Why Lombard?

In my last post, I talked about how I think I’m becoming a theologian because I’m not just reading theology for personal use or to teach church history but because, in January, I’ll be teaching theology at Ryle Seminary! “Theology 1”, in fact, covering “theology proper” — the doctrine of God and the Trinity plus creation and revelation. It’s a lot of stuff.

And so, naturally enough I’m reading Peter Lombard, The Sentences, Book 1.

Right? That’s normal, isn’t it?

Maybe — if you’re Stephen Langton (amirite?). But since I’m not assigning the Lombard to my students (it no longer being the year 1200), why him? Why not, oh, say, Herman Bavinck? I’m friends with some leading Bavinck scholars, after all. Or simply get back together with the Fathers? Or, given his current flash of light amongst online Protestants, Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologiae?

Well, the simple reason is: Peter Lombard interests me, so I’m using this an excuse. He is upstream of Thomas Aquinas and Bonaventure — and Stephen Langton. All of them used Lombard’s material, Aquinas and Bonaventure even writing commentaries on The Sentences like, well, almost every scholastic theologian beginning with Alexander de Hales. Lombard is also after one of my favourite Latin theologians, St Anselm of Canterbury (Langton, however, may be my favourite Archbp of C). And he’s contemporary with some of my favourite mystics, those early Cistercians Bernard, Aelred, William of St-Thierry.

As a historian of Christianity, this makes him interesting to me. He’s a piece of the puzzle whose shape and contours I want to know.

But that’s not the only reason I picked Lombard up off my shelf — after all, I’m turning into a theologian (in the modern sense — in the Evagrian sense it’s still a long term work in progress).

Why Peter Lombard is ultimately rooted in what The Sentences — all four volumes of it — is. Peter Lombard’s Sentences is not a modern systematic theology textbook. The majority of the text is quotations from theological authorities, most of them being Church Fathers. Actually, more precisely, most of them being St Augustine of Hippo, who accounts for 90% of the quotations — or sententiae chosen.

Besides St Augustine and the Bible, in Book 1 Lombard cites St Ambrose of Milan, Ambrosiaster, the Athanasian Creed, Boethius, Cassiodorus, the “Nicene”/Constantinopolitan Creed, a creed from a Council of Toledo, St Cyril of Alexandria, Didymus the Blind, Fulgentius of Ruspe, the Gelasian Sacramentary (I wonder if actually just the Roman Mass), St Gregory the Great, St Hilary of Poitiers, St Isidore of Seville, St Jerome, St John Chrysostom, somebody called Mediocre John, St John of Damascus, the Liber Pontificalis, Origen, Pelagius (!), and Syagrius.

The passages are usually about as long as a modern paragraph. They are excerpted from their source and then arranged topically. In Book 1, later users of The Sentences divided them into 48 groups called Distinctions. Alongside the sententiae Lombard has inserted his own analysis of particular problems that may arise or clarifications or summaries along the way.

These passages have been culled not directly from their authors’ works but from other, slightly earlier, similar enterprises, chiefly the wonderful canon law textbook we call the Decretum of Gratian, which is very similar but for canon law, and the Sic et Non of Peter Abelard. That is to say — Lombard is not choosing those passages from the Fathers that most support his argument, which is a valid thing to do and is what Peter Martyr Vermigli will do in On the Two Natures in Christ. Instead, he is choosing authorities who are already established in the tradition.

What he then does is produce a work that enables the reader, whether teacher or student, to work through these authorities and the difficulties they raise of one sort or another, and then come to a sound, orthodox conclusion with a deeper appreciation for the logic behind orthodoxy and a deeper knowledge of the authorities of the faith.

So I’m becoming a theologian. And I think to myself, what better way to strengthen my foundations than to work through this casebook of theological authorities for myself?

(I’m also going to read Bavinck because I’m assigning him.)


What do I mean, I’m becoming a theologian?

