barth, Transfiguration, Acts of the Apostles, Adoptionism, Docetism, Gnosticism, homoousiosSpirit in the World, Thomas Aquinas, transcendental Thomism, absolute being, Friedrich Schleiermacher, Bernard Lonergan, Friedrich Nietzsche, Karl Jaspers, Martin Heidegger, Marxism, Neo-Marxism, Herbert Marcuse, mysticism, process philosophy, Charles Hartshorne, transcendent anthropology, Augustine, Irenaeus, Theophilus of Antioch, Deification (Theosis), Pelagianism, Incarnation, Enlightenment Deism, William James, Søren Kierkegaard, Holy Trinity, Dionysius the Areopagite, Mercy, monarachial model of God, neo-Platonist, Celtic theology, Johannes Scotus Eriugena, Chalcedonian Definition, 1979 Book of Common Prayer

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.

What does ‘Regula’ mean?

Note: An earlier form of this essay was published originally by Saint Paul’s, Riverside. For more, also see the online slideshow: The Prayer Book as Regula.


“Prayer must be seen as a theological complex of life, a spiritual and recollective continuum made up of a totality of prayers, offices, meditations, liturgical actions and the rest. It is an overall pattern of life, a system, or to use the technical term, a Regula.”
(Martin Thornton, The Function of Theology, chap. 1)

In a most useful definition, the 1979 Book of Common Prayer defines prayer as “responding to God, by thought and by deeds, with or without words” (p. 856). That definition in fact clarifies a great deal. First and foremost, it reminds us that God acts first. Despite our inclination to think otherwise, we ourselves do not initiate. Rather we respond: God’s actions—His presence, His grace—always comes before. He always invites our prayer.

I do not think I am the only person who, when hearing that definition, asks, “Is that how my prayer works?” The answer would have to be, yes: it does mean my prayer, your prayer, and any person’s prayer. But it also means “our” prayer, and in fact it means that before it means mine or yours.

So, then, how do “we” pray? In other words, how is it that we as a whole—whether all Catholic Christians or, by analogy, us at Saint Paul’s, Riverside—respond to God, by thought and by deeds, with or without words? Indeed, the answer may not be self-evident, or seem particularly worth consideration. Thinking of particular people in our parish, we even might be tempted to conclude, “Well, ‘we’ do not pray in any particular way!” List out how we all pray as individuals, according to our gifts and personalities; and then there is your answer to how “we” pray—a piety list.

There is truth in that. Yet to just end there would not account for important aspects of our relationship with God, which is prayer in the broadest sense of the term.

To wit, consider three aspects of our experience as the People of God:

1. “We” leads directly to “corporate.” So the first and perhaps most obvious dimension of our corporate prayer—how “we” pray—is that we attend Mass. The Mass, the summit of which is the holy Eucharist, is the primary gathering of parish members ranging from the most committed to the occasional visitor. We are gathered by the Holy Spirit around the Altar, and then we are invited to come still closer to receive, if prepared, the Sacrament of Christ’s Body and Blood—Jesus himself, the full and definitive revelation of the Father. “Do this in remembrance [that is, for the anamnesis, the ‘making actually present again’] of me” (Lk 22:19). And then in the Dismissal, we are sent “in peace to love and serve the Lord. Thanks be to God.” Mass is both summit and source, because of Jesus incarnate.

2. “Loving and serving,” seen again as an aspect of prayer or total relationship with God, points toward how we try to recognize Christ in other people, and in creatures and creation generally, with or without words. We do this, to be sure, quite imperfectly; we often forget that creatures, all of them both great and small, find their true fulfillment in Christ. We forget all is made, and all is kept, and all is loved, by God. Clearly, the Calvinistic culture in which we live wants us to forget. Nonetheless we Catholic folk try as best we can to live a life consonant with Scripture, not contrary with core doctrines of the Church, open to God’s grace both grand and mundane; and we know (or have been taught) that meditating with the Bible can help here, along of course with formation. Despite the immense variety from one person’s life to the next, all of this the Church broadly calls “Devotion.” And Who beckons our Devotion but the Holy Spirit, “whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (Jn 14.26). Devotion is prayer guided by the Holy Spirit, immanent and intimate with us, personally.

