Trinity Sunday

Trinity Knot

Repost from elsewhere a few years back.

Today is Trinity Sunday, so here are some quotations on this Subject of subjects (since I’m a quote collector):

What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.
-AW Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy

Eternal Trinity, you are a deep sea, into which the more I enter, the more I find, and the more I find the more I seek.
-Catherine of Siena

If Jesus was the idealistic founder of a religion, I can be elevated by his work and stimulated to follow his example. But my sins are not forgiven, God still remains angry and I remain in the power of death. . . . But if Jesus is the Christ, the Word of God, then I am not primarily called to emulate him; I am encountered in his work as one who could not possibly do this work myself. Through his work I recognize the gracious God. My sins are forgiven, I am no longer in death but in life.
-Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Christology

You should point to the whole man Jesus and say, “That is God.”
-Martin Luther

But the divine substance is form without matter, and, therefore, is one and is what it is. (or is its own essence.)
-Boethius, De Trinitate

God — if I may use my own jargon — is what happens between Jesus and the one he called Father, as they are freed for each other by their Spirit.
-Robert W. Jenson

What we can say is that, given our knowledge of the Trinity, personhood is tied up intimately with community, and with complementarity of Persons: the Trinity, a communion of irreducible Persons in complementarity and love, is our bedrock understanding of what it is to be alive. This leads us back to our understanding of Christian spirituality: authentic spirituality is the characteristic of a person in Christ who has enough wisdom and insight regarding self and others, and enough love and strength through the Spirit, that he or she can dare to be “ek-static” and so to enter into true intimacy with “the other,” an intimacy that will include both word and silence.
-Edith M. Humphrey, Ecstasy and Intimacy

Holy, Holy, Holy! Lord God Almighty!
Early in the morning our song shall rise to thee;
Holy, Holy, Holy! Merciful and Mighty,
God in Three Persons, Blessed Trinity!

Holy, Holy, Holy! all the saints adore thee,
casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea;
Cherubim and seraphim falling down before thee,
Which wert, and art, and evermore shalt be

Holy, Holy, Holy! though the darkness hide thee,
Though the eye of sinful man thy glory may not see,
Only thou art holy; there is none beside thee
Perfect in power, in love, and purity.

Holy, Holy, Holy! Lord God Almighty!
All thy works shall praise thy name, in earth and sky and sea;
Holy, Holy, Holy! Merciful and Mighty!
God in Three Persons, Blessed Trinity!
-Bishop R. Heber

WHOSOEVER would be saved / needeth before all things to hold fast the Catholic Faith. 2 Which Faith except a man keep whole and undefiled, / without doubt he will perish eternally. 3 Now the Catholic Faith is this, / that we worship one God in Trinity, and the Trinity in Unity; 4 Neither confusing the Persons, / nor dividing the Substance. 5 For there is one Person of the Father, another of the Son, / another of the Holy Ghost; 6 But the Godhead of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost is all one, / the glory equal, the majesty co-eternal.

7 Such as the Father is, such is the Son, / and such is the Holy Ghost; 8 The Father uncreated, the Son uncreated, the Holy Ghost uncreated; 9 The Father infinite, the Son infinite, the Holy Ghost infinite; 10 The Father eternal, the Son eternal, the Holy Ghost eternal; 11 And yet there are not three eternals, but one eternal; 12 As also there are not three uncreated, nor three infinites, / but one infinite, and one uncreated.

13 So likewise the Father is almighty, the Son almighty, / the Holy Ghost almighty; 14 And yet there are not three almighties, but one almighty. 15 So the Father is God, the Son God, the Holy Ghost God; 16 And yet there are not three Gods, / but one God. 17 So the Father is Lord, the Son Lord, / the Holy Ghost Lord; 18 And yet there are not three Lords, / but one Lord.

19 For like as we are compelled by the Christian verity / to confess each Person by himself to be both God and Lord; 20 So are we forbidden by the Catholic Religion / to speak of three Gods or three Lords. 21 The Father is made of none, / nor created, nor begotten. 22 The Son is of the Father alone; / not made, nor created, but begotten. 23 The Holy Ghost is of the Father and the Son; / not made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding. 24 There is therefore one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three Sons; / one Holy Ghost, not three Holy Ghosts.

