Tag Archives: Julian of Norwich

The Anglican Spiritual Tradition, parts 1 and 2

By Martin Thornton

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

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

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).

What is “English Spirituality”?  

“The foundation of Christian life is the liturgy, seen as both Mass and Office, from which flows personal devotion based on the Bible.” So begins Martin Thornton’s description of a key characteristic of “English spirituality,” in his classic book of the same name. One’s spirituality — that is, total life responding to God’s creation — really is impacted in a particular way when liturgy is not an extra, added on layer of devotion, but in fact a mode of living. That monastic life is an example of this may be rather easy to observe; yet English spirituality, whether it lives on British lands, on American soil, or any of the continents around the planet, insists on the centrality of the same principle, because it is nothing less than the basis of The Book of Common Prayer.

So what is “English spirituality”? In addition to the characteristic already mentioned, there are at least five more. There is a speculative-affective synthesis, that is, a balance of intellect and action, head and feeling, study and wilderness, dogma and love: an inheritance from the monastic roots of Anglicanism. We see also an insistence on unity of the Church Militant, that is, a parish life that distrusts clericalism yet flourishes through a prayer life held in common by laity, priest, and bishop. There is a sober optimism toward the harshness of life’s trials, perhaps best expressed by Julian of Norwich’s “all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.” There is the ideal of constant recollection of Christ’s presence, whether at home, in the pub, on the neighborhood streets or in an airplane flying across an ocean. And there is a need for spiritual direction to grow through the stumbling blocks inherent in mature Christian life. Challenges to this spirituality include an over-reliance on “moderation in all things” and a legalist attitude to participation in parish life in response to the temptation to laxity in the face of discipleship.

Thus understood, “English spirituality” is one of the several dozen historical “schools,” or corporate patterns, of Christian life. Its longer name is “the English School of Catholic spirituality.” It cannot be divorced from its British upbringing, any more than Our Lord Jesus can be seen apart from the Jewish culture of his day. A biological analogy may be useful, for just as the term “vine” actually means several dozen different varieties or strains, each that flourish according to conditions of environment and climate, yet because of diversity can all be seen to exhibit irreducible features of “vine-ness,” so is it with the holy Catholic Church of Christ and its varieties and strains. Christianity is an incarnational religion, yet amid variety always points to the Cross. The life and health of any school of spirituality can come only from Jesus Christ and its obedient faithfulness to Him, and English spirituality is no different.

Martin Thornton’s book English Spirituality: An Outline of Ascetical Theology According to the English Pastoral Tradition is a primary text used in the Ascetical and Pastoral Theology courses taught at Nashotah House and highly recommended, but Thornton would insist it be supplemented by contemporary resources. A work of deep erudition and pastoral wisdom, the book captures the scope and theological depth of the full Anglican heritage with its full quota of saints and doctors, and invites its rediscovery as a living spiritual tradition.

[Icon by the hand of Monica Thornton. The above meditation is my contribution to the Lent 2015 issue of The Missioner, the news magazine published by Nashotah House Theological Seminary. A sample chapter from English Spirituality can be read by clicking here.]

Martin Thornton’s Ressourcement Syllabus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For the specific recommendations in the Syllabus, see here.

“Music and Ascetical Theology”

(This is an essay by Martin Thornton published in the Programme for the Southern Cathedrals Festival, Salisbury, July 27-29, 1967.)

There is an old tradition which sees the relation between the Organist and the Vicar as roughly that between cat and dog: by domestication they manage to exist together without physical violence while remaining natural enemies at heart. Times have happily changed and the idea of a creative interplay between music and liturgy is now taken for granted. But liturgical theology is only a part of that larger whole which tradition usually calls ascetical theology, or sometimes simply “spirituality.” This is concerned with the whole of prayer, and the consequently of the whole of life: “religious experience,” wrote William Temple, “is the total experience of a religious man.”

The point is accentuated by current trends in the study of ascetical theology itself, especially as it is interpreted in existentialist and “secularist” forms of thought. Today “Prayer” means a total relation between man and God, embracing personal devotion, corporate worship, recollection, and even moral decision, within itself. Prayer implies a total spiritual continuum rather than some isolated “religious” exercise, and although the traditional adjectives “actual” and “habitual” retain their usefulness, the strongest possible stress is placed upon the latter concept. Some modern scholars would even deny any meaning to a prayer, or religious service, if these were regarded as isolated “acts.”

Like most “modern” movements, there is nothing very new in all this. The Hebrews were fully aware that prayer was a continuous activity of the whole man. Medieval devotion expressed the same fact in relating it to all five senses. Julian of Norwich describes the very union with God in these words: “And then shall we all come into our Lord, our self clearly knowing and God fully having: and we shall endlessly be all had in God: Him verily seeing and fully feeling, Him spiritually hearing, and Him delectably smelling, and Him sweetly tasting.” In classic spirituality the Eucharistic procession, with its colour, music, incense and movement, as preparatory to “tasting the Lord,” is the supreme examplar of the Gifts of the Spirit: the total activity of the whole man in the whole Church.

But this ideal integration of prayer and life, this spiritual continuum which expresses the whole faith, is easier to talk about than to achieve. Even its partial achievement is the fruit of a prolonged, disciplined struggle, and it is with this that ascetical theology is concerned. I would therefore define it as “the theology of prayer, in its totality, together with those physical, mental, psychological and emotional discipines which nurture and support it.”

Ideally all Christian prayer is Trinitarian in form: it is offered to God the Father, through the Son, within the Holy Spirit. But again this is easier said than done, so the Church in her traditional wisdom is content if our total life of prayer contains all the theological emphases which flow from the doctrine of God the Holy Trinity: transcendence and immanence, praise and petition, objective and subjective, corporate and individual, penitence and joy, and so on. The traditional pattern of achieving this spiritual health, or “balance,” is the synthetic complex of the divine office, the Eucharist, and our uniquely personal devotion, each with their proper stresses, aims and emphases. Very briefly the divine office is mainly concerned with the corporate praise of God the Father by the Body of Christ, so it calls for a good deal of self-effacement and emotional discipline from each member of the congregation. The Eucharist is also offered to the Father, in the Spirit, but it is plainly centred upon Our Lord as Redeemer. Eucharistic worship is, therefore, less regimented and offers the worshipper more psychological and emotional freedom.

