Tag Archives: Regula

Homily: Renaming Our Experiences (with audio)

Homily by Matthew Dallman
Given at St Paul’s Parish, Riverside, Illinois
On Proper 9, Year C: Genesis 18:1-10a | Psalm 15 | Colossians 1:21-29 | Luke 10:38-42

St Luke’s narrative of Christ’s journey to Jerusalem continues, just as our journey — the journey of the Body of Christ — continues to the new Jerusalem, whereby the journey that begins in this life to grow into the likeness of Christ finds completion, fulfillment, and perfecting in the life to come. And so Christ’s journey in Scripture is our journey now. Amid the hostile lands of Samaria, he enters a village — that is to say, Jesus and the disciples, numbering 70 if not more — and this group is received. They are received by Martha and welcomed into her house, and there in her house is Martha’s sister, Mary.

(As a point of clarification, this is the only moment in Luke’s Gospel that Martha appears. And although we might be tempted to hear the names “Martha and Mary” and associate them with the sisters of Lazarus who is raised by the dead in the Gospel of St John — Mary being Mary Magdalene — biblical scholars suggest this is a less-than-justifiable connection to make. The Mary here is probably not meant to be interpreted as Saint Mary Magdalene, and at least in this gospel, Mary and her sister Martha do not have a brother named Lazarus.) This need not be a problem, for not associating between the Gospels of Luke and John allows us to focus more freely on this story, and how this story helps us understand our journey into deeper likeness of Christ.

As I said, Christ and his movement were received by Martha and Mary. This strikes an immediate resonance with perhaps the most quoted instruction from the Rule of St Benedict. In chapter 53 of his Rule, St Benedict writes, “Let all guests who arrive be received like Christ.”

Now St Benedict wrote for communities of residential monks and nuns. And although the Book of Common Prayer is a thoroughly Benedictine approach to liturgical and sacramental spirituality, one being as comprehensive as the other, and although the Prayer Book is in fact a rule, or regula, in spiritual and ascetical continuity with Benedict’s Rule, we still must reinterpret Benedict’s instruction — first because of its basis in scripture such as in our Gospel reading today, but also because we are not residential monks and nuns living in semi-enclosed community, but, with the exception of our rector, non-residential Christians. All of us have chosen to be here and to live by the Prayer Book and not the Rule of St Benedict strictly. We should acknowledge the difference between the Rule of St Benedict and the Prayer Book, but we should also acknowledge the profound consonance between the two. We do this when we reinterpret his instruction to “Let all guests who arrive be received like Christ.”

We note, too, that our Old Testament reading from Genesis echoes this theme of receiving. Abraham and Sarah receive The Lord. The pericope begins with Abraham, in sacred space of the oaks of Mamre, lifting up his eyes and beholding three men. He and Sarah do provide excellent hospitality, according to the standard of their age — all their attention was centered on their guests. By the end of the pericope, the “they” of the three men become “the Lord” in singular. How that happens is a mystery for us to savor.

But it does appear that when we practice thorough-going hospitality, the presence of the Lord becomes more deeply felt — here, through the presence of God’s providence, revealing that Sarah will indeed bear a child in the spring when the Lord’s presence returns. This recalls, too, words from our baptismal covenant, to “seek and serve Christ in all persons”. To practice hospitality is to seek and to serve Christ in all people. Hospitality is a baptismal responsibility.

In this light we could return to St Luke’s account of the presence of the Lord amid Martha and Mary, and ask, how did they receive Christ’s presence? What does their “seeking and serving” look like? The answer is somewhat obvious: Martha became, we should say, understandably preoccupied by the concerns and obligations of hosting this gathering; Mary, on the other hand, sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. The indication is that Mary’s choice is the closer one to the will of God.

But I would propose that a better question is, how does meditating on this moment impinge upon our prayer life? How does meditating on this moment invite us to deepen how we receive Christ? This is how we are invited to read all of Scripture — as baptized members within the fellowship of the living Church, to allow scripture to feed, inspire, and articulate our experience — poetically, adventurously, contemplatively, looking for its life rather than a mere message that proves something — a teaching and leading into all truth. Through Scripture, too, is how Christ’s presence comes into our own.

