Friday, 29 May 2015

Sign of goodness, beauty and mercy: Anglicanism and Mary's Dowry

From the Dean of Westminster's sermon on Monday past at the National Pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham.  Here he refers to Westminster Abbey's Shrine to Our Lady of Pew, removed during the Reformation but restored in 1971:

In that same small chapel, there is one remarkable carving from Richard II’s reign that has remained unchallenged and unaltered in the past six hundred and thirty five years. Visiting the Abbey, if you turn off the north ambulatory around the Shrine of St Edward and open the 14 century gates into the little chapel of our Lady of Pew with their prickets for the candles of the faithful, and stand in front of Mother Concordia’s image[the restored image of our Lady of Pew], then look up. On a boss above your head is a beautiful tiny carved image of our blessed Lady in red, her hands clasped in prayer, surrounded by six cherubs, kneeling on the cloud that is taking her to heaven: a 14th century image of the Assumption of our Lady, in Westminster Abbey, undisturbed by Protestant reformers in the 16th century, puritans in the 17th, deists in the 18th, revisionists in the 19th and modernists in the 20 century. Through thick and thin, she lifts to heaven the hearts and minds of any willing to look up from their daily cares and preoccupations and focus their minds instead on the goodness, beauty and mercy of almighty God.

He then went on to suggest how an Anglican devotion to Our Lady could aid in recapturing the imagination of a secular society with the beautiful scandal of the Word made flesh:

Just as, through times of good fortune and of ill fortune in our national life and in the life of the Church, her image has been steadfast and unchanging in the coronation Church at the heart of our nation, often unremarked, always there, so we can and should pray with confidence that her intercession and her example will bring renewal to our Church and, in our nation, new tenderness of mutual regard. And just as she showed the Lady Richeldis a spring of water that has quenched the thirst and cleansed the spirits of countless pilgrims through a thousand years in this holy and beloved place, so she may refresh us and all those for whom we pray on this our pilgrimage day with a spring of water welling up to eternal life.

Thursday, 28 May 2015

"Sacramental potentiality in virtually everything": Macquarrie, rediscovery, and re-enchantment

Today marks the eighth anniversary of the death of John Macquarrie.  In the early 1990s, I decided Macquarrie was not for me.  I had been encouraged to read his Principles of Christian Theology.  Looking back on this recently, I recalled my reaction that this was 'too much like Rahner'.  Soon thereafter I discovered Balthasar - Rahner and Macquarrie, it then seemed to me, did theology in concepts: Balthasar did theology as drama.

In recent times, Akenside Press has encouraged me to re-engage with Macquarrie.  It is sobering, humbling and a blessing to return to a theologian rejected in one's younger years and now discover riches once unrecognised.  In the Guardian obituary for Macquarrie, it is noted of his time preparing for ordination in the (Presbyterian) Church of Scotland:

FH Bradley inspired him; Calvin and Barth did not - hinting already at his idealist emphasis on divine immanence and a love of mysticism that hard-nosed contemporaries in Edinburgh and Cambridge would later scorn.

"Divine immanence and a love of mysticism", it could be suggested, are what contemporary Anglicanism needs in abundance.  Perhaps a good example of Macquarrie articulating what this means, can be found in words from his A Guide to the Sacraments (quoted by Anglican Eucharistic Theology):

We are implying that God is not only a transcendent reality who dwells beyond the world he had made, but an immanent reality who dwells within his world and is active in it.  I believe that if we are to arrive at an adequate understanding of sacramentality, we need to have a strong sense of the divine immanence. … God is near as well as far ...

[God] is in all things as the mysterious source of energy that has given to each of them its being and sustains them in being.  These things are more than just aggregates of matter lying around the universe.  They have the potentiality of lighting up for us the mystery of God himself.  God is not part of the world, his being is anterior to and different from the existence of spatio-temporal objects.  So we do not see him directly, but because he is universally present, there is, shall we say, a sacramental potentiality in virtually everything.  This means that at some time, in some place, in some circumstances, for some person or persons, that thing may become a sacrament, that person’s door to the sacred ...

For anything to become a sacrament, something has to be contributed from both sides.  There has to be a reality expressing itself in and through the object.  Otherwise it is an illusion.  The reality is nothing less than ultimate reality, God or Holy Being. … But there has also to be a subject having the capacity to see the object in depth, as it were, that is to say, as not just another thing lying around in the world but as a sign of a deeper reality.

