Tag Archives: sacraments

Homily: “On Forgiveness, part two”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Third Sunday in Lent, Year A, 2017.

As I spoke last Sunday, there are seven sayings by Jesus from the Cross in the four books by the evangelists. These seven sayings are also called “the Seven Last Words,” and each of these, individually and as a group, have been the subject of much reflection, speculation, and prayer over the course of the nearly two-thousand-year history of the Christian Church.

If we recall the image of Jesus Christ given to us by Jesus Himself—that He is the true Vine—then these Seven Last Words can be thought of as seven “leaves” of the Vine. We can carry the image still further when we remember that a vine, such as grow grapes, are fastened to a structure, even a wooden structure, both so that the vine develops properly and so that its leaves provide shade to the fruits, to the grapes. Indeed our Jesus, the true Vine, was fastened to the wood of the cross, and Christians have been finding shade under His leaves, His Last Words, ever since, even as we are in this season of Lent. Continue reading

Homily: Religion and Covetousness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Homily: The Mystery of Adam’s Rib

Delivered at Saint Paul’s, Riverside on 4 October 2015.

There is an echo in the Gospel lesson from the Old Testament lesson. We hear, in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus quote from Genesis chapter 2. Jesus says, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” In this echoing there is well-established teaching on the Sacrament of Matrimony. And yet there is another echo that I would like to guide us. For this past summer, we read Saint Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians. In chapter 5 of the Letter is heard the quote, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh,’ and then the writer continues: “This mystery is a profound one, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the Church.” St Paul, then, is pointing us back to the 2nd chapter of Genesis—back to, then, the creation of Eve out of the side of Adam—making, or in a better translation, “building,” Eve out of one of Adam’s ribs. Earlier in Ephesians, Paul writes of “building up the body of Christ” (Eph 4:12). How the building of Eve might correspond with the building of the Church—this is the profound mystery to which I call our prayer.

Great voices have spoken on this, the mystery of Adam’s rib. Three doctors of the Church invite us to consider through it a mysterious, sacramental, relationship between Eve and the Church. Saint Jerome wrote, “Adam’s rib fashioned into a woman signifies Christ and his Church” (Homilies 66). Saint Thomas Aquinas wrote, “By this is signified that the Church takes her origin from Christ” (Summa Theologiæ, 1.92.2.co).  And in a longer passage, Saint Augustine wrote, “Adam’s sleep was a mystical foreshadowing of Christ’s death, and when his dead body hanging from the cross was pierced by the lance, it was from his side that there issued forth the blood and water that, as we know, signifies the Sacraments by which the Church is built up” (City of God, 22.17). Out of Adam’s side came Eve. Out of the side of Jesus, the new Adam, came Blood and Water—that is, the Sacraments, and hence Christian life.

And as Christ is the new Adam, Blessed Mary is the new Eve. Whereas Eve is the “mother of the living,” Mary is the “mother of the Church.” As Eve’s sin against God is the basic pattern replicated again and again in the life of the children of Israel and summarized by the Seven Capital Sins, Mary’s “yes to God” is the basic pattern of life for the baptized children of God: “Let it be to me according to your Word.” For “in the scene at the Cross the making of Eve from Adam’s side is repeated symbolically when the new Adam, in the sleep of death, breathes the life-giving breath of the Spirit upon the figure of Mary standing below his opened side” (Lionel Thornton, “The Mother of God in Holy Scripture,” in The Mother of God, ed. E.L. Mascall). Like Mary, we are to orient our lives to the Cross and by God’s grace and by means of the Sacraments flowing from him, say Yes to Him, time and time and time again, each time growing ever-more like Him.

But what of the relationship between Eve and the Church? This word “Adam” is usefully ambiguous. Yes, a particular person—but also universal humanity; human beings in general, made through Jesus the Eternal Word. Out of humanity in general did God form his Church. Of late we have considered the Old Testament doctrine of the Remnant, and we have considered this parish as a “Remnant parish” in light of the collapse of Constantinian Christendom. As we continue to explore how Remnant doctrine might shed light on the Incarnation, our consideration is safeguarded by the fact that Eve, who foreshadows the Church, comes out of Adam, who reflects humanity in general. The two, Adam and Eve, are one flesh, and so humanity and the Church are likewise distinct yet still intimately wedded as one. Despite the difficulties encountered in a hostile secular culture—legal, psychological, and even physical—any notion that the Church must be divorced or separated from human society in a cocoon must be false, for it flies in the face of creation as reflected in Genesis.

May we, the counter-cultural Remnant Church, nonetheless always be joined as one flesh with the concerns, the joys, the sufferings of all human beings. May we grasp an ever-greater sense of our mission and calling to be Christ in this world, perpetuating and extending His ministry, His prayer; yet never to become desensitized to the world, but rather grow in sensitivity, grow in feeling and awareness. Compassion means to “suffer with.” May our compassion be fed by the love of Christ’s Sacraments, which pour out of Him and build us up. And may we remember that to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves, ate not two loves but rather are two perspectives upon one love: glorious, profound, mysterious, sacramental.

Image: “La création d’Ève (mosaïques de la Chapelle palatine, Palerme)” is licenced under CC BY 2.0. Resized from original.

 

What does ‘Remnant’ mean?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Icon by the hand of Monica Thornton.

Homily: “No power in ourselves to help ourselves”

Delivered on the Third Sunday in Lent, 2015 at Saint Paul’s, Riverside, Illinois.

In our Collect today we pray “Almighty God, you know that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves.” Yet the question can be asked: Do we know that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves? God surely knows, but do we? Do we know this in our lives, in our experiences, in our relationships? This is the hard question.

All of us said Amen to this Collect. So we have at least accepted it as a statement of truth in our community. It is no criticism whatsoever to suspect that despite our basic accepting of the statement—and I think we can say that it was basically accepted, as none of us upon hearing it stood up and said, “wrong!” and walked out of Mass—despite accepting it, we might not be able to articulate the full depths of its meaning. For after all, who can articulate the full depths of the meaning of God? Only Jesus Christ, himself. Who can know the depths of our wretchedess an disorder? Only Jesus Christ, himself. Who can fathom the deepest dimensions of forgiving love? Only Jesus Christ, himself. So it is okay that we might not fully understand the doctrine that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves. By saying “Amen” we are allowing the possibility of being taught and shown what it means when the time is right.

When we say Amen we declare that we want to choose God. When we say Amen we put ourselves at his mercy and in his loving arms and under the shadow of his wings. Just as Blessed Mary Our Lady said to Gabriel, “Let it be to me according to your word,” our Amen submits ourselves to a Holy God that overpasses the knowing of all creatures, to a Holy God that sweetly and tenderly loves us. Our Amen asks that God fight for us against the Devil. He fought for us in the wilderness. He chose to willingly confront the evil one, to seek him out—through prayer and fasting.