Now what does all this mean to Church music? Can we widen the inter-relation involved from liturgical to ascetical consideration? All I can try to do is to raise some points and ask some questions of a very elementary kind. Let me hasten to confess that I am a music-lover of the strictly consumer kind, a non-productive drone whose technical knowledge is as near to nill as makes no difference.

My starting point is with the modern (and ancient) insistence on such key words as “integration,” “continuum,” “totality,” and so on. If the divine office, the Eucharist, and personal devotion are inseparable, then so are the practical elements of worship: posture, rite, ceremonial, emotion, cognition—and music. Worship is the total response of the whole man. So music cannot be relegated to an addendum, and I should deplore phrases lie the “use of music” in liturgy, or “music as handmaid of liturgy.” I should prefer to say that if prayer is the activity of the whole man in particular (“spiritual”) mode, or if thought is the cognitive action of the whole man, then music is worship in its musical mode. No doubt the musician will applaud this view, but we must go further. It follows that if music is given this autonomous value its emotional and psychological impact must coincide with the basic disciplines and emphases of ascetical theology itself. What does this say to the composer of liturgical music?

I think it says several things which I can only hint at in—musically speaking—kindergarten terms. First, if a composer is concerned with a setting for the Mass, or with the composition or arrangement of Eucharistic hymn-tunes, then he may indulge in an absolute freedom of expression. Because of the Trinitarian “balance” of the Eucharistic action almost anything can be fitted in somewhere during some liturgical season. But if he is writing music for the Psalter, or the Canticles of the divine office, a more disciplined approach is required: the theological emphases and ascetical purpose have to be considered. Apart from the relation between words and music, can these ascetical stresses be musically interpreted?

I suppose that, in the last resort, all music is received subjectively; the same music makes a different impression on different people. Yet, in kindergarten terms, there seems to be a possible classification from an ascetical theological point of view. Because the divine office is strictly corporate, could we suggest that its music should be of a kind which tends to unite listeners, like a military march or more subtly, dance or ballet music? And is there not some distinction between music that “takes you out of yourself” and music which “stirs one up inside;” psychologically between music to which the listener “goes out” and that which he “receives”? I suggest, very tentatively, that My God, how wonderful Thou art to Turle’s tune is of the former kind; Bach’s O Sacred head surrounded is of the latter. Whatever the intrinsic quality of the music, only the first hymn is ascetically suitable in the divine office, while both could be used eucharistically. The first is an “office” hymn because it is addressed to God Almighty and transcendent and I think the music inspires outgoing praise. The second is subjective and meditative, and again I think the music assists towards a penitential meditation. In fine, is it possible to conceive a type of “office-music” which might be described by some such phrase as allegro elevato?

This, I suggest, is the prior emphasis: in composing or choosing Church music the first question is what is this particular service for within the total complex of Christian prayer? Is it a question of giving praise or receiving inspiration? Of being the Church or of being a unique person within it? Yet our popular hymnals, for example, would appear hardly to have got around to this prior point. “Office” hymns need a long section to themselves, while “Holy Communion” and “General” amount to much the same thing. Arrangement according to liturgical season obviously has its point for music can express the mood of Christmas, Lent and Easter better than words, but this is a secondary consideration. The sort of music we have come to associate with Advent and Lent is usually quite impossible in association with Matins and Evensong—at these or any other seasons—because it is unsuitable for the prior emphases of the divine office as such.

Although I have tried to say something about moods, emphases and so on, I have been careful to avoid any dogmatism about an actual type or idiom of Church music, and this, too, is consonant with modern ascetical theology which will have nothing to do with a “sacred-secular” distinction in this or any other context. Yet I think this very point might throw a little light on discussions about musical tradition. In any such discussions between a group of clergymen two things are bound to happen. Some devout old boy is sure to get up and say that plainsong is the Church’s music and there can be no other. Then a vigorous young curate will counter with a plea for “pop” and hootinanny: we’ve got to get “with-it.” Obviously nobody wins, but ascetical theology might even help with this situation. I should say that a very strong case could be made for plainsong as the supreme vehicle for the proper offering of the divine office; not because it is tradition or even because it sounds nice, but because it combines the objective-corporate-self-effacing stresses that are here required. But does it follow that Eucharistic worship and other liturgical acts are also bound to this one form? Ascetical theology, especially in its modern trends, would have to say No.

Cover image “The Forerunners of Christ with Saints and Martyrs” by Fra Angelico is licensed under CC BY 2.0 / Cropped from original

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 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

 

Theology as Food

When a person looks sickly, perhaps with an obviously pale complexion, and shows a distinct lack of energy — obviously not his or her normal “self” — some reasonable responses would begin with questions that look at the ill health in terms of medical care. Perhaps the person has a virus, or needs surgery? Others might wonder about psychological trauma, and thus some sort of psychological counseling. Maybe they weren’t raised right, or endured some sort of psychological abuse.

Yet is it also not the case that so often, such a person is likely not eating a balanced diet of good, nutritious food? Plain common sense tells us this is often true: not always, but certainly not rarely. The signs can be unmistakable. We see a diet that is the result of bad habits: that might mean junk food, or one trendy “diet” after another, or too often a pattern of eating “take out”, with never a home-cooked meal.

What is this person eating? — we ask of the sickly body.

Anglicanism in the West is just this sort of sickly body. By any measure, it is simply not doing well: numbers, morale, ability to positively contribute to the wider Body of Christ, holy Church. Perhaps, as I have written, it is owing to a mass “identity crisis“. How can we interact with others when we don’t have a firm sense of who we are? Yet this identity crisis (which I believe is real, but also perhaps nothing new) may be not a leading indicator, but a lagging indicator — a symptom, not the underlying cause. For if indeed Anglicanism were sickly, would it not follow that it couldn’t sensibly articulate its own identity? After all, sickness impacts the capacity for rational self-reflection. And it impacts the ability to hear what others are saying, even as they are trying to be of aid.