"There is ... a sacramental potentiality in virtually everything."  Here is re-enchantment - life, relationships, nature, art, the ordinary, church, made deep with the grace and gift of "ultimate reality".

On a Saturday evening in July 2008, during a family holiday, I attended Mass in St Mary the Virgin, New York.  Today I discover that it was the parish in which Macquarrie first celebrated Mass as an Anglican priest (on Corpus Christi, 1965).  It is a small link, yes, but a physical connection nevertheless with one for whom, on this day, I give thanks - "a sacramental potentiality in everything". 

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Remembering Calvin, with gratitude

The CofE's Common Worship calendar yesterday commemorated John Calvin.  Today,  he is commemorated in the ecumenical martyrology of the Bose community:

Calvin's theology, which flowed entirely from his preaching (based, in turn, on an exegesis of Scripture read in its entirety), quickly spread to the farthest reaches of Europe. Calvin had succeeded in integrating the basic Lutheran principle of justification by faith with a valorization of the visible, concrete aspects of faith and community, as well as with renewed attention to the inner action of the Spirit in believers' heart.

What interest could catholic Anglicans possibly have in commemorating Calvin?  Quite a bit actually.  To begin with, one of the particular vocations of Anglicanism is to embrace and live out the insights of both the Catholic tradition and the Reformation protest.  Needless to say, this does not make for an easy or comfortable ecclesial life - but if ecclesial life is easy and comfortable, something has gone badly wrong.  Such is not the way of the Cross.  Such is not the radical call to communion between Jew and Gentile, slave and free.

So what can catholic Anglicans receive as gift from the witness and teaching of Calvin?  Perhaps, amongst others, three areas can be identified.  Let's begin with the most controversial aspect of Calvin's teaching, predestination.  As Ben Myers illustrates, for all of the weaknesses in how Calvin and his successors approached this doctrine, he stood within the tradition of the Augustinian West in wrestling with the doctrine of God and the meaning of grace.  Myers draws particular attention to the similarities between Calvin and Thomas on this point:

Even Thomas Aquinas has a detailed doctrine of predestination, which is, in many material respects, nearly identical to that of Calvin ... Certainly I think the notion of double predestination should be subjected to theological criticism. But let’s not pretend that the idea was invented by Calvin!

That post-Calvin a grim Calvinist scholasticism emerged, cannot be denied.  However, what we see in Calvin is an expression of the Augustinian West's traditional manner of affirming the gracious, unmerited act of God in our salvation - the foundation of our praise and adoration of the Holy Trinity.  Considering that one of the alternatives to this is a Pelagianism no less cold and grim than that of Calvinist scholasticism, we can be grateful for Calvin's engagement with our common Augustinian tradition.

Secondly, as the Bose martyrology states, Calvin's theology was marked by "a valorization of the visible, concrete aspects of faith and community".  This finds expression in his affirmation of the patristic belief in the salvific import of the Church:

To those to whom [God] is a Father, the Church must also be a mother ... Let us learn, from her single title of Mother, how useful, nay, how necessary the knowledge of her is.

'Mother Church' is not a phrase often heard on the lips of contemporary evangelicals claiming to be Reformed.  The problem is not, then, that such Anglicans are Calvinist - it's that they don't know their Calvin.

Thirdly, and related to this, is Calvin's understanding of the sacraments. We read in Calvin a sacramental theology that is - and this is being charitable - very, very rarely heard from those evangelical Anglicans who would describe themselves as 'Reformed' or 'Calvinist':

God, regenerating us in baptism, ingrafts us into the fellowship of his Church, and makes us his by adoption ... We ought to consider that at whatever time we are baptised, we are washed and purified once for the whole of life. Wherefore, as often as we fall, we must recall the remembrance of our baptism.

 Such, I say, is the corporeal presence which the nature of the sacrament requires, and which we say is here displayed in such power and efficacy, that it not only gives our minds undoubted assurance of eternal life, but also secures the immortality of our flesh, since it is now quickened by his immortal flesh, and in a manner shines in his immortality ... The sacrament might be celebrated in the most becoming manner, if it were dispensed to the Church very frequently, at least once a-week.

