Tag Archives: Office

The Anglican Spiritual Tradition, parts 1 and 2

By Martin Thornton

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

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

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 Pastoral Theology, 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 Prologue 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 does ‘Regula’ mean?

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

People        I will, with God’s help.

 

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

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

In sum, what does Regula mean? It means corporate, threefold prayer life — Divine Office – Mass – Devotion — given by Christ to live out doctrine of the Holy Trinity and render it truly existential and experiential. Regula is the doctrine of the Holy Trinity arranged for prayer. Regula is how “we” respond fully to God, by thought and by deeds, with or without words. Within Anglican patrimony, Regula is the real three-legged stool.


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

Icon by the hand of Monica Thornton.

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. 

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.

To Be Called by Jesus

Homily delivered on the Solemnity of Saint Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist, 2014 at Saint Paul’s, Riverside, Illinois.

“Jesus saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax office; and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he rose and followed him.”

Immediately we should ask, “What does it mean to follow Jesus?” And furthermore, because Jesus said, “Follow me,” we should ask, “What does it mean for Jesus to call us?”

Our Collect reads, “We pray that, after Saint Matthew’s example, we may with ready wills and hearts obey the calling of our Lord to follow him.” And so the Collect gathers together the two questions — what does it mean to follow Jesus? and what does it mean for Jesus to call us? — in a neat little package that if taken seriously, has to do with the very core of being Christian today.

So, how do we answer these questions? And how do each of us in our own unique devotional lives come to grips with the implications? One thing is certain: all of us are called in some way; God’s calling is an actuality in our lives, because we are here at Mass. Each of us here has chosen God rather than the alternative. The very act of choosing to be here, of choosing God, means that we are avoiding sin, in that sense “repenting,” because to be separate from God is sin and by being here we all intend therefore not to be separate from God, but to be closer to Him.

So it is not that we should look at Matthew as if what he did in following the call of Jesus is alien to our experience. It is not. Now, our gospel does present Matthew’s response as rather instantaneous and perhaps there is something to be gained in understanding that Jesus’s call to us, whenever it happens, should be not merely heard but obeyed — responded to with active listening. Our Collect also speaks of having ready wills and hearts. Matthew, despite his lifestyle, or perhaps because of it, is shown to have had a ready will and heart. He is an example of discipleship to us.

Blessed Mary, as the Church teaches, is the model disciple, and we can see here that Matthew’s response to Jesus’s call is analogous to Mary’s response to God when he bestowed upon her a vocation to be the Mother of God. Just as Mary’s response was immediate, so was Matthew’s.

I mentioned a moment ago that it may have been because of Matthew’s lifestyle that he had a ready will and heart. I say this because we must always remember the insight that comes from St Thomas Aquinas — that grace does not destroy our nature; rather, grace perfects nature: fulfills our nature. God’s actuality in our lives means that when we become more truly human, truly at home in God’s creation, truly at home in being a creature of God and the humility that requires, more truly in this world — when we accept that God wants us to follow him in this life, in this situation, in this context, with these challenges — this is when we truly cooperate with the grace, the love of God that came before our awareness of it, yet if obeyed, will carry us to the glorified existence in the power of the Holy Spirit through our incorporation into the glorified Body of Jesus the Christ.

So we should not think that Matthew did anything else but respond properly to his situation as Jesus revealed it. And what was his situation? As a tax collector, Matthew worked in a kind of toll-booth. He worked in that tollbooth to collect fees on goods, probably the fish caught nearby. As something of a cog in the government’s financial system, perhaps his relationship with those fishers was one of exploitation. Such people are not “doers;” they take from doers. That is the essence of the relationship, even when done without malice.

Whatever the details of his life, by being a tax collector, in light of the presence of Jesus, Matthew saw himself out of harmony with his surroundings, his life, his context, those fishermen. When we listen to Jesus, really listen by choosing — actively choosing — to open our hearts, the Church teaches that we are brought from disharmony with our surroundings to harmony; from dissonance to consonance; from blurry to focused; from jumbled up and messy to organized and ordered.