25 And in this Trinity there is no before or after, / no greater or less; 26 But all three Persons are co-eternal together, / and co-equal. 27 So that in all ways, as is aforesaid, / both the Trinity is to be worshipped in Unity, and the Unity in Trinity. 28 He therefore that would be saved, / let him thus think of the Trinity.
-from the so-called Athanasian Creed

Advertisements

The Riches of Christian Spirituality

My photo of St Dominic meditating on the cross by Fra Angelico at San Marco, Florence
My photo of St Dominic meditating on the cross by Fra Angelico at San Marco, Florence

I have talked with some other ‘young people’ who were raised in the Church who have found that the sort of Christianity we put on offer at our local congregations and in many popular books is merely intellectual(ist) or emotional(ist) or sometimes both. But what about a religion or faith or spirituality that touches the deep chasms of the human soul, the vast interior world of the human heart, itself an image of the infinite simplicity of the Triune God? What about that kind of living, believing, thinking?

When this sort of disillusionment hits, different people take different approaches. One friend struck out into the land of the chemical — MDMA and marijuana led the way to cocaine (and who knows what else). Another friend went the much safer (at least physically) route of exploring Hinduism. Another friend I know has taken an interest in Islamic Sufism.

The drug-free path or a version thereof, from what the Interwebs shows me, seems to be a popular journey for a lot of young people raised in the Church. At some point, what’s being fed to our young congregants ceases to satisfy, so people start hunting for nourishment wherever it is to be found.

I get that.

And I am too immersed in the thought of Justin Martyr and too sympathetic to Augustine’s appreciation of Platonism to think that my friends won’t find Christ’s eyes looking out at them from between the lines of an ‘eastern’ religious text or the power of the Triune God battering their hearts as they enter the path of contemplation under the tutelage of Hindus, Buddhists, or Sufis. (Don’t forget this post on Christianity and eastern religions.)

Jesus Christ is the logos who orders the entire cosmos, who undergirds everything. He is the Reason of God, and each of us, made in God’s image, shares in that Reason. He can draw us all up to himself. The exitus from God has happened in every human heart, and not every guide on the reditus need be a Christian. I have profited from the Stoics.

But we need not look beyond the community of the faithful to find reliable guides on the spiritual journey. My general concern about Christians who become more interested in any philosophy beyond the Faith is whether they will still cling to Jesus and the Trinitarian Faith in the long run. And if we are dissatisfied with what we’re being served, we can explore the depths and riches of the interior world — enter the rooms of the Interior Castle — from within the Christian tradition.

This blog is mostly about those who have already made the reditus and have entered the everlasting rest — of every age, the contemplatives, mystics, ascetics, prayer-warriors, meditators, theologoi. I am prone to pulling in John Cassian and the Desert Fathers and Mothers as well as St Francis of Assisi, but other guides for this journey to make an appearance have included St Anselm, St Bernard of Clairvaux, Lady Julian of Norwich, St Gregory Palamas, St Teresa of Ávila, St John of the Cross, William Law, and John Wesley amongst many others.

But often, the problem with these spiritual masters of the past for one wishing to sail out into the sea of the interior world is the fact that simply reading them is itself a discipline — and very often it is difficult to apply their lessons to our lives. Or no visible, practical lessons seem to be forthcoming. So where do we go for guides to the spiritual world?

The church does not have a shortage of spiritual guides today, we just don’t always know where to look. I encourage you, if you are disillusioned with the shallowness, intellectualism, and/or emotionalism of your church today, before giving into accedia and going elsewhere, try to deepen your own walk first — perhaps a deeper connexion with Christ will deepen your appreciation of your own church.

Here are some recommended spiritual guides:

