Tag Archives: Martin Thornton

Homily: Religion and Covetousness

Offered for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time 2016 (Proper 13, Year C)

Over the recent Sunday Gospel lessons, focusing as we have on religion as activity, we have not heard much on the topic of Sin. It has not been entirely absent, however. A creeping pride was implied with the seventy-two disciples returned from evangelism, as well as with Martha amid her hospitality. It was implied strongly toward those who did not help the man who fell among the robbers. It was mentioned prominently in the Our Father prayer—“forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us”—but beyond that, nothing more said.

In today’s Gospel, sin takes center stage. “Be on your guard against all kinds of greed,” Jesus implores. In other translations, the word is “covetousness.” Note the strong language from Jesus: “Be on your guard.” And before that, “Watch out!” Jesus wants to get our attention with this teaching.

“Sin” is one of those words that is pervasive not only in the Church but in the wider society as well, and so the true meaning of sin has I think been obscured as a result. Just as we seen the term “religion” in the secular world has a static meaning, quite different from the more dynamic meaning within the Church, the term “sin” within the Church’s most ancient teaching requires a careful understanding.

Sin means separation from God. Sin means separation particularly with respect to our hearts. Let us be clear: we are never separate from God in an absolute sense—that kind of separation means not only death but annihilation. God’s presence is necessary to exist in the most fundamental sense. But we are often separate from God, that is to say sinful, in our will, our choices. In the choices we make, with respect to our bodies, actions, emotions, habits, as well as inwardly in our soul—what captures all of that is the term “heart”; our heart is where we encounter God, and it is in our heart—the center of our being and existence—where we can be very separated from God. When the Church speaks of the unbaptized person, in particular a wee baby, being “born in sin,” it is not in an absolute sense of separation, for that is impossible for a person who is alive; but in that existential sense of the heart that has yet to choose God in an active, intentional way.

Sin, then, is activity. It refers to activity distinct and different from activity born of the desire to love God. Sin is activity without the love of God at its center. Sin is activity with love of oneself, or love of some idol or false god, at its center.

There in fact is only one kind of sin, and that is Pride. Pride is at the root of all sins, which vary only by emphasis. What is Pride? Pride is the denial of the fact of creation; that we are creatures. It is the denial of creaturelihood; for to deny that we are creatures denies that there is a creator, that is, denies God, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen. Pride is the root of the sin of Adam and Eve in the Garden, of Cain with his brother Abel, as well as of Satan, the fallen angel who thought he was greater than God. Adam, Eve, Cain, Satan—each misunderstood, in their own way, the nature of the created order. That is, they got the doctrine of creation wrong. The doctrine of creation is that God makes, keeps, and loves all things; all things find ultimate meaning only in God; and all things are to serve God. Activity contrary to that doctrine is sin.

I mentioned that Pride is the root sin, and all other sins vary only by emphasis. This refers to what are called the Seven Capital Sins, or Seven Deadly Sins. The Church teaches there are seven major patterns of sin—that is, seven ways we go awry from the doctrine of creation. All of them are forms of Pride, of denying the fact of creation. The Capital Sins have to do with our relationship to creatures and the created world. When we are in right relationship with creatures, we are close to God, for His will is expressed through His creatures. When we are not in right relationship with creatures, we are separated from God.

Like religion and like sin, “relationship” is not static but dynamic and active. When we speak of the experience of Christian religion, we are speaking about being in right relationship to God through the created world—moment to moment, day to day. We are speaking of activity by which we are in harmony or growing in harmony with God’s creation, and hence in harmony with Him.

In our Gospel today, we hear about the Capital Sin of greed, or more classically, “covetousness.” A rich man builds larger barns to store his possessions. But this is done not for the benefit of God but of the man himself. His sin—the choice that separates him from God and fosters disharmony—is to choose himself as the primary beneficiary of these possessions—grain and goods. This choice creates a relationship with the possessions, these creatures, that is sinful. He is thinking strictly in terms of materialism. He choice thereby denies that there might be any ultimate or divine purpose for the grain and goods that glorifies God. So he does not really love these creatures—the grain and goods—in the Christian sense, because Christian love involves God and neighbor—but rather he loves owning, possessing, even exploiting these possessions.

Covetousness, then, is “a lack of love for creatures—an inordinate love to own, exploit and abuse them. It is materialism, the failure to understand that creatures are to glorify God in their own particular way and to help us to do the same” [*].

We overcome covetousness “not by turning our backs on creation but by trying to admire and understand creatures more perfectly, not by hating things but by loving them more truly” [*]. When we admire and try to understand creatures, we open ourselves to the possibility of God revealing to us spiritually something of their ultimate purpose. Covetousness, or greed, separates us from God, because it denies that creatures have any ultimate purpose. It is a form of Pride, of denying the fact of creation with a particular emphasis on the denial of godly purpose.

The antidote for covetousness is generosity. Yes, that means sharing what we have, what we have been given, with others. The first Christians, we are told in the Acts of the Apostles, shared their possessions in common. But it also means being generous in our attitude. We often covet the judgements or opinions about others of whom we do not approve. Our attitude thereby becomes rigid, unbending and final. Historically we have seen such attitudes towards people of other skin colors, social classes, gender, country of origin, or level of education. Or it is because we have been wounded by someone, and understandably harden our hearts toward them. We covet, and hold onto, these attitudes because it allows us to avoid the hard work of loving them, and loving God in them. But loving others does not mean liking them, but adoring the fact that God is as active in their lives as he is in ours.

Let us, by the grace of God, have the self-awareness to recognize when we are being ungenerous in our attitude toward persons or things that bother us, or even that we hate. Let us remember that when we love God, we, by definition, are loving all that God loves—and God loves all his creatures and all his creation, without exception. To begin to conceive the scope of God’s love throws us away from Pride and into Humility—a love that is abundant beyond our comprehension, for God loved all his creatures in the beginning, loves all of them now, and will love all his creatures for ever, world without end. Amen.

[*] Taken from Martin Thornton, The Purple Headed Mountain, chap. 5.

Cover image “Christ the Saviour (Pantokrator)”  is licensed under CC BY 2.0 / Cropped from original.

 

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.

Martin Thornton, by Deborah Yetter

“The Principles behind Martin Thornton’s Theology”

[Note: The following essay was written for Formatio Online Journal, once published by the Ambrose Institute (of Nashotah House). It can be usefully seen as an introduction to my master’s thesis on Martin Thornton, available here to download .]

The Principles behind Martin Thornton’s Theology
by Matthew Dallman, May 2015

Martin Thornton’s theology has been “largely overlooked,” in the words of Dr Rowan Williams. He went on to say, “There is no good reason why he is not read today.”[1] Although Fr Thornton’s books on pastoral theology and prayer in the Anglican tradition have been read widely in the US and UK since the 1950s, absorbing and applying his insights remains a task begun by Anglicans yet far from finished. The tumultuous 20th century—the “culture war” battles within the wider Church, the collapse of Constantinian Christendom, rapidly changing technology and social norms, all within English post-WWII reconstruction, late-stage Lux Mundi theology, enduring Anglo-Catholic ritualism, emerging Evangelicalism and liturgical renewal, and the increasingly popular Parish Communion movement—seem to have impeded the deepest consideration of Thornton’s gifts to the Church.

I am of the view that this may in fact be Providential. A farmer, Anglican priest and spiritual director who lived primarily in the UK yet also taught in the US (and almost became a professor at Nashotah House), Thornton’s voice in his 13 books remains remarkably sober, pastoral, and witty—yet rigorously theological and erudite. We often need some distance to appreciate brilliance.

His purpose was simple: he wanted to equip priests and lay catechists with the appropriate tools to teach prayer—liturgically, biblically, doctrinally, devotionally—that cultivates Anglican parish health within the Catholic Church toward our eventual union with Holy Trinity at the Second Coming of Christ. His value to us today is that he wrote in prophetic anticipation of the then-nascent reconfiguration of Christian life post-Christendom. That is, he wrote not to “keep the boat afloat” but rather to “pick up after the party.” Anglicans have got themselves into quite a predicament, to put it mildly. For Thornton, the recovery of Anglican strength and genius lies not in recreating past glory but rather ressourcement: creative re-application through prayer of what formed us in the first place. It should then come as no surprise that his theological outlook is anchored in the Book of Common Prayer seen as Regula, that is, as a corporate system or Rule of “ascetic” in the tradition of the Rule of Saint Benedict.

With respect to Thornton’s insight use of that term, “ascetic,” from time to time I am asked about a distinction he made in the 2nd chapter of English Spirituality, a chapter which is called “Meaning and Purpose of Ascetical Theology.” Here is what he wrote:

I have said that ascetical theology is primarily a practical and synthetic approach to all other branches of theology, and only in a secondary sense is it a “subject” within theology. It may be convenient to think of the first as “ascetical theology,” an approach or process of theological thinking, and the secondary subject as “ascetical-theology”: in the first phrase “ascetical” is an adjective, the second phrase is a compound noun. The second derives from the first; the subject grows out of the process.[2]

So Thornton distinguishes between ascetical theology and ascetical-theology, without and with a hyphen. The possible implications of the absence or presence of a hyphen may seem, it is true, like an odd topic to consider. What’s more, the conventional definitions of ascetical theology—“the science of the spiritual life” and “the science of human spiritual endeavor to attain to perfection,”[3]—do not clarify much here. To be sure, Thornton would hardly reject these definitions. Both were important to his re-reading of formative influences for their profound bearing on Anglican prayer life (ressourcement). This distinction between ascetical theology and ascetical-theology was in fact another key to that larger effort, and I think Thornton’s insight remains potent for us today.

Thornton surely felt constrained by the fact that “ascetical theology,” being then a well-worn term, could not be easily redefined or even re-thought. Today, our situation is not so constrained, ironically, because “ascetical theology” as a term has effectively vanished in much of the Church. Thornton would no doubt applaud all efforts to re-cultivate this mode of Christian thought, for it may be that the “spiritual hunger” reported across at least the western Church might be met by just this particular approach to the Christian faith. After all, spirituality is the stuff of ascetical theology no matter how it is conceived. Yet what, then, is a key to reviving ascetical theology along Thorntonian lines?

Basically Thornton made a distinction between a way of doing theology on one hand, and a practical subject within theology on the other. The latter—ascetical-theology—refers to the wide variety of practices of personal devotion, such as particular set-prayers and devotions, biblical or theological meditations, fasting practices, mortifications and other acts. This is what for many people is the common connotation of the term “ascetical,” and this is what is generally meant by the Oxford Dictionary definition. Commonly, such ascetical-theology is suggested by a spiritual director or guide, whether parish priest or other trusted adviser. Hence, Thornton also called this “applied theology,” that is, the art of applying theology to the needs of particular individuals.

Thornton in no way would diminish its importance. Asceticism, or ascetical-theology, is a primary subject of his still-popular Christian Proficiency, and the subject figures prominently in several other books. He devoted significant analysis to such topics of actual versus habitual recollection, colloquy, composition of place, the division of prayer, biblical meditation, the relationship between prayer, fasting and mortification, temperaments, the “Three Ways,” and the like. A distinguishing characteristic of Thornton’s theology, in fact, was his mastery of the ascetical-theology writings standard to his day. He drank deeply from early 20th-century Anglican ascetical writing from the likes of Underhill, Harton, Hardman, and Frost, as well as from Roman Catholic ascetical writing from the likes of Scaramelli, Baker, Ignatius, Guibert, Tanqueray, Goodier, and others. These and other writers provided what Thornton meant by “ascetical manuals and textbooks.” Indeed, Thornton mastered the rules before he sought to renovate them.

In so doing, Thornton grappled with the deeper question. What, he asked, might undergird such ascetical-theology practices? Ever the farmer and gardener, Thornton sensed that there must be a wider theological environment within which ascetical-theology is embedded, the existence of which gives ascetical-theology its ground, meaning and final purpose. If so, how would we describe such an environment?