It is useful to recall that earlier in Matthew’s Gospel, in chapter 4, Jesus told Peter and Andrew, when he called them, that he would make them “fishers of men.” So we can see that Matthew moved from being a collector of money from the activities of fishermen to being a fisher, to being an apostle of the kingdom of heaven, which is true. Whereas from the hard work of others he once collected money, through being in relationship with Jesus, he was thrust directly into intimate relationship with the very people from whom he probably used to be at arm’s length. Jesus brings us closer to people; our sensitivity to people and their lives increases.

Why? Because of grace. Grace makes us more alive. We need the grace, revealed by Jesus, because without Him our lives are out of harmony; in that sense, sinners; less alive hence more dead; or in the Benedictine sense, out of balance.

Jesus balances, Jesus harmonizes, Jesus makes us more alive because of his grace. As it was then, it is now. But this movement of grace is not abstract, intellectual, or magicial. It is incarnational: it happens through activity. But which activity?

If we distill his activities to their fundamental essence, we see a pattern. The grace of Jesus spread through meals together, dining together, communing against the conventions of the day. This is Eucharist.

The grace of Jesus also spread through his adoration of the Father; his perfect prayer. His Father, and through him, our Father. This is the Office.

And what’s more, the grace of Jesus spread though his life lived with people, healing, teaching, listening, leading, breaking open Scripture in new ways. This is Devotion, the ministry of our baptism.

This pattern of three activities — Office, Eucharist, Devotion — are core practices that Jesus calls us to do. He calls us to them because these are his activities, and we are called to follow him, to be His Body left behind to continue His ministry. Following him means we respond to his call to order our lives around Him, and His grace. Just like Saint Matthew.

It is through these activities, as a pattern called regula, that we deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Jesus. Regula is how Jesus taught us to pray, to worship God. And it is through these activities — codified for Anglicans in our Prayer Book — that we are given, by the grace of God who came to us and continues to come to us, a right view of our state before God which, in the words of the late Archbishop Michael Ramsey, enables true vision instead of a vision clouded with unrealities. A true vision of the truth of our vocation.

Saint Matthew, pray for us.

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.

Is the Psalter the heart of the Divine Office?

It is often said, by way of catechesis, that the Psalms constitite the heart of the Divine Office. Herein, I propose a slight, yet ascetically significant, modification: instead, what if it the Psalms really are at the heart of the devotional life?

Let me attempt to explain. Because Akenside Press has made a commitment to the renewal of the Catholic prayer life, we have agreed that the task of reviving the praying of the Divine Office is not an option, but a necessity. For our own part, we encourage all to give the Divine Office of Praise a look, and better yet, to try it for six months or more. You might try it first for the Noonday. Or you might try it once a day, in the morning or evening. It works anytime, and in all places: Always and everywhere to give thanks to God.

Now, particularly in Anglicanism, there is a high regard for the Cranmerian Office of the Prayer Book, and rightly so. It has stood the test of time, and weathered a great deal of change in society and ecclesial life. One might reasonably fear the loss of all things good and Anglican if the Cranmerian Office is lost. So much else has changed, and Anglicanism as a whole is in such a sickly state. We have to hold on to the essence of what Cranmer did in 1549. It is Benedictine, it is Catholic. It is a weighty tradition, they say.

And they have a point.

However, evidence is accumulating from scholars like Paul Bradshaw, an Anglican, that the story of the history of the Divine Office we have now is far richer and more complicated than it was in the 16th century. Particularly, the claim the “the psalter is the heart of the Office” — something one hears constantly — is coming under legitimate scrutiny.

In the service of helping to make known the insights and research of Bradshaw, below are three excerpts from a journal article he wrote for Anglican Theological Review. All emphasis is added. Some additional commentary follows.

(1) “In the last few decades, however, liturgical scholars have become increasingly aware that the daily office was not a new creation in the fourth century but developed organically out of earlier traditions of daily prayer among Christians going back to the very beginnings of the church, and moreover that the monastic form was not the only pattern that the office took as it developed in the period from the fourth century onwards.

