A Holy Week Sermon for Trinity College

I was asked by the Dean of Divinity to take a turn preaching at our weekly Community Eucharist in Trinity College on Tuesday in Holy Week (March 27, 2018). The readings appointed in the Revised Common Lectionary were Isaiah 49:1–7, Psalm 71:1–14, 1 Corinthians 1:18–31, and John 12:20–36. Unbeknownst to me, the liturgical planners had decided to omit the passage from 1 Corinthians, which was quite important for my homily! Lacking the ability of St. Augustine to improvise an address in the face of unexpected readings (e.g. Enarrationes in psalmos 138[139].1), I simply read the text I had prepared, no doubt to the confusion of many.

A passing reference in the homily to “taking our own lives” as our culture’s advice of last resort in the face of suffering became unexpectedly relevant a few days later, when an article in the Globe and Mail documented an elderly couple’s decision to seek physician-assisted death together—with the blessing of their Anglican priest, who, despite the clear rubrics of the Book of Common Prayer (which forbids the use of the burial service for those who die “by their own wilful act while in a sound state of mind”), assured them that they could have their funeral at St. James Cathedral. Needless to say, I am, like Toronto’s diocesan bishop, Colin Johnson, very much opposed to what we now euphemistically call “physician-assisted dying,” and it is especially painful to me to know that this couple ended their lives on the very evening when the following homily was preached. I pray for them and for all who are similarly tempted, and also for myself, that I may “enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matt. 26:41).

* * *

“Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus.’ Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified’” (John 12:20–23).

“The hour has come.” “Now is my soul troubled.” “Now is the judgement of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out.” Now. Now. Now. In the Gospel according to John, for the three years of his public ministry, with Jesus it has always been “not yet.” At the wedding at Cana: “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come” (John 2:4). When his brothers urge him to show himself to the world: “My time has not yet come, but your time is always here” (John 7:6). At Jerusalem for the festival of Tabernacles: “Then they tried to arrest him, but no one laid hands on him, because his hour had not yet come” (John 7:30). And lastly in the temple itself: “He spoke these words while he was teaching in the treasury of the temple, but no one arrested him, because his hour had not yet come” (John 8:20). But now it has come. The sharp sword so long hidden in the shadow of the Lord’s hand is at last to be drawn. The polished arrow so long hidden away in the Lord’s quiver is at last fitted to the bowstring, ready to split the air.

Our Lord announces that the hour has come when Philip and Andrew present what seems to them the somewhat irregular petition of some Greeks who wish to see him. These are not Jews, but those Gentiles known as “God-fearers” (Acts 13:16, 26). Their arrival and their attraction to Jesus show that the hour has indeed come when the commission given darkly to Isaiah will be openly fulfilled: “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations,”—that is, to the Gentiles—“that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth” (Isa. 49:6).

Yet the Lord does not receive these petitioners. He does not welcome them into the swelling band of disciples eagerly awaiting the restoration of Israel. He instead speaks of dying grains of wheat, of hating one’s life so that one may keep it. “I will indeed draw all people to myself,” he says, but only “when I am lifted up from the earth,” and not before. “Kings shall see and stand up,” as Isaiah foretold; “princes, and they shall prostrate themselves.” But whom shall they see? Before whom shall they stand, and to whom shall they prostrate themselves? Not to one who is attractive, not to one who is beloved, not to one who is victorious. But “to one deeply despised, abhorred by the nations, the slave of rulers.”

This hour that has come, this “now,” is indeed an awful, a terrible simultaneity, in which the glory of God—“Father, glorify your name”—is revealed in rejection, in shame, in suffering, in death. And this, Paul has told us, is “the wisdom of God.” It is not an aberration; it is not an obstacle to be overcome. It is everlasting. This is brought out profoundly in a favourite book of mine, Helen Waddell’s novel Peter Abelard, about the great twelfth-century theologian. Late in the story, Abelard and his companion Thibault come upon a rabbit screaming as it is strangled in a snare. They free it, but it dies in Abelard’s hands:

“Thibault,” [Abelard] said, “do you think there is a God at all? Whatever has come to me I earned it. But what did this one do?”

Thibault nodded.

“I know,” he said. “Only—I think God is in it too.”

Abelard looked up sharply.

“In it? Do you mean that it makes Him suffer, the way it does us?”

Again Thibault nodded.

“Then why doesn’t he stop it?”

“I don’t know,” said Thibault. “Unless—unless it’s like the Prodigal Son. I suppose the father could have kept him at home against his will. But what would have been the use? All this,” he stroked the limp body, “is because of us. But all the time God suffers. More than we do.” . . .

“Thibault, do you mean Calvary?”

Thibault shook his head. “That was only a piece of it—the piece we saw—in time. Like that.” He pointed to a fallen tree beside them, sawn through the middle. “That dark ring there, it goes up and down the whole length of the tree. But you only see it where it is cut across. That is what Christ’s life was; the bit of God that we saw.” . . .

“Then Thibault,” Abelard said slowly, “you think that all this,” he looked down at the quiet little body in his arms, “all the pain of the world, was Christ’s cross?”

“God’s cross,” said Thibault. “And it goes on.”

[Helen Waddell, Peter Abelard: A Novel (1933; repr. London: The Reprint Society, 1950), 269–70]

Today, in the middle of Holy Week, we are approaching the climax and centre of the liturgical year. The liturgical year does not just memorialize for us the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. It also models to us the path of conversion that our own souls must follow. In Advent, Christ knocked at the doors of our souls, seeking an entrance to cleanse their inmost longings. At Christmas and Epiphany we were dazzled by the glory, the beauty of his appearing, loving him and yearning to draw close to his perfection. But that beauty, that perfection, cannot be grasped and held as something outside ourselves.

I’m sure that many of you here are familiar with Dante’s Divine Comedy—the Inferno, the Purgatorio, and the Paradiso. I wonder, though, how many of you have read Dante’s earlier work the Vita Nuova (the “New Life”), which tells of his ecstatic love for a beautiful and gracious Florentine girl named Beatrice. Whenever he passed her in the street, and particularly whenever she greeted him, Dante felt himself transformed into a new man, filled with virtue, good will, and forgiveness of his enemies. But he has a troubling dream in which a personification of Love itself appears to him and says, in cryptic Latin, “I am like the centre of a circle to which all parts of the circumference bear an equal relation. But with you it is not so.” That is to say, “It is not enough for you to stay on the edge of the circle, receiving love and virtue at second hand through Beatrice. You must move to the centre, and be filled with love yourself.” [See Charles Williams, The Figure of Beatrice: A Study in Dante (London: Faber and Faber, 1943), 23–25.]

The journey to the centre is arduous—a journey that Dante depicted as nothing less than a trek through hell itself. That is what we have been about in Lent: moving from the circumference to the centre, through the purgation of our disordered loves.

And now we have arrived almost at the very centre, the point of simultaneity, where suffering and glory meet and are revealed as a unity. Our Lord in the Gospel speaks of it as moment of decision: “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say?” This moment is for the Gospel according to John what the other evangelists depict as the agony in Gethsemane. Lent has, or ought to have, disclosed to us the true cost of following Christ—“where I am, there will my servant be also.” In our own souls, the question is insisted upon: What should I say?

The choice is between light and darkness. “The light is with you for a little longer. . . . While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light.” When those words were first spoken in Jerusalem, there was indeed only “a little longer” for the light to shine in the world, before darkness covered the whole earth at the crucifixion. But for our souls, that “a little longer” is as long as our hearts have not been numbed to Christ’s calling. “Exhort one another every day,” says the Epistle to the Hebrews, “as long as it is called ‘today’, so that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Heb. 3:13). “Now is the acceptable time,” says St. Paul; “see, now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:2).

In this “today” of “a little longer,” we must choose between the light in which the wisdom of God is revealed, and the darkness apart from that wisdom in which we cannot see where we are going, and where there is no real destination—a darkness in which we have chosen to love our own life, and so to lose it; to remain a single grain, and so to bear no fruit. The circles and ditches of Dante’s Inferno are populated by those who have cast their choice, perhaps carelessly at first but soon with ever fiercer conviction, for the darkness of the self and its disordered loves. [See Williams, Figure of Beatrice, 117–19, 123–24.] I suspect that we daily pass such people on the sidewalk and jostle them on the subway.

But what of the light? What of this wisdom of God that Christ has become for us? In the collect today, we appealed to the God who has “made an instrument of shameful death to be for us the means of life.” To my merely worldly wisdom, I confess that this is nothing but folly. I cannot explain it; I cannot justify it. I cannot withstand in human argument those who point to human suffering as a meaningless absurdity to be avoided by all available means, if possible through technological advance, but in the last resort even by taking our own lives. And yet from the ground of my being I confess Christ crucified to be none other than the power of God, trusting that through this power, through this wisdom, I am being saved—that by the recapitulation of the way of his cross in me—in whatever form of transfigured suffering that may take—Christ is leading me, carrying me, up the steep slopes of Mount Purgatory to the source of true life in his Father, in whose presence no one may boast of any merely personal possession—that by believing in the light, entrusting myself wholly to the light, I, with all of you, am being transformed into a true child of that light.

In a few minutes, we will gather at this altar to receive in our hands and take into our very bodies the sacrament that proclaims the Lord’s death until he comes. It is a moment in which our choice is renewed and affirmed. It is also a moment of supreme thanksgiving—not that Christ has suffered in our place, leaving us free to live our own lives undisturbed; but that in his passion Christ has revealed to us the very life of God himself, in which the cross is present from top to bottom, and has empowered us to hate our life in this world, and so to keep it for eternal life in him.

