Monday, 26 January 2015

Chrysostom making the Scriptures strange ... bluntly

While, for the feast of the Conversion of St Paul, reading from Chrysostom homilies on Acts, catholicity and covenant came across this example of the Golden Mouthed demonstrating to his congregation that the Scriptures are much stranger than they imagine.  Responding to grumbling in the congregation that the readings from Scripture are "always the same things", Chrysostom responds in, shall we say, a somewhat blunt and not-so subtle fashion ...

There, common (to the whole congregation) stands the deacon crying aloud, and saying, Let us attend to the reading. It is the common voice of the whole Church, the voice which he utters, and yet none does attend. After him begins the Reader, The Prophecy of Esaias, and still none attends, although Prophecy has nothing of man in it. Then after this, he says, Thus says the Lord, and still none attends. Then after this punishments and vengeances, and still even then none attends. But what is the common excuse? It is always the same things over again. 

This it is most of all, that ruins you. Suppose you knew the things, even so you certainly ought not to turn away: since in the theatres also, is it not always the same things acted over again, and still you take no disgust? How dare you talk about the same things, you who know not so much as the names of the Prophets? Are you not ashamed to say, that this is why you do not listen, because it is the same things over again, while you do not know the names of those who are read, and this, though always hearing the same things? You have yourself confessed that the same things are said. 

Were I to say this as a reason for finding fault with you, you would need to have recourse to quite a different excuse, instead of this which is the very thing you find fault with.— Do not you exhort your son? Now if he should say, Always the same things! would not you count it an insult? It would be time enough to talk of the same things, when we both knew the things, and exhibited them in our practice. Or rather, even then, the reading of them would not be superfluous. What equal to Timothy? Tell me that: and yet to him says Paul, Give attention to reading, to exhortation. 

For it is not possible, I say not possible, ever to exhaust the mind of the Scriptures. It is a well which has no bottom. I said, says the Preacher, I have become wise: and then it departed from me. Shall I show you that the things are not the same? How many persons, do you suppose, have spoken upon the Gospels? And yet all have spoken in a way which was new and fresh. For the more one dwells on them, the more insight does he get, the more does he behold the pure light. Look, what a number of things I am going to speak of:— say, what is narrative? What is prophecy? What is parable? What is type? What is allegory? What is symbol? What are Gospels?  

Again, tell me, how do the Gospels differ from the Prophets? Why are not the Prophecies also called Gospels, good tidings? For they tell the same things: for instance, The lame shall leap as an hart.  The Lord shall give the word to them that preach the Gospel: and, A new heaven and a new earth. Why are not those also called Gospels? But if, while you do not so much as know what Gospels mean, you so despise the reading of the Scriptures, what shall I say to you?— Let me speak of something else. Why four Gospels? Why not, ten? Why not twenty? If many have taken in hand to set forth a narrative, why not one person? Why they that were disciples [i.e. Apostles]? Why they that were not disciples? 

But why any Scriptures at all? And yet, on the contrary, the Old Testament says, I will give you a New Testament. Where are they that say, Always the same things? If you knew these, that, though a man should live thousands of years, they are not the same things, ye would not say this. Believe me, I will not tell you the answers to any of these questions; not in private, not in public: only, if any find them out, I will nod assent. For this is the way we have made you good-for-nothing, by always telling you the things ready to your hands, and not refusing when we ought. Look, you have questions enough: consider them, tell me the reasons. 

(From Chrysostom's Homily 19 on the Acts of the Apostles.)

Saturday, 24 January 2015

"Feeding upon Beauty": Francis de Sales on reception of the Holy Eucharist

If men of the world ask why you communicate so often, tell them that it is that you may learn to love God; that you may be cleansed from imperfections, set free from trouble, comforted in affliction, strengthened in weakness. Tell them that there are two manner of men who need frequent Communion--those who are perfect, since being ready they were much to blame did they not come to the Source and Fountain of all perfection; and the imperfect, that they may learn how to become perfect; the strong, lest they become weak, and the weak, that they may become strong; the sick that they may be healed, and the sound lest they sicken. Tell them that you, imperfect, weak and ailing, need frequently to communicate with your Perfection, your Strength, your Physician. Tell them that those who are but little engaged in worldly affairs should communicate often, because they have leisure; and those who are heavily pressed with business, because they stand so much in need of help; and he who is hard worked needs frequent and substantial food. Tell them that you receive the Blessed Sacrament that you may learn to receive it better; one rarely does that well which one seldom does. Therefore, my child, communicate frequently,--as often as you can, subject to the advice of your spiritual Father. Our mountain hares turn white in winter, because they live in, and feed upon, the snow, and by dint of adoring and feeding upon Beauty, Goodness, and Purity itself in this most Divine Sacrament you too will become lovely, holy, pure.

