Tag Archives: lectio divina

An extended excerpt from PRAYER: A NEW ENCOUNTER by Martin Thornton

The next step of our reissuing of Martin Thornton’s books is an extended excerpt from Prayer: A New Encounter, and it is now available.

This extended excerpt includes both Forewords that John Macquarrie wrote, first for the 1972 edition from Hodder and Stoughton, and second for the 1988 reissue by Cowley Publications. An intriguing bit from the former:

I am especially pleased that Dr Thornton has drawn so much on my own theological work in the writing of this book. His profound knowledge of ascetical theology has enabled him to draw implications from my work of which I was not myself aware, though for the most part I think these are consonant with my intentions.

Also included is the “Personal Preface” by Thornton. It was not included in the Cowley reissue for reasons that are not clear to me. Not only is this crucial to properly understanding the purpose, scope and emphases in this book, it also functions as an appraisal of his writing as he enters his third and final phase of his theology. It begins provocatively:

Modern theology is an ancient concept, since every age has to make its own reappraisal and practical application of the faith once delivered to the saints. Sometimes this development takes the form of a gentle unfolding of tradition; sometimes, as is the case today, it is a radical upheaval. The present generation of Christians must learn to live with chaos, more positively they must grasp and live their faith in a spirit of adventure and experiment.

Finally, the bulk of the excerpt is Chapter 14 of Prayer, entitled “Silence.” Here we see Thornton anticipating, and strongly complementing, the emphasis on contemplation that has been so successfully taught and shared by theologians such as Fr Thomas Keating, Fr William Meninger and Fr Basil Pennington (among others, with Thomas Merton obviously being influential). For example:

If withdrawal into silence is focus or concentrate of experience, then it is a necessary and natural need, not an artificially imposed religious duty. Silence is the environment of creativity, the essential condition for letting-be, the birthplace of love.

Enjoy this extended excerpt of Prayer: A New Encounter. Also see the extended excerpts recently made available from Rural SynthesisThe Purple Headed Mountainand English Spirituality.

Cover image “Descent of the Holy Spirit” by bobsh_tis licensed under CC BY 2.0 / Cropped from original.

The Prayer Book as Regula, a Slideshow

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

click for slideshow


See also: What does Regula mean?

Icon by the hand of Monica Thornton. 


Notes on the Divine Office

(Notes taken from The Rock and the River, by Martin Thornton. New York: Morehouse-Barlow, 1965.)

What is the Divine Office?
(1) The Church’s daily offering of praise to God the Father through Christ; its fundamental emphases are corporate, objective, and self-effacing — the “pulse” of the organism.

  • A specific, attentive response to God who is at the heart of life.
  • An adult discipline.

(2) A doctrinal affirmation and grounding of insights gained through personal Devotion.

(3) A preparation, or ‘prologue’, to the Mass.

What is it not?
(1) Only an occasional act of worship, such as a Sunday service.

(2) A meditative practice or lectio divina.

(3) A variable liturgy, up to the whims of the moment.

What is the Divine Office for?
(1) Forming the basis of habitual recollection; a ‘tuning-in’ by the Church Militant to the perpetual adoration of God by the Church Triumphant: a ‘continuum of praise’.

(2) Providing solid food of maturity rather than affective sweetmeats of spiritual adolescence; it guards against subjectivism and sentimentality; provides support in periods of aridity.
(3) Giving practical expression of loving God: a practical, existential, concrete response to prevenient grace.

(4) Giving solid anchor amid a world of anxiety, terrifying change, mental and psychological disturbance — an aid to keeping sane.

(5) Giving ascetical emphasis to objective praise of God transcendent — the living affirmation of  God’s ‘otherness’ or ‘incomprehensibility’.

(6) Expressing corporate togetherness; it is the Church’s prayer and the Church’s praise: true community, true corporate identity: an expression of being-with-others, a vicarious “praying-for” on behalf of all.

(7) Guarding against legalism, individualism, and self-centeredness.

How is the Divine Office to be used?
(1) Location.

  • As a group or parish assembled in a physical space (i.e., a parish church).
  • Private recitation, or “secret discipline”: at home, in hotel room, at work, on a busor train or car: as “the beyond in the midst of life”.

(2) Means of articulation.

  • Sung or chanted.
  • Said or recited.

Homily: Savoring God’s Word

Deuteronomy 26:5-11; Romans 10:8b-13; Psalm 91; Luke 4:1-13
[NB: The Gospel is read by Father Thomas Fraser.]

