By the Garden Gate: A Journey With Robert Campin

1 10 2015


An excellent piece on art as pilgrimage by Lisa Deam.

Originally posted on Almost Orthodoxy:

A few years ago, in New York for a conference, I made a pilgrimage to The Cloisters museum and gardens. I use the term “pilgrimage” advisedly. Like a medieval traveler going to a shrine, I went to see a sacred object—the painting known as the Merode Altarpiece by Flemish artist Robert Campin. From Midtown, the Cloisters was enough out of the way to make the journey a little difficult, the gratification a bit delayed. The museum’s medieval setting enhanced my sense of sacred purpose.

Once at the Cloisters, I discovered that Campin’s painting has its own gallery, called the Merode Room. I made straight for it. At the time of my visit, the altarpiece hung above a medieval bench opposite the gallery entrance. By some miracle, the room was empty. The painting beckoned me forward, and I walked toward it as to an altar.

I saw, at first, what other…

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I Love The Smell of Incense in The Morning

16 09 2015

Originally posted on Anglican Memes:

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Canon Law will save the world

16 09 2015

I have decided that canon law will save the world.

Or, at least, having some knowledge of it and protecting the right of churches to operate within the bounds of canon law.

As opposed to secular law, of course.

The idea first came to mind when I observed the large amount of hate (or mockery or disdain or loathing) being heaped upon the Sabellian heretic Kim Davis. Davis, if you have been happily unaware, is a county clerk in the USA who decided to stop issuing marriage licences on the grounds that said licences would have her name on them, and the US gov’t considers certain couples eligible that she, a member of the (oneness) Solid Rock Apostolic Church, does not consider eligible. She resisted a court order, went to jail, was subsequently released.

I think a proper concept of canon law would give someone like Kim Davis a way out. Or she should just quit her job, if secular law and canon law have diverged to such a degree that she feels that doing her job in secular law involves too many uncanonical activities. With an understanding of the concept of canon law — that the church has certain regulations that she follows for the ordering of the body of its members — the Christian can say, ‘I may not like what the secular legislation concerning marriage says, but my church is still free to regulate and order marriage as it sees fit.’

In fact, before any thought of same-sex marriage had passed through anyone’s minds, the Roman Catholic Church (and, formerly, most Protestant denominations) already considered certain persons ineligible for marriage under canon law who were eligible under secular law — divorced people whose divorced spouse was still living and who hadn’t successfully got their previous marriage annulled.

In a world that favours pluralism, Christians should probably stop trying to enforce our regulations on everyone but seek, instead, to uphold the right to live in our peculiar way, in peace with those around us — similar, in fact, to the way Orthodox Jews and other conservative religious minorites live.

Alternatively, if one believes that same-sex marriage will completely tear apart the fabric of society (I think no-fault divorce, thoughtless marriages, and adultery are probably far worse than same-sex marriage), one should petition politicians and seek out clear and articulate and non-angry ways to express why, exactly, same-sex marriage is bad for our countries. But this is not the same as unilaterally deciding not to issue marriage licences, which results in a victory for no one.

But Christians aren’t the only people canon law can save. As this post by Scott Eric Alt demonstrates, knowing canon law can help people interpret what on earth the Roman Catholic Church and its Pope are up to. The aforementioned post is about Pope Francis’ ‘Year of Mercy’, wherein those women who are under excommunication for abortions can have the excommunication lifted by normal, auricular confession to a parish priest, rather than going through the hierarchy to a bishop.

This offer of mercy has been gravely misunderstood, largely because people have no knowledge of Roman canon law, and because they have no concept of canon law to begin with. If we accept that such a thing as canon law exists for the regulation of the church, then we have to realise that when the pope legislates any aspect of church life, he is not getting involved in American politics, but trying to find a way to order the lives of Catholics that will be consonant with the tradition and with their spiritual wellbeing.

The Roman Catholic Church believes that abortion is a sin called infanticide. Regardless of what the secular law says, this fact will never change. What can change are the regulations concerning what to do when someone has committed this sin, and — as it turns out — only some people are excommunicated. The pope is trying to extend mercy and love to people who have been excluded by the church’s current regulations. He is not lobbying western governments to change secular law; he is extending mercy through the channels of canon law.

