Tuesday, 16 September 2014

"Dwelling more upon the Mysteries of the Faith": Pusey and the Tractarian vision

Below is an extract from Pusey's Preface to the sermons he preached in St Saviour's, Leeds, during the week after its consecration in 1845.  St Saviour's was designed to be a centre of Tractarian worship, spirituality and teaching.  Here in the Preface, Pusey allows us to glimpse the depth of the Tractarian vision:

He [i.e Pusey referring to himself] has, for many years, had a very deep conviction, that we undergo a very great loss and risk, through not dwelling more upon the Mysteries of the Faith, as brought out in the Nicene and especially the Athanasian Creed. We undergo loss; for it has been observed by S. Augustine, how God, "Who useth to good even the evil," overrules even heresies to the benefit of the Church, in that, in order to defend sacred truth against "the crafty restlessness of heretics," "many things belonging to the Catholic Faith are both considered more diligently, and understood more clearly, and preached more earnestly; and thus the question raised by the adversary becomes an occasion of learning." Especially upon the sacred doctrine of the Holy Trinity, heretical error has been, through the goodness of Divine Providence, of great benefit to devotion, by occasioning the Church, through the aid of God’s Holy Spirit, to clear the many points upon which we might otherwise be in doubt, and thus to enlarge the rich pastures in which the soul might safely range, even while she was drawing a boundary around them, which is not to be passed. We are then losing a portion of our inheritance, if we avail not ourselves of this benefit ...

There seems no reason for withholding that it was the hope of the Editor that, should the blessing of Almighty God rest upon this plan, others might be encouraged to attempt the like, who might be better qualified than himself for that great office, "to preach the Gospel to the poor." Not that there is any thing new in the plan. It was but the employment of the daily services of our Church, daily Communion, frequent Sermons, so as to occupy the minds of those who had leisure, in a series of prayer, hearing of Holy Scripture, meditation on solemn subjects, and the great Act of Christian Worship and Communion, at periods through the day. It was hoped that they who could thus retired to be with their Lord, might return to their duties in the world, with more fervent devotion to Him; while on others, who were less prepared or were unprepared for the whole extent of services so continuous and so sacred, impression, it was hoped, might, by God’s mercy, be made by the solemnity of the subjects preached on ...

On the late occasion [i.e the consecration and subsequent liturgies], God did bless very visibly the solemn services. There seemed, so to say, an atmosphere of blessing hanging around and over the Church. How should not one hope it, when, besides those gathered there, many were praying Him, in Whose Hands are the hearts of men, and Who turneth not away the face of those who seek Him? It was the very feeling of those engaged, that God was graciously in a Heavenly manner present there. He seemed amid the solemn stillness of those services to speak in silence to the soul of each; and many hearts were there by His secret call, and through the Holy Eucharist which we were permitted daily to celebrate, stirred to more resolute devoted service. To Him be the Praise, Whose was the Gift ...

God give us grace more and more to seek Him; so, if we find Him, we shall in Him find each other who shall have sought Him our common Centre; shall in His light and love at length understand one another; shall see in one another he work of His Grace, and love one another in Him, and Him in one another.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Cyprian, Noah and the God who chooses to be mythopoeic

For some eucharistic communities, particularly in the Anglican tradition, Holy Cross Day this year will have been transferred to Monday.  In the Common Worship calendar today is also the lesser feast of St Cyprian.  It seems appropriate, therefore, to attempt to acknowledge both aspects of the day and we can perhaps do so by referring to Cyprian's interpretation of one of those odd passages from the Old Testament, the drunkeness of Noah.  That Cyprian offers his interpretation in the context of condemning those who used water rather than wine in the eucharist only adds to the interesting dimension of this interpretation:

For we find in Genesis also, in respect of the sacrament in Noah, this same thing was to them a precursor and figure of the Lord's passion; that he drank wine; that he was drunken; that he was made naked in his household; that he was lying down with his thighs naked and exposed; that the nakedness of the father was observed by his second son, and was told abroad, but was covered by two, the eldest and the youngest; and other matters which it is not necessary to follow out, since this is enough for us to embrace alone, that Noah, setting forth a type of the future truth, did not drink water, but wine, and thus expressed the figure of the passion of the Lord (Epistle 62.3).


What is the account of Noah's drunkeness about?  What is the significance of this odd story of wine, nakedness, shame?  Cyprian's answer - that it is about the Passion and the Eucharist - will, of course, scandalize those in the academy and the churches, from left and right, who offer rationalist readings.  For exegetes, of left and right, still formed by the canon of the Enlightenment, how on earth could this ancient story possibly be about Passion and Eucharist?  For Cyprian, by contrast, how could it possibly not be?  What Cyprian possesses and what such rationalist readings lack is a Christological imagination, the defining characteristic of much patristic exegesis.

