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.

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Saint of the Week: St. Columba

St Columba Yesterday was the feast day of St. Columba.  He was born December 7, 521, at Garten, County Donegal, Ireland.  He fell asleep in the faith of Christ on June 9, 597, on the isle of Iona, Scotland.

Things St. Columba is famous for:

a. Founding the monastery at Iona.

b. Seeing the Loch Ness Monster.

Coupled to his feast being this week is the fact that Iona is the picture on my calendar for the month of June, so I felt St. Columba was an appropriate choice.

My main source is Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People, Book 3, Chapter 4.  Adamnan’s Life is undoubtedly fuller, but time is short, as I have a lot of reading to do.

We learn from Bede that in Ireland, St. Columba founded a monastery “known in the Irish language as Dearmach, the Field of Oaks.”  This would be modern Durrow.  In the year 565, he crossed over to Alba (Scotland), where he brought the light of the Gospel to the Picts living north of the Grampians.  Undoubtedly I had ancestors amongst these people, although most of my Pictish ancestors would have received the Gospel a century earlier from St. Ninian who preached to those living south of the Grampians.

565 was the ninth year of the reign of King Bride son of Meilochon.  By his preaching and example, Columba established the faith of Christ among the Pictish people.  They gave him the island of Iona on which he founded a monastery.    He  was abbot of the monastery there until his death in 597.  Iona became a great centre for Celtic monasticism as well as of pilgrimage.  Kings of Scotland are buried there.  The abbey is still there today, as the centre for The Iona Community as well as a place of spiritual pilgrimage for many.

During his missionary journeys, the following event of note happened to St. Columba.  From Vita Columbae by Adamnan, fifth abbot of Iona:

ON another occasion also, when the blessed man was living for some days in the province of the Picts, he was obliged to cross the river Nesa (the Ness); and when he reached the bank of the river, he saw some of the inhabitants burying an unfortunate man, who, according to the account of those who were burying him, was a short time before seized, as he was swimming, and bitten most severely by a monster that lived in the water; his wretched body was, though too late, taken out with a hook, by those who came to his assistance in a boat. The blessed man, on hearing this, was so far from being dismayed, that he directed one of his companions to swim over and row across the coble that was moored at the farther bank. And Lugne Mocumin hearing the command of the excellent man, obeyed without the least delay, taking off all his clothes, except his tunic, and leaping into the water. But the monster, which, so far from being satiated, was only roused for more prey, was lying at the bottom of the stream, and when it felt the water disturbed above by the man swimming, suddenly rushed out, and, giving an awful roar, darted after him, with its mouth wide open, as the man swam in the middle of the stream. Then the blessed man observing this, raised his holy hand, while all the rest, brethren as well as strangers, were stupefied with terror, and, invoking the name of God, formed the saving sign of the cross in the air, and commanded the ferocious monster, saying, ‘Thou shalt go no further, nor touch the man; go back with all speed.’ Then at the voice of the saint, the monster was terrified, and fled more quickly than if it had been pulled back with ropes, though it had just got so near to Lugne, as he swam, that there was not more than the length of a spear-staff between the man and the beast. Then the brethren seeing that the monster had gone back, and that their comrade Lugne returned to them in the boat safe and sound, were struck with admiration, and gave glory to God in the blessed man. And even the barbarous heathens, who were present, were forced by the greatness of this miracle, which they themselves had seen, to magnify the God of the Christians. (trans. William Reeves)

Two things to close, a poem and a prayer.  First, that which, before things went kaput over at Matthew’s Random Ramblings, was the Weekly Poem on September 13th.  This is a poem by St. Columba from Iona: The Earliest Poetry of a Celtic Monastery, reminds me of Anglo-Saxon poetry.  As with other poetry you’ll find out there, its name comes from the first words.  It is a Latin poem, although other poems in the collection are Gaelic.  The translation is by Thomas Owen Clancy and Gilbert Markus.

Adiutor Laborantium

O helper of workers,
ruler of all the good,
guard on the ramparts
and defender of the faithful,
who lift up the lowly
and crush the proud,
ruler of the faithful,
enemy of the impenitent,
judge of all judges,
who punish those who err,
pure life of the living,
light and Father of lights
shining with great light,
denying to none of the hopeful
your strength and help,
I beg that me, a little man
trembling and most wretched,
rowing through the infinite storm
of this age,
Christ may draw after Him to the lofty
most beautiful haven of life
… an unending
holy hymn forever.
From the envy of enemies you lead me
into the joy of paradise.
Through you, Christ Jesus,
who live and reign . . .

The prayer to close is the Collect for St. Columba, as found on the Daily Office Blog:

O God, by the preaching of your blessed servant Columba you caused the light of the Gospel to shine in Scotland: Grant, we pray, that, having his life and labors in remembrance, we may show our thankfulness to you by following the example of his zeal and patience; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Toast to the Lassies

Yesterday was Robbie Burns’ 250th birthday.  On Saturday, at the best Burns dinner I’ve ever attended, I delivered the following toast to the lassies:

The toast to the lassies is an ancient and venerable tradition. So is beginning a speech with a joke.  Sae afore the actual toastin, here’s a joke:

A woman is looking to re-enter the work force, now that her kids are all grown up. But before applying anywhere she goes tae the doctors’ fae a wee physical before takin’ oan a new joab. When she returns her hubby notices she’s just bustin’ wi’ pride and all chuffed.

So he says, “What’s all this about?”

She says, “I’ve just been tae the doctors’ and  he said I’ve got the body of a twenty year old, and the heart of a 16 year old”.

To which her hubby fires back…”What about your 50 year old ass?”

“Your name never came up.” She replies.  (Joke from Scottish Jokes.)

The first lassie to toast is none other than our hostess, Jessica, who shares her birthday with the bard himself.  Many thanks to you for planning and preparing this event for us to come and celebrate bonnie Scotland’s national poet!  The warmth of the hospitality as well as the pleasures to be had amongst good friends and pleasant conversation have made this a night to please Robbie, I’m sure, unlike some of the stuffier Burns events that don’t resemble the sort of rollicking good time he was known to enjoy.

Well, first of all, allow me to extend my thanks to ye for preparing the tonight’s bounty.  We have dined well, and I believe that Burns himself would have been proud of the evening’s repast—though perhaps with a bit more scotch. Now, Burns was fond of the lassies, oft-captured by the enchantments of Clarinda, Jean, Anna, Kate, and the numerous unnamed “Bonnie Lasses” of his poetry.  No doubt their enchantment arose from more than their cooking and baking skills, be they ever so delightful!  Indeed, I myself am glad to live in an age wherein the lassies are regarded for more than their domestic skills and beauty—not that I have anything against domestic skills or beauty, either, judging from my choice of wife.  For the enchantment of lassies comes from minds that think and imaginations that dream.  I have had the enormous pleasure of befriending many a lass, from Highland dancers to the literary to the literary Highland dancers (one of whom is working on a PhD in English) to the dancing literary ones to those versed in ancient languages and those who are able not only be strong intellectually but unafraid emotionally.  Nae dout, ye lassies, here forgaithered this forenicht and those oot and aboot in the warld, are an enchantin breed. To quote Rabbie Burns:

“What signifies the life o’ man,
An’ ’twere na for the lasses O”

And so I give the toast to the lassies!   To the lassies!