C. S. Lewis on the Christian Pilgrimage

lewis-1950s

C. S. Lewis in his study at Magdalene College, Cambridge, in the late 1950s

Back in 2013, I was invited to participate in a panel discussion at an “Imago” event at Trinity College called Remembering C. S. Lewis, marking the fiftieth anniversary of Lewis’s death in 1963. Someone who attended that event subsequently recommended that I be invited to give a lecture on Lewis to a group called the “Toronto Round Table.” The Round Table began very early in the twentieth century as a movement to strengthen the ties of the British Commonwealth. Nowadays, in Toronto at least, it survives as a very congenial “lunch and lecture” series that meets eight times a year and is attended largely by retired academics.

After the organizers rejected my repeated pleas that I was not an expert on Lewis but merely an appreciative reader of his writings, I finally agreed to give a talk entitled “C. S. Lewis on the Christian Pilgrimage.” This was delivered last week, on May 9, 2018, when the group met in the Combination Room of Trinity College.

A fifty-minute lecture could hardly do justice to the whole sweep of the topic I had set for myself. I decided to limit my investigation to just two of Lewis’s works: his first work of Christian fiction, The Pilgrim’s Regress (1933), and his last novel, Till We Have Faces (1956).

The former is an allegory, in the style of John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, recounting Lewis’s intellectual and spiritual progress from his early days in “Puritania” (an allegorical representation of his childhood experience of the Church in Belfast, Northern Ireland) through the various systems and philosophies that captured his thoughts until his decision to return to Christianity in 1931. The “regress” of the title refers to how the converted soul must re-traverse all the ground it covered before its conversion, seeing the world now as it truly appears to the eyes of enlightened faith.

The latter work is a re-imagination of the pagan myth of Cupid and Psyche, told from the perspective of Psyche’s older half-sister, Orual (Maia), and set in a “barbarian” city state (“Glome”) on the margins of Hellenistic civilization. An important character in the story is a Greek slave, “The Fox” (so named from his red hair), who teaches a rationalist, almost atheistic, Greek philosophy to Orual and her sisters, and scoffs at the primitive local cult of “Ungit” (Glome’s version of Aphrodite/Venus) and the “God of the Mountain” (Cupid). (The Fox is pretty clearly inspired by Lewis’s own private tutor, W. T. Kirkpatrick, who gave Lewis the equivalent of his high school education and prepared him to apply to Oxford.) The story is mostly concerned with how “natural human affection” (instantiated in the older sister, Orual/Maia) is not sufficient in itself, but must be redeemed. As Lewis says in a letter to a colleague, the character Istar/Psyche represents the anima naturaliter Christiania (the “naturally Christian soul”), which must overcome the jealousy and resistance of family and friends who are bound to it by the strongest ties of natural affection. It is written by Orual as a “complaint against the gods.” Only at the end, in a “Part 2,” is she brought to see that her complaint is not against the gods, but against her own selfishness.

Working through these two books, I thought I discerned five aspects of “Christian pilgrimage” worthy of comment:

  1. Christianity in both stories is presented as the tertium quid that reconciles apparently contradictory systems, whether the (scriptural) Rules vs. the (natural) Images in Pilgrim’s Regress, or the traditional, mysterious sacrificial worship of “Ungit” vs. the clear rationalism of Hellenistic philosophy in Till We Have Faces.
  2. In both stories, the Christian journey is set back by an avoidable “false start”: much labour and pain could have been avoided by taking the simpler way. (John accepting the help of Mother Kirk to cross the canyon in Pilgrim’s Regress; Orual believing in Psyche’s invisible palace, of which she is granted a fleeting glimpse.)
  3. Christian conversion involves a transfigured view of reality. (John and Vertue’s “regress” along the road; Psyche’s ability to see Cupid’s palace, Orual’s transformed retrospective on her own life in Part 2.)
  4. At the point of conversion, we are held back by “wraiths” who attempt to persuade us against the fatal decision. (The various abstract systems in Pilgrim’s Regress; personal claims in Till We Have Faces.)
  5. Lastly, I was struck by an apparent contrast. In Pilgrim’s Regress, the pilgrim “John” and his companion “Vertue” end their journey with victory, slaying the dragons of the North (intellectual error) and the South (carnal passion). But Orual’s pilgrimage is much more complex and mixed, showing that even our deepest loves are tinged with exploitation of our neighbours. This I take to be Lewis’s more mature view—though the idea is found at least as early as his 1941 sermon “The Weight of Glory.”

My lecture was delivered spontaneously, not from a script. But it was based on the following quotations from Lewis’s works and letters. The above points may serve to show how the quotations were all weaved together to try to make my points.

1. A Defence from Lewis for an Amateur Lecture on Lewis

It often happens that two schoolboys can solve difficulties in their work better than the master can. When you took the problem to the master, as we all remember, he was very likely to explain what you understood already, to add a great deal of information which you didn’t want, and say nothing at all about the thing that was puzzling you. I have watched this from both sides of the net; for when, as a teacher myself, I have tried to answer questions brought me by pupils, I have sometimes, after a minute, seen that expression settle down on their faces which assured me that they were suffering exactly the same frustration which I had suffered from my own teachers. The fellow-pupil can help more than the master because he knows less. The difficulty we want him to explain is one he has recently met. The expert met it so long ago that he has forgotten. He sees the whole subject, by now, in such a different light that he cannot conceive what is really troubling the pupil; he sees a dozen other difficulties which ought to be troubling him but aren’t. In this book, then, I write as one amateur to another.

Reflections on the Psalms (1958), 1–2.

2. “History” on Scripture vs. Implanted Desire for God

“Not all Stewards are equally travelled men. But those who are, know perfectly well that the Landlord has circulated other things besides the Rules. And there are more than you suppose who are illiterate all their lives, or who, at best, never learn to read well.”

“And for these people the pictures are the right thing?”

“I would not quite say that. The pictures alone are dangerous, and the Rules alone are dangerous. That is why the best thing of all is to find Mother Kirk at the very beginning, and to live from infancy with a third thing which is neither the Rules nor the pictures and which was brought into the country by the Landlord’s Son. That, I say, is the best: never to have known the quarrel between the Rules and the pictures. But it very rarely happens. The Enemy’s agents are everywhere at work, spreading illiteracy in one district and blinding men to the pictures in another. Even where Mother Kirk is nominally the ruler men can grow old without knowing how to read the Rules. Her empire is always crumbling. But it never quite crumbles: for as often as men become Pagans again, the Landlord again sends them pictures and stirs up sweet desire and so leads them back to Mother Kirk even as he led the actual Pagans long ago. There is, indeed, no other way. . . . That is the definition of a Pagan—a man so travelling that if all goes well he arrives at Mother Kirk’s chair and is carried over this gorge.”

The Pilgrim’s Regress, 152–53.

3. The “Devil’s Plan” to Cut Us Off from History

Only the learned read old books and we have now so dealt with the learned that they are of all men the least likely to acquire wisdom by doing so. We have done this by inculcating The Historical Point of View. The Historical Point of View, put briefly, means that when a learned man is presented with any statement in an ancient author, the one question he never asks is whether it is true. He asks who influenced the ancient writer, and how far the statement is consistent with what he said in other books, and what phase in the writer’s development, or in the general history of thought, it illustrates, and how it affected later writers, and how often it has been misunderstood (specially by the learned man’s own colleagues) and what the general course of criticism on it has been for the last ten years, and what is the “present state of the question”. To regard the ancient writer as a possible source of knowledge—to anticipate that what he said could possibly modify your thoughts or your behaviour—this would be rejected as unutterably simple-minded. And since we cannot deceive the whole human race all the time, it is most important thus to cut every generation off from all others; for where learning makes a free commerce between the ages there is always the danger that the characteristic errors of one may be corrected by the characteristic truths of another. But thanks be to our Father and the Historical Point of View, great scholars are now as little nourished by the past as the most ignorant mechanic who holds that “history is bunk.”

The Screwtape Letters (1944), ch. 27.

4. Doubtfully Missing the Easy Way (Pilgrim’s Regress)

“You have neither of you any chance at all unless I carry you down.”

Both the young men turned at the sound. An old woman was seated in a kind of rocky chair at the very edge of the precipice.

“Oh, it’s you, Mother Kirk, is it?” said Vertue, and added in an undertone to John, “I have seen her about the cliffs more than once. Some of the country people say she is second-sighted, and some that she is crazy.”

“I shouldn’t trust her,” said John in the same tone. “She looks to me much more like a witch.” Then he turned to the old woman and said aloud: “And how would you carry us down, mother? We would be more fit to carry you.”

“I could do it, though,” said Mother Kirk, “by the power that the Landlord has given me.”

“So you believe in the Landlord, too?” said John.

“How can I not, dear,” said she, “when I am his own daughter-in-law?”

. . .

“I will carry you down in the morning, if you like,” said Mother Kirk. “Only mind you, it is a dangerous place, and you must do exactly as I tell you.”

“If the place is dangerous—” began John, when Vertue, who had been struck by the woman’s last words, suddenly broke in:

“I am afraid it is no use, mother,” he said; “I cannot put myself under anyone’s orders. I must be the captain of my soul and the master of my fate. But thank you for your offer.”

. . .

“We are thinking, mother,” he [Vertue] said, “that we should like to make sure for ourselves that there is no place where we cannot get down without being carried. You see my own legs have served me so far—and I should not like to start being carried now.”

“It will do you no harm to try,” answered Mother Kirk. “And I should not wonder if you find a way down. Getting up the other side is another question, to be sure; but perhaps we shall meet again when it comes to that.”

The Pilgrim’s Regress, 77–78, 81–82.

5. Wilfully Missing the Easy Way (Till We Have Faces)

“Psyche,” said I, leaping up, “I can’t bear this any longer. You have told me so many wonders. If this is all true, I’ve been wrong all my life. Everything has to be begun over again. Psyche, it is true? You’re not playing a game with me? Show me. Show me your palace.”