In recent decades, there has emerged a movement of people who practice “Centering Prayer”. For those unfamiliar with it, Centering Prayer originates in the ancient Benedictine tradition of lectio divina, and presents itself as practice to cultivate an awareness of being and a deeper relationship with God. Centering Prayer spread through the teaching of it in retreats beginning in the 1970s.

The practice is actually quite simple. A person sits on the floor, or a pillow, or a chair. They choose a sacred word or short phrase that expresses their intention to consent to God’s presence and action during the time of prayer. A word such as Christ, love, God, Spirit, or any word or short phrase. Then commences the sitting in silence. When one notices in their mind any thoughts, feelings, desires, associations, images, one does nothing but silently return to their sacred word, as their anchor, their centering in God. Thoughts, awareness, centering word. That’s it – that’s the whole practice, recommended in 20-minute sessions, twice a day.

One of its advocates is a Trappist (Cistercian) monk named Father Thomas Keating. Once, in a retreat, Father Keating was told by a woman present at the retreat that it was obvious to her that she was not very good at Centering Prayer. Why, he asked. Because, she said, she couldn’t concentrate at all. Over the 20-min period, it must have been over a hundred times she had to return to her word. Ah, he said, smiling, but that is no problem at all. How wonderful to have turned over a hundred times to God. This move, amid thought or feeling back to God, is a simple dance very important to Christian life.

Confronted with the temptations of the devil, what did Christ do? What did he do but this very move; amid a desire of power over creation (the stone into bread); amid a vision of power over the political world (authority over all kingdoms); and amid a feeling of power over the Father’s very hand (forcing a saving by God’s angels), how simple and elegant is each of Christ’s responses. He turns from desire, vision, feeling back to God. His sacred words come from Deuteronomy: words spoken by Moses to the children of Israel, as they themselves concluded a wilderness experience. Theirs was 40 years; Christ’s 40 days.

Perhaps his wilderness was a study of Deuteronomy, in lectio divina — called a “feasting on the word” in four steps. First you take a bite of scripture (reading a phrase or word); then you chew on it (considering its meaning); then you savor it (a conversing with God); and then you digest it (a silent attentiveness). Doing this helps to make true sense of the Word of God, to make it one’s own. And why is this good to do? It is good because when confronted with a battle for our heart, we can walk in the ways of Christ to respond comfortably and peacefully not with our own words, our own will, but rather with that of God’s will and God’s words, whether from Deuteronomy, or elsewhere in Scripture, or even with the simple word, “Christ.”

The seed of all forms of sin is forgetting God. Adam and Eve forgot God. They thought instead of their own desires, their own selves. God called to Adam “where are you?” not because God did not know the whereabouts of Adam and Eve, but because he knew that they were now in the wilderness – physically present, but emotionally, spiritually “not there.” It is God’s words that return us to him. Not merely the specific words, but the biting, the chewing, the savoring, the digesting — or in the Prayer Book tradition, the reading, marking, learning and inwardly digesting: lectio divina lived on through the 16th-century upheavals.

This season of retreat, by God’s goodness we receive the bread and wine, fruit of earth and vine, the work of human hands. Will we make this a “sacrament to go”, as so much fast food take out? Or against such temptation, will we eat and drink God’s very words, seeking their meaning, savoring the glory these words give to God? And can the bread of life and our spiritual drink, the very living grace of God, heal our souls as the opening of our lives to the pregnant silence of God’s love that gives expression to all material things, and to the beating heart of every person ever born?

It is such a simple move: amid our thoughts, amid our feelings, amid our mental activity, amid our physical activity, amid our eating and our drinking, amid the retreat of Lent — remember God, on our lips, and in our hearts, for every one who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.

 


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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

 

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).

How to read holy Scripture

The late Fr Martin Thornton suggests [1] that for Christians to read holy Scripture as a practice is to meditate upon holy Scripture. Here is his useful description (a kind of manifesto, perhaps) of what it means to meditatively read the Bible:

1. Bible reading, meditation, can only be attempted from within the fellowship of the living Church, which includes its theological tradition, its liturgical worship and its pastoral guidance.

2. Thus, all prayer begins with Baptismal incorporation into the Sacred Humanity of the Risen and Glorified Lord. The Bible can feed, inspire, and articulate this experience: look for its life rather than its message.

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