“Evil here and evil there” “The burden of them is intolerable”

Image of an Archbishop from Anselm’s Prayers and Meditations found in Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS. Auct. D. 2. 6 (12th c)

St Anselm, ‘Prayer to St John the Baptist’:

Flee, flee,
you who are of I know not what horrible substance;
flee from yourself; be terribly; afraid of yourself.
But, alas, you cannot flee from yourself,
nor can you look at yourself, because you cannot bear it.
For if you could bear it, without a horror of grief,
you would find your toleration intolerable.
Insofar as you can tolerate yourself
you are like the first sinner,
and thereby you are less tolerable to god,
for to tolerate yourself is not courage,
but the blunt edge of death;
it is not health, it is hardened sin;
it comes not from consolation but from damnation.
I cannot bear the interior horror of my face
without a huge groan in my heart.
So then, I cannot fly from myself,
nor can I look at myself, for I cannot bear myself.

*

But see, it is worse still if I do not look at myself;
for then I am deceived about myself.
O too heavy weight of anguish.
If I look within myself, I cannot bear myself;
if I do not look within myself, I do not know myself.
If I consider myself, what I see terrifies me;
if I do not consider myself, I fall to my damnation.
If I look at myself, it is an intolerable horror;
if I do not look at myself, death is unavoidable.
Evil here, worse there, ill on every side;
but there is too much evil here,
too much that is worse there,
too much ill on every side.
For his very wretched whom his conscience torments,
when he cannot flee from it;
and even more wretched is he
who looks into his own damnation,
when he is not able to avoid it;
very unhappy is he who is horrible in his own eyes;
and more unhappy still will he be
when he undergoes eternal death.
Very wretched is he who is continually afraid
of the filthy horror of himself;
but more wretched still will he be
whom anguish will torture eternally because of his sins.
Evil here, and evil there;
too much here, and too much there.

-Trans. Sister Benedicta Ward, The Prayers and Meditations of St Anselm, pp. 130-131

The Book of Common Prayer 1662:

ALMIGHTY God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Maker of all things, judge of all men; We acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness, Which we, from time to time, most grievously have committed, By thought, word, and deed, Against thy Divine Majesty, Provoking most justly thy wrath and indignation against us. We do earnestly repent, And are heartily sorry for these our misdoings; The remembrance of them is grievous unto us; The burden of them is intolerable. Have mercy upon us, Have mercy upon us, most merciful Father; For thy Son our Lord Jesus Christ’s sake, Forgive us all that is past; And grant that we may ever hereafter Serve and please thee In newness of life, To the honour and glory of thy Name; Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Advent 4: ‘Make straight the way of the Lord’

St John the Baptist, Santa Pressede, Rome
St John the Baptist, Santa Pressede, Rome

According to the 1662 Book of Common Prayer lectionary, today’s Gospel reading is John 1:19-28. Out of mercy, here it is in the ESVUK (rather than BCP):

19 And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20 He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” 21 And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.” 22 So they said to him, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 23 He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord’, as the prophet Isaiah said.”

24 (Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.) 25 They asked him, “Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” 26 John answered them, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, 27 even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” 28 These things took place in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing.

Another great passage involving St John the Baptist comes in John 3:30, when it is reported to the Forerunner that Jesus’ disciples are baptising more than he; his response: ‘He must increase, but I must decrease.’

The lives and teachings of God’s holy ones (‘saints’) serve as lessons, especially when the holy ones are prophets or apostles. Here, the last prophet of the Messiah (a prophet who, as St Augustine observes, was able not only to predict the Messiah but point at him with his own finger) provides us with an attitude that we, too, should adopt, not just in this Advent Season but all the time.

It is, admittedly, a difficult attitude to keep. ‘He must increase’ — oh, how we wish to increase! We want to get it our way, at work, at study, in social engagements with friends, in dealing with family, even in determining the meals for the week or entertainment at evening. We wish to increase, to choose exactly which courses we teach, to divest ourselves of administrative duties, to read only the books that are interesting, to get a big paycheque, to gain renown in our own field of work.

But he — He — must increase.

