The Ecclesial Dimension of Christian Discipline

It can be very easy to think of spiritual growth and the disciplines solely in terms of what each of us is and does individually. Indeed, the history of the disciplines feels like it is full of loners — hermits and monks, the lone missionary in a heathen land, Susannah Wesley hiding under the table for her private devotions, The Private Devotions of Lancelot Andrewes, medieval books of hours, et cetera.

This is an illusion. For example, Richard Rolle the hermit of Hampole (1305-1349) was, for want of a more western term to come to mind, spiritual father to a group of nuns. Carthusians in their silence work together, pray together, occasionally eat together. All monks who live ‘in community’ gather with one another to sing praises to God multiple times a day. Susannah Wesley inevitably spent time teaching her children about God and Christ. Lancelot Andrewes was a royal chaplain and Bible translator. When a French nobleman was done with his book of hours, he would be part of the eucharistic community, gathered under one roof.

Not only this, but when we are alone, we are never alone. Christians are united to one another the mystical body of Christ, after all. It is telling that the Lord’s Prayer begins ‘Our Father’, and if you use the Prayer Book for private devotions, you will find yourself reading many prayers in the first person plural, ‘O God make speed to save us!’

One of the moments in ecclesiastical history that seems most replete with Lone Ranger spirituality is the Byzantine Hesychastic Controversy of the 1300s. This was a dispute about the monks of Mount Athos and what it was they were experiencing when they claimed, after a lot of time literally navel-gazing and praying the Jesus Prayer and such, to have seen the Uncreated Light. Their great champion, Gregory Palamas, said that it was the energies, or better activity, of God manifesting itself to them, the same light that transfigured Jesus on Mount Tabor in the Gospels. His opponents felt that they were wrong and this was, in our terms today, a purely psychological phenomenon. God in his absolute transcendence is inaccessible. The light seen can in no way be considered the Uncreated Light and God’s energies.

I’ve blogged on Palamas before.

Anyway, even this dispute about men who spend much of their day praying in silence, is about the Church. We are reminded this by Gregory Palamas himself:

Through God’s grace we are all one in our faith in Him, and we constitute the one body of His Church, having Him as sole head, and we have been given to drink from one spirit through the grace of the Holy Spirit, and we have received one baptism, and one hope is inall, and we have one God, above all things and with all things and in us all. (Homily 15, quoted in George Mantzaridis, The Deification of Man, p. 57)

So I guess today’s reflection and exhortation from the history of God’s people is simply this: Do not neglect the body of believers, not simply by going to church and mid-week events, but also keep them wrapped up in your heart as you pray, for we all pray together and are all bound together. No Christian is ever alone.

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Saint of the Week: Lancelot Andrewes

Chances are, you’ve probably read something by Lancelot Andrewes (1555-1626). ‘What is that?’ you may ask me. A fairly sizeable book that turns 400 this year. That’s right, the Authorised Version (KJV) of the Bible. Not that Lancelot Andrewes wrote the Bible. That would be worse historical revisionism than people who say the Roman Emperors chose the canon of Scripture, for goodness’ sake! Nor did he even do the whole of the KJV translation. He was, however, Dean of Westminster Abbey at the time of the translation’s preparation and one of the secretaries of the Translation Company.

Since, however, the KJV was a group effort and owes something like 60% of its phraseology to Tyndale, Andrewes must be memorable for more than this. And he is.

Andrewes was born three years before the accession of Elizabeth I to the throne of England. He was one of the notables when he studied at Cambridge, and was later to be a fellow of Pembroke College, Cambridge. In 1580 he took holy orders, and preached about the Ten Commandments, drawing great interest in his work. Indeed, he moved upward from there, as quoted Alexander Whyte: ‘Scholar and Fellow of Pembroke, Vicar of St. Giles’, Cripplegate, Prebendary, first of Southwell and then of St. Paul’s, Master of his College, Chaplain to Whitgift and to Queen Elizabeth, and Dean of Westminster.’ (Lancelot Andrewes and His Private Devotions, p. 5)

Under James VI/I, he was consecrated Bishop of Chichester in 1605. In 1606, he preached a sermon recalling the Gunpowder Plot that recommended people remember such events in years to come to keep them from happening. Thus, Guy Fawkes’ Night today. 1617 saw him in Scotland with King James in a (failed) attempt to convince the Kirk that episcopacy is a much better way of organising the church.

A shame that he failed, really.

He was translated to being Bishop of Winchester. One of his last public acts was to be present at the coronation of King Charles I; he was quite ill himself. In 1627, after a fairly successful career in the Church of England, Lancelot Andrewes entered the rest of the saints.

His churchmanship was that typically Anglican way of trying to steer between the Puritans and the Papists. Hurrah for that!

My first acquaintance with Lancelot Andrewes — besides a name in the Calendar in the front of my Book of Common Prayer — was through his Private Devotions. These were never meant for publication, but we can be grateful they have been put abroad. He organises his devotions along Times of Prayer, Places of Prayer, Circumstances and Accompaniments of Prayer, and then a Course of Morning Prayers for the Seven Days of the Week, Other Morning Prayers, Evening Prayers, Meditations and Prayers for Various Times and Seasons, and Communion Prayers and Meditations.

These are wonderful devotions, and I well recommend them to you. His sermons are also worthy of commendation.

It is evening when I write this, so here are some appropriate thoughts from Bishop Andrewes:

Meditations before Evening Prayer

In war there is the note of charge, fitted for the onset: of recall, whereby stragglers are recalled;

And the mind of man, as it must be stirred up in the morning, so in the evening, as by a note of recall, is it to be called back to itself and to its Leader by a scrutiny and inquisition or examination of self, by prayers and thanksgivings.

An Act of Thanksgiving

By night I lift up my hands in the sanctuary,
and bless the Lord.
The Lord hath commanded His lovingkindness
in the daytime,
and in the night His song shall be with me
and my prayer unto the God of my life.
I will bless Thee while I live,
and lift up my hands in Thy name.
Let my prayer be set forth before Thee as incense;
and the lifting up of my hands
as the evening sacrifice.
Blessed art Thou, O Lord, our God,
the God of our fathers,
Who hast ordained the changes of day and night,
Who givest songs in the night,
Who hast delivered us from the evil of this day,
Who hast not cut off like a weaver my life,
nor from day even to night made an end of me.