And so our Lord invites us to ask, when have you felt his presence? How have you felt moments of openness, even profound openness? A sensing of something of an expansiveness? Or even a deep beauty to the moment, however it has manifested? Truth be told, your sensing may also have come amid a very low moment in your life, when you may have been, you might say, pummeled by reality. Such a moment — whether a peak moment or a valley moment or an everyday moment — it may have been in childhood, it may have come in adult life — we are invited to name these moments as the presence of God. We are invited to find in these moments, to discern in them, what St Paul calls the “glory” of their mystery, this mystery that Christ is in you, in us, and that we are in Him. Naming is central to our journey.

If we choose not to attempt to name these moments, then in fact we are not practicing hospitality to his presence, we are not receiving the Lord’s presence as it came to us. It is OK — it must be OK — if at the time of this visitation, we did not understand that presence to be God. We are in good company there, because neither Abraham nor Sarah understood the three men to be divine. And Martha, although she seemed to perceive the Lord’s presence a bit more, did not really demonstrate any holy fear of God — in fact, she directly accused her sister to Him, and even ordered Christ to do something — both of which are “no-nos” because they don’t recognize God’s true nature. And neither should we accuse Martha, for that is to do to her what Jesus reproved Martha for doing to her sister. Note, Mary’s portion is the good one also because she does no accusing.

No, God invites us to look back at our life’s experiences, and, as it were, “re-name them”. This is the process of discernment, and it is through discerning — prayerful inquiring — that we grow in likeness of Christ by his grace. Renaming through prayerful inquiry is central to the Christian life.

Shortly we will all come to the altar, to the Lord’s table, where the presences of Christ — in all of creation, in our gathering as the People of God in this sacred space, in the words of scripture proclaimed today, in the person of the priest — these presences are gathered up, focused, concentrated in the Sacrament of the Eucharist, where bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ, his true and mystical presence. We do this week by week, often day by day. This experience is named “Christ”, because all of our experiences in creation can be named “Christ.”

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: orders, that is, our baptismal life which is our true spirituality.

The Book of Common Prayer, being a Regula inherited primarily from the tradition of Saint Benedict, likewise orders in a unique way such a comprehensive corporate response, with emphases of its own yet leaving nothing fundamental out. Since A.D. 1549, it has been the dominant liturgical book for English Christians, and those in that tradition. Although in the 21st century we see a wide variety of international versions of the Prayer Book, what has held constant throughout is its fundamental ascetical principles and purpose. That is to say, it is a seasoned system for liturgical spirituality. In this slideshow, that liturgical spirituality is described within its historical context to properly answer the question, ‘What is the Prayer Book for?’

Our position: Catholic renewal within Anglican parochial tradition—that is, Catholic Anglican vitality—demands a more profound embrace of the total life of obedience ordered by Prayer Book heritage. This slideshow is intended as a substantial resource for that purpose. Veni, Creator Spiritus.

“Because worship is the well-spring of all our activity, it is essential that we grow in our understanding and practice of personal prayer and corporate devotion. A cherished part of our heritage in the Anglican Communion is the Book of Common Prayer, which is a bond of unity between us and which provides the forms whereby we live the life of the Catholic Church
—Lambeth Conference 1958 Encyclical Letter of the Bishops

“So it is that the Benedictine Way really underlies the Book of Common Prayer, where the same trinity of liturgy, office and personal prayer is found for the joy of us all.”
—Archbishop Michael Ramsey, 15 July 1965 at Nashdom Abbey

“The Prayer Book system embodies the ethos of our Church which is founded on scripture, interpreted by tradition, which is not only articulated by the catholic creeds (perhaps more commonly used in the Prayer Book liturgies than in any other liturgical regime) but which is also expressed by the spirit-filled continuity of life in the Church and the ways in which we have sought together to respond to the demands of successive generations.”
—Bishop Richard Chartres from “Afterword” in The Book of Common Prayer: Past, Present, and Future, edited by Prudence Dailey. London: Continuum, 2011

click for slideshow


See also: What does Regula mean?

Icon by the hand of Monica Thornton. 

 

Notes on the Divine Office

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

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

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

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

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

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

(2) A meditative practice or lectio divina.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(2) Means of articulation.

  • Sung or chanted.
  • Said or recited.