It is a Christological imagination, shaped by the encounter of Incarnation, Cross and Resurrection, by the experiences of prayer, eucharist, and church, which allows us to see the Cross-shaped nature of Israel's story, as our hearts and imaginations are thereby oriented towards the scandal that is so much greater than Noahs - of the wine, nakedness and shame of the Word made flesh.

And so a story we think we know upon hearing it read - Noah, drunk, naked, shamed - becomes something so much greater and so much more compelling, so much stranger than we at first imagined and so much more enticing. 

Noah, drunk, naked and shamed lead us to the scandal of the Holy Cross and the scandal of the Holy Eucharist.  In the scandal of Noah, we better grasp just how scandalous our encounter with the Holy Cross and with the Holy Eucharist actually is.  You think Noah, the hero of the Ark, drunk and naked is a scandal?  Look at God, naked, bleeding and dying on the wood of the Cross.  Taste God's blood in the wine of the Eucharist.

In the words of C.S. Lewis in Myth Become Fact, "we must not, in false spirituality, withhold our imaginative welcome".  He was talking about Nordic mythology.  The delight of the Hebrew Scriptures is that we do not need to be specialists in Nordic mythology for our imaginations to be oriented towards the "God [who] chooses to be mythopoeic".

Sunday, 14 September 2014

"You have not weakened, you have strengthened a thousand times": reading Farrer on Holy Cross Day

On Holy Cross Day, words from Austin Farrer's Lord I Believe: Suggestions for Turning the Creed into Prayer:

Here was a king whose glory was in the dust; here was a conqueror annihilated.  For just look at him.  Yes, look at him; view him well; for his is the King who is most royal through being humiliated; this is the victor who conquers through his annihilation.  This is the commander who says to his opponents:

'You have won all the battles, but you have lost the war.  Surrender to me now.  Your ammunition is all spent; I know, for it is all here, sticking in my heart.  Your last, your irresitible weapon was to have been my death.  You have used it, but you have not stopped me; here I am, still claiming your submission; here I am, still living your souls.  You have hung me here, the picture of a living death; you have not weakned, you have strengthened a thousand times, the pull of your king on the loyalty of your hearts; for see, I die to gain them.

'I came, carrying the flag of peace, and of reconciliation with the God who made you.  You bared my way with swords and dared me to advance; I came straight on, I stuck upon the points, and here I die on them.  You have killed me, but have you killed peace? I leave my flowing blood to plead the cause.  This is where love is almighty, and mercy irresistible, when your creator lays down life, to make his enemies his friends'.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

"Like that of an infant crying on its mother": Chrysostom on prayer


On this feast of St John Chrysostom, words from his Homily 6 on Prayer:

Prayer is the light of the soul, giving us true knowledge of God. It is a link mediating between God and man. By prayer the soul is borne up to heaven and in a marvellous way embraces the Lord. This meeting is like that of an infant crying on its mother, and seeking the best of milk. The soul longs for its own needs and what it receives is better than anything to be seen in the world.

Friday, 12 September 2014

A hidden coherence? Anglicans, catholic and evangelical

At the end of last month, the Anglican-Old Catholic International Co-ordinating Council (AOCICC) met in Kilkenny, Ireland.  This led catholicity and covenant to read over the 2011 AOCICC document Belonging Together in Europe.  It includes this observation:

The breadth and intensity of Anglican theological disagreement raises questions for many Old Catholics about a perceived lack of Anglican unity in faith, despite the readiness of some Anglicans to defend Anglican diversity as a contribution to what they claim to be the ‘comprehensiveness’ of faith.

This should be carefully reflected upon by Anglicans.  This, after all, is not from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.  If Old Catholics - a communion which, not unlike our own, respects dispersed authority and the autonomy of national churches - raise questions about Anglican coherence, Anglicans should sit up and pay attention.

Now, of course, there will be some nervousness about Anglicans revisiting this matter of coherence and unity in faith.  Was that not, after all, the motivation behind the failed Anglican Covenant?  The matter of Anglican coherence, however, requires a response deeper - and, perhaps, more interesting - than "the clumsy instrument of policy", to use John Milbank's description of the Covenant. As to what this might be, we get a hint when Milbank urges "a slower and more embedded approach".

The Sub-dean's Stall suggests something of what this may look like:

comprehensiveness ... is not a grab bag or buffet in which we pick one thing we like from part of the tradition and another piece we like from another.  Evangelical and Catholic strains of the faith are strongest when interwoven and viewed not as opposites on a continuum but as constituent parts of a whole way of being faithful.

