“Evil here and evil there” “The burden of them is intolerable”

Image of an Archbishop from Anselm’s Prayers and Meditations found in Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS. Auct. D. 2. 6 (12th c)

St Anselm, ‘Prayer to St John the Baptist’:

Flee, flee,
you who are of I know not what horrible substance;
flee from yourself; be terribly; afraid of yourself.
But, alas, you cannot flee from yourself,
nor can you look at yourself, because you cannot bear it.
For if you could bear it, without a horror of grief,
you would find your toleration intolerable.
Insofar as you can tolerate yourself
you are like the first sinner,
and thereby you are less tolerable to god,
for to tolerate yourself is not courage,
but the blunt edge of death;
it is not health, it is hardened sin;
it comes not from consolation but from damnation.
I cannot bear the interior horror of my face
without a huge groan in my heart.
So then, I cannot fly from myself,
nor can I look at myself, for I cannot bear myself.

*

But see, it is worse still if I do not look at myself;
for then I am deceived about myself.
O too heavy weight of anguish.
If I look within myself, I cannot bear myself;
if I do not look within myself, I do not know myself.
If I consider myself, what I see terrifies me;
if I do not consider myself, I fall to my damnation.
If I look at myself, it is an intolerable horror;
if I do not look at myself, death is unavoidable.
Evil here, worse there, ill on every side;
but there is too much evil here,
too much that is worse there,
too much ill on every side.
For his very wretched whom his conscience torments,
when he cannot flee from it;
and even more wretched is he
who looks into his own damnation,
when he is not able to avoid it;
very unhappy is he who is horrible in his own eyes;
and more unhappy still will he be
when he undergoes eternal death.
Very wretched is he who is continually afraid
of the filthy horror of himself;
but more wretched still will he be
whom anguish will torture eternally because of his sins.
Evil here, and evil there;
too much here, and too much there.

-Trans. Sister Benedicta Ward, The Prayers and Meditations of St Anselm, pp. 130-131

The Book of Common Prayer 1662:

ALMIGHTY God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Maker of all things, judge of all men; We acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness, Which we, from time to time, most grievously have committed, By thought, word, and deed, Against thy Divine Majesty, Provoking most justly thy wrath and indignation against us. We do earnestly repent, And are heartily sorry for these our misdoings; The remembrance of them is grievous unto us; The burden of them is intolerable. Have mercy upon us, Have mercy upon us, most merciful Father; For thy Son our Lord Jesus Christ’s sake, Forgive us all that is past; And grant that we may ever hereafter Serve and please thee In newness of life, To the honour and glory of thy Name; Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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St Anselm: I find that I am a dead man to be raised

For Holy Saturday, that day in-between, when Jesus lay dead in the tomb. From St Anselm’s Prayer to St Paul, trans. Sister Benedicta Ward:

St Paul, I came to you as a sinner to be reconciled, and lo, when I am in your presence I find that I am a dead man to be raised. I came as one accused, in need of an intercessor, and I find rather that I am a dead man needing to be restored to life. As a wretch I came, and I find I am the most wretched of all. I came to you as one living and accused; and lo, before you I am dead and condemned. Even if I am not yet handed over to the torments of eternal death, even now I am abandoned to the spiritual death that draws to the other.

Anselm’s prayers as meditations

Image of an Archbishop from Anselm’s Prayers and Meditations found in Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS. Auct. D. 2. 6 (12th c)

One thing that my contact with ancient, medieval, Byzantine, and Orthodox Christianity has not done away with is my mistrust of the cult of saints. I am not interested in asking the blessed departed to intercede with God on my behalf. This creates a potential problem for me and other Protestant types in reading St Anselm’s prayers, since the bulk of them are addressed to saints.

Now, the scholarly solution, and one I endorse, is to read these as specimens of Christianity from another age. Ask the texts what they show us about high mediaeval spirituality. Ask also how they interact with St Anselm’s other work, the theology and spirituality of his contemporaries such as his mentor Lanfranc or younger contemporary Hugh of St Victor. I commend that historical task to you always, whenever you read Christian authors from a different time, for it can help bridge the gap and enliven their spirituality (and therefore your own as a result!).

