We are not alone. Part of Classic Christianity is realising this and then living by it. We are to do more than just read the books of those who have gone before or listen to their music or consume their art. In fact, in fully joining them into our lives and acknowledging them as the great cloud of witnesses, we really ought to do more than live by their writings as well.
I have two thoughts about what else we can do, although the above are excellent: live the Church Year, learn their lives and church history.
The Church Year
Many Protestants of non-liturgical traditions are probably uneasy about the Church Year — fearful of sounding papist. The only feast days they celebrate are Christmas and Easter; there are Pentecostals who don’t even know what Pentecost is! And there are liturgical Prots, Catholics, and Orthodox who don’t really live through the Church Year either. Let’s change that.
Now then, living the Church Year is a connexion with the great cloud of witnesses in a couple of ways. One of those ways is the fact that when we celebrate Pentecost, we are celebrating the coming of the Holy Spirit with Christians on that same day around the world as well as throughout history as well as, I imagine, those in Paradise. If we are Western Christians, although we celebrate a different date than the Eastern Orthodox, we will still be celebrating the same event as them, binding us to them. This principle applies to all feasts, be they events like Pentecost and the Baptism of Jesus or saints like Sts. Peter and Paul or St. Clare of Assisi or commemorations like Corpus Christi and the Feast of the Holy Cross. Celebrating the church year connects us in a powerful way to the church at large, reminding us that we are not alone.
One of the recent resources available to help you connect with the Great Tradition and the Church Year is the Mosaic Holy Bible from Tyndale House. The Mosaic Bible is the NLT translation, but at the front there are readings for all the weeks in the Church Year, from Advent 1 to Christ the King Sunday. Each week gives a list of passages to be read from the Bible at the back, accompanied by art, poetry, prayers, theology, and so forth from throughout Christian history and around the world. I used it for the ecclesiastical year 2009-2010, and I highly recommend it!
Celebrating a saint’s day as a way of connecting to the Church Year and the tradition helps remind us that we are not alone on this journey, that God has sent others before us. On December 29, for example, we celebrate St. Thomas Becket, remembering his witness before us. We are not alone. We celebrate their lives and what God has done through them. God has been active throughout history, not just today. God has been active throughout history — He will be today.
The Lives of Those Who Have Gone Before
However, it is not enough simply to commemorate a saint’s day. That is part of tapping into the Great Tradition. But we must go a step further. I believe that we should become acquainted with their lives.
Who was St. Augustine of Hippo? How did St. Patrick convert Ireland? Why do people mention the name of St. Thomas Aquinas all the time? What marked the life of Thomas Cranmer? How did St. John of the Cross live? How did Dietrich Bonhoeffer die and why? Investigate the lives of saints, ancient, mediaeval, modern, Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant. Learn about the shape of their lives — how did God use them? What did they do for God? How did they live? What can I learn from them about how to live for Christ?
Remember that the Communion of Saints is a broad reality, passing throughout history and around the world. Read church history — learn about the Early Church, come to a proper understanding of the Mediaeval Church, find out what drove the Reformation and what the Church of Rome did during the Counter-Reformation.
An evangelical once talked about rediscovering the faith of our fathers, and the earliest person he listed was Wesley. I was a bit surprised. I would have included Augustine and Francis and the Reformers in those days. Now my list of our fathers and mothers in the faith is much more extensive. I hope that I can live by the lessons of their lives and teaching.
May the Lord bless you as you consider how you can live as a part of the transnational, transtemporal, transdenominational, interdimensional (btwn Heaven and Earth) Communion of Saints.
And as you contemplate the greater Communion, never abandon the saints in your midst. What I would really like in this Classic Christianity thing would be to get together with a bunch of other interested Christians and meet once a week to read something classic, celebrate the church year, maybe sing some old hymns, and hold one another accountable to the disciplines.
But I don’t have that right now. All I have is a website. Nonetheless, I do have Christian community. And that is vital. Don’t abandon the Church in the process of looking into Classic Christianity. Yes, the Church in many ways is screwed up. So are you. Deal with it. Change it. Pray for it.
Studies in Individuals
The first of these brief “studies” and bibliographies are based on handouts I produced for summer studies with the Graduate Christian Fellowship at the University of Toronto. Summer 2008, we looked at St. Gregory of Nyssa & the Cappadocians, Lady Julian of Norwich, Edmund Spenser, and the Desert Fathers.
If you want more people than I’ve got with more detail, check out Robert I Bradshaw’s Early Church webpage and navigate under “People” on the left.
Besides the “Studies in Individuals”, I have started posting about one saint per week. I blog about this decision here. They are all together in the category, “Weekly Saints” and, as of June 25, 2011, include:
St. Simeon the Stylite, The Venerable Bede, David Wilkerson, Mary and Euphemia of Mesopotamia, Evelyn Underhill, St. John Climacus, Lancelot Andrewes, St. Bonaventure, Dorothy L. Sayers, Charles Wesley, St. Teresa of Avila, Sts. Cyril and Methodius, St. Daniel the Stylite, St. Spyridon, Amma Syncletica of the Desert, St. Kentigern (Mungo), St. Joseph the Carpenter, Pope St. Leo the Great (here & here), St. John of the Cross, St. Ambrose of Milan, St. Andrew the Apostle, St. Albert Lacombe, St. John the Baptist, St. Thomas the Apostle, St. Matthias the Apostle, St. Boniface, St. Augustine of Canterbury, St. Anthony of Padua, Emperor Constantine the Great, St. Athanasius, Dante Alighieri, St. George the Dragonslayer, George MacDonald, Thomas Cranmer, St. Cuthbert, St. Gregory of Nyssa, John Wesley (here & here), St. Polycarp of Smyrna, St. Valentine, St. Antony the Great, St. Jean de Brebeuf, St. Francis of Assisi, Hans Egede, St. Juvenaly of Alaska, Edmund James Peck, St. John of Damascus, Abba Giyorgis Saglawi, St. Bernard of Clairvaux, St. Maximilian Kolbe, CS Lewis, St. Alban the Martyr, Sts. Peter and Paul, St. Basil the Great, and St. Columba (here & here).