“Of course I will,” she said, rising. “Let us go in. And don’t be afraid whatever you see or hear.”

“Is it far?” said I.

She gave me a quick, astonished look. “Far to where?” she said.

“To the palace, to this god’s house.”

. . .

“Orual,” she said, beginning to tremble, “what do you mean?”

I too became frightened, though I had yet no notion of the truth. “Mean?” said I. “Where is the palace? How far have we to go to reach it?”

She gave one loud cry. Then, with white face, staring hard into my eyes, she said, “But this is it, Orual! It is here! You are standing on the stairs of the great gate!”

. . .

“Aiai!” she mourned, “so this is what he meant. You can’t see it. You can’t feel it. For you, it is not there at all. Oh, Maia . . . I am very sorry.”

. . .

It was already twilight and there was much mist in the valley. The pools of the river as I went down to drink (for I was thirsty as well as cold) seemed to be dark holes in the greyness. And I got my drink, ice-cold, and I thought it steadied my mind. But would a river flowing in a god’s secret valley do that, or the clean contrary? This is another of the things to be guessed. For when I lifted my head and looked once more into the mist across the water, I saw that which brought my heart into my throat. There stood the palace; grey, as all things were grey in that hour and place, but solid and motionless, wall within wall, pillar and arch and architrave, acres of it, a labyrinthine beauty. As she had said, it was like no house ever seen in our land or age. Pinnacles and buttresses leaped up—no memories of mine, you would think, could help me to imagine them—unbelievably tall and slender, pointed and prickly as if stone were shooting out into branch and flower. No light showed from any window. It was a house asleep. And somewhere within it, asleep also, someone or something—how holy, or horrible, or beautiful or strange?—with Psyche in its arms. . . . I was in great fear. Perhaps it was not real. I looked and looked to see if it would not fade or change. Then as I rose (for all this time I was still kneeling where I had drunk), almost before I stood on my feet, the whole thing had vanished. . . .

And now, you who read, give judgement. That moment when I either saw or thought I saw the House—does it tell against the gods or against me? Would they (if they answered) make it a part of their defence?—say it was a sign, a hint, beckoning me to answer the riddle one way rather than the other? I’ll not grant them that. What is the use of a sign which is itself only another riddle?

Till We Have Faces, 124–25, 128–29, 141–42.

6. Faith Transfigures our View of Reality

Then I dreamed that the Guide armed John and Vertue at all points and led them back through the country they had just been travelling, and across the canyon again into this country. And they came up out of the canyon at the very place where the main road meets it by Mother Kirk’s chair. I looked forward in the same direction where they were looking, expecting to see on my left the bare tableland rising to the North with Sensible’s house a little way off, and on my right the house of Mr. Broad and the pleasant valleys southward. But there was nothing of the kind: only the long straight road, very narrow, and on the left crags rising within a few paces of the road into ice and mist and, beyond that, black cloud: on the right, swamps and jungle sinking almost at once into black cloud. . . .

“Courage,” said Slikisteinsauga, “you are seeing the land as it really is.”

The Pilgrim’s Regress, 176.

7. “Wraiths” Opposing Us at the Moment of Conversion

On the floor of Peccatum Adae [Sin of Adam] stood Mother Kirk crowned and sceptred in the midst of the bright moonlit circle left by the silent people. . . .

“I have come to give myself up,” he [John] said.

“It is well,” said Mother Kirk. “You have come a long way round to reach this place, whither I would have carried you in a few moments. But it is very well.”

“What must I do?” said John.

“You must take off your rags,” said she, “as your friend has done already, and then you must dive into this water.”

“Alas,” said he, “I have never learned to dive.”

“There is nothing to learn,” said she. “The art of diving is not to do anything new but simply to cease doing something. You have only to let yourself go.”

. . .

First came the wraith of old Enlightenment and said, “There’s still time. Get away and come back to me and all this will vanish like a nightmare.”

Then came the wraith of Media Halfways and said, “Can you really risk losing me forever? I know you do not desire me at this moment. But for ever? Think. Don’t burn your boats.”

And the wraith of old Halfways said, “After all—has this anything to do with the Island as you used to imagine it? Come back and hear my songs instead. You know them.”

The wraith of young Halfways said, “Aren’t you ashamed? Be a man. Move with the times and don’t throw your life away for an old wives’ tale.”

The wraith of Sigmund said, “You know what this is, I suppose. Religious melancholia. Stop while there is time. If you dive, you dive into insanity.”

The wraith of Sensible said, “Safety first. A touch of rational piety adds something to life: but this salvationist business . . . well! Who knows where it will end? Never accept unlimited liabilities.”

The wraith of Humanist said, “Mere atavism. You are diving to escape your real duties. All this emotionalism, after the first plunge, is so much easier than virtue in the classical sense.”

The wraith of Broad said, “My dear boy, you are losing your head. These sudden conversions and violent struggles don’t achieve anything. We have had to discard so much that our ancestors thought necessary. It is all far easier, far more gracious and beautiful than they supposed.”

But at that moment the voice of Vertue broke in:

“Come on, John,” he said, “the longer we look at it the less we shall like it.” And with that he took a header into the pool and they saw him no more. And how John managed it or what he felt I did not know, but he also rubbed his hands, shut his eyes, despaired, and let himself go. It was not a good dive, but, at least, he reached the water head first.

The Pilgrim’s Regress, 168–70.

8. We Ourselves are the Wraiths Opposing Others’ Conversion

[The Fox:] “And now Psyche must go down into the deadlands to get beauty in a casket from the Queen of the Deadlands, from death herself; and bring it back to give to Ungit so that Ungit will become beautiful. But this is the law for her journey. If, for any fear or favour or love or pity, she speaks to anyone on the way, then she will never come back to the sunlit lands again. She must keep straight on in silence, till she stands before the throng of the Queen of Shadows. All’s at stake. Now watch.”

He needed not tell me that. We both watched. Psyche went on and on, deeper into the earth; colder, deeper, darker. But at last there came a chilly light on one side of her way, and there (I think) the great tunnel or gallery in which she journeyed opened out. For there, in that cold light, stood a great crowd of rabble. Their speech and clothes showed me at once that they were people of Glome. I saw the faces of some I knew.

“Istra! Princess! Ungit!” they called out, stretching their hands towards her. “Stay with us. Be our goddess. Rule us. Speak oracles to us. Receive our sacrifices. Be our goddess.”

Psyche walked on and never looked at them.

“Whoever the enemy is,” said I, “he’s not very clever if he thinks she would falter for that.”

“Wait,” said the Fox.

Psyche, her eyes fixed straight ahead, went further on and further down, and again, on the left side of her road, there came a light. One figure rose up in it. I was startled at this one, and looked to my side. The Fox was with me still; but he who rose up in the cold light to meet Psyche by the wayside was also the Fox—but older, greyer, paler than the Fox who was with me.

“O Psyche, Psyche,” said the Fox in the picture (say, in that other world; it was no painted thing), “what folly is this? What are you doing, wandering through a tunnel beneath the earth? What? You think it is the way to the Deadlands? You think the gods have sent you there? All lies of priests and poets, child. It is only a cave or a disused mine. There are no deadlands such as you dream of, and no such gods. Has all my teaching taught you no more than this? The god within you is the god you should obey; reason, calmness, self-discipline. Fie, child, do you want to be a barbarian all your days? I would have given you a clear, Greek, full-grown soul. But there’s still time. Come to me and I’ll lead you out of this darkness; back to the grass plot behind the pear treas, where all was clear, hard, limited, and simple.”

But Psyche walked on and never looked at him. And presently she came to a third place where there was a little light on the left of the dark road. Amid that light something like a woman rose up; its face was unknown to me. When I looked at it I felt a pity that nearly killed my heart. It was not weeping, but you could see from its eyes that it had already wept them dry. Despair, humiliation, entreaty, endless reproach; all these were in it. And now I trembled for Psyche. I knew the thing was there only to entrap her and turn her from her path. But did she know it? And if she did, could she, so loving and full of pity, pass by it? It was too hard a test. Her eyes looked straight forward; but of course she had seen it out of the corner of her eye. A quiver ran through her. Her lip twitched, threatened with sobbing. She set her teeth in the lip to keep it straight. “O great gods, defend her,” I said to myself. “Hurry, hurry her past.”

The woman held out her hands to Psyche, and I saw that her left arm dripped with blood. Then came her voice, and what a voice it was! So deep, yet so womanlike, so full of passion, it would have moved you even if it spoke happy or careless things. But now (who could resist it?) it would have broken a heart of iron.

“Oh, Psyche,” it wailed. “Oh, my own child, my only love. Come back. Come back. Back to the old world where we were happy together. Come back to Maia.”

Psyche bit her lip till the blood came and wept bitterly. I thought she felt more grief than that wailing Orual. But that Orual had only to suffer; Psyche had to keep on her way as well. She kept on; went on out of sight, journeying always further into death. That was the last of the pictures.

The Fox and I were alone again.

“Did we really do those things to her?” I asked.

“Yes. All here’s true.”

“And we said we loved her.”

“And we did. She had no more dangerous enemies than us.”

Till We Have Faces, 312–15.

9. Youthful Image of Virtue’s Victory over the Dragon (The Pilgrim’s Regress)

I have come back with victory got—

But stand away—touch me not

Even with your clothes. I burn red-hot.

The worm was bitter. When she saw

My shield glitter beside the shaw

She spat flame from her golden jaw.

When on my sword her vomit spilt

The blade took fire. On the hilt

Beryl cracked, and bubbled gilt.