Homily: “Why NOT Me?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


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Trinity through Anglican historical theology

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Contours of Prayer in the Anglican Tradition

To study prayer in the Anglican tradition is to study the English school of Catholic spirituality. The language of any school of spirituality is known classically as “ascetical theology”, which is the theology and practice of how we walk with God. A scriptural example of ascetical theology is St Paul’s First Epistle to the Thessalonians, which is filled with instruction, advice, and coaching (to use contemporary terms) to the community in Thessolonica about how to make their community more Christ-centered.

Martin Thornton, the premiere Anglican ascetical theologian, a perhaps one of the more important ascetical theologians in the history of the Church, has suggested that the English school of Catholic spirituality has produced through its history a balanced spirituality, what he calls a “synthesis” between intellectual and affective poles; that is, between thinking and feeling. Our most well-known examples include Anselm, Julian of Norwich, Walter Hilton, Richard Rolle, and Margery Kempe. These writers through their work demonstrate their own walking with God as examples of how we might do so ourselves, creatively, imaginatively, and rooted in orthodox doctrine. And of course, our school is thoroughly Benedictine, and Benedictinism is enshrined in our Book of Common Prayer.

Thornton suggests that one of the primary tests for catholicity is whether a tradition or school follows the Rule of the Church. By this he means “the Liturgy“, understood comprehensively and ascetically. that is, the “three-fold regula” which is a systematic (yet fundamentally dynamic) relationship between Mass, Office, and Devotion. That our corporate life, including our confession of official doctrine, is ordered by regula directly determines our ecclesial typology, that is to say, our type of Church. Our typology, our spirituality, our prayer tradition, is pragmatic (cf Harvey Guthrie in Anglican Spirituality). What fundamentally makes one an Anglican is one’s doing with the Church what the Church does liturgically, sacramentally, and empirically; this is to be pragmatic. Our tradition is neither “confessional” (that is, membership is determined by assent to an extra-liturgical doctrinal statement; ala Augsburg Confession, Westminster Confession, or Creed of Pius IV), nor is it “charismatic” (that is, membership is determined by a common, subjective religious experience). Our Anglican basis of membership in our school, our pragmatic basis, is full and active participation. A pragmatic school of spirituality is necessarily an existential school of spirituality, for membership presupposes active choice and decision, the very ingredients of existential reality. This basis for membership is not only Anglican, but it is also patristic, for it is the model of the early Church. This Church, Thornton tells us, was one of spontaneity, simplicity, and cheerful joy (even in the face of martyrdom). It understood Psalm 100 quite well: O be joyful in the Lord all ye lands; serve the Lord with gladness and come before his presence with a song.

Our prayer tradition, which Thornton further describes as domestic and parochial, is understood and assumed to be a journey taken as individuals within a corporate body. It is thus fully Anglican, and thus thoroughly Catholic according to our school of spirituality, to treat liturgy and specifically liturgical creeds and formulas as catechetical tools to be used on a journey. For any journey, but particularly a journey of walking with God, a journey that lasts all of this life and into the next, we benefit from good maps. The Church provides devotional maps: the books of Scripture, our liturgy, our creeds. These are to be not idolized, but used. These are tools: guides for our walk. So for Martin Thornton to write a book (Prayer: A New Encounter) on the notion that the contemporary age, like all ages in the life of the Body of Christ, our understanding of our tools might very well need updating, sharpening, repairing, or even overhauling, is hardly surprising but rather the plainest of common sense. The formula for which Thornton is drawing a “new devotional guide map” is the Apostles’ Creed. His premise is adopted from John Macquarrie (another thoroughly Catholic Anglican): (1) I live in the world (which is our existential starting point), and (2) I believe in the Creed, which is to say that we accept the Creed as an ontological given — it is a study of our relationship with God, with holy Being, a study we did not write ourselves but was given to us through baptism.

The crux of the book, and what might be understood as the philosophical crux of the English school of Catholic spirituality, is this: “what is the meaning of ‘Being’?”

Note first and foremost that the question immediately lends itself to devotion and contemplation. Take an orange. We can describe easily the attributes of an orange. Yet when we grasp its being, its fundamental “is-ness”, and still more when we grasp that its attributes presuppose and require its being, and still more that we can only grasp its being by going through the attributes of the orange, what can this process demonstrate but precisely the method by which we read holy Icons. Only by going through, and reckoning with, and participating in, the physical attributes of an Icon can we grasp its fundamental Being, which is Christ; and only through Christ can we reach the Father. For as we acknowledge in the Nicene Creed, Christ is “of one being with the Father”. Grasping the Being of the orange models the grasping of the Christ of the Icon.