3. Our Lord Jesus Christ, for all His inexhaustible abundance, in fact taught us one prayer directly: the Our Father (Mt 6:9-13 and Lk 11:2-4). Both words “Our” and “Father” are crucial. First, “Our”—is there a more corporate prayer than this one? one that more unifies Christians, everywhere in the threefold Church, including the Angels? And, “Father”—through Christ’s words, and hence through Him, we somehow, despite our frailty, can praise the Creator of you and me, all creatures and the universe itself. In teaching the Our Father—these words in this order—Jesus initiated the tradition of corporate, set-prayer that the Book of Common Prayer came to call “the Daily Office” or the “the Divine Office.” Through dozens of traditions in the universal Church over nearly 20 centuries, the Divine Office varies. Anglicans, within a predominantly Benedictine spirituality, developed a particular contribution that has endured for almost 500 years. But no matter the tradition or form of the Office, the underlying pattern shaped by the Our Father prayer always holds: the threefold Church, incorporated into and as Christ’s Body, giving pure praise to the Father. The Office is praise to God transcendent beyond time and space.

So we have corporate prayer that emphasizes, by turns, 1. Jesus incarnate, 2. the immanent Holy Spirit, and 3. the Father transcendent. Yet this is one prayer life, a threefold prayer life. This threefold whole responds to, because it is given order by, our triune God. The ordering of our worship to the stupendously rich reality of God: this is precisely what is meant by Regula.

As a term itself, Regula relates to “pattern” or “framework,” and is often translated as “rule.” Its use in the Church is very Benedictine, of course, but not exclusively. As a concept of prayer, it is derived directly from the Bible. “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, the breaking of bread, and the prayers” (Acts 2.42). Sound familiar? All of us embrace Regula every Easter Vigil when we renew our Baptismal Covenant (BCP, p. 293):

 

Celebrant   Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?

People        I will, with God’s help.

 

Respectively, “apostles’ teaching and fellowship” here means Devotion (or “devotional ministry”). “The breaking of bread” is obviously the Mass. “The prayers” is the Daily or Divine Office. What is important to see is that at the most central liturgy of the Church year, we affirm not merely the importance but the centrality of Regula to our corporate prayer life.

Regula, then, is no invention of the theologians. It is the basis for mature Christian prayer in community given by Our Lord and Savior and plainly described in the gospels. It is born of His direct teaching of prayer to His disciples (Divine Office), from His feeding people by His presence and word (Eucharist/Mass), and His ministry of healing, preaching, serving, listening amid fellowship with the Twelve, the Seventy, and followers of whatever number (Devotion). Perpetuating the prayer of Jesus, which is precisely what Regula enables, is nothing less than the lifeblood of full participation in His redemptive Body, the Church. It is the primary work of the People of God.

In sum, what does Regula mean? It means corporate, threefold prayer life — Divine Office – Mass – Devotion — given by Christ to live out doctrine of the Holy Trinity and render it truly existential and experiential. Regula is the basic means of discipleship, because it is the doctrine of the Holy Trinity arranged for prayer.  Regula is how “we” respond fully to God, by thought and by deeds, with or without words. Regula organizes for prayer all of redeemed reality as revealed by the triune God, because faith’s name for reality is God.

Within Anglican patrimony, Regula is the real three-legged stool.


“Loyalty to the basic threefold Rule—Mass-Office-Devotion—is always the prior ascetical discipline. It is the foundation of all Christian life, the essential work of the Church, the supreme intercession, the power of evangelism. It is of incalculably greater importance than all fasts, mortifications, and works whatsoever; the only function of which is to support it, without it all is a sham. As spiritual guides we must insist upon it; if we are true to the primitive Church, we must insist upon it; if we are true to our medieval heritage, we must insist upon it. If we think of Anglicanism in a narrower sense, let it be remembered that the seventeenth-century battles between Puritan [Calvinist] and Caroline [Catholic] churchmen were fought over the Prayer Book, especially over ‘set prayers’. They were battles for and against Benedictine principles.”
(Martin Thornton, English Spirituality, chap. 6)

Icon by the hand of Monica Thornton.