As James K.A. Smith's lecture"'Lift up your hearts': John Calvin's Catholic faith" notes, "there is especially a tendency for free church Protestants to concoct a John Calvin shorn of his Catholicism".  This is the same dynamic we see within Reformed circles in contemporary evangelical Anglicanism. Smith goes on to quote from Tod Billing's work Calvin, Participation, and the Gift:

Calvin’s theology of participation...has a great deal of common ground with Roman Catholic, Anglican, and Eastern Orthodox theologies of participation. [It] is both sacramental and ecclesial, emphasizing the centrality of the Word and sacraments for the life of Christ’s Body, which can receive the sacraments only in the communion of the church.

Put bluntly, Calvin's sacramental theology is radically different to the "functional Zwinglianism" (Smith) of Sydney and many parishes associated with the Reform network.

There is, then, much to be said for catholic Anglicans encouraging evangelical Anglicans to engage more meaningfully with Calvin.  This would inestimably enrich evangelical Anglicanism, deepen communion with catholic Anglicans, and contribute to an Anglicanism - in which evangelicalism is now numerically more significant than in the past - being more alert to the significance of patristic and sacramental spirituality. 

As Stephen Hampton has shown, a vibrant Reformed tradition - alongside the retrieval of patristic, catholic norms by the successors to the Carolines and Laudians - continued to shape and inform Anglican theological reflection post-1660.  Calvin is, therefore, part of the Anglican heritage, recalling us to a more thorough engagement with Scripture, a definitive affirmation of grace, and an awareness that certain approaches to natural theologies can at times dull us to the radical call of the Gospel. 

So, yes, thank God for John Calvin.

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

"As at this time": Pentecost, 1662 and Paschal Mystery

Last week, following the Sunday after Ascension, catholicity and covenant noted that the contemporary language collect provided in the Church of Ireland BCP 2004 failed to embody and celebrate the drama of Paschal time.  The same weakness is seen in the provision for Pentecost:

Almighty God,
who on the day of Pentecost 
sent your Holy Spirit to the apostles ...

Completely absent is any sense that the day on which this collect is prayed is Pentecost.  What is thus lost is any recognition of the sacramental character of the Paschal season.  The importance of this character is seen in the care taken in calculating the date of Easter.  Similarly, as noted in BCP 2004's introduction to 'The Christian Year', the Paschal season is "the fifty days from Easter Day to the Day of Pentecost" - Ascension and Pentecost are observed not on convenient dates, but on the 40th and 50th day after Easter Day, allowing the Church to dramatically enter into the Paschal Mystery. 

This is sacred time, time taken up into the mystery of Triune God's redeeming purposes.  As Vatican II's Sacrosanctum Concilium stated of the liturgical year's celebration of the mysteries of redemption, "these are in some way made present for all time, and the faithful are enabled to lay hold upon them and become filled with saving grace".

The 1662 collect for Whitsunday - the Order I collect in BCP 2004 - simply but profoundly captures this sense of the Paschal season's sacramentality:

God, who as at this time didst teach the hearts of thy faithful people, by the sending to them the light of thy Holy Spirit; Grant us by the same Spirit to have a right judgement in all things ...

"At this time."  The phrase powerfully invites us to consider a Sunday in May as something deeper, more dramatic, than a secular understanding of time can possibly imagine.  This day is Pentecost.  The phrase in the collect makes it present.  It is a sacramental rendering of this Paschal festival.

The Church of England's Common Worship provision demonstrates greater insight than that shown in BCP 2004, by providing a contemporary language translation of the 1662 collect.  Again, however, we see the need for contemporary Anglican liturgies to be enriched by the insights, patterns and rhythms of 1662, particularly in ensuring that the drama of liturgical time is not abandoned in favour of a banal rendering of feasts which fails to offer a deeper, richer alternative to the secular.

Monday, 25 May 2015

The CofI and the Referendum result: joyless, ungracious

If the Church of Ireland wanted to respond to the outcome of the Irish marriage referendum with a joyless lack of grace, it certainly succeeded.  The abysmal statement issued on Saturday evening on behalf of the Archbishops and Bishops - in the words of one comment on Thinking Anglicans, referring to the words of the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Dublin - "could go in the dictionary as antonym of 'reality check'".