Thus the relationship between beings and Being is nothing more or less than the relationship between physical attributes of an Icon and Christ. If one can understand how to use an Icon devotionally, one can understand how to use “Being” devotionally. For the difference between being — that is, things, entities, items, whether physical or not — and Being is precisely the Incarnation. The Incarnation renders “being” (lowercase b) open to “Being” (uppercase B). Because of the Incarnation, our being is thrown open and given a “clearing” for the possibility of total relationship with God. That is, the Incarnation gives us a gift. Because of the Incarnation, we have the possibility to recognize, develop, and deepen the ontological continuity between our being and God, who we devotionally might understand as “Personal Holy Being”. Just as the being of the orange is prior to, and fundamental of, its attributes, Holy Being is prior to, and fundamental of, created beings and their attributes. For he has made us and not we ourselves; we are his people and the sheep of his pasture (Ps 100).

“Being” is, and can only be, devotional. The question of “what is the meaning of Being?” leads into questions such as:

(1) What is the meaning of creation?
(2) What is the purpose of creation?
(3) What is the meaning of our existence?
(4) What is the purpose of our existence?

These are all devotional questions. These are questions about the nature of Being, and about the nature of God and God’s creation. We learn in Exodus that God is “I am that I am”. This very name calls us to devotion about Being of the most fundamental and profound degree that through it we can truly speak of “holy Being”. Julian of Norwich did nothing less than “read” that acorn for its expressive Being as an Icon of Christ.

Thus the notion that “Being” can be devotional, as well as the existential-ontological approach to theology more generally, is at root absolutely nothing innovative or new. The study of Being (a.k.a. “ontology”), or in more strictly ecclesial terms, “prayer”, immediately demands a contemplative awareness that embraces our sense-experience. And contemplative awareness brought forth through the study of Being brings us square to the awareness that God, that holy Being, is only grasped through beings — that is, through God’s manifest creation. For precisely this reason, we can carefullly, but truthfully, affirm along with Thornton that Christianity is the most materialistic of all ways of life. Being, holy Being, Personal Holy Being, pours itself out — “lets-be” — all of creation, past, present, and future. And only through relationship with creation’s being-aliveness — modeled fully and finally by the Incarnation, itself the perfect Icon — can we seek understanding, or seek to grasp the significance, of our walk with God. We say in simple terms of philosophy: beings disclose Being. Or in simple terms of the Church: the Incarnation discloses God.

Belief Enshrined in Worship: the Catholicity of Anglican Patrimony

The greatest Benedictine achievement (from this point of view) is the final consolidation of the threefold Rule [Regula] of prayer which is absolutely fundamental to all Catholic spirituality: the common Office (opus Dei) supporting private prayer (orationes peculiares) both of which are allied to, and consummated by, the Mass. To call this the greatest Benedictine achievement is not to exaggerate. . . . 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. Amongst all the tests of Catholicity or orthodoxy, it is curious that this infallible and living test, is so seldom applied. We write and argue endlessly about the apostolic tradition, about episcopacy, sacramentalism, creeds, doctrine, the Bible—all very important things—yet we fail to see that no group of Christians is true to orthodoxy if it fails to live by this Rule of trinity-in-unity: Mass-Office-devotion.”

(Martin Thornton, English Spirituality, Chap. 6)

It is safe to regard Anglican patrimony as one of several Catholic traditions because its life is thoroughly liturgical and profoundly corresponds to the New Testament, and hence Catholic, paradigm of corporate life described in Acts 2:42. There are other reasons, as well. Yet because Anglican liturgical life encompasses and enacts the relationships between Scripture, Tradition, and Reason—and hence to our corporate experience of Christ Crucified and Resurrected—nothing of the faith once for all delivered to the saints need be left out. The nature of this relationship is grasped through devotional and imaginative encounter with the liturgical traditions of the Anglican Church that grow out of historic English Christianity, of which Anglicanism is the contemporary expression.