Why pray the Office?

One of the primary reasons to pray the Divine Office is because it works. Many Christians report just that, and they go further and call the daily Office one of the most important aspects of their spiritual life. It is the core of what “being religious” actually means, in terms of behavior.

But what are we saying when we say “it works”? I think we are saying that it raises our eyes to God Almighty. The Office is the reliable and time-tested way to recognize the dimension of the Blessed Trinity — of reality — that is wholly transcendent and “other.”

God is one, and “we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity, neither confounding the Persons, nor dividing the Substance,” in the words of the Quicunque Vult. Yet we speak in our Creeds of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We do not “confound the Persons” when we gently recognize the threeness of reality of God: in His nearness, named the Holy Spirit; in His incarnation, named God the Son, Jesus Christ; and in His otherness, named God the Father.

This recognition orders — that is, directs — our Prayer. Coordinating these three emphases demands a system, and that system is called “Rule,” or better, “Regula.” By Regula, we mean the threefold framework, summarized as “Office-Mass-Devotion,” for response to the threeness of divine reality. In short, we mean exactly what is described by Saint Luke as the first acts of religion by the first Christians:

“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, and the breaking of bread, and the prayers” (Acts 2:42).

  • Devotion (the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, baptismal ministry rooted in the Bible) emphasizes the nearness of the Holy Spirit.
  • Mass (the breaking of bread) emphasizes the Son who communicates Himself to us.
  • Divine or daily Office (the prayers) emphasizes the Father Almighty.

The early Church recognized that Jesus of Nazareth was a man long before they realized he was God in His full and definitive revelation. In other words, the early Church realized Three before they realized One. The doctrine of the Holy Trinity was developed over time as the Church recognized the true depth that had been revealed to them. It is not wrong for us, by analogy, to do the same.

The mystery in the ultimate sense involves seeing the three realities of God cohere in one being, or substance. That perhaps is a lifelong journey, as well as into the next life. The basic point is that the Divine Office is the sturdiest way in this life to recognize something of ultimate reality beyond time and space, and to do so simply and orderly every day. This is consistent with the fact that what the Office is built upon is the Our Father set-prayer, as I have previously written. The Office is built upon the words Jesus gave us — His words, His set-prayer, His praying for us.

Yet if we understand the Office are centered in the Father, are we splitting God apart in our prayer? Is this some sort of crypto-modalism? In fact it is nothing of the sort.

We can never attain to a completely synthetic view of what God has revealed Himself to be. For that would involve a level of unified knowledge which can belong to none but God himself. Such a simple and simultaneous knowledge of what God is must exist in God Himself. But we on our part must be content to approach the sanctuary from the outside and from a number of different points of view.

This is from an essay by Lionel S. Thornton (no relation to Martin) called “The Christian Conception of God” in a book called Essays Catholic and Critical from the 1930s.

To put that in other words: our lived journey toward glorified being in Christ, codified as the doctrine of theosis, begins by approaching the three Persons of God more or less one at a time. (This occurs simultaneous to our confessing at all times the doctrine of the Trinity.) And, over time and into our next life, we grow by Grace into the synthetic, unified, full trinitarian truth. That is, what we experience consciously eventually matches what the Church teaches about God.

As children we learn about God by first being introduced to Jesus and his ministry. Our understanding of God deepens and widens as we get older and begin to consider and grapple with the activity of the Holy Spirit beginning in Acts, Chap. 2. Perhaps it takes a certain maturity to begin to really grapple with God the Father, as wholly other, the transcendent creator of all. Ascetically, the divine Persons can only be understood when considered together, so there is no harm in particular study of one of them, for the other two Persons will have to come in at some point.