  • Richard Foster. Start with his most famous book Celebration of Discipline. Foster ranges far and wide across the Christian tradition, bringing in ancient, mediaeval, and modern, Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, his fellow Quakers, Anglicans, Baptists, and so on. Here you will get descriptions and practical tips on how to enter into the love of God and actually live for Him, being transformed, through twelve disciplines: meditation, prayer, fasting, study, simplicity, solitude, submission, service, confession, worship, guidance, and celebration. This is one of the most-purchased and least-read books out there — and, I think, even less applied than read! His book Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home helped sustain me while I was a missionary in Cyprus.
  • Kallistos Ware (Timothy). Foster is probably the most practical guide to the spiritual life I’ve encountered. But Ware’s works, especially The Orthodox Way but also, to some extent, The Orthodox Church, are excellent avenues into the world of Eastern Orthodox spiritual paths and spiritual thinking. He lacks the aggressive anti-western aspects of certain other writers on similar topics (e.g. Lossky, Romanides), but presents so appealing an image of Orthodoxy that you want a taste of that inner world, even if you are hesitant of joining him for doctrinal reasons.
  • Anthologies of the Masters. Although the lessons are not always easy to apply, reading shorter excerpts from the deep spiritual writers of the Christian tradition can be a good way in — so long as we are willing to go deeper. I have appreciated Richard J Foster and James Bryan Smith, Devotional Classics, which has a range of authors from St Gregory of Nyssa to John Woolman. I started but did not finish the anthology Light from Light: An Anthology of Christian Mysticism by Louis Dupré and James A. Wiseman, recommended by Edith M. Humphrey in:
  • Ecstasy and Intimacy: When the Holy Spirit Meets the Human Spirit. In this book, Humphrey investigates what she calls ‘spiritual theology’, looking at Scripture as well as those who have gone before (tradition as it is lived, I suppose) and at her own lived experiences as a Christian. She wrote while still an Anglican, but the influences of the Eastern church are visible.

If you read any of these, hopefully a few things will happen: You will be drawn deeper into the Father’s embrace and delight more and more in the self-giving love of the Most Holy Trinity. You will pray and meditate more. You will read Scripture with fresh eyes. And you will start to read more of the masters in full, starting with such classics as St. Augustine’s Confessions (in Chadwick’s translation for Oxford World’s Classics, not Pine-Coffin’s for Penguin Classics!) and Thomas a Kempis’ The Imitation of Christ and maybe popping in on more recent spiritual guides such as Merton’s The Inner Experience.

And, having started to read the masters in full, may you be drawn deeper into the Father’s embrace and delight more and more in the self-giving love of the Most Holy Trinity, pray and meditate more, and read Scripture with fresh eyes.

The Elusive Quest for Common Prayer

I am listening to I Fagiolini’s recording of a 1612 Italian Vespers, having been inspired by their recording of Striggio’s Mass in 40 Parts (blogged about here). It is a fitting choice of music for this topic of the elusive goal that is common prayer or common worship, uniformity of liturgy.

From what I can tell, this vision of a truly united, ‘uniform’, common liturgy arose in western Christianity at some point in the Carolingian world. This makes sense to me. Charlemagne, self-styled emperor of Rome, wanted to unite his far-flung realms, not just as Francia but as Christendom. Since they all believed the same (Nicene-Chalcedonian-Dyoethelite-Iconodule-non-Pelagian-anti-Priscillianist), since they were all united once again under one emperor and one law, why should they not worship the same way?

The tale, were it to be told well, would be an exciting journey of ups and downs, twists and turns. Of popes saying that filioque is a bad thing. Then popes changing their minds. Of the Benedictine office being regularised, and of Benedictine monasticism being instituted throughout the Frankish realms. Of saints’ days proliferating. Of new liturgies composed — St. Thomas Becket, Corpus Christi. A good writer could make what was really a slow, ponderous reality a breathless race from Charlemagne to Trent.

But I am no G K Chesterton, who would probably have been the man for that job.

Nevertheless, the liturgy would go off and do its own interesting things with occasional bits of papal intervention to help keep it on track until Trent. The result was not exactly uniformity of worship, not quite common worship to a very great extent. True, most localities used a version of the Roman Rite which, when stripped of a few later mediaeval additions, was still essentially what we find in the Gregorian Sacramentary (700s) or the Bobbio Missal (c. 700) (see the Catholic Encyclopedia and Edith M Humphrey’s new book on worship, Grand Entrance); an example is the famous use of Sarum, very popular in England in the later Middle Ages and at the time of the Reformation.

Sarum, whilst very largely ‘Gregorian’, was still a local variant, if not as localised as the Ambrosian Rite of Milan. I do not believe that the western mediaeval quest for uniformity was ever close to being achieved before the Council of Trent. And I have no doubt that it was not fully achieved after Trent.

The Council of Trent was the Catholic Church’s great reforming council of the 16th century, a successor to Pope Innocent III’s reforming council of the 1200s and not really a predecessor of Vatican II at all by way of content. Both Trent and Vatican II reformed liturgy, but the type of reform at Trent was a much more traditionalising reform. The Gregorian Mass (or, as Western Rite Orthodox call it, the Divine Liturgy of St Gregory the Great) was stripped of certain ‘accretions’ and made to look much more like the mass visible in the Carolingian and other early mediaeval sacramentaries and missals.

