Friday, 30 January 2015

On being surprised by the Articles

It would surely be to the Church’s benefit if we ... had 39 Articles Catholics today who do not assume that the discussion on how to interpret the Articles properly ended in 1841 [with Tract 90].

With that statement The Conciliar Anglican probably had more than a few catholic Anglicans, scanning the blogs over breakfast, choking on their cornflakes.  What is to be welcomed is the call given by The Conciliar Anglican for catholic Anglicans to wrestle with the Articles, rather than to regard them in the same way that one might an eccentric great-uncle with distinctly reactionary views: best avoided. 

Perhaps 'wrestle with the Articles' doesn't go far enough.  Part of the problem with Tract 90 is that it made the Articles tame, incapable of surprising us.  As catholic Anglicans we have our neat, easy answers to all those difficult passages in the Articles.  But the Articles are not tame, and are - perhaps - yet capable of surprising us. 

Previously, catholicity and covenant has sought to explore this with reference to catholic Anglican embarrassment over Article XXIX, "Of the Wicked which do not eat the Body of Christ in the use of the Lord's Supper".  We might also consider it regarding Article 28's teaching on how the Body of Christ is received in the Holy Eucharist:

The Body of Christ is given, taken, and eaten, in the Supper, only after an heavenly and spiritual manner. And the mean whereby the Body of Christ is received and eaten in the Supper is Faith.

This particular phrase has been regarded by evangelical Anglicans over the generations as something of 'game-changer', prohibiting a catholic understanding of Christ's presence in the Eucharist.  So much so, in fact, that the Church of Ireland's notoriously low church revision of the BCP 1878 added the above extract to the Catechism, as a means of refuting the dangerous teaching of the Oxford Movement on the Real Presence.

The eager Protestants of 1878 in the Church of Ireland should have read Thomas Aquinas.  Here he is answering the question "Whether it belongs to man alone [or also angels] to eat this sacrament spiritually?":

I answer that, Christ Himself is contained in this sacrament, not under His proper species, but under the sacramental species. Consequently there are two ways of eating spiritually. First, as Christ Himself exists under His proper species, and in this way the angels eat Christ spiritually inasmuch as they are united with Him in the enjoyment of perfect charity, and in clear vision (and this is the bread we hope for in heaven), and not by faith, as we are united with Him here.

In another way one may eat Christ spiritually, as He is under the sacramental species, inasmuch as a man believes in Christ, while desiring to receive this sacrament; and this is not merely to eat Christ spiritually, but likewise to eat this sacrament; which does not fall to the lot of the angels. And therefore although the angels feed on Christ spiritually, yet it does not belong to them to eat this sacrament spiritually ...

Both men and angels belong to the fellowship of His mystical body; men by faith, and angels by manifest vision. But the sacraments are proportioned to faith, through which the truth is seen "through a glass" and "in a dark manner." And therefore, properly speaking, it does not belong to angels, but to men, to eat this sacrament spiritually ...

Christ dwells in men through faith, according to their present state, but He is in the blessed angels by manifest vision (Summa III, 80.2).

According to Thomas, then, unlike the angels in heaven who see Christ in "His proper species", we see Him sacramentally in bread and wine.  They - the angels - eat Christ spiritually through the "clear vision" they have of him.  We feed on Christ "spiritually" and "by faith" as we partake sacramentally.  Or, as Article 28 has it, in the Sacrament of the Eucharist we partake of Christ's Body in a "spiritual manner", and "the mean ... is Faith".

Of course, this is not to suggest that the Articles are quoting from the Summa. Rather, both Articles and Summa are engaged in a dialogue with and a reflection upon Augustine's teaching on the Eucharist.  Thus this one question in the Summa quotes Augustine 3 times.  So both Articles and Summa, in their understanding of the faithful partaking of Christ spiritually by faith in the Eucharist, spring from the same root: Augustine.  And what might initially sound like a very Protestant declaration, becomes an echo of Aquinas in his reflections on Augustine.  (It's also an important reminder - as Denys Turner wonderfully demonstrates - that Thomas' eucharistic teaching is much more subtle than many of his Roman or Reformed interpreters recognised.)

This means that when we give thanks in the Eucharistic liturgy for "the spiritual food of the most precious Body and Blood of thy Son our Saviour Jesus Christ", we are not engaging in Protestant polemics.  No, we are praying with St Thomas, in a manner he recognises and understands.  Only now, he, like the angels, feeds on Christ spiritually through clear vision, while we spiritually partake of Christ sacramentally by faith in our earthly journey.

Thursday, 29 January 2015

Dogma matters

There is much that many Anglicans would agree with in Ben Irwin's "11 things I love about the Episcopal Church".  Catholicity and covenant was particularly struck by the affirmation of the strangeness of the liturgy:

While others have sought to make Christianity as accessible as possible, the liturgy of the Episcopal Church feels other, like a strange artifact calling us into a different and slightly foreign reality. Learning the liturgy was like learning a new language.

And learning a new language, of course, is part of discipleship.  Singing the songs of Zion rather than the mantras of the Market.

But then there was this:

8. How the “shared cup” matters more than “shared dogma.”

I have spent a lot of my life trying to get my theology right. I’ve spent years believing all the “right things” in order that I might belong. So it was jarring when a good friend explained to me that the sermon (the meat!) was not the center of Anglican worship. It’s the Eucharist, the common table around which we all gather.

