Tuesday, 29 July 2014

"With hope and thirst": Hooker, poetic form and praying the Psalms

To make daily prayers of them hand over head ... is an abusing of them.

It was not only the use of the gospel canticles in the daily office that Cartwright critiqued.  He also rejected the daily praying of the psalms in a manner different to the general reading of Scripture.  Such use of the psalms, he insisted, "is banished in all reformed Churches".

Hooker's response is two-fold.  Consistently, against Cartwright's invoking of the practice of the Reformed churches, he defends the praying of the Psalms in the daily office - with music and antiphonally - by pointing to patristic practice.  "The end of our speech", Hooker declares, "is to show that because the fathers of the Church" prayed the psalms in this manner, so too should the Church of England (V.39.5):

And shall this enforce us to banish a thing which all Christian Churches in the world have received; a thing which so many ages have held; a thing which the most approved Councils and laws have so oft time ratified; a things which was never found to have any inconvenience in it; a thing which always heretofore the best men and wisest governors of God's people did think they could never commend enough (V.39.4).

It is not, however, merely a case of Hooker invoking patristic against Reformed practice, revealing though that is.  A deeper conflict is evident in the contrasting positions of Cartwright and Hooker.  In a footnote provided by Hooker, he quotes Cartwright's condemnation of the practice of praying the psalms in the antiphonal fashion.  Here we see the core of the debate:

where it is lawful both with heart and voice to sing the whole psalm there it is not meet that they should sing but the one half with their heart and voice, and the other with their heart only.  For where they may both with heart and voice sing, there the heart is not enough (n.C, V.39.3).

"The heart is not enough", says Cartwright. By contrast, it is precisely because the ancient approach to praying the Psalms in the daily office speaks to the heart, that it receives Hooker's enthusiastic endorsement.   Thus he says of the Psalter:

The choice and flower of all things profitable in other books the psalms do both more briefly contain, and more movingly express, by reason of that poetical form wherewith they are written (V.37.2).

This "poetical form" speaking to the heart is particularly drawn out by musical accompaniment and by praying the psalms antiphonally.  Those who object to musical accompaniment of the psalms, Hooker teasingly states, are to be pitied:

They must have hearts very dry and tough, from whom the melody of psalms does not sometime draw that wherein a mind religiously affected delights (V.38.3).

He then proceeds to quote from Basil:

whereas the Holy Spirit saw that mankind is unto virtue hardly drawn, and that righteousness is the less accompted by reason of our the proneness of our affections to that which delights, it pleased the wisdom of the same Spirit to borrow from melody that pleasure, which mingled with heavenly mysteries, causes the smoothness and softness of that which touches the ear, to convey as it were by stealth the treasure of good things into man's heart ... O the wise conceit of that heavenly teacher, which has by his skill found out a way, that doing those things wherein we delight, we may also learn that whereby we profit (V.38.3).

For Cartwright, the heart delighting in the hearing the singing of the psalms "is not enough".  For Hooker, that delight is how God moves our hearts to seek after and taste truth.  A similar dynamic is at work in the antiphonal praying of psalms. 

a thing which ... did both strengthen the meditation of those holy words which were uttered in that sort, and serve also to make attentive and to raise up the hearts of men; a thing whereunto God's people of old did resort with hope and thirst that their souls might be edified; a thing which fills the mind with comfort and heavenly delight, stirs up flagrant desires and affections correspondent unto that which the words contain ... [and] waters the heart to the end that it my fructify (V.39.4).

Cartwright proposes that the psalms should be "read and preached upon" as are the other scriptures. Alongside this, he concedes that they may be sung in Reformed fashion, but not in such a way that "men cannot understand what is sung". It is for Cartwright, above all, a rational exercise, something which we are to "understand" rather than that in which we are to delight.

By contrast, Hooker's defence of the praying of the psalms in the daily office - accompanied by music, prayed antiphonally - has as its aim the prayerful formation and renewal of the heart. The poetry of the Psalter, the delight of music, the dramatic participation of antiphonal prayer, these provoke our hearts to "hope and thirst".  "The heart is not enough", Cartwright states.  For Hooker, the heart is how we are provoked and enticed to desire, encounter and delight in the Triune God.

Monday, 28 July 2014

"The mystery of our coherence with Jesus Christ": Hooker, the gospel canticles and the sacramental imagination

These thanksgivings were made by occasion of certain particular benefits and are no more to be used for ordinary prayers than the Ave Maria.