But if we can use the Prayer to Christ as a means to stir up our hearts to Jesus, how can we read the prayers to saints devotionally?

I can think of two ways we can use St Anselm’s prayers to the saints devotionally. One is to use his meditations on theology that are embedded within the prayers as spurs to our own prayers and meditations. The other is to consider the virtues of the saints whom he addresses.

I prefer the first.

When we do so, we realise how stark an awareness of one’s own sin the mediaeval Christian had:

If I look within myself, I cannot bear myself;
if I do not look within myself, I do not know myself.
If I do consider myself, what I see terrifies me;
if I do not consider myself, I fall to my damnation.
If I look at myself, it is an intolerable horror;
if I do not look at myself, death is unavoidable.
Evil here, worse there, ill on every side;
but there is too much evil here,
too much that is worse there,
too much ill on every side. (Prayer to St John the Baptist, trans. B. Ward, p. 130-31)

Such thoughts run through the prayers — one of St Anselm’s concerns is that God is both judge and plaintiff — how can he stand? Condemnation is his lot. This gloomy vision of human sin and wickedness would probably be considered pathological by modern psychology. Maybe it was. Then again, maybe Anselm had it right. Maybe Know Thyself (a theme I’ve discussed before) leads directly to this awareness. And this awareness leads you directly to Christ:

God, whose goodness is not exhausted,
whose mercy is not emptied out,
whose knowledge does not fail,
whose power can effect what you will;
whence shall I ever be able to get back life,
who have thus been driven desperate by my sins?
For if you are angry against sinners,
at least, kind Lord, you are accustomed to give counsel
to those who plead with you.
Teach me, O Lord, whence I ought to hope,
so that I can pray.
For I long to pray to you;
but I neither know how because of my ignorance,
nor am I able to because of my hardness.
And I am forbidden to do it by despair because of my sins. …

Jesus, good Lord,
why did you come down from heaven,
what did you do in the world,
to what end did you give yourself over to death,
unless it was that you might save sinners?
St Paul, what did you teach
when you were passing through the world?
God, and his apostles, and you most of all,
invite us sinners to faith;
you show us this as our only safe refuge.
How then should I not hope, if I believe this,
and ask in this faith?
How can this hope be frustrated in me,
if that faith does not fail me
from which it was born? (Prayer to St Paul, pp. 145-6)

I hope that if you are interested in reading the Prayers and Meditations these meditations of mine may help you use St Anselm to deepen your own devotional life.

Loving the Book of Common Prayer 3: Theological depth (and breadth!)

Edward VI, who approved the 1552 BCP

My last post on the Prayer Book proved unexpectedly controversial amongst Anglicans and Lutherans when I shared it in a Facebook group I’m part of. Unfortunately, in the midst of the controversy, no one actually dealt with the substance of my post, merely my use of the word Protestant. This serves as a testament to the horror of all Facebook arguments.

In fact, had they desired, any of the antagonists (if informed enough, as some were) in the debates could easily have pointed out that the BCP statements of justification by faith I was using in that post — regardless of anti-Roman Catholic intention (which I suspect on the part of Cranmer) — were not incompatible with the Council of Trent. That is to say, even by that post’s own controversial definition of Protestant, the BCP is not a particularly or peculiarly Protestant document.

Since I’m addressing what I think of as the ‘historic’ Prayer Books in these posts (as I mentioned in the first of them), today I will use the text of 1552, having last time used the Canadian BCP of 1962, and the time before that 1662. (Just for information.)

Although not strongly Protestant, what the BCP is — and herein lies one of its chief glories — is a ‘broad church’ document with great theological depth. It is broad church in that more catholic Anglicans can use it without having to add or excise anything (although sometimes they do), and even Reformed (not just reformed!) Anglicans can use it without having to add or excise anything (although sometimes they do, too). It is capable of embracing Anglicans of theological orthodoxy who disagree on a variety of issues. This is part of its intra-Anglican catholicity alongside its inter-denominational and international catholicity.

Besides being broad, it is deep. It is the depth I love. Even if many more Anglicans found the worship and language of the Prayer Book a stumbling block than currently do (that is, were it not quite so broad), I would still love its theological moments.