The other day, I took in hand a copy of Peter Lombard’s Sentences, photographed it, and tweeted:

But what, really, makes this different from any of the other times I’ve tweeted theology books?

What makes this different is why I’ve decided to get down with Lombard (and Bavinck, too, as it turns out). When I post a picture of (or even read) Hooker’s Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, Vermigli’s Dialogue on the Two Natures in Christ, St Gregory of Nyssa’s Catechetical Discourse, St John of Damascus On the Orthodox Faith, or any other theological book, I am reading or consulting that book for a few possible reasons:

  • I’m teaching it or its author
  • I’m researching something to do with it
  • Personal edification

And, technically, none of the courses I have yet taught have been theology courses. Thus far, besides Classics (Latin, Greek, ancient history, Latin & Greek literature) I have taught church history/Christian history. My students at Davenant Hall do end up reading quite a bit of theology, usually (if you study with me in January, you’ll get to read theology by Sts Athanasius, Ephrem the Syrian, Basil the Great, Gregory of Nazianzus, Gregory of Nyssa, Hilary of Poitiers, Ambrose of Milan, and John Chrysostom! Sign up today!). But the purpose of my teaching is for them to understand those authors on their own terms and in their historical context.

So what’s different with Lombard and Bavinck?

This time, I’m reading theology to teach theology.

That’s right, in January, besides my teaching at Davenant Hall, I have the opportunity to teach the course “Theology 1: God and Creation” at Ryle Seminary in Ottawa, covering, as the course website says, “A systematic and biblical study of Christian theology proper, with special attention to the Trinity, God and Creation, and the nature and scope of revelation.” Now, the doctrine of the Trinity is, to a large degree, what my other course, “The Theological World of the Nicene Controversy” is about. So the content overlaps.

But it’s different to put together a course where you say, “Whom am I teaching? What period am I covering? What are the most important primary sources for my students?” versus one where you say, “What am I teaching? What doctrines do I need to cover? What theological principles related to this topic will my students need the most?”

And so: enter Peter Lombard.

(Why him specifically? I’ll get to that later, maybe.)

Catholic Anglican thoughts (again)

13th-c mosaic on loggia, Santa Maria Maggiore, Rome

I think that perhaps one of the great problems with our society is that too many of us spend time thinking about our identities. For me, I spend time thinking about my religious identity. In particular, I often find myself feeling somewhat alone as a catholic Anglican — and not an Anglo-Catholic.

Like the majority tradition of Anglicanism, I embrace the teachings of the Fathers, the 39 Articles, the BCP, and what I’ve read of the Books of Homilies so far. I agree with Richard Hooker so much I wrote an essay recommending him for a real publication (as opposed to just another blog post). Moreover, I cherish the poetry of Donne, Herbert, and Guite, as well as the hymns of Charles Wesley and JM Neale. I recently called Lancelot Andrewes a saint, so there’s that in the mix, too!

Most of this doesn’t really make me much of “catholic”, though, does it? I mean, it mostly makes me an Anglican. I reckon John Wesley liked those things, too, except for the ones from after he died.

But what if I told you, despite spending 8 years as a Presbyterian, the only other church that seemed truly enticing was the Eastern Orthodox Church? That an Orthodox priest (now bishop!) once said that I am Orthodox in all but name? Although this actually isn’t true (I don’t seek saints to intercede for me [filed under: 39 Articles] or believe in tollhouses [filed under: umm…], to grab two really quick examples), I do have enormous respect for the Eastern Church and think that we can learn a lot from them in the West after a few centuries of Enlightenment and Romanticism under our belts.

So, yeah, I read St Sophrony, St Porphyrios, Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica, Metropolitan Anthony Bloom, Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, Father Andrew Louth, The Way of a Pilgrim, and others in my devotional time. I love the Greek Fathers, and sometimes I think I’m a Palamite. Byzantine chant and Byzantine icons, yes, please. I love the Divine Liturgy of Our Father Among the Saints John Chrysostom. Once when I was in a foul mood, I read the Divine Liturgy of Our Father Among the Saints Basil the Great just to cheer me up. And it’s beautiful and rich and makes anything from the West post-Vatican II (BAS and Common Worship, I’m looking at you) look like wading in shallow water when God has given us the skills requisite and necessary for surfing (or something like that).