Through coming to understand the concept of canon law, those not bound by it can find ways that they can extend mercy to their bizarre neighbours who have this other set of regulations to live by. This would be much better than the shrill nature of current Internet discourse, where both Left and Right holler at each other and seek to drown each other out and silence each other and ridicule each other.

And for those Christians who fear that I am recommending that we ‘give up’ ‘the fight’, it depends what ‘fight’. If we want to see a decrease in abortions, or a return to ‘traditional’ marriage (which goes far beyond mere heterosexual monogamy), we should be seeking to bring people to the King of Love, to the foot of the Cross, where they can be washed clean by the blood of Jesus and submit themselves to His rule. The current state of affairs just paints us as hatemongers and misogynists.

A “Sarum Use” church plant and why it wouldn’t work

11 09 2015
Beholding Durham Cathedral in awe

Beholding Durham Cathedral in awe

A friend of mine once dreamt that I had started my own church following the liturgy according to the Use of Sarum. I’ve had a few encounters with Sarum Use, including translating some of its texts on this blog.1 I started to imagine what my Sarum Use church would be like. Obviously, despite my Protestant sentiments to the contrary, the liturgy would have to be in Latin. And it would have to follow the Use According to Sarum. This is not difficult to organise; the entire Missal and Breviary exist in modern printed editions. I would probably, however, print up glossed versions of the text for the congregants. Although it’s something that I’ve seen in Tridentine churches, it would be my first departure from the mediaeval liturgy. Nevertheless, this seems perfectly justifiable; the Middle Ages had a low literacy rate,2 so pew sheets would have been useless — plus, parchment and paper were rather more expensive then, and print was only around for a few decades before the Reformation, to boot.

Kitting out a full-blown Sarum church as recommended in the mediaeval sources would require no small sum of money — candles, censers, incense for the censers, vestments for clergy and the various assistants at the altar, altar cloths, banners for processions, chalices, patens (both plural, of course), monstrances, tabernacle for reserve host, etc, and more of which I am unaware.

The architecture of a Sarum church is important. I thought about this for a while — Romanesque or Gothic? Mosaics on the walls? I decided that, as much as I am fond of Romanesque and mosaics, it would have to be Gothic with a few carvings and frescoes because our sources for this liturgical use come from the period when Gothic in all its variety and Perpendicular reigned supreme in English church architecture. So it would only be fitting for my Sarum church to be Gothic. Unlike Victorian Gothic, however, the windows would be large, ablaze with stained glass telling the stories of Scripture and the saints, like Yorkminster (or, preferably, La Sainte-Chapelle).

This Gothic church would be cruciform in shape with the high altar just beyond the transepts. I would want a screen, but I’m not sure a. how authentic Late Mediaeval Rood Screens looked (besides Yorkminster) b. how much I want it to obscure the congregational view of the celebration of the Mass. My modern/Prot sensibilities intruding again!

The music for the liturgy is another question. When Sarum was last in use, it was blessed by the magnificent music of Thomas Tallis. But I am not sold on this sort of music for congregational use — I want the people of the congregation to engage with the words of the liturgy and recite/sing/chant as much as they can. This sounds very Protestant of me (because it is), but I’ve a feeling it would be in the spirit of the Dominicans and Franciscans, anyway. Perhaps a compromise with an ‘Anglican’ or Gregorian plainsong for most the liturgy, but then intricate choral singing while people receive the Mass?

Hymnody could come anywhere from the Latin tradition, I suppose. Perhaps restricting itself to hymns found in British sources? I wouldn’t want to restrict myself to pre-Elizabethan Latin hymns, though — I’d lose ‘Veni, Veni, Emmanuel,’ in that case!

The lectionary would be based on the Sarum sources and the preaching in the vernacular based on the lectionary. That’s simple.

I think I would like to restore the Late Antique and Early Mediaeval ‘cathedral’ liturgy of the hours. That is, Morning and Evening Prayer, Monday through Saturday, instead of Mass every morning which is contemporary Roman Catholic practice. But, since this is a parish church, no attempt at the monastic liturgy of the hours. I think a modern practice that could be acceptable, however, is a mid-week, midday Eucharist.

Thus the liturgy. Anyone with enough willing bodies and money could reproduce the Use of Sarum in an appropriate space. There are probably more people willing to get involved with such an experiment than one would think.

But is that enough?