In other words, there should be a mutual encrichment which occurs within Anglicanism, as catholics and evangelicals grow in communion together.  Evangelicals are enriched by the gifts of sacraments, liturgy and episcopacy.  Catholics are enriched by attention to Scripture, commitment to evangelism and the necessity of aspects of the Reformation protest as a means of retrieving patristic norms (married priests, liturgy in vernacular, communion in both kinds, robustly Christocentric devotion).

What is more, Anglicanism can here witness to certain God-given realities.  Can a Christian presence and mission in the contemporary world really be imagined without either evangelical or catholic witness?  If evangelicals and catholics cannot authentically share in mission - which necessarily requires communion - the Christian witness, particularly in the secularised societies of the North Atlantic and Europe, will be grievously impaired.  It is a distinct vocation of Anglicanism to model this communion and shared mission.

It also allows Anglicanism to offer an alternative to contemporary ecclesial models which have the potential to undermine the future of Christian witness.  Whether it is the hubris of a Neo-Calvinism which rejects the gift of the catholic tradition, and thus ends up with remarkably shallow, unimaginative and uncompelling accounts of scripture, sacrament, church and creation, or a liberal catholicism which runs frightened of serious attention to Scripture and the creeds or engaging in evangelism, Anglicanism - at its best - can model an evangelicalism which attends to and is enriched by the catholic tradition, and a catholicism renewed and reinvigorated by evangelicalism. 

Milbank has referred to the "hidden coherence" of Anglicanism.  'Well and truly hidden' might be one, somewhat cynical, response.  When even the Old Catholics warn about "the breadth and intensity of Anglican theological disagreement", the cynics might be right.  But then we can think about an evangelical Archbishop of Canterbury - a product of HTB and Alpha - establishing a monastic community, practising "the great sacrament of Reconciliation", and presiding at Benediction at Walsingham.  It may, perhaps, be the beginnings of that "slower and more embedded approach" which will manifest the hope and promise of Anglicanism's "hidden coherence". 

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Looking for the resurrection of the dead?

Following on from yesterday's post on the retrieval of catechesis, a startling example of why this is necessary.  Firstthings carries a fascinating analysis by Mark Regnerus, associate professor of sociology at the University of Texas, of a recent US survey which included the question "Do you think there will be a bodily resurrection, that is, where the bodies of deceased persons will rise again?"

As Regnerus notes,"many Christians regularly recite the Apostle’s or Nicene Creed, recounting aloud beliefs they hold to be foundational".  What is striking, however, is that belief in the resurrection of the body is strongest in those Christian traditions in which liturgical proclamation of the Creed does not occur:

belief in the resurrection is highest among the Latter Day Saints, self-identified fundamentalist Protestants, evangelical Protestants, and Pentecostals.

He continues:

It’s worse, however, among Roman Catholics, who are notably less apt to believe in the resurrection of the dead. Self-identified “traditional” Catholics are predictably the most supportive, at 58 percent among regular Mass attenders. Moderates are more skeptical (at 41 percent overall), and self-identified “liberal” Catholics are largely pessimistic. Even among those who attend Mass regularly, only 30 percent affirmed a future resurrection.

Mainline Protestants [which would include TEC] trail traditional Catholics here slightly, at 41 percent overall and 54 percent among the most faithful attenders.

So, 42% of regular Mass attenders who define themselves as 'traditional Catholics' do not believe in the resurrection of the body.  Assuming that the figure for Mainliners accurately depicts regular TEC attenders, 46% do not believe in the resurrection of the body.

Regnerus comments:

[We can detect] the telltale signs of “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism,” the erosion of a doctrine down into a generalized, amorphous version of itself. After all, “Good people go to heaven after they die” is one of the tenets of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism that sociologist Christian Smith identified in his omnibus study of religious youth in America (Soul Searching). 

Perhaps today the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead is simply too particular, too specific, too ... biblical.

Yes, we can see here quite startling evidence of the influence of MTD amongst those who regularly participate in the Eucharistic assembly.  However, does that last sentence really explain why?  Is it not the case that the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead has not been taught, has not been set forth as the unfolding of the mystery of the Resurrection of Christ and of the Eucharistic mystery?  In other words, surely this is testimony to the failure to recognise catechesis as, in Hooker's words, "the first kind" of preaching.

In his homily to catechumens at the handing over of the Creed, Augustine emphasises that the affirming faith in resurrection of the body is to proclaim our participation in the Paschal Mystery:

We believe also the resurrection of the flesh, which went before in Christ: that the body too may have hope of that which went before in its Head. The Head of the Church, Christ: the Church, the body of Christ. Our Head is risen, ascended into heaven: where the Head, there also the members. In what way the resurrection of the flesh? Lest any should chance to think it like as Lazarus's resurrection, that you may know it to be not so, it is added, Into life everlasting. God regenerate you! God preserve and keep you! God bring you safe unto Himself, Who is the Life Everlasting. Amen.