I embrace the ancient and medieval heritage of the church — as interpreted through the 39 Articles and the BCP. Give me St Augustine. Give St Maximus the Confessor. Give me St Anselm and St John of Damascus and the Venerable Bede and St Benedict of Nursia and St Symeon the New Theologian and St Gregory of Nyssa and The Cloud of Unknowing and St John of the Ladder and St John of the Cross and St Bernard of Clairvaux and St Gregory of Nazianzus and St Basil of Caesarea and Origen of Alexander and St Athanasius of Alexandria and St Irenaeus of Lyons and Pope St Leo the Great and Pope St Gregory the Great and St Cyprian of Carthage and St Francis of Assisi and St Bonaventure and Stephen Langton and Julian of Norwich and Richard Rolle and Walter Hilton and Aelfric of Eynsham and Beowulf and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and Pearl and The Dream of the Rood.

Give me the Ruthwell Cross. Give me Mt Athos. Give the Benediktinerstift Sankt Paul im Lavanttal. Give me St Paul’s in London. Give me Durham Cathedral. Give me the Durham Gospels.

Give me these things, clothe them in the music of Tallis or Purcell or Gibbons. I’ll kiss your icons. I once kissed the alleged crozier of St Gregory. Give me the Real Presence of Christ in the Sacrament. Give me a little incense.

Give me these things, for when I encounter these things, I find Jesus in them.

Most of all, then: give me Jesus.

And I find that Jesus is found in this catholic Anglicanism. I find him there better than elsewhere — whether because of my own temperament or something in the nature of the catholic tradition itself. But Jesus comes to me in the poetry of John Donne and the teachings of the Orthodox monks. He comes when I read Pearl and I am drawn up to him through the architecture of a place like York Minster.

IRL, one finds oneself with almost no Anglicans round about, and few digging deep into this.

But Jesus comes amidst them, anyway — of course.

This is part of the secret of the catholic tradition, that God is always right there waiting for you. If you can cultivate hesychia and find, by grace, some level of purity of heart, you will find Jesus wherever you are, and not just listening to Byzantine chant on Spotify or with fellow catholics on Twitter, but at your own local parish.

Watch out for him. He’s there. Pray the Jesus Prayer. Memorise a poem or two by John Donne. Like St Pachomius, see God wherever He is, especially in your brother in Christ. He’ll be there — he has promised he will.

Tolkien, Boethius, Music

My latest YouTube video flows out of the “Tolkien Among the Theologians” digital symposium in which I participated this past weekend, exploring music as an interaction with, reflection of, aspect of the order of the cosmos, starting with The Silmarillion and closing with the hymn “This Is My Father’s World” — which, if you’ve been around this blog long enough, you ‘ll know, I love.

Not all Baptists

I feel like the title of this blog post should be a hashtag: #Notallbaptists. I’m inspired to quickly jot down a blog post praising my brothers and sisters in the Lord who are Baptists AND who don’t reject traditional Trinitarian theology and doctrine of God. I say this because my last post was of a YouTube video I made in response to the Baptist Trinitarian controversy that seems to still be ongoing. And not long before that, I was discussing kerfuffles about Aquinas, often perpetrated by the same people. I suspect and pray that the perpetrators are outliers.

I want to write this in honour of the many Baptists I’ve been friends with over the years, mainly from high school onwards, people who love Jesus and their church, family, friends, and world, seeking to be loving persons committed to our Lord who want to see others find Him and His salvation. People committed to seeking God where he may be found, especially in Scripture. And, to my knowledge, nary a heretic in sight, from what I can recall.