Can we transplant mediaeval liturgy into the modern world and touch modern souls in the same way? If we were to transplant it, would touching modern souls as mediaeval even be the goal?

The liturgical practice of the Middle Ages was part of a much bigger spirituality that a single parish could not recreate today. This was a shared spirituality that, with some variety of region or religious order (Dominicans, Franciscans, secular clergy, monastics), embraced Europe from Ireland and Iceland to the Czech Republic, from Norway to Sicily (and sometimes Cyprus and the Levant). For all that pilgrimage has always had a hint of spiritual tourism, people would still have taken pilgrimages to Durham or Canterbury or St Andrews or Compostela or Rome or Jerusalem as part of an international spiritual piety that bound them together in a way that modern spiritual tourism does not. In England they would have had the religious world of the miracle plays on their doorstep as part of the regular life of a city’s entertainment. Monks and anchorites were available to learn from as an integrated part of a spiritual community rather than oddities or perceived as relics of a bygone age.

Some of this could be mitigated in artificial ways in the parish life of the Sarum church, I suppose — study groups of the mediaeval mystical tradition, for example, or trips to living monasteries. But I don’t think the spirit of Sarum could ever be recaptured precisely because we no longer live in the Middle Ages. Christendom has been torn asunder over the past 500 years, and any attempt to integrate the mediaeval with the (post)modern must acknowledge that fact and realise that anything it does will be, inevitably, different from what they did, no matter how one might try.

1. In real life, I have, in fact, been to a service at St Thomas’, Huron St, Toronto, that used the Sarum liturgy (thoughts here and here); before that, I’d blogged about Sarum Use at least once. As well, in my ‘Classic Christian Texts’ on this site, I’ve got Mediaeval Vespers and the Order for the Consecration of Marriage: Sarum Use, both translated by me. Never having footnoted before, I give thanks to Karl Winegardner’s blog Compendiums for showing me how to do this.

2. According to one source, England had a literacy rate as low as 6% in 1300, but in the 1400s literacy steadily increased.

Pope Question: You say ‘Roman Bishop’ and ‘Pope’ – what do you mean?

4 08 2015

pope clipartI was explaining to someone my upcoming research project into the sources of the earliest collections of papal letters recently, and this question came up. It’s actually a very good question, because it helps clarify what the person with whom you are speaking actually means by the terms. There is a certain kind of Roman Catholic, for example, who would say that not only are ‘Bishop of Rome’ and ‘Pope’ synonymous, the office of the Bishop of Rome has pretty much always been invested with the same authority and whatnot.

My answer was that, for my research, I use the terms interchangeably. However, it is more that I mean ‘Roman Bishop/Bishop of Rome’ when I say ‘Pope’ than that I mean ‘Pope’ when I say ‘Roman Bishop/Bishop of Rome’. That is, I am conscious of a development in the office of the Roman Bishop and his role in ecclesiastical polity that means that ‘Pope’ Siricius (d. 399) and ‘Pope’ Innocent III (d. 1216) and ‘Pope’ Francis do not all have exactly the same job or role in the wider church.

John Moorhead’s 2015 book, The Popes and the Church of Rome in Late Antiquity takes the same tack, although Moorhead eschews the adjective ‘papal’ and noun ‘papacy’, with good reason. I choose not to because they are short words and everyone knows what they mean; instead, I frame my use of pope-related words at the beginning of my work so people know what is going on. Calling Leo ‘Pope’ is perfectly legitimate; therefore, talking of his papacy makes a lot of sense to me — although I can also see Moorhead’s perspective, trying to avoid clouding the issue of how the Roman Bishop’s role developed.

What is a ‘pope’? A ‘pope’ is a papa in Latin — a father. The term is used in the fifth century of bishops beyond the Bishop of Rome, although eventually it becomes restricted to said bishop in its usage. I am fairly certain no one ever legislated the term ‘pope’. It is also used in Eastern churches; hence the current Pope Tawadros II of the Coptic Orthodox Church. At St Sozomen’s Church, Galata, Cyprus, it is painted in a fresco on the exterior of the building; the fresco is of the Council of Nicaea, and the poor fifteenth- (sixteenth-?) century artist knew neither Pope Sylvester’s name nor the fact that he wasn’t even there, so simply painted ‘Papa Romis’ over his head.

