Protestant — but not Calvinist

¡Viva la Reformación! (credit: E Martin)

This week, for a course I’m taking, I had the opportunity to hunker down and read some confessional documents.  First I read The Augsburg Confession and the Catholic response, the Confutatio Pontificia, and then the more recent Joint Declaration on Justification.  I also read chh. 12 & 18 of Althaus’ The Theology of Martin Luther.

You may have noticed that sometimes I tag posts with “i might end up eastern orthodox at this rate”.  I think I may have used it only twice, but I could have used it more frequently.  Anyway, this feeling was increasing over Christmastide, not only with a lot of reading of St. Leo and a couple of trips to St. Andrew’s Orthodox Church, but also because of Frederica Mathewes-Green’s book, At the Corner of East and Now.  I admit there is something compelling in Eastern Orthodoxy.

But then I read Augsburg and Althaus’ discussion of Luther’s theology.  And I realised that I am still a Protestant, for I found Luther’s explanation of Justification by Faith entirely reasonable and compelling, remaining faithful to Scripture whilst setting forth its doctrine with reason.  It holds in tension simul justus et peccator and faith-works and law-gospel — all of these things that, beautiful as so many Orthodox descriptions of the Christian life are, make the most sense to me and give me the greatest spiritual comfort of all explanations.

We are all bound by our understanding of Scripture.

Tonight, for the same course, I finished reading the Second Helvetic Confession.  I am clearly not a Calvinist.  Certainly not of this Confession’s ilk.  This is not just the predestination issue.  It is the overbearing, heavy-handed reliance upon public preaching of the Gospel.  As though this and the rational world of the mind were all that true piety consisted of — thus, even if the confession didn’t consider images in holy spaces as idols, it would still oppose them on grounds of their needlessness.  People don’t need pictures if they can hear the Word of God preached to them (so says this confession).

This Confession also shows many Protestant weaknesses.  It gives a fairly decent account of Eucharist when discussing it directly, but sidelines it the entire time whilst always talking about preaching.  Indeed, the Eucharist seems at one point to be best understood as basically a sermon that you eat.

It seems to support a presbyterian church order over all and rejects the Daily Office out of hand, making claims about the order of the church as handed down from the Apostles — but makes the claim that the Apostles celebrated together on the Lord’s Day!  This is a practice that has evidence for it of the same antiquity as the episcopacy and the Daily Office — evidence not clearly shown forth in the apostolic writings.  What has happened has that the Church, seeking to submit itself to nothing other than Sacred Scripture has become not only the judge of tradition but, at times, even of Scripture herself (see the bit where James is subordinated to Paul to the extent that they would be willing to jettison him from the canon if he disagreed with “the Apostle”).

Some of Helvetic II mirrored the 39 Articles.  But much did not.  So if I must turn anywhere in the Reformation, it is not to Calvin, whose followers haughtily claim that he finished what Luther began, but to Luther and the Book of Common Prayer.  No matter how hard I try, I always come up Anglican.

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A Great Cloud of Witnesses

On June 10, 2009, I published a post about our first weekly saint, St. Columba.  Since then, the list has grown considerably.  Most of them get the big ST, but not all.  The principle has been the examination of the lives and teachings of those who have gone before us.  Not all Christians of interest get the big ST.

We have looked at ancient, mediaeval, and post-mediaeval (‘modern’) Christians.  We have looked at Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Protestants, and one Ethiopian Orthodox.  Apostolic men stand alongside poets who shake hands with mystics and martyrs.  All of these people have lived lives for Christ, and I hope that all of them can help bring us nearer to Christ by their example and teaching.

My selection has sometimes been from the Church Calendar.  Sometimes it has started there, as with Edmund James Peck (see in the list) and then extended by association; following Peck I wrote about other missionaries to the Arctic.  Sometimes they are chosen because I am reading about them or studying their work.

Often, if you have been following these weekly saints, you will have noticed that I give a brief biography of the saint, but not always.  Sometimes I offer a meditation on some aspect of the saint’s life and teaching.  Sometimes I ponder how best we might be able to honour or learn from a particular saint.  I hope these have been a blessing and will continue to bless!  Enjoy!