Of course, this is going on in the ranks of Baptist seminary profs, so we need to look beyond the ordinary Baptist in the pew these particular Baptists in academia, whose fellowship I have enjoyed.

A close friend in PhD days always comes to mind in the midst of these kerfuffles. Here was a man committed to Reformational doctrine — sola scriptura, sola fide, you know, that sort of thing. And, being a Baptist, he wasn’t simply a credobaptist, but he could tell you why in terms of the history and structure and ecclesiology of Baptist churchmanship, looking beyond a few easy proof text verses deployed in online debates to what makes his view on Baptism actually … Baptist (unlike mine, being Anglican).

Anyway, this same guy arrived thinking to work on the Apostolic Fathers, eventually settled on Biblical Studies, but never turned his back on patristics. He loves Augustine. Went eagerly to a City of God reading group organised by Oliver O’Donovan. Said things like, “Augustine makes my heart sing.” Also, a big fan of St Thomas Aquinas. And he knew Latin, so he’d sit down with the Vulgate every once in a while.

Not your Twitter stereotype, is he? (Not on Twitter, either.) He now brings his grace and wisdom to a church in the Southern USA, and I hope great things continue to happen for him.

More recently, I’ve been building an army of friends, a network developing initially through the Davenant Institute and #WeirdAnglicanTwitter. Amongst this growing army of friends are two excellent Baptist scholars, fellow Canadians — Fellowship Baptists, in fact, as were some very close friends in high school. So that’s a comfort. Anyway, I’ll name names since they’re on Twitter and Doing Various Good Things, not just academically but for Christ and His Church (which is what Christian academics ought to be doing), and these men are Ian Clary and Wyatt Graham.

They have a podcast that you should listen to, called “Into Theology”. They are on the cusp of finishing off reading through St Augustine’s Confessions together. So right away — #Notallbaptists. Augustine FTW.

Ian teaches at Colorado Christian University. He’s done a bunch of research into Baptist history, which is great. I like to see Baptists being Baptists and Anglicans being Anglicans. But I also like us being brothers in Christ. So, another thing you’ll learn by spending time on his Twitter feed is the fact that he prays the daily office from the Book of Common Prayer, and sometimes he posts prayers from it on Twitter. Which is just great and warms my Anglican heart. Besides Baptist stuff and the BCP, you’ll see some Bavinck, some Aquinas, the new Coleridge statue, and various other things. As I say, #Notallbaptists.

Wyatt teaches at Heritage Seminary, Redeemer University, and Ryle Seminary. He’s the president of The Gospel Coalition Canada and the ON/QC chapter of the Evangelical Theological Society. He also uses St Gregory of Nyssa and St Athanasius to teach the Psalms. And he live-tweeted his way through St Bernard’s On Grace and Free Will. Like a lot of Reformed guys, tweets Bavinck — he’s reading James Jordan right now, too, though. As I say, #Notallbaptists.

A third member of my growing army of friends is Tim Jacobs, an Aquinas guy. But I’ll just pause here. You get the idea.

The second reason I’m writing this post is that I find these men encouraging because it felt like, for a while, the only evangelicals I know about who were into the Fathers and the medieval divines were fellow Anglicans, or American Methodists, except, like, DH Williams. And now I also know the work of Gavin Ortlund. This is great — if there is to be retrieval of the riches of ancient and medieval theology to benefit the whole church, it needs people working on it beyond the Anglicans, however great my predecessors’ achievements may be (consider the work of Henry Chadwick, Oliver O’Donovan, JND Kelly, Rowan Williams, Alistair Stewart, Tim Vivian, Christopher A Hall, and others if you’re interested in Anglicans and patristics).

