Tag Archives: theology

“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

The Case for a Prologue Office of Praise

“It is not sufficient to participate regularly in the Eucharist, with its unequal stress on individuality and formalism; rather we have to be eucharistic people. We have to live perpetually in the eucharistic context and this means preparation in the form of constant attempts to resolve the underlying paradoxes involved. The cosmic and the local, with stress on the former because the contemporary balance veers strongly towards the other side. Then the corporate and the personal, for the same reasons in the same order, and the immanent-transcendent balance which boils down to an application of the doctrine of the Blessed Trinity: which says it all.”

Martin Thornton, A Joyful Heart, Chap. 11

 

“The only real fall of man is his noneucharistic life in a noneucharistic world.”

Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World, p. 35

INTRODUCTION

From the earliest moments of the Christian Church, in part influenced by our Jewish heritage, a fundamental aspect of the life of the disciples of Jesus was to enact formal set-prayer. Jesus bestowed upon us the “Our Father” prayer, the Pater Noster. It is the model for set-prayer: particular words in a particular order to give thanks as a body to God the Father. We now call this the Divine Office.

In simple terms, the purpose of the Divine Office is to praise God and to magnify God, day by day: an “office of praise.” Christians do so because it teaches us who God is. This habitual activity becomes what William of St Thierry termed “necessary obedience.” God is Maker, Lover, and Keeper of all creation; His truth indeed endures forever, and knowledge of Him invites deeper participation in the goodness of Christ’s eucharistic holiness. Internalizing who God is prepares us to receive the Sacraments and to see all of creation eucharistically.

Nonetheless, relationship with God is always conditioned by societal context, and today many Christians increasingly live within media-rich environments where travel over significant distance is the daily norm. God works within our conditions, and so must our prayer life: grace perfects nature, as Saint Thomas taught. Yet, oddly, the Divine Office form standard today within Anglican patrimony has remained largely unchanged over almost 500 years, then introduced to a late-medieval, rural society of largely illiterate peasants ruled by a monarch; theirs was a society that lived and worked under the shadow of the village church. Ours is a post-industrial “global village” where the preferred church can be several miles away.

Social conditions change. Saint Benedict and Thomas Cranmer boldly and pastorally amended their Divine Office forms so as to tune into God more efficiently, given their social conditions. We seek to do the same, and the Prologue Office of Praise (Antelogium laudis) seeks to nurture a reunified Church Militant that in many ways, despite its strengths given by grace, has been torn apart by the jumbled, even dissociated, conditions of a mobile, secularized society in an satellite-driven information age. In Anglican patrimony the Divine Office was fashioned as the heart of common prayer. Yet today, because the Divine Office has developed so many variations, such unity—whereby laypersons, deacons, priests and bishops pray together in the same way—appears obscured at best, and in some places lost. For those that do daily liturgical prayer, the variety of options—numerous Prayer Book iterations, Common Worship, the Liturgy of the Hours, the Breviary, and more—are on one hand a blessing, yet erode ascetical unity, upon which the daily set-prayer hinges.

Even worse is that many people do not do any kind of daily liturgical prayer. For these souls, the routine of life for the Faithful finds little space and clearing for the Divine Office. Yet because the Divine Office is a baptismal obligation, and unity is an important characteristic of Anglicanism, something must be done.

The pastorally minded corrective begins by going “back to basics” as means for creative, necessary renewal. But how do we do that without sacrificing orthodoxy and catholicity, nor the enduring insights of Benedictine spirituality, nor the basic worship pattern of Prayer Book heritage?

THE THEOLOGY BEHIND THE DIVINE OFFICE

The key is to see corporate prayer as a dynamic, theological whole. At its core, orthodox and Catholic prayer is responding to God within our baptismal status, and has been since the cosmic explosion of the Pentecost event. “Faith’s name for reality is ‘God,'” wrote Anglican theologian John Macquarrie. Prayer life can be said to be full, integrated, embodied, Catholic, and orthodox when it is an active and intentional response to God-named reality.

But how do we name reality as God? To us it has been revealed that reality for the Christian is a diversity of three-in-oneness: reality in the dimension of its “transcendent otherness,” which is named God the Father; reality in the dimension of its “immanant nearness,” which is named God the Holy Spirit; and reality in the dimension of “incarnate mediation,” which is named God the Son, Jesus Christ, named in our liturgy as our only Mediator and Advocate. Catholic reality, and hence its prayer life — liturgical, sacramental, salvific — is ultimately derived from, and correlated with, nothing less than the Doctrine of the Trinity.