'How to Communicate', from St Francis de Sales Introduction to the Devout Life, II.21.

Friday, 23 January 2015

Liturgy and "the enchantment leap"

From The Sub-dean's Stall, an important call to retrieve an older, richer, more meaningful understanding of the laity's participation in the Liturgy:

Often we’ll see a parish decide that they will give lay people an “expanded” role in the liturgy.  Perhaps they’ll read the Gospel or perhaps they’ll say the Words of Institution with the priest.  Sadly, this does little to actually make it the work of the people – it simply confuses the roles of lay and ordained and blurs the very distinct ministries with which we are all charged.  The work of all Christians is the listen and obey God.

The work of the priest is to hear the voice of God and to be faithful in administering the Sacraments.  The work of the deacon is to hear the voice of God and to be a living bridge between Gospel proclamation in the liturgy and Gospel proclamation in the world.  The work of a lay person is to hear the voice of God and to offer their whole heart and mind and body in worship and adoration – within the liturgy and in their daily lives.  The liturgy is a place of consummate cooperation not because we all must grab our part but because we all are charged with reverent presence and adoration as its patterns of grace shape and mold us.

It is the infrastructure – the critical place of encounter with one another and with God – that allows us to claim to be a community of faith.

This is not, please be clear, an admonition that lay people should do less in liturgical worship.  I am a huge proponent of lay sub-deacons at the Altar, of full processions, and of rich liturgical expressions that require many hands.  It is, however, a reflection that we in the Church too often define “work” by how much it reflects busyness.  When we say “work of the people” it implies not only entitlement but also degrades, in its own way, the role of the person who simply needs to dwell in the beauty of holiness.

Related to this, Unsystematic Theology refers to the Peace and the traditional practice in Latin rite liturgies of those at the Altar engaging in a stylised embrace:

I mentioned that I preferred the approach of my former college, where each of us exchanged a somewhat stylised embrace with our near neighbours, rather than shaking hands. I prefer it for two reasons: firstly, because it is a liturgical action, a continuation and extension of what is happening at the altar, rather than a break in it. But secondly, we hugged each other because we genuinely felt we were a community, even a family – albeit a sometimes dysfunctional one. A handshake, by contrast, is the greeting between strangers who have just been introduced.

Put the two postings together, and you get something quite interesting for contemporary catholic Anglicanism - the realization that an ancient approach to liturgy has the potential to resonate in the contemporary cultural context in a manner that some contemporary approaches to liturgical reform and corporate worship have failed to do.

Participation is not the busyness incentivised by the Market  - it is reverent presence and adoration.  The Pax is not a somewhat banal secular greeting imported into the liturgy - it is a sacramental expression of unity and love.  Neither are utilitarian or functionalist.  Both are counter-cultural practices which bring us deeper into the Mystery of what it is to be the Church.

This leads us then to a recent NYT column by David Brooks on what he terms "the enchantment leap", which ocurs "when something dry and utilitarian erupts into something passionate, inescapable and devotional" in our most intimate relationships, our studies, our vocation:

In love, of course, the shift starts with vulnerability, not calculation. The people involved move from selfishness to service, from prudent thinking to poetic thinking, from a state of selection to a state of need, from relying on conscious thinking to relying on their own brilliant emotions.

When you look at all the people looking for love and vocation today, you realize we live in a culture and an online world that encourages a very different mind-set; in a technical culture in which humanism, religion and the humanities, which are the great instructors of enchantment, are not automatically central to life.

I have to guess some cultures are more fertile for enchantment — that some activities, like novel-reading or music-making, cultivate a skill for it, and that building a capacity for enchantment is, these days, a countercultural act and a practical and fervent need.