I’ve already mentioned its statements on justification and merit last time.

It is also very clear about the human condition. Immediately — and scandalously for many — it is apparent that the BCP believes we are sinners; at Morning and Evening Prayer, the service begins with a confession of sin that includes the phrase, ‘and there is no health in us’. The Letany begins with antiphonal entreaties to each Person of the Trinity to ‘haue mercye upon us miserable synners,’ before saying:

Remember not, Lorde, our offences, nor the offences of oure forefathers, neyther take thou vengeance of our sinnes: spare us, good lord, spare thy people, whom thou hast redemed with thy most precious blood, and be not angry with us for ever.

Spare us, good Lorde.

Prayers for deliverance from a variety of sins follow.

Of course, most of us will encounter the BCP (whether 1552, 1662, 1962 or when-have-you) in Holye Communion. Common to these is this opening Collecte:

Almightie God, unto whom all heartes be open, all desyres knowen, and from whom no secretes are hyd: clense the thoughtes of our heartes by the inspiracion of thy holy spirit, that we maye perfectlye loue thee, and worthely magnify thy holy name: through Christ our Lorde. Amen.

Then the Law — and in 1552, it is the Ten Commandments, with no recourse to Christ’s Summary of the Law. Common to 1552 and 1662 is the Exhortation, calling upon the congregation to examine themselves and their conduct in preparation for receiving the Sacrament. Then, ‘we knowledge and bewayle oure manyfolde synnes and wyckednes, whiche we from tyme to tyme moste greuously have committed’. We are sinners; we must do something about it.

I read once in a self-help book when I worked at Chapters (all about how to empower yourself and get rich) about someone who left the church over ‘manifold sins and wickedness.’ He didn’t believe it was true of him. Obviously the Prayer Book has a strong theology of the depth of human sin and our right response (‘the burthen of them is intollerable’), but manifold is a term of quantity, not quality. That is, even if your sins are ‘peccadilloes’, and even if you sin, say, only once a month, that’s twelve times a year; between the ages of 10 and 20, that’s 120 sins. Manifold applies.

But the Prayer Book, of course, says that there is no health in us. It doesn’t leave us there, though. The BCP knows full well the solution to sin, which is why it keeps making us repent — repentance is the cure. Hence the ‘comfortable woords’, such as:

If any man sinne, we have an aduocate with the father, Jesus Christ the righteous, and he is the propiciacion for our synnes.

Christ offered himself up for us on the Cross as oblation and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world. All we need do is accept this gift through faith, and we enter into right relationship with God and are set upon the road to salvation. This also the Prayer Book says in abundance, although I’ve been fixating on sin. The whole Gospel is there. It makes the heart sing.

One final prayer related to the human condition is one of the chief glories of Prayer Book worship, the Prayer of Humble Access:

We doe not presume to come to this thy table (O mercyfull Lorde) trustinge in our owne righteousnesse, but in thy manifolde and greate mercies: we bee not worthye, so much as to gather up the crommes under thy table: but thou art the same Lorde whose propertie is alwayes to haue mercye: graunt as [sic] therfore (gracious lord) so to eate the fleshe of thy dere sonne Jesus Christe, and to drinke his bloud, that our synfulle bodyes maye be made cleane by his body, and our soules wasched through his most precious bloud, and that we may euermore dwel in him, and he in us. Amen.

I love this prayer. If I am at a church using the Canadian BAS, or Common Worship, or the Scottish Liturgy of 1982, and this prayer is missing, I say it quietly before approaching the Lord’s Table. Some, I’ve been told, call it the Humble Crumble and are not fond of it. Others feel it unnecessary, since we’ve already confessed our sins.

But that’s the point, I think.

Even having confessed our sins, we still are not worthy. Generally speaking, in classic Christian theology, confessions of human smallness, frailty, and weakness are actually confessions of divine largeness, strength, and power. There is an ontological gap between humanity and God that God chooses to bridge in the Eucharist. We come from dust, and to dust we shall return. In the classic theology of St Athanasius, On the Incarnation, human beings come from nothing, and without God, we tend to return to nothing. God, on the other hand, is self-existent and in need of nothing external. He is also, however, overflowing love, as I blogged recently.