Prayer is responding to God. How are we to respond? Our triune God — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — invites a threefold response that Anglican theologian Martin Thornton appropriately called Regula, meaning “pattern” or “framework.” Gloriously formulated for 6th-century monastic life by Saint Benedict and for 16th-century secular life by Cranmer (and in many other ways within the family of Catholic churches), the basis for Regula in scripture is the “apostles’ teaching and fellowship, the breaking of bread, and the prayers” (Acts 2.42). Today the terms are, respectively, Devotion (that is, baptismal ministry), Mass, and Divine Office; these are distinct, but interwoven and irreducible. More than mere formula or framework for organizational discipline, Regula is dynamic praxis; for Thornton, it is the lifeblood of participation in the divine life of the redemptive organism, the Church.

Regula is the doctrine of the Trinity arranged for prayer. It orients us to the threefold reality of God. Devotion orients to the immanent dimension: increasing openness to the Holy Spirit who is infinitely variable to us in time and space and who reconciles us to Christ, the definitive revelation of the Father. Divine Office orients to the transcendent dimension: surrender to our heavenly Father, wholly and invariably otherness, our source and origin from whom the Holy Spirit proceeds to unite us to the Son. And Mass orients to the incarnate dimension: mediated communion with the real presence of Jesus Christ both deity and man — fully transcendent as the Son of God, fully immanent as human being. Yet this is all one response, one prayer life, to love heavenly God who loves us beyond measure and yearns for our spiritual growth. As Saint Athanasius wrote, God became human so that humans might become God — that is, through Himself and His sacraments, we might become numbered with His saints and, in the words of Walter Hilton, reformed into the likeness and holiness of Jesus.

Moments of the life of Jesus Christ reveal Regula, the fundamental pattern of holiness. Besides the Pater Noster, given by Jesus to be our set-prayer, His baptism in the River Jordan points to the Divine Office, an objective daily ritual of corporate repentence that, through Jesus, discloses God’s identity and story. The feeding miracles of Jesus point to the Mass, where we too are fed by Jesus and his love for us. And the myriad episodes where Jesus heals, preaches, teaches, and eats with others point toward Devotion, ministry to the creatures of the cosmos in relationship with Scripture. Regula, then, is the means by which we live; Regula articulates our corporate experience of being Christ’s Body, and the means by which we cultivate the theological virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity.

THE PURPOSE OF THE DIVINE OFFICE

Through Thornton’s theology, the specific purpose of the Divine Office as a whole is clarified. First given by Jesus to his disciples as the Pater Noster (“Our Father”), as mentioned already, the Divine Office is transcendent reaching toward and joining with the unceasing praise by Angels, the Archangels, and all the Company of Heaven. The whole Body of Christ sings the Divine Office in the power of the Holy Spirit to glorify God the Father Almighty, “primordial Being,” in the words of John Macquarrie. To glorify the unchanging Father warrants an unadorned yet beautiful recounting of His radical otherness and cosmic creativity. God invites us to abandon ourselves and surrender in Holy Fear to the light inaccessible, the mystery incomprehensible. To live daily as if in the orans posture: this is what the Office is for. Its purpose is not to “sanctify the time” but to pray to the Father as Jesus would have us pray: “an eschatological proclamation of the salvation received in Christ, and a glorification and thanksgiving to God for that gift,” in the words of Roman Catholic theologian Robert Taft, SJ. Simply put, the Pater Noster is the germ of God’s theology.

Accordingly, what the Prologue Office of Praise seeks to do is make Catholic theology unmistakably evident within its text and enacted in its performance. Its invariable, fixed, and unchanging form seeks to revivify the entirety of the scheme of daily Offices. It is intended to support the underlying, and original, purpose of the Divine Office as a whole: Marian awe in the face of radical otherness.

In the Prologue Office of Praise (Antelogium Laudis), we celebrate the beyond-time and space, unfathomable reality of heavenly God as mediated by His mighty acts of creation, salvation, and reconciliation, initially revealed to the Old Testament prophets and the Children of Israel, and consummated definitively in the Incarnation of Christ as announced by the Holy Spirit through Angel Gabriel to Blessed Mary, Ever-Virgin, our exemplar in discipleship and witness to Christ: Our Lady truly is the Mother of the Church. As such, the purpose of the Divine Office, more refined, is to invite daily through praise the unfathomable presence of divine otherness that confronted Blessed Mary. This is an otherness that confounded her in holy fear, that taught her, that empowered her. And, by baptismal incorporation into the Body of Christ, this mystery can do so for us, in a continuous and gradual unfolding of God’s revelation of himself.