It is a title of honour, originally used to esteem the person and activity of spiritual direction of the bishop. Therefore, even though Bishops of Rome in the late 300s and 400s were not the same sort of Pope as Innocent III, they are still Popes — and they still claim a primacy of honour. And Pope Leo the Great, in fact, even claims that all clerical ministry descends from Peter, and therefore Rome.

How the pope, in his role of Bishop of Rome, Metropolitan of Suburbicarian Italy, and holder of a primacy of honour, Patriarch of the western church, comes to be invested with universal jurisdiction and appoints all bishops is a different story. But to call someone ‘pope’ need not imply said jurisdiction or vision of the papal role.

Dispassion: Jesus & Superman (also John Climacus)

29 07 2015

Dispassion (Gk apatheia) is one of the harder aspects of traditional Christian spirituality to sell today. I know that I have a hard time with it, and when I first heard John Michael Talbot sing, ‘Prayer is the state of dispassion’, I was greatly concerned.

At first glance, this term, whether applied to humans striving for perfection or to the already perfect Jesus/God, seems to be promoting not feeling anything, living life with a lack of emotion. And, certainly, there are times when spiritual writers sound like that’s just what they want — no laughter, no tears, no swellings of emotional feeling of any type at any point.

This past Sunday morning, my friend Cory was preaching about Matthew 8:23-27, where Jesus calms the storm:

Then he got into the boat and his disciples followed him. 24 Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. 25 The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!”

26 He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm.

27 The men were amazed and asked, “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!” (NIV)

Having just finished John Climacus’ Ladder of Divine Ascent, whose second-last step is ‘Dispassion’, I couldn’t help but be struck that Jesus here is, in fact, an example of dispassion. The wind stirs, the waves rise, the rain batters from above. ‘But Jesus was sleeping.’

Jesus knows where true power lies. He can command the wind and waves to stop at any time. Therefore, he can sleep through a storm because he is not afraid of its power. One greater than the storm is here.

Jesus is chill. In it’s earliest meaning, this is what is meant to be ‘cool’ — that bad stuff doesn’t faze you, that you can handle it and be level. When great stuff comes, you don’t get too wound up, either, because you know that the great things in this temporal existence are fleeting, anyway.

A similar point was recently made about Superman, in this article by Joshua Rivera for Business Insider article a friend posted on Facebook, ‘Why Is It So Hard to Get Superman Right in Movies?‘ The quotation that sprang to mind as I mulled on Jesus in the boat this past Sunday is this one:

There’s a great anecdote that legendary comics writer Grant Morrison — the man responsible for one of the best Superman stories in recent memory, 2005’s “All-Star Superman” — tells about Superman in his memoir “Supergods.” In the memoir, he mentions the inspiration for his story — he was at a convention, and he saw a handsome man in a Superman costume just sitting down and relaxing on a stoop.

That was Morrison’s epiphany: The most powerful man alive wouldn’t be tortured but instead would be the friendliest, most relaxed person you ever saw.

Now, Superman is fictional, and none of us is ever going to be as big as Jesus. Superman can fly, shoot lasers out of his eyes, use X-ray vision, lift really heavy stuff, and is impervious to bullets. Jesus is God in the flesh; in His time on earth, He walked on water, turned water into wine, rose people from the dead, healed the sick, cast out demons, calms storms with a word, and then rose from the dead Himself.

None of us is likely ever to do the sorts of things Superman does in Action Comics, although by the grace of God I think some may do the sorts of things Jesus does in the Gospels. Either way, we are not as likely to be as chill as either Jesus or Morrison’s Superman.

John Climacus’ descriptions of dispassion and how we attain it are not exactly encouraging — unless you want to spend your whole life seeking to purified of all sin and become immersed in virtues. He writes:

If complete enslavement to passion is indicated by the fact that one quickly submits to whatever the demons have sown in us, I take it then that a mark of holy dispassion is to be able to say unambiguously: “I did not recognize the evil one as he slipped away from me” (Ps. 100:4), nor did I know the time of his coming, the reasons for it, nor how he went. I am completely unaware of such matters because I am and will ever be wholly united with God. (Ladder of Divine Ascent, Step 29, trans. Luibheid & Russell, p. 284)

I’ve blogged about the passions before, so I won’t detain us long on them. But it is freedom from the disordered desires of human life that dispassion refers to. The dispassionate person is not a soulless shell with no emotion. Rather, freed (by the grace of God) from being battered all day by his or her passions, the dispassionate can see clearly, can know truly what truth and good are, what falsehood and evil are. And can live accordingly.