Perhaps we then feel an urge to “tell” the sickly person who he or she is (or write bemoaning essays that seem to think that screaming will send the person back to health). But is that the best approach? We must be honest: to a person who is laid up in bed with something incapacitating, any kind of attempt to explain who they are “supposed to be” is not exactly pastoral. Maybe it is not wrong, but it is not likely to work. First things first: we have a person, sickly. Our actions must serve a process that nurses the sick back to health.

So, the question, asked in a pastoral way: what has Anglicanism been eating?

Is asking, “what has Anglicanism been eating?” appropriate? Of course by this analogy, I refer to theology. In current Anglican practice, particularly in parishes, what has been the theological diet? Have Anglicans been consuming and digesting a stable, balanced diet of nutritious food? Has our theological sustenance been made of real food, home-cooked and filling — or has it been ready-made? Have Anglicans been skipping square meals, in favor of artificial, mass-produced substitute? Have we bought our theological ingredients from local markets where we might know the farmers, or from “big box” mega-stores that stock products stuffed with preservatives and chemical additives, its “farmers” actually corporate executives? Or do we (gasp) import all our food?

Am I stretching this analogy too far?

Michael Pollan, Omnivore's DilemmaSometimes, we need to be reminded what the actual model for “good food” truly is. For this, we usefully look to the past. In his book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, author Michael Pollan defines “good food” as that which your great-great grandmother would recognize as “good food”. This does not mean that the definition can’t change or alter — far from it, for life involves change. It does mean that change with respect to “food” will be incremental. Change will come, but slowly enough for there to be unmistakable continuity across the generations.

If we were to import Pollan’s idea into theology, then what we are talking about is ressourcement, the seeking of our most profound resources. To keep Pollan’s idea, “good theology”  would mean that which our great grandmothers would have recognized as “good.” Perhaps such a definition might help to affirm what kind of theology actually belongs to our tradition. Because it was the stuff of their life. What worked for them — what fed them — should have at least a family resemblance to what feeds us. To see the model for “good theology” in something of the past (again, not to constrict the present, but to inform it) is to honor reality: we do not invent the Church. Rather, we are baptized into — even, “thrown into” — something we did not create, but instead creates us.

But Pollan is no theologian. His definition, if it is to work within theology as a strategy of ressourcement, must bear some amendment. With all due respect to the late great grandmothers out there (perhaps more than some were faithful Anglicans who would teach us a thing or two), we have to stretch what we mean by “great grandmother” to make sense within a context of historical theology. We have to look further back in our past.

One of our “great grandmothers” is the Caroline Age: roughly, 1594 – 1729. That is, the Caroline Age, broadly defined, is from Hooker’s On The Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity to William Law’s A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life. During this period, the Book of Common Prayer came to be, and came to be used and defended. Somehow, perhaps despite the intentions of its compilers, it “fit” within the English theological diet. While plenty was new, enough of the Prayer Book was still recognizable to 17th century English men and women as “good food.” And it is good food still today because we still use the Prayer Book.

But our ancestry is deeper still. Another “great (great) grandmother” is the Fourteenth Century: with the glorious theologies of Walter Hilton, Julian of Norwich, Margery Kempe and, Richard Rolle and The Cloud of Unknowing. During this period, the English mix of doctrinal, pastoral, ascetical and homely came to be, and came to find an authentic and legitimate character all its own. That this era was good food is also shown by the fact that its writers are still studied today.

While there may be other “great grandmothers,” such as the Methodist movement and the Tractarian movement, the 14th and 17th century “great grandmothers” take pride of place as our most profound great grandmothers, because represent the first and second flowerings of the English School of Catholic spirituality. Its rootstock is in Anselm, the School of St Victor, Aquinas, and the Cistercian fathers. The English School’s deepest roots are in Benedict and Augustine, the Celtic Church and the New Testament Church. To these we look as one would look to great grandmother.

What would it mean to ask whether our theology is recognizable by these great grandparents? Would Hilton, Julian, and Kempe detect a family resemblance between their theologies and our own today? Would the Carolines? (Would, for that matter, Anselm and Benedict?)

These questions lead us to this: to ensure that our food would be recognizable to them as their food means that we have to study the English School. Else, how can we know whether our food is recognizable to theirs? Many Anglicans already do study one of these theologians. Some devotionally read more than a couple. Therefore the proposal here is nothing outlandish. But do Anglicans consult both great grandmothers? If we do not, let us begin now, else how can we know whether our food today is legitimately “good food”? Let us consult our most profound great grandmothers and find out.

 


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Homily: “Why NOT Me?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


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Anglicanism’s identity crisis

In the West (at least), Anglicanism has an identity crisis. Are we Catholic? Are we Protestant? Are we Evangelical? These are three of the fundamental questions. Additionally and relatedly, are we an Ancient Church? Are we a product of the English Reformation? Those are two more. What’s more, are we united as Anglicans? If so, how by the good Lord is that the case?

Akenside Press firmly understands Anglicanism to be a school of Catholic theology and spirituality. That others would take a different view is self-evident, which we why our true identity must be stated, restated, and repeated in such strong terms. Our shared narrative, in the opinion of Akenside Press, has to be retuned.

One solution is to deemphasize the role of polity. Too many Anglicans (in the West, at least) root our identity in polity — Henry VIII and that era, and post–civil war 1662 and that era, are two common source-points for the beginning of Anglicanism, as a polity. These days we have a multiplicity of polities within Anglicanism. But for our identity, why use polity as the primary criteria? Isn’t that a bit odd, if you think about it, for the average committed pew-sitting Anglican does not practice their faith according to polity. They practice their faith according to traditions rooted in theology and spirituality, anchored in The Book of Common Prayer. Any polity is nothing that lends itself whatsoever to spirituality or ultimate truth. There is nothing inherently theological about “polity”. Polity is just a system of organization. That is the core point.

