Monday, 27 April 2015

+Rowan on Fundamentalism: modernity, the Tradition and Mystery

On Friday evening past, +Rowan Williams delivered a lecture in St George's Parish, Belfast, on 'Fundamentalism, Christian and non-Christian'.  Needless to say, it was superb.  St George's should be congratulated for arranging the lecture and significantly enriching the landscape of theological reflection within the Church of Ireland - not always a rich, abundant and diverse landscape.

Two particular aspects of +Rowan's lecture stood out.  The first was how he contrasted the understanding of the inspiration of Scripture present in the The Fundamentals with the historic understanding of the Church.  Considering Origen, Thomas and Calvin, +Rowan showed how the inspiration of Scripture was an 'invitation to learn', to engage in reflection, debate and discussion, rather than a 'scientific' means of closing down debate. 

In the question and answer session following the lecture, this led to a rather clumsy attempt in one question to challenge +Rowan's account of Thomas and to assert that Thomas shared a view of Scripture with Fundamentalism (and, by implication, this view of Scripture was the historic view of the Church).  +Rowan's response was that Thomas, obviously, was no liberal protestant but that to attempt to understand his account of Scriptural inspiration in the narrow, rationalist terms of 19th/early 20th century Fundamentalism fails to discern the much richer vision animating his theology. 

(Thomas' account in the Summa of the inspiration of Scripture can be read here.  Note his quote from Gregory the Great, emphasising how Scripture "while it describes a fact, it reveals a mystery".  Similarly his insistence, "Nor is the figure itself, but that which is figured, the literal sense".  The contrast with the flattened account of inspiration given in The Fundamentals is obvious.  The 'sign' of Scripture is not a manual of unassailable propositions but an invitation into the mystery of the Faith. )

In the lecture's conclusion, +Rowan urged consideration of two questions which he regarded as being posed to orthodox, traditional Christianity by Fundamentalism: 

1. Have we lost sight of Scripture as gift, given  for our flourishing, nourishing, instruction and joy? Fundamentalism offers an unsurprisingly attractive alternative to a certain form of liberal theology. Do we need to recover the depth and strangeness of the Bible?

2. Fundamentalism says it doesn't matter if Scripture contradicts science and common sense. This is not convincing, but it does point to the need not to domesticate God. Scripture is gift and challenge: Barth's 'strange new world of the Bible'. Fundamentalism is a distortion of this truth which the Church needs to recover for its own well-being.

These two questions, in some ways, go close to the heart of the theological project associated with +Rowan, a project that has the potential to have much greater longer-term significance for Christianity in secular societies than his time at Canterbury.  We might go as far to say that it is in meaningfully and convincingly answering these questions that orthodox, sacramental, catholic Christianity will determine its future vitality, ensuring that the cultural landscape will not be defined only by the two quarrelling children of the Enlightenment, secularism and Fundamentalism.

Sunday, 26 April 2015

"By predestination, by vocation and by grace": Thomas on Good Shepherd Sunday

I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me (John 10:14).

From the Gospel reading at Mass on the Fourth Sunday of Easter.

He proves he is a shepherd by the two signs of a shepherd already mentioned. The first of these is that he calls his own sheep by name. Concerning this he says, I know my own: "The Lord knows those who are his" (2 Tim 2:19). I know, I say, not just with mere knowledge only, but with a knowledge joined with approval and love: "To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins" (Rev 1:5). The second sign is that the sheep hear his voice and know him. And concerning this he says, and my own know me. My own, I say, by predestination, by vocation and by grace. This is like saying: They love me and obey me. Thus, we must understand that they have a loving knowledge about which we read: "They shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest" (Jer 31:34). 

Thomas Commentary on St John's Gospel, Chapter 10, lectio 4

Saturday, 25 April 2015

An Eastertide mystagogy: community of hope-filled encounter

During the Saturdays of Eastertide, a series of reflections - a form of mystagogy - will be posted. Based on the Acts reading of the coming Sunday, each will reflect on what it is for the Church to live as the authentic witness to the Resurrection.

The Acts reading for the Fourth Sunday of Easter is Acts 4:5-12.

Mystagogical reflection: Community of hope-filled encounter 

"There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved."

Peter's words about Christ in the Acts reading for the Fourth Sunday of Easter can often produce two responses.

The first is a firm nodding of the head in agreement.

This is the robust message the Church needs to confront the world with.

Whether its secularists, Muslims, New Atheists, or those who can't make up their minds ...

They need to be told in no uncertain terms that without faith in Jesus, they are lost, condemned, damned.

The second response is, by contrast, one of embarrassment ...

Heads go down and feet shuffle.

These words from Acts can't really be what God wants, can it?

My friends and colleagues who are Muslim, agnostic, atheist, or who describe themselves as 'spiritual but not religious' ...