These traditions are two-fold: on one hand, there are the official liturgies involving the Sacraments and set-prayer, exemplified by the Mass and Divine Office; and on the other hand, there are the devotional liturgies, which are more spontaneous and informal—everything from the holy rosary to biblical meditation to serving the hungry, needy, poor and sick, and even every day living, what Karl Rahner usefully called the “mass of life.” This second category is called “liturgy” not because they are set in rubrics but because they are part of the unfolding, cosmic liturgy which is the Revelation of the Sacred Humanity of Jesus Christ amid our time and space conditions.

These two kinds of liturgy, seen as an integrated whole that cultivates habitual recollection of the presence of Christ, foster intermingling of Scripture, Tradition, and Reason as food for the organism of the holy Church, the Mystical Body of Christ. This intermingling within a broad framework of the threefold Regula, or the “Catholic Rule of prayer” of Mass–Office–Devotion, forms the core of English spirituality, as England’s particular inheritance from the apostolic age into the early Celtic church, then particularly through the ascetical insights of Augustine, Benedict, Anselm, Aquinas, Hilton, Norwich, the Caroline Divines, Jeremy Taylor, John Wesley, and others, all folded into the Book of Common Prayer, which arranges Scripture and historic theology into liturgy informed by reasoned reflection upon Christian tradition in its totality as well as particular English emergence that seeds the entire Anglican Communion. The threefold Regula is the real “three-legged stool” of Anglicanism.

Owing to its adherence to threefold Regula (and hence to Acts 2:42 as the Catholic paradigm and test for orthodoxy), Anglicanism, when it owns its identity, is self-evidently Catholic. “Nothing separates us from the Catholic Church”, wrote Fr John Macquarrie. Geoffrey Francis Fisher, Archbishop of Canterbury (1945-1961) is more specific: “We have no doctrine of our own. We only possess the Catholic doctrine of the Catholic Church, enshrined in the Catholic Creeds, and those creeds we hold without addition or diminution.” What is our own is the way we live out Catholic doctrine—that is to say, our particular form of Regula which is the Prayer Book, and the corresponding theological and social perspectives that emerge from Prayer Book life.

All Catholic traditions are one, ontologically, through Christ and baptism into his Body. Existentially (which is to say mainly politically), churches today are separated and not in full communion. This fact cannot be denied in the case of Anglicanism. Yet it cannot be the basis for asserting that because of Henry VIII’s reign, Anglicanism is no longer Catholic. The 1534 Act of Supremacy which ended legal and existential Papal authority in England specifically stated that nothing in that act shall be construed as in any way altering or diminishing the full Catholic doctrine, faith, and practice of the Church in England. This was captured nearly two centuries later by Anglican Bishop Thomas Ken (d. 1711): “I die in the holy catholic and apostolic faith, professed by the whole church before the disunion of east and west. More particularly, I die in the communion of the Church of England as it stands distinguished from all papal and puritan innovations, and as it adheres to the doctrine of the cross.”

Even the renowned Reformation theologian, Richard Hooker, believed Anglicanism to be “Catholic, in that she believed herself to continue in all essentials the Church of the early centuries; Reformed, in that she also thought it an obligation to rid herself of some of the doctrinal and practical innovations that had come along in the Middle Ages,” wrote Macquarrie. Through the turmoil of the 16th and 17th centuries, and the break with Rome, Anglicanism committed to the Book of Common Prayer as its expression of its Benedictine sensibility and heritage updated and ordered for a Gutenberg age.

Seen in this way, Anglicanism means one Catholic tradition among many. It continues to be enlivened by ferment of historic English Christianity because of the Prayer Book. The “English school of Catholic spirituality”—shorthand for the ascetical and pastoral tradition of Augustine through the Caroline Divines, and others subsequently—is properly seen as one of two dozen or more schools within Roman, Eastern, Old Catholic, and Oriental traditions of the Church Catholic. And the basic test for membership, again, is adherence to the threefold Regula. This is how the argument for Anglican catholicity should play out, yet rarely does.

I mentioned above that Regula is how we live out doctrine. In fact it is how doctrine is truly confessed. This points to the oft-misunderstood concept of lex orandi, lex credendi. How we pray determines our true belief (rather than what we merely say or think we believe). Regula radically enacts the realization of doctrine through not only verbal assent (which does not require Regula) but actions and behavior. The Catholic, primarily patristic and ecumenical, magisterium is professed through the liturgical and recollective life demanded and fed by adherence to the Book of Common Prayer, seen as ascetical system. For Anglicans, bad liturgy, quite literally, can be heretical. The medium is the message, is the true meaning of lex orandi, lex credendi.