We belong so that we might find a common faith together, not the other way around.

The liturgy actually teaches us that this is not true.  More - the liturgy enacts the opposite dynamic.  We share the eucharistic cup because of shared dogma.  We receive the sacrament of Christ's Body and Blood because we first share in the Trinitarian and Christological affirmations of the Creed. On those days when the Creed is not proclaimed, the are reminded that the Eucharistic Prayer is a proclamation of creedal dogma.  And, of course, the very fact of sharing in the Eucharist is dependent upon our Baptism, which we receive on the basis of profession of the Creed.

Now, yes, we do not go beyond this.  We as Anglicans do not ask for acceptance of a body of Anglican doctrine before receiving the Eucharist.  Baptism in the Triune Name and profession of the Creeds (the Apostles' Creed as the creed of Baptism, the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed as the Creed which expresses the Church's Trinitarian and Christological faith) are rightly regarded as establishing that we share in the communion that is the ecclesia, and thus can partake together of the Eucharist.

However, to say that this is not 'dogma' is, at best, odd.  Trinitarian and Christological dogma are precisely what the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed confesses.  Likewise the Apostles' Creed is a proclamation of dogma.  When Augustine 'handed over' the Creed to his catechumens, he first described the Creed as "the Rule of Faith" - the dogmas "scattered up and down" the Scriptures, "but thence gathered and reduced into one".

Without shared dogma, the shared cup really doesn't matter.  If we are not approaching the Sacrament of the Altar on the basis of the shared confession in Trinity and Incarnation, 'sacrament' ceases to be a category without meaning, as does 'Eucharist'.  If true God of true God, of one being with the Father, did not become flesh, did not die and rise again, the Eucharist becomes mere supper.  And we become a community whose centre ++Justin recently critiqued:

The old sermons that we have heard so often in England, which I grew up with, which if you boiled them down all they effectively said was: 'Wouldn’t the world be a nicer place if we were all a bit nicer?'

What ++Justin describes was very much the result of Anglicanism being dominated by a liberal protestant theology which failed to seriously engage with the Creeds.  A similar outcome can result from the narrative which declares "the shared cup matters more than shared dogma".  It finds liturgical expression in excluding the Creed from the Eucharist - or (in some cases this might be worse) the introduction of new, contemporary 'creeds'.  As The Young Curmedgeon Priest has stated, "to dismiss or change [the Creeds] leads not to a more enlightened Church but to a more broken Church".  Rather than the Church gathered around the Christological centre, we too easily become a community vaguely centred on niceness, progressivism, reaction or whatever attitudes or ideology are attractive to us.

So no, the shared cup does not matter more than shared dogma. 

The shared cup matters because shared dogma matters.

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Hooker the Thomist

On this feast of St Thomas Aquinas, an extract from Charles Miller's excellent study Richard Hooker and the Vision of God.  Here, amidst the 16th century's fierce controversies over the nature of predestination, Miller shows how Hooker is a Thomist:

Aquinas understands God's providence to work seamlessly through its ordering of the varied 'degrees' of creation.  It works both universally and in particular, as Aquinas often repeats.  It was aximatic for him, under Dionysius' hierarchical scheme, that the perfection of goodness involved the coherent integration of multiple levels of secondary causes and effects, beautiful and good in their variety precisely because some are higher, some are lower.  Hooker seems to have that comely gradation of being in mind when he speaks of God's 'abundance' showing itself in 'variety' and what Scripture calls 'riches'.  Thus, he says, all things 'show beneficence and grace in them'.

Hooker, then, follows Aquinas closely in understanding the ways of providence.  But in addition to all the similarities just described.  Hooker follows Aquinas in his placement of predestination as a sub-set of providence.

Hooker firmly holds to the conceptual order set out in the Summa Theologiae where the question on predestination follows immediately after, and is tightly linked to, providence.  For Aquinas it is appropriate that since providence orders all things to an end, providence implies predestination for humankind.  'Predestinatio', in fact, means for Aquinas being propelled forward toward an end as an arrow is shot toward a target.  Just as providence leads involuntary creation towards its appointed ends, so predestination sends humankind, as a voluntary agent, towards its supernatural end.  Hooker does not use that precise image but he accepts the same teleological definition, so that for Hooker, as for Aquinas, predestination is a part of God's providential care for humankind.

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

On Holocaust Memorial Day - "There is the Body of Christ!"

We [Jews and Christians] live in the same house, of what Christians say with St. Paul that the Jewish Christ is the cornerstone (Eph. 2:20).  To change the metaphor somewhat, we live in the house of the one people of God only as we live with the Jews of whom Jesus was - and eternally is - one.  The second person of the Holy Trinity, true God and true man, is Jewish flesh, as is the eucharistic body we receive, as is the body of Christ into which we are incorporated by baptism.  It is said that when John XXIII, then papal nuncio in Paris, first saw the pictures of the Jewish corpses at Auschwitz, he exclaimed, "There is the Body of Christ!"

Richard John Neuhaus "Salvation is from the Jews" in Braaten and Jenson (eds.) Jews and Christians: People of God (2003).

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?