All of this points to one of Thornton’s most overlooked theological contributions. The answer lay in the question, what is ascetical theology in fact a theology of? The answer was this: ascetical theology is the theology of “ascetic.” A simple answer, yet should this surprise us? After all, consider the various departments of theology. Dogmatic theology is the theology of Christian dogma; moral theology is the theology of morality (choice and ethics); liturgical theology is the theology of liturgy; mariology is the theology of Mary, and so on. As a matter of course, ascetical theology would in some sense have to be the theology of ascetic. But what does “ascetic” mean?

Thornton spent significant time clarifying his use of ascetic. We find it as early as his second book (Pastoral Theology; later reissued as The Heart of the Parish), and it was firmly in place by the writing of English Spirituality, his seventh. What he meant by ascetic is an overall corporate model of total spirituality and growth (obedience and practical discipline).[4] Thornton anchored his insight upon the recognition that training and exercise—askesis—presupposes a “race” to run, else what is the training and exercise for? In Thornton’s theology, “ascetic” is a compound and technical metaphor of the active participation in the overall Christian race—more commonly, “journey”—that is, the obedient and disciplined following of Jesus. Biblically speaking, our journey can be said to begin with “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mk 8.34) and become ultimately fulfilled in “You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5.48). In other words, ascetic commences with the initial stirrings of the redeemed sense life and consummates in the eventual union with the triune God.

Ascetic, then, is an integral model of the contours of corporate obedience both actual and potential. Ascetic attempts to grasp the spiritual terrain of the threefold Church whereby the People of God follow Jesus along the penitential journey from sinfulness to perfection. Jesus disclosed this terrain himself through the Cross and Resurrection along with his promised Second Coming. The Church safeguards the boundaries through the doctrines of the Incarnation and Theosis. Yet this is a terrain of prayer, the obedient discipline of corporate Christian life. Hence ascetic, as a model, emphasizes the doing of Christianity, that is, corporate discipleship—“a comprehensive system aiming at wholeness, or better holiness, of life in Christ.”[5]

This provides the true meaning of ascetical theology. Simply put, ascetical theology is the describing, seeking, framing and pastoral shaping of ascetic for use in community life, which today most commonly means the parish. Ascetical theology is the theology of ascetic. The articulating of ascetic, always within actual, given contexts and fluctuating situations, is ascetical theology.

So how can this renew Anglican theological thinking? The renewal can come because ascetical theology in the Thorntonian sense is deeply committed to the Incarnation of Christ (in the widest sense inclusive of the entire life, crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth). The premise or underlying motif of his theology is “Every truth flowing from the Incarnation must impinge upon our corporate prayer.”[6] Applying that motif as ascetical theology means all thinking, reflecting, teaching, counseling and writing about God presumes the Christian reality of ascetic, teleologically and actually. All such theology emerges within an obedience-discipline environment that seeks to regard everything as potential food for spiritual reflection and growth. Theology done in an ascetical way brings everything to God and assumes all data, even the most arcane bit of doctrinal nuance or ancient liturgical evidence, and certainly all doctrine, dogma, liturgical rite, ministerial encounter and, yes, everyday experience, impinges upon—that is, has some degree of actual or potential relationship with—our corporate prayer life. Ascetical theology, the articulating of the Church’s corporate experience at every level and phase, means everything matters during our “journey” through obedience-discipline environment of ascetic. As Thornton summarized, “If theology is incarnational, then it must be pastoral.”[7]

This was the key to his ressourcement of Anglicanism’s formative influences and hence the Book of Common Prayer.[8] Expanding upon the traditional conception of ascetical theology was precisely what he proceeded to do in the riveting chapters of English Spirituality that weave together the ascetical insights of Augustine, Benedict, Bernard of Clairvaux, William of St Thierry, Thomas Aquinas, Anselm, Walter Hilton, Margery Kempe, Julian of Norwich, Richard Hooker, Lancelot Andrewes, Jeremy Taylor and the rest. This all was in full accord with the ressourcement spirit of Yves Congar (1904-1995)—for Thornton sought to move from “a less profound to a more profound tradition; a discovery of the most profound resources,” and he was primarily concerned with “the unity of the ever-living tradition” of the Church. Those were Congar’s words[9] but they easily could be a description of Thornton’s theology. Those resources, those voices—saints, doctors and divines—constitute much of what lie “behind” the Book of Common Prayer and clarify what it can still mean for us today as our corporate system of discipleship.

The great works of theology, as Thornton emphasized, are almost invariably occasional because they are ascetical. Such works are rooted in real people’s lives and challenges: their journeys with Christ by turns joyful, confusing, painful, yet seeking salvation through the hope of Christ. It is when theology loses touch with ascetic—that is, detached from the environment of pastoral reality and prayerful application—that theology risks becoming, in the words of Marshall McLuhan (1911-1980), a “theoretical or intellectual construct . . . purely a game.”[10] Rather, if the relationship between theology and ascetic is maintained, as Thornton would insist is crucial to Anglican tradition, a wider world of orthodox interpretation and prayer emerges that opens up our practice of the Christian life. Ascetical theology, whether by Thornton or anyone else, invites spiritual growth because it is always prayer speaking to prayer.

Overall, Thornton’s “hyphen without and with” distinction amounts to a matter of emphasis. “Ascetical-theology” is an important subject within theology; its personal, individual emphases focus on the applied practices of obedience and discipline. “Ascetical theology,” on the other hand, has a decidedly corporate emphasis and presumes the doctrines of Incarnation and Theosis in order to articulate the ascetical environment upon which the People of God journey. Thus several of the key principles of Thornton’s theology are ascetic and ressourcement. From both he derives his understanding of the Book of Common Prayer as our fundamentally Catholic and Benedictine system of ascetic, as well as his particular paradigms of ascetical theology and ascetical-theology.

Our Lord taught Saint Peter and all practitioners of theology, when he said, “Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven” (Mt 16.17). Theology in the Thorntonian sense demands that everything, whether mundane or sublime, be interpreted as food for discipleship because the true purpose of everything is only revealed by God Almighty—the maker, lover, and keeper of all things bright and beautiful, the telos of all creatures great and small.


[1]. The first statement is from personal email correspondence and the second from a private interview granted me on July 2, 2014 in Cambridge.

[2]. Martin Thornton, English Spirituality: An Outline of Ascetical Theology According to the English Pastoral Tradition (Cambridge, Massachusetts:0 Cowley, 1986), 20.

[3]. F. L. Cross and E. A. Livingstone, The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (London: Oxford University Press, 1997), 144 and 1543.

[4]. Thornton acknowledged the term’s wider connotation meant an “ascetical person” such as the “Desert Ascetics.” The original Greek noun, askesis, meaning “exercise, training,” derives from the verb, askein, meaning “to exercise.”

[5]. Martin Thornton, The Heart of the Parish (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Cowley, 1989), 10. This book was originally published as Pastoral Theology: A Reorientation.

[6]. Matthew Dallman. Catholic and Anglican: Motif, Model, and Operations in Martin Thornton’s Theology. Master’s thesis. Nashotah House Theological Seminary, 2015. For a good but incomplete statement of Thornton’s premise, see English Spirituality, 21.

[7]. English Spirituality, 21.

[8]. Thornton’s ressourcement—that is, retrieving and re-reading patristic, medieval, and modern theologies in light of his theological motif and model—shares important similarities with the Nouvelle Theologie in the Roman Catholic tradition and with aspects of Paris School in Orthodoxy.

[9]. See Gabriel Flynn and Paul D. Murray, eds., Ressourcement: A Movement for Renewal in Twentieth-Century Catholic Theology (Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2012), 4–5.

[10]. Marshall McLuhan, The Medium and the Light: Reflections on Religion (Toronto: Stoddard, 1999), 82.

Martin Thornton, by Deborah Yetter

“Catholic and Anglican: The Motif, Model, and Operations of Martin Thornton’s Theology”

In my continuing efforts to awaken public interest in this Anglican priest’s remarkable theology, I am thrilled to make available my master’s thesis on Martin Thornton. It completed my M.T.S. degree from Nashotah House, and is the result of several years of prayer and dedicated research—including my month of pilgrimage in summer 2014 spent in England and Wales, when I met with Monica Thornton, Martin’s wife, along with Dr Rowan Williams, Sr Benedicta Ward, Dr George Westhaver, and others.

I share this with many thanks to my advisers at Nashotah House, Fr Steven Peay and Fr Andrew Grosso. I also thank Richard Mammana for hosting the thesis on Project Canterbury. It is available to download here (PDF):

http://anglicanhistory.org/academic/dallman_thornton2015.pdf

For a more extended introduction to this thesis, see here.

ABSTRACT
The purpose of this Thesis is to explicate the principles at play in Martin Thornton’s theology. Martin Thornton wrote thirteen books and numerous chapters and articles that explored the theological nature of corporate prayer, its relationship to doctrine, tradition and scripture, and the overall scope of discipleship and obedience to Christ that begins in this life and continues into the next. The first section of the Thesis describes the underlying theological motif and the resulting theological model. That is, the motif of “Every truth flowing from the Incarnation must impinge upon our corporate prayer life” discloses the dynamic model of total, corporate spirituality Thornton calls “Ascetic.” The next section outlines the Thornton’s varied articulations of Ascetic seen as operations with respect to scripture, doctrine, and tradition; and such operations are properly called Thornton’s “Ascetical Theology,” all of which demonstrate Thornton’s mode of ressourcement within a 20th-century Anglican context. Overall this Thesis hopes to demonstrate that Thornton’s motif and model affirm a Catholic conviction, and his operations an Anglican context—the “English School of Catholic spirituality” being the underground yet regnant dynamic within Anglican tradition including present day—and that his theology as a whole remains relevant, useful, and pastorally attuned for use today, in parish life particularly as well as in wider ecumenical discussions.

Drawing by Deborah Yetter.

“Prayer and Incarnation”

By Martin Thornton[1]

Contemporary theology is in confusion: which is at least to start with a proposition that nobody is likely to dispute. It is neither my present task, nor is it within my competence, to try to unravel the tangle; I am to be concerned with an examination of incarnational prayer within the contemporary situation. Nevertheless theology and prayer are inextricably bound together; theology without prayer is sterile, while prayer without theology can be over-fertile, giving birth to all sorts of outrageous monsters.

“Theology may be defined as the study which, through participation in and reflection upon a religious faith, seeks to express the content of this faith in the clearest and most coherent language available.”[2] Thus: “ . . . some experience of the life of faith precedes theology and may indeed be said to motivate it.”[3] “Participation in a religious faith,” “experience of the life of faith,” are reasonable definitions of prayer: so prayer precedes and motivates theology. Conversely theology guides prayer, supplying it with an intelligible structure and foundation.

Modern controversy remains peripheral to my purpose, yet in view of this theology-prayer interplay, some attention must be given to it. After that it will be necessary to reverse the process and take a look at contemporary trends in spirituality: how in fact do modern people pray? What is their aspiration and attrait? What sort of questions and problems most frequently confront the spiritual director? Only after such a preliminary skirmish can we get down to our real business: an examination of incarnational-or christological-prayer as it impinges on the experience of the modern faithful.

I

For present purposes the current debate might be seen as between the “orthodox” (a significant word since it means right worship instead of, or at least as well as, right belief) and the “radical.” This is an oversimplification: radical theologians may come up with a refined and enlightened orthodoxy, while all of the orthodox would be happy to be called radical in the literal sense of getting to the root of the matter; their objection is to the theory that you must cut down and burn the whole traditional tree in order to reach that root. However, the rough distinction should be fairly clear. Let us settle for orthodoxy as sanely conservative, paying humble if not uncritical homage to the wisdom of the past, regarding tradition not as antiquarian but as a living lifeline; as against the tear-it-all-down-and-start-from-scratch school. To narrow the context, we are concerned with those to whom the principles enshrined in the definition of Chalcedon are true, however validly the statement may be criticized, reinterpreted, or put into a different philosophical frame; and those to whom this formula, especially as it touches upon the full divinity of Jesus Christ, is regarded as suspect, inadequate, unintelligible or superfluous.

Given a controversy of this sort, it is impossible for a struggling Christian to remain unbiased; whatever one’s intellectual integrity and logical discipline, it is inevitable that the process of prayer itself, one’s intuition, faith-venture, experience, instincts, or whatever, will incline towards one side or the other. It is more honest to state one’s bias quite bluntly, inviting readers to adjust their response accordingly, than to claim impartiality. I am on the orthodox side, which brings me to a prior objection to the opposing viewpoint.