Is a polity necessary? Of course polity is necessary, for order and organization are necessary. This is not a claim for the destruction of the institutional dimensions of life in the Body of Christ (as if such a thing were even possible). But it is a call to recognize how often we think, act, and react according to polity rather than theological/spirituality school or tradition. Polity, whether TEC, ACNA, CoE, many more in and beyond Anglicanism do not deserve, per se, all the attention they receive. Polity ain’t the main attraction. Should polity receive some attention, maybe less than 1%? Ok, but can we give the rest to theology and spirituality?

To which polity did the Noble Army of Martyrs claim membership? (Don’t know the reference? See the Te Deum.)

You see, polity gets in the way of what’s really important. Polity is a shield we use, even a weapon with which some fight. Perhaps, to be charitable, we can see why polity has become so important. Perhaps it has something to do with the rise of the Information Age amid two World Wars, threat of nuclear annihilation, and the “global village” that long has threatened to wipe away local culture and flavor in all parts of the world. In other words, in times of stress, we cling to our polity. We do so because it is objective, and a badge we can wear. We can hold up that badge and say to others, “I am this (insert polity here)!”.

As a thought experiment, try for a moment to do some imagining. Get your inner John Lennon groove on and …. “imagine their are no polities it is easy if you try.

Well, maybe not that easy. But do try. What does the Church, right now, look like without polities? How would we understand Christianity?

I would suggest that we confine the possibilities to taxonomies that are theological, because the Church is fundamentally theological phenomena. So what are the possibilities? A taxonomy rooted in doctrine (or doctrines) is one; but that might be too narrow. One rooted in ecclesiology is another; but that might get us back to polity and denominational confusion, back to where we started.

I argue that the best taxonomy (particularly if one is concerned ultimately with unity within Christianity) is that of schools: schools of theology/spirituality. Such a taxonomy gets at what unites us, what divides us, but allows for a healthy amount of grey area (which is appropriate given that Christianity is a big tent, and should be). And the taxonomy of schools immediately suggests a complimentary relationship between the various schools. Not triumphalism, but partnership: schools have certain gifts, certain emphases, certain weaknesses. Schools learn from within their own tradition, but also through dialogue and mutuality with other schools.

Exploring this taxonomy, what emerges are patterns of behavior and thought: patterns of attitudes and priorities (about the Bible, about Liturgy, about Sacraments, about Doctrines/Dogmas, about the Kingdom of God, about Creation, etc.). You would see patterns of competency, of temperament, of style. Spend some time thinking about this. You might find that removing polity as a taxonomy in favor of taxonomy rooted in school of theology/spirituality yields interesting and unexpected bedfellows. How many Anglicans practice a truly Catholic spirituality, for example; and how many practice a functional congregationalism? How many Anglicans are functionally Roman Catholic? Or Eastern Orthodox? Or Baptist?

One of the gifts that Anglicanism has been given is a truly rich tradition of theology. No one has better demonstrated this than Martin Thornton, in his English Spirituality. What his work shows is that Anglicanism should be defined as a school of Catholic theology and spirituality. It is a school that is distinct yet complementary to other Catholic schools. It can be traced to the New Testament Church. Whether any Christian school must be able to trace itself to the NT Church is an interesting open question. I wonder if it might be the case that, if it can’t trace itself to the NT Church, that school has not yet understood itself properly. It would seem to me a kind of necessity, as a Christian, to be able to trace a continuity of theology and spirituality to the NT Church, no?

Spirituality and theology unfold in time and space, but they are not strictly bound by particular contexts. Old Saints become oddly contemporary, don’t they? We can adopt something of a 2nd century Christian spirituality, for example, rooted in what we know about 2nd century theology. How unlike this are polities. Polities come, and polities go, and are necessarily particular to their context — much like the weather in slow-motion. When it is stormy one day, and sunny the next, do we find ourselves with two entirely different lives according to the weather? Or do we have continuity from one weather pattern to the next, being the same people with the same general outlook and same general sense of priorities, but simply responsive in different ways to rain and sun? As with weather, with polity. We respond to our polity, but we aren’t shaped by our polity (or we shouldn’t be). We ought be shaped by our corporate prayer, for praying shaping believing. We don’t pray polity: we pray theology (God’s theology, to be precise).

Ok, back to theology and Anglicanism. The point is to consider how Anglicanism looks, feels, and lives as an organism without undue attention to the various Anglican polities. I have posed the suggestion that it is perhaps our disproportionate attention to polity that has contributed to, or perhaps created, the identity crisis plaguing us. And I have suggested that removing polity as the primary lens to understand Anglicanism issues in a recognition that Anglicanism is a theological and spirituality-based phenomena that is traceable to the NT Church. It is, in short, a school.

Now, tackling the nature of the identity crisis in Anglicanism would be the subject of enormous work. We can only hope to grapple with a problem this severe in incremental fashion, bit by bit, seeking a tipping point through a critical mass of people who understand (a) the problem, and (b) possible solution. For the challenge, put in positive terms, is to renew Anglicanism. To aid in that is the mission of Akenside Press, particularly renewal at the parish and family levels. Books have to be written, yes. But hearts have to be persuaded, behaviors changed. It is work we have to do, but it will take time. By my lights, this work is precisely what the Holy Spirit has led Anglicanism to confront as a corporate family. Who are we? What is our theological tradition? How do we talk about it? How do we make our tradition beneficial to the Body of Christ? What are the impediments?