As Mary intercedes that we may be made worthy to receive the promises of Christ, we enact obedience to the grace of God through the Divine Office. It is prologue in that it prepares us — hones us — by means of the Holy Spirit to adore, and then receive, Holy Communion. Through this heavenly food we can become Christ’s out-poured and kenotic love, most precious as it is most plenteous, in the words of Dame Julian of Norwich. But Saint Paul instructed, before we eat and drink, we are to discern the Body (1 Corinthians 11.29) — such discernment is our daily work: the Divine Office on Monday prepares us for Eucharist the following Sunday. To take the Christian claims seriously means every morning is a test of faith. Yet our obedience, often difficult and even dry feeling, patiently teaches us about Jesus and our baptismal incorporation into Him. A genuine sacramental outlook upon all of creation is a gift from God, yet we must always remember that Blessed Mary had her moments of arid boredom, too.

Likewise, our obedience means internalizing, absorbing, and living-out God’s theology. This ascetical responsibility coincides with the pastoral fact that in a mobile society, a “global village,” there is simply less time available for daily formal set-prayer. Might not this fact also be of divine providence? Yet we cannot forswear orthodoxy, which would deny our baptism, so a Prologue Office of Praise, which can be prayed amid a hectic, busy life as an ascetical minumum, seems quite overdue.

A NEW ADDITION 

What must be stressed is that a Prologue Office of Praise is not intended as a substitute for the Cranmerian Office, the Liturgy of the Hours, or any form currently in use. The Prologue Office of Praise does not replace what is used now, but rather is meant to add to the daily round of set-prayer. One can continue to do Morning and Evening Prayer as one always has, along with the daytime Hours of Terce, Sext and None. The suggestion here is to chant or recite the Prologue Office of Praise as another “hour” for daily set-prayer. This could be for a first hour of the day, for an hour right before Sunday Mass, for a Midday hour, for an evening before sleep.

Why make this addition? The primary reason is for ascetical unity — a truly common prayer. We need to pray a common prayer, knowing it as common prayer. Being a concise form, it is perfect for the home, to cultivate the “domestic Church.”

Another is that this Office form catechizes. Refined to its bare theological core, the Prologue Office becomes a sturdy rock of daily doctrinal catechesis for young and old alike, experientially absorbed through memorization and singing. This points directly to the theological virtue of “Faith,” what Macquarrie called “existential knowledge” and Aidan Kavanagh called “theologia prima.” This Prologue Office of Praise is fittingly seen as a pledge of allegiance to God, an eschatological proclamation of faith, the basis for “a school for the service of the Lord” in the Benedictine sense: it teaches as much through the mere habit of it as it does through its content. Our lives showly adjust to the truths embedded in this Office.

It catechizes also because of its predominant focus on doctrine. This Antelogium Laudis is a theological and experiential expansion of the Pater Noster by means of the Nicene Creed. Analyzed as a whole, its text proclaims a variety of authoritative doctrine, the crucibles of the Church’s historical experience. Doctrines include that of Prevenient Grace, Baptismal Incorporation, Remnant and Adoration in the Preces; God and Metanoia in the Jubilate; of Creation, Angels, the People of God and Remnant in the Benedicite; of Incarnation, the Church, Atonement, Resurrection, Parousia and Theosis in the Te Deum; of Penitence and Adoration in the Kyrie Eleison; of the Kingdom of God in the Pater Noster; and of the Theotokos and Assumption in the Ave Regina Caelorum — these and more, directly from scriptural and scripturally derived prayers primarily of patristic ethos. Yes, these are canticles and hymns, but embedded within them is Catholic imagination: tremendous theology and glorious doctrine ecumenically celebrated.

Why the emphasis on doctrine? Because to sing the Antelogium Laudis is to confess doctrinal truth, a constant need in the Church no matter the age. And as in the patristic era, particularly prior to Constantine, doctrinal confession manifests through joyful performance and almost secretive memorization: to memorize is to internalize, to internalize is to embody, to embody is to teach by example, with or without words. We are to serve the Lord with gladness and come before His presence with a song (Psalm 100). Singing forms us, and formation through catechesis, as theological reflection in relationship with doctrine and experience, is the beating heart of evangelization.

