Note to readers: Liturgical entries on this blog are based on the traditional calendar of the Books of Common Prayer and the traditional one-year Eucharistic lectionary. If you follow a newer calendar or three-year lectionary, there are variations in names for some Sundays and in the readings.

Friday, August 28, 2015

St. Augustine of Hippo- 28 August

The Feast of St. Augustin of Hippo, Church Doctor, is a black-letter day or minor observance on the 1662 calendar, and it is also found on many other Christian calendars. His impact on the Latin or Western Church and on the whole Western intellectual tradition is hard to over-estimate. Even thinkers who have rebelled against his ideas have been influenced by him in many ways. Augustine (354-430) was born in North Africa, and spent most of his life there. He did, however, spend 5 very significant years (383-388) in Rome and Milan. In Milan, the Christian influence of St. Ambrose was added to the life-long witness of Augustine's mother, St. Monica. Augustine finally converted, and after his baptism, Augustine returned to North Africa where he led a monastic life. Soon he was ordained, and in 395 was consecrated bishop. He served faithfully in many ways for the rest of his life, and he died as his beloved city was besieged by the Vandals.

In his pastoral writings and in his refutations of Manicheans, Donatists, and Pelagians, Augustine laid the foundations for later Western theology and philosophy. His City of God developed a Christian philosophy of history, and his Confessions remain a fascinating spiritual autobiography. Medieval theology was heavily indebted to him, and although Thomas Aquinas developed a new theological approach, he was steeped in Augustinian thought. Despite their Pelagian tendencies, even Renaissance humanists drew much from him. Reformers such as Luther, Calvin, and Cranmer were also his followers on a number of issues. In fact, the Augsburg Confession and the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion have been called deeply Augustinian, and traditional Books of Common Prayer are filled with structures, prayers, and phrases that reflect the Augustinian heritage of the Western Church.

Finally, I would add a personal appreciation. In my mid-teens, reading St. Augustine's Confessions was a key factor in giving me a thoughtful and deeply rooted Christianity in an environment that promoted two opposing options- emotional revivalism and skeptical scientism. In several periods since then, I have returned to the thought and devotion of this great teacher of the Church. His life and his thought embody the truth of the Holy Scriptures, and especially as we slide into a so-called post-Christian period with new barbarians at the gates, we can and should benefit from the witness of Augustine of Hippo.

Friday, August 14, 2015

The Blessed Virgin Mary- 15 August

Commemorating the Blessed Virgin Mary on August 15 is an observance that historically has elicited a variety of reactions among Anglicans and other Christians. In 1950, the Papacy associated the feast with the official Roman Catholic doctrine of the Assumption. According to the official decree of Pope Pius XII,  Mary "having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory". Although some Anglicans accept the Roman views, most have been hesitant to make a dogmatic statement. Many Anglicans have ignored the day altogether, some have observed it as a day marking the completion of her earthly life, and some have promoted the Eastern Orthodox view of her Falling Asleep.

The 1662 Book of Common Prayer includes the Annunciation and Purification as feasts associated directly with our Lord and biblical passages. It also lists as black-letter days or minor observances the Marian observances of the Conception, Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth, and the Birth of Mary. However, it does not include August 15, probably because of late medieval excesses. Several calendar revisions or supplements since 1662 do have some commemoration of the Virgin on August 15.

This day seems to be a case where the Anglican middle way and tolerance of diverse opinions is wise. Christians should always remember the blessed Virgin Mary with honor and gratitude. We should seek to emulate her submission to the divine plan and grace of redemption. This attitude is especially appropriate as we think of her departure from earthly life. We are also free to have our personal opinions and devotional practices on many topics, but we should not be dogmatic where Scripture is silent and Tradition is varied.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

The Need for Prayer

There are many responses that believing Christians may have to the abominable and diabolic decision of a slight majority of the U.S. Supreme Court vainly attempting to redefine marriage, but the first and most enduring response should be prayer. And for me, the following petitions from the great Litany apply to such times of trial.

Remember not, Lord, our offences, nor the offences of our forefathers; neither take thou vengeance of our sins: Spare us, good Lord, spare thy people, whom thou hast redeemed with thy most precious blood, and be not angry with us for ever.
Spare us, good Lord.

From all evil and mischief; from sin; from the crafts and assaults of the devil; from thy wrath, and from everlasting damnation,
Good Lord, deliver us.

Monday, June 01, 2015

What is classical Anglicanism?

In skimming some frequently read blogs, I found an interesting post on Prydain (https://prydain.wordpress.com/2015/06/01/an-interesting-anglican-blog-once-again-i-thank-you/) about an English blogger's view on the Five Points of Classical Anglicanism (http://1nc-again.blogspot.com/2014/08/the-five-points-of-classical-anglicanism.html). The five proposed points can be summarized briefly:
1. Classical Anglicanism is confessional. This point asserts that the Thirty-nine Articles are a binding theological statement meant to guide one's understanding of other Anglican formularies such as the Book of Common Prayer.

2. Classical Anglicanism is universal/catholic. Anglican doctrine and practice respect patristic and even medieval Christianity as long as they do not contradict Scripture.

3. Classical Anglicanism is protestant. Anglican theology is based on the "solas" of the Reformation and rejects the Roman Catholic system, especially ideas about the papacy and merits of the saints.

4. Classical Anglicanism is supposedly Reformed or Calvinist. This assertion claims that Anglican views of the sacraments and of predestination and related beliefs (TULIP) are moderately Calvinist.

5. Classical Anglicanism is normative, not regulative. Unlike continental and puritan Calvinists, Anglicans think that Scriptural principles guide church practices, but do not exclude all use of tradition.