Much radical theology (another necessary generalisation within the brief compass of this essay) inclines to an arid intellectualism; a kind of neo-rationalism. What cannot be logically demonstrated or intellectually explained must perforce be dismissed. This is not only arrogant but curiously old fashioned; rationalism is itself two centuries out of date, and more recently I thought I heard something like its death knell in James Ward’s Psychological Principles, in F. R. Tennant’s tirade against the “psychologist’s fallacy,” and in A. N. Whitehead’s ‘philosophy of organism.’ Even more curious is that this outlook runs counter to contemporary, existential-and indeed biblical-emphasis upon the synthetic wholeness of human experience. The contemporary stance might be expressed as something like: “I ex-ist, stand out in creation as self-conscious being, therefore I am.” Some of our radicals would appear to go back to quasi-Cartesianism: “I think, so perhaps I am, but nothing will convince me except cerebration.” One suspects this school to be confusing belief with faith, and then failing to see the connection between them: more simply, are they leaving prayer on one side? Or to introduce Professor Macquarrie’s important distinction, are they confusing theology with philosophy of religion?[4]

There is nothing to be said in favour of obscurantism, or in favour of blind faith. There is much to be said for intellectual integrity, but the first step towards it is the admission of intellectual inadequacy, especially when we are dealing with the superior human aspiration like prayer. All of which is not to side with the simple faithful against the professional academic, to set piety against theology, but to insist upon the necessity of their marriage. Moreover, however interdependent the marriage partners, it is prayer, “participation in a religious faith,” that “precedes and motivates” theology. Total faith-experience, not just intellection, is our premise.

My second criticism of much (obviously not all) radical theology is that it is inclined to be narrowly biblicist. The New Testament is placed against its widest contemporary background, all the scholarly tools of the critical trade being brought to work upon it. But it is then abstracted from its ecclesiastical context. If theology is as defined, as the Church clarifying its experience, then the total, ongoing life of the Church cannot be ignored: “the theologian speaks out of the community of faith, the philosopher of religion is an individual investigator.”[5] The biblical interpretations of the Fathers and the Schoolmen may be questioned by contemporary scholarship, but they cannot be ignored, and the doctrinal formulations arising from Patristic and Scholastic interpretation cannot be dismissed. You cannot reach the root by cutting down the tree. I find it difficult to subscribe to the view that the Church, however defined, was infallibly inspired when it wrote the New Testament and formulated the canon, and has been consistently wrong ever since.

It is conceivable that the Church might have interpreted the experience of the Last Supper as a dominical exhortation to a sort of extended, secularised, grace-before-meals, while developing a liturgical extravaganza at the heart of which was ceremonial feet-washing. According to the Fourth Gospel, should not something like this be the central act of Christian worship? But no New Testament scholar however objectively glued to the text, can ignore the fact that throughout its progressive life-history, the Church has thought and acted differently. In fine, you cannot do theology, even biblical theology, without reference to how the Church, that is Christian people, felt, thought, prayed and worshipped, throughout the ages, not excluding our own. Biblicism reduces itself to religious philosophy.

My last dissatisfaction with the radical school is that it appears to be deficient in pastoral perception. This needs explanation. I have no use for the view that all theology ought to be immediately applicable to the practical situation; that books and lectures that do not inspire parish priests to produce next Sunday’s sermon with added zeal are to be dismissed as academic and useless. But if we stick to our definitions, theology should articulate the total experience of the living Church, which includes the prayer and experience of its individual members. If Auntie Emily tells of visions of angels behind the henhouse it is the business of theology to discern, investigate, diagnose and guide. In my experience, which is inevitably both narrow and biased, orthodoxy is surprisingly good at this; its theology may be written in what looks like metaphysical obscurity, yet it manages to keep one foot firmly on the ground, behind the henhouse. Radical theology is inclined to be academic in the wrong sense, which is itself unorthodox. The vast Augustinian corpus for example: De Trinitate, Confessions, Enchiridion, et al, may not be easy reading but it is all pastorally orientated. It is the work not of an academic but of a struggling Christian and a Bishop dealing with a diocese. It is all embedded in prayer and a sunny spot behind the henhouse is not a bad place from which to tackle it. Radical theology looks lost outside the senior common room.

II

That launches us upon our investigation from the opposite, and primary, position: how do modern people pray? What is their aspiration, attrait, learning, experience, which it is the business of theology to clarify and articulate?

Riding rough-shod over the sophistries, we must begin with some explanation of what I choose to call the existential stance. By this I refer to the instinctive, intuitive, conditioned outlook of modern Western people, especially in so far as it differs from the outlook of the recent past. The change has come about in the last century, perhaps since 1900, perhaps 1914; that is for the sociologists and professional historian-anthropologists to argue about. The point is that modern people think and live according to existential, rather than substantive, principles and interpretations. Modern people in the Western world are existentialists, even if they would be surprised to be so described and even if they have never heard of Sartre or Heidegger. I support this viewpoint by asking a simple question: what is a rolling-pin? The Fathers of the Church, the Schoolmen, the Caroline Divines and the Victorians would answer that it was a cylindrical piece of wood; modern people would define it as a tool you made pastry with. The first is the substantive answer: what is it made of, what are its attributes? The second is the existential answer: what is it for? how is it used and experienced?

The change is recent. The Victorians spoke of gold-sovereigns, we do not talk about paper-pounds, because we are no longer interested in what money is made of, only in what we can do with it, how we can experience its worth.

I am almost forced to change sides and throw in my lot with the radicals, who recognise that our credal formulae, including Chalcedon, are written in language that makes little sense to modern people, and which is no satisfactory guide to contemporary christological prayer. To the modern Christian, a list of the divine attributes is as helpful as a wooden cylinder is to a budding cook. Is Jesus a redemptive presence or a metaphysical complex of natures and persons and substances? My orthodoxy here recognises the genuine strengths of the radical position. But will the radical respond by mitigating his intellectualist, biblicist, and anti-pastoral emphases, and begin at the beginning: how do modern people pray? And which of us can best guide them?

The first result of this change of outlook is an emphasis, either recognised or subconscious, upon total integrated being rather than psychological analysis of the person. In current jargon, prayer concerns the whole being, it is a total response, an absolute commitment. If the movement may properly be called existential, it is also both biblical and dominical: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength.” But if we recognise the biblical doctrine of man, this must mean all at once not faculty by faculty.

This accounts for the modern reaction against Ignatian-type mental prayer, and consequent movement towards simple contemplation. The one is discursive, analytic and intellectualist—“mental” in fact—while the other is concerned with total synthetic experience. So Ignatian-type mental prayer would appear to be the natural carry over from a good deal of radical theology today, hinting that such theology is not only out of step with contemporary philosophy but also out-of-date for modern pastoral practice.

The emphasis is on relationship, in Christian context baptismal relationship. Modern prayer begins not with something one does but with the acceptance and working out of a status that one has been given. In the next section I hope to show that this, too, fits in very well with orthodoxy, and that we are liable to come to a savage full-stop without incarnational and christological orthodoxy.

If spiritual direction is to be competent, such christological orthodoxy expressed in contemporary, non-substantive terms, can prove a great stimulus, especially with incarnational contemplation. On the other hand, contemporary spiritual guidance would lose much efficiency if Chalcedon were completely thrown away. Despite five centuries of legitimate criticism, the condemnation of the four heresiarchs still offers invaluable safeguards and warnings. When put together, ancient and modern interpretations of orthodox christology combine vital experience with clarity of thought.

III

Precisely what is meant by incarnational prayer? This question can now be examined in the light of the foregoing, and such examination should throw light on its congruence with radical and orthodox christologies.

I suggest that four main types, or stages, of prayer come under the general heading of incarnational. They overlap, yet they are progressive stages in which incarnational theology needs to become more sophisticated and more important.

The first stage is prayer based upon the teaching and example of Jesus Christ. What did Jesus teach about prayer? Comparatively little, but enough to give some sort of guidance. The Pater Noster itself can be studied and analysed to give rise to specific forms and methods. The example of Jesus is more fruitful: did he himself adopt any specific method, outlook or ascetical structure? This question has been fully examined by many scholars and, despite obvious disagreements in interpretation, a clearer pattern emerges.[6]

The living and praying Christian is guided by the scholars, but he also needs guidance from Christ himself, which means meditation upon his words, works and acts. Some kind of Ignatian-type, discursive exercise comes in at this point.

The christological assumptions of those making this type of prayer will colour its value and authority. Yet it is not wholly incompatible with radical, quasi-Arian interpretation; Jesus is a significant teacher of prayer, who may be studied in the same way as St Bernard can be studied. But there are snags when this sort of christology is placed in its wider New Testament context, and still more when it is widened into the whole ascetical tradition of the Church. The holy women and St Thomas the Twin worshipped Christ; to devout Jews to whom idolatry is the sin of sins, this can only mean that they regarded his as divine: Chalcedon grows out of the experience of the living Church. Moreover, the multifarious and diverse schools of prayer which later arose not only followed Chalcedon, but they would all fall to pieces without it.

The second stage of incarnational prayer is that which sees Jesus as Mediator and Intercessor. This might be stretched into compatibility with an Arian christology: Jesus is invoked to mediate and intercede after the fashion of the invocation of the saints. But more difficulties arise. Why should any mediator between God and man be required—the time-honoured Protestant question? Because of the infinite gulf between them. We are inevitably led into the doctrine of the Trinity without which no christology makes sense. Jesus points to the transcendent Father. The New Testament is clear about that if it is clear about anything, and yet the error of immanentalism is rife in contemporary prayer, life and thought. If man was made but little lower than the angels it is forgotten that the angels were made infinitely lower than God. So any genuine mediator must be considerably more than human: Cur Deus Homo? is still a good question. Perhaps a quasi-Arianism, or some more sophisticated Arian interpretation might still just be possible. But if that is so we have departed from meditation and descended to invocation, or straight intercession. But invocation-intercession, in any Christian sense, depends on the doctrine of the Church, which in turn depends—as we shall see later—on orthodox christology.

The third stage of prayer is that which arises from the idea of encounter. Jesus is neither ancient teacher not remote intercessor but living presence: “Lo, I am with you alway.” Prayer now consists in meeting with the living Christ; eucharistically, recollectively, and by way of continuous personal guidance. We no longer live according to remote and objective Christian principles, neither do we rely on some shadowy faith that Jesus makes continual intercession to the Father for us. Jesus is here, over there, in encounter, to talk to, lean on, argue with; he is our friend and brother, present guide and leader. Right action depends not on principles but on what Jesus commands here and now; right prayer depends on his initiative. We approach the situation-casuistry in ethics and the existential interpretation in prayer: there is Christ and here am I, so let us talk, embrace and work things out from where we are.

That looks as if we are drawing nearer to radical christology, especially the type which argues that if Jesus is God, man, and sinless, then he is too remote to enter fully into the human situation. In fact we are drawing further away from this kind of thinking; there are far more snags than we found before. Living encounter must mean a God-man encounter in two senses: first man meeting God, and secondly man meeting God transcendent through the mediation of a God-man. Because if Jesus is Man, pseudo-god, and possibly sinful, then we might find ourselves on happier terms with him than with the Christ of Chalcedon, but we are on no terms at all with God. So prayer has stopped. Moreover, could one reasonably speak of encounter with the living presence of a Man-possibly-sinful-pseudo-God? We can follow the written teaching of the man-Jesus or of St Bernard; we can ask either to intercede for us with the Father; we can believe in the communion of saints in which St Bernard is in some sort of living intercessional rapport with us, but can we realistically encounter the living and resurrected and glorified Bernard? Perhaps, but there is a difficulty and a difference: you cannot put Jesus at the top of the list. If the invocation of St Bernard means anything it depends upon a doctrine of the Church that depends on a christology something like Chalcedon.