With the Office in particular, with its dry repetition that, unlike Mass and Devotion, gives little to nothing to us in the moment, we can begin to truly experience the sheer immensity of God and his vast creation. How else, save the Divine Office, do we pray with thanks to the dimension of God beyond the conditions of time and space? ontological and axiological Other?

The Divine Office is our joining into the ceaseless praise offered to the Father by the Saints and Angels as the Body of Christ himself. It is Christ who makes up for our frailties and completes our prayer, and it is the Holy Spirit, Saint Paul tells us, whose power allows us to even say “Our Father.” So despite the emphasis in the Divine Office being given to the Father, it is still thoroughly trinitarian Prayer.

In sum, our prayer life rooted in Regula — associating Mass with the Son, Devotion with the Holy Spirit, and Office with the Father — is an “ascetical application of trinitarian dogmatic,” to quote Martin Thornton. Over time and through use, these “different points of view” become by the Grace of God a single woven tapestry of praise to one God, so that our glorified worship is to “Unity in Trinity and the Trinity in Unity.” And absolutely nothing less.

“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

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.

The Case for a Prologue Office of Praise

“It is not sufficient to participate regularly in the Eucharist, with its unequal stress on individuality and formalism; rather we have to be eucharistic people. We have to live perpetually in the eucharistic context and this means preparation in the form of constant attempts to resolve the underlying paradoxes involved. The cosmic and the local, with stress on the former because the contemporary balance veers strongly towards the other side. Then the corporate and the personal, for the same reasons in the same order, and the immanent-transcendent balance which boils down to an application of the doctrine of the Blessed Trinity: which says it all.”

Martin Thornton, A Joyful Heart, Chap. 11

 

“The only real fall of man is his noneucharistic life in a noneucharistic world.”

Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World, p. 35

INTRODUCTION

From the earliest moments of the Christian Church, in part influenced by our Jewish heritage, a fundamental aspect of the life of the disciples of Jesus was to enact formal set-prayer. Jesus bestowed upon us the “Our Father” prayer, the Pater Noster. It is the model for set-prayer: particular words in a particular order to give thanks as a body to God the Father. We now call this the Divine Office.

In simple terms, the purpose of the Divine Office is to praise God and to magnify God, day by day: an “office of praise.” Christians do so because it teaches us who God is. This habitual activity becomes what William of St Thierry termed “necessary obedience.” God is Maker, Lover, and Keeper of all creation; His truth indeed endures forever, and knowledge of Him invites deeper participation in the goodness of Christ’s eucharistic holiness. Internalizing who God is prepares us to receive the Sacraments and to see all of creation eucharistically.

Nonetheless, relationship with God is always conditioned by societal context, and today many Christians increasingly live within media-rich environments where travel over significant distance is the daily norm. God works within our conditions, and so must our prayer life: grace perfects nature, as Saint Thomas taught. Yet, oddly, the Divine Office form standard today within Anglican patrimony has remained largely unchanged over almost 500 years, then introduced to a late-medieval, rural society of largely illiterate peasants ruled by a monarch; theirs was a society that lived and worked under the shadow of the village church. Ours is a post-industrial “global village” where the preferred church can be several miles away.

Social conditions change. Saint Benedict and Thomas Cranmer boldly and pastorally amended their Divine Office forms so as to tune into God more efficiently, given their social conditions. We seek to do the same, and the Prologue Office of Praise (Antelogium laudis) seeks to nurture a reunified Church Militant that in many ways, despite its strengths given by grace, has been torn apart by the jumbled, even dissociated, conditions of a mobile, secularized society in an satellite-driven information age. In Anglican patrimony the Divine Office was fashioned as the heart of common prayer. Yet today, because the Divine Office has developed so many variations, such unity—whereby laypersons, deacons, priests and bishops pray together in the same way—appears obscured at best, and in some places lost. For those that do daily liturgical prayer, the variety of options—numerous Prayer Book iterations, Common Worship, the Liturgy of the Hours, the Breviary, and more—are on one hand a blessing, yet erode ascetical unity, upon which the daily set-prayer hinges.