“Based on the practice of some-but not all-Jews in the first century, early Christians were expected to pray several times a day, and again in the middle of the night, the latter not being quite as extreme as it sounds to modem ears in an age when not all the hours of darkness were needed for sleep and little else could be done in the limited artificial light available. These times of prayer, usually observed by individuals on their own or within their households rather than in larger gatherings, did not center around the reading of the Bible the limited availability and cost of obtaining manuscript copies of the text, to say nothing of the low level of literacy among many of the believers, would in any case have rendered this extremely rare-but in praise on behalf of all creation and intercession for the salvation of the world. At first such occasions did not even include the use of psalms, which-like the public exposition of the rest of the scriptures belonged instead to the periodic corporate gatherings of the local Christian community, and especially their eucharistic meals. Only gradually did some psalms of praise begin to form a part of the times of daily prayer for those who were able to observe them communally.

Paul Bradshaw(2) “The traditional Anglican assertion that the daily offices ought to be founded upon the recitation of the whole Psalter and the systematic reading of the Bible is at least questionable. The regular use of every single psalm has a long history, but arises only out of the monastic movement. The rest of the church in the fourth century, and Christians in the centuries prior to that, felt no obligation to do so, and seem to have restricted their use of the Psalter in worship to very few psalms or parts of psalms. Nor is there any sign that Jewish worshippers before them made much use of the canonical psalms, and the claim sometimes made that Jesus would have known them all and sung them regularly in the synagogue lacks any evidence. Even the modem synagogue only ever makes use of about half the psalms in the course of the year.”

(3) As for Bible reading rather than praise and intercession having been at the heart of early Christian daily devotion, that too seems to be a false reading back of Anglican practice into the world of the first believers. This is not to say that studying the Bible was not important to them or that they did not take the opportunities that were possible for them to do that. But it is to say that it was something different from their practice of daily prayer, which had quite a distinct orientation. As God’s priestly people, Christians were committed both to the oblation of their whole life to God and to priestly worship—the constant offering of praise to the creator and redeemer of the world on behalf of all creation and of prayer and intercession for its present needs and its ultimate salvation. It could therefore be argued that the intense emphasis on the recitation of the Psalter and the reading of scripture each day has rather obscured this older tradition. Regular Bible reading is—or should be—a vital part of the healthy spiritual life of all Christians, but it is not—or should not be—to the detriment of their vocation to engage in prayer of a rather different kind.”

Bradshaw, Paul F. “The Daily Offices in the Prayer Book Tradition”. Anglican Theological Review, 95:3 (Summer 2013), 447-460.

From these historical insights comes the ascetical question, in line with Martin Thornton, what, exactly, is the Office for? If the theological answer Thornton develops is correct — objective praise to God the Father by the whole Church as Christ’s Body then why, exactly, must the Psalter be recited entirely to fulfill that sort of praise? As Thornton writes:

Martin Thornton, The Function of TheologyLet us be honest: if the constant repetition of a curious translation of a set of ancient religious folksongs, interspersed with doubtful legends relating to a primitive tribe, is the Church’s way of inspiring love, devotion, intellectual understanding, and religious edification, then the Church is not just out of date, it is insane” (The Function of Theology, p. 88).

Knowing Thornton, he means that tongue-in-cheek, even impishly. To be clear, he treasures the Old Testament, and a central theme of his theologythe faithful Remnant, as well as key paradigms of the art of spiritual directioncome from it. Yet here his inquiry demands an answer as to how the lectionaries of Psalter and Lessons accomplish objective praise to the Father by the Body of Christ?

Now, to suggest that daily lectionaries might not constitute objectivd praise specifically is not to condemn Scripture, far from it. But it is to inquire, he insists, whether the practice of the historic Anglican Office, particularly the Psalter and Readings, accords with the theology of the threefold Regula, that is, corporate prayer aligned with trinitarian dogma, understood in a more broadly Catholic context, inclusive but not limited to its historic Anglican expression.