There are no women.  This is too bad.  I should fix this.  I meant to St. Margaret, Queen of Scotland, when her feast rolled on by, but posted about no saint that week.  She and others shall make their way into the saints for 2011.  Here are the Weekly Saints thus far:

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

St. Columba

Happy Bible Sunday!

In the days of one united Prayer Book and lectionary, Anglican circles called this Sunday, the Second of Advent, “Bible Sunday” because of the Collect:

Blessed Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of thy holy Word, we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ.  Amen.

The epistle reading is similarly Bible-focussed: Romans 15:4-13.

We would do well to pray this collect over and over again, for, like many of Cranmer’s little masterpieces,* it is a sermon unto itself.  We learn first (regarding the Bible; no doubt an entire homily could be preached on “Blessed Lord”):

  • God caused all holy Scriptures to be written

This alone is to give us pause when we recall some of the things we hear, such as that the NT writers were choosy in their selection and not everything in them is historically true.  Like the Virgin Birth.  Or the Resurrection.  Or the very idea of Jesus being God-in-flesh.  If God caused all holy Scriptures to be written, then we should take these passages and doctrines very seriously before moving on to:

  • written for our learning

The purpose of this writing of Scripture was our learning.  The Bible is there to teach us.  We are to learn from it.  How?  Cranmer shows us next:

  • hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them

The Word of God is to be proclaimed and read aloud.  I believe this applies even to today when most of the population is literate.  The spoken word, as an action, has force and power different from the printed word.**  We are also to read it ourselves, though.  Sunday morning is not enough; our involvement with the Scriptures is to be personal.  As we read the words of life, we are also called to mark them, learn them, and inwardly digest them.

That last phrase, “inwardly digest them,” is among my favourite Prayer-Book phrases.  As we study the Scriptures, we aren’t just supposed to observe them critically as we would the Aeneid or the Tome of Leo.  We are to digest them.  They are to enter into our very being and become part of us.  This is a very dynamic, very physical image.  And what is the result of our intimate acquaintance with the Scriptures?

  • by patience and comfort of thy holy Word, we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life

The Scriptures give us patience — endurance through suffering — and comfort — strength.  Through this endurance and this strength, we come to a place where we are able to embrace — again, a very personal verb — and hold fast — imagine someone holding onto a rope so as not to fall into a chasm — the blessed hope of everlasting life.

The Christian hope is not simply the hope of a better world, the hope of temporal joy, the hope of moral improvement but the hope of eternity for those who put their trust in Jesus, in God, Whose character is displayed to us on the pages of the Bible.

And whence does our hope come?

  • our Saviour Jesus Christ

The Christocentrism of Reformational thought (I acknowledge that there was/is much Christocentrism in Catholic thought; I am not speaking of Catholics, though) comes forth.  Our hope of eternity comes from Jesus.  Cling to him whom we have found in the pages of the Scriptures and we cling to our hope, we cling to eternity and escape from death.  This is a good thing.

So we should all read our Bibles, and read them carefully, so that we can come to know better the God who saves us through Jesus Christ and be transformed and cling to the hope of everlasting life.

*I hereby acknowledge Archbp. Thomas Cranmer’s debt to the Gelasian and Gregorian Sacramentaries.  Part of his genius was in selection and translation, part in adaptation of the tradition, part in original composition.

**My own adaptation of Walter J. Ong, Orality and Literacy.

Medieval Marriage Ceremony (trans. by me)

If you are interested, I have translated and posted the Order for the Consecration of Marriage, Sarum Use, in the right-hand sidebar.

If you were wed in mediaeval England, this ceremony would have been what you’d have used — except that everything save the vows would be in Latin.  This ceremony, like all traditional liturgies, is rich in symbol and beauty.  When the groom gives the ring, he also places a bag of silver and of gold on the priest’s Bible for all three items to be blessed.  Thus, he says by his action that he can support the new family that is made that day.  Once the ring is blessed, it is given thus:

With this ring I thee wed, this gold and silver I thee give, and with my body I thee worship, and with all my worldly goods I thee endow.

Then the husband shall place the ring on the thumb of his wife, saying: In the name of the Father,

Then on the forefinger, saying: And of the Son,

Then on the middle finger, saying: And of the Holy Ghost,

Then on the ring finger, saying: Amen.