All of this, as the best of the spiritual guides remind us (Climacus, Cassian, Theophan the Recluse among others), is by God’s grace alone. But, typically, God brings us to such a place only through the experiences and activities of life. As G. K. Chesterton said, ‘One cannot grow a beard in a fit of passion.’ I’ve a feeling that dispassion — or, as Cassian circumlocutes is, purity of heart — is the same way.

We worship God because He is worthy of worship

26 07 2015

I recently found Robin Mark’s book Warrior Poets of the 21st Century in a bin of free books outside one of Edinburgh’s used bookshops, and I started reading it today. It’s an easy read, and says some useful things to help us orient our minds concerning worship. Well, the first 60 pages, anyway. In chapters 3 and 4, Mark (of ‘Days of Elijah’ and Revival in Belfast fame) identifies four reasons why we should worship God:

  1. It’s what we were made for.
  2. It’s what this world is all about.
  3. It’s because of the ownership of God.
  4. It’s because it’s for our own good and the communities around us. (see p. 60 for list)

I am not going to dispute Mark’s four reasons for worshipping God. They are all good reasons, if you ask me. There is a fifth that hasn’t emerged in the book yet — maybe it will in the pages to come. This fifth reason strikes me as the most important reason of all:

  • It’s because God is worthy of it.

This question goes to the heart of Who God is and the foundations of our relationship to Him. Many critics of the Judaeo-Christian theology of God and worship criticise the God of the Bible, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, because only a selfish, narcissistic jerk would require worship. The argument that He made us to worship Him doesn’t really address this concern — what kind of a self-absorbed person creates something in order to be worshipped by it?

The first thing to set in order concerning many of the misotheist arguments is that God is not a man. In this instance, not even not male — not human. The Divinity is completely different from human beings. When we say He is transcendent, that’s what we’re getting at. He is not just a man only bigger; that would be a god, like Jupiter, the sort of divine being we invent. The God of the Bible is holy because He is wholly other. His thoughts are as far from ours as the heavens are from the earth. Earth is his footstool, heaven his throne. His ways are not our ways.

God is omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent.

He is everywhere, this immanence being part of his transcendence.

Trinity KnotThe Christian conception of God, through prayer, worship, and searching of the Scriptures, has discovered the unfathomable truth that God is a Trinity of persons who, in the philosophical and theological language with which we feebly try and express the inexpressible, exist in perfect unity because they have a single substance. God is one and three at the same time. This is, indeed, not strictly logical by the rules of creation — but somehow it makes sense, and helps the world make sense.

If you want a good sense of what sort of God we’re dealing with and why He ought to be worshipped, I recommend A. W. Tozer’s The Knowledge of the Holy.

So. Thus God. God is not one of us. He is above and beyond all of creation.

By the nature of worship, God is worthy of it.

Since I’m a bit obsessed with the Oxford English Dictionary, here’s the etymology of ‘worship’, which first appears c. AD 888:

Old English weorðscipe , later wurð- , wyrð- , northern worðscipe , < weorð worth adj. + -scipe -ship suffix. The formation is peculiar to English.

Worth + ship = worship. -ship, if you’re curious, is defined thus:

1. Added to adj[ective]s. and pa[st]. p[artici]ples. to denote the state or condition of being so-and-so.
2. Added to n[oun]s. to denote the state or condition of being what is expressed by the n[oun].

By 1200, the noun has become the verb, whose current (2015) primary definition in the OED is:

To honour or revere as a supernatural being or power, or as a holy thing; to regard or approach with veneration; to adore with appropriate acts, rites, or ceremonies.

In worship, we are honouring God as He is worthy. At a certain level, this is simply basic manners, isn’t it? I mean, we are expected to treat other humans as they are worthy of being treated. So we honour our parents, treat waiters and waitresses with basic respect, do as our bosses tell us, obey laws, are respectful to judges, and so forth.

If God, then, is as I’ve described (and so much more, so much better!), how could we not worship him? It strikes me that worship is simply the basic response we have in relation to the Divine Person(s).


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