The multiple media/genres of classic/historic Christianity

booksforwebThis blog/site is about the promotion of Classic Christianity as a way to engage more deeply with the Triune God, to re-engage with Scripture, to increase in devotion to Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, and so forth. As an antidote to spiritual drought, seeking the wisdom of the faithful over the many ages of Christianity.

I tend to divide things by temporal period, probably because of my inclinations as an historian. So I think in such terms as ‘Patristic’, ‘Medieval/Byzantine’, ‘Renaissance/Reformation/Counter-Reformation/Early Modern’ and ‘Modern.’ Mostly I post about subjects Patristic and Medieval — write what you know!

But the world of Classic Christianity, although something of a seamless whole if we watch for the common threads of the tapestry that the Great Tradition is woven into, presents itself to us in many ways — through texts, through images, through actions, and through music.

Texts

Christianity is a text-based religion, and not just because the Most Holy Trinity has revealed Himselves to us through the Bible. Texts are the surest way of transmitting tradition to further generations, for one thing. They are also a way for individuals to order their thoughts, organise their prayers, remember themselves, and share with others far away their own discoveries and beliefs. Furthermore, Eusebius of Caesarea established the story of Christian texts and their preservation, as well as the stories of Christian authors, as central to ecclesiastical history, a trend furthered by St Jerome’s De Viris Inlustribus.

As a result, there are many genres of text in Christianity, and it is these that mostly occupy my time here. Sometimes I go through phases where I discuss liturgy more, sometimes the ascetic/devotional writers, sometimes the theologians and exegetes. I go in phases, but each genre is an important part of learning the faith once delivered. If we ingest these texts thoroughly, we can be transformed by the renewing of our minds. Some of the genres available to us from the riches of the Great Tradition are:

  • Theology
  • Scriptural exegesis
  • Devotional/ascetic/mystical treatises (a form of lived theology described by practitioners)
  • Poetry
  • Liturgical texts (incl. hymns) and personal prayers
  • Saints’ lives (aka hagiography)
  • Ecclesiastical history

Images

Byzantine mosaic of the Transfiguration, 11th-12th c, Louvre (my pic)
Byzantine mosaic of the Transfiguration, 11th-12th c, Louvre (my pic)

Images have been hotly disputed throughout Christian history. Nonetheless, whether for adorning churches or the interiors of Books of Hours or the walls of living rooms, Christian tradition has a broad variety of images. These images are to be understood each in its own way, its own context, and its own uses. One does not view a Renaissance master the same way as a Byzantine icon, but that does not mean one is more ‘Christian’ than the other. Each has its value. Each can draw us up into Heaven.

Actions

Actions come to us through the texts, I suppose. But they are also transmitted through the lived practice of Christians in our midst. I learned how to do prostrations, placing my head to the floor, from Fr Raphael upstairs in his study in Edinburgh. I learned how to pray from my parents and other spiritual guides. I have learned of fasting from the pulpit, from examples of other Christians around me, from conversations, as well as from Scripture and non-scriptural texts. When we take these actions from the texts and the images and the lives of those around us and incorporate them into our own devotion to God, we are living tradition, we are entering into that cosmic union of all faithful people of all times and places that is the mystical Body of Christ.

Music

I probably blog about music the least, although I might sometimes post a YouTube video of a hymn or chant I like. But I grew up the son of a piano teacher, am the brother of a composer, and play the clarinet myself, besides spending a certain amount of my youth in youth choirs. Music, for me, is much harder to put into words. Indeed, perhaps simply sharing a YouTube video is the best approach. Nonetheless, sacred music imbues the whole history of western music; it is where western music history classes begin, with Gregorian Chant; then the great music of the Renaissance, followed by the Christian musical tradition in Vivaldi, Bach, Haydn, Handel, Mozart, even Beethoven, and Tchaikovsky, Stravinsky, and Bruckner.

When I attend a sung Eucharist at St Mary’s Cathedral in Edinburgh, it is in the midst of that music that I lose myself and enter into that moment completely, casting all other thoughts away. It is then that my heart can most easily soar to heaven. My spirit sings as they sing.

How will you engage with the tradition today?

. . . not abandoning roots, finding them

Re-post from 2008.

This post can give some context for the period when I started blogging about ‘Classic Christianity’.

Father of the Church
Church Father; 8th-c fresco now in Museo Nazionale Romano, Cripta Balbi. My photo

For several years, mostly since I realised that I liked the Book of Common Prayer (BCP) during university and was drawn to St. Francis, my personal devotional and theological life has been taking a journey, and I’m only just now becoming aware of what exactly this journey has been. It is a journey that actually began with discovering the “mere” Christianity popularised by C. S. Lewis, and then a sudden realisation that, while I believe that core of Christian truth (“orthodoxy”), I am hopelessly Anglican. I recently discovered the term “paleo-orthodox”, which I think applies to me.*

Palaeo-orthodoxy is a concept that has been championed by Thomas C Oden, whose book The Rebirth of Orthodoxy I read around Christmastide. The basic premise of palaeo-orthodoxy is that true orthodoxy is the consensual agreement of the Church catholic, and is best found in the first 1000 years of undivided Christian history. If we are to rediscover what it means to be orthodox, then mainline Protestants, Roman Catholics, and the Eastern Orthodox have to turn away from the latest fads and trends in theological and philosophical thinking and look back at what the prophets, apostles, saints, martyrs, and mystics have passed down to us. The implications of palaeo-orthodoxy are not germane to the discussion at hand, however.