The fourth stage is that which is, for reasons explained in section 2 above, generally adopted in pastoral practice and which seems meaningful and attractive to modern Christian people. This is the concept of prayer based upon the Pauline doctrines of the Church and of our status en Christo: the idea of baptismal incorporation.[7] We do not merely encounter Christ, still less follow his teaching or ask for his mediation: we are “in Christ,” incorporated into the Body of Christ. What does this mean in terms of prayer and day-to-day spiritual experience? It means that the sacred humanity of Jesus is ontologically extended to embrace humanity, and in a particularly creative way, baptised humanity. The whole of our nature, the whole of our being, intellect, senses, emotions, intuitions, appetites, and the rest, are made one with their counterparts in the humanity of Christ: we are wedded to Jesus and the twain shall be one flesh: to taste an apple is to participate in the sacred humanity.[8] Prayer becomes contemplative, non-discursive, total and supra-intellectual.

There is overlap; the prayer of incorporation, incarnational and eucharistic, does not preclude the concept of encounter, although it transcends it, neither does it eliminate the notion of mediation or New Testament meditation. But this common stage in incarnational prayer, common in pastoral guidance and not particularly “advanced” but congenial to the modern temper, is wholly dependent upon orthodox christology. You can learn about prayer from both Jesus and St Bernard, you can invoke both to intercede for you, you might, at a stretch, encounter them both, but it is impossible to speak meaningfully about incorporation into the humanity of Bernard. The Jesus of Chalcedon is nearer than the saints so soon as one’s prayer has got off the ground. The conclusion is that if the neo-Arian christology is adopted then Christian prayer is confined to the kindergarten, from which it has no hope of emerging. We could, and strictly speaking should, go on further to stages five, six and seven: into the realms of Christian and christological mysticism. But space, not discounting this writer’s limitations, forbids.

What I have tried to do in this brief essay, having freely admitted to personal prejudice, is to look at theology, both orthodox and radical, from the viewpoint of spiritual and pastoral experience, and of ascetical theology. I have little use for intellectual obscurantism, for blind faith, and still less for the criticism that the wretched radicals disturb the faith of simple Christians; a little disturbance does simple faith no harm, and if the incarnation is taken seriously and prayerfully, then faith must be severely tested every morning of the year.

From our stance, however, radical theology does not come out of the examination very well, for it would appear to suffer from a threefold restrictiveness: a narrow intellectualism, a narrow biblicism, and a lack of historical perspective. It is nothing very new; all three weaknesses arose in the eighteenth century and led into Deism. Today they go into the opposite direction towards an all-prevailing immanentalism: theology is displaced by religious philosophy, Christ becomes man, the Church is turned into a human society, and religion sinks into moralism. There is no place left for God the Father Almighty, and so for religion. Pastoral prayer—the adjective is superfluous—remains the premise and springboard for theology, and despite the interrelations, it must be the final judge of theology. Its judgement favours orthodoxy because only orthodoxy can support it. Theology is the articulation of the Church’s experience, it is not speculation about God in a vacuum.

[1]. Martin Thornton, “Prayer and Incarnation.” Christian 4, no. 4 (1978), 317-324. Transcribed by Matthew Dallman for the occasion of Martin Thornton’s centenary, 11 Nov 2015; Martin Thornton, pray for us.
[2]. John Macquarrie, Principles of Christian Theology, revised edition (SCM Press: London, 1977), l.
[3]. Ibid., 5
[4]. Ibid., 21-25.
[5]. Ibid., 2.
[6]. For example, J. Jeremias, The Prayer of Jesus (SCM Press: London, 1962); Lewis Maclachlan, The Teaching of Jesus on Prayer (James Clarke: London, 1960); William Barclay, The Mind of Jesus (SCM Press: London, 1960).
[7]. See E. L. Mascall, Christ, The Christian, and The Church (Longmans: London, 1946), 77ff.
[8]. G. K. Chesterton, St Thomas Aquinas (Hodder and Stoughton: London, 1943), 57-8.

What does ‘Remnant’ mean?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Icon by the hand of Monica Thornton.

Synaxis of Holy Angels

Why set-prayer?

What, exactly, is the ontological basis for set-prayer? The primary set-prayer for Christians, of course, is the Our Father. And it is from those words of Jesus that the Divine Office derives its raison d’etre. We often (and justifably) hear about the existential basis for set-prayer, as well as its scriptural basis. For example, the existential basis was classically stated by Caroline theologian William Beveridge:

A set form of prayer is an extraordinary help to us. For if I hear another pray, and know not beforehand what he will say, I must first listen to what he will say next; then I am to consider whether what he saith be agreeable to sound doctrine, and whether it be proper and lawful for us to join with him in the petitions he puts up to God Almighty; and if I think it is so, then I am to do it. But before I can well do that, he is got to another thing; by which means it is very difficult, if not morally impossible, to join with him in everything so regularly as I ought to do. But by a set form of prayer all this trouble is prevented; for having the form continually in my mind, being thoroughly acquainted with it, fully approving of every thing in it, and always knowing beforehand what will come next, I have nothing else to do, whilst the words are sounding in my ears, but to move my heart and affections suitably to them, to raise up my desire of those good things which are prayed for, to fix my mind wholly upon God, whilst I am praising of Him, and so to employ, quicken, and lift up my whole soul in performing my devotions to Him. No man that hath been accustomed to a set form for any considerable time, but may easily find this to be true by his own experience, and by consequence, that this way of praying is a greater help to us than they can imagine that never made trial of it. (Sermon on the Excellency and Usefulness of the Common Prayer, 1681)

Such a good passage! Nothing could be existential in any exclusive sense, but this is almost entirely existential rationale. Set-prayer helps us. It helps us in that we can participate more consciously and actively. We do not have to worry about trusting the words of the prayer, if it is extemporaneous or merely new. We already know the words. So we can relax, and “fix our mind wholly upon God.” There, of course, is a place for extemporaneous and spontaneous prayer and devotion, doubtless Beveridge would acknowledge. Yet there is also a place for set-prayer, and this is why, from an existential perspective.

That said, what is the ontological perspective and rationale for set-prayer? That is, why is it appropriate given not our needs, but rather God’s own Self? Ontological truth, that is, truth about Being as such, we say deals with God and His Nature, or at least derive from Him and His grace. Baptism initiates an ontological change in our Being; it has to do with us, but it derives entirely from God’s gift and it does not depend upon us for its fundamental grace. We must respond, but Baptism incorporates us into Jesus whether or not our Christian virtues are particularly cultivated. What’s more, there is an ontological change to the bread and wine during the Eucharist. Their Being shifts from that of bread and wine to the Body and Blood of Christ. Again, we must both be prepared for, and we must respond to, the Eucharist for it to be fully efficacious. But ontologically, it is about God and His grace. One can never truly divorce the ontological perspective from the existential one, in other words. But one can focus on one or the other and give it more emphasis in our thinking.

Hence the ontological rationale for set-prayer, including the Divine Office in a fully invariable form, is not what it says about us, but what it says about God. We may not like the invariable form, may want the daily variety of Psalms and Scripture lections; we may want the variable canticles and concluding collects; or particular BCP versions or translations of the Bible. There is great existential merit to each of those. Yet ontologically, none of that really matters. What matters, ontologically, is what set-prayer discloses about the Holy Being of God.

And what set-prayer discloses about God is His utter transcendence. Set-prayer affirms, in what small and almost inconsequential way it can (because of time and space limitation), that God is God is God. That is, God is utterly beyond time and space. He is “ontological other.” Taken by itself (which it is not in Christian faith), such truth leads directly to Deism. God is also “axiologically other.” His moral and aesthetic values are completely beyond our ken. Put these together and you have Aquinas’ cosmological argument rendered ascetically, for this truth is in fact prayed by means of set-prayer. The Our Father, and the Divine Office, become corporate drill exercises, not primarily for our benefit (although there is benefit for us) but rather first and foremost because of what we are acknowledging about God. (For more here, see Thornton’s The Heart of the Parish, Chap. 17.)

But, one might ask, don’t we already say as much in our prayer life? And don’t Psalms and Scripture lections regularly touch on such themes of God’s transcendence (such as in Psalm 139)? The answer is yes, of course. We acknowledge all the time God’s transcendence though sacred words.

Yet what set-prayer asks us to do is acknowledge God’s transcendence not only in words, but in act. Set-prayer asks us to perform our acknowledgement. It is not merely a saying, but a doing. And in the doing of set-prayer such as the Our Father, and moreso I argue in the Divine Office of Praise, we are confronted with the stark, almost unfathomable reality of God’s sheer ontological and axiological otherness. We are invited to realize that God is God all the time, no matter if we are acknowledging this fact of reality or not—and we barely understand what even that really entails. But we need to acknowledge this fact for it to become fully efficacious for us. We need to live what it means to praise our beyond-time-and-space God. Think of it as a consummation of what is pointed to by the film Groundhog’s Day, and the (possibly) 33-plus years Phil spends living a single day. Because monotonous, completely set, strictly invariable prayer is all about God and His transcendent nature, by actual performative, enactive acknowledgement (and not just saying the words), we learn about the Holy Being of God in a very deep and subtle way. This is not our doing, but that of Christ, who makes up for our frailty with his kenotic grace. Through Him, and only through Him, can we hope to pray perfectly.

It is this reality that the Angels and Our Lady and the saints unceasingly praise, for only they are truly holy and perfected enough so to do. Angels sing at the foot of God’s transcendent Throne, singing through Jesus to the Father, for only He can fully and completely pray to Him. 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. To follow in, learn from, in fact embody, the awe of Blessed Mary in the Annunciation of her child, the Son of the Most High, is what the Divine Office is for.

It is, ontologically, what set-prayer is for—Marian awe through Christ in the face of stunning, unfathomable otherness. Day by day, O Lord, we magnify Thee.

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.]

“Anglican Ethos, part 1” : an audio lecture

What it is about Anglicanism that gives it distinctiveness? What is it about us that makes us unique, while still a strong, if troubled, member of the Catholic family of churches?

Father Thomas Fraser, rector at Saint Paul’s, Riverside (near Chicago) for 40 years, provides a lecture that addresses those questions in an accessible and authoritative presentation that is 52 minutes long. In this time of confusion about Anglicanism in England, the United States, and elsewhere, it can be difficult to see what makes us, in a healthy sense, “us.” Father Fraser provides a historical overview of what is called “the Anglican ethos,” as well as what it means for us, today.

“Anglican ethos” is a term that refers to how the feel and senseor “culture”—of Anglican life emerges from our tradition of liturgy, parish life, sacraments and monastic tradition. The Book of Common Prayer is absolutely crucial to this ethos. To understand it correctly, the Prayer Book must seen not as a collection of worship services, but rather as a Regula—or pattern, framework of corporate life that orders the threefold prayer life of Office-Mass-Devotion. This is the heart of what gives Anglicanism its ethos, its distinctive characteristics and quality. As Father Fraser says, “Regula is what forms our life. . . . No other western Church has as its liturgy its Regula.

In the course of his lecture, which is taken from a recent Adult Theology Class (a five-semester course taught for 35 years at St Paul’s, Riverside and mandatory for full membership in the parish), Father Fraser also describes how it was Martin Thornton who gave language and vocabulary to what older generations of Anglicans understood to be the Anglican ethos. It was well understood, he says, often implicitly. But not until Martin Thornton came along, particularly with his classic English Spirituality, was the general sense of our identity explicitly demonstrated to be consonant with, and a continuation of, Benedictinism. Father Fraser also describes how Anglicanism, seen broadly with the Book of Common Prayer as its foundation, is Catholic in its doctrine, practice and imagination.

Enjoy this lecture, study it, and share and discuss in your home parish. Listen to Part 2 here.

Marian Penitence

“Penitence,” wrote Martin Thornton, “becomes a search for the truth of one’s vocation” (The Purple Headed Mountain, Chap. 5). Penitence can take on this character when we accept the possibility, which the biblical revelation insists is fact, that all of God’s creation is an integrated, purposeful, lively unfolding with a unique role for each and every thing, including us. Certainly true penitence begins as Our Lord told Philip: “Follow me” (John 1:43). This becomes adventurous when it grows into a disposition of life: Be Following Him. If we are, in the phrase of English fourteenth-century writer Walter Hilton, to reform into the likeness of Jesus, that journey of holiness begins in finding harmony with our surroundings, as Jesus surely had with His, and goes awry without it.