Even worse is that many people do not do any kind of daily liturgical prayer. For these souls, the routine of life for the Faithful finds little space and clearing for the Divine Office. Yet because the Divine Office is a baptismal obligation, and unity is an important characteristic of Anglicanism, something must be done.

The pastorally minded corrective begins by going “back to basics” as means for creative, necessary renewal. But how do we do that without sacrificing orthodoxy and catholicity, nor the enduring insights of Benedictine spirituality, nor the basic worship pattern of Prayer Book heritage?

THE THEOLOGY BEHIND THE DIVINE OFFICE

The key is to see corporate prayer as a dynamic, theological whole. At its core, orthodox and Catholic prayer is responding to God within our baptismal status, and has been since the cosmic explosion of the Pentecost event. “Faith’s name for reality is ‘God,'” wrote Anglican theologian John Macquarrie. Prayer life can be said to be full, integrated, embodied, Catholic, and orthodox when it is an active and intentional response to God-named reality.

But how do we name reality as God? To us it has been revealed that reality for the Christian is a diversity of three-in-oneness: reality in the dimension of its “transcendent otherness,” which is named God the Father; reality in the dimension of its “immanant nearness,” which is named God the Holy Spirit; and reality in the dimension of “incarnate mediation,” which is named God the Son, Jesus Christ, named in our liturgy as our only Mediator and Advocate. Catholic reality, and hence its prayer life — liturgical, sacramental, salvific — is ultimately derived from, and correlated with, nothing less than the Doctrine of the Trinity.

Prayer is responding to God. How are we to respond? Our triune God — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — invites a threefold response that Anglican theologian Martin Thornton appropriately called Regula, meaning “pattern” or “framework.” Gloriously formulated for 6th-century monastic life by Saint Benedict and for 16th-century secular life by Cranmer (and in many other ways within the family of Catholic churches), the basis for Regula in scripture is the “apostles’ teaching and fellowship, the breaking of bread, and the prayers” (Acts 2.42). Today the terms are, respectively, Devotion (that is, baptismal ministry), Mass, and Divine Office; these are distinct, but interwoven and irreducible. More than mere formula or framework for organizational discipline, Regula is dynamic praxis; for Thornton, it is the lifeblood of participation in the divine life of the redemptive organism, the Church.

Regula is the doctrine of the Trinity arranged for prayer. It orients us to the threefold reality of God. Devotion orients to the immanent dimension: increasing openness to the Holy Spirit who is infinitely variable to us in time and space and who reconciles us to Christ, the definitive revelation of the Father. Divine Office orients to the transcendent dimension: surrender to our heavenly Father, wholly and invariably otherness, our source and origin from whom the Holy Spirit proceeds to unite us to the Son. And Mass orients to the incarnate dimension: mediated communion with the real presence of Jesus Christ both deity and man — fully transcendent as the Son of God, fully immanent as human being. Yet this is all one response, one prayer life, to love heavenly God who loves us beyond measure and yearns for our spiritual growth. As Saint Athanasius wrote, God became human so that humans might become God — that is, through Himself and His sacraments, we might become numbered with His saints and, in the words of Walter Hilton, reformed into the likeness and holiness of Jesus.

Moments of the life of Jesus Christ reveal Regula, the fundamental pattern of holiness. Besides the Pater Noster, given by Jesus to be our set-prayer, His baptism in the River Jordan points to the Divine Office, an objective daily ritual of corporate repentence that, through Jesus, discloses God’s identity and story. The feeding miracles of Jesus point to the Mass, where we too are fed by Jesus and his love for us. And the myriad episodes where Jesus heals, preaches, teaches, and eats with others point toward Devotion, ministry to the creatures of the cosmos in relationship with Scripture. Regula, then, is the means by which we live; Regula articulates our corporate experience of being Christ’s Body, and the means by which we cultivate the theological virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity.