In that spirit, reflect upon the following quote, from H.R. McAdoo, from his excellent work The Structure of Caroline Moral Theology, chapter 1, “The Anglican Approach to Theology”:

While a narrow local patriotism in theology would be disastrous, there is something strangely unreal in the prevalent neglect of the heritage of Anglicanism. Barthianism, Thomism, and even Counter-reformation thought posses a following in the English Church, and the study of the fathers [ed.: “and mothers”] of Anglicanism receives but a fraction of its rightful need of attention. A wide acquaintance in theology, ranging from patristic to the modern exponents of Continental confessional theology, is obviously desirable, but the danger lies not in grafting such study on an existing theological stock, which were admirable, but in making it the background. There follows a loss of root and idiom, and by neglecting those specifically Anglican presuppositions latent or expressed in classical Anglican thought and writings, we risk becoming mere theological vagantes.

When we let go of polity, it is this sort of stuff that shows up: that is, how we actually act theologically. What McAdoo is diagnosing is that Anglicanism, in practice, tends to choose for its own theological background non-Anglican theological traditions. Think about that for a second. We have chosen for our background non-Anglican theology. Instead of Anglican theological tradition, what have we used? We have used at various times in Anglicanism St Thomas Aquinas and his “Thomistic scholasticism”; or we have used Calvinism, and his successors, including Karl Barth and Alister McGrath and their “neo-orthodoxy”, whether high-church or broad-church; some have used (both via positiva and via negativa) the Liberal Protestantism of Schleiermacher;  or some (that is to say, Tractarians) have used theology from the Counter-Reformation spirituality. Yes, of course: the vast majority use the BCP for liturgy. But for talking about theology, reflecting about doctrine, understanding theological identity, or (perhaps most importantly) for forming Christians young and old, instead of our tradition, our school, we go elsewhere. That is McAdoo’s point.

McAdoo calls this “strangely unreal”. I would say it is downright bizarre. Talk about a recipe for identity crisis!  It would be one thing if we did not have a tradition to speak of. But we do! Ours is the NT Church to Celtic Church to Augustine to Benedict to Anselm to Julian of Norwich (and her contemporaries) to the Carolines to John Macquarrie (with plenty of folks in between). This is a glorious tradition, of Saints and blessed theologians! Why would we not want to root ourselves in this tradition? Nobody else does, in any central or primary way. Hey, here’s an idea: maybe we should — hey, it might be kinky.

The take away is this: consider that polity-identification gets in the way of theological- and spiritual-identification. Polities come and go: slowly, to be sure, but they do go. Out of expedience and facticity we have to operate through our polity. Again, this is not a call to pretend like we can destroy polities. But right now, as Anglicans who are living a tradition that by any measure (in the West, at least) is on life-support, let’s allow God to nurse the patient back to health. The best food is the Word of God. The best meal plan is our liturgical and sacramental life. The best diet is our school of theology and spirituality. Let’s claim who we are, and do so with all humility, commitment, and love for God.

 


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On the English School of Catholic Spirituality

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

But what does the term mean? Let us turn directly to Thornton and read from the second chapter of his book, Margery Kempe: An Example in the English Pastoral Tradition. This is an excellent book that deserves wider reading. And incidentally, this was his favorite book; and Kempe, his favorite figure within English tradition. She was his favorite because, against the tide of academic criticism, he saw Kempe as a “poor mystic . . . but first-rate parishioner.” That is, he interpreted her Book  according to ascetical principles that animated all of this theological thinking, and in so doing, found in her Book a rich resource of pastoral and ascetical examples that parish priests and catechists can use to teach habitual recollection, biblical meditation, colloquy, and much more.

Keep in mind that this book was written in 1960, and in the excerpt below, a couple moments might benefit from updated language and some tweaking. There is obvious reference to England that might be less applicable elsewhere in the Anglican world. Be that as it may, I suggest you focus on the main points about (a) what a school is, and (b) what it means for Anglicanism to be such a school:

A school of spirituality is the local and corporate expression of the great Pauline doctrine of diverse gifts within the unity of the Mystical Body; and it is the logical consequence of the Incarnation itself. In one sense, Jesus Christ, the Second Adam, recapitulates the whole of humanity within himself, and the doctrine issuing form this fact is dogmatic, changeless, and Catholic. On the other hand, Jesus is a man, with a particular personality and temperament. His own spiritual life, and his death, redeemed the whole world, yet he lived within the pattern of a particular strain of first century Judaism. The prayer of Christ is the prayer of humanity, because all true prayer is prayer in Christ. But Christ’s prayer was also very specialized; it was a synthesis of the Priest-Prophet Jewish tradition: Christ belonged to a “school”.

Note well: Christ belonged to a school. Have you ever considered that possibility? He continues:

From this balance between the total body and the unique characteristics of every human soul, there arise the great Catholic schools of spirituality, all differing according to temperamental and racial traits yet all in harmony with the dogmatic facts of the one faith. As seven musical notes are arranged and woven into an infinity of harmonies, so the clauses of the Creeds, by emphasis and arrangement but without omission, are woven into the rich diversity of Christian spirituality. One of the most impressive arguments for the true universality of the Catholic Faith is that it is so readily qualified by any number of adjectives: Eastern and Western, French, Italian and American, Franciscan, Cistercian and Carmelite. It is impossible to speak in the same way about Western Buddhism or African Confucianism.

The analogy to music is profound. He is saying that the Catholic Church is the totality of musical possibilities (think a piano, if you like, and all the possible tonal combinations). Each school plays the piano and weaves and realizes its harmony differently because that is the nature of incarnation. No one plays the piano exactly like anyone else. But as the deep harmony of music is ever-present and ever-animate in and through all piano players, the underlying Catholic unity — love, beyond abundance — is ever-present and ever-animate in and through all Catholic schools. Take a moment to soak that in.