Perhaps the only valid test here is moral theology: have I committed fewer sins? Sin is separation and paying lip service to the first line of the Nicene Creed is the height of Pride, the basis of all separation. Not only when receiving Communion, reciting the Office, or studying Scripture, but always and everywhere, are we choosing to follow—opening to, and in this sense, “thanking”—God Almighty as He actualizes in our lives? And do we use His creation and His creatures to His greater glory? For the revelation disallows any version of “God is not here and doesn’t much care.”

“Repent and be baptized,” is how Peter exhorted the first Christians (Acts 2:38). But as Paul reminded Titus, our baptism is more than a rite; it is a way of life, a sacramental status before God. Peter perhaps implied, “Choose God and then spend the rest of your life working out the implications of that choice.” Be baptized—just as we say, “be mature” or “be yourself”: our Lord demands we own our status, incorporated into Him “in virtue of his own mercy” (Titus 3:5). Baptism plunges us into Trinitarian reality through the glory of material water, fragrant oil, and audible words. Within such paradox lies enough food for Lenten mystagogy several times over.

To wit: “You will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man” (John 1:51). It was Saint Augustine who wrote, “Every visible thing in this world is put under the charge of an angel” (De diversis quaestionibus, 79). This staggering statement is also exemplary ascetical theology, the articulation of spiritual growth: for only through our sense perception is God’s presence available to us. As God called Our Lady by sensible means of Gabriel, we are called by God aided by the angelic host who through the visible and perceivable bring the invisible and incomprehensible beckoning before us, inviting adventure anchored in Christ.

[The above meditation is my contribution for Day 4 of Lent to From Dust to Triumph: Reflections for a Holy Lent published by Nashotah House.]

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“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 Purple Headed Mountain” is now for sale!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Daily Office of Readings

Concerning the Daily Office of Readings

The threefold Regula—Divine Office, Mass, personal Devotion—is the ascetical application of the doctrine of Holy Trinity. In plain terms, the Divine Office praises God transcendent, the Mass communicates with God incarnate, and personal Devotion recollects God immanent. Included in personal Devotion is a the Daily Office of Readings to invite the Holy Spirit, who guides us into the Sacred Humanity of Christ Jesus, who is the final and definitive revelation of the Father.

The Daily Office of Readings is appropriately prayed twice a day, in the morning and the evening. When prayed in a group, it is appropriate to recite the Psalms antiphonally and for persons other than the Officiant be assigned to read the Lessons. In all situations, all sit during the Office of Readings, and it is conducted as a relaxed meditation, open to God’s mystery and love.

For more, see “Offices of Praise, Silence and Readings.”


THE DAILY OFFICE OF READINGS

Signum Crucis
Officiant: In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
People: Amen.

Collecta
See Prayer Book for the Collect of the Day, as appointed from previous Sunday or according to the particular Holy Day. This Collect is chanted or said by the Officiant, all joining for the Amen.

Venite
One of the following Antiphons may be sung or said with the Venite:

In Advent
Our King and Savior now draweth nigh: O come, let us adore him.

On the Twelve Days of Christmas
Alleluia. Unto us a child is born: O come, let us adorehim. Alleluia.

From the Epiphany through the Baptism of Christ, and on the Feasts of the Transfiguration and Holy Cross
The Lord hath manifested forth his glory: O come, let us adore him.

In Lent
The Master calleth not the righteous but sinners to repentence: O come, let us adore him.

From Easter Day until the Ascension
Alleluia. The Lord is risen indeed: O come, let us adore him. Alleluia.

From Ascension Day until the Day of Pentecost
Alleluia. Christ the Lord ascendedeth into heaven: O come, let us adore him. Alleluia.

On the Day of Pentecost
Alleluia. The Spirit of the Lord filleth the world: O come, let us adore him. Alleluia.

On Trinity Sunday
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, one God: O come, let us adore him.

Purification and Annunciation
The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us:
O come, let us adore him.

On All Saints and other Major Saints’ Days
The Lord is glorious in his saints: O come, let us
adore him.

Psalm 95
O come, let us sing unto the Lord; *
let us heartily rejoice in the strength of our salvation.

Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving *
and show ourselves glad in him with psalms.

For the Lord is a great God, *
and a great King above all gods.

In his hand are the corners of the earth, *
and the strength of the hills is his also.

The sea is his, and he made it, *
and his hands prepared the dry land.

O come, let us worship and fall down, *
and kneel before the Lord our Maker.

For he is the Lord our God, *
and we are the people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand.

Today if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts *
as in the provocation, and as in the day of temptation in the wilderness;

When your fathers tempted me, *
proved me, and saw my works.

Forty years long was I grieved with this generation, and said, *
It is a people that do err in their hearts, for they have not known my ways.

Unto whom I sware in my wrath, *
that they should not enter into my rest.

The Psalm or Psalms Appointed
At the end of each Psalm is sung or said:
Officiant: Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.
People: As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

First Reading (Old Testament)
If not using Lessons, proceed to the Credo. If using a first Lesson, then afterward is said “The Word of the Lord,” a similar affirmation, or the following:
Benedictus Dominus Deus
The Song of Zechariah: Luke 1:68–79

Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, *
for he hath visited and redeemed his people;

And hath raised up a mighty salvation for us *
in the house of his servant David,

As he spake by the mouth of his holy prophets, *
which have been since the world began:

That we should be saved from our enemies, *
and from the hand of all that hate us;

To perform the mercy promised to our forefathers, *
and to remember his holy covenant;

To perform the oath which he sware to our forefather Abraham, *
that he would give us,

That we being delivered out of the hand of our enemies *
might serve him without fear,

In holiness and righteousness before him, *
all the days of our life.

And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest, *
for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways;

To give knowledge of salvation unto his people *
for the remission of their sins,

Through the tender mercy of our God, *
whereby the dayspring from on high hath visited us;

To give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, *
and to guide our feet into the way of peace.

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

Second Reading (Epistle)
If using a second Lesson, then afterward is said “The Word of the Lord,” a similar affirmation, or the following:
Magnificat
The Song of Mary: Luke 1:46–55

My soul doth magnify the Lord, *
and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior.

For he hath regarded *
the lowliness of his handmaiden.

For behold from henceforth *
all generations shall call me blessed.

For he that is mighty hath magnified me, *
and holy is his Name.

And his mercy is on them that fear him *
throughout all generations.

He hath showed strength with his arm; *
he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.

He hath put down the mighty from their seat, *
and hath exalted the humble and meek.

He hath filled the hungry with good things, *
and the rich he hath sent empty away.

He remembering his mercy hath holpen his servant Israel, *
as he promised to our forefathers, Abraham and his seed for ever.

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

Third Reading (Gospel)
If using a third Lesson, then afterward is said “The Word of the Lord,” a similar affirmation, or the following:
Nunc dimittis
The Song of Simeon: Luke 2:29–32

Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, *
according to thy word;

For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, *
which thou hast prepared before the face of all people,

To be a light to lighten the Gentiles, *
and to be the glory of thy people Israel.

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

Credo
Officiant: I believe in God, the Father almighty,
People: creator of heaven and earth; I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again. He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.

Officiant: The Lord be with you.
People: And with thy spirit.
Officiant: Let us pray.

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

Suffrages
O:    O Lord, show thy mercy upon us;
P:    And grant us thy salvation.
O:   Endue thy ministers with righteousness;
P:   And make thy chosen people joyful.
O:   Give peace, O Lord, in all the world;
P:   For only in thee can we live in safety.
O:   Lord, keep this nation under thy care;
P:   And guide us in the way of justice and truth.
O:   Let thy way be known upon earth;
P:   Thy saving health among all nations.
O:   Let not the needy, O Lord, be forgotten;
P:   Nor the hope of the poor be taken away.
O:   Create in us clean hearts, O God;
P:   And sustain us with your Holy Spirit.

Collecta
Then are chanted or said the following Collects by the Officiant, all saying Amen.

In the morning
A Collect for Peace

O God, who art the author of peace and lover of concord, in knowledge of whom standeth our eternal life, whose service is perfect freedom: Defend us, thy humble servants, in all assaults of our enemies; that we, surely trusting in thy defense, may not fear the power of any adversaries; through the might of Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.

A Collect for Grace
O Lord, our heavenly Father, almighty and everlasting God, who hast safely brought us to the beginning of this day: Defend us in the same with thy mighty power; and grant that this day we fall into no sin, neither run into any kind of danger; but that we, being ordered by thy governance, may do always what is righteous in thy sight; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.

A Collect for Mission
Almighty and everlasting God, by whose Spirit the whole body of thy faithful people is governed and sanctified: Receive our supplications and prayers which we offer before thee for all members of thy holy Church, that in their vocation and ministry they may truly and godly serve thee; through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Amen.

In the evening
A Collect for Peace
O God, who art the author of peace and lover of concord, in knowledge of whom standeth our eternal life, whose service is perfect freedom: Defend us, thy humble servants, in all assaults of our enemies; that we, surely trusting in thy defense, may not fear the power of any adversaries; through the might of Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.

A Collect for Aid against Perils
Lighten our darkness, we beseech thee, O Lord; and by thy great mercy defend us from all perils and dangers of this night; for the love of thy only Son, our Savior Jesus Christ.
Amen.

A Collect for Mission
Almighty and everlasting God, by whose Spirit the whole body of thy faithful people is governed and sanctified: Receive our supplications and prayers which we offer before thee for all members of thy holy Church, that in their vocation and ministry they may truly and godly serve thee; through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Amen.

Closing Vericles
Officiant: O Lord, hear our prayer.
People: And let our cry come unto thee.
Officiant: Let us bless the Lord.
People: Thanks be to God.
Officiant: May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.
People: Amen.

Benedictio
Officiant: The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with us all evermore.
People: Amen.


APPENDIX

On Biblical Meditation (Lectio Divina)
Father Martin Thornton offers five considerations with regard to the practice of biblical meditation.

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.

3. Do not try to construct intellectual theories, or Ignatian ’resolutions’, or strict moral rules: leave all that to the biblical scholars. Rather allow the heart and mind of Christ to seep into the shared life within the Sacred Humanity: penetrate its mystery.

4. Nevertheless, go to the Bible armed with the theological essentials, as guidelines. Prayer for the guidance of the Spirit is a good start, but so, I suggest, is a prayerful recitation of the Quicunque Vult. But such theological basis need not be one’s own learning, it can be sought in personal guidance from within the fellowship of the Church.

5. Accept the challenge and adventure of the Bible’s subtlety, difficulty and mystery. Do not try to make it prove anything, rather let it inspire, poetically and contemplatively. In other words, see the essential connection between scholarship and prayer, but do not confuse the two.

 

Quicunque Vult
The Creed of Saint Athanasius

Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the Catholic Faith.Which Faith except everyone do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly.And the Catholic Faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity, neither confounding the Persons, nor dividing the Substance.
For there is one Person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Ghost.
But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is all one, the Glory equal, the Majesty co-eternal.
Such as the Father is, such is the Son, and such is the Holy Ghost.
The Father uncreate, the Son uncreate, and the Holy Ghost uncreate.
The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, and the Holy Ghost incomprehensible.
The Father eternal, the Son eternal, and the Holy Ghost eternal.
And yet they are not three eternals, but one eternal.
As also there are not three incomprehensibles, nor three uncreated, but one uncreated, and one incomprehensible.
So likewise the Father is Almighty, the Son Almighty, and the Holy Ghost Almighty. And yet they are not three Almighties, but one Almighty.
So the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Ghost is God.
And yet they are not three Gods, but one God.
So likewise the Father is Lord, the Son Lord, and the Holy Ghost Lord. And yet not three Lords, but one Lord.
For like as we are compelled by the Christian verity to acknowledge every Person by himself to be both God and Lord,
So are we forbidden by the Catholic Religion, to say, There be three Gods, or three Lords.
The Father is made of none, neither created, nor begotten.
The Son is of the Father alone, not made, nor created, but begotten.
The Holy Ghost is of the Father and of the Son, neither made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding.
So there is one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three Sons; one Holy Ghost, not three Holy Ghosts.
And in this Trinity none is afore, or after other; none is greater, or less than another;
But the whole three Persons are co-eternal together and co-equal.
So that in all things, as is aforesaid, the Unity in Trinity and the Trinity in Unity is to be worshipped.
He therefore that will be saved is must think thus of the Trinity.