Then he shall release the ring.  For it is [taught] in medicine that there is a certain vein proceeding all the way to the heart, and in the melodiousness of silver is symbolised internal love, which now young ought always to be between them.

That manner of exchange of rings — without the gold and silver — was that used by my sister in her mediaeval wedding.  Thus is the Holy Trinity invoked in the most common symbol of marriage, the endless circle of a ring.  God is present with us in our marriages, Father, Son, Holy Ghost.

I like the canopy that is held above the bride and groom as the priest blesses their marriage.  My sister also used this aspect of Sarum in her own wedding ceremony, and I understand that it symbolises the new household the bride and groom are creating that day.

Something you may wonder at in the ceremony is the Pax during the Communion.  The Pax was a physical object, of wood or stone, with a picture of Christ or a saint on it, that was kissed and passed around during the Eucharist in the Sarum Use.  This was a tangible symbol of Christ’s peace which He communicates to us in the Eucharist.  We share it with him.  We share it with one another.  And with the Pax, it is sealed with a holy kiss.

This ceremony, as is common in mediaeval liturgies, comes complete with a wide variety of prayers, chiefly blessings upon the couple.  The blessing upon the bride following the Sacramental benediction includes this lovely phrase:

May she endure among the saintly women.  May she be as loveable as Rachel to her husband; as wise as Rebecca; as long-lived and faithful as Sarah.

Liturgy is not simply words upon a page, as we often imagine when we think of “liturgical” vs. “non-liturgical” churches or worship.  Liturgy, or leitourgeia, is the work of the people.  It include standing, sitting, kneeling.  It includes hymns and prayers.  It includes symbolic actions, powerfully demonstrated herein with the canopy, the exchange of rings with gold and silver, the Pax.  In liturgy, we enact in the sanctuary the spiritual reality of our lives.  We worship God there and leave there to bring the truths and symbols of the liturgy into “daily life” — the blessings upon our homes (canopy), the provision for our families (gold & silver), endless love between husband and wife (the ring) bound up in the Trinity, the peace of Christ that passes all understanding and permeates our entire existence (the Pax).

These symbols are all evangelical truths enacted for our benefit.  Alas that the liturgies of today are so bereft of such depth and beauty!

Tap into the Tradition: The Remedy for “Matthewism”

As may be known, I have a habit of listening to Ancient Faith Radio and reading Eastern Orthodox books (the most recent being Being As Communion).  The Eastern Orthodox are a voice worth listening to, and one of the main reasons they are worth listening to is because they, in turn, listen to the Fathers.  They are, thus, deeply traditional, preserving that which has been handed down to them.

Frederica Mathewes-Green, one of the many Orthodox converts on Ancient Faith Radio, says:

I realized that my selections [in my spiritual life] were inevitably conditioned by my own tastes, prejudices, and blind spots. I was patching together a Frankenstein God in my own image, and it would never be taller than five foot one. (Quoted here.)

This is the Christianised version of the religion cited by Miroslav Volf in Exclusion and Embrace of “Sheilaism” — whatever you feel like believing, however you feel like worshipping, however you feel like living is what comprises your worldview, religion, and lifestyle.

What Mathewes-Green discovered in Orthodoxy was the corrective of tradition.  We all have our idiosyncrasies that we bring to how we think and live, and as Christians we have them when we approach Scripture and worship.  Tradition is the accumulation of what has been handed down from the Apostles and generally approved of in each generation.  It challenges our presuppositions and idiosyncrasies, sometimes very uncomfortably, but when entered into prayerfully, the Spirit will use it to conform us more and more into the image of Christ rather than the accumulation of stuff and culture and self that we bring with us to begin with.

I decided that, while Orthodoxy is interesting and all, I already have a tradition of my own, and it sprang up in England around 596 with the arrival of St. Augustine of Canterbury.  To ensure that I actually am part of this tradition, I recently re-read the 39 Articles of Religion, and I find myself in agreement with them.  So, besides reading the 39 Articles, what am I to do to engage with the Anglican tradition in all its richness?