When sword and sword arm were all aflame

With the very heat that came

Out of the brute, I flogged her tame.

In her own spew the worm died.

I rolled her round and tore her wide

And plucked the heart from her boiling side.

When my teeth were in the heart

I felt a pulse within me start

As though my breast would break apart.

It shook the hills and made them reel

And spun the woods round like a wheel.

The grass singed where I set my heel.

Behemoth is my serving man!

Before the conquered hosts of Pan

Riding tamed Leviathan,

Loud I sing for well I can

RESURGAM and IO PAEAN,

IO, IO, IO, PAEAN!!

Now I know what stake I played for,

Now I know what a worm’s made for!

The Pilgrim’s Regress, 195–96.

10. Lewis on Retrospective Memory (the year of Till We Have Faces)

The gradual reading of one’s own life, seeing a pattern emerge, is a great illumination at our age. And partly, I hope, getting freed from the past as past by apprehending it as a structure.

Lewis to Bede Griffiths, Feb. 8, 1956 (Letters, 266)

11. A More Complex Reflection from the Perspective of Age (Till We Have Faces)

The complaint was the answer. To have heard myself making it was to be answered. . . . When the time comes to you at which you will be forced at last to utter the speech which has lain at the centre of your soul for years, which you have, all that time, idiot-like, been saying over and over, you’ll not talk about the joy of words. I saw well why the gods do not speak to us openly, nor let us answer. Till that word can be dug out of us, why should they hear the babble that we think we mean? How can they meet us face to face till we have faces?

. . .

[Orual is shown Psyche’s heroic trials]

“Child,” said the Fox, “Have you understood?”

“But are these pictures true?”

“All here’s true.”

“But how could she—did she really—do such things and go to such places—and not . . .? Grandfather, she was all but unscathed. She was almost happy.”

“Another bore nearly all the anguish.”

“I? Is it possible?”

“That was one of the true things I used to say to you. Don’t you remember? We’re all limbs and parts of one Whole. Hence, of each other. Men, and gods, flow in and out and mingle.”

“Oh, I give thanks. I bless the gods. Then it was really I—”

“Who bore the anguish. But she achieved the tasks. Would you rather have had justice?”

. . .

I ended my first book with the words No answer. I know now, Lord, why you utter no answer. You are yourself the answer. Before your face questions die away. What other answer would suffice? Only words, words; to be led out to battle against other words. Long did I hate you, long did I fear you. I might—— [Orual dies.]

Till We Have Faces, 311–12.

12. The “Weight” of our Neighbour’s Glory

It may be possible for each to think too much of his own potential glory hereafter; it is hardly possible for him to think too often or too deeply about that of his neighbour. The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbour’s glory should be laid on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken. It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilisations—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendours. . . . Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses. If he is your Christian neighbour, he is holy in almost the same way, for in him also Christ vere latitat—the glorifier and the glorified, Glory Himself, is truly hidden.

“The Weight of Glory” (1941), in The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses, ed. Walter Hooper (1976, 1980; repr. HarperCollins, 2000), 45–46.

Prayer Book Society USA Conference 2018

 

Baptism

Baptism from an 1810 English Book of Common Prayer (image source)

It was once again my pleasure to address the annual conference of the Prayer Book Society (USA), held in Savannah, Georgia, January 24–26, 2018, at Saint John’s Church. The theme of the conference was “The Prayer Book: Doctrine, Liturgy and Life.”

I was invited to speak on the Prayer Book and Baptism. The liturgical renewal movement of the twentieth century placed particular emphasis on what it regarded as a “recovery” of the full meaning of Christian initiation in baptism. In the Episcopal Church (USA), there has even been what has been described as a “baptismal revolution,” including a new “baptismal ecclesiology” that sees baptism and the “Baptismal Covenant” (as given in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer) as the fundamental generative reality of the Church’s life. Such a view has important implications for other aspects of the Church’s life and liturgy: the rite of Confirmation is seen as entirely redundant; and Ordination is not a conferring of grace for a special ministry, but the setting aside of persons for a particular function who, by virtue of their baptism, already possess the fulness of grace. (The “baptismal ecclesiology” of the Episcopal Church is helpfully analysed in Colin Podmore, “The Baptismal Revolution in the American Episcopal Church: Baptismal Ecclesiology and the Baptismal Covenant,” Ecclesiology 6, no. 1 (2010): 8–38.)

My paper’s title was “The Twentieth-Century Baptismal Revolution: Is the Classical Prayer Book Really Obsolete?” Rather than directly tackling the very weak foundations of contemporary assumptions about the meaning of baptism, I turned to two historic defenders of the Prayer Book—Richard Hooker (1554–1600) and Frederick Denison Maurice (1805–1872)—to see how they had used contemporary criticism and controversy about baptism as an occasion to uncover deeper meaning in the classical Prayer Book tradition of baptism. I noted that, rather than minimizing or glossing over aspects of the Prayer Book’s baptismal liturgy that had been found problematic, these two writers offered rich, positive defences. This, I suggested, ought to serve as a model for how we interpret and defend the Prayer Book in our own time.

I hope that an audio recording of the paper will eventually be available, and also that the paper will be included in the published Proceedings of the conference. In the meantime, I copy below a handout that was distributed to the audience for my paper, containing a series of quotations, largely from Hooker and Maurice, that were the foundation of my remarks.

1. The “Toronto Statement” (1991) of the International Anglican Liturgical Consultation

The renewal of baptismal practice is an integral part of mission and evangelism. Liturgical texts must point beyond the life of the church to God’s mission in the world. . . . Baptism is complete sacramental initiation and leads to participation in the eucharist. Confirmation and other rites of affirmation have a continuing pastoral role in the renewal of faith among the baptized but are in no way to be seen as a completion of baptism or as necessary for admission to communion. . . .

Baptism affirms the royal dignity of every Christian and their call and empowering for active ministry within the mission of the church. . . A true understanding of baptism will bring with it a new expectancy about the ministry of each Christian. . . . Baptism gives Christians a vision of God’s just order; it makes the church a sign and instrument of the new world that God is establishing; it empowers Christians to strive for justice and peace within society.

2. Opening exhortation of Prayer Book Baptism (1662 = USA 1789/1892, Canada 1922)

Dearly beloved, forasmuch as all men are conceived and born in sin, and that our Saviour Christ saith, None can enter into the kingdom of God except he be regenerate and born anew of water and of the holy Ghost; I beseech you to call upon God the Father, through our Lord Jesus Christ, that of his bounteous mercy he will grant to this child that thing which by nature he cannot have, that he may be baptized with water and the holy Ghost, and received into Christs holy Church, and be made a lively member of the same.

England Proposed 1928 USA 1928 Canada 1959
Beloved in Christ Jesus,

seeing that all men are from their birth prone to sin, but that God willeth all men to be saved, for God is love:

and that our Saviour Christ saith,

None can enter into the

kingdom of God,

except he be

born anew of water and

of the Holy Ghost;

I beseech you to call upon God the Father,

through our Lord Jesus Christ,

that of his bounteous mercy

he will grant to this child,

that thing which by nature

he cannot have,

that he may be baptized with water

and the Holy Ghost, and received into Christ’s Holy Church, and be made a living member of the same.

Dearly beloved,

forasmuch as

 

our Saviour Christ saith,

None can enter into the

Kingdom of God,

except he be regenerate and

born anew of Water and

of the Holy Ghost;

I beseech you to call upon God the Father,

through our Lord Jesus Christ,

that of his bounteous mercy

he will grant to this Child (or Person)

that which by nature

he cannot have;

that he may be baptized with Water

and the Holy Ghost, and received into Christ’s holy Church, and be made a living member of the same.

Dearly beloved in Christ,

seeing that God willeth all men to be saved from the fault and corruption of the nature which they inherit, as well as from the actual sins which they commit, and that our Saviour Christ saith,

None can enter into the

kingdom of God,

except he be

born anew of Water and

of the Holy Spirit,

I beseech you to call upon God the Father,

through our Lord Jesus Christ,

that

he will grant to this Child

that which by nature

he cannot have;

that he may be baptized with Water

and the Holy Spirit, and received into Christ’s holy Church, and be made a living member of the same.

3. Pierre Berton on the Canadian Prayer Book Baptismal Liturgy (1922)

Twelve years after this incident, the Anglican Church finally published a revised prayer book. In addition to spelling English words like “publick” in the modern manner, there were some other notable changes and omissions. The phrase “conceived and born in sin” is gone forever. That and certain other significant events and portents suggest that the Church may be struggling to make a genuine and honest effort to join the twentieth century, that, indeed, it may be on the verge of a fundamental revolution as earth-shaking as the Lutheran Reformation.

But I wonder if that revolution will come in time?

(The Comfortable Pew, 25)

4. The Admonition to the Parliament (1572) on Baptism

The publique baptisme, that also is full of childishe & superstitious toyes. First in their prayer they say that God by the baptisme of his sonne Jesus Christ, did sanctify the floude Jordan and all other waters, to the mysticall washing away of sinne, attributing that to the signe which is propre to the worke of God in the bloud of Christe, as though vertue were in water, to washe away sinnes. Secondly, they require a promisse of the godfathers and godmothers (as they terme them) which is not in their powers to perform. Thirdly, they prophane holye baptisme, in toying folishly, for that they aske questions of an infante, which can not answere, and speake unto them, as was wont to be spoken unto men, and unto such as being converted, answered for themselves, & were baptized. Which is but a mockerie of God, and therefore against the holy scriptures. Fourthly, they do superstitiously and wickedly institute a newe sacrament, which is proper to Christe only, marking the childe in the forheade with a crosse, in token that hereafter he shall not be ashamed to confesse the faith of Christ. We have made mention before of that wicked devorse of the worde and sacramentes. We say nothing of those that are admitted to be witnesses, what ill choise there is made of them, howe conveniente it were, seeing the children of the faithfull only are to be baptized, that the father should and mighte, if conveniently, offer and present his child to be baptized, making an open confession of that faithe, wherein he would have his childe baptized, and how this is used in well ordered churches.