And when we consider His ethical teachings, as in the Sermon on the Mount, He (and thus His increase) is found in the good and progress of others. He is found in sharing the burdens of others. He is not found in getting my way. Indeed, getting my way is likely to get in His way.

And, like St John the Forerunner, we should point the way to the One ‘the strap of whose sandal [we are] not worthy to untie’. As I posted here in an Advent not long ago, ‘Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord’. Christ is still in the midst of us risen and ascended and reigning, the Second Person of the Trinity.

Jesus Christ came to seek and save the lost. John the Baptist points the Pharisees to Him.

Whom are we pointing to Him today?

(A worthy question, and I am myself unsure of my own answer. Nonetheless, a question more worthy than culture wars and fighting the war for ‘Christmas’.)

Loving the Book of Common Prayer 1: Catholicity

Baskerville_titleBy 10:30 last night, I was completely bushed. So put down The Exploits of Brigadier Gerard, turned off the light, and went to sleep. This meant that this morning I was awake at 7:30 and smelling the rich aroma of incense by 8:30 at the nearest Anglican Church. Like many Anglican churches, this congregation relegates the Book of Common Prayer to its early service — a fairly simple affair, said not sung, although with a bit of incense and clerical kneeling.

I wanted the Prayer Book this morning, most certainly, especially after the beautiful Book of Common Prayer service of Holy Baptism & Holy Communion I Skyped into in the middle of Easter Even last weekend! I realise that we now live in the midst of an international Anglicanism with a plurality of liturgical books called The Book of Common Prayer, so let me say that what I mean by ‘Prayer Book’ or ‘Book of Common Prayer/BCP’ is the Canadian BCP of 1962, the 1662 BCP, or the Scottish BCP of 1912.

I am not acquainted with other Prayer Books.

These Prayer Books, along with those of the reign of Edward VI and the Scottish Prayer Book of 1637 and some from the early twentieth century, are the ‘historic’ Prayer Books. These BCPs maintain the historic content and language of the majestic and glorious 1662 (unless, of course, they pre-date it). When I worship using one of these Prayer Books, as opposed to The Book of Alternative Services or Common Worship or something your priest made up over a dram of whisky the night before, I feel a connection with the centuries-old tradition of Anglican worship.

The BCP is catholic, Protestant, and beautiful.

In other words, Anglican.

I’m going to write three wee posts on the BCP. Today, I’ll quickly look at how The Book of Common Prayer is catholic.

Catholic

Let us take the traditional words of the Sursum Corda:

Priest: Lift up your hearts.
Answer. We lift them up unto the Lord.
Priest. Let us give thanks unto our Lord God.
Answer. It is meet and right so to do.
¶Then shall the Priest turn to the Lord’s Table, and say,
IT is very meet, right and our bounden duty …

These words not only connect us with the Roman Missal and the Use of Sarum, but to the Divine Liturgies of St John Chrysostom and St Basil the Great (Eastern Orthodox) and the third-century Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus, a liturgical use that probably contains many traces of second-century liturgical prayers and actions. It is present in the ancient Liturgy of St James (Jerusalem & Syrian Orthodox), the Divine Liturgy of St Mark (Coptic), and something similar appears in the ‘Nestorian’ liturgy (Church of the East).

The Sursum Corda is not the only aspect of the Eucharistic liturgy in the BCP that ties to this historic, international body of liturgies. Anything that has a Latin name is present in the Roman liturgy — ‘Sanctus’, ‘Gloria’, ‘Gloria Patri’, ‘Pater Noster’, ‘Credo’, etc. Many of these elements are also present in the other traditional liturgies of the world, such as the ‘Sanctus’.

The twofold structure of the BCP Service of Holy Communion, of the Liturgy of the Word and then the Anaphora/Canon of the Mass (can’t think of a Protestant name for it!) is also held in common. The liturgical recitation of the Nicene Creed we hold in common with Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox, a ritual action dating back to the later sixth century; although glancing at some liturgical texts online, I see that the Coptic Orthodox and Church of the East also recite it.