1.  I have decided to plug into the Book of Common Prayer more frequently, using Morning & Evening Prayer and Compline, but also on occasion the Anglican Society of Saint Francis’ Celebrating Common Prayer for the divine office.  The daily office is an important part of traditional English spirituality.  It is a way to pray to and draw near to God while at the same time joining with believers within the tradition throughout the world and throughout time.

2.  I want to read the classics of the Anglican moral/ethical tradition.  This will first mean finishing off William Law’s Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life, but moving on to Jeremy Taylor’s Holy Living and John Wesley’s Plain Account of Christian Perfection.  This aspect of the tradition includes both virtuous living and the call to social justice, both of which are part of the endless movement towards holiness and perfection (on this endless movement, see St. Gregory of Nyssa).

3.  The Anglican tradition also includes the English Reformers, so the Book of Homilies and Richard Hooker at large are to be part of my long-range plan, as is Foxe’s Book of Martyrs.

4.  The Anglican tradition has a large component of hymnody worth exploring, and since I have 3 copies of Canada’s 1938 Hymn Book, I am well-prepared for this angle.  Alongside hymnody are the poets — Donne, Herbert, et al.

5. The pre-Reformation English tradition, from St. Augustine of Canterbury to the Venerable Bede to St. Anselm to Lady Julian of Norwich and more is part of the tradition as well.  I think a study of the mediaeval roots of “Reformation” thought would be a worthy activity.  Despite the arguments over the date of Easter and monasticism, mediaeval English Christianity tried to adapt local Celtic customs as part of their own, thus making “Celtic” Christianity also fair game.

6.  Patristics is fair game, being the root of much mediaeval Christian thought as well as much Reformation thought.  The Fathers are the Fathers of all Christendom, not just the Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox bits.

7.  The theologians other than the Reformers, up to the present day.  The emphasis on Tradition means that, while I should probably grapple with the likes of Spong, Ingham, and more, my emphasis should fall on the Wesleys, the Anglo-Catholics/Oxford Movement, C.S. Lewis, N.T. Wright, J.I. Packer, John Stott, and their ilk.

The above should probably last me until I’m dead.  Re those within Anglicanism who are divergent voices of dissent who attack and judge the tradition, I believe that the way to approach them is to look at them through the lens of the tradition, taking those bits that fall beyond the bounds of Scripture, the Creeds, and the 39 Articles, and providing cogent, reasonable, biblical, and traditional critique.

What about your tradition?  What are the roots and classic writings of Baptists, Mennonites, the Christian Reformed Church, Roman Catholicism, Pentecostalism?  With these in one hand, the Bible in the other, large doses of prayer, and the enlivening of the Holy Spirit, we should be more clearly drawn towards the image of the likeness of Christ than when our own idiosyncrasies take control as we read our Bibles all alone in our rooms.  Oh, also, take along a worshipping ecclesial community for the journey.  God will use them to shape you mightily as well.

The Chester Mystery Plays: Medieval Drama and the Biblical Narrative

This past weekend I was blessed to be in the audience for a staging of the Chester Mystery Plays at Victoria College at the University of Toronto (the production’s website).  These plays were performed at Chester in England every year at Whitsuntide (ie. Pentecost) until 1572, when they were banned for fear of being a potential source of Catholic rebellion against Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth I.

The plays took place over the course of three days from Saturday through Monday (Monday being Victoria Day).  They begin with the Fall of Lucifer and move on to Creation and the Fall of Man, thence to certain important pieces of Old Testament history such as Cain & Abel, Abraham and Melchyzedeck, Abraham and Isaac, the giving of the Law.  Then the audience gets a taste of the life of Christ, from Nativity and the Shepherds at the end of Saturday to Crucifixion at the end of Sunday.  Monday took the audience from the Harrowing of Hell through the Resurrection, Ascension, Pentecost, Antichrist, and Last Judgement.

That is to say, over the course of a single weekend, your average late-medieval theatre-goer in Chester would have seen the entire sweep of the biblical narrative played out before her.  This is a very important fact.  On Sunday, our priest was encouraging us to engage in the oft-recommended practice of daily Bible reading as a way to stay connected with the Holy Spirit.  For most of Christian history, this was not possible for most of the population.  Thus, for the Church in the Middle Ages, the public proclamation and performance of Scripture was important, for such was how the people would encounter the Bible on a regular basis, being unable to read it for themselves.  This is also why icons and stained glass were vital.