This may point to one of the most disturbing aspects of these particular findings in the survey - if we do not believe in the resurrection of the dead, have we really grasped the meaning of the Paschal Mystery, or what it means when we affirm "And the third day he rose again"?

It is a given that in the secular societies of the North Atlantic a new evangelisation is absolutely necessary.  However, can such a new evangelisation succeed in calling and nurturing new disciples if significant numbers of existing disciples within the churches do not grasp the glory, hope and mystery of the faith?  A new evangelisation is, at least to some extent, dependent on a retrieval of catechesis and a re-catechizing of the Church.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

The "first kind" of preaching: some notes on a retrieval of catechizing

Portions of Acts 14 - part of the apostolic journey of Paul and Barnabas - have been the New Testament reading at the morning office over the past few days in the CofI daily office lectionary, :

There they continued proclaiming the good news ... There they strengthened the souls of the disciples and encouraged them to continue in the faith ... And after they had appointed elders for them in each church, with prayer and fasting they entrusted them to the Lord in whom they had come to believe ... And they stayed there with the disciples for some time.

How would we describe this apostolic work?  Evangelism? Proclamation?  Preaching?

Richard Hooker perhaps suggests a different understanding:

Of public teaching or preaching, and the first kind thereof, catechising (LEP Book V, 18).

Hooker specifically refers to the Commandments, Lord's Prayer and Apostles Creed as being the content of catechising.  The Commandments "declare summarily those things which we ought to do"; the Lord's Prayer "whatsoever we should request or desire"; the Creed presents "the substance of Christian belief compendiously drawn into few and short articles".  Here, he says, is Christian faith and life "framed according to the weak and slender capacity of young beginners". 

A number of matters have brought to mind Hooker's emphasis on catechising as "the first kind" of preaching.  Firstly, at an ordination of a priest in our diocese on Sunday past, I was struck by the inclusion of the following in the CofI rite of ordination to the priesthood:

They [priests] are ... to catechize.

There is no similarly explicit statement in the Common Worship ordinal and in 1662 the duty "to instruct the youth in the Catechism" is given to deacons.  Whatever the intention behind the CofI ordinal including the call to catechize in the declaration of a priest's ministry, it does reflect deep patristic currents and Hooker's insight.

Secondly, an account in The Living Church of a flourishing, traditional catholic Anglican TEC parish in a deprived area of East Chicago, Indiana:

Evening Prayer includes a catechetical call and response from the [catechism in] Book of Common Prayer (1979), which helps worshipers memorize doctrine.

This, of course, provides a contemporary application of the rubric at the conclusion of 1662 Catechism:

The Curate of every Parish shall diligently upon Sundays and holy days, after the Second Lesson at Evening Prayer, openly in the Church instruct and examine so many Children of his Parish sent unto him, as he shall think convenient, in some part of this Catechism.

Thirdly, the recent Times story (£) on the CofE's new Pilgrim course:

"Effectively, it is like an Anglican catechism for the 21st century," says Dr Paula Gooder, theologian-in-residence at the Bible Society and one of the four main authors of Pilgrim ... In 2011 Dr Rowan Williams, then Archbishop of Canterbury, asked the House of Bishops to devise new catechetical material.

The report continues:

They have split Pilgrim into two steps.  "Follow" introduces Jesus and Christianity, with a focus on baptismal promises, the Lord's Prayer, the Ten Commandments and the Beatitudes, while "Grow" ... encompasses the Sacraments and the Creed.

It's a pattern that would be recognisable to Hooker - or, indeed, catechists in the patristic churches.

That contemporary Anglicanism in the societies of the North Atlantic is in need of re-catechizing is probably not a stance easily disputed.  Needless to say, this is not a call for rote-learning of the 1662 catechism (although experience of it would be no bad thing at all).  What can be suggested, however, is that there are models available - not the least of which is the excellent Pilgrim - which can facilitate a meaningful experience of re-catechizing, of (re-)discovering the mystery and riches of baptism and eucharist, prayer and discipleship.  There are also models which fall considerably short of this vision.

This obviously raises questions about priestly formation - are we forming priests who will be effective catechists?  At diocesan level, how do encourage the vocation to lay catechist, what shape does this take in the parishes, what formation is necessary?  Importantly, how do we ensure that contemporary catechetical material and approaches hand over to disciples an experience of scripture, prayer, creed and sacrament which - in Paula Gooder's words from the above report - "locate[s] the Christian faith in an ancient tradition that is Anglican"?

All of which may be addressed in one question - how do we retrieve 'the first kind of preaching, catechizing'?