(Frere, Puritan Manifestoes, 26–27)

5. Directory for Public Worship (1645) on Baptism

That the water, in baptism, representeth and signifieth both the blood of Christ, which taketh away all guilt of sin, original and actual; and the sanctifying virtue of the Spirit of Christ against the dominion of sin, and the corruption of our sinful nature: That baptizing, or sprinkling and washing with water, signifieth the cleansing from sin by the blood and for the merit of Christ. . .

That the promise is made to believers and their seed; and that the seed and posterity of the faithful, born within the church, have, by their birth, interest in the covenant, and right to the seal of it, and to the outward privileges of the church. . . . That they are Christians, and federally holy before baptism, and therefore are they baptized: . . . and that outward baptism is not so necessary, that, through the want thereof, the infant is in danger of damnation.

6. Hooker on the Church’s spiritual parentage in baptism

Be it then that baptism belongeth to none but such as either believe presently, or else being infants are the children of believing parents. . . . It is the Church which doth offer them by the ministry of presentors. . . . Were it not against both equity and duty to refuse the mother of believers herself, and not to take her in this case for a faithful parent? It is not the virtue of our fathers nor the faith of any other that can give us the true holiness which we have by our new birth. Yet even through the common faith and spirit of God’s Church, (a thing which no quality of parents can prejudice,) I say through the faith of the Church of God undertaking the motherly care of our souls, so far forth we may be and are in our infancy sanctified, as to be thereby made sufficiently capable of baptism, and to be interessed in the rites of our new birth for their piety’s sake that offer us thereunto.

(Laws 5.64.5, ed. Keble, 2:315)

7. Hooker on being in Christ eternally vs. actually

We are therefore in God through Christ eternally according to that intent and purpose whereby we were chosen to be made his in this present world before the world itself was made, we are in God through the knowledge which is had of us, and the love which is borne towards us from everlasting. But in God we actually are no longer than only from the time of our actual adoption into the body of his true Church, into the fellowship of his children. For his Church he knoweth and loveth, so that they which are in Christ are thereby known to be in him. Our being in Christ by eternal foreknowledge saveth us not without our actual and real adoption into the fellowship of his saints in this present world.

(Laws 5.56.7, ed. Keble, 2:249)

8. Hooker on the necessity of water in baptism

Unless as the Spirit is a necessary inward cause, so Water were a necessary outward mean to our regeneration, what construction should we give unto those words wherein we are said to be new-born . . . even of water? [John 3:5] Why are we taught that with water God doth purify and cleanse his Church? [Eph. 5:26] Wherefore do the Apostles of Christ term baptism a bath of regeneration? [Tit. 3:5] What purpose had they in giving men advice to receive outward baptism, and in persuading them it did avail to remission of sins? [Acts 2:38]

(Laws 5.60.1, ed. Keble, 2:265)

9. The Admonition to the Parliament (1572, 2nd ed.) on Confirmation

As for confirmation which the papists and our men say was in times past Apostolical, grounding their opinion perhaps upon some dreame of Hierome, yet as they use it by the bishop alone, to them that lack both discretion and faithe, it is superstitious & not agreable to the word of God, but popish & pevishe. As though baptism were not already perfect, but neded confirmation, or as though the bishop coulde give the holy ghost.

(Frere, Puritan Manifestoes, 28n1)

10. Hooker on the distinction between baptism and confirmation

[We make] a distinction of grace infused into Christian men by degrees, planted in them at the first by baptism, after cherished, watered, and (be it spoken without offence) strengthened as by other virtuous offices which piety and true religion teacheth, even so by this very special benediction whereof we speak, the rite or ceremony of Confirmation.

(Laws 5.66.9, ed. Keble, 2:347–48)

11. Hooker on Holy Communion as the true “completion” of baptism

Yet then doth baptism challenge to itself but the inchoation of those graces, the consummation whereof dependeth on mysteries ensuing. 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.

(Laws 5.57.6, ed. Keble, 2:259)

12. “Regeneration” in the Prayer Book baptismal service

We yield thee hearty thanks, most merciful Father, that it hath pleased thee to regenerate this infant with thy holy Spirit, to receive him for thine own child by adoption, and to incorporate him into thy holy Church. . . .

13. E. B. Pusey on “regenerate”

The plain letter of Scripture says, “We are saved by baptism”, and men say, “We are not saved by baptism”: our Lord says, “A man must be born of water and the Spirit”; man, that he need not, cannot be born of water: Scripture, that “we are saved by the washing of regeneration”; man, that we are not, but by regeneration, which is as a washing: . . . Surely they have entered into a most perilous path, which, unless they are checked in pursuing it, must end in the rejection of all Scripture truth which does not square with their own previous opinions.”

(Tracts for the Times, vol. 2, Preface, pp. v–vi)

14. Frederick Denison Maurice: a catena of quotations on baptismal regeneration

To be baptized into the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost is, it seems to me, to be admitted into that kingdom, which Christ said was at hand. (Sermons 1:124)

By your baptism you have been admitted into the family of God; the right of calling God your Father has been conferred upon you; the right of believing that he has redeemed you and reconciled you to himself; the right of approaching him at all times and in all places through his well-beloved Son. (Christmas Day, 28)

By your baptism God hath given you a portion in him who was made flesh.” (Christmas Day, 17)

He [the infant] does not by Baptism, faith, or by any other process, become a new creature, if by these words you mean anything else than that he is created anew in Christ Jesus, that he is grafted into Him, that he becomes the inheritor of His life and not of his own. (The Kingdom of Christ 1:119)

15. Maurice on the “problematic language” of the baptismal service for Infants

The Baptism for Infants, it is said, uses large, dangerous, unqualified language respecting the regeneration of little creatures incapable of repentance or faith; and then, by the awkward device of sponsors, tacitly confesses that these are necessary conditions to the attainment of the blessing. The Service for the adult assumes that repentance and faith have preceded the desire for Baptism, and yet it prays that the man then baptized may receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. Now if it is not true that the proper constitution of man is his constitution in Christ, I acknowledge that nothing can be more strange than to claim that constitution for an infant. If our repentance and faith give us this constitution; if they make us that which God does not intend us to be; I admit that one who is conscious of nothing to repent of, who is incapable of faith, cannot, without the most fearful outrage of language and truth, be said to be made a child of God. . . . But . . . if it is needful to declare that repentance and faith whenever they shall appear proceed from God and not from the creature; . . . then I claim the Service for the Baptism of Infants as one of the great witnesses which God has provided for us of a truth which we are every hour in danger of losing. . . .

(The Church a Family, 46–47)

16. Maurice on the “problematic language” of the baptismal service for adults

So again, the Service of Baptism for Riper Years is false in its whole conception, if a man by his repentance and faith has already obtained what he wants, or if all which God promises to give him is a certain amount of security that he shall not be punished hereafter, a certain amount of hope that he shall be rewarded hereafter. If this be what the Scripture means by entering the kingdom of Heaven, doubtless the prayer that a man who has given that which is demanded of him may receive the Holy Ghost, is the idlest of all prayers. But . . . if what scripture does assume is that the penitent man claims the promise that God will be his Father, and will receive him into his family, and will enable him to take some place in that family, as the servant and helper and dispenser of God’s grace to his brethren; then it surely is most desirable that he, penitent and believing, should be assured that he has that grace which he seeks, that he is received as a member of that body in which the Spirit of God has promised to abide.

(The Church a Family, 47–48)

17. Two separate gifts of the Spirit in 1662 Baptism

Before Interrogatories (both infants and Riper Years) Before Interrogatories (reception after private baptism) After Water Baptism

(Riper Years)

Almighty and everlasting God, heavenly Father, we give thee humble thanks, that thou hast vouchsafed to call us to the knowledge of thy grace, and faith in thee: Increase this knowledge, and confirm this faith in us evermore. Give thy Holy Spirit to this Infant, that he may be born again, and be made an heir of everlasting salvation, through our Lord Jesus Christ, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the holy Spirit, now and for ever. Amen. Almighty and everlasting God, heavenly Father, we give thee humble thanks, that thou hast vouchsafed to call us to the knowledge of thy grace, and faith in thee: Increase this knowledge, and confirm this faith in us evermore. Give thy Holy Spirit to this Infant, that he being born again, and made an heir of everlasting salvation, through our Lord Jesus Christ, may continue thy servant, and attain thy promise, through the same our Lord Jesus Christ thy Son,who liveth and reigneth with thee and the holy Spirit, now and for ever. Amen. We yield thee humble thanks, O heavenly Father, that thou hast vouchsafed to call us to the knowledge of thy grace, and faith in thee. Increase this knowledge, and confirm this faith in us evermore. Give thy holy Spirit to these persons, that being now born again, and made heirs of everlasting salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, they may continue thy servants, and attain thy promises, through the same Lord Jesus Christ thy Son, who liveth and reigneth with thee in the unity of the same holy Spirit everlastingly. Amen.

18. Maurice: Confirmation an act of God

Evidently the name points to a blessing already conferred. That which is not yet given to us, cannot be confirmed. Evidently also the Confirmation must correspond in its kind and character to that which has preceded it. If the Baptism has been merely an act of faith on the part of the parents, or as a formality on the part of the Church, the other Service [i.e. Confirmation] will be so likewise. If the first act claims to be an expression of the Divine Will, the other must put forth something of the same pretension. . . . Confirmation can never be merely, what some of its recent apologists would make it to be, an act of conscious faith, on the part of the child, in God’s promises. To be that, it must be more. A living God must be the foundation of all our services, not only the end of them.

