Ash Wednesday 2015

I love the way the liturgy functions…

As many readers know, I’ve got two books in the pipeline right now, one on early medieval monastic Gospel interpretation at the final page proof stage, the other on the spirituality of the prayer book in the editing stage. Both of them deal with the liturgy and how it works; I was reminded of elements from both today.

One of the strengths of the interlocking liturgical cycles is the opportunity for “pregnant juxtaposition.” That is, through the regular operation of liturgical mechanics, items and elements are put into relationship with one another. The ones praying have an opportunity to see connenctions between them and, in this process of discovery, to gain new insights into the character of the faith and the identity of the Triune Deity behind it all.

The regular monthly psalm cycle gave us Pss 90, 91, and 92 this morning. As I mentioned in my previous post, Ps 90 is and will continue to be a focal point for my reflections on intentionality and simplification this Lent; its appearance this morning was completely seredipitous. Likewise, Ps 91 is deeply connected with Lent for me. In the medieval cycle, the Minor Propers for Lent I were taken from Ps 91 given its appearance in the Gospel appointed for that feast, Matthew’s narrative of Jesus being tempted by Satan. Medieval monastic interpreters—Aelfric among them—argued that Satan was misinterpreting the psalm in applying it to Jesus. Rather, it applies to those of us struggling towards righteousness. God will allow us to be tempted and tried, but also lends us protection and strength throughout the process. Lines from this psalm will recur throughout the monastic Office for the entirety of Lent, reminding those paticipating in the liturgical cycles of God’s faithfulness in trial and testing.

To close out, I’ll leave with a section I just finished up in the prayer book spirituality manuscript with regard to Ash Wednesday and its liturgy:


The season of Lent engages the affection of penitence. During Lent we consider ourselves from two vantage points. The first concerns the human tendency to sin—individually and corporately. Sin is a reality of human existence. The other unavoidable reality of human existence providing the second vantage point is death. Lent opens with Ash Wednesday’s stark acknowledgement of the reality of death. Lent isn’t about being morbid, or punitive, or tearing ourselves down, or whipping ourselves into a lather of self-condemnation. It is, rather, about that word I’ve used twice now: reality. It’s about taking honest stock of who and what we are in the face of eternity and in the face of God. We are limited; we are fallible. In a short life of uncertainty we make choices that lead us deeper into separation and chaos—cutting ourselves off from those who love us and whom we would love. Lent is a deliberate exercise in owning up.

The Ash Wednesday liturgy has four particular components that serve to focus our attentions at the start of the season. The first is the exhortation to a holy Lent. It sets forth briefly the idea of Lent, noting its dual role as a season for baptismal preparation and also a season for corporate repentance. After the history lesson, it points us to the particular disciplines of the season and identifies elements of a holy Lent: “by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word” (BCP, p. 265). Thus, we confront the reality of our inner lives, we do those things that help us love God and neighbor, and re-center ourselves on the vision that God has for the world and our place within it.[i]

The second component of the Ash Wednesday service that focuses us is the imposition of the ashes themselves. This is a liturgical moment of great power—and should be allowed to speak for itself without piling up a bunch of words around it. Some of my most poignant and important memories of Lent are memories from this point in this service. I remember my first Ash Wednesday as a parent when I carried my infant daughter to the rail and saw the priest put the ashes on her forehead. The contrast, the paradox, between her youth and the mark of mortality affected me deeply. Some may think this inappropriate—but I recall how many churchyards through which I have wandered, looking at gravestones, and seeing markers for children (and often their mothers) younger than her. The reality of mortality offends our sensibilities—but to deny plays into our fantasies.

Alternatively, I remember one year when I assisted in the chancel, imposing ashes. As I moved around the rail, I found myself at three figures—in the center was an elder of the congregation, his eyes closed, face to the sky, arms outstretched, gripping the hands of his wife on one side, his best friend on the other. For the previous nine months I had been visiting him weekly as he wrestled with an aggressive cancer that had turned terminal. We all knew this Ash Wednesday would be his last. For him, this moment was a solemn embrace of sister Death within the company of the church, the whole Body of Christ gathered around him.

Here, though, lies one of the brutal truths of Ash Wednesday: he was not closer to death than anyone else in the room. All of us are but a breath, a heartbeat, a moment away from death. The difference between him and us was his awareness of his situation. He knew and chose to face the truth of his mortality, a truth about which most of us would prefer to remain blissfully unaware.

From this point in the service we move to the third component, Psalm 51, the greatest of the penitential psalms. In these words, we are given the example of what full disclosure before God looks like. The psalmist is under no illusions about his interior state; there is an honesty here that we may find uncomfortable, but which speaks directly to the presence, reality, and power of sin in our lives. To my mind, the prayer book gives us this psalm at the beginning of the season. We receive it as a model of penitent prayer. We may not feel every bit of what the psalmist says, but it gives us direction and guidance for our own deep self-examination to which we are called. And, as we pray it and gaze within ourselves, we may indeed find ourselves drawing closer to his perspective than we might have first thought!