The Prayer Book is shot through with prayers and ritual actions taken from the ancient liturgical books and practices available to Thomas Cranmer. It maintains the ancient structure and rhythm of Christian worship as it had already been practised for centuries not only in the British Isles but in Christ’s Church militant throughout the earth. Besides the Use of Sarum, Cranmer also made use of the Gelasian Sacramentary, the Gregorian Sacramentary, and the Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom (at least). The result is an English-language Prayer Book that stands in rank with the historic liturgies of world Christianity, linked to the wider and deeper tradition. Indeed, its catholicity is so strong that, with a few modifications, it was easily adapted for Eastern Orthodox use as the Liturgy of St Tikhon, and there are Roman Catholic parishes that use it as well.

The Prayer Book is a strongly catholic book. I think the point has been made, if briefly. Although Cranmer made some unsurprising changes to the texts for a Protestant, he maintained the essential Christocentric, Scriptural core of the liturgical texts he used, a core that links them in history as far back as the second or third century, and in geography to historic liturgies not only in Europe and the Mediterranean but the Middle East and India as well.

The Prayer Book is not simply a Protestant, vernacular liturgy for England. It is an attempt to reform the liturgy, but an attempt that seeks to stand within the tradition that gave it birth. For this, I love it.

Next time: The Prayer Book is Protestant.

Easter Readings – 1662 Book of Common Prayer

Baskerville_titleBack in 1662, it wasn’t the plan to have a separate service of Morning Prayer from Holy Communion. On those Sundays that you didn’t administer the Lord’s Supper, a normal service would consist of Morning Prayer, the Litany, and the Antecommunion (basically the Liturgy of the Word part of the service). This is why BCP Sunday readings appear so few.

Anyway, I think the historic Prayer Books are the best expression of historic-traditional-biblical worship in the English language, expressing the fullness of Gospel truth in the fullness of the beauty of the English language. Part of the glory of the Book of Common Prayer is its relationship with the English Bible. Extensive passages of Scripture are read at Morning and Evening Prayer, multiple Psalms are recited, and, at Communion, more Scripture is read. Throughout the services, more set passages and verses are used, let alone the biblical phrases and ideas inextricably intertwined with the historic translations and prayers original to the BCP.

I have no doubt some Anglicans have a ‘low’ view of Scripture, insufficiently reverencing it and failing to trust in its authority. Such Anglicans have not taken the Prayer Book to heart. For the rest of us, we revel in the quality and quantity of Bible readings throughout a Prayer Book service.

For Easter, the 1662 readings for Morning Prayer are:

First Lesson: Exodus 12:1-29 – the establishing of Passover

Second Lesson: Revelation 21:1-9 – the new heaven and the new earth

The Psalms: 2, 57, 111

To highlight the glory of the Resurrection and our salvation thereby, 1662 replaces the Venite (Psalm 95) with these verses:

CHRIST our passover is sacrificed for us : therefore let us keep the feast; Not with the old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness : but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. 1 Cor. v. 7
Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more : death hath no more dominion over him. For in that he died, he died unto sin once : but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God. Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin : but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Rom. vi. 9
Christ is risen from the dead : and become the first-fruits of them that slept. For since by man came death : by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die : even so in Christ shall all be made alive. 1 Cor. xv.

The 1662 readings for Holy Communion:

Epistle: Colossians 3:1-7 If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. etc.

Gospel: John 20:1-10 – the Resurrection story

It also used to be common to attend church for Evening Prayer. The 1662 Easter readings for Evening Prayer:

First Lesson: Either Exodus 12:29 (this confuses me) or Exodus 14 – crossing the Red Sea

Second Lesson: John 20:11-19 (thus continuing from Easter Eucharist) or Revelation 5 – the Lamb upon the throne

The Psalms: 113, 114, 118

In these passages of Scripture, plus those interwoven throughout the Prayer Book, we encounter the Gospel event, the ancient typologies, and the eschatological fulfillment. And, in the Psalms, the Praise of God Most High. There is so much more truth and beauty awaiting us in the treasurehouse of the Scriptures than we realise if all we ever meet are but one or two passages each Sunday.

Furthermore, the Resurrection is the fulfillment of the hope of Scripture, Old and New. In Christ all of God’s promises find their yes. Let us bless the Lord for the benefits he has given us through the prayerfully constructed lectionaries of His Church.