He continued, as Saint John tells us today, in the temple. He made a whip of cords, and he drove out the merchants, their animals and the money-changers—not because they were evil itself but because their presence interfered with the true purpose of the temple. He drove them out in a fury: “Take these things away; you shall not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” Those words “you shall not” ring of the Commandments given to Moses on Mount Sinai. “You shall not” worship other Gods; you shall not take the name of the Lord in vain; you shall not forget the Sabbath; you shall not dishonor your father and mother; you shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness against your neighbor; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, servants, or possessions. And again today, “You shall not make the temple a house of trade.” This temple was destroyed, yet in three days it was raised up. Saint John tells us that the disciples understood Jesus to refer to the temple of his body.

And we must understand that we, the body of Christ, are his temple. “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God?” Saint Paul wrote to the Corinthians. We are his temple through Baptism, which orients us to the journey of Faith ahead; we are his temple through the Sacraments, which feed and nourish us, refresh us, with Hope; we are his temple through the prayer life or Regula taught to us by Jesus, which challenges us to embody Charity in all moments, in the face of our enemies and amid all creatures.

And as his temple, we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves. It all comes from God. As Saint Paul says, we can will what is right, but we cannot do it. We can recognize our disorder, our sin, our wretchedness, but we depend on Jesus to deliver us. It is Jesus who saves us; who absolves us. It is Jesus who acts in the sacraments. It is Jesus who gives himself to us on the Cross and at the Altar. It is Jesus who teaches us to pray. And it is Jesus who drives the merchants and the money-changers out of our mind, our thoughts, out of the temple of our body. Our body, as God’s temple, is and must be a temple of prayer. When we say “Amen” we too remember that he had said these things; we too believe the scripture; we too believe the Word which Jesus had spoken.

Almighty God, you know that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves: Keep us both outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls, that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

“The Diverse Riches of Prayer”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ascetical theology and Catholic imagination

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John Macquarrie and panentheism, part 1

A former dean of Nashotah House, Robert Munday, has written a blog post that, in the course of stating his pehttp://akensidepress.com/blog/wp-admin/post.php?post=1130&action=edit&message=1rspective and feelings about the recent announcement that the Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church, Katherine Jefferts Schiori, has been invited to preach at The House (where I am studying in a distance MTS program), mentions in passing the theology of John Macquarrie.

John Macquarrie by Deborah YetterBecause Akenside Press strongly and unapologetically affirms Macquarrie’s theology as a cornerstone for Anglican renewal and Catholic imagination — for starters, see here, here, here, and here — this post and the next two will respond to this portion of Munday’s post and try to examine the points Munday tries to make about Macquarrie. He actually packs quite a bit of stuff into just a few sentences, and given Munday’s stature in the eyes of many Anglicans, it is worth taking a look at what he wrote to see if there is any merit to his criticism. So in no particular order, that is what I’ll do starting with this post. (Note, I will not spend any time on this blog dealing with the larger controversy between those who support and do not support the invitation to the Presiding Bishop.)

Munday writes that “the fact is that Macquarrie’s understanding of God is best understood as panentheism” (emphasis his). As support, Munday first cites Wikipedia (I suppose to define the term “panentheism”; I know, I know, but we all do it sometimes) and then a passage taken from John Macquarrie: a Master of Theology, which is a work of commentary by Owen F Cummings published in 2002 with a foreword by Macquarrie himself.

The first question is simple: is Munday correct? Is “panentheism” the best way to characterize Macquarrie’s understanding of God? That is the first open question I will deal with.

My own sense, as a student of Macquarrie’s work, would be to say, “No, that is not the best way to characterize Macquarrie’s articulation of the doctrine of God.” It might be “a” way, or “part of a way”, but there are other ways, and Macquarrie doesn’t spend much time with the term, except to mention it, note it, and move on. When I teach Macquarrie’s theology of God, I talk about “Being” and “Holy Being”. Those two terms, which really are one for Macquarrie, provide a surplus of pastoral challenge within an adult catechesis environment. It also matches with Macquarrie’s own approach to the doctrine of God, a focus on “Being”. But that is just my view from the perspective of catechesis, not technical academic theology.

It should be pointed out Macquarrie meant for his systematic theology to be used. That is, he meant for it to be used to teach ordinary Christians the fullness of the Christian faith. He meant it to be supportive of prayerful exploration of orthodox and catholic doctrine — discursively, meditatively, and contemplatively. He wrote his theology always with an eye toward its use for catechesis of actual pew-sitting folk; this is a tremendous gift of his approach and a characteristic that should always been kept in mind when evaluating his theology — that there is a strongly pastoral and ascetical character to Macquarrie’s dogmatics.

John Macquarrie, Principles of Christian TheologyNow, Macquarrie does mention the term “panentheism”. In Principles of Christian Theology (revised, 1977), which is 525 pages of text, there is only one mention of the term. I excerpt below the passage in which its single mention is embedded. In the next post, I’ll generously excerpt from the other book of his books to mention the term (he wrote almost 30 books), which is called In Search of Deity (1984). There, “panentheism” shows up a number of times in discussion. I will try to do an exhaustive search of his other books to see if the term pops up elsewhere. I suspect it does not, but I will see.

Let me also add that Principles ought always be the baseline text to look at first when considering Macquarrie’s theology on any theological doctrine or topic. Depending on the particular Christian doctrine or topic, Principles may or may not constitute Macquarrie’s final word. In the case, for example, of christology, it most definitely does not constitute his final word, as he wrote at least two significant christological works subsequently, those being Jesus Christ in Modern Thought (1990), and Christology Revisited (1998). But in all cases, no matter the doctrine or topic, always first look to Macquarrie’s articulation in Principles as the point of departure. (This is also true for Macquarrie’s sacramental theology; too often people look at his excellent A Guide to the Sacraments without first giving thorough and patient study to Principles, which provides a fuller account of the underlying philosophical framework.)

The following excerpt comes from the end of chapter 5 of Principles of Christian Theology, a chapter called “Being and God”. I’ve added paragraph numbers for reference. The question to consider as one read this is how much emphasis in Principles, his primary dogmatic text, does Macquarrie in his own words give to “panentheism”? To see it in action, skip to paragraph 15.

13. But let us return to our main theme. The assertion “God exists” is not to be taken as meaning that there is to be found a being possessing such and such characteristics. “God exists” is a way of asserting what would perhaps be more exactly expressed as the holiness of being. But it is precisely the assertion of the holiness of being which is denied by atheism, so that our manner of interpreting the expression “God exists” in terms of God as being, makes not the slightest concession to atheism. It does, however, rule out obsolete and untenable mythological and metaphysical ways of thinking of God.