Strikingly absent was any sense of recognition of the joy experienced by many Irish citizens - including, without doubt, a majority of Anglicans in the Republic of Ireland - at the vote's affirmation of gay people.  Contrast the joyless lack of generosity in the CofI statement, with the words of ++Diarmuid Martin:

I appreciate how gay and lesbian men and women feel on this day. That they feel this is something that is enriching the way they live.

Similarly, note this in the response of Senator Ronan Mullen, who campaigned for a 'No' vote:

What we [in Ireland] are not divided about is how we feel about gay people. Every human being has equal dignity and deserves equal respect and we are all committed to that.

And what does the CofI say to its members who voted 'Yes', who are gay, who have gay family members, or who belong to parishes in which gay people are welcomed in the community of the baptised - nothing.  Instead, all they are offered is a cold, joyless restatement of Church of Ireland Canon 31.

That, to quote the statement, "the result of this referendum does not alter" the Church of Ireland's teaching on marriage, had to be said - not, of course, that the Government of Ireland was claiming otherwise.  However, to offer no recognition of how the vote was seen to be an affirmation of the dignity of gay people and their relationships was both strikingly ungracious and deeply damaging of the CofI's potential for evangelising in contemporary Irish society.

++Diarmud Martin noted in his response to the result:

When I met Pope Benedict at my first synod as archbishop, he asked me, where are the points of contact between the Catholic Church and those places where the future of Irish culture are being formed? He talked to me about young people, about theatre, about media, about universities.

Those points of contacts for Irish Anglicanism have been compromised by the joyless, ungracious nature of the official response to the Referendum.  Earlier this year, in the aftermath of the equally clumsy CofE bishops' pastoral guidance on same-sex marriage, a group of younger English Anglican priests wrote to the Church Times:

We do not all agree about same-sex marriage, nor about how the Church of England should respond. But we are all of a mind on this: if the Church of England is serious about intentional evangelism to a generation that regards us with a mixture of apathy and contempt, and if we are to reverse our fast institutional retreat from relevance in the life of this nation, we need urgently to change the tone and manner of our discussions on matters relating to human sexuality.

With the joyless lack of grace and generosity in their response to the Referendum result, the archbishops and bishops of the Church of Ireland have signalled their desire to continue with the retreat from relevance.

Saturday, 23 May 2015

Eve of Pentecost - Gift

Whether 'Gift' is the proper name of the Holy Ghost?

Objection 1. It would seem that Gift is not the proper name of the Holy Ghost ...

Objection 2. Further, every proper name of a person signifies a property. But this word Gift does not signify a property of the Holy Ghost. Therefore Gift is not a proper name of the Holy Ghost ...

On the contrary, Augustine says (De Trin. iv, 20): "As 'to be born' is, for the Son, to be from the Father, so, for the Holy Ghost, 'to be the Gift of God' is to proceed from Father and Son." But the Holy Ghost receives His proper name from the fact that He proceeds from Father and Son. Therefore Gift is the proper name of the Holy Ghost. 

I answer that, Gift, taken personally in God, is the proper name of the Holy Ghost. 

Thomas' Summa I.38.2

An Eastertide Mystagogy: Spirit-filled community

During the Saturdays of Eastertide, a series of reflections - a form of mystagogy - will be posted. Based on the Acts reading of the coming Sunday, each will reflect on what it is for the Church to live as the authentic witness to the Resurrection.

The Acts reading for the Feast of Pentecost is Acts 2:1-21.

Mystagogical reflection: Spirit-filled community

The Church's journey through Easter - these great fifty days - culminates in the Feast of Pentecost.

The fifty days began with us hearing those strange accounts of the empty tomb, of the Risen One not recognised by the disciples.

They were confused, afraid, at first unbelieving, incapable of articulating what was happening.

Now something similar happens to us when we hear the Acts reading for Sunday's feast, telling of the Church's first Pentecost.

"Suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability" [1].

As with the mystery of Easter, so it is with Pentecost.

It is meant to be strange, disconcerting, difficult to explain or articulate.

For this is the manifestation and revelation of God the Holy Trinity.

This is God pouring out God's self and life and grace upon a world confused, disordered and disoriented by sin and death.

If we could easily, neatly define and grasp what is occuring either on Easter morning or on the day of Pentecost ...

We would have cause to pause and ask if this is really God at work or merely our own safe, comfortable projections.