A penitent medieval stanza

Came across this this morning before popping Parsifal into the DVD drive:

Since first I could do harm I sinned my fill;
In deed, with mouth, with all my limbs did ill;
My grief for many sins, which now I spill,
Should earlier have flowed, with Christ’s good will.

This is from a stanza of a poem to the Mother of God in Medieval English Verse, the Penguin Classic translated by Brian Stone, p. 69. My Protestant sensibilities are not much moved by the poem’s appeals to St Mary the Virgin, but this stanza struck me as a potent reminder of the human condition, however much we may try to avoid speaking of it these days.

Wrongdoing runs deep in the human soul, and the mediaeval mind was profoundly aware of this fact, as were the pious men and women of the Early Modern Age.

Have our cries of, ‘Grace, grace!’ deafened our ears to the sounds of sin today? Would it be so wrong to ‘moan and bewail’ our manifold sins and wickedness as the 1662 Book of Common Prayer says? Perhaps some ages were too obsessed with sin. And perhaps a fault of our age is ignoring it and taking it too lightly.

A controversial Good Friday collect from 1549

In his 1549 Book of Common Prayer, Thomas Cranmer included a collect for Good Friday that was reprinted up to 1662. I don’t know about the early 20th-century attempts to re-shape the Prayer Book, but in Canada’s 1959/62 edition, this third collect is gone, while the other two are present.

Here is the 1549 spelling, as found here:

MERCYFULL God, who hast made all men, and hatest nothyng that thou hast made, nor wouldest the deathe of a synner, but rather that he should be converted and live; have mercy upon all Jewes, Turkes, Infidels, and heretikes, and take from them all ignoraunce, hardnes of heart, and contempt of thy word: and so fetche them home, blessed Lorde, to thy flocke, that they maye bee saved among the remnant of the true Israelites, and be made one folde under one shepeherde, Jesus Christ our Lord; who lyveth and reigneth, &c.

Since I received a 1662 version of the BCP for Christmas, today was the first time I read this collect. I think it is says something important about Good Friday that we lack in the other two collects.

The first of the two collects is a prayer for the congregation there gathered, focussed on Christ’s Passion, and the second is for the entire Church. The third takes the focus beyond the Church to the world, to those who do not yet know the Gospel. The four groups listed are Jews, Turks, Infidels, and heretics. I can see why this prayer would be controversial in the 1960s and not precisely ‘PC’.

However, let us look at these four groups in turn. First, the Jewish people. We get well over half of our Bible from the Jewish people. Jesus was a Jewish man, as were the Apostles. It is in fulfillment of prophecies made to the Jewish nation that Christ came, died, and rose for us. Therefore, that so many Jewish persons have not embraced Jesus as their Messiah, Saviour, and Redeemer, is something that should concern us. Christ died both for Jew and for Gentile. They are worthy of our prayers.

Second, we have Turks. This is probably a catch-all phrase for Muslims. Here we have the other of what people term ‘Abrahamic faiths’. Here we have a very large portion of the world’s population, whose holy book teaches many things contrary to our faith, yet many things cunningly similar — so close, yet so far away. In the minds of people in 1549, the ‘Turks’ were primarily to be found as the inhabitants of the Holy Land, as well. Should not the salvation of those who live where Our Lord walked and died be a concern for us? Did Christ not die for the Muslim Turk as well? They are worthy of our prayers.

I am not sure about the Infidel. Is this all unfaithful, ie. all un-believers, or a different circumlocution for Muslims? I do not know. But this I do know — Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. They are all worthy of our prayers.

Finally, heretics. The common view until recently is that heretics imperil their souls by their twisted belief. This may be true. Whether or not heretics are all going to Hell, they are certainly mistaken about the character of God and His action in the world, and as persons thus mistaken, they are not able to enjoy the love and fellowship of God as closely as the orthodox. Otherwise orthodoxy is meaningless. If you take offence to that, consider this: If someone thinks I am a Communist or a basketball player or only five-foot three, that person clears does not know me very well at all. That person has not entered very deeply into love and fellowship with me. So also when we think of God and heresy. Christ died for the heretics. They are worthy of our prayers.