14. If it is allowed that the equation of God with being is not to be identified with atheism (for, rightly understood, it is the very opposite), what are we to say to the charge the our view is a kind of pantheism? Such a suggestion is equally wide of the mark, and rest on a gross misunderstanding. It has already been made clear that Being not only is not a being, but is not the sum of beings or the totality of beings or an all-inclusive being. Being “is” the transcendens, and this term indicates not only God’s distinction from the world but his “wholly other” character as over against whatever is within the world. Yet at the same time, the acknowledgement that there “is” no being apart from beings, and that being “is” present-and-manifest in every being, guards against an exaggerated transcendence of God, such as has been common in recent theology, and seeks to do justice to his immanence.

15. Would then our identification of God with being constitute a variety of panentheism, understood as the doctrine which on the one hand opposes pantheism by holding that God’s being is more and other than the universe, but which on the other differs from traditional theism in stressing the intimacy of God’s relation to the world? Perhaps the view I have been putting forward can be described as panentheistic, but the word is not important, for panentheism is itself really a variety of theism, one which takes care to stress God’s immanence equally with his transcendence.

16. At this point we must try to clarify the notions of transcendence and immanence as applied to God’s relation to the world. In calling God “transcendent” we mean that he is other than the world, indeed, that there belongs to him a different order of being; and further that God’s being is prior to the being of the world. It seems to me that both of these points are adequately recognized in the understanding of God as being. Being is of a different order from the beings, and the dynamic letting-be of being is prior to the derivative existence of the beings, whether persons or things. The concept of transcendence implies therefore that there is an element of asymmetry in God’s relation to the world, and clearly this is essential to any truly theistic view, as opposed to a pantheistic one. But it does seem to me that in much traditional theism transcendence was stressed to the point at which any conception of immanence was almost lost. The traditional view worked with what might be called a “monarchical” model of God, that is to say, God was conceived as an exalted being bearing absolute rule of another being, the world — though admittedly this other being was of a different order. Still, both were beings, and the relation between the two was conceived as entirely asymmetrical: God affects the world, but the world does not affect God; God is entirely self-sufficient, so that the world adds nothing to him; the world is a product of the divine will, quite external to God and with the suggestion that God might have created or refrained from creating and it would have made no difference. It is at this point that the dialectic of theology demands that we take up the question of God’s immanence. If we understand God as being, then his immanence in the world is just as fully recognized as his transcendence; the relation is that of being to the beings rather than that of one being to another, and we have seen that being is present and manifest in the beings. The traditional monarchical model is then qualified by what may be called an “organic” model of the God-world relation. This alternative model allows for some elements of symmetry and reciprocity in the relation of God and the world: God cannot be conceived apart from the world, for it is his very essence (letting-be) to create; God is affected by the world as well as affecting it, for creation entails risk and vulnerability; God is in time and history, as well as above them.

17. All of these matters will receive fuller discussion later, but they are already implicit in the thought of God as being. This is not a confusion of God and the world, but it is a recognition of their intimate relatedness, and this accords in turn with a fully dialectical understanding of the transcendence and immanence of God.

18. The term “God” then is adequately indicated on the frame of reference by the expression “holy being.” It follows that “God” has a twofold meaning: an ontological meaning, in so far as the word denotes being, and an existential meaning, in so far as it expresses an attitude of commitment to, or faith in, being. These two meanings belong together in the word “God” and are inseparable. The word is the key word of religion because it already expresses the basic religious conviction — that fact and value belong together, that being which gives being is also gracious being. The assertion “God exists” may be expressed in another way as meaning that being “is” no alien or neutral over against us, but that it both demands and sustains, so that through faith in being, we can ourselves advance into fullness of being and fulfill the potentialities of selfhood.

19. From now on, I shall use an initial capital for “Being” when the word is used as an alternative for “God”. This will conform to traditional usage and will also distinguish this particular meaning from others. But we must be careful not to let this word “Being” betray us into a static notion of God. We have seen that Being always includes becoming, and that the essence of Being is the dynamic act of letting-be. So our thought of God is parallel to our way of thinking of the self or soul, expounded in an earlier chapter. In both cases, we have abandoned the traditional “substantial” (reified) conceptuality in favor of one that takes time and becoming seriously.

(Principles of Christian Theology, 1977, V.21.13-19)

I hope that is enough to give a sense of both Macquarrie’s own relationship to the term “panentheism” (paragraph 15) — Macquarrie seeks to “stress God’s immanence equally with his transcendence” — as well as a significant taste of his theology of the doctrine of God, with respect to the relationship between God’s transcendence and God’s immanence.

Obviously there is more to say about God theologically, and Macquarrie does so. In chapter 9, Macquarrie moves to the explicit doctrine of the Trinity; in chapter 12, the Person of Jesus Christ; and in chapter 14, the Holy Spirit. And God shows up in some way or another in each and every paragraph of the whole book, and so the whole book does have to be taken into account before one says “Macquarrie’s doctrine of ___________ is ___________.” This is true of any great theological thinker.

In the next post, I’ll excerpt from In Search of Deity. And after that I’ll begin to evaluate Munday’s criticism given Macquarrie’s own words.

The Person of Jesus Christ (Lecture 1 of 5) by John Macquarrie

LECTURE 1
“The State of Christology in the Present Age”

Presiding Bishop John Allin introduces John Macquarrie to the House of Bishops’ gathering. In this first of five presentations over five days, Macquarrie subsequently outlines his entire lecture and previews each of the five areas of christology that he will examine. Christ is at the center of our faith, and seeking to understand Christ — that of christology — is always a central task. Christology, as a discipline, is in a state of transition, he believes, owing to the fact that classic christological theology took an abrupt turn as a result of Enlightenment-era theological thinking. Christology became subservient to Deistic, natural religion and its two-fold axis of reason and experience. He touches on the theological thought of Kant, Schleiermacher, and like humanistic christology. And he presents his own approach to christology as one that begins with the humanity of Christ and then reaches to his deity. He believes we ought understand “who Christ is” through analysis of “what Christ does”. Overall, in his entire five-part lecture, Macquarrie seeks to address the questions of christology that contemporary thought has raised and contemporary theology has attempted to explore.

keywords: Councils of Nicaea and Chalcedon, Chalcedonian definition, Reformation, Martin Luther, Philipp Melanchthon, Enlightenment, Rationalism, Deism, natural religion, Immanuel Kant, evil, Friedrich Schleiermacher, liberal-Protestantism, Edward Schillebeeckx, sin, bliss, christological heresies, Bishop Charles Gore, Bishop John Robinson, Hans Küng, two-natures doctrine, legend, mythology, Apostles’ Creed, New Testament, St John’s Gospel, Synoptic Gospels, biblical criticism, Divine Logos, humanity of Christ, Nicene Creed, docetism, incarnation, metaphysics, one substance, Albrecht Ritschl, Rudolf Bultmann, value judgments, existentialism, magic, eucharist, medicine, immortal substance, atonement, interpersonal relations, human solidarity, Vatican II, polemic versus dialogue

THE PERSON OF JESUS CHRIST
John Macquarrie
October 1984 to the House of Bishops of The Episcopal Church
Table of Contents
Introduction.
Lecture 1.
Lecture 2.
Lecture 3.
Lecture 4.
Lecture 5.