It's an important question to ask of our approach to liturgy: is it merely utilitarian, a comfortable reflection of Market culture, or does it embody "the enchantment leap", leading us to encounter and experience the fullness of love, life and grace in the Mystery of Trinity, Incarnation, Passion and Resurrection?

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Liberal catholic? Rethinking a term in light of Gore

A particular bugbear of catholicity and covenant is the term, in the Anglican context, 'liberal catholic'.  Too easily and too often it has come to mean - to use the phrase from the recent address given by Company of Voices - little more than "liberals in vestments": catholic appearance without catholic (Christocentric, sacramental, patristic) substance.

It is useful, then, to listen to Charles Gore's understanding of the phrase and how he regarded it essentially as ressourcement.  Not, in other words, a theological method conformed to Enlightenment norms, but an ecclesial liberality to enable and faciliate an ongoing retrieval of patristic theologies and norms:

Now if we can detach our minds from present controversies and look at the Church of England as it has stood objectively in history, I apprehend that broadly there is no question what it has stood for amongst the religious communities of Europe since the Reformation. It has stood for what can, I think, be best described as a liberal or scriptural Catholicism: that is to say it has stood to maintain the ancient fundamental faith of the Catholic Church, as expressed in creeds and conciliar decisions of the undivided Church, and the ancient structure of the Church, as depending upon the successions of bishops, and the requirement of episcopal ordination for the ministry, and the ministration of the ancient sacraments and rites of the Church by the methods and on the principles which it believed to be primitive. On such a basis it has claimed to stand as part of the Catholic Church; and at the same time it has associated itself with the Protestants in what it believed to be their legitimate protest and appeal their protest against the exaggerated claim of the mediaeval papacy and the mediaeval accumulation of dogma, and their appeal to the primitive Church, and especially to Scripture, as the sole final testing-ground of dogmatic requirement so that "whatever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man that it should be believed as an article of the faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation"; and even things "ordained by general councils as necessary to salvation have neither strength nor authority unless it may be declared that they be taken out of Holy Scripture." This scriptural test, frequently reiterated in our formulas, is the safeguard of liberty against the constant tendency to exaggerate ecclesiastical authority and to accumulate dogma. It is this appeal to Scripture constantly insisted upon which qualifies the Catholicism of the Anglican Church as scriptural or liberal.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Confirmation and the sacramental path to discipleship

Responding to a Covenant posting arguing for the reception of the eucharist by baptized infants, Haligweorc urges Anglicans to engage in wider reflection about sacramental discipleship:

Church is fundamentally about a sacramental path to discipleship.

Everything from how we comprehend the coherence between the local church and the mysticalChurch, how we enter the church, how the church frames and provides its rites and sacraments, how the church frames and understands its saints must proceed from an understanding of the church as a mystical vehicle for the grace of God given, received, and expressed normatively in her sacraments.
Baptismal ecclesiology is a very important piece of this complete vision—necessary but not sufficient!

What we need to do now is to flesh out the rest of our sacramental ecclesiology in a clear and coherent way that reflects deep continuity with the Scriptures and the Apostolic faith and is true to our current experience and context. Until this has occurred, we will find ourselves running around with incoherent band-aid fixes…

Part of this process of 'fleshing out the rest of our sacramental ecclesiology' must, of course, include confirmation.  The traditional Anglican pattern of initiation - baptism, confirmation, eucharist - has fallen out of favour in recent decades, seemingly routed by an ecclesial pincer movement.  On the left flank, the Inter-Anglican Liturgical Consultation has relegated confirmation from sacrament to a mere "pastoral rite", because "Baptism is complete sacramental initiation and leads to participation in the eucharist".  On the right flank, Roman Catholicism beginning in the 19th century and becoming widespread in the 20th, separated first reception of the eucharist from confirmation, moving first communion to an earlier age in a child's life.  This, however, has not been without some debate in RC circles, and Benedict XVI made his preference clear for baptism-confirmation-eucharist.