So I’m thankful for the blessing these Baptist brothers are to me and to Christ’s church.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving! This blog bills itself as “patristic, medieval, byzantine, anglican”, so here we go, in reverse order:

From the Book of Common Prayer:

ALMIGHTY God, Father of all mercies, We thine unworthy servants do give thee most humble and hearty thanks For all thy goodness and loving-kindness To us and to all men; [* particularly to those who desire now to offer up their praises and thanksgivings.] We bless thee for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life; But above all for thine inestimable love In the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ; For the means of grace, And for the hope of glory. And we beseech thee, give us that due sense of all thy mercies, That our hearts may be unfeignedly thankful, And that we show forth thy praise, Not only with our lips, but in our lives; By giving up ourselves to thy service, And by walking before thee in holiness and righteousness all our days; Through Jesus Christ our Lord, To whom, with thee and the Holy Ghost, be all honour and glory, world without end. Amen.

From St Gregory Palamas (14th c):

Prayer changes from entreaty to thanksgiving, and meditation on the divine truths of faith fills the heart with a sense of jubilation and unimpeachable hope. This hope is a foretaste of future blessings, of which the soul even now receives direct experience, and so it comes to know in part the surpassing richness of God’s bounty, in accordance with the Psalmist’s words, ‘Taste and know that the Lord is bountiful’ (Ps. 34:8). For He is the jubilation of the righteous, the joy of the upright, the gladness of the humble, and the solace of those who grieve because of Him.

From St Francis of Assisi (13th c)

Almighty, most holy, most high and supreme God, holy and just Father, Lord, king of heaven and earth, for Thyself we give thanks to Thee 68because by Thy holy will, and by Thine only Son, Thou hast created all things spiritual and corporal in the Holy Ghost and didst place us made to Thine image and likeness in paradise, whence we fell by our own fault. And we give Thee thanks because, as by Thy Son Thou didst create us, so by the true and holy love with which Thou hast loved us, Thou didst cause Him, true God and true man, to be born…. And we give thanks to Thee because Thy Son Himself is to come again in the glory of His Majesty … to say to all who have known Thee and adored Thee, and served Thee in repentance: “Come, ye blessed of my Father, possess the Kingdom prepared for you from the beginning of the world.” And since all we wretches and sinners are not worthy to name Thee, we humbly beseech Thee, that our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy beloved Son, in whom Thou art well pleased, together with the Holy Ghost, the Paraclete, may give thanks to Thee as it is pleasing to Thee and Them, for all. Amen. (Prayers of the Middle Ages, ed. J. Manning Potts, 1956)

From John the Solitary (of Apamea, early 5th c., Syriac):

What is required of us is to give him thanks unceasingly — not indeed to the full extent that befits his gift, for no one is capable of giving him thanks as would be appropriate, for his grace is far greater than the thanksgiving of all peoples; it is enough for us to realize that we have not the ability either to repay him, or even to thank him sufficiently (Letter to Hesychius, trans. Sebastian Brock, The Syriac Fathers on Prayer and the Spiritual Life, pp. 83-83)

Aquinas kerfuffles: missing the point

St Thomas Aquinas by Fra Angelico, San Marco Priory, Florence

As you may know, I work for the Davenant Institute, teaching courses on Christian History online — at present, “Streams in the Desert: The Christian Wisdom of the Desert Fathers”, and in January I’ll start “The Theological World of the Nicene Controversy”. Not exactly straight-up Thomism, is it?

Well, I’ll have you know that we at the Davenant Institute are accused of all being Thomists and that if you take one of our courses, you’ll be taught the theology of St Thomas Aquinas. And, not only that, if you listen to what we have to say in Ad Fontes or Davenant blogs or Davenant podcasts or Davenant books, you’ll find your way into Thomism, which is itself a path to destruction — for you and your church.

I’m not joking that people say this.

Now, it’s not untrue that many people at the Davenant Institute have an appreciation for St Thomas Aquinas. If you listen to, say, the Pilgrim Faith podcast with Joe Minich and Dale Stenberg, you will find at times that they refer to what Aquinas has to say on a subject when it’s relevant. (It’s a great podcast, and you don’t need to be a Thomist to like it.)