Thornton argues that it is not the Psalter, but the Lord’s Prayer, that better grasps the theology of the Office — the answer to the question, What is it for? This is because the Lord’s Prayer addresses, adores, and petitions our transcendent Father through words directly given to us by Jesus as explicit instruction in how to pray. It is set-prayer. And what’s more, the first indication in Christian history of the Office is from The Didache (early 2nd century). It indicates that the Lord’s Prayer is to be used, three times a day, as corporate prayer. That sounds an awful lot like the Office. And there is no mention at all of the Psalter recited every day, week, or month.

Let us consider pastoral facts of today. Very few people, even those who are otherwise completely committed Christians, do the Prayer Book Office. Can this be denied? Thornton points out that we should hardly be surprised. Cranmer’s Office form was arranged for a completely different kind of society than ours — a pre-industrial late medieval village-centered society of peasants — a society where people could easily go to their parish church on the way out to the fields or the shop, and then easily go to their parish church on their way back from the day’s work, before going home. It is a lovely sentiment, today. But it is the reality of very few Christians in the West, if anyone at all.

Now, it seems that the claim the “the psalms are the heart of the Office” does ring true for Benedictinism and its regal tradition. But how far does that truth really go for is today? There are two points to be made:

(1) Generally speaking, today’s committed Anglicans are not monks and nuns. Anglicanism, of course, is Benedictine because of an inherited “ethos” primarily, a “DNA”. But it is not so owing to our literal doing of monastic practice. Saint Benedict’s Rule influenced, but was indeed supplanted by, the Prayer Book as the corporate Regula.

(2) St Benedict developed his rule in reaction to desert monastics. And it was only those monastics who placed such a high priority on recitation of the entire psalter. There appears to be zero evidence that this was a value of the actual pre-Constantinian church.

Book of Common PrayerYet we as Anglicans, if we are to be true to our tradition, ought continue to live and pray according to fundamentally Benedictine paradigm — a Catholic culture, Catholic imagination, as practiced according to a Benedictine ethos. Perhaps what “fundamentally Benedictine” means actually is to pray according to Regula: that is, a prayer life that fosters balance, stability, recollection, and mystagogy. And perhaps what “fundamentally Benedictine” also means is community, that is the unity of the prayer life between priest and laity: for prizing that solidarity is another highly commendable characteristic of the Cranmerian Office, and particularly important contribution to the Catholic Church by Anglicanism. There is no reason why it should not be able to continue. In fact, according to the theology of the Regula, that the Office must be capable of being prayed by the entire community is a necessity, is it not? Clericalism, particularly with respect to the Divine Office, is to be rigorously avoided, on theological grounds.

Perhaps the historic use of the entire recited psalter was an instrument and means to a greater end: that end being balance, stability, recollection, and mystagogy (etc). All of the Church since the Day of Pentecost has been seeking balance and stability in the prayer life. Saint Benedict very much found that for monastic community. But is that tool required to achieve balance, stability, recollection, and mystagogy (presuming, of course, orthodox doctrine, sacramental and liturgical life) in today’s Church? Of course the Psalter is fundamental to the prayer life, in general. But the Psalter by itself does not serve balance and stability. Something else does, and we see it in Acts 2.42. That is the Regula. In other words, might it be not the Psalter, but in fact the Regula, that is what is fundamentally Benedictine?

Thornton seems to think so. He writes, “The greatest Benedictine achievement … is the final consolidation of the threefold Rule of prayer which is absolutely fundamental to all Catholic spirituality…. 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” (English Spirituality, p. 76). How Benedict formulated his Office is very important to understanding his view of monastic prayer. But to apply his insights beyond monastic contexts, but into secular contexts, means we look first to Regula as what is fundamental about Benedictinism.

Of course, St Benedict’s Rule did work, very well, as a response to the excesses of desert monasticism, which were stretched the devotional life too far as a norm for the vast majority of people, despite the apparently widespread intrigue and secular curiosity of their life and prayer. It would be wrong and strange to suggest that the Benedictine monastic paradigm of practice is anything but glorious, fundamentally Catholic, and Church-preserving, for that is exactly what Benedictinism did: preserve the Church amid serious social strife, and did so for 1500 years and counting.