Perhaps what we might want to consider is the loss of confirmation's relationship to baptism when the traditional order of the rites of sacramental initiation is lost.  Confirmation can too easily become, in this context, a mere "pastoral rite" rather possessing an integral - albeit extended in time - relationship to baptism.  That integral relationship is given expression in the 1662 confirmation prayer:

Almighty and everliving God, who hast vouchsafed to regenerate these thy servants by Water and the Holy Ghost, and hast given unto them forgiveness of all their sins: Strengthen them, we beseech thee, O Lord, with the Holy Ghost the Comforter ...

What is more, the traditional Anglican order maintains the patristic order - baptism-confirmation/chrismation-eucharist.  We need to recall that when Augustine said of baptised infants, "they share in this Table", he was talking of infants who had received chrismation as an integral part of baptism.  William Harmless quotes Augustine on this:

the sacrament of chrism is ... numbered among the class of visible signs, like baptism itself.

Harmless goes on to note that 'chrismation' included the prayer for the sevenfold gifts of the Spirit and the laying on of hands.

It is this patristic pattern of sacramental discipleship which is maintained by the traditional Anglican pattern of initiation.  Now, this is not to say that important questions cannot be raised (and catholicity and covenant has sought to ask some of these in the past).  If confirmation does not occur until early teenage years (althought there is no reason why it could not be considerably earlier), we are expecting children to grow in discipleship while not participating in the eucharist for a very considerable period of time.  This would lead us to then reflect on the Orthodox discipline, the same discipline known to Augustine - all, irrespective of age, receive the three sacraments of initiation at the same time, baptism-confirmation/chrismation-eucharist.

The strong preference of catholicity and covenant is for the patristic/Orthodox practice.  If, however, we accept that the Orthodox practice is unlikely to become normative in Anglicanism (or, indeed, in Roman Catholicism), we are left with anamolous pastoral situations irrespective of the route we take.  Yes, the traditional Anglican order of baptism-confirmation-eucharist, leaves children for a period of time not participating in the eucharist.  However, placing reception of the eucharist before confirmation undoes the patristic order of sacramental initiation and undermines the sacramentality of confirmation in today's church.

In the comments on the Covenant piece on infant communion, Bishop Dan Martins of Springfield said:

I believe a Christian baptized as an infant should not be able to remember his or her first communion. If intellectual assent is not required for baptism, it should not be required for communion–at least, not if one believes in the objective efficacy of the sacraments.

The same, of course, can (should?) apply to confirmation.  But in the absence of a complete retrieval of the patristic/Orthodox practice, is it not better for Anglicans to at least retain the patristic order for the sacraments of initiation?  Is this a more coherent sacramental path to discipleship than the alternatives?

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Guardini on silence before the Collect

We do not take the introductory "Let us pray" seriously enough.

The procedure should really be as follows.  Folding his hands, the priest says:"Oremus - let us pray." Now there is silence for a good while, during which the individual believer, taking the mystery of the day as his theme, prays for his own intention and for the intention of the congregation.  This silent, manifold praying is then gathered up by the priest and expressed in the few sentences of the Collect, so that it brief words are filled with all the vitality that has just silently lifted to God.  Now its terseness no longer seems inadequate, but rich and recapitulative.  By studying the Collects beforehand, we could make them the vehicles of our intentions, as they were meant to be.

From Romano Guardini's Meditations before Mass, on the introductory "Let us pray" to the Collect of the day.

Monday, 19 January 2015

Can Anglicanism be 'wild and weird'?

Blogging from a conference on 'the recovery of mystery in a secular age',  hosted by the Orthodox Eighth Day Institute, Rod Dreher offers reflections on its proceedings:

On the panel discussion, Catholic theologian Bo Bonner made an intriguing suggestion: that we need our Christianity to quit trying to conform to the world, and instead to “be a lot stranger.” His point is that if young people are given the choice between unbelief and a faith that puts a light God gloss on the same consumerism and materialism that everybody else lives with, then who can blame young people for rejecting it? Because that is not historic Christianity. The real thing is wild, and weird; it is not a set of ideas, but a way of life. 

He goes on to quote from a recent column by French RC commentator Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, which points to signs of renewal in French Catholicism.  Amongst the signs is the Communaut√© Saint-Martin:

Vocations have stabilized for some time now and have been showing slow but steady growth for years. The Community of Saint Martin, a congregation started in the 70s by just one priest, whose members pray in Latin using the new, post-Vatican II Missal — making them suspect to both the traditionalist wing of the Church, who distrust the New Missal, and the progressive wing, who dislike the use of Latin — now has one of the biggest seminaries in the country.