The fourth component is the Litany of Penitence which also spurs us to self-reflection. Its beginning mirrors Jesus’ Summary of the Law that classically began Anglican Eucharists and that still heads up the Penitential Order that is especially appropriate in this season (the Rite I version is p. 319; Rite II, p. 351). Jesus encapsulates God’s Law in Mark’s gospel in this way:

Jesus said, ‘The first commandment is this: Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is the only Lord. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.’ Mark 12-19-31 (BCP, p. 351).

By putting this section of Scripture at the beginning of our Eucharists, the architects of the early prayer books were giving this passage a special place in our understanding of what God requires of us and what righteousness looks like: loving God, loving neighbor. This is us as God wants us to be.

The Litany of Penitence starts out with a frank acknowledgement of us as we are in clear and deliberate contrast:

We have not loved you[, God,] with our whole heart, and mind, and strength. We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We have not forgiven others, as we have been forgiven.

Have mercy on us Lord (BCP, p. 267).

A lot of us are uncomfortable talking about sin, sometimes due to coming from traditions that seem to over-emphasize it, but here the prayer book is laying out clearly its definition of sin. Sin is the failure to love. Where we have failed to love—in thought, word, and deed—we have departed from God’s intention for us and for his whole creation. The rest of the litany goes on to identify and help us recognize concrete ways that we have done this. Having set out the main thesis up front, we are offered further examples of failures to love in which we may find ourselves. Again, the purpose here is not self-flagellation, but honesty about who and what we are. The litany confronts us with the reality that we fail to be the people God created us to be and gently recalls us to that high vocation, reminding us of that second call of the Baptismal Covenant: “Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?” (BCP, p. 304).

In these ways, Ash Wednesday sets the proper tone for the rest of the season. It’s not a period of punishment, but a sober, honest opportunity to look at ourselves as we are: frail, fallible, and mortal. We need God’s grace. We need God’s love. And we need to live that grace and love for the rest of the world to see. Lent is our time to look into ourselves, our communities and to pray for the strength, the courage and the assistance to live our Baptism like we mean it. In a work such as this, I would certainly be remiss if I did not offer the reminder that Lent is a perfect time to recommit ourselves to the regular practices of the faith—including the praying of the Office and attendance at Eucharist. These are not great ascetic works—they’re actually fairly easy—but are more useful in the long run than attempts at greater feats of penitence. As we move more towards the habitual recollection of God, we are also recollecting ourselves—who we are in the face of the God who created us and loves us (no matter what!).

[i] You may wonder where “love of neighbor” shows up in this list: it’s tucked into the call to “prayer, fasting, and self-denial” (BCP, p. 265). Fasting is not just about going without for as some sort of holy diet. The intention is that you reduce the amount of food that you eat so that these resources can be given to those who do not have it; we abstain from food so that we can take the food or money we would have spent of food and offer it to charity. Furthermore, in the time that we save from not eating, we engage in prayer for ourselves and for the world, loving our neighbors in the passive act of intercession as well as in the active act of giving alms.

Posted in Church Year, Liturgy | Tagged | 3 Comments

Lenten Intentionality

I’ve been pondering Ps 90 and especially v. 12 quite a lot recently: “So teach us to number our days that we may apply our hearts to wisdom.”

I’m going to go out on a limb here and make a grand pronouncement. The single greatest challenge to lay spirituality in this modern age is busy-ness. Any attempt to engage a decent proportion of the people who are interested in having meaningful spiritual lives has got to tackle this issue head-on.

What specifically do I mean?

M and I have both had a major milestone birthday in the past six months, and that experience is forcing us to take stock of the kind of life we lead and the way we lead it ad to determine if this is the way we want to keep living and, if not, what to do about that.

As I look at the activities that I engage in, I’m starting to sort them into a couple of big buckets. First, there are things that I want to do daily that offer no or little immediate return, but are important for their long-term cumulative impact. So, I lump into this bucket things like:

  • Morning Prayer
  • Medidation
  • Tai chi
  • Stretching/rolling/flexibility
  • Running/Strength training
  • Scripture Study
  • Reading the Fathers
  • Evening Prayer

Add those things up and that’s somewhere around three hours every day. And yet, these are things that I believe are really important—yet each day I’m lucky if I can tick more than two or three of them off my list.

And then there are the things that bring in income:

  • The Day Job
  • Freelance Contracting work
  • Finishing up manuscripts

Then are the things that I have to do to keep things moving with any sort of sanity:

  • Driving girls to school
  • Picking girls up
  • Driving girls to Strings/Ballet
  • Cleaning the Kitchen
  • Packing Lunches
  • Doing Laundry

Let’s not forget:

  • Spend time with kids
  • Spend time with wife
  • Sleep!