Furthermore, it is necessary to everlasting salvation that he also believe rightly the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ.
For the right Faith is, that we believe and confess, that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and Man;
God, of the substance of the Father, begotten before the worlds; and Man of the substance of his Mother, born in the world;
Perfect God and perfect Man, of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting.
Equal to the Father, as touching his Godhead; and inferior to the Father, as touching his manhood;
Who, although he be God and Man, yet he is not two, but one Christ;
One, not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh but by taking of the Manhood into God;
One altogether; not by confusion of Substance, but by unity of Person.
For as the reasonable soul and flesh is one man, so God and Man is one Christ;
Who suffered for our salvation, descended into hell, rose again the third day from the dead.
He ascended into heaven, he sitteth at the right hand of the Father, God Almighty, from whence he will come to judge the quick and the dead.
At whose coming all men will rise again with their bodies and shall give account for their own works.
And they that have done good shall go into life everlasting; and they that have done evil into everlasting fire.
This is the Catholic Faith, which except a man believe faithfully, he cannot be saved.

Icon by the hand of Monica Thornton. 

Homily: O ye Saints of the Holy Catholic Church

Homily delivered on the External Solemnity of All Saints, 2014 at Saint Paul’s Parish, Riverside, Illinois.

Almighty God,” our Collect begins, “you have knit together your elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord: Give us grace so to follow your blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those ineffable joys that you have prepared for those who truly love you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

It has been said, not altogether inaccurately, that if you want to know what Anglicans believe in terms of doctrine, look at their Collects. At each Mass, the appointed Collect receives pride of place at the culmination of the Entrance Rite, which is what brings us back together, after a week of ministry according to our gifts and circumstance. The Collects are arranged in a very intentional way to correlate with the turning of the liturgical year. And in terms of their doctrinal content, the Collects express doctrine not in a straight, you might say, dry academic way. Doctrine rather is expressed in the Collects in a way that integrates with Prayer.

For those of you who have spent any time devotionally reading the works of Saint Anselm, who has a fundamental role in English, and hence Anglican, spirituality, you might notice a similarity between the style of Anselm and the style of our Collects. It is not, here is some doctrine and dogma, and over here is some high devotional words. No, in Anselm, in our Collects, and I would say in authentic Anglican life, there is an integral balance, in the Benedictine sense, of intellect and action, head and feeling, study and wilderness, dogma and love.

So what of this Collect, appointed for this, the Solemnity of All Saints? Can we look to this Collect for insight into what Anglicans believe about this feast? I believe we can. And I would go further than that — for what we have in this Collect is not only an authentically Anglican view of All Saints, but one deeply Catholic because it expresses Remnant theology. So let’s have a look.

Almighty God, you have knit together your elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord. So, we talk in this parish about Catholic vision, and every once in a while, as a counter example of what is not Catholic, every once in a while we talk a little bit about something called Calvinism. Perhaps you have heard of it? Well in this “adoration” part of the Collect, where God’s nature or acts are praised in pure adoration of who He is, there is this word “elect” that is of course something of a buzz word in the Catholic-Calvinist debate. Often it means predestination. Some people are predestined, according to historical Calvinism, as God’s “elect” to be saved; and others predestined to be damned. It is a nasty bit of theology, and the Catholic faith holds this to be heretical. Yet why, then, is the word “elect” part of our Collect? If our Collects express our doctrine, and this Collect says “elect”, are we Calvinist in our doctrine?

Not at all. The word “elect” is there because it has everything to do with the Saints. It has everything to do with those who we already call Saints, those treasure-troves of holiness; and with those yet to be Saints, those departed who have proceeded to the next stage of their lives, the intermediate state of Paradise, to further complete their journey of theosis, of being reforming into likeness of Jesus. And it has everything to do with Saints yet born, and yet to die. Because being a Saint is a vocation. Saints are called by God. As Martin Thornton wrote (in The Function of Theology), God makes Himself present — often confronting the person with the resurrected Christ — which issues in personal dialogue or “colloquy”, which is what is meant generally by “mental prayer”, an interchange between minds: the mind of the saint and the mind of Christ. This is how the “voice of God” is “heard” by the spiritual ears of the dedicated mind. This is an existential way of understanding what it means to be “elect.” It means being called by God.

You have knit together your elect. All of this is of God’s initiative, or “prevenient Grace.” Certainly an archetype of all this is Abraham, called by God. This was a calling that tested his resolve, tested his faith, even to the point of sacrificing Isaac his son. Abraham indeed was confronted in the same ways Saints are confronted — completely, demanding the whole person, not just the mind, the emotions, or the body, but all of it, for prayer is loving God in a total way.

You have knit together your elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord. This means, simply, the Church. It expresses our baptismal promise in the Apostles’ Creed: “I believe in the holy Catholic Church, the Communion of Saints.” That is not two statements, but one expressed two ways. For the holy Catholic Church IS the communion of saints. Those saints of the past, of the present, and of the future. Saints in this sense includes the Angels, and pride of place goes to Our Lady, Blessed Mary Holy Mother of God, Lady of all Angels and Saints. And the Church of Saints, in all its glorious diversity of expression, of gifts, of time and place — all of it is expression of God, an expression of the mystical Body of Jesus Christ.

Give us grace so to follow your blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living. Again, the ability to follow comes from God’s action, prevenient grace. And we are to follow the Saints. We are to learn about them. They are alive. “Communion of Saints” is also a statement about their present condition. They join us at the altar, they watch over us, and make themselves available to us. It is a very good form of devotional meditation to imagine what their lives were like. We often have only scanty details of history about them. This can also be a gift, for it allows us to more easily to see our lives in theirs, and their lives in ours.

The saints, as Pope Benedict XVI wrote, “are the true interpreters of Holy Scripture.” He continues, “The meaning of a given passage of the Bible becomes most intelligible in those human beings who have been totally transfixed by it and have lived it out.” That is another way of saying that the lives of saints — both for their heroism and their failures — mediate what Scripture authoritatively points toward: the activity of God, his divine providence.

Saints also point to the proper interpretation of the Beatitudes. Those who are blessed — are poor in spirit, mourn, are meek, hunger and thirst for righteousness, are merciful, pure in heart, are peacemakers, and are persecuted for righteousness sake. This list of terms might sound imposing — and in truth, the responsibilities of the Christian life are imposing from one perspective — but as Thornton wrote (in English Spirituality) this list can be described as the following qualities: “poor in spirit” means humility, sensitive to spiritual things; “mourn” means being sympathetic and penitent, “meek” means understanding the joy of life, “hunger and thirst for righteousness” means “craving progress toward union with God”, “merciful” means compassionate, “pure in heart” means constant in religious participation (Office, Mass, Devotion), “peacemaker” means prudent in searching for harmony among men; and “persecuted for righteousness’ sake” means fortitude amid the battle against sin.

Forgive me for breezing through these, for each of them is enough food for a homily itself. But I am just touching on them now to point out that the life of the Saint, which is the life the Christian faith calls people toward, involves qualities and characteristics that are not alien to our everyday experience. All we can do, all Saints every did, all God asks, is to respond to God as his activity is made available to our senses and our mind — according to the gifts and talents we are given by God. Not some other gifts and talents, but those we have, used not for selfish interest but rather for the greater glory of God.

That we may come to those ineffable joys that you have prepared for those who truly love you. Listen to these words! Ineffable joys — joy beyond our ability to imagine or conceive. Prepared by God — because he wants us, yearns for us, fundamentally desires us. Prepared for those who truly love you. This is what Remnant really means. The faithful Remnant are those called by God, who respond to God’s calling, and by his help learn to truly Love him in all moments and activities of their being, beginning in this life and continuing to the next. The Saints, and sainthood whether known officially or unknown, is what we mean by “faithful Remnant.” The Beatitudes are not just qualities of holiness. They are qualities of Jesus himself, qualities in their perfect form, yet available to us by the grace of God wherever we happen to be in our journey. The Beatitudes are a description of the Remnant — those called to fully live out the ministry initiated by Jesus himself — to live out and perpetuate Jesus whether in a monastic community or in a secular community such as Saint Paul’s Parish, Riverside, Illinois.

And it is a life built on sacramentality or Catholic imagination, the Sacraments themselves, built on absorbing Scriptural insight, built on joy, built on obedience, built on community. And, fundamentally, built on love.

O all ye Saints of the holy Catholic Church — O ye holy Men and Women — pray for us.

About “The Purple Headed Mountain”

PHM_cover

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

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

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

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

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

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

Six Martin Thornton insights into the Divine Office

Martin Thornton had many insights in the purpose, nature, and practice of the Divine Office. Here is a summary of his insights, with my own commentary mixed in.

(1) The Our Father prayer is the sole dominical basis for the Divine Office; it establishes its corporate nature, its teleology, its disposition, its paradigm. The Didache confirms its centrality to corporate set prayer. Recourse by other commentators to Ps. 119:164 and the like are important, clarifying, supportive, authoritative, but secondary.

(2) The Divine Office can only be understood theologically within the larger theology of threefold Regula — Divine Office-Mass-Devotion — which is the ascetical application of the doctrine of the Trinity. Divine Office associates with and emphasizes the Father; Mass with the Son, and Devotion with the Spirit. This is not modalism but a framework for our devout yet imperfect ascetical response to the “stupendously rich reality” of God (to quote Baron von Hügel).

(3) Jesus is the source of the threefold Regula:

  1. His meals together, dining together, communing against the conventions of the day: this is the model of the Eucharist;
  2. His adoration and perfect prayer to His Father: this is the model of the Divine Office;
  3. His life lived with people, healing, teaching, listening, leading, breaking open Scripture in fresh ways: this is the model of Devotion.

Incorporated into Him by Baptism, we slowly learn to pray like Him along these three dimensions. The threefold Regula constitutes the repeatable part of Baptism.

Each dimension of the threefold Regula carries a particular psychological/behavioral disposition — Oblation with the Divine Office; Contemplation with the Mass; Obedience with Devotion — that integrated into a threefold whole of prayer manifest the fundamental corporate response to God as well as the more developed answer to the question, “Brethren, what shall we do?” (Acts 2.37b). Regula presumes baptismal status, repentance, the actuality of the Holy Spirit in our lives and builds upon the praxis of Acts 2.42.

(4) The Divine Office must possess and enact objective praise to the Father by the Body of Jesus (Baptized, Saints, Angels) which despite our frailty we join by the help and grace of Christ; hence, it does not primarily “sanctify the time.” Sanctification of time is by our attentiveness and obedience to the abundant activity of the Holy Spirit to whom we open ourselves not through the Divine Office but through Devotion activities (our “infinitely variable” baptismal ministry rooted in Scripture) — seeking and serving Christ in all persons by means of the Holy Spirit. See Robert Taft’s The Liturgy of the Hours in East and West, pp. 357-9; Dix’s “sanctification of time” theology of the Office is devout yet erroneous.

(5) Honest assessment of the pastoral situation today tends to conclude that the reason few people do the Cranmerian form likely stems from the fact that the authorized Anglican Divine Office used virtually unchanged today was crafted for a late-medieval society still well within Christendom. Further, the vernacular Bible was new and there was real pastoral necessity to have people hear it in English; neither of which pertains today. Hence, the Anglican Divine Office has rightfully endured as a Benedictine inheritance, yet now some kind of reform or modification appears necessary.

(6) Because the Father Almighty is ontological and axiological Other — that is, immutable in all ways, somewhere in the daily life of Prayer must be praise corresponding to this Person, praise that is immutable, strictly invariable. If applied thoroughly, this could mean adding a daily period of strictly objective prayer as an additional Hour of the day, a “little hour” added to the day (a day which can and even should still include the historic Cranmerian form).