A community of priests, rooted in the Church's Christological centre, celebrating Mass and praying the Hours in Latin, being a means of renewal ... in secularist France.  This is a 'making strange'.

Dreher continues:

As a matter of fact, that kind of thing — being struck by wonder, and wanting to know more about the religious and cultural vision that created something wondrous — was the beginning of my own Christian conversion, at Chartres ...

Maybe the thing to do is to own our strangeness, in all its mystery and glory. What do you think? Bo Bonner says one way to start is by talking about death — this, in a culture that is terrified of death, and goes out of its way to deny it. “We pray in cemeteries,” he said, “and that is weird.” This is not a bug, but a feature. Re-enchant the faith, re-enchant the world! A disbelief in the reality or the possibility of enchantment is a means of social control. Fight that power, and you might save a soul.

Such making strange is not an alien concept to contemporary Anglicanism.  It lies at the heart of the Radical Orthodoxy project, surely the most significant theological movement in contemporary Anglicanism.  +Rowan last year commented on the evangelistic potential of living in the secular age:

... people then rediscover Christianity with a certain freshness, because it’s not 'the boring old stuff that we learnt at school and have come to despise’. I see signs of that ... There is a curiosity about Christianity.  There is a real possibility of people engaging freshly and hearing things as if for the first time.

The Anglican liturgical tradition can be an expression both of 'making strange' and of a cultural vision that compels with its beauty.  This has been a significant part of the growth experienced by CofE cathedrals over the last decade.

In itself, however, it is not enough.  To truly, authentically 'make strange', the liturgy and cultural vision have to be rooted in a vital, robust theological tradition, expressed in preaching, evangelisation, catechising, and theological reflection. ++Justin perhaps best illustrated what this means during an interview shortly after moving to Canterbury: 

When I ask point blank if he really and truly thinks that Mary was a virgin and that Christ actually rose from the dead, he puts down his fork and replies simply: “Yes.”

I must be looking doubtful as he goes on: “Is that clear? I can say the Creed without crossing my fingers.”

Last week, Fr Richard Peers SCP, a priest in the Diocese of Southwark, published on his blog an address he gave to the Society of Catholic Priests (a society of catholic Anglican priests in the Anglican Communion).  While the particular vocation of SCP was its focus, the address also raised important question for catholic Anglicanism in general.  Particularly striking was the comparison he made between Pentecostalism and the catholic Anglican tradition:

I saw at once that Anglo-Catholicism and Pentecostalism feed from the same spring. They really believe it. They really feel it. They are unapologetic. 

Really believe it.  Really feel it.  It is increasingly true of wider Anglicanism.  'Alpha' emerged from an Anglican context.  'Pilgrim' is an important reminder of how Anglicanism has moved on from the liberal Protestantism of the 1960s, instead retrieving the richness and mystery of creedal orthodoxy.  The debates following the then Bishop of Durham's statements on the Virginal conception and birth, and the bodily Resurrection, now (thankfully) seem utterly foreign to the CofE episcopate. And +Rowan's 1998 response to Spong's call for 'a new reformation' ('death of God' theology, thrown into the microwave after 20 years on the shelf) was an important signal of the renewal of creedal orthodoxy within Anglicanism.

That said, there is a cultural 'lag' in perceptions of Anglicanism - the sense that Anglicanism, rather than being 'wild and weird' in its confession, is 'sane' and 'respectable'.  More civil servant than desert father.  Changing this cultural perception has significance for Anglican mission and evangelisation.

If the perception remains that our rich liturgical tradition and cultural vision is merely - in Bonner's words - "a light God gloss on the same consumerism and materialism that everybody else lives with", the transformative power of that liturgical tradition and cultural vision will be severely undermined.  If, on the other hand, our liturgical tradition and cultural vision is perceived and experienced as rooted and grounded in 'really believing it, really feeling it', in saying the Creed without crossed fingers, Anglicanism - and catholic Anglicanism in particular -  will have a renewed potential for growing vibrant communities of counter-cultural disciples.