The danger is making particular “liturgics” into idols. Yet even more, to claim the Psalter exemplifies the true, fundamental character of the Benedictine Office is to risk obscuring what Thornton points out: Saint Benedict’s genius was in the overall system of prayer. So any interpretation of the Divine Office, whether it issues in reform of it or mere refinement, must situate the Office within an overall theology that underpins Regula. Because without an overall theology of prayer, the justification becomes too close to the “church’s national anthem” of “we’ve always done it that way”. And that simply won’t do when vital reform and renewal is needed.

Akenside Press is committed to Anglicanism as a Benedictine way of doing Church. And we are committed to solidarity with the pre-Constantinian Church (PDF). Both sought a Regula for a recollected life by the light of Jesus Christ. The pre-Constantinian insight is that doing so is spontaneous, joyous, and total. The Benedictine insight is that doing so requires balance, stability, and integrated life.

So what, then, for the Divine Office?

It seems that seminary life, certain cathedrals, and monastic houses would continue to benefit from the Cranmerian Office. Perhaps even some parish churches if their congregation is mostly from the nearby neighborhood. But for the rest of us who are, for better or worse, part of the “highly mobile global village” — that is, we move around a lot and lead active, busy lives that don’t orbit our parish church in any geographic way — a different Divine Office as an option seems not just appropriate, but long overdue. Yes, the American Prayer Book has shorter forms, “Daily Devotions for Individuals and Families”. These are perfectly acceptable, and can be memorized. But if one is going to memorize, isn’t it better to memorize a summary of the entirety of God’s story?

The Divine Office of Praise offers that. It is to be sung, memorized, and hence deeply absorbed and internalized. It tells a full story of God’s might acts of creation, salvation, and reconciliation. It is by itself catechetical, and owing to its heavily reliance on the Doctrine of Creation, encouraging of mystagogy — “O ye works of the Lord, bless ye the Lord; praise him and magnify him for ever!” And as an endeavor that takes about ten minutes, and can be done with children as young as two years old — always, and everywhere we praise Him — it recognizes that we don’t live in a pre-industrial, agricultural, medieval village anymore.

Finally, what about, then, the Psalter? The answer is surprisingly simple: of course we are to be devoted to the Psalms. One way to maintain the centrality of the Psalms is making them part of, not the Divine Office, but one’s broader devotional life — that is, read and prayed with slowly, through lectio divina, in a meditative-approach: at one’s leisure, or perhaps as part of a communal, devotional formation groupall of which is summed up as seeing the Psalms as a partthe heart!of a Daily Office of Readings.

In short, we suggest a rearranging that moves the Psalter from one part of the Regula to another, from Divine Office to Devotion. Hence the Psalms become the heart of our devotion rather than used for corporate set-prayer. Is this unreasonable? It may seem strange, but it follows from understanding first the Divine Office on theological grounds (that is, doctrinally), and then understanding how to match practice with the theology. By following this method we remain on a safe, orthodox path.

In the way described here, the Regula now possesses (1) a Divine Office both theological and socially realistic for clergy and laity alike, (2) a Devotional life that regards the Psalter (and all of Holy Scripture) as the authoritative thesaurus of our emotional, mental and spiritual experience in minstry—as the heart of our devotional life. And then where both of which find source, summit, and concentration: (3) in the Mass, the central corporate eventing of Christ’s most focused presence.

All of this amount not to a “revolution” in Regula, but rather a theologically defensible re-tooling that accords with orthodox doctrine and Catholic practice, yet acknowledges and adapts to social reality: something Cranmer himself did expertly in 1549. Is it not high time that we do that ourselves, today, for the sake of the Church?