Belief enshrined in worship animates and enacts our common, Catholic faith. We confess our doctrine every Sunday and every holy day of Obligation, every Matins and Evensong. That recognition is at the heart of Anglicanism. The primary purpose of the Church is to lead the “choir of all created beings in the worship of God,” wrote C.B. Moss. Absent the safeguards possessed, for example, by the Roman Catholic church—their Papal magisterium—Anglicans must ensure that our liturgy conforms to Catholic orthodoxy, because if it does not, then our claim to catholicity is impaired ot even lost. Liturgy matters.

The centrality of Regula within the history of the development of the English peoples and the “English temperament,” has led to a set of devotional characteristics, or corporate attrait, that are unique to Anglicanism. This attrait includes what Martin Thornton called a “speculative/affective synthesis.” This means a balanced harmony between thinking and feeling, intellect and emotion, dogma and love. This Anglicanism can genuinely claim to have contributed to the universal church. Sometimes the balance in Anglican devotion has also been called “via media.” Yet this has been misunderstood to be watered down compromise. “Via media,” rather, has nothing whatever to do with compromise; “it has everything to do with spiritual sanity,” wrote Thornton. It means “a pure and primitive catholicism,” wrote Macquarrie.

What more can be said about Anglican attrait? An important aspect is that “there is a deep family relationship between priest and layman, monk and secular; a distrust of clericalism and authoritarianism is the result of a long pastoral heritage,” wrote Thornton. This is summed up by the word “Common” in our Prayer Book: being Catholic means we must all pray in basically the same way. When we don’t, we risk losing catholicity. Disunity in prayer violates the nature of the Prayer Book and violates the New Testament paradigm. Anglican unity going forward will consolidate into an irreducible minimum: recognition by the Archbishop of Canterbury, visible witness to shared theological inheritance, and robustly ascetical use of the Book of Common Prayer. It is time for Anglicans, led by the Church of England, to reclaim the actual Book of Common Prayer, and not some liturgical supplement.

This is why Anglicanism is primarily a parochial phenomenon and its fullest, Catholic expression best seen at the parish level. For 99.9% of ordinary Anglicans, the encounter with the holy Church of Christ is through the local parish. And at the parish, Christians encounter Eucharistic liturgy as their primary touch-point. Eucharistic liturgy both features Scripture (lectionary readings) and derives from Scripture its very words and underlying pattern. Further private reflection upon Scripture, such as meditation upon the Gospel narrative, flows from liturgy, both Mass and Divine Office — every day is for praise, for unceasing prayer. Our Book of Common Prayer is grounded upon the Holy Scripture, agreeable to the order of the earliest Church, designed to be unifying and for the edification of the faithful. These are important attributes of the sane and pure primitive Catholicism of the English school.

To sum up: Anglicanism, while possessing plenty of theological uniqueness and nuance, when Catholic has no particular doctrines of its own; its doctrine is that of the historic Catholic Church enshrined in the classic creeds and liturgy. Its theological heritage, its tradition of doctrine applied, is Anglicanism’s attrait, and it is rooted in Augustine and Benedict and finds contemporary expression in the Book of Common Prayer, which as threefold Regula articulates the official liturgies that find normative expression as the corporate prayer of Anglican parish families, praying in a unity of the Church between laity and clergy, bishop and people, all knit together in the One Body of Christ.

The relationship between Scripture, Reason, and Tradition in Anglicanism therefore can be understood best within the perspective of liturgical theology (as subset of ascetical theology). As a spirituality that presumes a life-long journey through life’s deepest questions, Catholic Anglicanism, simply put, is all in the doing. To ensure our catholicity going forward, Anglicans must focus on the threefold Regula, the three-legged stool of Catholic identity: we must teach about it, preach about it, and most of all, live it so that we continue to be formed in the Apostolic pattern of Pentecost as captured in Acts 2.

 


Further reading from Akenside Press:

What is the Catholic Doctrine of the Church?” (4-pg PDF).