(The Church a Family, 72, 79–80)

19. Maurice: Confirmation does not “complete” baptism

If Confirmation raises itself to the level of Baptism, it simply sets aside its own meaning. . . . But there may be something in the nature of Baptism which demands another act to carry out and fulfil its intention. There may be the greatest danger of an act which imports a spiritual relation, being supposed to belong to a single moment of our existence, when it should stretch its power and mystery over the whole of it. . . .We want something not to make baptism more complete, but to shew how complete it is; not to explain away or mitigate the idea into which it had led us of the child’s glory and blessedness; but to prevent the idea from being changed into a very low, poor, ungodly conceit of our own.

(The Church a Family, 75–77)

20. Richard J. Bernier: Confirmation a ritual Pentecost

For a baptized Christian, what is new at Confirmation is not the gift of the Holy Spirit, not even the mission of the Holy Spirit, but the visible mission of the Holy Spirit—where hand-laying and chrism stand in for the dove, the tongues of flame, and the apostolic hand-laying—to inaugurate one’s mature mission in the Church to the world, one’s call to be a persuasive witness. By extension, what is new at Confirmation is the identity—the character—of having partaken of the visible mission of the Spirit and thus having received the commission to witness persuasively.

(Richard J. Bernier, “The Sacrament of Confirmation in Roman Catholic Tradition: A History of Interpretations and a Proposal for Integration” [PhD diss., McGill University, 2014], 271.)

21. William Temple: Two stages of receiving the Spirit

At present it is rather in the apostolic company than in the individual disciples severally that the power is at work—he abideth with you. He will later indwell each one—he shall be in you. That is the necessary order. We are brought to Christ and received by Him into the fellowship of His Church; in that company we find the Spirit at work; as we are shaped and moulded by His influence thus diffused and exercised, we begin to find it within ourselves; this individual experience of the Spirit is normally subsequent to, and consequent upon, our experience of His activity in the Church or Christian fellowship. The two stages are marked ritually by Baptism and Confirmation.

The coming of the Spirit is in a sense a coming of Christ Himself; so the Lord can pass in His teaching from one to the other. For St. John, as we shall see more clearly later, the Day of the Lord’s Resurrection is the Day of the Advent of the Spirit. It is not true that the Risen Christ and the Spirit are identified; but it is true that the appearance of the one is the occasion for the full bestowal of the other ([John] xx, 22). That is not at all inconsistent with the record of Acts that there was a signal manifestation of the power of the Spirit at the ensuing feast of Pentecost: indeed the picture of a period of ‘waiting’ after the initial bestowal of the gift, while it worked in the apostolic band like yeast in the dough, till at last it broke forth in a vast release of energy, is psychologically most probable.

(Readings in St. John’s Gospel, 2nd ser., 241–42)

22. Bonus Quotation: Roland F. Palmer on Baptism

The question arises in some people’s minds, “What good can a little water do to a baby?” Little things often do matter very much. A little ink in the signature on the bottom of a cheque makes a great difference to its value. Baptism starts with a ceremony, but that is not the end. Baptism is a stream which never ends short of the throne of God in Heaven. A little water bubbles up in a spring back in the hills. It is hardly noticed. It flows on to become a stream, a river, and finally reaches the ocean. Baptism is the stream of God’s love and favour. We place our beloved child in that stream and, unless he deliberately climbs out of it by wilful and unrepented sins, he ill be carried through life and the gate of death on to a glorious resurrection. A fish breathes the water through its gills. If it fails to do so, it dies and floats to the surface to be cast upon the bank. The Christian lives constantly through the life and strength of Christ, helped along by that stream and using his own energies to swim. The means by which he uses the grace of his Baptism are constant repentance and constant faith all his life long.

Repentance and faith are the requirements for receiving Baptism. These requirements do not cease with the Service, as though a person could repent and believe once for a short time, and then cease to do so. Just as the stream of God’s grace and favour, which is Baptism, never ceases in this life, so the requirements of repentance and faith never cease. The Ceremony, with the use of the outward and visible sign of water, is the necessary beginning. The promises of repentance and faith are also part of this necessary beginning. They are not the end. The gift of God, eternal life through Jesus Christ, goes on for ever. It is made available to the person in Baptism, and Baptism is a pledge to assure him that he has possession of that life. But it is one thing to possess a gift, and another thing to make use of it. A miser may possess great riches, and yet starve to death.

Why baptize small children who cannot understand? Baptism is a gift from God, and you do not have to understand in order to receive a gift. No parent would say “You cannot give my baby a hundred dollars because he does not understand money,” but rather “Thank you, we will take care of the gift and teach the child to use it as he has need of it.” Christian parents want their children to be in God’s family from the start, not to wait until they have wandered away and fallen into great sin, and then win them back. They can receive the gift, and then can be taught that they possess that gift, and how to use it by repentance and faith. We older folk should ask ourselves how well we are using our baptismal gift. Make a fresh start in repentance and faith now. It is not “I was baptized a long time ago,” but “I am baptized. I am a baptized person right now.”

Roland F. Palmer, His Worthy Praise: On Worship According to the Book of Common Prayer (Canada 1959) (Toronto: Anglican Church of Canada, 1959; rev. 1963), 106–107

The Stars at Night…

Cutting-up-book-image-open-rights--e1506986205309

Last month (October 20, 2017) I was delighted to speak at a one-day Colloquium sponsored by the Prayer Book Society of the United States at the Church of the Incarnation, Dallas, Texas, where we were kindly hosted by the rector, the Rt. Rev. Anthony Burton (formerly Bishop of Saskatchewan), himself a learned and sensitive student of the Prayer Book tradition.

The title of the event was “Revising the Liturgy of the Episcopal Church: Can a Thousand Flowers Bloom?” The title was a cheeky reference to Chairman Mao’s 1956 invitation to Chinese intellectuals to voice any criticisms they had of communism: “Let a hundred flowers bloom, and let a hundred schools of thought contend.” (Of course, the following year he promptly squashed all “rightists” who had voiced dissent.) The current conference asked, by contrast, whether a motion passed by the Episcopal Church’s General Convention asking the Standing Committee on Liturgy and Music to prepare options for a revision of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer might lead to the permissive authorization of an even greater variety of liturgical rites in the Episcopal Church than currently exists—or, on the contrary, whether this might spell the end of more traditional liturgical options.

This was rather a daring event for the Prayer Book Society to sponsor, since its focus has been on the preservation and promotion of the 1928 American Prayer Book, not the 1979 compilation that laid claim the title “Book of Common Prayer.” (One of the points raised in the colloquium was that other provinces of the Anglican Communion had not, in fact, replaced their classical Prayer Books as the Episcopal Church did: rather, they authorized official alternatives.) I gather that it is hoped that the Prayer Book Society might make common cause with those who love and use the traditional-language “Rite 1” in the 1979 BCP. Initial surveys taken by the PBS suggest that this rite is in fact very, very widely used. Any attempt to delete it from the 1979 BCP, or to dilute its contents, would probably meet with considerable resistance.

My own contribution was itself a bit cheeky. My title was “The Mysterium Anglicanum and the New Puritans.” I compared the assured certainty of twentieth-century liturgical scholarship (founded on what has proved the shifting sand of the [Pseudo]-Hippolytan Apostolic Tradition) to the assured certainty of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Puritans, who despised the Book of Common Prayer and looked to the liturgical model of Calvinist Geneva, which they believed had recovered a truly scriptural and apostolic form of worship. The great Puritan divine Richard Baxter famously composed a complete liturgical book (known as the Savoy Liturgy), which he proposed should be added as an alternative to the classical Book of Common Prayer—just like Rite 1 and Rite 2 in the 1979 American BCP.

The ground has fallen out from under both “Puritan” claims, and this leaves us free to evaluate the classical Prayer Book tradition (what I have dubbed the Mysterium Anglicanum, borrowing a twelfth-century description of the medieval Milanese liturgy as the Mysterium Ambrosianum) on its historical, theological, and pastoral merits. As I always hammer away to my students at Trinity College, the Book of Common Prayer is “the Tradition of the Church (what the Church has always done) expressed within the compass of Scriptural language (which limits what the Church can say).” This, I suggest, is the true basis of Anglican comprehensiveness. It may aggravate some Evangelicals (who are suspicious of tradition) and may frustrate some Anglo-Catholics (who want to say more than scripture lets them); but it is, for all that, as Nicholas Ferrar said, “The right, good old way.”

A lightly revised version of my paper should appear in a forthcoming edition of Anglican Way magazine.

 

Some Memories of King’s for St. John’s, Elora

St._Johns_Church_Elora_1-400x400

On July 23 I had the great privilege of preaching at the (Anglican) Church of St. John the Evangelist in the picturesque town of Elora, Ontario (a drive of an hour or two west of Toronto). My sermon concluded a fantastic choral Mattins sung by the Elora Festival Singers. I had heard of the Elora Festival before, but had never experienced it. Courtesy of St. John’s, I received complimentary tickets to a brilliant afternoon performance of Bach’s Brandenburg concertos 1 and 5 (the harpsichordist nearly set the place on fire with his virtuosity), with Cantata 140 (Wachet auf), and to an utterly stunning concert (in an empty road salt barn!) by the Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge. Most memorable for me, however, was the crisp, flowing Anglican chant psalmody of the Festival Singers under their director, Noel Edison. I have never heard a Canadian choir achieve such a standard — a perfection that would rival even the best English choirs. I am eager to return in the future to hear the celebrated parish choir, which I know only through its recordings.