It can't really be the case that all the Church has to offer is a message of condemnation.

And so, it is best if we quietly ignore this passage and get on with the nice things the Church does - loving our neighbour, things like that.

It is ironic, but what these two readings of this passage from Acts have in common ...

Is a failure to recognise the transformative power of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ ...

A failure to discern that his Resurrection has fundamentally transfigured the whole created order.

The first approach, to these words from Acts seeing it as a militant call to confrontation ...

Says that unless a particularly narrow understanding of Christian faith is individually held ...

Then the power of sin and death still reigns in the created order.

The second approach, politely ignoring the passage because it's all a bit embarrassing ...

Says that we 'live and let live' because what we believe is really not all that different from what everybody else believes.

This similarly assumes that the Resurrection has not radically transformed human existence.

But yet, we the Church give over these fifty days of Eastertide to celebrating the Paschal Mystery of the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus Christ ...

Precisely because it is our confession that the Resurrection has fundamentally changed human existence and the entire created order.

Because of the Resurrection, we believe in 'the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting'.

In the dramatic words of Paul the Apostle, the Risen Christ is the One " who fills all in all".

"Who fills all in all" [1].

Triumphing over sin and death, restoring the created order to communion with the Father ...

The Lord's Resurrection means that there is no place or experience where grace, truth, love, beauty are encountered that are not Christ himself.

And so, "There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved".

This is not a message of condemnation to be either militantly endorsed by the Church in the face of an alien world ...

Nor ignored by the Church out of polite embarrassment.

It is a joyful affirmation that wherever God is encountered, by however God is encountered, this is because of and through the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

So when a Muslim give thanks that the Creator is "Merciful and Kind", to use some of the privileged names Islam gives to God [2] ...

When the person who describes themselves as 'spiritual but not religious' finds meaning in ancient wisdom or in the created order ...

When the agnostic is overwhelmed with gratitude at the birth of her or his child ...

When the atheist experiences wonder at the beauty of a sunset ...

These are encounters - incomplete and uncertain, yes, but still encounters - with the Risen Christ "who fills all in all".

Our vocation as the community of the baptised is to walk alongside those whom we meet and graciously share with them the good news of the One whom they are already encountering ...

The One most fully revealed in the mystery of the Cross and Resurrection.

We point them to the Crucified and Risen One, in whom there is the fullness of grace and truth, beauty and hope they are already - however falteringly and however obscured - encountering.

We show them the community of the baptised, where the Crucified and Risen One is most fully present in this Sacrament of the Eucharist.

John Chrysostom, 4th century bishop and teacher of the faith, said of the effect of the Paschal Mystery of the Lord's Cross and Resurrection:

"Every place has become an oratory" (a place of prayer) [3].

Every place in which grace and truth, beauty and hope are experienced, is a place of prayer ..

A place of encounter with the Risen Christ, who so often after his Resurrection showed himself as the Stranger, as One Unknown [4].

And so we the Church are called to live out the hope-filled mission of proclaiming the good news to all ...

Hope-filled because through the Resurrection of Jesus ...

The world is not damned but redeemed, not godless but filled with God [5].

There is no place where the Risen One is not present, not encountered ...

Because "There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved."


[1] Ephesians 1:23.

[2] See Pope Francis Misericordiae Vultus: Bull of Indiction of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy (23).

[3] From St John Chrysostom Homily I 'On the Cross and the Thief': part of the homily is the reading for the Monday in Holy Week in Celebrating the Seasons.

[4] See Rowan Williams' Resurrection for "this theme of the otherness, the unrecognizability, of the risen Jesus".

[5] See the post-communion for Easter 3: "Open the eyes of our faith, that we may see him in all his redeeming work".  Also Danielou's God and the Ways of Knowing: "We wish above all, in a world from which God seems so absent, to restore the progressive stages by which he manifests himself, and by which he can be rediscovered".

Friday, 24 April 2015

What is Church about? Giving birth ...

Know that strange debate in the CofE about 'disciples' being a "peculiarly sectarian" phrase and a "theologically peripheral concept"?  Here's an Anglo-Catholic answer from across the Atlantic:

So we have all these outward signs of “high church”—candles, vestments, liturgy. We even have bishops who, if you ply them with the right beverages, will talk about their “lines of succession,” which is just fancy language for “ecclesiastical pedigree.” But these things don’t exist in a vacuum. They have a purpose. They are ultimately about something, and that something is that the Church is not just an aggregation of individual believers who decide to hang out together. It’s not like the Rotary Club, or one of the Greek houses on campus here. It’s not a voluntary organization, a society or club for those who share certain beliefs or principles or tastes, which we can join when it suits our purposes and leave when it no longer does. Rather, the Church is an organism. That word has biological connotations, doesn’t it?—and rightly so, because the Church is all about life, the life of God that you and I share in by virtue of our common baptism. The Church is an organism also because it reproduces; it gives birth to new Christians in the baptismal font. As we prayed in one of the Easter Vigil collects, “multiply, by the grace of the Paschal sacrament, the number of your children…”

The Eucharistic Community of St John the Divine on the campus of the University of Illinois is a group of baptized disciples of the risen Jesus who stand among the company of witnesses, the throng of martyrs, in succession to Peter and the other apostles, the company of those who bear testimony to the One long foretold in scripture, the Holy and Righteous One, the community whose mission it is to announce and prepare the way for God’s own mission of making all things new, of bringing light out of darkness, truth out of error, health out of sickness, and life out of death.