This means, as a devout experiment rooted in doctrine and pastoral reality, a “Prologue Office of Praise” with no lectionaries, no seasonal antiphons, no consecutive psalter, no optional collects, no permissiveness whatsoever. All of those are retained in the Daily Office of Readings. The ideal is memorization of the Prologue Office of Praise, and no books. Again, the paradigm is “Our Father, who art in heaven . . .”: something along the lines of a “pledge of allegiance” to God Almighty.

Additional Reflection

Thornton trod very carefully in his writing on the Offices, knowing that the Cranmerian daily Office functions as the Anglican “third rail”: “Do Not Touch.” Well aware of Cranmer’s ascetical brilliance (see The Function of Theology), in Prayer: A New Encounter, he suggested devout experimentation along the lines of what I have proposed here — the Our Father theologically expanded by means of the Nicene Creed — with our need for regular Scripture immersion satisfied through a historic Cranmerian Daily Office of Readings: patterned reading of the Bible (including consecutive Psalter and lectionaries) with Canticles and Collects within the fellowship of the living Church. (Incidentally, he also suggested there was a need for daily contemplative prayer along the lines of what today is called Centering Prayer. Thornton suggested at least two hours per week of silence, or about twenty minutes per day, which is exactly the recommendation for beginners made by advocates of Centering Prayer.)

The primary text to consider to begin to grapple with Thornton’s theology of Office/Regula is Pastoral Theology: A Reorientation. This was his second book and set out the theological fundamentals of the remainder of his writing. Secondary texts to consider are Christian Proficiency, The Purple Headed MountainEnglish SpiritualityThe Rock and the River, The Function of Theology, My God, and Prayer: A New Encounter.

What must be said is that of all the topics of corporate spiritual life/journey — that is, “Ascetic” — it is the topic of Divine Office/Regula that received the most attention in his work, which was always the fruits of tremendous erudition, insight, and reflection. Thornton’s theology of Regula must be reckoned with today in any writing about the Divine Office; else in my view it is like writing about the theology of the Eucharist and leaving out Aquinas, or writing about the Trinity and leaving out Augustine.

Why pray the Office?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Whither Christian Baptism?”

The Times (UK)
March 11, 1972
By the Rev. Dr. Martin Thornton

The practice of Infant Baptism is a non-biblical, undogmatic, yet nevertheless venerable tradition, which arose and continued according to three pastoral factors. The Church was the unique and exclusive channel of truth and salvation; everything outside was degradation and vice. The family, and especially the Christian family, was a close-knit unit within which harmonious disagreement was impossible. Later came Christendom, wherein Church and state more or less coincided; secular law originated in moral theology, baptism followed birth, nationality and religious allegiance overlapped. None of these factors pertain any longer. The Church continues to believe in Christ’s unique revelation, but other world religions can no longer be dismissed as “pagan;” God’s relation with his creation is wider than the Church. Members of modern families now think differently, vote differently, believe different things, and get along pretty amicably on the principle of mutual respect. Despite various national pretenses, Christendom is shattered.

What of theology? To simplify, perhaps over-simplify, there are two poles of thought. The ancient Catholic tradition insists that the sacrament of Baptism is an objective act of God, whereby the recipient is mystically incorporated into the Body of Christ. Subjective human considerations are insignificant. The opposite view is that the efficacy of divine sacramental action demands a minimal human response, which is impossible to an infant recipient. In terms of pastoral responsibility both views meet at the same practical point. By the latter theory infant baptism is meaningless; by the former it achieves far too much. For we must now humbly recognize sincere agnosticism, accept the autonomy of anti-institutional Christianity, and honour the particular spiritual genius of each world religion.

Significantly, more and more Western people are attracted to the ascetical ethos of the East. Infant baptism according to the Catholic view precludes for ever any such spiritual freedom or choice. It becomes analogous to the medieval child-marriage; it cannot be dissolved whatever the circumstances. The baptized non-believer—according to this theory—has acquired a status, or had it thrust upon him, against which he rebels. His life must be a living lie. This is surely one of many powerful arguments for the deferment of Christian initiation until the age of reason and discretion.

The traditional compromise has been the bisection of the initiatory process into two separate rites: baptism and confirmation. Recent studies and pronouncements have shown that this is no solution. Either baptism is the full Christian initiation, which makes confirmation superfluous (the view recently propounded), or confirmation somehow or other “completes” the sacrament which thus renders baptism meaningless—another reason for deferment to a later age.

What then are parents supposed to do? How can they make a responsible and indeed devout decision? The agnostic and non-believing parent can only decide for baptism on the grounds of superstition, convention, or the “Christendom ” principle. By Catholic doctrine the implications are horrific.

What of sincerely Christian parents? Obviously they are in no way immune from social and theological change. Their faith, prayer, teaching and example in no way guarantees genuine faith for their child in 15 years’ time. Should he then embrace another religion or none they may be deeply disappointed but they need no longer regard him as depraved or damned, or even as a family outcast. It will be argued that for Christian parents infant baptism constitutes an act of faith; so does non-baptism. In fact the traditional practice could be subconsciously evasive; baptism and leave it to God, but why not refrain from baptism and still leave it to God? The latter could well constitute the more creative and responsible decision.

If it is now argued that Christian initiation is of corporate as well as individual significance, that it is a building up of the total Body of Christ, then I must agree while pointing, nevertheless, to the “Christendom” error. If the Church is to regain Catholicity in the deepest sense of its unique, self-giving service to the whole world, then it must first be rid of nominal members whose integrity is threatened by their being Christians against their will and conviction.

Cover image “Baptism of Jesus” is licensed under CC BY 2.0 / Cropped from original

“Ode to Millicent”; a poem by Martin Thornton

Ode to Millicent
Or Franciscus Redivivus

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

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

And lit my pipe.

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

For God said stop.

And millipede stopped.

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

And I said: Good afternoon Miss Pede.

And she said: Shall I sing you a song?

And I said: Yes please.

So she sang:

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

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

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

“The Diverse Riches of Prayer”

By the Rev. Dr Martin Thornton
The Times (UK)
14 December 1968

The Creeds grew out of the first disciples’ confrontation with Christ, that is out of “prayer,” and they remain the only source of responsible experiment in prayer. But these formulae need reinterpretation in every age; spirituality constantly changes with new situations and “traditional” prayer presents itself not as some simple set pattern but in a gloriously rich diversity.

All the great names in the unfolding story of Christian devotion were startling innovators in their day. Now, as then, “modern” theology is the Church’s attempt to make intellectual sense of the Gospel as it impinges—or fails to impinge—upon the practical situation. “Modern” prayer must grow out of this foundation.

The unquestioned emphasis in world-wide theological thought is now centered on the doctrine of creation. This is not “new” but a revival of a traditional strand of spirituality traceable from Saint Paul through Saint Benedict, the School of Saint Victor, the Friars Minor and the Dominicans, up to Teilhard de Chardin. There are some significant pointers as to where this movement is leading.

First, creation, including human society, is to be wholeheartedly affirmed, because God is active within it and because it has its proper share in Christ’s redemption. Thus prayer is seen primarily as a contemplative union with created things rather than as a series of discursive “acts” of meditation: it is a question of intuition rather than of intellectual understanding; more a living continuum and less of a series of pious exercises; a quest rather than a duty.

It is from this perfectly orthodox and historical strand that responsible Christians are led to reject the rigid timetables, methods, and disciplines of former times. The current concern with society and its various relationships, with the sanctification of daily work, with a continuing “holy worldliness,” all spring from the same theological source.

Secondly, it is from a revival of interest in the doctrine of creation, not from outworn controversies, that modern spirituality becomes more eucharistically oriented. Therefore other liturgical acts and cults—whether Anglican mattins or the cult of the Sacred Heart—are likely to diminish in popularity and meaning. A further decline in “church-going,” even among the faithful, could be a quite legitimate outcome, and we should not panic because it has all happened before: St Bernard criticized the Cluniacs for spending too much time in chapel; both Franciscan and Jesuit have lifted the divine office from the choir into the market-place.

Thirdly, moral disciplines, which support prayer, are thoroughly world-affirming, because creation is part of man not merely an arena in which he strives. Moral “permissiveness” and the rejection of “asceticism” are little more than new names for certain forms of probabilist casuistry: both may be unwise, but they do not necessarily spring from irresponsible laity. Saint Benedict, no less than the modern radical, was insistent that the created environment was to be loved not rejected. The Church has always warned against austerity for its own sake, and against “asceticism” in its more exaggerated forms, while the doctrine of a thorough-going “detachment from creatures” has but a fleeting place in the total story of Christian spiritualist.

Throughout history theological stresses come and go, the pendulum swings, and it has often swung too far in one direction or another. This may well be true of the present exciting, and potentially creative situation, and we should be warned of three of the more apparent dangers.

First, prayer is always response to the prevenient divine action, and this implies some sort of disciplined daily pattern of devotion. Tradition insists that the ancient ideal of “holy worldliness” is never achieved without it, and the not unhealthy revolt against too rigid methods, rules, and time-tables, could leave us only with an unattainable ideal.

Next, the intuitive, prophetic, inspirational aspects of Christian life upon which both modern prayer and theology place so much stress, themselves demand the seedbeds of quiet silence, solitude, and withdrawal. These, too, can be exaggerated and they may become pietistical, but they can never be wholly eliminated.

Lastly, is the overriding danger of immanentism: there must always be a central place for the pure praise of God Almighty, or we are in danger of bringing our God so much into the market-place that he turns out to be something less than the Holy and Undivided Trinity.

Cover image “Christ Acheiropoietos” is licensed under CC BY 2.0 / Cropped from original

Homily: On Martin Thornton and the Eucharist

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ascetical theology and Catholic imagination

When we speak ascetically in the Catholic sense as Martin Thornton did — against and beyond the Anglican ascetical writers of the early 20th century such as Evelyn Underhill, Oscar Hardman, Bede Frost, C.F. Rogers, H.S. Box, and F.P. Harton — we are liberated from their more limited “theology of ascetical practices” into ascetical theology that is wider and far more provocative. Following Thornton, to speak ascetically means “articulating the church’s corporate experience.” As Thornton wrote in 1960 in reference to that former crop of Anglican ascetical writers, “we need an ascetical ascetical-theology”.1 Theirs was too narrow and leaned individualistic. His critique did honor their contributions (he was particularly fond of Harton’s Elements of the Spiritual LIfe), but sought to push reflection on the theology of prayer still deeper, more corporate, and more Catholic.

“Catholic” must mean that the particular is analogous to the whole. The very word means “according to the whole.” If a person, a family, a parish, a church is to be Catholic, then its being in the particular must be a microcosm of the Church, the true whole. In all practicality, this means having a comprehensive and active relationship with the Catholic Faith once for all delivered to the saints. It means having a Catholic imagination.

As Thornton wrote in 1978, doctrine and prayer are two sides of the same coin.2 The “use” of these coins or tokens comprises the doing of theology. This sheds intriguing light upon the term “orthodox”. Following Thornton, to be orthodox really means that the corporate prayer life is in full accord and balance with the doctrines that comprise the Faith of Holy Church.

Ascetic corresponds with dogmatic, in other words. Prayer life that lives into and through Christian doctrine is orthodox. Seen in this way, “orthodoxy” becomes not an intellectual litmus test but an exciting adventure. It is a matter of living! Furthermore, this renders the Benedictine emphasis on “balance” as a still more penetrating insight into the nature of Catholic life. Life is a risk and a struggle, and we often lean too far in one direction, only to be pulled back to the other, else we fall over and must get up. The same applies to the balancing of doctrine and prayer life.

In Acts 2.42, we learn that the first Christians “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” This threefold framework — respectively, Devotion-Mass-Office — is called by Thornton “Regula“. He appears to be the first Christian writer to do so.

If “Catholic imagination” was alive and active from the first moments of the Church, and why would it not be, then it is clear from the biblical revelation that Catholic imagination and Regula go hand in hand. There is no better example of this than Acts chapter 2: verses 1-41 are Catholic imagination — “baptismal” imagination, if you like. And then comes verse 42: Regula as the response of the community. So to the question, “what is Catholic imagination?”, one must look to the 2nd chapter of Acts as the basis. We ought use Acts 2 prayerfully to open our own hearts to God’s presence in our Christian family.