But the simple fact is that many of us, like me, aren’t actually Thomists, and that calling everyone else a Thomist or thinking that imbibing the teaching of Thomas Aquinas is dangerous is not to know what exactly my colleagues are up to. So, first: Why am I not a Thomist? Second: What are they actually up to? A third point will be: Is Aquinas actually dangerous in the first place?

Why am I not a Thomist?

Simply put: I don’t know the thinking of St Thomas Aquinas well enough to be certain if someday I would be or not. With my current state of knowledge, I can safely say that I’m not against St Thomas Aquinas, but I’m also not deep enough into his teaching to know how much I agree with/disagree with.

There’s a second one, though. Sometimes I think I might be a Palamite, and I’ve been told that the Palamite essences/energies distinction, although it does not contradict the Greek Fathers on divine simplicity, is incompatible with a Thomist view of divine simplicity. Not having read enough Thomas Aquinas, I can’t see if this is true.

Before my next point, let me say that I think it’s beautiful that within the historic confessions of the Protestant movement, we have room for Thomists and Palamites. There’s nothing in the 39 Articles that prevents me from holding to a Palamite position on divine simplicity; and I’m allowed to change my mind if prayerful reason leads me in a different direction. That’s pretty cool.

What are the Davenant bros actually up to?

What about my colleagues, then. Are they Thomists? I can’t speak for them; one of them has told me that he is. One of them, the Davenant Institute’s VP Colin Redemer, said in an episode of the Ad Fontes podcast that he wouldn’t use that word to describe himself because, while he finds Aquinas useful for a lot of important stuff, there are other places where the rest of the tradition, or his own use of God-given reason, (or something like that) comes into play against Thomas. Colin is a big fan of Peter Martyr Vermigli, for instance — Vermigli, if you are curious, used the scholastic method and came to certain conclusions in agreement with a lot of Scholastics but, as a Reformed Protestant, was unafraid to critique their errors.

It is, I would argue, the Peter Martyr approach that my colleagues are actually up to. Yes, they may write dense articles about divine simplicity drawing deeply from the well of St Thomas Aquinas and the tradition surrounding him (such as this good one by Ryan Hurd for Credo magazine). But if you look at their other work, like, say, a series of YouTube videos with Fred Sanders about the Reformed theologian Franciscus Junius’ Trinitarian theology (also by said Ryan Hurd).

I would venture to say the following: Much, if not most, of what St Thomas Aquinas wrote is compatible with the confessions of historic Protestantism. Where his work is incompatible with the confessions or deficient for one reason or another, my colleagues are not afraid to critique him. Hey — that sounds like any Christian’s wise approach to any theologian. Huh. Fancy that.

Is Aquinas dangerous?

Obviously, my answer is no. Let me unpack something here, though. The first time I heard anyone saying that reading or teaching St Thomas Aquinas is dangerous was in a video by (you guessed it) James White. In said video, White explicitly says that the reason why Aquinas is dangerous is because he’s the start of a slippery slope into Roman Catholicism for many people.

Let’s assume White is right about many people converting to Rome with St Thomas as part of the cause.

The real “problem” or “danger” lies not with Thomas Aquinas but with insufficient spiritual formation and catechesis. Learning the scholastic method can make you better at thinking clearly and carefully and precisely about anything, the doctrine of God included. If, however, you’ve never been taught fully and properly and well the distinctives of your own tradition, it will be hard for your Protestantism to stand up against the logic of Aquinas on those points where he and the Protestant tradition clash.

White, being a Baptist, is concerned with Baptists who join the Roman Church, naturally enough. But if justification by faith alone, sola scriptura, other Reformation slogans, and a certain ecclesiology and soteriology that work together to make you reject paedobaptism are what defines you as a Baptist, you need to know the scriptural and logical reasons your own tradition affirms those before rejecting them. And, if you take Aquinas and his method seriously, you need to steel man them — that is, see the strongest version of the credobaptist position — before you reject them.