On Catholic Anglicanism

(Note: This is a description of Catholic Anglicanism written by Father Thomas Fraser, rector of St Paul’s, Riverside, Illinois.)

When we speak of “Catholic Anglicanism” we mean:

1. an Anglicanism which is defined by, and in all things understood in, the perspective of the fullness of its almost 2,000 year history, not understood as being founded in and defined by the second half of the 16th century;

2. an Anglicanism in full communion with the ancient See of Canterbury, whose core norms and practice are consistent on all levels — provincial, diocesan, parochial — with the teaching of the Anglican Communion worldwide, as expressed by the council of Anglican primates, archbishops, and diocesan bishops known as the Lambeth Conference;

3. an Anglicanism which upholds the historic teaching of the undivided Catholic Church as defined by its seven General Councils:

  • The Church on earth is a divinely instituted sacramental body established by Jesus Christ, which will be indwelt by the Holy Spirit until Christ’s coming again at the end of the age;
  • The Church on earth, while not infallible, is “indefectible,” that is, it cannot remain in error. In the fullness of time the Holy Spirit will lead it into all truth;
  • Christ gave the authority and power to interpret his revelation and apply it to the ongoing life of the Church (to “bind and loose”): to his apostles as a body (neither to any individual bishop alone or any local synod of bishops nor to every individual Christian). Therefore only a general council of all the bishops in the apostolic succession can authoritatively interpret matters of faith and morals (de fide) and alone constitutes the dominically established magisterium of the holy Catholic Church;
  • The Church has three states: “militant” on earth, “expectant” in paradise, and “triumphant” in heaven;
  • Salvation is a lifelong process or journey beginning with justification (which comes through Baptism) and continues with sanctification (which comes principally, though not exclusively, through the other sacraments);
  • Seven sacraments objectively convey salvific grace, including the sacrament of Holy Orders: bishops, priests, and deacons in the Apostolic Succession.

We promote and support an understanding of Anglicanism which — in the words attributed to Archbishop of Canterbury Geoffrey Francis Fisher (1945-61) — proclaims that “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.”

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.

Anamnesis and Regula

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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. 


Homily: “At the Cross Trembling with Mary”

An Eastertide mystagogy on the Liturgy of Good Friday.
[NB: Homily by Matthew Dallman.]

Our Eastertide mystagogy continues. This morning, Good Friday. The meaning of the Atonement. The meaning of our Lord’s death on the hard wood of the cross.

I think of two images. One is Mary holding the newborn baby Jesus (such as in the two icons here in the Church). The other is Mary holding the newly dead body of Jesus (such as in Michelangelo’s Pietà). We encountered the first back at the end of December. We encountered the second during the Holy Triduum and Good Friday. I think of these two images because the interplay between the two encounters can interpret the Atonement.

Why? Because of Mary. It is Mary, what we know of her experience and what we think her experience might reasonably have been, who interprets the Atonement in the fullest, most grounded sense. If we extend just a bit on both ends of these two images — just before holding the baby Jesus back to the Annunciation by the Angel Gabriel, and just after holding the body of her dead Son to the coming of the Holy Spirit in flaming tongues at Pentecost — here then we have the entirety of the Incarnation, and Mary was present through all of it. Mary’s presence. Mary’s prayer.

What comes to mind is music we heard on Good Friday:

Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
Were you there when they nailed him to the tree?
Were you there when they pierced him in the side?

Mary was. Mary was there. And so to look with Mary’s eyes, hear with Mary’s ears, feel with Mary’s touch, and to ponder with Mary’s heart — is to be mystagogical, is to invite her journey with Christ to animate our journey, to teach our journey. It is another way of asking Holy Mary, Mother of God, to pray for us.

Mary is the model, the exemplar, the pattern for being a disciple of Christ. Holding the newborn Jesus. Holding the newly dead Jesus. We are invited to do the same. To hold the newborn Jesus in our hearts. To hold the newly dead Jesus in our hearts. With the same delicate tenderness of Mary.

To ponder Mary is to ponder how she acted with such devout tenderness. Imagine how Mary must have looked at the world, her mindset. Remember that moment early in the life of her Son, with Simeon in Jerusalem. Simeon, righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel, beholding, blessing the baby Jesus. And then saying to Mary that a sword will pierce through her own soul also.

A sword will pierce through her own soul also. Mary lived her whole life in that mystery. Ponder that. Her whole life was mystagogical — spent discerning how this liturgical mystery was the source of meaning, that a sword would pierce through her own soul, also. Does it mean she’ll die by a sword? Or something else. And then that word “also”, does it mean a sword will kill her son? A real sword? A symbolic sword? But only just her son, or the souls of other people, too?

Simeon’s words must have been very disorienting for Mary. Perhaps it was difficult for her, a person like you and me, to find balance in life amid this strange mystery — the mystery of her son’s identity and vocation. When she and Joseph find Jesus at age 12 in the temple, maybe at that point she had forgotten or wanted to deny the divine possibilities of her son’s identity; thereby her son reproves her, for “where else would I be but in my Father’s house?”

And then later, at the Wedding at Cana, maybe the pendulum swung to the other side, amid this lack of beverage she called on him as a kind of divine magician. Fix this crisis! And he then reproved her, “woman, what have you to do with me? my hour has not yet come!”

A sword will pierce through her own soul also. This is a very strange and mysterious statement if you ponder it. And it leads directly to the foot of the Cross.

We are invited to live in the same way, in this life of discernment, pondering mysteries in our heart. And so when we discern, we are being like Mary. When we look through Mary’s eyes, hear with Mary’s ears, feel with Mary’s touch, and ponder with Mary’s heart, the meaning of the Atonement takes on a whole new dimension. To interpret the Atonement, through Mary’s eyes and with her heart, is to see each moment, each episode in the life of Christ in light of the mystery of this soul-piercing sword.

Like Mary, we live our lives with something of a sense of how it all will end. But there is a lot we don’t know day to day. Like Mary, we too struggle with balancing the faith into which we are immersed and plunged with our own sense of reality and the demands of everyday life? Coming to some kind of balance about the true nature of reality, this trinitarian nature of reality, this reality of God as invisible spirit that is at the heart of everything in creation, and all people — coming to balance about this day to day is a life’s work, and work that lasts beyond this life.

But at each moment, we are invited to the truth, and invited to accept, to surrender, in the faith shared with the whole Church gathered before the Altar, to the strangeness, the unfairness, the profound mystery of this death of Christ on the hardwood of the cross. To the strangeness, and the profound mystery of the altar, where we are invited to have our soul healed by The Word, eating his body and drinking his blood.