Back to Thornton:

Within all this wonderful richness, and as a true part of Catholicism, stands the English school of spirituality. And in a period of pastoral flux such as we now experience, I believe it to be of the first importance that we pay more attention to our own particular tradition. Whatever liturgical or ascetical experiments we wish to try, it is wise first to decide whether they are likely to grow and flourish on English soil. This does not mean insularity, but it does suggest a measure of solidity upon which our individual and parochial spirituality can be built, embellished, if need be, by facts from foreign traditions. It is one thing to decorate a room in an English country house in the Japanese style: it is quite another to build a row of cottages in that style in the middle of a Norfolk village. The latter is analogous to our present neglect of English spirituality in favor of Oratorian, Carmelite, and Salesian methods. Let me say at once that there is nothing wrong with any of these methods — nor with Japanese architecture — but if they are to be useful to use they must be incorporated into our own tradition. First our own tradition must exist in a flourishing state and, if this is to be, it must be re-studied from its sources, and we must pay special attention to its greatest periods.

He goes on to describe how English spirituality is traceable to the Celtic Church, through St Benedict, eventually into St Anselm (which decidedly brings in St Augustine), later the Victorines, Julian of Norwich and others into The Book of Common Prayer, and so on. I’ve assembled the more comprehensive map of ressourcement at right. Characteristic of our school for Thornton is (1) superb synthesis between Affective and Speculative strains of Catholic spirituality, (2) a spirit of optimism and theological humanism, and (3) a constant an thorough-going insistence upon the unity of the Church — religious and secular, priest and layman, bishop and people: all are knit together in the One Body of Christ. Thus English/Anglican pastoral reflections are “warm, ‘homely’, domestic” that prizes the “uniqueness of each individual soul growing happily within the corporate order of the Church.”

That is what it means, for Thornton, to refer to Anglicanism as possessing, historically as well as presently, the English school of Catholic spirituality within it. Whether we should do so remains an open question. Presumably anti-Catholic folks within Anglicanism would not be happy. On the other hand, plenty of good Christian people of whatever stripe might not be persuaded by an English theologian they have never heard of before (Thornton, by and large, remains unknown to the majority of Anglicans). The postliberal movement might want to correct or fine-tune. And of course Thornton might be just completely off-base in this entire analysis.

But at this point in a very weakened Anglican state of being, we are begging for renewal. If Anglican renewal is understood to be a parish- and family-rooted phenomenon (I think that is the only truly sustainable location for renewal, although all dimensions of Anglicanism ought play a role), then the envisioning of Anglicanism as a school of Catholic spirituality directly presents a renewal agenda: in parish formation programs, get to know our tradition! That is, renew intentional engagement with our inherited “conversation” — talk formally and informally about ideas, say, from Julian of Norwich in parishes and at the kitchen table — so that we can slowly but surely nurse our tradition back to health and regain a healthy sense of self, rooted in the Book of Common Prayer. At that point we can flourish again toward our ever-constant mission to be a fruitful and sustaining partner in the wider Catholic Church, the Mystical Body of Christ. Or as Thornton writes in English Spirituality (p. 14):

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

To rediscover it.

The basic library of Anglican renewal

As a visual of the core moments of the map of Anglican historical theology (as researched by Martin Thornton), here is the basic library of Anglican renewal:

This is a library of points of departure, rooted in the guiding light of holy Scripture (the Christian thesaurus, or “treasury”) and manifested through The Book of Common Prayer (the source and summit of Anglican liturgical/sacramental asceticism; i.e., Catholic Rule or regula). This is a doable, manageable list, is it not? St Augustine’s Enchiridion, the Rule of St Benedict, the prayers and meditations of St Anselm along with his Proslogion, Lady Julian of Norwich’s Revelations, and John Macquarrie’s Principles of Christian Theology — handled any which way, these are tools for Anglican renewal. These tools invite, nay beg, their use in Anglican parishes and in Anglican homes for reflection, meditation, discussion, and catechesis —  in a word, formation. Or in another, mystagogy, the savoring of Christ’s mysteries.

The renewal of which Akenside Press is most mindful is that of the grassroots — to animate and re-animate with Catholic reality according to the Anglican school. Of particular focus are parish formation programs and living room discussions by families. What strikes me about the theologians in this basic library is that each has a special and unmistakeable power to animate. Each is accessible, anchored in a devotional balance between intellect and affect, reflects and concentrates key movement in Anglican development (the Anglican school of Catholic spirituality), and is congruent with our strong root-stock in the monastic/liturgical mode of theological appropriation. This is not an exhaustive list of possibilities, but a basic list of resources that perhaps are our most pregnant. These are works that can refuel our imagination, rebalance our lives in Christ, and renew our ability to communicate Anglican culture to others … and ourselves.

Trinity through Anglican historical theology

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our theological map as “conversation”

I was pleased to see Bishop Daniel Martins nod approvingly at my essay on our map of Anglican historical theology. He wrote on Facebook, “Some impressive analysis by Matthew Dallman, whose project it is to keep the work of Martin Thornton in front of Anglican eyes.” A blogger named JD Ballard responded, as well. Ballard comments:

I wonder if reacquainting ourselves with our fore-bearers in the faith might help us find our way forward… might lead us to a much longed for renewal.

My thoughts exactly. Renewal always involves returning to the sources — aka “back to basics”. And how to reacquaint ourselves, at the parish level, is precisely where my focus is right now. This is the “challenge” that I am choosing to face.

The works that make up our tradition do issue in a curriculum that is comprehensive and, in one sense, large. Just look at the map. But to be well-acquainted with it does not present itself, at least to me, as a thoroughly impossible task. There are many texts, but there aren’t that many. In even rougher outline — Augustine’s Enchiridion, Benedict’s Rule, Anselm’s Proslogion, Julian’s Revelations, and Macquarrie’s Principles of Christian Theology, all guided by the Book of Common Prayer  and that is plenty good food for a parish journey.

And of course, the concrete texts aren’t the whole story. Our theological tradition emerges from the marriage of texts within Anglican communities over our history. Our tradition, like any tradition, is what some call a “cultural-linguistic phenomenon”. That is fancy jargon. What is means is simple, however. How our conversation, as Catholic people in a variety of life situations and contexts, relates to the texts is as important as the actual words on the page. We are a family that lives around The Word. This life is through space and time. How we as Anglicans encounter The Word liturgically, sacramentally, corporately through the history of the Body of Christ makes for what we might call “our conversation” — all Anglicans, all Christians, all Saints, gathered around the table in conversation — listening to, feeding upon, and responding to, The Word. As Julian writes, “And what can make us rejoice in God more than to see in Him that He rejoices is us, the highest of all His works?” This is the essence of our conversation.