CONCLUSION: AN ORTHODOX AND BENEDICTINE PASTORAL SOLUTION

To reconcile the pastoral situation today with our baptismal obligation, an orthodox solution is to add a Prologue Office that is comparatively shorter, more accessible, more doable, more explicitly doctrinal — and a Benedictine and Cranmerian solution is to restore a common Office able to to be sung by laity and clergy alike: a true unity of the Church Militant. This counteracts a clergy-only Divine Office, too often our situation today, upends the entire theology of historic Prayer Book heritage. It is called the Book of Common Prayer not for nothing.

All of which is to say, this Prologue Office is pastorally attuned for a missional Church in a mobile, “post-Christian” society. It is doctrinally vigorous, yet ascetically realistic. It does not require paging through books, does not discriminate against the illiterate, young or old, and can be sung anywhere and at any time, whether in the morning, noonday, or evening: whenever the holiness of beauty is disclosed (Psalm 29).

This Office is also family-friendly. For those with young children, its second half — Kyrie Eleison, Pater Noster, and Ave Regina Caelorum — is a gentle place to start for adult and children alike, and it is quickly memorizable. Subsequently, the Jubilate can be added, followed in turn by the Benedicite and Te Deum, first in portions and then in their entireties. Because even the youngest of children, through the help and example of their parents, day by day can magnify God, and worship His Name ever world without end. May we join Ananias, Azariah, and Misael, the three holy children — saved by God in the fiery furnace of His abundant and gracious love. And in so doing, may we sing — may we trumpet! — our love of our heavenly Father, who confers upon us our very being, and who gives for our salvation His only Son, Jesus Christ.

As a final note, the reason that the Prologue Office of Praise uses classic, non-contemporary language — also known as “sacral English” — is two-fold. The first is to be consistent with the sensibility of the Pater Noster, the prayer that controls the theology of the Divine Office; despite it too being non-contemporary, it is nonetheless beloved today — “art,” “thy,” and “thine” are familiar precisely because the prayer is used. Likewise, the more one uses the JubilateBenedicite, and Te Deum, the more “ye,” “hath,” and the rest become familiar and second nature.

And the second follows from the first. Without question, the sacral English translations simply sing better: the phrasing and literary sensibility of that era have more musicality and hence more poetical allure. Contemporary does not necessarily mean improved, and a persuasive case can be made that contemporary translations of these prayers obstruct rather than edify. The translations selected here are better to sing, theologically more transparent, and, in the case of the Benedicite, shorter. The choice therefore is obvious. We are, after all, to bring the first fruits of our ground into the house of the Lord our God (Exodus 23.19). Not only Truth, and not only Goodness, but also Beauty adores our Maker, our Lover, and our Keeper — for He is their source.

CONCLUDING PRAYER

Heavenly Father, who bestowed upon your Church from its first baptismal moments the grace of Regula: capacitate us to love you, the Lord our God, with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our Mind; and likewise enable us by your presence to love our neighbor as our self, that our life in response to you can indeed become holy, holy, holy; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, our comforter, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Icon by the hand of Monica Thornton. 

 

Angels and the Catholic Imagination, part 1: Angels are all about God

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

Homily 1 of 3: “Angels are all about God”
Given at St Paul’s, Riverside, Illinois on Michaelmas 2013

It is fitting that on this feast of St Michael and All Angels, I have an announcement. This is the first of three homilies on angels that I will be giving; part two is next week, part three in two weeks. This morning, the identity and doctrine of angels; next week the scriptural descriptions of angels, and then concluding with the impact of angels on our spirituality and corporate experience.

If that sounds like a lot, well, as angels say, Be Not Afraid! At least I keep telling myself that.

My daughter Twyla told me something yesterday that I wanted to tell you all. In a moment when it was just her and me, driving in our little silver car down the Stevenson expressway, I asked her, “What do you think angels are all about?” What she said was, “Angels are all about God.”

I do not think I could express it any more succinctly. Angels are all about God. The key is the word “about.” It is because the Church teaches that the doctrine of angels is twofold. On one hand, “about God” transcendently, as if “around God”, serving and worshiping God, the countless throngs of angels that stand before God to serve God night and day, beholding the glory of his presence, and singing praise unceasingly “Holy, Holy, Holy Lord, God of power and might” (which we will shortly join them in singing). And on the other, “about God” immanently, the meaning of angels is not themselves, for we are commanded not to worship them; their meaning is ultimately God — they disclose God’s good news of redemption and salvation in ways that we can perceive and then pass on to others. Angels do both: they about God praising Him, and they are about God’s disclosure of his Good News to humanity so that we, too, might more and more praise him and magnify him forever.