Perhaps we tremble at that thought, of eating body and drinking blood. Perhaps Mary trembled at the revelation of the person in her womb. She surely trembled when she realized she left behind her 12-year-old boy in Jerusalem. We can imagine she trembled at hearing in her son’s adult voice speaking to the disciples and the gathered masses with an authority beyond that of the prophets, beyond that of the priests, an authority that, at the time, and even now, can sound very strange. And undoubtedly she trembled at the sight, the sound, the smell, the touch of her bleeding, mangled, dead son, holding him in her arms, just as she held him as a little baby, wrapped in swaddling clothes, with the light of new life.

If you there when they crucified my Lord, and we were, then maybe sometimes, and even this holy day, and at this holy altar we will soon approach just as we approached the cross on Good Friday, giving our heart to God by means of the beautiful red flowers we laid at the Cross, maybe we can tremble.

May we all come to the altar, the table of our Lord, trembling through the eyes of Mary, trembling with the ears of Mary, trembling in the heart of Mary, trembling in the mystery; for by this mystery, with this mystery, and in this mystery — somehow lies everlasting life.

Notes on Luke’s account of the Baptism of our Lord

There are several things to recognize in the account in the Gospel According to St Luke of Christ’s baptism in the River Jordan. I’ll take note of what I’ve found, doing so in no particular order. Here is the passage (according to the BCP lectionary):

As the people were in expectation, and all men questioned in their hearts concerning John, whether perhaps he were the Christ, John answered them all, “I baptize you with water; but he who is mightier than I is coming, the thong of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form, as a dove, and a voice came from heaven, “Thou art my beloved Son; with thee I am well pleased.”

1. One is how appropriate this moment in Scripture is during the celebration of Epiphany. The word “epiphany” 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” (T. Hopko, The Winter Pascha, ch 31). Epiphany in the West begins with the liturgical meditation upon the role that the Star of Light plays in guiding us to the truth of the incarnation of God in the person of Jesus of Nazareth — a guiding that is modeled by the Wise Men who bring gifts to the new King. Their recognition of Christ’s Kingship represents the recognition of Christ’s reality as for all peoples, all nations, all souls. Christ’s reality is a universal reality. In each of the Gospel accounts, Christ’s public ministry began. It “showed itself”. The nature of his mission was disclosed for the first time: to the world, but also (perhaps) to himself.

2. The baptism that all four Evangelists chronicle is not a Christian baptism. Rather, the nature of this baptism is that of a Jewish rite “signifying purification or consecration” (“Baptism”, Jewish Encyclopedia). It was an ascetical act “to form a part of holy living and to prepare for the attainment of a closer communion with God”. To say that the baptized person is now “illuminated” meant to a Jew that he or she “now belongs to Israel, the people beloved of God”. This Jewish rite was an “absolutely necessary condition to be fulfilled” by a person and was called a “seal”. In early Jewish literature, never canonical or binding for Christians, Adam and Eve “stood up to the neck in the water, fasting and doing penance—Adam in the Jordan for forty days, Eve in the Tigris for thirty-seven days”. In early Jewish homiletical tradition, the repentance of Israel issues in “the spirit of God (hovering like a bird with outstretched wings), manifested in the spirit of the Messiah, will come [or “the Holy One, blessed be He! will spread His wings and bestow His grace”] upon Israel”, and baptism was required to stand in the presence of God. Unlike Christian baptism, Jewish baptism was repeatable. Thus it was more existential than ontological. For some Jews, daily baptism was required “in order to pronounce the name of God in prayer in perfect purity”. Baptism cleansed from the “impurity of idolatry”: Talmudic commentary understood Pharaoh’s daughter’s bathing in the Nile to have been for this purpose. The theology of baptism in general was derived not primarily from biblical Law but through practice. By way of accrued symbolism, the baptism restored the unclean to an “original state of a new-born ‘little child'”, and the baptized were “suddenly brought from darkness into light” (for all quotes, ibid.)

3. Place matters: the River Jordan itself has a very significant biblical history. It may easily be understood as “sacred space”. The Jordan valley was “well watered everywhere like the garden of the LORD” (Gen 13.10). Moses, in leading the children of Israel to the Promised Land, never crossed the River Jordan. This River was a boundary to the Promised Land — “the place where God would dwell with His people providing them with the endless blessings of His presence” (Hopko, ch 33). Moses instead died before crossing this boundary. This might be symbolically understood that for us the Law is necessary to salvation, but not itself sufficient. The Law is not enough. It was Moses’ successor, Joshua (which literally means Savior, and is the Hebrew form of the Greek word Jesus) who leads the children of Israel to the Promised Land. Joshua’s crossing issued in a parting of the waters in the presence of God’s people, including the Ark of the Covenant. This allowed the people of God to pass through into their place of final destination. The Lord commanded Joshua to remove twelve stones from the Jordan, where the priests stood, and pile them together for an eternal memorial of this miracle given by the Lord (Josh 1-4). Additionally, The Jordan was crossed by Elijah and Elisha on dry ground (2 Kings 2:8, 2:14). God thrived through Elisha performing two other miracles at the Jordan: God healed Naaman by having him bathe in its waters, and he made the axe head of one of the “children of the prophets” float, by throwing a piece of wood into the water (2  Kings 5:14; 6:6). Thus the River Jordan is a “sacred space” because it is part of the “living memory” of Israel. That Christ washed in these waters means that we wash in these waters through our baptism, the action of which is His. We cannot just wash in “any old river” and be clean; God says no. “Only through the Jordan do we enter into the land of the living, the promised land of God’s kingdom” (Hopko, ch 33). The waters of the Jordan sanctify us forever.

trinity4. Continuing the theme of “appearance” and “manifestation” from paragraph 1, this event manifests for the first time the mystery of Holy Trinity. This is the true nature of reality. The true nature of reality is triune — that is, God is Holy Trinity. This is a truly great mystery. Triunity was hinted at dimly and in shadows through the previous covenants with Israel. Blessed Mary, Our Lady, surely had some glimpse of triune reality in her life lived as a Jewish woman (soaked in Scripture), her “Yes” to God through the Annunciation by Gabriel, and her giving birth, nurturing, and pondering in her heart the life of her son, Jesus of Nazareth. We note that with the public emergence and manifestation of Christ as Messiah comes the emergence of the Holy Spirit as a “unique divine person” (Hopko, ch 32). We can observe the pattern by which Jesus himself recognized triune nature. Amid the communal rite of baptism and a widely shared sense of “expectation” and discernment, heaven opened: God the Father “spoke” to Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, in bodily form as a dove, descended upon him. This pattern involves prayer, experience, reflection, sacred space, and a corporate (rather than individual) basis for life. (This pattern is repeated and retrieved by the apostles in the Lukan narrative of Pentecost; and here St Luke more explicitly associates the Holy Spirit with the sense of fire to which John the Baptist alludes.) Thus we can learn from Christ: for how Jesus realizes the triune nature of reality should be a model for how we realize triune nature.