Thus Hooker's Calvinist critic Thomas Cartwright on the BCP's use of the three gospel canticles in the daily offices.  In Book V, chapter 40 of LEP, Hooker responds - "Of Magnificat, Benedictus and Nunc dimittis". 

Cartwright, of course, is being eminently rational.  A plain reading of the text of Luke's gospel lets us know that these are words with reference to a particular occasion.  Luke clearly did not intend for them to be hymns of praise for the Church.  To state the rationally obvious, we do not - we cannot - carry Christ in our womb or hold him in our arms.  As Hooker summarises his critic's stance:

these songs were fit for that purpose when Simon and Zechariah and the blessed virgin uttered them, but they cannot so be to us which have not received like benefit.

And there, right there, according to Hooker, is Cartwright's fatal weakness - an impoverished sacramental imagination.  Yes, it is true that each of these canticles is rooted in the particular experience of encountering the Incarnation:

They are the first gratulations wherewith our Lord and Saviour was joyfully received at his entrance into the world by such as in their hearts, arms and very bowels embraced him.

However, it is a catholic sacramental imagination which draws us into relationship with the encounter experienced by Our Lady, Zechariah and Simeon.  Firstly, because we are united with them in the communion of saints:

the mystical communion of all faithful men is such as makes every one to be interested in those precious blessings which any one of them receive as God's hands.

The experience of encounter which resulted in Magnificat, Benedictus and Nunc is not remote from us, as alien to us as - as Cartwright states - the historical context of the Psalms.  Rather, in "the mystical communion of all [the] faithful", we have an 'interest' in their experience of encounter with the Incarnation of the Word.

Secondly, our experience of encounter, while obviously different in kind to that experienced by, for example, the blessed Virgin, "in some sort" resembles hers:

when any thing is spoken to extol the goodness of God whose mercy endures for ever, albeit the very particular occasion whereupon it rises does come no more, yet the fountain continues the same and yielding other new effects which are but only in some sort proportionable, a small resemblance between the benefits which we and others have received may serve to make the same words of praise and thanksgiving fit.

Yes, we do not carry Christ in our "very bowels" as she did.  But ... we do encounter Christ.  We do receive him.  We do dwell in him.

In the introduction to his reflection on the Sacraments, we read one of Hooker's most beautiful insights:

It is too cold an interpretation, whereby some men expound our being in Christ to import nothing else, but only that the selfsame nature which makes us to be men, is in him, and makes him man as we are.  For what man in the world is there which has not so far communion with Jesus Christ?  It is not this that can sustain the weight of such sentences as speak of the mystery of our coherence with Jesus Christ.  The Church is in Christ as Eve was in Adam.  Yea, by very grace we are every of us in Christ and in his Church, as by nature we are in those our first parents.  God made Eve of the rib of Adam.  And his Church he frames out of the very flesh, the very wounded and bleeding side of the Son of Man.  His body crucified and his blood shed for the life of the world, are the true elements of that heavenly being which makes us such as himself is of whom we come (Book V, 56.7).

This leads Hooker to say of the sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist:

We receive Christ Jesus in baptism once as the first beginner, in the Eucharist often as being by continual degrees the finisher of our life.  By baptism therefore we receive Christ Jesus and from him that saving grace which is proper unto baptism.  By the other sacrament we receive him also imparting therein himself and that grace which the Eucharist properly bestows (Book V, 57.6).

In such words we see that which Cartwright does not posses and that in which Hooker glories - the catholic sacramental imagination. 

Why do we pray the words of the Magnificat, Benedictus and Nunc in the daily office?  Because we share in the sacraments.  Because through sharing in the sacraments, we - in a manner akin to Blessed Mary, Zechariah and Simeon - encounter the Word, incarnate, crucified, risen.

Saturday, 26 July 2014

"Something more than earthly": the sacramental and re-enchantment

And what is true of the ordinary services of religion, public and private, holds in a still higher or rather in a special way, as regards the sacramental ordinances of the Church. In these is manifested in greater or less degree, according to the measure of each, that Incarnate Saviour, who is one day to be our Judge, and who is enabling us to bear His presence then, by imparting it to us in measure now. A thick black veil is spread between this world and the next. We mortal men range up and down it, to and fro, and see nothing. There is no access through it into the next world. In the Gospel this veil is not removed; it remains, but every now and then marvellous disclosures are made to us of what is behind it. At times we seem to catch a glimpse of a Form which we shall hereafter see face to face. We approach, and in spite of the darkness, our hands, or our head, or our brow, or our lips become, as it were, sensible of the contact of something more than earthly. We know not where we are, but we have been bathing in water, and a voice tells us that it is blood. Or we have a mark signed upon our foreheads, and it spake of Calvary. Or we recollect a hand laid upon our heads, and surely it had the print of nails in it, and resembled His who with a touch gave sight to the blind and raised the dead. Or we have been eating and drinking; and it was not a dream surely, that One fed us from His wounded side, and renewed our nature by the heavenly meat He gave.