THE PURPOSE OF THE DIVINE OFFICE

Through Thornton’s theology, the specific purpose of the Divine Office as a whole is clarified. First given by Jesus to his disciples as the Pater Noster (“Our Father”), as mentioned already, the Divine Office is transcendent reaching toward and joining with the unceasing praise by Angels, the Archangels, and all the Company of Heaven. The whole Body of Christ sings the Divine Office in the power of the Holy Spirit to glorify God the Father Almighty, “primordial Being,” in the words of John Macquarrie. To glorify the unchanging Father warrants an unadorned yet beautiful recounting of His radical otherness and cosmic creativity. God invites us to abandon ourselves and surrender in Holy Fear to the light inaccessible, the mystery incomprehensible. To live daily as if in the orans posture: this is what the Office is for. Its purpose is not to “sanctify the time” but to pray to the Father as Jesus would have us pray: “an eschatological proclamation of the salvation received in Christ, and a glorification and thanksgiving to God for that gift,” in the words of Roman Catholic theologian Robert Taft, SJ. Simply put, the Pater Noster is the germ of God’s theology.

Accordingly, what the Prologue Office of Praise seeks to do is make Catholic theology unmistakably evident within its text and enacted in its performance. Its invariable, fixed, and unchanging form seeks to revivify the entirety of the scheme of daily Offices. It is intended to support the underlying, and original, purpose of the Divine Office as a whole: Marian awe in the face of radical otherness.

In the Prologue Office of Praise (Antelogium Laudis), we celebrate the beyond-time and space, unfathomable reality of heavenly God as mediated by His mighty acts of creation, salvation, and reconciliation, initially revealed to the Old Testament prophets and the Children of Israel, and consummated definitively in the Incarnation of Christ as announced by the Holy Spirit through Angel Gabriel to Blessed Mary, Ever-Virgin, our exemplar in discipleship and witness to Christ: Our Lady truly is the Mother of the Church. As such, the purpose of the Divine Office, more refined, is to invite daily through praise the unfathomable presence of divine otherness that confronted Blessed Mary. This is an otherness that confounded her in holy fear, that taught her, that empowered her. And, by baptismal incorporation into the Body of Christ, this mystery can do so for us, in a continuous and gradual unfolding of God’s revelation of himself.

As Mary intercedes that we may be made worthy to receive the promises of Christ, we enact obedience to the grace of God through the Divine Office. It is prologue in that it prepares us — hones us — by means of the Holy Spirit to adore, and then receive, Holy Communion. Through this heavenly food we can become Christ’s out-poured and kenotic love, most precious as it is most plenteous, in the words of Dame Julian of Norwich. But Saint Paul instructed, before we eat and drink, we are to discern the Body (1 Corinthians 11.29) — such discernment is our daily work: the Divine Office on Monday prepares us for Eucharist the following Sunday. To take the Christian claims seriously means every morning is a test of faith. Yet our obedience, often difficult and even dry feeling, patiently teaches us about Jesus and our baptismal incorporation into Him. A genuine sacramental outlook upon all of creation is a gift from God, yet we must always remember that Blessed Mary had her moments of arid boredom, too.

Likewise, our obedience means internalizing, absorbing, and living-out God’s theology. This ascetical responsibility coincides with the pastoral fact that in a mobile society, a “global village,” there is simply less time available for daily formal set-prayer. Might not this fact also be of divine providence? Yet we cannot forswear orthodoxy, which would deny our baptism, so a Prologue Office of Praise, which can be prayed amid a hectic, busy life as an ascetical minumum, seems quite overdue.

A NEW ADDITION 

What must be stressed is that a Prologue Office of Praise is not intended as a substitute for the Cranmerian Office, the Liturgy of the Hours, or any form currently in use. The Prologue Office of Praise does not replace what is used now, but rather is meant to add to the daily round of set-prayer. One can continue to do Morning and Evening Prayer as one always has, along with the daytime Hours of Terce, Sext and None. The suggestion here is to chant or recite the Prologue Office of Praise as another “hour” for daily set-prayer. This could be for a first hour of the day, for an hour right before Sunday Mass, for a Midday hour, for an evening before sleep.