At St Paul’s Parish, our rector has charged us with a question: how do we communicate authentic Anglicanism to others?

My thought has been that before we talk it, we must know what “it” is. That is to say, we first must be able to identify our tradition. Hence the map, as a rough estimation of our tradition of theology as it has unfolded through history. That is step 1.

Step 2, therefore, after we know what “it” is, is clear: we must “live it”. We have to put ourselves in dialogue with these works, as best we are able, and make them our own (i.e., “appropriate” the texts).

As Ballard says, we ought “reaquaint” ourselves with our tradition. Start with Augustine, Benedict, Anselm, Julian, Macquarrie, and proceed as you will to the others. Perhaps this seems imposing. It has to me, to be honest. But I’m wondering now whether the task of doing so starts with an immediate recognition: we are already acquainted with this map — because of the Book of Common Prayer! We are “Prayer-Book Catholics”, and because we are, we are participating in the “Anglican conversation”, aka the map, by virtue of our liturgical life — what Thornton calls “the Catholic regula” of Mass + Office + Devotion. Our liturgy — which is to say, our form of Catholic liturgy — is both the source and summit of our experience. This is to say, our liturgy is the source and summit of our “Anglican conversation”, in its fullest, most supreme, most actualized sense. O Lord I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof. But only say The Word, and my soul shall be healed. Our liturgy feeds us. Furthermore, our liturgy is a school; it teaches our conversation.

To reacquaint is to listen. “Listen!” is the first word of The Rule of St Benedict. Thus the “how to reacquaint” method perhaps emerges: within our liturgical life in Anglican parishes (which in its fullest sense is both Mass and Office), we read devotionally in our parish study groups works from the map. We talk about them in our small groups, and we allow the Holy Spirit to feed us, lead us, and unite us. We simply intend, and follow through with, to listen to the Holy Spirit through the works of our tradition. Doing so does two things: (1) it renews our understanding of who we are as Anglicans — the nature of prayer in the Anglican tradition, and (2) it gives us vocabulary that builds upon the vocabulary supplied by parochial formation courses.

These steps seem reasonable to me because we are already doing them. Yet to have the goal at least sketched out — the goal is to be able to respond to God in conversation with others — would seem to me to make the whole enterprise cleaner and more purposeful. Thornton, as usual, captures our task perfectly: “Any satisfactory spirituality … especially Anglican spirituality, can only evolve by serious study of our ancient tradition, plus bold experiment.” The task is ours to perform.

Duccio di Buoninsegna - Appearance Behind Locked Doors

Martin Thornton’s Map for Anglican Ressourcement

INTRODUCTION

At some point any serious, committed Anglican — particularly someone who understands, or has been told, that Anglican spirituality is actually thoroughly Catholic, though distinct from Roman, Eastern Orthodox, Old Catholic, and Oriental Catholic — is likely going to confront a simple but serious question: What is the nature of Anglican theology?

This is a good question. Perhaps for Catholic Anglicans, it is a crucial question, because this particular question might get at the heart of authentic Anglican identity. And doesn’t the Anglican communion face a crisis of identity that would be particularly good to resolve, in order to save what might be an imploding tradition?

Many Anglicans know, and all should, that Archbishop of Canterbury Geoffrey Fisher (d. 1972) famously said about Anglicanism, “We have no doctrine of our own.  We only possess the Catholic doctrine of the Catholic Church enshrined in the Catholic Creeds, and these creeds we hold without addition or diminution.  We stand firm on that rock.” These words ought plaster the top of every formation handout given to Anglicans in parish formation classes. Fisher’s statement is profound, scriptural, patristic, and humble. Its truth guides our tradition.

Yet there is a difference between doctrine and theology. These are intimately related, but markedly distinct. Indeed, in my view (the point is debated, to be fair), the Archbishop remains correct: Anglicanism has no unique doctrine of its own. At its core, it reflects a “school of Catholic spirituality.” Spiritual schools, after all, do not concoct new official doctrines. Rather various Catholic traditions work with the doctrines that holy Church has defined, according to the whole — the Vincentian Canon is ever-useful: “Care must especially be had that that be held which was believed everywhere, always, and by all.” But yet again, we have the distinction between what is believed (doctrine) and how the doctrine is worked with, how it manifests in the life of a particular tradition or school (theology).

So we know what Anglican doctrine is. It is Catholic doctrine, as believed everywhere, always, and by all (which is not to even slightly suggest its use is merely static and perfunctory) — foundational doctrines include the Doctrine of God, the Doctrine of Creation, and Doctrine of the Church, and so on. But the nature of Anglican theology is another matter. And here we are entitled to claim a particular “theology”. But let’s be clear: we follow Anselm (along with many, if not most, Christians) in defining “theology” as faith seeking understanding. Or to expand this: theology is the manner by which faith in the orthodox doctrines of holy Church seeks to develop both language and practice in the dynamic life of Christian communities. Immediately we perceive that “the manner by which” presupposes a plurality of theologies. Different theologies emerge in the working out in actual Christian lives of doctrine universal to the whole Church from its first moments today. Different schools have their differing languages and differing practices — within the Mystical Body of Christ exist a matrix of complementary living theologies. This is all well and good, and thoroughly orthodox. Because there are various Catholic schools within the historic Church, it follows that there are various Catholic theologies.

So, amid this plurality, the many strands of catholicity within the Church, what is Anglican theology? What is our school of Catholic theology, born of our spirituality?