John Henry Newman "Worship, a Preparation for Christ's Coming" in Parochial and Plain Sermons, Vol. 5, quoted in Timothy P. O'Malley Liturgy and the New Evangelization: Practicing the Art of Self-Giving Love.

Friday, 25 July 2014

What does re-enchantment look like?

I was sitting in the nave of the parish church as the liturgy was being said. I found myself continually looking at the stained glass window at the back as well as a relief of the Last Supper which was bookended by two angels. It made me think about how little we consider angels, or at least how little I consider them. Again, in much of my upbringing we limited our knowledge of angels solely to the text of Scripture and often ended by saying, they’re a bit of a mystery and Jesus is more important anyway. I started thinking about John Milbank’s interview at Big Ideas from several years ago. John says at one point in the interview, ‘I mean, I believe in all this fantastic stuff. I’m really bitterly opposed to this kind of disenchantment in the modern churches, including I think among most modern evangelicals. I mean recently in the Nottingham diocese they wanted to do a show about angels, and so the clergy – and this is a very evangelical diocese – sent around a circular saying, “Is there anyone around who still believes in angels enough to talk about this?” Now, in my view this is scandalous. They shouldn’t even be ordained if they can’t give a cogent account of the angelic and its place in the divine economy.’ As I thought about theirs and continued to participate in the liturgy, I found myself staring into the eyes of Christ at the top centre of the window at the back of the nave.

I closed my eyes and as often happens when we close our eyes after looking at something through which light was shining, the outlines of the window remained with me. This alone is a rather brilliant picture of what role angels and the saints play (as well as icons and stained glass windows), they shine forth the light of God. Suddenly, with my eyes closed, the number of shadows began to multiply. I saw myself surrounded by these shadows and I knew that what I was being shown were the saints and angels that are always around us, always watching over, praying for us, and guiding us in Christ through the Holy Spirit to the Father. The vision, as shadowy as it was, was overwhelming in its majesty. My heart began to race; my chest felt as though there were something very heavy pressing down upon it. I nearly began to weep right there in the middle of the service.

From Letters from the Edge of Elfland.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

"A new music, long unknown": how Keble 'made strange'

Newman's reflections on the significance of Keble's Christian Year - taken here from the excellent Newman site of the University of East Anglia - are an exploration of how Keble captured the imagination of contemporary English culture with his poetic meditations on the liturgical year:

The Christian Year made its appearance in 1827. It is not necessary, and scarcely becoming, to praise a book which has already become one of the classics of the language. When the general tone of religious literature was so nerveless and impotent, as it was at that time, Keble struck an original note and woke up in the hearts of thousands a new music, the music of a school, long unknown in England.

Newman pointed to two truths which Keble's "creative mind" expressed in The Christian Year:

The first of these was what may be called, in a large sense of the word, the Sacramental system; that is, the doctrine that material phenomena are both the types and the instruments of real things unseen,—a doctrine, which embraces in its fulness, not only what Anglicans, as well as [Roman] Catholics, believe about Sacraments properly so called; but also the article of "the Communion of Saints;" and likewise the Mysteries of the faith.

The second addressed Butler's teaching that "probability is the guide of life".  As Newman notes, "who can really pray to a Being, about whose existence he is seriously in doubt?":

I considered that Mr. Keble met this difficulty by ascribing the firmness of assent which we give to religious doctrine, not to the probabilities which introduced it, but to the living power of faith and love which accepted it. In matters of religion, he seemed to say, it is not merely probability which makes us intellectually certain, but probability as it is put to account by faith and love.  It is faith and love which give to probability a force which it has not in itself. Faith and love are directed towards an Object; in the vision of that Object they live; it is that Object, received in faith and love, which renders it reasonable to take probability as sufficient for internal conviction.