Why make this addition? The primary reason is for ascetical unity — a truly common prayer. We need to pray a common prayer, knowing it as common prayer. Being a concise form, it is perfect for the home, to cultivate the “domestic Church.”

Another is that this Office form catechizes. Refined to its bare theological core, the Prologue Office becomes a sturdy rock of daily doctrinal catechesis for young and old alike, experientially absorbed through memorization and singing. This points directly to the theological virtue of “Faith,” what Macquarrie called “existential knowledge” and Aidan Kavanagh called “theologia prima.” This Prologue Office of Praise is fittingly seen as a pledge of allegiance to God, an eschatological proclamation of faith, the basis for “a school for the service of the Lord” in the Benedictine sense: it teaches as much through the mere habit of it as it does through its content. Our lives showly adjust to the truths embedded in this Office.

It catechizes also because of its predominant focus on doctrine. This Antelogium Laudis is a theological and experiential expansion of the Pater Noster by means of the Nicene Creed. Analyzed as a whole, its text proclaims a variety of authoritative doctrine, the crucibles of the Church’s historical experience. Doctrines include that of Prevenient Grace, Baptismal Incorporation, Remnant and Adoration in the Preces; God and Metanoia in the Jubilate; of Creation, Angels, the People of God and Remnant in the Benedicite; of Incarnation, the Church, Atonement, Resurrection, Parousia and Theosis in the Te Deum; of Penitence and Adoration in the Kyrie Eleison; of the Kingdom of God in the Pater Noster; and of the Theotokos and Assumption in the Ave Regina Caelorum — these and more, directly from scriptural and scripturally derived prayers primarily of patristic ethos. Yes, these are canticles and hymns, but embedded within them is Catholic imagination: tremendous theology and glorious doctrine ecumenically celebrated.

Why the emphasis on doctrine? Because to sing the Antelogium Laudis is to confess doctrinal truth, a constant need in the Church no matter the age. And as in the patristic era, particularly prior to Constantine, doctrinal confession manifests through joyful performance and almost secretive memorization: to memorize is to internalize, to internalize is to embody, to embody is to teach by example, with or without words. We are to serve the Lord with gladness and come before His presence with a song (Psalm 100). Singing forms us, and formation through catechesis, as theological reflection in relationship with doctrine and experience, is the beating heart of evangelization.

CONCLUSION: AN ORTHODOX AND BENEDICTINE PASTORAL SOLUTION

To reconcile the pastoral situation today with our baptismal obligation, an orthodox solution is to add a Prologue Office that is comparatively shorter, more accessible, more doable, more explicitly doctrinal — and a Benedictine and Cranmerian solution is to restore a common Office able to to be sung by laity and clergy alike: a true unity of the Church Militant. This counteracts a clergy-only Divine Office, too often our situation today, upends the entire theology of historic Prayer Book heritage. It is called the Book of Common Prayer not for nothing.

All of which is to say, this Prologue Office is pastorally attuned for a missional Church in a mobile, “post-Christian” society. It is doctrinally vigorous, yet ascetically realistic. It does not require paging through books, does not discriminate against the illiterate, young or old, and can be sung anywhere and at any time, whether in the morning, noonday, or evening: whenever the holiness of beauty is disclosed (Psalm 29).

This Office is also family-friendly. For those with young children, its second half — Kyrie Eleison, Pater Noster, and Ave Regina Caelorum — is a gentle place to start for adult and children alike, and it is quickly memorizable. Subsequently, the Jubilate can be added, followed in turn by the Benedicite and Te Deum, first in portions and then in their entireties. Because even the youngest of children, through the help and example of their parents, day by day can magnify God, and worship His Name ever world without end. May we join Ananias, Azariah, and Misael, the three holy children — saved by God in the fiery furnace of His abundant and gracious love. And in so doing, may we sing — may we trumpet! — our love of our heavenly Father, who confers upon us our very being, and who gives for our salvation His only Son, Jesus Christ.

