Watch my latest video, “Maybe there is a literal meaning” on YouTube!

In this video, I try to nuance the concept of the “literal” meaning of Scripture in response to Jonathan Pageau. I bring Augustine’s theory of signs and things as well as Maximus the Confessor on the Bible, closing with my own literal-symbolic reading of the Ascension narrative from Acts 1.

To Battle Against Gluttony (An Ash Wednesday Reflection)

My brother’s thoughts on Evagrius and Cassian on gluttony. Appropriate for the start of Lent!

thewitnesscloud

In the Philokalia, Evagrios the Solitary’s Texts on Discrimination in respect of Passions and Thoughts is the product of a long life of contemplative prayer. It offers insight into discrimination (though we, today, would be more comfortable using the word discernment for what Evagrios means). There are many spirits at work in the world around us, and holy scripture challenges us to be discerning of these spirits – to have discriminating taste. We are not, as some may fancy, invited to entertain all spiritual influences from whatever quarter. We are to exercise this discrimination for the sake of the preservation of our souls – for the sake of the purity of our souls. And Evagrios is interested in helping us (other Christians) to discriminate well. Well, technically his purpose is to instruct new monks – to advise them in guarding against the wiles of the devil… but while we may…

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Richard Hooker and the Coronavirus

Here’s a helpful and readable explanation of Richard Hooker’s doctrine of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. It’s only marginally related to Coronavirus inasmuchas Anglicans who are missing the Eucharist right now actually are missing something Real, according to the English Reformation’s greatest theologian.

via Richard Hooker and the Coronavirus

What it’s all about

The point of the Collect for Purity, the end point of justification by faith, sanctification by whatever means necessary, of the means of grace, of any ascetic life or holy living, is not merely “to be good.” The end point — the telos — of all this God himself. Reading about Richard Hooker, reading The Cloud of Unknowing, thinking about historic asceticism — in all of it I need to keep this in mind.

It is expressed most beautifully by John Cassian, Conference 10.7:

And this will come to pass when God shall be all our love, and every desire and wish and effort, every thought of ours, and all our life and words and breath, and that unity which already exists between the Father and the Son, and the Son and the Father, has been shed abroad in our hearts and minds, so that as He loves us with a pure and unfeigned and indissoluble love, so we also may be joined to Him by a lasting and inseparable affection, since we are so united to Him that whatever we breathe or think, or speak is God, since, as I say, we attain to that end of which we spoke before, which the same Lord in His prayer hopes may be fulfilled in us: that they all may be one as we are one, I in them and You in Me, that they also may be made perfect in one; and again: Father, those whom You have given Me, I will that where I am, they may also be with Me. (John 17:22-24)

(The Orthodox call it theosis.)

Grace and labour working together in sanctification (more Richard Hooker)

Hopefully not wrenching this passage out of context, I have just found another bit of Richard Hooker that is germane to the relationship between grace and works in sanctification. It was quoted in David Neelands chapter on Predestination in Brill’s A Companion to Richard Hooker, p. 189. I am going to do something I usually avoid, and give it to you with modernised (i.e. readable) spelling:

For let the Spirit be never so prompt, if labour and exercise slacken, we fail. The fruits of the Spirit do not follow men as the shadow does the body of their own accord. If the grace of sanctification did so work, what should the grace of exhortation need? It were even as superfluous and vain to stir men up unto good, as to request them when they walk abroad not to loose their shadows. Grace is not given us to abandon labour, but labour required lest our sluggishness should make the grace of God unprofitable. Shall we betake ourselves to our ease, and in that sort refer salvation to God’s grace, as if we had nothing to do with it, because without we can do nothing? Pelagius urged labour, for the attainment of eternal life without necessity of God’s grace, if we teach grace without necessity of man’s labour, we use one error as a nail to drive out another. …. In sum, the grace of God has abundantly sufficent for all. –Dublin Fragments, 13.