From a sermon by +Daniel Martins, Bishop of Springfield, given at the Chapel of St John the Divine, Champaign, Il. on the Third Sunday of Easter.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Why an Office of Readings?

Prayer during the Day provides material for a number of patterns of prayer ... It provides a framework for ... an Office of Readings (Common Worship Daily Prayer, Introduction to Prayer During the Day).

The provision in CWDP for an Office of Readings allows Anglicans to both retrieve the ancient office of Matins and to cohere with the norms of the Latin tradition.  Of course, for Anglicans who pray the Roman rite's Liturgy of the Hours, this is somewhat irrelevant.  However, for those who belong to/serve eucharistic communities adhering to an Anglican lectionary and liturgical calender, praying the Liturgy of the Hours can lead to some incoherence (e.g who do we celebrate on 1st May?). There is a need, then, for an Office of Readings grounded in an Anglican lectionary and liturgical calendar.

As Akenside Press has pointed out, there are other reasons for uncoupling Cranmer's reform, which combined Matins and Lauds.  In particular, Martin Thornton's reflection on the theology and practice of the Daily Office urges that we approach it from from the perspective of a three-fold Regula: "the Mass communicates with God incarnate, the Divine Office praises God transcendent, and Devotion embraces God immanent".  It is under 'Devotion' that an Office of Readings is considered.  As Akenside Press states:

Within Devotion, the ministry that most expresses our baptismal status, obedience means we are to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest the biblical revelation so as to see all of life through scriptural lens. Hence a Daily Office of Readings, even if it follows a lectionary cycle, must be also uniquely personal. God invites us to find resonance between biblical revelation and the phenomena of ordinary life — a sharing in the Sacred Humanity of Jesus guided by the hand of the Holy Spirit that naturally overflows into all of life and ministry, the phenomena of which we learn to “read” for the presence, workings, and will of God. Our example, as always, is Blessed Mary, who pondered in her heart. Ultimately, a Daily Office of Readings can become analoguous of one’s wider Devotional ministry to Christ in all creatures and persons — rooted in listening to God’s providence mediated through His creatures.

Without endorsing other proposals emanating from Thornton's critique (catholicity and covenant would have very strong reservations about his suggestions for a "strictly invariable" form of offices of praise), this does provide a robust reasoning from within Anglican theological reflection for embracing an Office of Readings.  Furthermore, and where we can to an extent affirm Thornton's view of the other offices, this frees them to be encounters of praise and prayer, rather than seeking in a very unwieldly fashion, to attempt to be both this and the main bearer of our daily reading of Scripture.

It is clear from Notes to Prayer During the Day provided in CWDP, that the structure of the Office of Readings in the Liturgy of Hours can be used.  The note referring to the use of the ancient office hymns is particularly welcome (Note 2).  The reference to 'Praise' also allows for use of the invitatory psalm (or, in Eastertide, the Easter Anthems), where the Office of Readings is the first office of the day.  In terms of the provision of Psalms, those suggested in Prayer During the Day can be used, with Psalm Tables for 119 and the Psalms of Ascent then used at Terce, Sext or None (whichever of these Hours is prayed).  From the lectionary provision for Morning Prayer, the New Testament reading can be used at the Office of Readings, leaving the Old Testament reading for Morning Prayer (and thus conforming to Lauds in the Liturgy of the Hours).

As for the provision of a reading from the Church's reflection on Scripture, as in the Liturgy of the Hours Office of Readings, the CWDP has references to "Bible study might take place at this point" and "other appropriate responses" to the reading of Scripture (Notes 4 and 5).  It is difficult in this context to think to of a more appropriate approach than reflections from the patristic witnesses.  There is, of course, some good unofficial Anglican provision for this - Atwell's Celebrating the Seasons/Celebrating the Saints and Wright's Readings for the Daily Office from the Early Church.

One important suggestion from the Office of Readings proposed by Akenside Press is the use of the Apostles' Creed after the readings.  It provides a means of grounding our reflection on the Word of God in Scripture and the Church's witness in the Trinitarian and Christological mystery into which we were incorporated at Baptism.