Poetic expression mystery of the sacramental and the reality of encounter with the Divine - this is how Keble caught the imagination of his contemporaries.  What is more, it was a "music", says Newman, "long unknown".  In other words, Keble engaged in 'making strange' the Christian faith, amidst a culture in which a Christianity stripped of the sacramental was an inoffensive chaplain to the status quo

For early 21st century catholic Anglicanism the challenge is entirely not dissimilar.  A post-Christian culture shaped by a Moralistic Therapeutic Deism which has inherited Christian words, phrases and concepts, requires a culturally-appropriate contemporary expression of what Keble achieved in The Christian Year.  As the Dean of St Edmundsbury stated in a recent Church Times letter:

we need a renewed living and daring confidence in God's grace through the sacraments, theology, and liturgy of the Church.

After the example of Keble, engaging the imagination of the culture with this vision, "a new music, long unknown", is the vocation of catholic Anglicanism in the post-Christian society.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

"They who today are tares, may tomorrow be wheat": Augustine on the parables of the sower

And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.

From the Gospel reading at Mass, Wednesday of the 16th week of Ordinary Time.

In his homily on the parables of the sower in Matthew 13, Augustine interprets the parables' words on stony ground and on tares as a call to penitence, and thus the Church's renewal, rather than as a message of condemnation, dividing the assembly into a spiritual elite and a worldly, compromised mass .  The stony ground and the tares can, Augustine the pastor insists, be the arena for the working of God's grace - "God has not lost his power".  We can imagine the contrast with Donatist and Pelagian readings of the text.

Now ye know that those three places mentioned yesterday where the seed did not grow, the way side, the stony ground, and the thorny places, are the same as these 'tares' ... Accordingly I yesterday addressed the way side, I addressed the stony ground, I addressed the thorny places; and I said, Be changed while ye may: turn up with the plough the hard ground, cast the stones out of the field, pluck up the thorns out of it. Be loth to retain that hard heart, from which the word of God may quickly pass away and be lost. Be loth to have that lightness of soil, where the root of charity can take no deep hold. Be loth to choke the good seed which is sown in you by my labours, with the lusts and the cares of this world. For it is the Lord who sows; and we are only His labourers. But be ye the good ground. I said yesterday, and I say again today to all, Let one bring forth a hundred, another sixty, another thirty fold. In one the fruit is more, in another less; but all will have a place in the barn. Yesterday I said all this, today I am addressing the tares; but the sheep themselves are the tares. O evil Christians, O you, who in filling only press the Church by your evil lives; amend yourselves before the harvest come. Say not, I have sinned, and what has befallen me? God has not lost His power; but He is requiring repentance from you. I say this to the evil, who yet are Christians; I say this to the tares. For they are in the field; and it may so be, that they who today are tares, may tomorrow be wheat (from Augustine's Sermon 23 on the New Testament).

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Which Mary?

There is the Mary proclaimed by Gnostic traditions.  This is the Mary lauded by some - whether in historical studies (Karen King) or popular fiction (Dan Brown) - as bearer of a supposedly 'lost' Christianity. 

This Mary tells of Jesus the mystic, teacher of other-worldly wisdom:

Mary answered and said, What is hidden from you I will proclaim to you.

And she began to speak to them these words: I, she said, I saw the Lord in a vision ...

In a aeon I was released from a world, and in a Type from a type, and from the fetter of oblivion which is transient.

From this time on will I attain to the rest of the time, of the season, of the aeon, in silence.

When Mary had said this, she fell silent, since it was to this point that the Saviour had spoken with her.  (From the 2nd century 'Gospel of Mary'.)

Then there is the Mary of the Church's story.

Here is the Mary who points us to not to a mystic, but to the Crucified and Risen One.

Here are no disembodied visions concerning types and aeons, but encounter at Cross and Tomb.

Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene ...

Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb ...

Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbouni!’...

Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’.

To have let the popular imagination be shaped by the banalities of revived Gnostic traditions is a profound failure on the Church's part - a failure to imaginatively engage with both Scripture and culture.

Rather than a Mary speaking of a guru's thoughts, the Church's story tells of the Mary who experienced flesh-and-blood encounter with God Incarnate, Crucified, Risen.

The Mary of the Gnostic traditions is the favourite of a pale Galilean.

The Mary of the Church's story is a bearer of the deep mystery of loving encounter with the God who became flesh, who endured the wood of the Cross and the darkness of the tomb, to restore us - we who are flesh and blood - to light and life.

(The painting is Macha Chmakoff, At the Foot of the Cross.)