Angels and the Catholic Imagination, part 3: Angels are Sacramental Beings


Angels and the Catholic Imagination, a homily series
HOMILY I | HOMILY II

Homily 3 of 3: “Angels are Sacramental Beings”
Given at St Paul’s Parish, Riverside, Illinois

We conclude this morning this three-part homily series on the Holy Angels with an exploration of the relationship between angels and ascetical theology. That is, the relationship between angels and the articulation of the church’s corporate experience, for that is what “ascetical theology” means.

Doctrine is to be used. Doctrine is the beginning, not an end. That is why I began with doctrine two weeks ago — the doctrine of Angels. The Holy Angels are all about God. They are created beings of spirit that can be perceived only with spiritual eyes. Angels are innumerable and in nine orders. They are named because of their activity. They were created with the words, “Let there be Light”. And so they announce God’s creative Word. They serve the Light. They minister to the church and to us, so that we perceive the light with our spiritual eyes. So that our lives are ordered to the Light. So that we as the church are ever-growing toward the light.

All of that is the way we begin to talk about angels and the church’s corporate experience. We continue when we simply recognize that insofar as we are biblical people, a people whose lives are lived sacramentally and liturgically according to the Catholic Rule of Mass + Office + Devotional Ministry, a people who thereby look to Scripture as the thesaurus of our corporate experience, and whereby Scripture and the Holy Tradition of the Church’s corporate experience mutually interpret one another — then angels already help to articulate the Church’s corporate experience. There are over 300 appearances of angels through the Bible, from the book of Genesis to the Book of Revelation, through both canons of the Old Testament to the New Testament, and with Moses, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

And because of their centrality to the experience of Blessed Mary and her encounter with the archangel Gabriel, through whose announcement to Mary the whole of godly creation is a becoming, on its way to the New Jerusalem; their centrality therefore to her entire mystagogical life — a life savoring the mystery of her Son, pondering in her heart — a mystagogical life lived toward the foot of the cross — because we relive the actually making present again of an angel of the lord to the shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. “Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a savior, who is Christ the Lord” — because, ultimately, of our baptism: the Church’s corporate experience is angelic!

The angelic is not an option. It is not a “app” for our cellphone we can choose to download or not. We are amid the angelic presence at all points and in all ways in our life! To recognize this, to be conscious of this, to be aware of this, to be caught by this, to be curious about this, to ponder this — for the angelic to impinge upon our prayer life, our quiet moments, our playful and engaged moments, our moments serving others — to accept the fact, the reality, that all that is perceived by the Church is ministered to by the angelic, is loved by the angelic, is interpreted to us by the angelic — this is nothing less than what catholic people have been doing since Gabriel’s encounter with Mary. This is nothing less than what catholic people have been doing since the confrontation of the twelve disciples by Jesus of Nazareth. Mary’s pondering in her heart IS our model for a catholic imagination. It doesn’t mean we understand all of it. It doesn’t mean there isn’t chunks of angelic theology that confuse us, or sound strange, or even remote. It doesn’t mean that we “get it all now”. We won’t get it all now. But the food of angels we already eat; the air of angels we already breath; the presence of angels we already imagine.

The angelic is like another layer of the reality we have all been living since our baptism. This layer of reality, present in its fullness no matter who much or how little we have perceived it, invites our participation. The angels rejoice when one sinner repents — when one sinner’s mind is transformed, when one sinner’s conscience is expanded and ordered to the Light of Christ — when the woman, having lost one of her ten coins, lights a lamp, sweeps the house, and intercedes to seek that coin. Could it be that this woman is Mary, her nine coins being the nine orders of the angels, and the one lost coin, humanity? Mary is the Queen of the heavens, and Lady of the Angels. Maybe something of this is part of the meaning of the parable of the Lost Coin.

So what remains to be said? Let me suggest something that might be a simple, condensed summary of everything we have so far discussed.