Christ died on Good Friday, spilling out his blood for the sins of all of humanity. If we do not pray for the unsaved today, then we have lost the plot. If we pray only four ourselves and our churches, if we pray only for a better understanding of the cross, if we only meditate upon what this violent, glorious event means for us as Christians — we have lost the plot.

The Second Article of Religion states:

The Son, which is the Word of the Father, begotten from everlasting of the Father, the very and eternal God, and of one substance with the Father, took Man’s nature in the womb of the blessed Virgin, of her substance: so that two whole and perfect Natures, that is to say, the Godhead and Manhood, were joined together in one Person, never to be divided, whereof is one Christ, very God, and very Man; who truly suffered, was crucified, dead, and buried, to reconcile his Father to us, and to be a sacrifice, not only for original guilt, but also for actual sins of men.

Are we bringing this truth to bear to others? Are we praying for the salvation of the whole world this Good Friday? Are are we navel-gazing and ignoring our mission as followers of the Crucified God?

The Seventh Day: New Year’s Eve, Queen Elizabeth, the BCP, and hospitality

As 2012 turns into 2013, let us remember to memorable anniversaries of this year: HM Queeen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee and the 350th anniversary of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. In the spirit of this Christmastide, I would like to turn your attention to the Queen’s Christmas Message of this year.

Every year, HM Elizabeth gives a lovely Christmas message, which goes through the major news for the monarchy and the Commonwealth, and then concludes with a reflection upon Christmas itself, tying the theme into a popular Christmas carol. Last year, Her Majesty focussed upon the importance of forgiveness, which is at the centre of the Christmas story, for God sent us a Saviour, not a statesman or a philosopher. This year, she turned our attention to community and bringing people together to celebrate this feast, just as the angels called the shepherds to join Mary and Joseph at the manger.

Queen Elizabeth called us to bring into our homes those who are alone this Christmastide. For the first time, my wife and I actually took heed of this very Christian vision of hospitality at what has become yet another festival of the modern pagan Cult of the Family. I can actually say that I practise what I preach, here! We had a Canadian friend who studies in Glasgow come over from Christmas Eve until Boxing Day, and for the dinner on Christmas itself we invited over an Italian girl we’d met at church on the 16th. She was working on Christmas until 5:00 and had no plans that day. And so we opened up our home and invited in two friends, one from our days in undergrad, one of just over a week.

This sort of hospitality is common to many cultures and should imbue the fabric of Christian community. At Christmas, as Christina Rossetti says ‘love come down.’ As John 1 puts, God the Word ‘became flesh and pitched His tent among us.’ We were not left alone in the darkness and sorrow of our sin, but brought into relationship with the living God. Therefore, in light of the Incarnation, we should open up our hearts and homes and lives to those around us, even when it makes us uncomfortable. What is the point of a sacrifice for which you do not suffer?

Furthermore, the revelation of Jesus Christ led to a long meditation upon Scripture that resulted in a vision of God as three-person’d. If we pray with John Donne, ‘Batter my heart, Three-person’d God’, we should realise that communion, koinonia, lies at the heart of the Godhead, of the unmoved mover, of the one who made everything — including ourselves. And with God as our true Father, all fellow-Christians — if not, indeed, all the human race — are siblings. Therefore, these festivals in the Cult of the Family call us to open up our doors and kitchens and dining tables to the much wider family that is bound by more than blood, in remembrance of the Trinity who reorders our hearts and loyalties beyond the merely human.

All of this I have thought for a while, and I actually, finally acted upon it! And there was HM Queen Elizabeth II exhorting us all to do likewise in light of the Incarnation of God as an infant.

Therefore, in remembrance of the 350th anniversary of the 1662 BCP, let’s say a prayer for the Queen, a woman not young with a busy and important job:

Almighty God, whose kingdom is everlasting, and power infinite; Have mercy upon the whole Church; and so rule the heart of thy chosen Servant Elizabeth, our Queen and Governor, that she (knowing whose minister she is) may above all things seek thy honour and glory: and that we, and all her subjects (duly considering whose authority she hath) may faithfully serve, honour, and humbly obey her, in thee, and for thee, according to thy blessed Word and ordinance; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with thee and the Holy Ghost liveth and reigneth, ever one God, world without end. Amen.