No, as with Easter Day's empty tomb and confusing encounters with the Risen One ...

So on Pentecost we encounter the mystery of God present, transforming our experiences, overturning our expectations.

From this event, the book of Acts flows.

The All-Holy and Life-Giving Spirit is poured out upon the Church on Pentecost ...

And in the rest of Acts we see the Church as the Spirit-filled community.

Wealth is shared, the poor provided for, the sick healed, martyrs witness, the powers of this world confronted, a persecutor is converted, disciples are made even from the Gentiles ...

And the good news of the Crucified and Risen One is brought even to Rome itself, the proud imperial capital with its boasts of power and prestige.

It all so dramatic ... enough really to make the average Church of Ireland parish wonder what it has all got to do with us and our more - what shall we say? - quieter way of living the Faith.

The drama of Pentecost is really more for our charismatic brothers and sisters, isn't it?

Well, no, it's not.

No less than our charismatic brother and sisters, we believe in the miraculous, transforming, mysterious presence of God the Holy Spirit in the life of the Church ...

We believe that God the Holy Spirit is really and truly active and manifest in the Church today, as on the day of Pentecost.

When we baptise, we pray these words over the water:

"Pour out your Holy Spirit in blessing and sanctify this water so that those who are baptized in it may be made one with Christ in his death and resurrection" [2].

Here is the awe-inspiring mystery of Baptism ...

The Spirit falls upon the waters of the font and, through this water, brings the one baptised into unity with the saving Cross and Resurrection.

At the Eucharist we pray in the Great Thanksgiving:

"Grant by the power of the life-giving Spirit that we may be ... partakers of the body and blood of your Son" [3].

The Holy Spirit makes the bread and wine to be the Body and Blood of the Lord - present on the altar, our spiritual food and drink.

No wonder the Book of Common Prayer describes the Eucharist as "those holy mysteries" [4].

What is more, we believe that Pentecost is something which happens to us ...

That the gift of the Holy Spirit is personally bestowed on each of us to make us just like the disciples of the apostolic church.

We see it happening in Acts as the Church grows after Pentecost.

As the Church grows beyond Jerusalem, new disciples are baptised.

They obviously had not been present on the day of Pentecost ...

So how were they to share in the gift of the Spirit for the Church's life and mission?

Acts tells us the apostles lay hands on them and the gift of the Spirit is received.

We call it Confirmation.

In the prayer over the candidates at Confirmation, the bishop - ministering in succession to the apostles - prays:

"We give you thanks and praise for the gift of your Holy Spirit
by whom your servants have been born again
and made your children [in Baptism].
Grant that in the power of the same Holy Spirit
they may continue to grow ..."

After the bishop lays hands on the confirmed, he or she prays:

"Heavenly Father,
we pray for your servants
upon whom we have now laid our hands
after the example of the apostles ..." [5].

Here is our personal Pentecost ...

When through the outward and visible sign of the laying on of the bishop's hands ...

We receive the gift of the Holy Spirit to strengthen and empower us for our vocation as the baptised, as today's disciples, as the Church.

Miraculous, strange, mysterious.

When we celebrate the feast of Pentecost, we are not looking back into history ...

We are not merely recalling a past event.

We are celebrating who we as the Church are: the Spirit-filled community.

The community brought into being by the gift of the Spirit in Baptism, fed by the gift of the Spirit at the altar ...

Strengthened and equipped for discipleship by the gift of the Spirit in Confirmation.

Preaching on the feast day four centuries after the day of Pentecost, Augustine declared of the events of that day:

"The Holy Spirit is doing this in every church" [6].

Not merely past event, but living reality.

Pentecost is what we experience as we share in the life of the Church ...

In Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist ...

Here the miraculous presence and gift of the Spirit makes us to be the Body of Christ ...

Those who share in the very life of God the Holy Trinity.

Our life as the church, our witness as disciples - this is the mystery and miracle of Pentecost.


[1] Acts 2:2-4.

[2] First Prayer over the Water, Holy Baptism Two, BCP 2004 p.363.

[3] Epiclesis in Eucharistic Prayer I, BCP 2004 p.211.

[4] Exhortation Three, Eucharist Order I, BCP 2004 p.200.

[5] Confirmation Two, BCP 2004 p.387-8.

[6] See Augustine's Sermon 267.