This blog has reflected my turn to more traditional, catholic, palaeo- sources for my spiritual life and thought. We see this, for example, in posts about Church Fathers, quotations from the BCP (including a post that was basically cut-and-pasted from it), a discussion about Mediaeval missions and Ramon Llull, and my post about Christology. I have in mind future posts about the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Communion of Saints, Ephraim the Syrian, and who knows what else.

Nevertheless, I want to affirm something important before those other posts fly from my fingertips, before their voice may seem to crowd out everything else — perhaps so that their voice cannot crowd out everything else. While I believe that the rediscovery of what I call “classic Christianity” is important for an increased vibrancy in the Church and for the personal devotional and spiritual life of us pilgrims, I am very missional.

I believe that Christians have two primary duties, the first being: To love the Lord our God with all our heart, all our soul, all our mind and all our strength. The second is like unto it: To love our neighbours as ourselves. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.

Or, to phrase it differently, I believe we are first and foremost to engage in worship. Worship God. Join in the song of Creation with the stars and the cherubim and the oceans and the Ethiopians and the Baptists and the trees of the field! Sing God’s praises! Join with those around the Heavenly Throne, crying day and night, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Hosts! Heaven and Earth are full of Thy glory! Hosanna in the Highest!” Cry, “Alleluia!”

And then, loving and worshipping the God Who is Love and Worthy of all worship, we must overflow to tell our world about Him. This is commonly called “evangelism,” but I prefer my friend Rick’s thinking surrounding “discipleship” — not simply making converts, but bringing people to Jesus to a place where they are following Him and living in communion with Him, discovering their gifts, using their talents, and joining in Jesus’ mission of making more disciples. This is the second duty.

For we are all, each and every one of us, loved by God, more than we could possibly imagine. And we are justified by faith through the grace of God alone. None of the works we ever do will save us. All we need to be justified by God is a faith in Jesus, who is God Incarnate, God enfleshed, God pitching His tent among us, Who died that we might live, who took our sin upon Himself and reconciled us to God, satisfying the inestimable love of God the Father. Justified by our faith in Christ, we have a relationship with God the Father, and God the Holy Spirit is sent to dwell in and overflow us.

For this faith, this apostolic faith, to flourish we need worship, prayer, and the Scriptures. And community, no doubt, to encourage us when we are weak, to give a place to use our gifts, to correct us when we err, to provide a place of vibrant power where we can engage in the worship of the triune God.

When I say, therefore, “I am palaeo-orthodox,” I do not believe that incense, candles, icons, prayer books, liturgies, classic hymns, old theology, honouring the saints, the sacraments, the classic spiritual disciplines, et cetera are necessary for salvation (in the strict sense of justification). I am still evangelical in the classic sense, I think. But I do believe that those things are aids for spiritual growth, that they help keep us within the bounds of orthodoxy, wherein we are free to explore God and laugh with joy and question with our rational minds the truths of the universe.

We are spiritual beings, and our spirits must be fed and conformed to the likeness of Christ.

We are rational beings, and our minds must be fed and conformed to the likeness of Christ.

We are emotional beings, and our emotions must also be fed (I don’t how) and conformed to the likeness of Christ.

We are physical beings, and our bodies must be fed and conformed to the likeness of Christ.

What I call “classic Christianity”, then, is an attempt to find Christ in the saints throughout all the ages (this is to say, not simply the last 10, 20, 50, 100 years, but further and deeper and richer than they) and recapture disciplines and thought-patterns that will help me become more like Him, to know Him more, to worship Him more fully, to be conformed into His image, to live like Him, to think with the mind of Christ, and in all these ways join in the Song of Creation, praising God unto ages of ages.

It is not abandoning my charismatic and evangelical heritage by any means, for I still pray in tongues and believe that Scripture is God’s Word written, sufficient for salvation, but rather an attempt to unlock the treasurehouse of that heritage, the stores and riches of Christian orthodoxy throughout the ages so that as a missional, charismatic, evangelical, orthodox, traditionalist, sacramentalist, palaeo-orthodox, liturgical Anglican I can know Christ and make Him known to all the world around me, ever praising Him and singing:

We praise thee, O God; we acknowledge thee to be the Lord.
All the earth doth worship thee, the Father everlasting.
To thee Angels cry aloud, the Heavens and tall the Powers therein.
To thee Cherubim and Seraphim continually do cry,

Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of hosts;
Heaven and earth are full of the Majesty of thy glory.

-from Te Deum Laudamus, an ancient Christian hymn (Canadian BCP pp. 7-8)

* Except I’m an Anglo-Scots Canadian, so I prefer “palaeo-orthodox”.