The church over its history has seemed to settle on nine different orders of angels, although we ought not take such speculative formulations too rigidly: the nine orders of angels are Seraphim, Cherabim, Thrones, Dominations, Virtues, Principalities, Powers, Archangels, and then Angels (which include guardian angels of which each of us has one). The number of angels is said to be beyond our imagination, which is to say innumerable. To me, that is the key thing. Not the nine orders — it is that they are innumerable. That is worth pondering in our hearts what it means to say that the angels are innumerable.

Angels are created beings of spirit; they have no physical bodies and hence are invisible to the eye. So to “see an angel” cannot mean to witness physically with the eye; rather, to see must mean to perceive. For indeed angels have everything to do with perception of all things, all emotion, all truth, all beauty, all goodness. About this I will say more shortly.

Angels are named because of their activity. “Angel” means “to announce”. What they do is what they are named. For example, Michael means “who is like God” because he confronted prideful Satan with that very question. Satan means “the opposer” or “the accuser” because of his accusing activity toward God. Their identity is their activity. We will reflect more specifically on angels in holy scripture next Sunday in the second of the three homilies.

Angels were created at the very beginning of God’s creation, probably (as we will discuss next time) through the very first words of God, “Let there be light” and there was light, that is, angels of the light, which all angels first were, until a certain some of them rebelled against God and became fallen angels of darkness. Because angels are so intimately bound up with creation itself, angels have a strong correlation to our understanding of the doctrine of Creation, including our own stewardship of the world and its inhabitants, and our relationships with other people. Angels can greatly aid us to love both our neighbor and our enemy as ourselves. And so angels have a great deal to say about our spirituality, about our growing into unity with God through likeness with Christ, about theosis, You might say that angels are the original raisers of consciousness, against which all other forms of consciousness-raising are pale comparisons — except maybe a cold pint of frosty alcoholic beverage after the kids go to sleep. But not only consciousness raising, but conscience raising. They help us respond more fully to God’s will and calling, and hence they help us progress spiritually by helping us choose to commit fewer and fewer sins.

Because angels are different orders of creation from man, when we die we do not become angels, any more the vocation of dogs when they die is to become human. But just as dogs are trained by man in a loving relationship, we might say we are trained by angels in a loving relationship, all of which points to God. This topic of spirituality personal and corporate experience will be looked at more closely in my third homily in two weeks.

And so as we prepare to walk to the altar to commune and to dine with angels and archangels, and all the company of heaven who enlighten us, guard us, rule us, guide us and all people from the moment of their conception through this life and into the next life — as we prepare to join with the angels at Christ’s table to praise God and to magnify God, to taste and see that the Lord is good, and after we are sent out in mission to evangelize — a word that means to announce well — through our thoughts and actions shared with our neighbors, what I ask you to take away, if anything, are two things: One is what Twyla said: that angels are all about God, about him praising, and about his salvific grace.

And the other is something once written by St Augustine in a short occasional treatise where he responded to 83 questions with … 83 answers. He wrote, “Every visible thing in this world is put under the charge of an angel.” If that is true, is that not a staggering thought? And again, not only seen, but perceived.

Every perceivable thing in this church … in coffee hour … once you go outside to your car … you notice the rest of the day … the rest of the week… at work, at home, when you travel…the rest of your life on this planet … the rest of your journey in the next life … in this cosmos, in this universe of countless galaxies!

Every perceivable thing in this universe is put under the charge of an angel, and angels are all about God. If it is true — I don’t know what to say! Does not all of reality light up, as if, pardon me, a cosmic switch was flipped on and all of creation dazzles like the waving robes of those whose faces see God? And what can we say confidently but the words of Jacob? How awesome is this place! This is truly the gate of heaven.

Go to HOMILY II.

Icon by the hand of Monica Thornton.

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!

“So it is that the Benedictine Way really underlies the Book of Common Prayer, where the same trinity of liturgy, office and personal prayer is found for the joy of us all.”

—Archbishop Michael Ramsey (15 July 1965 at Nashdom Abbey)

click for slideshow


See also: What does Regula mean?

Icon by the hand of Monica Thornton. 


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.

 


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