5. Luke’s narrative emphasizes that Christ is the full and final revelation of God. This happens through Luke’s details: What is left out of the the Gospel reading (vv. 19-20) is that Herod imprisoned John. Christ’s anointing (or recognition of triune reality and his own true nature as God the Son) follows after the ministry of John the Baptist rather than overlaps it (Luke Timothy Johnson, The Gospel of Luke, Sacra Pagina Series, vol 3, p. 67). Furthermore, unlike the Markan and Matthean accounts of the Baptism of our Lord, the Lukan account shifts all attention to Jesus. Here there is no sense that John baptized Jesus; Luke “virtually removes John from the scene” (ibid, p. 71).  He extends the distance between John’s baptism and Jesus. Rather, it seems as if the baptism, and triune anointing, occurs amid a crowd of Jewish people. All of this reinforces two conclusions: John the Baptist is the final prophet of the Old Testament, and Jesus Christ (although continuous in many respects with all of the biblical history of the children of Israel) is a unique and singular emergence to the world of God’s nature and God’s identity.

transfiguration6. In addition to comparing this moment to Pentecost, we can compare this moment to the Transfiguration story (Lk 9.28-36). In both cases, we the readers are given access to an “empowerment and declaration that takes place between God and Jesus in the communication that is prayer” (Johnson, p. 71). In both cases, what happens is a mix of public and private, of objective reality and subjective recognition. Particularly in the baptism narrative, we are somehow privy to the thoughts of Christ. This is the first such access we have in Luke. Luke’s first words from the mouth of Jesus are in the temple as a boy of age 12. But here (as in the Lukan Transfiguration narrative)  he does not even speak. He prays, he listens, he experiences. In all of this, he discloses his true nature for others to witness and behold.

7. From Luke there is a strong emphasis on the physical nature of the Holy Spirit. The dove was “in bodily form, as a dove”. It is useful to recall biblical precedents for “structural similarity” (Johnson, 71). Such precedents include the Annunciation (1.35) and the angelic song (2.14) from the infancy narrative. In the Annunciation, the Spirit “comes down” and reveals the name of God; what’s more, this power will “overshadow” Mary. This brings to mind the “hovering” of God’s spirit over the face of the deep in Genesis 1.2, and points again to the Transfiguration narrative, where “a cloud came and overshadowed” Peter, James, and John. And provocatively, Luke’s emphasis on the physical nature the Holy Spirit as a dove calls to mind the dove over the waters in Genesis 8.8 at the end of the flood. There, it was the dove sent by Noah that acted as an agent of completion to the event of the flood. Through the dove, Noah and the rest on the Ark were restored to right relationship with creation. All was well again. Through the dove came a uniting, a reconciling, a harmonizing with creation. And the action of the dove issued in God’s speaking to Noah (which parallels God’s speaking to Jesus), God’s articulation of his covenant with all peoples, a visible disclosure (the rainbow), and a sense of mission for Noah (“be fruitful and multiply”). When we recall that following all Gospel accounts of the baptism of Jesus is the commencing of Christ’s public ministry, his own mission becomes a fulfillment of the promise God made to Noah.

emmaus8. Concluding thoughts. Any reflection upon Scripture is best served through the lens of ascetical theology. That lens issues in the question: how does this passage impinge on my own life of prayer. Another way to say that is to ask, what can I take from this to help me be a better disciple of Christ, to “delight in his will and walk in his ways”?

The baptism of our Lord in the River Jordan demonstrates to us that prayer life rooted in Christ is trinitarian. When we rooted our prayer life in Christ, we are at the River Jordan with him, and he for us. The way the ancient Jewish people understood baptism (as a daily event) is the way Christians understand prayer (a daily, and even ongoing and continuous happening).

Christian prayer life is a matter of discernment, colloquy, and purification. We discern through patient reflection and contemplation given the facts, situations, and challenges our life poses to us. We colloquy through conversation with God and by opening ourselves to listening to God’s disclosure. We purify through our receiving of the Sacraments, particularly Penance and Eucharist, which restore the holiness of our Baptism and seals the ongoing activity of the Holy Spirit throughout our prayer.

As we discern, colloquy and purify we shouldn’t feel the necessity to be able to come to words about our experiences — that is, what are sensing God’s will might be. We can take solace that Christ didn’t immediately come to terms, either. What does give us solace is that our prayer in Christ washes away our separation from him, and from the true nature of reality.

When we root our prayer life in Christ, we acknowledge the words of God the Father, that Jesus is his beloved Son. This acknowledging is praise to God the Father, praise that Christ mediates. Christ-centered prayer likewise gives praise to the Holy Spirit, not a mere afterthought or decoration on this moment, but rather a real, physical, personal Being that unites our biblical imagination with the Annunciation, the Transfiguration, Pentecost, and the covenant and mission that issued from the end of the Flood. Thus Christian prayer is modeled by Christ’s baptism: an act of Christian prayer is an event of Trinity; a life of Christian prayer is a journey to the realization of Trinity. In reuniting with triune reality through prayer in Christ, we become reconciled to God’s creation. And it begins as Christ modeled and thus how St Benedict began his rule: we must listen.

Neither “Liberal” nor “Conservative”; and a whole bunch more

Father Thomas Fraser, who is rector of St Paul’s Parish, Riverside, Illinois (and theological consultant to Akenside Press) recently wrote a number of short pieces that he distributed to the parish. These are posted at the “Catholic FAQ” page on the parish’s website, along with a number of others. In each case, he touches on topics that are crucial to any renewal of Catholic reality in Anglican parishes.

QA_150In one, he responded to the question, “Is St Paul’s Parish liberal or conservative?” He began:

St Paul’s is neither liberal nor conservative in the popular sense of those words. St Paul’s is theological. That is, it takes the historic theology of the Universal Church very seriously; and faithfulness to Catholic theology – not partisan politics or “being PC” – is the basis for all judgments, decisions, teaching, formation, and practice here.

Read the whole piece (PDF). In my own opinion, that parishes work to cultivate a theological culture, rather than a political culture, is absolutely essential to Catholic renewal. As Father Fraser goes on to say, of course any parish is going to have for its members people of both liberal and conservative persuasions (and the grey areas in between). But what is at the center of this culture — a political agenda (whether liberal, conservative, or mixed), or God and His theology (i.e., the liturgical and sacramental life)? Unless it is God and His theology, then any renewal will simply not last. An ideological rather than theological renewal might stir up activity for a time, but it will peter out. A theological culture is centered around truth: God, ultimate reality.

In another piece, even shorter, Father Fraser gives a brief explanation of why the parish service leaflet says the following:

Being Benedictine means that St Paul’s is
Christian, Catholic, Anglican, Episcopalian
in that order. And we are here to stay.