As a final note, the reason that the Prologue Office of Praise uses classic, non-contemporary language — also known as “sacral English” — is two-fold. The first is to be consistent with the sensibility of the Pater Noster, the prayer that controls the theology of the Divine Office; despite it too being non-contemporary, it is nonetheless beloved today — “art,” “thy,” and “thine” are familiar precisely because the prayer is used. Likewise, the more one uses the JubilateBenedicite, and Te Deum, the more “ye,” “hath,” and the rest become familiar and second nature.

And the second follows from the first. Without question, the sacral English translations simply sing better: the phrasing and literary sensibility of that era have more musicality and hence more poetical allure. Contemporary does not necessarily mean improved, and a persuasive case can be made that contemporary translations of these prayers obstruct rather than edify. The translations selected here are better to sing, theologically more transparent, and, in the case of the Benedicite, shorter. The choice therefore is obvious. We are, after all, to bring the first fruits of our ground into the house of the Lord our God (Exodus 23.19). Not only Truth, and not only Goodness, but also Beauty adores our Maker, our Lover, and our Keeper — for He is their source.

CONCLUDING PRAYER

Heavenly Father, who bestowed upon your Church from its first baptismal moments the grace of Regula: capacitate us to love you, the Lord our God, with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our Mind; and likewise enable us by your presence to love our neighbor as our self, that our life in response to you can indeed become holy, holy, holy; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, our comforter, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Icon by the hand of Monica Thornton. 

 

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.

Homily: Watchfulness through Regula

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Icon by the hand of Monica Thornton.

The Prayer Book as Regula, a Slideshow

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

“So it is that the Benedictine Way really underlies the Book of Common Prayer, where the same trinity of liturgy, office and personal prayer is found for the joy of us all.”

—Archbishop Michael Ramsey (15 July 1965 at Nashdom Abbey)

click for slideshow


See also: What does Regula mean?

Icon by the hand of Monica Thornton. 


Duccio di Buoninsegna - Appearance Behind Locked Doors

Nine Texts toward Catholic Renewal in Anglican Parishes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now to the list.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

St Augustine, Enchiridion3. Enchiridion, by St Augustine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Book of Margery Kempe8. The Book of Margery Kempe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

We conclude with prayer:

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

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

 

Homily: “Why NOT Me?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trinity through Anglican historical theology

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do we really understand “trinity”?

Over the weekend, I wrote a short paper on the doctrine of the holy Trinity for my systematic theology course. As I studied the assigned reading, what came to mind was a notable comment I had read previously by Roman Catholic theologian Karl Rahner (from his book, The Trinity):

Should the doctrine of the Trinity have to be dropped as false, the major part of religious literature could well remain virtually unchanged.

Let me translate: he is saying that in practice, the doctrine has not been useful. And if we stopped employing the doctrine, much of Western Christianity would not bat an eye, and our theology would not suffer (the Eastern Orthodox churches would be a different story altogether). Those are very strong words from Rahner. Is he correct? Furthermore, he continues,

[The doctrine’s] function … is not clearly perceived. It is as though this mystery has been revealed for its own sake, and that even after it has been made known to us, it remains, as a reality, locked up within itself. We make statements about it, but as a reality it has nothing to do with us at all.

Or simply, people just don’t “get” trinity. They don’t understand it — and his point is that this is not the fault of ordinary Christians. Rather, the fault here lies with the Church and the lack of clarity about the doctrine in the West. Without clarity about the subject, our teachers can’t teach the subject, and our theologians can’t think clearly about the subject.

So again I ask, is Rahner correct? Do we just not get “trinity”? Is it at best something we in the West talk about out of obligation (such as when we make the Sign of the Cross), and at worst little more than a source of confusion?

Or perhaps most importantly: is this doctrine understood in the pews?

 


Further reading from Akenside Press:

(1) the data sheet, “The Holy Trinity” (1-pg PDF).
(2) the pamphlet, “The First Four General Councils and the Development of the Dogma of the Incarnation” (8-pg PDF).