With the power of the printing press, the reforming popes of Trent were able to disseminate the new ‘Tridentine’ mass and liturgy of the hours (breviary) throughout western Europe. Trent also saw the emergence of the imprimatur (visible to this day in the front matter of many Catholic publications) upon religious books, thus helping regularise Catholic doctrine and worship throughout western Europe as never before. A friend once remarked that the Catholic Church per se did not exist before Trent; he was speaking doctrinally, of course — but he could have spoken liturgically as well.

But 16th-century liturgical reforms were not restricted to the Catholics of the continent. Most famously amongst those of my ilk were the two editions of the Book of Common Prayer by Thomas Cranmer of 1549 and 1552, as well as the Elizabethan Book of Common Prayer after the brief resurgence of the Latin Sarum under Queen Mary I. Through not only the printing press but government legislation, such as the Act of Uniformity, the Church of England was able to regularise and make more uniform than before the liturgy of her people.

The BCP services as represented on the 1549-1662 axis are among the most beautiful expressions of western liturgy ever composed. They draw upon the Scriptures, especially the Psalms, as well as the Use of Sarum, the Gelasian Sacramentary, the Divine Liturgy of John Chrysostom, and continental Protestant liturgies (with a nod to Martin Bucer). As an expression of the English language, the Book of Common Prayer may be unsurpassed in its beauty, rivalled only by its near-contemporaries — Shakespeare and the King James Version of the Bible. As an expression of English Protestant theology — a theology at once unafraid of its mediaeval heritage and of the need for reform — it stands as a testimony of balance, truth, and piety.

For a time, the BCP reigned supreme amongst Anglicans, Trent amongst Catholics.

The beginning of the end was 1872, when Anglicanism gave in to the pressures of Tractarianism and modified the format of its regular Sunday morning service. Things sped up in 1904 with a concern that modern people have different needs than those of 1549-1662. And all hell broke loose upon our liturgies in the 1960s, not only amongst Anglicans, but amongst our Catholic brethren as well.

Today, we have as many Prayer Books as there are English-speaking nations. We have Common Worship and The Book of Alternative Services and The Scottish Liturgy of 1982. We have parishes and dioceses creating their own idiosyncratic versions and visions of liturgy, such that you may be treated to a service with an ‘alternative creed’ in one context, and a service with no proper ‘canon’ of the Mass — that is, no proper prayer of consecration — in another. You can pray at home not only with any of a variety of BCPs and official texts, but also very lovely unofficial ones, such as Celebrating Common Prayer from The Society of Saint Francis (online here), or Celtic Daily Prayer from the Northumbria Community (online here).

Or, if you are perversely retrogressive, you can use a Tridentine Latin Breviary like me (except for in springtime — my second-hand set came missing Verna, and I can’t afford the ones on offer at abebooks).

Common prayer, common worship, liturgical uniformity, was a dream sought by us in the West for several long centuries, and almost achieved in some places for a few short ones. But it is gone. Since I dislike Common Worship, the Book of Alternative ServicesThe Scottish Liturgy of 1982, and the American Prayer Book of 1978, I miss it — although I never lived with it. But I have appreciated Celebrating Common Prayer and Celtic Daily Prayer. I enjoy my Tridentine breviary. And the smorgasbord of liturgies both for private and for corporate prayer and worship is only growing.

Just as some modern worship music is coming to maturity musically, poetically, and theologically, I hope that modern liturgy can do the same.

Out of these varied liturgies representing this real life where our Triune God is worshipped in many ways by Christians around the world, a few beautiful blossoms may be plucked by the discerning. Besides TSSF’s Celebrating Common Prayer and Northumbria’s Celtic Daily Prayer are:

The Prymer: The Prayer Book of the Medieval Era. Robert E Webber has taken the layperson’s shorter Book of Hours so common in the High and Later Middle Ages and produced a useable, readable book out of it. For those unafraid of praying (or skipping) prayers to the BVM.

The Private Devotions of Lancelot Andrewes. Not exactly new, I know. But these are worth praying by any Christian of interested mind. A couple of editions/translations exist. Keep your eyes open; my copy came from a library booksale.

The Daily Office West. This blog is updated daily; no need to flip around to get your Collect and Epistle in line!

Finally, for those unafraid of the East, there are prayers for morning and evening in the Orthodox Study Bible.

Remember, of course, that these recommendations come from a man who prays in Latin and is enamoured with 1662.

Deus in adiutorium meum intende.

Domine ad adiuvandum me festina.