ENTER MARTIN THORNTON

I would propose that Martin Thornton has given Anglicanism a permanent gift, which is his book, English Spirituality. This book is already well-loved and appreciated in Anglicanism, certainly in the United States. It is the go-to book to discuss ascetical theology and is a resource for pastoral theology. But I would argue that neither application exhausts the book’s gift. No, its true significance is more profound: it is nothing less than a thorough map of the “English School,” that is, of Catholic Anglican theology in its lineage, prepared for ressourcement. From Thornton, we have a clear sense of what the core curriculum of renewal is, and should be, for Anglican theology. His might be the very first instance that the contours of our school of theology have been thoroughly and concisely articulated.

Thornton never used the term ressourcement, but I doubt he would disagree strongly with this analysis of his work. (My master’s thesis is on his corpus.) In any event, all are advised to pull out their copy of English Spirituality and give it serious attention in this new light. I will not rehearse here the extended argument that Thornton makes, because it is nuanced and does require participation in Anglican liturgical and sacramental life to fully appreciate (as any school would require).

All that said, at this time, I merely want to diagram Thornton’s map for ressourcement. Some of this is indicated by the Table of Contents of English Spirituality, to be sure. Yet the finer details are not, and I might add that the diagram would bear further detailing. This is a broad-brush perspective intended to orient Catholic Anglicans to the genuine root-stock of our theological breeding, which is the English School of Catholic spirituality.

Here is the diagram, with a bit of commentary to follow:

The middle column is the primary strand of theology whereby contemporary Anglicanism corresponds with the New Testament Church. Thornton saw two “flowerings” of the English School. The first was in the 14th and 15th century with the quartet of Rolle, Hilton, Julian, and Kempe—and he also saw The Cloud of Unknowing as central, as well. The second flowering was the introduction of the Book of Common Prayer and the resulting Caroline Age. He defined the latter more broadly than most: from Hooker’s Lawes through Law’s A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life—essentially the seventeenth century. In terms of the side columns, we see Sts Augustine and Aquinas as the most influential across the ages. Additionally we see how the English School, and hence Anglicanism, has within it Franciscan, Dominican, Victorine, and especially, Cistercian influences.

Let me add some additional remarks:

Importantly, Archbishop Ramsey wrote an article called “What is Anglican Theology?“. I do recommend it, yet one must immediately note his answer is not to outline a curriculum, but to describe our Anglican method. Thornton talks about method, as well, in English Spirituality — he calls our method “speculative-affective synthesis”; but this can be described different ways, so Ramsey’s piece is useful. The “how” is just as important as the “what.” Yet do grasp the difference: above is Thornton’s understanding of the core curriculum of Anglican ressourcement. Thus something of this map is how Anglicanism has been, and must continue to be, a theological tradition, and not merely a methodological tradition — again, nothing short of being one of the genuine schools of Catholic spirituality.

Again, whereas English Spirituality has been interpreted and used as a guide for ascetical theology (a good thing!), I suggest its fullest gift is as a clear presentation of our true lineage of historical theology — as well as a helpful general commentary upon each of the major theologians living in our tradition, ancient and more contemporary, which is summed up as ressourcement. I believe that discerning and then living out explicitly our true inheritance of theology (as of 1986 when Thornton died) would go a long way toward long-term resolution of the identity crisis that plagues contemporary Anglicanism, and has hobbled Anglicanism for far too long of time. It is not a panacea, to be sure, but a thoroughly helpful guide, not merely to be looked at but used. Thornton invites you to pray with the works of our tradition, and English Spirituality is an expert-level commentary to help you as you do.

CONCLUSION

Obviously one could add complexity to this map in any number of directions with myriad additions. I’m unfairly lumping all the Caroline Divines together, for example, several of whom were in significant dialogue with, and critique of, various Reform theologies, not to mention an array of Fathers. The same could be said for the Tractarians and in particular Newman. The term “Ecumenical Divines,” is chosen to echo with the common “Caroline Divines,” as well as the also used “Evangelical Divines” and “Tractarian Divines.” The adjective “Ecumenical” simply refers to the fact that these theologians—the full list is longer, of course—lived in an age of marked ecumenism and ecumenical exchange within the Church both East and West, including the Second Vatican Council, which despite ecclesial disunity, impacted the entire Church. Thornton also would add the retired archbishop Dr Rowan Williams to this list, as Thornton saw Williams’ Resurrection as an excellent work of pastoral theology.

Acknowledging possible amendments to this diagram, let us not make it too complex. What Thornton has provided is the foundational map of our school of Catholic spirituality. In other words, we can add to it — after all, our school, if it is to be a living school, must be dynamic — but we ought resist subtracting from it, because to do so risks a deformed picture of who we are and how we have tended to follow Christ by means of the Holy Spirit. Clearly, seminary application of this map could spring from Thornton’s curriculum; yet at the parish level for formation courses, even this basic outline provides an ample treasury of resources for reflection and devotional/doctrinal study, not to mention endless homiletic application. Parish priests and catechists take note!

POSTSCRIPT
Here is a short “core list“, recommended as a starting point for a curriculum in Catholic Anglican theology (historical and present-day):

St Augustine: Enchiridion
St Benedict: Rule
St Anselm: Proslogion
Walter Hilton: The Scale of Perfection
Julian of Norwich: Revelations of Divine Love
Margery Kempe: The Book of Margery Kempe
Jeremy Taylor, Rules for Holy Living

See also his “Syllabus for Anglican ressourcement“, which is longer yet intended for study over two or three years.

Update 2:
Richard John Neuhaus wrote, “Almost five hundred years after the sixteenth-century divisions, the realization grows that there is no via media.” Well, all hinges on what via media actually means. For Martin Thornton, it means the “speculative-affective synthesis”—that is, Benedictine balance of thought and feeling expressed in prayerful, creative action, which for him was a primary characteristic of the English School of Catholic spirituality. And as to whether there is no via media, figures such as Richard Hooker, Lancelot Andrewes, Jeremy Taylor, John Wesley, John Keble, Charles Gore, Evelyn Underhill, William Temple, Michael Ramsey, John Macquarrie, Martin Thornton and, well, a lot more all argue against Neuhaus’ view. And, although I am biased, I think they get the better of it, by a long shot.

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