CWDP Note 7 then allow for a simple ending to the Office of Readings - the Collect of the day, followed by 'Let us bless the Lord: Thanks be to God'.  The reference in Note 6, "this section should also include the Lord's Prayer", can be taken to mean where Morning and Evening Prayer are not said (an odd assumption evident a number of times in the Notes to Prayer During the Day).  This being so, with the Lord's Prayer having a place of honour in the acts of praise and prayer which consecrate morning and evening, it is not required in the Office of Readings.

Laudis Canticum reminds us that the Office of Readings was intended to retain "its character as a nocturnal Office".  As the first office of the day, at daybreak or (ideally) shortly before, it grounds our subsequent prayer and praise, work and rest, in reception of and response to the gift of the revelation of the Word of God - orienting us, in the words of Akenside Press, to a life "rooted in listening to God’s providence mediated through His creatures".

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

"The mother of him who alone saves": Anselm and the intimacy of the Paschal mystery

But above all the source, ever flowing, ever fresh, of the theology of the Passion lies in the great holy figures of Church history.  Their charism consisted in the ability to re-immerse themselves, beyond everything that convention might dictate, in a 'contemporaneity' with the Gospel so as to bequeath the legacy of their intimate experience to their spiritual children.

Hans urs Von Balthasar Mysterium Paschale: The Mystery of Easter

Blessed assurance, safe refuge,
the mother of God is our mother.
The mother of him in whom we have hope,
whom alone we fear,
is our mother.
The mother of him who alone saves and condemns is our mother ...

For he was born of a mother to take our nature,
and to make us, by restoring our life, sons of his mother.
He invites us to confess ourselves his brethren.
So our judge is our brother,
the Saviour of the world is our brother,
and finally our God through Mary is our brother.
With what confidence then ought we to hope,
and thus consoled how can we fear,
when our salvation or damnation hangs on the will
of a good brother and devoted mother?
With what affection should we love
this brother and this mother,
with what familiarity should we commit ourselves to them,
with what security flee to them!
For our good brother forgives us when we sin,
and turns away from us what our errors deserve,
he gives us what in penitence we ask.
The good mother prays and beseeches for us,
she asks and pleads that he may us favourably.
She pleads with the son on behalf of the sons,
the only begotten for the adopted,
the lord for the servants.
The good son hears the mother on behalf of his brothers,
the only-begotten for those he has adopted,
the lord for those he has set free ...

Great Lord, our elder brother,
great Lady, our best of mothers,
teach my heart a sweet reverence in thinking of you.

St Anselm's Prayer to St Mary to ask for her and Christ's love.

(The picture is of the Romanesque Rood at Seckau Abbey.)

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

The intrigue of riddle and mystery: re-enchanting Scripture with the Fathers

Haligweorc's recent reflections on allegorical/mystical reading of the Scriptures are a wonderful reminder that, for the patristic witnesses, reading the Scriptures should be an experience of delight:

At its heart, allegorial/spiritual/mystical (the last two were the terms they most frequently used of their own activities…) is an intellectually engaged form of spiritual play. It’s a game—but a reverent, thoughtful one.

For Augustine, the interpretation of obscure parts of Scripture is about pleasure and delight ... The thrill of intellectual discovery comes when you figure out the puzzle. Have you learned something you didn’t know before? Well, no—not as he sees. it. The obscurities teach nothing that isn’t already said plainly; but it’s a lot more fun to find it in the obscurities!

In his Augustine and the Catechumenate, Harmless quotes from Augustine's De doctrina christiana:

All these truths which are presented to us in figures tend in some manner to nourish and arouse that flame of love, an impulse which carries us upward and inward toward rest; and they stir and enkindle love better than if they were set before us unadorned, without any symbolism of mystery.  It is hard to explain the reason for this; nevertheless it is true that any doctine suggested under an allegorical form affects and pleases us more, and is more esteemed than one set forth explicitly in plain words.

Harmless comments:

Augustine's hearers keenly enjoyed the way he would untie the "scroll-covers" and "unroll" what lay hidden within.  In fact, the more subtle his allegories, the more they cheered.  It intrigued them as much as detective stories or courtroom dramas intrigue us.

De Lubac notes how the Fathers were "convinced that all therein was full of deep and mysterious meaning".  Amidst all that contemporary catholic Anglicans gain from a deepened engagement with the patristic witnesses, we might suggest that it is a renewed delight in the riddles and mystery of Scripture which is amongst the most significant for catechesis and preaching which can capture the contemporary cultural imagination.

For a post-Christian culture which believes it knows the Bible - dismissing it as predictable, staid and conventional, the cultural equivalent of an owner's manual for a slightly dated family car - riddles and mystery, obscurity and veils are what is required to re-enchant Scripture as a text of delight.  As David Grumett states in his study of De Lubac:

The recovery of creative and faithful Scriptural reasoning in all parts of the Church remains one of the principal theological challenges for the present day (emphasis added).