Hence Regula is not a concept, but rather an articulation the church’s corporate experience. Regula is the heart of ascetical theology in the Thorntonian sense. Or, put another way, Catholic imagination is the “stuff” of Regula. It very well may be a doctrine itself, the doctrine of the Regula. Regula is one side of the token; Catholic imagination is the other.

Hence it makes sense that Catholic imagination has been diminished in the West, because the centrality of Regula has been diminished in the West. You cannot have Catholic imagination without robust Devotional-baptismal commitment out in the world, without a robust Eucharist as the focusing and concentrating of all creation, and without a robust Office that is the daily activity of the People of God, an engine to catalyze devotion and love to God by ordinary Christians, rather than the obligation of the parish priest only!3

We can further reflect upon Catholic imagination when we look at the doctrines of the Trinity, the Church, and the Incarnation.

From the doctrine of the Trinity we can see that Regula is a threefold responding to a Triune God. Divine Office emphasizes praise to the Father through Jesus in the Spirit. Mass emphasizes Communion with Jesus who reveals the Father in the Spirit. Devotion emphasizes guidance by the Spirit to Jesus who reveals the Father. And yet, through it all, it is not three prayer lives, but one prayer life that integrates into seamless praise, communion, and guidance: of, with, and by God. This is the basis of Catholic imagination.

From the doctrines of the Church and Incarnation, we see that Jesus sent the Holy Spirit into the cosmos in order that the Holy Spirit would bring and unite all things to Him and fully reveal the Father. God became man so that man might become God.

Hence in the Church Militant, all things of creation can become sacramental, the God-given exemplars being the seven Sacraments. This process is the basis of our Devotional-Baptismal activity: being Christ’s hands and mind in the world so that the Holy Spirit’s activity can guide all people.

In the Church Expectant, God’s children can become sanctified, or (if you will accept the expression) sanctoral, in the adjectival sense: more and more saintly and holy. God’s adopted children are given the opportunity to continue their growth and reformation into the likeness of Christ. This process is the basis for the Mass, where we commune with the entire Church in a mystical family that shares in the love of Christ which finds consummation (on earth) in the Eucharist.

In the Church Triumphant, all of God’s holy creatures, including those fully sanctified, become angelic, in that all join with the angels in their activity of ceaseless praise and thanksgiving for the primordial God the Father (we do not become angels, but become as like them as possible in our activity). This process is the basis for the Divind Office, where we unite as the Body of Christ (all states of the threefold Church) in praise for Our Father to sing with the Angels, “Holy holy holy”.

In sum, Catholic imagination is spontaneous and organic response by the People of God to the presence of the Holy Spirit who calls us into deeper recognition and working out of our baptismal status. It is the response by Christians whose lives are ordered by the doctrine of Regula. Catholic imagination sums up the activity and processes alive within the Christian family that are preserved (akin to yeast) in the additional core doctrines of Trinity, Church, and Incarnation. Catholic imagination is sacramental, sanctoral, and angelic. And the scriptural basis for this is the second chapter of The Acts of the Apostles, the Church amid the energy of its baptismal status.

Following Thornton’s reasoning, if a corporate, that is to say parochial, Christian existence cannot be seen to be ordered by Regula — daily Office, weekly (or daily) Mass, constant Devotion — then not only can a community not claim to be Catholic, but it cannot claim to be orthodox either, no matter what its intellectual claims on various Christian doctrines may be.

Why? Because for Thornton, the proof of all doctrinal pudding is in the doing. For a parish family to leave out, ignore, or under-emphasize either Office, Mass, or Devotion — or God forbid, two of them — causes immediate violence to the doctrines of Trinity, Church, and Incarnation. Regula is the living out of those doctrines, a making-real through participation in grace; without regula, these doctrines and all others are little more than interesting intellectual wordplay and emotive wall-building.

All of this is something of what “breaks forth” when ascetical theology is correctly understood.4 It is necessary to see “ascetical theology” not as the theology of ascetical practice, but as the articulation of the Church’s corporate experience. Asceticism presupposes Catholic ascetical theology. And once you step into that terrain and begin to grapple with articulating the Church’s corporate experience, catholicity ensues.

1 Martin Thornton, “Anglican Ascetical Theology, 1939–60,” Theology 63 (August 1960): 313-319.
2 Martin Thornton, “Prayer and Incarnation,” Christian 4, no. 4 (1978): 317-324.
3 See Martin Thornton, Prayer: A New Encounter and The Function of Theology.
4 Thornton continued to reconfigure “ascetical theology” in a more Catholic direction with English Spirituality (see chapter 2). Over his entire career, he continued to develop its characteristics and differentiate it from the former “theology of asceticism”. The formulation “the articulation of the Church’s corporate experience” shows up in a book review he wrote in 1984: Martin Thornton, “Spirituality for Ministry,” Pastoral Psychology 32, no. 4 (Sum 1984) 287-288.

Exciting stuff for Akenside Press!

I wanted to tell you about some very exciting stuff happening. It all amounts to an amazing opportunity with high-upside for Anglicanism:

(1) As I wrote a little while ago, we have received permission from the family of Martin Thornton to reissue all thirteen of his books, which we will do in the coming years. Here are my copies of each title:

In the reissuing process, each book will require its own particular “TLC” because each has something significant that needs updating. I am not referring to Thornton’s text. No — it is always glorious. I am talking about citations, references, missing prefaces, and things like that. But because this will occupy such a great deal of our efforts going forward, I’ll leave this for future posts. There is quite a bit more to say.

(2) I will be spending a month in England and Wales this summer to meet with the Thornton family (his wife and daughter) and do research for a book I will write that introduces Thornton to a wider audience, something never before written. I plan to call it Martin Thornton: Introduction and Selected Writings. My research will take me to libraries and locales that include London, Oxford, Cambridge, and Wales.

Dr Rowan Williams, ret. Archbishop of Canterbury

Dr Rowan Williams, ret. Archbishop of Canterbury

(3) While I am there I will meet with ++Rowan Williams, one on one, in Cambridge. I wrote him asking if he would speak with me about Martin Thornton, and … he agreed! He also called our booklet The Benedictine Parish “finely produced” and that he would be quoting from it in a lecture he was giving to clergy. Just incredible! Our meeting is scheduled for July 2 in Cambridge.

(4) To raise funds for the remaining expenses (travel, bare minimum book production costs), I have launched a Kickstarter campaign. I hope to reach $3970 in this campaign, which lasts until 13 March. So far after 3 days, I have received $1,600 in pledges and am 40% toward my goal, which is very good. But it is an “all or nothing” affair, and the campaign does not at least reach my goal, I get nothing.

Watch this video I made for the Kickstarter campaign. By clicking on the “K” you will be taken to the fundraising page.

Any and all help is needed — financial, prayer, spreading of the word. Please help!

Let me also recap some of the endorsements of what Akenside Press has been and will be doing. I mentioned ++Rowan said my first booklet is “finely produced”. Additionally:

“You are doing important work.”
The Rt Rev. Daniel Martins
Bishop of Springfield, Illinois, and
Chair of the Board of Trustees of Nashotah House Theological Seminary

“You and your press are a blessing.”
The Rev. Dr Steven A. Peay
Dean for Academic Affairs, Nashotah House Theological Seminary

regarding The Benedictine Parish:
“I hope this book is widely read and widely influential.”
The Rev. Dr Louis Weil
Professor Emeritus of Liturgics, Church Divinity School of the Pacific

regarding our reissuing of Martin Thornton’s books:
“A great service to the Anglican world, and beyond.”
Dr Christopher Wells, executive editor of The Living Church magazine

What blessings, each and every one. So please support our Kickstarter campaign — with your prayers, word of mouth, and if you can, a financial pledge!

Announcement: Akenside Press will reissue Martin Thornton

Martin ThorntonWe have an important huge announcement to make:

Akenside Press will reissue Martin Thornton’s books!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Martin Thornton on the English School of spirituality

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

Anamnesis and Regula

The Church is Christ’s body, and He is the head of the body. In this sense, the Church is the “extension” of the incarnation of God. As John Macquarrie writes, “the Church is an ongoing incarnation. It has not yet attained ‘to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.'”1 The Church, in this sense, is still on the way toward, in Walter Hilton’s term, “the likeness of Jhesu”, which he uses throughout his classic work, The Scale of Perfection.

The Church is on a journey, a journey that is reflected by the Catholic doctrine of the threefold Church (militant, expectant, triumphant). Hence the “Church’s offering of worship” is itself a growing, a becoming, a journey “on the way” from sinfulness and disorder to sanctification and likeness to Jhesu.

This journey is initiated by the ontological action of Christ in the sacrament of Baptism, is affirmed in the sacrament of Confirmation, is fed by the sacrament of Eucharist, navigated by the sacrament of Reconciliation, ordered (for some) by the sacrament of Matrimony, healed by the sacrament of Unction, all of which are made valid by the sacrament of Orders. Indeed modeled by the Eucharist, but in fact through each sacrament, anamnesis occurs: the actually-making-present-again of Christ, who is, as Dix writes, “presently operative”.2

devotion_office_massAll of this is an outline of the life of the Body in its becoming, through the actual presence, or presences, of Christ, the head of the Body. What gives this outline a living (or more properly, “ascetical”) shape or pattern is the Catholic rule, or Regula. This Catholic rule is also threefold: Mass-Office-Devotion. As Martin Thornton writes, “Here is the basic Rule of the Church which, varying in detail, is common to East and West, monastic and secular, to all the individual schools without exception, and which forms the over-all structure of the Book of Common Prayer.”3

That last point, where Thornton reminds us that Catholic ascetical theology underlay the Prayer Book, reveals the means by which sacred space and sacred time serve our journey toward likeness of Jhesu. “Sacred space” refers to the specific environment or environments whereby the Regula is enacted. The parish church (usefully, Thornton refers to the parish as an “organism”) houses the altar and tabernacle, is the gathering place for the local community of the People of God, is the normative location where the Word of God is proclaimed, and where corporate participation in the liturgy — which is “God’s theology”,4 God’s own way of making Himself intelligible — invites growth in the Body of Christ. Hence, “sacred space” is where the People of God are sacramentally and corporately capacitated for our journey.

emmaus2“Sacred time” refers to the variety of narratives that animate the threefold Regula. These narratives are centered around the life of Jesus of Nazareth, how the events and actions of his life reinterpret all of salvation history in the Old Testament, and these narratives detail crucial events and actions of Christ’s Body, the Church, in its early days and years. Further, sacred time animates the lives of the apostles, prophets, martyrs, and the saints. “The saints are the true interpreters of Holy Scripture.”5

Through sacred time, ever-cyclical yet each time through ever-new, we are invited into deeper likeness to Jhesu by walking with Christ’s on his own steps, beginning with his being the expressive agent of all creation as narrated in Genesis, by learning his way: “If any man will come after Me (i.e., will be My disciple), let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me”,6 and by studying saints, whose lives are icons of Christ. Sacred time is the eschatological entirety of the paschal mystery in the slow-motion of time and space.

In short, the Body of Christ, of which He is the head, is on its way to salvific likeness of Him by means of His sacraments. The threefold Regula gives this journey pattern and shape. Sacred space (normatively the parish) gives this journey its corporate housing for the People of God. And sacred time animates the journey through the variety of narratives — the glorious abundance! — that tell of Christ’s presence, his anamnesis, that invites us to his glory.

 

1 John Macquarrie, Principles of Christian Theology (London: SCM, 1977), XVII.69.viii. ; Eph 4.13.
2 Dom Gregory Dix, The Shape of the Liturgy (London: Continuum, 2005), 245.
3 Martin Thornton, English Spirituality: An Outline of Ascetical Theology According to the English Pastoral Tradition (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Cowley, 1986), 76.
4 David Fagerberg, Theologia Prima: What is Liturgical Theology? (Chicago: Hillenbrand, 2004), 15.
5 Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth (New York: Doubleday, 2007), 78.
6 Luke 9.23. Cf. Mt 16.24; Mk 8.34