What I think Hooker is saying is that we need grace to be able to do good. But once we are justified, our labour is a real part of the life of the justified Christian. Sure, our works won’t save us in terms of making us right with God. But they are part of us becoming holier. Those who reject such teaching are replacing one error with another — the idea that the Christian life does not require our labour.

This sort of thinking is what lies at the root of what inspired Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship. Protestants (he was looking at his own Lutheran tradition) take seriously Luther’s statement that justification is by faith alone. However, we have forgotten that this is essentially the beginning of our life in Christ. The rest — the rest involves, to use Hooker’s word, our labour.

I believe that an excessive focus on the doctrine of justification and a fear of over-reliance on our works has led to what Dallas Willard calls “the great omission.” We need to rediscover how grace works in our hearts to enable us to perform the good works that make us holy. Or how grace works in our hearts to make us holy, using our labour to that end.

We need to reject cheap grace and grace abuse, and recall St Ignatius of Antioch (d. 108), who said on the way to his martyrdom, “Now I begin to be a disciple.”

Here is the cost of discipleship:

Martyrdom of St Margaret, Santo Stefano Rotondo, Rome, early 1600s

Palm Sunday: A Sonnet

I wanted to post something each day for Holy Week but missed yesterday. In lieu of that, here’s a worthy sonnet from Malcolm Guite, which my brother read out at the close of his sermon (we beamed in to Manitoba from Ottawa for church yesterday!).

Malcolm Guite

We come now, on Palm Sunday, to the beginning of Holy Week: a strange Palm Sunday, a strange Holy Week, in which we cannot make the outward and visible journeys and gestures, exchanges and gatherings that have always bodied forth the inner meaning of this week; the procession of palm crosses, the choral singing of hosannah, all those things that echo the events of the first Palm Sunday.

But the inner journey is more necessary than ever, and in the sonnets that follow I have explored the truth that what was happening ‘out there’ and ‘back then’ as Christ entered Jerusalem is also happening  ‘in here’ and ‘right now’. There is a Jerusalem of the heart. Our inner life also has its temple and palaces, its places of corruption, its gardens of rest, its seat of judgement.

In the sequence of sonnets which begins today I invite you to walk…

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Hymn Before Sunrise by ST Coleridge

Of course, the glory of God the Word is found not only in the beauty of things wrought by human hands, but in the beauty of those very things He spoke into being. Here is Coleridge’s wonderful Psalmic poem on an epiphanic experience of his own, as blogged by Malcolm Guite. Enjoy!

Malcolm Guite

Image by Linda Richardson Image by Linda Richardson

For January 4th in my Anthology fromCanterbury Press,Waiting on the Word,I have chosen to read a passage from A Hymn before Sunrise in the vale of Chamouni by ST Coleridge.

You can hear me read this poem by clicking on the title or the play button. The image above was created byLinda Richardson for her book of responses to Waiting on the Word, she writes:

Anyone who has ever had a “glance” of God wants to share the experience. It is like running home to show your family the beautiful butterfly you have captured in your cupped hands but when you get there it has escaped and all you have are impressions and words. In the gospel of John we hear Andrew’s response after he meets Jesus: “The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him…

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Despised and Rejected Christina Rosetti

Here is a powerful, painful poem by Christina Rossetti chosen by the excellent Malcolm Guite.

Malcolm Guite

Despised and Rejected Image by Linda Richardson Despised and Rejected Image by Linda Richardson

The poem I have chosen for December 11th in my Advent Anthology from Canterbury Press Waiting on the Word, is Despised and Rejected, a dramatic and challenging reflection on encounter with Christ by Christina Rosetti. You can hear me read this poem by clicking on the title or the play button. the image above, takes up the poems opening proclamation, was created by Linda Richardson.

Linda Writes:

There are some dramas you watch with dread. The Director lets you in on a secret that is unknown to the protagonist and you watch the drama unfold, knowing that along the way, you and the protagonist will meet at this awful moment. It was with this feeling that I began work.

When Malcolm invited me to show the images I made last year in response to Waiting on the Word, I decided to do a new…

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