It is this: that Angels are sacramental beings. Angels, by the nature, bestowed by the words, Let there be Light, point the church toward an attitude. An attitude that is sacramental. Now, as our Prayer Book, which is catholic, says, the sacraments are outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual grace, given by Christ as sure and certain means by which we receive that grace. And the historic Catholic Church cerebrates seven sacraments. Sacramentality is not the same, but is intimately related. It is more general. If the sacraments are specific liturgical and ritual patterns of ontological grace, then sacramentality is what results from the Christian life of sacraments. In the words of John Macquarrie, “this is a sacramental world.” We don’t recognize that by logical syllogism: it is an existential attitude one learns through participation in the liturgical and sacramental life of the Body of Christ.

This is a profoundly joyous and grace filled attitude! This is the attitude of the first Christians, Christians willing to die as martyrs! It is the attitude of Christians throughout history who realize it and celebrate the sacramentality of all of creation. This is the attitude we are invited to deepen through Holy Communion at the Altar of Christ, this Holy Table around which are all the angels, the archangels, the entire company of heaven, and at which we are joined with all the saints, known and unknown, as well as our Lady, the queen of the heavens, and Lady of all the angels.

Angels are sacramental beings. And the way to join with them is to allow them to light us, to guard us, to rule us, to guide us. It is to ascend and descend with the angelic — ascending in our gathering around the Word and Table at Mass, descending as we are dismissed into mission to enact our baptismal covenant and to empty ourselves in love for others.

And it is to sing with them every day through the prayers common to the whole Church; that is the Office, which teaches us in the doing of it to be like angels, who are all about God. Let us conclude with a prayer.

May we all be joyful in the Lord, serving the Lord with gladness and coming before his presence with a song. May we know that it is He who has made us, and not we ourselves. May we regard all of creation as God himself does, as very good, and in so doing see all of God’s works as a profound blessing, so that we praise him and magnify him forever. May we join with the angels who cry aloud, the heavens and all the powers therein, with the Cherubim and Seraphim who continually cry, Holy Holy Holy, Lord, God of Power and Might, heaven and earth are full of your glory. May all of our lives be centered around the king of Glory, the everlasting Son of the Father, who having overcome the sharpness of death, opened the Kingdom of Heaven to all believers. May we sing in all our moments, Lord have mercy! Christ, have mercy! Lord, have mercy! May we be all emboldened by angels innumerable, like Mary was by Gabriel, as we boldly sing, Our Father who are in heaven! Hallowed be thy name! And may we ever in our hearts know something like the profound, the startling, the beautiful song of the angels to the shepherds keeping watch over their flock by night, Glory to God in the Highest and peace to his people on earth! Amen. Amen!

Icon by the hand of Monica Thornton.

Homily: Watchfulness through Regula

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Icon by the hand of Monica Thornton.

Regula, Sacred Space, and Sacred Time

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 wrote, “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 therefore is still on the way toward, in Walter Hilton’s classic term, “the likeness of Jhesu.”

The Church is on a journey of reforming, 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, as Dix wrote, is “presently operative.”2

All of this is an outline of how 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 threefold: the pattern of Mass-Office-Devotion. As Martin Thornton wrote, “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

The full regulaIt is here how we see 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 embraced and 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.

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 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

Homily: On the Liturgical Nature of Mission (with audio)

Given for Saint Paul’s Parish, Riverside, Illinois
On Proper 9, Year C, 2013 (BCP 1979): Isaiah 66:10-16 | Galatians 6:(1-10)14-18 | Luke 10:1-12,16-20

To say that names are “written in heaven” is Christ’s way of saying that one’s way of life matches with the way of life taught by Christ. We are all called to this way, this pattern of being and ordering our lives. And when we follow it, by the grace of God, our names too are written in heaven. In this pattern, Christ is at the center, and his presence speaks to us. His speaking, Luke tells us, sent out the seventy, to go ahead of him, as his speaking sends us out, to go in peace to love and serve the Lord; thanks be to God. And his speaking calls us all back to him for true reconciliation. Just as Christ counseled the seventy against the sin of pride, we must strive to remember that all things good, true, and beautiful come not from us, but from God’s acting. God, who lets-be. This is why it is said that liturgy is God’s theology, his own way of making himself intelligible.