In exchange for all this, and further generous hospitality, my hosts received the following sermon:

A Sermon Preached at Choral Mattins in the Church of St. John the Evangelist, Elora, Ontario, July 23, 2017

by Jesse D. Billett, Assistant Professor, Faculty of Divinity, Trinity College, Toronto

Appointed Scriptures: Ps. 148, Isa. 55:6–11, Luke 6:37–42

When Canon Hulse kindly invited me to preach at this festival Mattins, he suggested that you might like to hear some stories from my time as a choral scholar in the choir of King’s College, Cambridge, where I sang from 2001 to 2004. At least among people who know about choral music, especially in the English tradition—and I get the sense that today I am among such people—that tends to be the most interesting line on my CV. For three years I sang Evensong day after day in that breathtaking late medieval chapel, with its gravity-defying stone ceiling and vast stained glass windows, in a choir famous around the world for its annual BBC World Service broadcast of the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols on Christmas Eve. I was nervous about Canon Hulse’s suggestion, because as a choral scholar I endured a lot of guest preachers who wanted to give their “King’s College sermon,” and talk about the music, and the windows, and the ceiling, and not talk much about Christ or the Christian life. But it occurred to me that my time in King’s College Choir had provided me with some potentially interesting analogies for the Christian life. If I were going to go back to the very beginning, I could tell you about how I got into the choir in the first place. My audition and academic interview were such unmitigated disasters that they would serve as a good illustration of unconditional election and salvation by grace alone! But instead I would like to share with you some parallels between the life of a King’s choral scholar and the Christian life as it is summarized in the fifteen-hundred-year-old classical schema known as the “Threefold Way,” which sees the Christian pass through three stages: the Purgative Way, the Illuminative Way, and finally, the Unitive Way.

First, then, let us look at the Purgative Way. This is the first phase of Christian growth, devoted to getting rid of habitual sins and acquiring virtues in their place. (Today’s second lesson’s teaching about “removing the beam from our own eyes” describes a part of this phase.) As a new choral scholar, I found myself subjected to a level of discipline unlike anything I have experienced before or since. Rule 1: Never, ever, be late. When my future wife Jill and I were courting, I once left her bleeding at the side of the road after she fell off her bicycle, because I couldn’t be late for choir practice. (I still have nightmares in which I’m almost late for choir practice and can’t find my music or my cassock.) Rule 2: Never ask to miss a service or a practice. “You need to go to a funeral? How closely related were you to the deceased?” Rule 3: Never arrive not knowing your music note-perfect. If that means spending several hours a day studying at the piano (as it did for me in my first year), then that’s what you do. Rule 4: If, God forbid, you make a mistake in a service or performance, apologize in person to the director.

People tend to be a bit shocked when I describe this discipline. It all sounds so unreasonable. Yet without this discipline we could never have made music at the level that was expected of us. We knew that an individual lapse in discipline would cause our music to suffer and would let the whole choir down.

The world’s reaction to the Purgative Way in the Christian life is similar. The work of acquiring virtue, the pain of avoiding sinful habits, the humiliation of confessing one’s sins—it all sounds so unreasonable. That is because the world’s idea of a good life falls well short of the Christian life. The Christian life does not consist in “being good” or “nice” or even in “following the teachings of Jesus.” It is, rather, the extension here and now of the very life of Jesus of Nazareth—crucified and risen—in the members of his mystical body, the Church. The life of Christ must take root in me, grow up in me (Gal. 2:20; Eph. 4:15–16). And that life cannot co-exist with sin. The two are incompatible (1 Cor. 10:21; 2 Cor. 6:14ff.; Eph. 5:5). And so ultimately a choice must be made: Christ or myself; Christ or the world. Just as we choral scholars had a vision of musical perfection to which we sacrificed our youthful freedoms, so the Christian chooses Christ and his discipline before all else. “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also,” says our Lord, “he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26). I’m not suggesting that you leave your sweethearts bleeding in the ditch to make it to church on time. But you must be ready to sacrifice anything that kills the life of Christ in you. As St. Paul says, “I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord” (Phil. 3:8).

The deeper knowledge of Christ is the goal of the second phase of the Christian life, the Illuminative Way, in which the mind dwells more and more in meditation and contemplation on the mystery of Christ in his incarnation, in his suffering and death, and in his resurrection. (We caught something of this in today’s first lesson: “My thoughts are not your thoughts.” We have to conform our thinking to God’s.) Near the end of my first year in King’s College Choir, I gradually realized that I was no longer struggling just to keep my head above water. Submission to the purgative common discipline had given me a little mental room to consider this music that we were singing, to observe more carefully its craftsmanship. In this I was helped by the notes that previous choral scholars had left in the music copies. Not all of these were serious; some were screamingly funny. This morning we’ve just heard Jonathan Harvey’s luminous anthem “I Love the Lord,” which, you’ll remember, begins with the high voices sustaining a G-major chord for the first few pages. In my King’s copy of that anthem, someone had scribbled out the title “I Love the Lord” and had written, “I Love This Chord.” My favourite was in my copy of the Byrd versicles and responses, where above the priest’s words “Let us pray,” someone had drawn a picture of a head of lettuce with fangs, chasing a mouse (the “prey” of the “lettuce”). I didn’t just follow what others had written, of course. I had my own process of study and discovery, too. We were once preparing to give a concert of late fifteenth- and early sixteenth-century music from the Eton Choirbook, a repertory both glorious and very difficult. I was struggling terribly. Not with the notes (in accordance with Rule 3, I had faithfully learned those in advance!), but with making architectural sense out of the longer musical phrases. I’ll never forget the moment when it occurred to me that I had to stop trying to sing these lines as if I were Bryn Terfel, and start trying to sing them as if I were a renaissance bass viol. My style of singing had to bend to the innate character of the music. I was still just a beginner, but I was becoming aware that a much deeper level of understanding of the music was possible. We once performed the Penderecki Cherubic Hymn, a wickedly difficult piece (and with lyrics in Old Church Slavonic, if you please!). To be honest, I didn’t know how we were ever going to pull it off. But as we were about to perform it in Evensong, I saw our director of music, Mr. Cleobury, almost transfigured before my eyes. He was able to communicate to us every rhythmic subtlety, every dynamic shading, every entrance, every cut off, the shape of every line, so that all we had to do was follow him. It was the most magnificent display of the conductor’s art that I have ever witnessed. He had entered so deeply into the complexity of the music, that the music had in fact taken possession of him.

The Illuminative Way in the Christian life is something very like that. Trained and disciplined by the Purgative Way, we are ready to enter more deeply into the mysteries of our faith and to be transformed by them. We encounter the Lord in the pages of scripture, guided by the hints and signposts left by his saints who have gone before us. The goal is to be progressively shaped in the image of Christ that we discover there. As St. Paul says, “we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory” (2 Cor. 3:18). And as St. John says, “we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2). To make this sort of progress it helps to have a teacher who knows the way—a bit like an inspired conductor. My one bit of practical advice to all of you today is that if you wish to make progress in the spiritual life, you must have a spiritual director, a father or mother in God who can teach you how to meditate and pray in such a way that you will be progressively transformed into Christ’s likeness. This doesn’t have to be complicated. There is a wonderful story of the Curé of Ars, St. John Vianney, asking an aged agricultural worker who spent a great deal of time in front of the reserved sacrament: “My good father, what do you say to our Lord in those long visits you pay Him every day and many times a day?” “I say nothing to him,” was the reply; “I look at Him, and He looks at me.” The secret is that in looking at Christ we come to love him, and in loving him we are moved to imitate him. (Alfred Monnin, Life of the Curé of Ars, trans. H. E. Manning [London: Burns and Lambert, 1862], pp. 55–56.)

We come now to the final stage of Christian growth, the Unitive Way, in which the desire for God has moved beyond study and technique into a continual state of love and yearning, accompanied by a transfigured view of the world. Concerning this stage, I ought to say very little, because I have so little direct experience of it myself. But in this too, I think that my time as a King’s choral scholar at least taught me what to look out for. You have probably heard elite athletes speak about being “in the zone”: the goalie who makes perfect glove saves on shots he can’t even see for the crush of bodies in front of him; the rock climber who finds the perfect handhold every time exactly where she needs it. It’s a state of responding correctly to the demands of every moment, almost without thinking about it. As a choral scholar, I occasionally experienced something like that while singing. The effort required to get the music right receded into the background, and my mind’s inquiry into the music’s structure and meaning was quieted. Instead, I noticed things like how the light had changed in the chapel with the passage of time, from the darkness of December when the Rubens painting of the Adoration of the Magi was illuminated above the altar, to the brightness of Holy Week when the sun shone through the great east window’s scene of the crucifixion. I felt myself to be part of a great cosmic stream of praise flowing through time and out of time, in silence and in sound—not unlike what was described in today’s psalm, in which sun and moon and dragons and deeps join in the praise of God. I would struggle to describe what it was like. It certainly wasn’t a feeling. It might be accompanied by elevated feelings; but it might also arise in the midst of agony, as in the singing of Rachmaninov’s Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, which inflicts considerable physical suffering on low basses like me! It was more a conviction that I, as part of that music, was fulfilling, for that moment, exactly what I was meant to do with my life.