God is Love (not mercy), and always having mercy is a property of the Triune God who is Love.

Therefore, although we are unworthy, although we are sinful — as the Prayer Book has already made abundantly plain — God comes to meet us in the Eucharist, joining the divine with the human. While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

The Prayer Book response to God’s mercy, the response to the grace bestowed upon us in the Sacrament?

Glorye bee to God on hyghe. And in yearth peace, good wyll towardes men. We prayse thee, we blesse thee, we worshippe thee, we glorifye thee…

The historic BCPs are also unfailingly Trinitarian. I have been at some modern liturgies that an Arian could have prayed. Not so the BCP. At Morning and Evening Prayer, we affirm the Apostles’ Creed (an Arian could say that, I suppose), and at the Communion, we confess our faith in the words of the Nicene (Constantinopolitan) Creed. Not only that, in 1552, at the end of Evening Prayer we are instructed that:

In the feastes of Christmas, the Epiphanie, Saincte Mathie [sic], Easter, Thassencion, Pentecost, Sainct John Baptist, Sainct James, Sainct Bartholomew, Sainct Matthew, Sainct Symon and Jude, Sainct Andrewe, and Trinitie Sunday; shalbe song or sayd immediately after Benedictus, this confession of our Christen fayth.

What follows is The Athanasian Creed. A German friend of mine who was praying the BCP with his mother on Christmas followed the rubric. She loved this statement of faith. So do I — besides my aforelinked translation, I have this post and this post on the subject. I have another friend who had a bad experience in a particular evangelical denomination, so he went off, read the Bible for himself, decided to become an Arian. An Anglican priest handed him the BCP; he read the Athanasian Creed and converted to Trinitarianism.

The Trinity is the heart of all orthodox Christian faith, rooted in the literal history of the incarnate life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God the Word, sent to save us sinners. This theology, this story, is played over and over again in the Prayer Book as our response to God’s grace in our lives and in the world.

There are other pieces of great theology throughout the historic Prayer Books — the collects, Holy Baptism, Confirmation. The Buriall of the Dead is enveloped in the rich biblical passages about the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. I could go on.

Whenever I go a time without using the BCP in prayer and worship, it is a balm and a delight to my soul when I return. This theological depth, of which only one small portion was discussed here, is part of why.

Advent 4, Sarum: Raise up Thy power and come!

Walters Ms. W.34, Carrow Psalter (fol. 178r)

And so comes the final week of Advent. On Thursday, the season will climax and close with the arrival of Christmas, the Feast of the Nativity. Following the Use of Sarum, this Sunday’s collect is:

O Lord, raise up, we pray Thee, Thy power, and come, and with great might succour us; that whereas through our sins we are sore let and hindered, Thy bountiful grace and mercy may speedily help and deliver us. Who livest …

This is what the Advent longing is about — the coming of the Lord. There is a straining and a wrestling in it. A struggle. We feel the ache of life without Emmanuel (God-with-us) in Advent. This year, I have found this particularly true not only reflecting upon these Sarum collects with their crying out for God to give us his aid and be ever-present to us in time of need and in the face of sin, but also in my daily readings.

Although I don’t pray Vigils, I started reading the lessons for Vigils from Benedictine Daily Prayer partway through Advent this year. The Old Testament lesson was usually from Isaiah, and usually about the dread day of the Lord’s coming, or a weighty pronouncement about judgement. The New Testament lesson was usually from the epistles, usually more cheery, about Christ’s fulfilment of the Old and future coming in glory.

When you read such Bible passages regularly, combined with the average sorrows of daily life and the great burden of a world torn by strife, the Advent ache for a Saviour becomes much more pronounced. You feel with the liturgist the request for the Lord to succour us with His great might!

But it’s not mere, run-of-the-mill suffering the Sarum points us to. It is about the suffering we inflict on ourselves — through our sins we are sore let and hindered. St John Cassian, joining the Stoic ethical tradition, argues that the only evil inflicted upon you is the evil that you yourself commit. When someone else wrongs you, if you do not sin, no evil has been done to you; that person has done evil to himself.