And in the Chester Mystery Plays one is not simply viewing a bunch of Bible stories acted out as so often occurs in ecclesiastical drama today.  In “Cain and Abel“, Adam proclaims:

Whyle that I slepte in that place /my gost to heaven banished was; /for to see I them had grace / thinges that shall befall. . . .  Alsoe I see, as I shall saye, /that God will come the laste daye / to deeme mankynde in fleshe verey, / and flame of fyer burninge, / the good to heaven, the evell to hell. / Your childrenn this tale yee may tell.

In my mind, God coming “to deeme mankynde in fleshe verey” is a reference to the Incarnation.  Indeed, the Old Testament plays, all of which I viewed, have Christ all over the place, in Abraham and Melchyzedeck, Abraham and Isaac, Moses and the Law.  Even when Balaam blesses Israel against Balaack’s wishes, there is content about Jesu.  The Medieval mind saw Christ everywhere, and rightly so, for he permeates the fabric of Scripture if we have eyes to see Him there.

I missed Sunday, but I caught the end of the Resurrection through the Last Judgement.  Here we see Christ in action.  He is appearing and disappearing in the Upper Room.  He is blessing St. Peter and the Apostles.  He is sending His Holy Spirit, Who gives to the Apostles the ability to understand different tongues as well as boldness to proclaim the Gospel.  He defeats Antichrist and judges the peoples with justice.

If you have the opportunity to view a staging of the Chester Cycle (such as that in Chester, England, in 2013), you should.  It is a shame that they have fallen out of the tradition of English drama and of Anglican Christianity.

Eucharist and Christ’s Sacrifice

A few Sundays ago, we had a modern variant on the Eucharistic liturgy at my local Anglican church.  The Eucharistic prayer had a few lines in it regarding us congregants “giving” and “sacrificing” things to God.  The Rev. Chris King, our priest, warned us beforehand that he would be saying things a bit differently from what was printed, for he believes the idea of us bringing anything to the Communion Table is nonsense — the sacrament is entirely a gift from God and our action does not make it happen and adds nothing to it.

I agree with Chris.  And what he had to say was the reason I am a bit uncomfortable at some of the Anglo-Catholic doings of the Eucharist, for they tend to include a prayer beseeching God to accept the sacrifice we or the priest offers.  I am not sure how old that prayer is, and I don’t really have the time to research it right now.

However, the idea of the Lord’s Supper, or Holy Communion, or the Holy Eucharist, or the Mass being a sacrifice is, indeed, very ancient.  You can find a Patristic catena testifying to this fact at Biblical Evidence for Catholicism.  I dare not presume to say that the Fathers were pre-Reformation Evangelicals.  Clearly they thought of the Sacrament of the Most Precious Body and Blood of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ as a sacrifice.

Today, reading Worshiping with the Church Fathers, I became a bit more comfortable with the idea.  Christopher A. Hall, in discussing the Eucharist as a memorial of that His precious death, notes that “Holy Communion is a remembrance that makes Christ’s sacrifice present to the church in time and space.” (65)  When that sacrifice is made present in the Eucharist, the crucifixion is not repeated.  This is what many Protestants think the Roman position on the question is, including some former Catholics.  Rather, Hall writes, “It is the introduction into present time of a past event.” (65)

He quotes St. John Chrysostom:

We always offer the same oblation: therefore it is one sacrifice. . . . Christ is everywhere one, entire in this place and that, one body . . . and so, one sacrifice. . . . We offer now what was offered then, an inexhaustible offering. . . . We offer the same sacrifice: or rather we make a memorial of that sacrifice. (66, Homilies on Hebrews 3.17)

Just as the Eucharist brings back into our time the future marriage banquet of the Lamb, the eschatalogical feast we shall enjoy in the ages of ages, so also does it bring forth the past sacrifice of Christ, a sacrifice once offered, oblation, and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world.  We are not offering the sacrifice; Christ already has.  Yet we are seeing it reenacted with the elements of the bread and wine, and Christ’s saving grace is poured forth upon those elements, the same grace he shed with his blood on the Cross.