Judging at least by what I have read about them, Christians in the Unitive Way experience something very similar. They have reached a point where conforming their lives to the will of God has become, not exactly easy, but obvious and intuitive. It is not so much they who respond to the world around them, as Christ who responds in and through them. This unity was the object of the great prayer of Christ: “that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one” (John 17:22). “Without me,” that is, outside of me, “ye can do nothing,” says our Lord (John 15:5). But in unity with him, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Phil. 4:13). This unity is not a “feeling”—still less is it a good feeling, or what the world calls happiness. For this unity is with the one who cried out on the cross, “My God, my God, why has thou forsaken me?” It is a unity with the life of God himself—a life that is not self-satisfied, but self-emptying. A few years ago, when the diaries of Mother Theresa were published, many were scandalized to learn that for many years she had not felt God’s presence. “So she was a fraud,” many exclaimed. I would suggest, rather, that she had advanced so far into the very life of God that it had become as imperceptible to her as water to a fish. The true keynote of the Unitive Way is not happiness, as such, but joy—the same joy that possessed our Lord himself, “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame” (Heb. 12:12). We can begin to taste the same joy in this life, and we will have it in its fulness in the next, when all things are gathered into one in Christ (Eph. 1:10).

It is the promise of this consummation, the end of the Purgative Way, the Illuminative Way, and the Unitive Way, for which we pray in the collect for this sixth Sunday after Trinity: “O God, who hast prepared for them that love thee such good things as pass man’s understanding: Pour into our hearts such love toward thee, that we, loving thee above all things, may obtain thy promises, which exceed all that we can desire; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

Further Reading

Those interested in the stages of Christian development, and how to grow in them, may find it helpful to read Martin Thornton’s Christian Proficiency, recently reprinted by Wipf & Stock. It dwells in particular on the “Illuminative Way,” the stage of what St. Thomas Aquinas and others call “proficients.” On the true nature of the Christian life as the “extension of the Incarnation,” an excellent and compelling summary is Bede Frost, The Art of Mental Prayer (London: SPCK, new edn 1940), part I, chapter 2 (pp. 15–25).

“Categorising the Church” Conference

csm_Poster_CtC_web_34ed9ac1a3

I am just back from a stimulating conference in Vienna, sponsored by the “Visions of Community” project at the Institut für Mittelalterforschung (Institute for Medieval Studies), Östereichische Akademie der Wissenschaften (Austrian Academy of Sciences), in cooperation with the University of Poitiers.

The title of the conference was “Categorising the Church: Debates about Religious Communities in the Carolingian World.” Our particular concern was the background and subsequent reception of the monastic and canonical legislation passed by the Council of Aachen in 816 and 817 under Emperor Louis the Pious. This council made, for the first time, a firm distinction between communities judged strictly “monastic” and those termed “canonical.” I was asked to contribute something liturgical, and I gave a paper entitled “The 816 Liturgical Reforms, Hildemar’s Commentary on the Rule, and the Milanese Rite.”

The only major liturgical element of the 816 legislation was a requirement that monks chant the daily offices according to what is prescribed in the Rule of St. Benedict. (“Canons” were to continue using the “Roman” form of the Office, as the Frankish Church had received it.) One of our best sources of information about how this legislation was received is Hildemar of Corbie’s commentary on the Rule of St. Benedict, based on lectures he delivered at the northern Italian monastery of San Calocero in Civate in the 840s. One of the versions of his commentary (which has a very complicated textual history) is now available in a collaborative online edition and translation, with an excellent bibliography and links to manuscript sources: www.hildemar.org.

Hildemar is an important witness to the determination of “reformed” Benedictine monks to chant the Office according to the Rule. He also takes exception to the practice, of which he gives the earliest evidence, of monks’ abandoning the Rule’s pattern of the Office and chanting the Roman form during the sacred Triduum before Easter (Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday), for the sake of unity with the whole Church. Hildemar alleges that the shortened forms of the Office used on such days are appropriate only for “canons,” who have to deal with “the crowd of the people, including women and children.”

I further argued, however, that Hildemar’s commentary must be understood against the background of his rather surprising liturgical context. Civate is in the diocese of Milan, which alone among the local uses of the Frankish Empire retained its distinctive liturgy in the face of a Carolingian programme of liturgical standardization. Hildemar quite clearly reveals that his community used a Milanese (“Ambrosian”) sacramentary, and I wonder whether we can find further evidence of how this local tradition was adapted for use in a Benedictine monastery. I have until the end of the year to finish combing through the commentary for evidence. What I find fascinating is that Hildemar, who seems so strict and pedantic in his teaching, emerges as an unexpected patron of liturgical pluriformity: as long as what is done is agreeable to the Rule, he doesn’t mind variety from place to place.

The participants in the conference kindly indulged me while I sang analogous examples from the Gregorian and Ambrosian chant repertory to demonstrate the “aural” difference between the two. In my defence, I was the last paper of the whole event, so I had to wake them up somehow!

Medieval Rites Conference

CA013334-ISM-Medieval-Rites.V2-600x776

It was recently my pleasure to give a paper at Yale University’s Institute for Sacred Music, as part of a conference entitled “Medieval Rites: Reading the Writing,” organized by the distinguished medieval musicologist Peter Jeffery and my fellow Rankin alumnus Henry Parkes (about whom I have raved elsewhere). The conference was unusual in bringing together experts on both Western and Eastern liturgy.

My paper was called “Chant on the Edge: Antiphoner Texts Among the Marginalia of Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, MS 41.” I presented some preliminary results of my research on this manuscript, which I am currently editing for the Henry Bradshaw Society.

While at Yale, I was also a guest of the “Song Lab” of the Music Department, which meets to sing music from facsimiles of early notations and to discuss papers submitted in advance. I had the benefit of their comments on a draft of an article I’m working on: “The Muchelney Breviary Fragment: London, British Library, Additional 56488, fols. i, 1–5.” But the best part was singing through Absalon fili mi from the original notation. Alas, we transposed it up a fourth to accommodate the sopranos, so I wasn’t able to try for the low B-flat at the end!

BCP in the News!

In a development that would have been shocking — nay, unthinkable — not many years ago, the Anglican Church of Canada has published not one, but two articles, both by Matt Gardner, on the history and spirituality of the Book of Common Prayer:

The Historic Heritage of the Book of Common Prayer (February 14, 2017)

The Book of Common Prayer in Worship Today (February 21, 2017)

I had the pleasure to be interviewed for both of them. But mine is far from the only voice. Worth checking out!

 

Upcoming Conference: Anglicanism—Catholic and Reformed

In a few days I will be travelling to Savannah, Georgia, where I have been invited to give a paper at a conference sponsored by the Prayer Book Society of the USA and the Elliott House of Studies, February 16–18, 2017:

Anglicanism: Catholic and Reformed; Revisiting the Reformation Legacy, 1517–2017

savannah-conference

A fuller explanation of the purpose and themes of the conference is here. There is also a draft programme of sessions available, but I gather that there have been a few adjustments. I myself am now tentatively scheduled to speak on Friday, February 17, at 1:45pm.

I plan to speak on the Book of Common Prayer as a “catholic” liturgy, arguing that an irreducible (even aggressive) Swiss Protestantism discerned in the book by scholars ever since Bishop and Gasquet’s ground-breaking book Edward VI and the Book of Common Prayer isn’t the only, or indeed the obvious, explanation of Cranmer’s work. Rather, a pre-Reformation Erasmian philosophia Christi, giving priority to the simple Gospel message of scripture, found expression in a re-presentation of the Catholic tradition limited by a “biblical compass.”

This made possible the characteristic (and sometimes incoherent) “comprehensiveness” of Anglicanism. But once the continuity of the Prayer Book with Catholic tradition is recognized, the interpretation of the book will depend absolutely on an”ecclesial” reading of Scripture within that tradition. The Prayer Book says no more and no less about worship and sacraments than what scripture says. But scripture, as interpreted by the Church’s collective mind, says a great deal about these things indeed!

UPDATE: An audio recording of my paper at this conference can now be heard here: https://anglicanway.org/2017/05/22/audio-drs-joan-odonovan-george-westhaver-jesse-billet-pbs-conference-2017/

Crouse Memorial Lecture

crouse-lecture

On January 15, 2016, I had the honour of delivering the inaugural Robert Crouse Memorial Lecture in the chapel of the University of King’s College, Halifax. (Gallery of photos.) I never met Fr. Crouse, but his writings have been a great help and inspiration to me in my own work and faith. It was a privilege to spend a few days in the community that was so profoundly shaped by his thought and example.

The title of my lecture was “A Spirituality of the Word: The Medieval Roots of Traditional Anglican Worship.” In it, I took issue with the consensus of modern liturgical scholarship that it was a “Reformation Fallacy” (as Robert F. Taft dubbed it), undreamt of before Martin Luther, to put the reading of scripture at the centre of the Divine Office. I argued that this characteristically monastic mode of prayer was integral to English liturgical spirituality for a thousand years before the Reformation, and that one of the Reformation’s aims was to make it possible for the laity to participate in it fully.

I suggested that the fundamental turning point was in the fourth and fifth centuries, when the psalter in particular ceased to be treated as readings to be listened to, and was transformed into a collection of prayers to be recited as one’s own. (This had a significant musical impact: a whole choir of monks chanting the psalms together as prayer needed a much simpler, more regimented singing style than had been used by solo cantor-lectors. I sang some examples to illustrate the difference.)

In this new understanding, reciting the words of scripture became the principal means both to learn how to pray, and also to be transformed into the kind of person who can pray these words—an insight later picked up by Richard Hooker in his defence of the Book of Common Prayer. As someone suggested to me afterwards, praying the scriptures in the Divine Office “offers all that is needed by the human soul for its ongoing conversion, sanctification, and ultimate deification.”

Apart from such serious considerations, it was great fun to go over some of the complaints by medieval bishops and preachers about clerical misbehaviour during the liturgy. The canons of Exeter in the fourteenth century seem to have been especially incorrigible!

I hope that the text of the lecture will be published in due course.

[UPDATE: A lightly revised and expanded version of my lecture has now appeared in Pro Ecclesia: A Journal of Catholic and Evangelical Theology 27, no. 2 (Spring 2018): 157–79. Google Preview (alas, not including my article) here.]