Those words themselves are almost thought-provoking enough. What he says about them you can read here. Personally, I love that those words are in our parish service leaflet. They serve to keep our ecclesial priorities in order, because the emphasis is on spirituality and theology rather than polity (which is important but over-emphasized).

In a third piece, he responds to the question, “What is St Paul’s relationship to ‘the larger church’?” Owing to the fact that this subject is perhaps more complicated, I will give a longer excerpt from Father Fraser’s response:

As I have said so often, theology really is important to all of us; it is not just something of interest merely to those sorts of people who like that sort of thing. Here we see again the crucial importance of ones doctrine of the church.

In general the Protestant teaching about the institutional (“visible”) Church is that the Church is a human sociological institution (like schools and universities, hospitals, libraries, etc.) whose basic function is Christian fellowship, inspiration, and education. In general in Protestantism the only operative salvific/theological element is the person’s own “individual relationship with Jesus Christ as one’s personal Lord and Savior.” Therefore if one has a relationship with a church body it implies/proclaims/certifies that the person accepts that church body’s teaching and practice, i.e. its fellowship, inspiration, and education.

The Catholic Doctrine of the Church (held by the Early Christian Church and continued unbroken to the present by Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Anglicans, Old Catholics, and the Oriental Churches) is that the Catholic Church is a Sacrament, the foundational Sacrament that actually makes present the Kingdom of God and administers the seven Sacraments, the principal means by which God gives His people salvific grace.

This means that the “visible” (institutional) Church on Earth was established by Jesus Christ Himself to continue His Incarnation – to be His physical Body here authoritatively continuing His ministry – until He returns again at the end of the age (the Parousia). The Catholic Church is indwelt by the Holy Spirit and is a divine, not a human, institution. Anglicanism teaches, based on Our Lord’s own teaching, that the Catholic Church while not infallible (it can err) is indefectible (it cannot remain in error; in the fullness of God’s time, the Holy Spirit will lead it back into all truth). What, therefore, is indispensable about the Church (“the deal breaker”) is not its immediate fellowship, inspiration, or education, but its sacramental validity.

And he goes on to say a good deal more, all of which I recommend.

Renewal tends to happen when basic questions are asked and explored anew. In this case, “what is ‘church’?” and within that, what is it for? As he has said in other writing — such as this one — there really is an enormous difference between how “church” is defined according to a general Protestant understanding and how it is defined according to a Catholic understanding. One might say that the difference boils down to taking the words, “One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic” seriously, with each word pointing to and consummating profound theological recognitions. How these recognitions begin to reorient and reorder one’s life in Christ in terms of everyday living become, to paraphrase Marshall McLuhan, “the message”.

pentecostThe Church is, after all, not an end unto itself, but rather a “medium” by which the incarnation, life, and mission of Jesus Christ is extended and grown. The “message of this medium” involves our total life, ontologically changed and then fed by the Sacraments, continuously in relationship with God’s immeasurable love whether we recognize his grace or not. But it does matter that we attempt to recognize his loving grace. To do so, even when we don’t want to, is the call of the Christian life of prayer.

It is not that what we do is the fundamental bottom line for salvation. No — it is not what we do, but what God does, and how God imagines us. But we are called to respond. Our Prayer Book says it succinctly: prayer is responding to God, by thought and by deeds, with or without words. Notice the emphasis on action, even as ‘action’ here is broadly defined. We are not called to be doormats amid a watching of God’s beautiful emanations all around us in creation, as if salvation is like watching the correct television show. There is no place for passivity in the life dedicated to walking with Christ. We are called to activity.

All of this is fully in line with the recognition that Anglicanism is pragmatic — that is, rooted in doing, in practice (some call this ‘praxis’). Unlike schools of spirituality that are “confessional” (where membership requires assent to a list of doctrinal propositions) or “charismatic” (where membership requires an affirmation of an individual spiritual experience), the English-Anglican School roots membership in doing.

This is, however, to say more than merely a churchy version of “half of life is just showing up”. Why? Because “just showing up” is I suppose active, but only minimally so. It is far too passive to be an authentic response to God’s calling. Yes, you have to “show up” to the Liturgy. But the Liturgy is not a movie, nor a theatrical performance. The Liturgy is God making Himself known to us through profound conversation and interaction. The Liturgy presuppose participation of a particularly profound kind. It is rather an immersion: the senses, the mind, the body, the heart.

And it is not just on Sundays and days of Holy Obligation. The liturgical life is continuous, Sunday to Sunday, Easter to Easter. As Martin Thornton writes, “the ‘liturgy’ is not worship, it is a system”. This system is the dynamic interaction of Mass, Office, and personal devotion (usually Bible meditation). It bleeds into, and fuels, the ordained ministry of the Laity — the people of God — to seek and serve Christ in others and in all of creation. To say that the liturgical life is continuous is simply to take God’s love seriously: it is immeasurable, it comes before and precedes anything we do — this is what “prevenient grace” means. Any pragmatic School of spirituality makes prevenient grace central to its self-understanding.

The English-Anglican School is pragmatic, yes. But perhaps it is better to call it “ascetical”. The term “pragmatic” has virtually lost all sense of its original meaning, rooted in “to do”. It now is commonly recognized as meaning practical and non-ideological: “what works”. The common definition leads in a different direction than a life lived following the steps of Christ. I guess if you meditate upon that common definition, you might still be able to detect echoes of the original meaning. But that is stretching too far. Ascetical is better, and a term from the Pauline Epistles and the early Church.

To say that the Anglican School is ascetical recognizes that the daily participation in the liturgical and sacramental life of Christ is participation rooted in our response to become disciples of Christ, and to deepen our relationship with, and likeness to, God (theosis). To call the Anglican School ascetical recognizes that this participation is a journey — one that proceeds through one’s entire life and into the next (from the Church Militant to the Church Expectant and hopefully to the Church Triumphant).

To call the Anglican School ascetical is to recognize that God’s plunging of our identities into the vast possibilities of Triune reality and discernment — a plunging accomplished through the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation — must issue in activity that is led by Christ. His own baptism in the River Jordan models this. Upon his immersion in water, Jesus heard God the Father speaking and was anointed by the Holy Spirit. And his ministry thus officially began.

“Pragmatic” is being there. “Ascetical” is being Triune.

Anglicanism’s identity crisis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


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Martin Thornton’s sacramental view of the natural world

This is an extended passage from Martin Thornton’s first book: Rural Synthesis: The Religious Basis for Rural Culture. The book was published in 1948. In this passage, you will note how he builds upon the Church’s understanding of Christology (the nature of Christ and the Incarnation) toward an application to how we understand the natural world Christologically. To my mind, this is utterly fascinating stuff. Enjoy:

Now the orthodox Christian conception of the Incarnate Christ is that He is both perfectly and distinctly God and perfectly and distinctly Man, and that He is One Person. The full significance of this fact is beyond the range of human understanding, and the exact relationship between the human and Divine natures can never be finally ascertained by finite human intelligence, but we can acquire some perception of vital significance by a process of elimination; if we cannot directly explain what this relationship is, we can glimpse much of its meaning by definitely asserting what it is not. The orthodox doctrine as contained in the Chalcedonian Definition has in fact by largely formulated by the rejection of the Christological heresies of the fourth and fifth centuries.