But what would Christ have us do in between his sending us out, and his calling us back? Surely we are to be with people. Surely we are to share meals with those who do not know about Christ, or who have rejected his Good News. Now, our Lord knows that this work, this being with people, will not be easy, and it could even be dangerous. We Christians need only look around the news from the Church today in Syria and in Egypt, where clergy have recently been brutally murdered. Our Lord knows that this work, this being with people, will not be easy, and it could even be dangerous. And still, our Lord chooses for us to be as lambs in the midst of wolves, with no possessions that we prize above the Lord.

What else are we to do? We are to speak. We are not to be doormats, and merely silent. Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be to this house’. Do we say these words? Our faith tells us that the Lord will see to it that his peace rests with those who are ready to receive it. It is not for us to decide who is ready; our job is to speak the words. Now, to be ready to receive means that a person can hear the words ‘the kingdom of God has come near you.’ Notice that Luke tells us that these words heal. The words ‘God’s kingdom has come near you” heal. We must strive to present these words to others with integrity, with peace, and through love.

And in presenting these words, live them. For what is the kingdom of God? The kingdom of God is the Christ-centered life. It is a life lived according to what is known as a regula — a rule of life and prayer. The regula at its core is three-fold. Firstly, Christ’s actual and mystical presence in all people and things, yet concentrated and focused in the Sacrament of the Eucharist at Mass — this sacrament feeds us, and in so doing invites us to an adoration of all creation; secondly, praise of God the Father through the daily Office, for in the Office, the entire Church — in visible creation, in paradise, and in heaven — sings together in loving acknowledgement of God who is love transcendent; and thirdly, guidance by the Holy Spirit in our encounters with creation and our fellow man, often guided and framed by Scripture. Sacrament, Office, devotional Encounter. This is the pattern at the root of our Prayer Book. This is the pattern at the root of the Catholic faith.

Our Lord knows that this work, too, will not be easy. And so he calls us back to his presence. And so the way of life, Christ’s pattern, emerges: the liturgical life of presence, dismissal, and return. Whenever we need to, and not only when we return, we can ask for God’s help. God listens and wants to hear your voice; daily, regularly, whenever you want, for any reason at all! As Isaiah tells us, God responds to us also like a mother, and we her children. She feeds us from her breast, teaches us on the journey of life, enjoys our playful company. We can say that God’s mission is to mother all of creation and raise it to a new Jerusalem, the very Jerusalem to which Christ’s face has been set.

It is when we, sent out from Mass, help to feed, help to teach, help to enjoy the company of others that the Body of Christ spreads through the world and makes the whole of creation new. This is Christ’s victory. Some say that it is when we “get out of the way” that God acts, and there is truth to that, because it is God’s grace that acts, and nothing strictly of our own. But put another way, when we fully engage another person, face to face, heart to heart — as Christ will shortly face us in the Eucharist — God’s mission finds victory. When we fully attend to any situation, and seek to discern in it the unity of the Holy Spirit, God’s mission finds victory. Attending and engaging — what St Benedict means when he tells us to listen — this is the beating heart of Christ’s pattern of being, and it is how we are to be in our lives, as we seek and serve Christ in others. And through our attending, our engaging, our listening, we speak: we speak in our lives and in our words, the Good News that the Kingdom of God has come near to us, and to our neighbor.

The Prayer Book as Regula, a Slideshow

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

click for slideshow


See also: What does Regula mean?

Icon by the hand of Monica Thornton. 


Notes on the Divine Office

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

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

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

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

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

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

(2) A meditative practice or lectio divina.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(2) Means of articulation.

  • Sung or chanted.
  • Said or recited.

Duccio di Buoninsegna - Appearance Behind Locked Doors

Nine Texts toward Catholic Renewal in Anglican Parishes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now to the list.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

St Augustine, Enchiridion3. Enchiridion, by St Augustine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Book of Margery Kempe8. The Book of Margery Kempe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

We conclude with prayer:

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

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

 

Homily: “Why NOT Me?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


Want to discuss this post? Join us on our Facebook page.