I don’t have a lot of Baptist friends these days, but one of them is a pastor in the American South who loves St Augustine and St Thomas Aquinas. He says things like, “Reading Augustine makes my heart sing!” But also, if you ask him questions about Baptist-specific things, he knows his stuff and is very eager to talk about it. So knowing Aquinas and deepening your faith in the God Who Saves is not necessarily antithetical to being a Baptist.

And if, intrinsically, studying Aquinas were a real, absolute danger to staying Baptist, I’d place the problem with Baptists, not Aquinas.

Anglican Tradition and the Bible

The other night I listened to Alastair Roberts read Homily 1, “A Fruitful Exhortation to the Reading of Holy Scripture” from the 16th-century Anglican Book of Homilies (Book 1 first published 1542). I had lots of thoughts, most of which have escaped me, but here are two:

First, go and read the Bible. If you’re feeling a bit like you aren’t into it or haven’t read it for a while or anything like, go listen to Alastair read the homily. It’s only 18 minutes long, and it will fruitfully exhort you to read the Bible.

Second, one of the thoughts I had was how this reinforces ideas about Anglican worship and spirituality that I’ve heard people say and observed from inference. In particular, this homily reinforces the Reformation-era Anglican idea that the words of Holy Scripture are themselves powerful.

Reading the Bible or listening to someone read the Bible is good for you.

Sometimes you meet people (or read them on Twitter, I guess) who seem to think that a church loves the Bible because congregants spend a lot of time listening to a person talk about the Bible. I’m not saying those people don’t love the Bible. Nor am I saying that Anglicans love the Bible more.

However, Homily 1 represents a robust trust in the power of sacred Scripture to transform hearts and minds, to make us holier, to make us more Christ-like. In the Bible we encounter God, and God can transform us.

This trust is reflected liturgically in the Anglican tradition’s historic cycle of services. Historically, the Anglican liturgical tradition on a Sunday would have included Morning Prayer, followed immediately by Communion (or Antecommunion), and then Evening Prayer in the evening (naturally enough), coupled with a requirement for clergy and encouragement for laity to pray Morning and Evening Prayer every day, and for the lay folk to join their local cleric in the church if possible.

This centrality of Morning and Evening Prayer to Anglican worship is well worth noting, because these services differ most from their medieval Sarum precursors precisely in the question of Scripture. If you grab a Roman Breviary or Benedictine Breviary, you will find that the passages of Scripture selected for the daily office are … brief, in large part because of how complicated the Roman church’s daily office is, partly also because, for monks, at least, there is an expectation that you will read the Bible at some other part of the day. I would also hasten to add that medieval liturgy has all sorts of Scripture in use in different parts of the various services and offices; when you simplify your liturgy and reduce the number of offices, this needs rebalancing — as the BCP does.

In the BCP, on the other hand, the passages for Morning and Evening Prayer are quite substantial. If you follow the Prayer Book lectionary for daily prayer, you will read the entire Old Testament every year, the New Testament twice a year, and the Psalms every month. That’s a lot of sacred Scripture!

And if you look at the rubrics, there is no expectation that there will be preaching at any service outside Holy Communion. What matters are the words of Scripture themselves. Yes, Anglicans believe in preaching the Word (the Homily discusses that as well). But we also believe in the naked power of the raw Word of God, bringing us into contact with the God Word Himself Who lies behind the word written.

This sturdy belief in the power of the Bible is implicit in the Prayer Book, and explicit in Homily 1.

More of us should read or listen to these.

Reformed catholic? (Part two)

In my last post, I talked a bit about my slow development to a willingness to use the term “Reformed” — but what about catholic? How is a person both? Well, this has sort of a broad, historical answer, and a narrow, personal answer.