The phrase ‘through our sins we are sore let and hindered’ is Englishing the Latin, ‘nostra peccata prepediunt’, ‘our sins shackle/bind/entangle/fetter’. I like ‘fetter’, myself.

And is not the bondage of the will, this human shackling to our sins, precisely what Jesus came to unloose? As the angel said to Joseph, ‘You shall call his name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.’ (Mt 1:21; NKJV)

To turn from Sarum to Cranmer (who sourced the Litany from ancient texts; below is Canada’s BCP, 1962):

From all evil and mischief, from sin, from the crafts and assaults of the devil; from thy wrath, and from everlasting condemnation,
Good Lord, deliver us.
From all blindness of heart; from pride, vainglory, and hypocrisy; from envy, hatred, and malice, and all uncharitableness,
Good Lord, deliver us.
From all uncleanness in thought, word, and deed; and from all the deceits of the world, the flesh, and the devil,
Good Lord, deliver us.

By the mystery of thy holy Incarnation; by thy holy Nativity; by thy Baptism, Fasting, and Temptation,
Good Lord, deliver us.

Deliver us, O Lord.

A penitent medieval stanza

Came across this this morning before popping Parsifal into the DVD drive:

Since first I could do harm I sinned my fill;
In deed, with mouth, with all my limbs did ill;
My grief for many sins, which now I spill,
Should earlier have flowed, with Christ’s good will.

This is from a stanza of a poem to the Mother of God in Medieval English Verse, the Penguin Classic translated by Brian Stone, p. 69. My Protestant sensibilities are not much moved by the poem’s appeals to St Mary the Virgin, but this stanza struck me as a potent reminder of the human condition, however much we may try to avoid speaking of it these days.

Wrongdoing runs deep in the human soul, and the mediaeval mind was profoundly aware of this fact, as were the pious men and women of the Early Modern Age.

Have our cries of, ‘Grace, grace!’ deafened our ears to the sounds of sin today? Would it be so wrong to ‘moan and bewail’ our manifold sins and wickedness as the 1662 Book of Common Prayer says? Perhaps some ages were too obsessed with sin. And perhaps a fault of our age is ignoring it and taking it too lightly.

After all that heresy, what about sin?

St Augustine Tiffany Window

Tonight, I gave my run-through of Christology up to Chalcedon in 2 h or less with a Greek translator. Whew! Bits may make it here as I reflect on things. In the questions at the end, one of my friends asked me a good question:

It seems that these guys spent a lot of time fighting against heresy, did they have anything to say about sin?

I think this is a great question because people like me (and, thus, the scholarly world at large) spend a lot of time discussing ‘the Fathers’ and heresy and how orthodoxy was forged on the anvil of heresy.

But what about sin, for St. Pete’s sake?

First, these people saw heresy and sin as intimately related. If you are an incorrigible sinner, you are probably a heretic. And if you are a heretic, you are probably a sinner.

Second, some of these heretical or non-mainstream (I don’t count Manichees as heretics but as members of an entirely different religion) groups engaged in what the (proto-)orthodox thought of as sin. Some Gnostics felt that what you did in the body didn’t matter, so they became gluttonous sex-aholics, basically. According to the report of Pope Leo I’s investigation into Manichaeism in the City, the Manichees were having ritual sex with underage virgins.*

Nonetheless, these people were concerned about holiness and sin, and not just my perenially-mentioned Desert Fathers. Augustine, for example, discusses in his Confessions that one of the reasons he delayed baptism was his enjoyment of pre-marital sex, and one of his falls after conversion was having vivid sexual dreams at night.

Since some people think Augustine was an over-guilty, Platonic, sexual deviant, I also encourage you to look at John Chrysostom’s sermons for their moral and ethical exhortations about things like lying or going to horse races or reading your Bible. Or take Augustine’s famous opponent Pelagius who was first targetted by the likes of Augustine for his moral rigorism.

Heresy is the doctrinal deviation of the human mind from God’s truth.

Sin is the moral deviation of human action from God’s path.

Both of them are matters of importance to the ancient Christians.

*For the full horror of this abomination, recall that a woman in the ancient world was ‘of age’ when she turned 12. I am actually cringeing having divulged that information.