Looking back from the Definition, so to speak, the form of these four errors becomes quite obvious and simple; we can deny that Jesus Christ is perfectly and distinctly God — the heresy of Arius, or we can deny that He is perfectly and distinctly Man — the heresy of Apollinarius. Then we can accept that He is both a human Person and and Divine Person conjoined, that He is in fact two Persons, two Christs, one human and another Divine; this is the error of Nestorius, which was followed by its direct opposite in the heresy of Eutyches, or Monophysitism, which regards Christ as One Person and One Nature, a mixture of both human and Divine, neither of which can be perfect, distinct, and complete.

Now it is plain that all that can be perceived as sacramental is subject to the equivalent four errors: the denial of one or other of the two parts of the sacrament; the failure to relate the two parts together; and the failure to distinguish between them….

The application of the same principles to The Sacramental Land will give us, therefore, similar errors pertaining to the approach to agriculture and rural economy…. Within the unity of The Land we have an ‘outward and visible sign’ consisting of the physical soil, the visible and material world of nature which springs from and is sustained by it: plants, trees, hedges, farms, and buildings; everything, in fact, that we can see within the ‘countryside’. From these surroundings evolves an invisible spirit, a Numinous atmosphere, which results from the uses made of nature by man in communion with God.

Thus, the erroneous approach to The Land, equivalent to Arianism in Christology, would consist of denying the existence of any such spirit; it would regard the soil as a material mechanism rather than a living organism, overemphasize the scientific in agriculture, and suggest that fertility was not a vital force to be cultivated by skillful farming but a material substances to be mined. ‘Land-robbing’ would be justified; and such conception of ‘land-sense’ or ‘rural prophecy’ would be categorically rejected, any sort of skill of vocation in agricultural work would be unnecessary, and the sole qualifications for successful farming would be an academic knowledge and physical strength.

Similarly, Apollinarianism, the opposite Christological heresy, finds expression in rural economy with the attitude of extreme sentimentality, the quest for The Land’s ‘pure spirit’ and the refusal to recognize its practical and material side. It is the approach which converts the countryside into the ‘man-eating orchid’ of Eric Gill, and looks upon the farm-worker as some spiritual idealist possessed of some strange philosophy which scorns such needless things as decent wages and hygienic living conditions. In agriculture, ‘rural Apollinarianism’ shows up in an exaggerated belief in the ‘natural order’, scorning all mechanical and scientific knowledge through refusing to recognize that the soil, whatever it may be besides, has physical and material properties which can be visibly examined and chemically analyzed. It is precisely the same error which misinterprets the idea of ‘faith-healing’, thereby refusing the benefits of medical science.

Nestorianism, or Dualism in philosophy and psycho-physical parallelism in psychology, is reproduced in the tendency to divide The Land into two unrelated values, the practical and the aesthetic. It is the error giving rise to the idea that agriculture is but a useful, practical industry, carried on amid surroundings which for some obscure reason happen to be beautiful and in need of passive protection; the divorcement, that is, of the beautiful visible sign from the spirit which creates it, or the failure to conceive The Land as one cultural whole, wherein beauty and utility go hand in hand.

Finally, both the rural and theological equivalent to Monophysitism in Christology may be expressed by the same single word, namely Pantheism. This is the belief that God and the natural world are one or in agriculture that fertility is God. We find this particular heresy recurring to some extend in all erroneous approach to the rural environment and always leading, by devious routs, to the same unhealthy conclusion: the adoration of nature.

Now we can carry this process of adaptation a stage further: The Person of Christ is the basis of the Christina religion, all its dogma flows from the fact of the Incarnation, and this doctrine, as we have seen, does not oppose the eschatological by the ethic, nor faith by moral practice, but rather tends to co-relate them in correct perspective. This correct ratio, however, does not necessarily grant equal value to the opposing factors, for we can truly say that the eschatological kingdom of God which is to come is a greater human goal than social Utopia in the temporal world; and that good works cannot create faith but flow from it and are therefore subsidiary to it. The Christian faith, embodied in the Church and sacraments, may be regarded as the extension of the Incarnation of the Son, and similarly the perpetual power of fertility may be regarded as the extension of the original creation of the Father.

(from Rural Synthesis: The Religious Basis for Rural Culture, 1948, pp. 70-74)

On Catholic Anglicanism

Herein is brief but weighty description of Catholic Anglicanism from a theological consultant to Akenside Press, Father Thomas A. Fraser, longtime Rector of Saint Paul’s, Riversidd near Chicgo. What follows was originally posted at the website of The Living Church, where Fr Fraser once served as president of its board of directors:


When we speak of Catholic Anglicanism we mean:

1. an Anglicanism which is defined by, and in all things understood in, the perspective of the fullness of its almost 2,000 year history, not understood as being founded in and defined by the second half of the 16th century;

2. an Anglicanism in full communion with the ancient See of Canterbury, whose core norms and practice are consistent on all levels — provincial, diocesan, parochial — with the teaching of the Anglican Communion worldwide, as expressed by the council of Anglican primates, archbishops, and diocesan bishops known as the Lambeth Conference;

3. an Anglicanism which upholds the historic teaching of the undivided Catholic Church as defined by its seven General Councils:

  • The Church on earth is a divinely instituted sacramental body established by Jesus Christ, which will be indwelt by the Holy Spirit until Christ’s coming again at the end of the age;
  • The Church on earth, while not infallible, is “indefectible,” that is, it cannot remain in error. In the fullness of time the Holy Spirit will lead it into all truth;
  • Christ gave the authority and power to interpret his revelation and apply it to the ongoing life of the Church (to “bind and loose”): to his apostles as a body (neither to any individual bishop alone or any local synod of bishops nor to every individual Christian). Therefore only a general council of all the bishops in the apostolic succession can authoritatively interpret matters of faith and morals (de fide) and alone constitutes the dominically established magisterium of the holy Catholic Church;
  • The Church has three states: “militant” on earth, “expectant” in paradise, and “triumphant” in heaven;
  • Salvation is a lifelong process or journey beginning with justification (which comes through Baptism) and continues with sanctification (which comes principally, though not exclusively, through the other sacraments);
  • Seven sacraments objectively convey salvific grace, including the sacrament of Holy Orders: bishops, priests, and deacons in the Apostolic Succession.

We promote and support an understanding of Anglicanism which — in the words of Archbishop of Canterbury Geoffrey Francis Fisher (1945-61)  — proclaims that “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.”


See also:

The Prayer Book as Regula

Ascetical theology and Catholic imagination

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 is 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. 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 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, 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).