Broad, historical answer

The broad, historical answer is that the Reformers and others in the early Protestant movement considered themselves “catholic”. And a lot of them would have considered those whom we commonly call “Catholics” today Romish or Popish or Papist or at least members of the Roman Church. Now, we don’t need to get into the latter part. It is enough to note that the early Protestant movement saw itself as catholic.

Catholic, as you may know, means universal. The magisterial Reformation (Lutherans, the Reformed, Anglicans), tended to see themselves as the continuing life of the apostolic church. That strand in the Church of England that would come to define Anglicanism (and, thus, for self-definition, something that matters more for me than would the ideas of Luther or Melanchthon or Calvin or Knox) frequently saw itself as restoring the Church of England to an existence prior to the abuses of the later Middle Ages.

Matthew Parker (Archbishop of Canterbury, 1559-1575) was really into this vision of the Church of England. For example, he argued that what the reforms were doing was bringing the church back to how it was in 597 under St Augustine of Canterbury. This, sadly, is not true. But it’s a lovely idea, and it shows the ideals of the English Reformation. He also, notably, printed the sermon of Aelfric of Eynsham (d. 1010) on the Holy Communion to argue that transubstantiation was a later addition to the dogma of the church, and that the C of E was just restoring the ancient doctrine of the church on this matter. In this way, the Reformational, or even Reformed, Church of England was very catholic, seeking to stand in continuity with the universal church in history.

Similarly, Richard Hooker, who is often cited as being the progenitor of real “Anglican” theology, litters The Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity with references to the Fathers. His treatment of the Eucharist, for example, cites many of the early fathers in support of his position. That said, you could just as easily deploy a different set of fathers against Hooker’s position, so his catholicity is not as cut-and-dried as all that.

Finally, it is worth remembering that the catholic church of medieval Latin Christendom was deeply and thoroughly Augustinian. Sts Augustine and Gregory the Great are the two most cited and read fathers throughout the entire Middle Ages. Whatever else went on in the Reformation and Counter-Reformation, both movements were a reinvestment in the teachings of St Augustine of Hippo in the church’s approach to questions of justification, grace, merit, etc. Both sides are Augustinian, they just read him differently.

There’s more that could be said about the relationship of the early Protestants to Scholasticism and to the Eastern Churches and to more recent things like St Thomas a Kempis and the Devotio Moderna, but I’ll just leave it there, simply noting that a vast quantity of medieval theology and medieval piety was part of the inheritance of the Reformers and the Protestant Scholastics.

Narrow, personal answer

As I said in the last post, when I was going through a bit of a spiritual crisis during my year in Durham, my brother called me a “catholic Anglican”, and a friend sent me a copy of Alexander de Hale’s commentary on Peter Lombard about grace. Moreover, I had coffee with Father Andrew Louth at his home in Darlington. Father Andrew is a great man — he writes good, important books full of big thoughts, but is also ready to sit with a cup of coffee in his study with a young man searching for help and answers.

Anyway, those three facts about the hard year in Durham are indicative of my personal, spiritual trajectory for many years. I read books by desert monks and modern Athonite elders. I pray the Jesus Prayer. I sometimes (less than I’d like) pray Morning and Evening Prayer. I read medieval mystics. I sometimes attend Orthodox Vespers, maybe even the divine liturgy.

Add to this my embrace of the patristic heritage, including the spiritual sense of Scripture, not to mention the wonders of St Maximus the Confessor as he draws deeply from the Cappadocian well, bringing forth the beautiful synthesis of the trajectories of both Athanasius and Evagrius, and you start to see how I am pretty … catholic.

Nevertheless, I affirm the Articles of Religion, which excludes me from being Roman Catholic. I believe in justification by faith in a Luther kind of way. I also hold to a historically Anglican understanding of the relationship between Scripture and tradition. Some days, I admit that I’m not wholly certain about the Eucharist — but not because Baptist memorialists sway me to be “more ‘Protestant'”, but because St Cyril sways me to be less. Or, maybe, to be more Luther.

So, yes. Catholic. Most assuredly.