While this five-point summary is interesting, I see two main problems. The first is the issue of defining "Classical Anglicanism." In many areas of the humanities, classical does not refer to beginnings but to high development. In Anglicanism, when does "classical" begin and end? Does one include the developing ideas of the Oxford martyrs and certain Marian exiles while rejecting Lancelot Andrewes and the Caroline churchmen? While I admire the heroism and struggles of Cranmer and his contemporaries, it seems to me that they were pre-classical because of their turbulent times and the early deaths of some. To me, classical Anglicanism is more descriptive of the development from Elizabeth I to the Restoration, including people such as Jewel, Hooker, Andrewes, Cosins, Ken, Laud (who was more "protestant" than many of his later admirers admit), and perhaps even later figures such as Taylor and Law.
The second problem is point four about Calvinism. For good or ill, there is no denying that Reformed views and even self-conscious Calvinism have been influential on the thought and practice of many Anglicans. However, despite such influences, it seems that both practice and official standards such as the Thirty-nine Articles and the Books of Common Prayer deliberately tried to be open to moderates of various persuasions. A moderate Renaissance Catholic, a moderate Lutheran, a moderate Calvinist, and varying degrees of high and low church belief and practice could find things they liked in Anglicanism without finding everything stated exactly the way they would have chosen. Extreme positions were not acceptable, and for good or ill, confessional Anglicanism allowed more breadth than other systems of the time.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

The Anglican Blend

As we approach Pentecost and consider the descent of the Holy Spirit to establish and empower the Christian Church, I have been ruminating on the place of Anglicanism in the universal Church. All groups of Christians seek to defend their existence. The difference is that unlike some other traditions, most Anglicans do not claim to be the one true Church.  Sometimes, such Anglican breadth may seem like a weakness, and sometimes, it may seem like a strength, but in either case, Anglican doctrine is not as clearly identifiable as the doctrine of most other Christian traditions. Historically at least, Anglican liturgy and Anglican polity have been easier to identify while Anglican doctrine has seemed less distinctive.

Anglican doctrine has covered a wide range. At times, this wide range has been a practical necessity because of political or societal factors. At other times, Anglicans have deliberately sought to be comprehensive for theological reasons. Thus, Bishop John Cosin (1594-1672) has often been quoted as saying that the Anglican Church is "Protestant and Reformed according to the principles of the ancient Catholic Church." Likewise, Archbishop Geoffrey Fisher (1887-1972) wrote that Anglicanism "has no peculiar thought, practice, creed or confession of its own. It has only the Catholic Faith of the ancient Catholic Church, as preserved in the Catholic Creeds and maintained in the Catholic and Apostolic constitution of Christ's Church from the beginning." In other words, Anglican theology is both Catholic and Protestant. It brings together and hands on the best from the whole experience of broadly orthodox Christianity.

So is there anything unique in  Anglican theology? Yes, but upon reflection, it is not in particular doctrines. It is rather in the blend. Like a fine coffee (or should I say tea?), Anglicanism takes good things from the whole of Christian history and tradition- from the Apostles and ancient Fathers to medieval and modern Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, to Lutheranism and Calvinism, and yes, even to contemporary evangelical and charismatic movements. Particular Anglicans may stress one aspect or the other, but it is the blend which gives Anglicanism its unique flavor in doctrine as well as in liturgy and polity. Of course, Scripture and ancient catholic tradition set limits in both doctrine and morality; everything is not permissible. Yet, the Anglican blend is a positive characteristic; it is a recognition that God has worked and still works in various and sundry ways.

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Evangelical and Catholic

Over the years- indeed decades, I have reflected upon the polarities in my personal theological development, in the thought and practice of Christianity, and in the history of Anglican Christianity. I grew up in a southern "evangelical" environment and was grounded in Scripture. Yet, even as a pre-teen, I was aware that there was more to Christianity than the local expressions (mostly Baptist and Methodist) that I saw around me. In addition to Bible study, I started reading Christian history and biography. In my late teens, I visited services of other traditions and was attracted to historic liturgy. Through most of college and seminary, I focused on historical studies in religion. I was heavily influenced by mainline liberalism, but was never totally at ease with its theological and moral reductionism.

Then my senior year in seminary, I had a renewing religious experience of Christ as Savior. This personal experience was immediately connected to the traditional aspects of liturgy surviving in a university chapel service. In my courses and in my personal readings, I began to ponder anew the common core in various streams of Christian theology. My personal faith in the living Christ and in the Holy Scriptures could not be separated from the Creeds, Baptism, and the Eucharist.

From those days onward, my theology has been guided by two principles: first, evangelical; secondly, catholic. The center is faith in the good news of redemption through the incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God the Son. Yet, in thought and experience, this evangelical faith has been guarded and expressed through the catholic or universal teachings and practices of Christianity. To best understand the Gospel, one must look at what has been believed by faithful Christians across varied times, places, cultures, and ecclesiastical structures. Then one sees the importance of factors such as the canon of Scripture, the ancient creeds, the two basic sacraments, and ordained leadership. There is a constant give and take between the evangelical and the catholic; they depend upon each other for their best expressions. Despite external ecclesiastical loyalties, anyone who values both is a brother or sister in faith. And anyone who neglects one or both of these elements is missing the fullness of Christianity.

Sunday, April 05, 2015

The Three Days

The Three Days from the evening of Maundy or Holy Thursday to Easter morning celebrate events at the heart of the Christian message. They are also themes at the heart of Anglican Liturgy and Doctrine. From the meaning of the Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord's Supper to the centrality of the Cross and Resurrection, the commemorations of these days bring an intense focus that reminds us of Christ's work for our salvation. This focus is important for sincere Christians of any tradition; for an Anglican, this focus brings home the reality that our heritage is truly evangelical, that is, gospel-based. Thanks be to God the Father, and praise to our risen Lord Jesus Christ!