Then there are the things that I want to do:

  • Anglican Breviary project
  • St. Bede’s Breviary Tweaks
  • Blog more!
  • Consider and start on one of the several book projects that are waiting in the wings
  • Start a podcast on the Psalms!

As I’ve said a few times before, I’m overcommitted and overwhelmed—but I don’t think I’m alone in that! I think that most of the people at my stage in life are at this point; it seems to be a very common situation as I survey my friends and the parents of my kids’ friends.

This Lent, I want to focus on simplicity and intentionality. Simplicity is often about stuff and getting rid of stuff. But the main stuff I need to deal with is the stuff that sucks up my time—which can be just as (maybe even more?) insidious than what sucks up my space.

My day-job does a lot with metrics: meauring things, tracking to goals, and crunching the numbers to turn them into pretty pictures that senior management is able to comprehend. I’ve come to the conclusion that I need to do a better job of this in how I manage my life… So, a key Lenten discipline for me this year will be a study of where my time really goes. I want to be intentional about what I do, and when I do it, so that I truly can align how I live my life with what I say my priorities are. And have graphs and pictures too!

I’m planning to leverage some Android apps to help me with all of this:

  • I’ve intermittently used MyFitnessPal to be intentional about how I eat; I’m going to try and use that more especially because this app now integrates with the next two items…
  • My awesome sister-in-law got me a Fitbit that I’ve been using a while already. It tracks both sleep and exercise.
  • I usually wear my Garmin when I run but am really bad about uploading the data and using it; hopefully the integration with the above two will help me do this more. I’ve put a training plan in this app to give me some clear direction on this count.
  • Toggl has a great time-tracking app and I’m going to use this to really sort out where my time goes.
  • I’m loving the Logos program for reading Scripture and the Fathers. I tend to use it most on my Kindle and use reading plans–hoping to blog quite a bit more on this tool…
  • And last but not least, the St. Bede’s Breviary serves for the Offices—again, chiefly on the Kindle.

Bottom line: as lives get busier, a sensible Rule of Life is more important than ever to help us stay focused on our true priorities. I have an implicit one—but that’s just not good enough. I don’t feel that I can construct an honest one without a solid baseline that establishes and quantifies the true sources of craziness and time-squandering in my life. Only when I have a good sense of the how can I tackle what needs to be done to live up to my calling. Thus, intentionality with the goal of giving up chaos and embracing a holistic simplicity! I’ll let you know how it goes…

Posted in Holistic/Regular Life, Spirituality | 6 Comments

On Borg

I saw the news last night that Dr. Marcus Borg has died. May light perpetual shine upon him.

I have not actually read many of his books despite that fact that he generally falls into my New Testament (NT) specialty. I have heard him summarized, and have read those who argue with him and with whom he argued. This year I will make it a point to read more of his works.

At this point, my feelings toward him are rather ambiguous. I know that he is widely read within the Episcopal Church, and that he has helped many progressive Christians and Episcopalians to be able to read the Bible again. He presents a perspective and an entre into the Bible that allows it to be read critically and rationally over and against fundamentalistic reading strategies. That he has helped people pick up and return to the Scriptures is a good thing.

However, I have noticed distinctive interpretive trends in most of the people I know who cite him with approval. Modern biblical scholarship of the 20th century (and the latter half of the 19th) focused on Bible as history. Thus, the questions biblical scholars brought and solutions they offered were around sketching the history of the early Christian movement and in the development of its ideas as reflected in the various writings of the New Testament texts.  What I have heard of Borg and what I have read in those I consider his fellow travellers—Crossan, Funk, the Jesus Seminar crowd—is that they apply a hermeneutic of suspicion while they use the NT as a historical data mine. They’re certainly within their rights and privileges as NT scholars to do so; I think they go overboard and their results are skewed because they misconstrue the nature of their data-set.

When this approach passes out of scholarship into the lay realm it takes the form of this sort of narrative:  Jesus was a revolutionary (peasant or otherwise) and was both co-opted and misunderstood by the early church. Thus, to understand him and his message properly, the claims of the early church should be downplayed (or dismissed). Furthermore, potential seams or disagreements within the writings of the NT and in the apocryphal literature are extrapolated into full-blown incarnate communities. The narrative of the formation of the canon of the NT and the emergence of the early church into public view in the 4th century, therefore, is of a supressive and repressive faction that becomes “orthodoxy” by getting rid of all other claimants (particularly the more diverse sorts!). In some variants of this narrative, Constantine is invoked as the one who declares Jesus divine in a complete departure from the peasant revolutionary who kicked off the original Jesus movement.

When this narrative is imported into congregations as theology, the result is a semi- to fully-Arian christology (one that considers Jesus as an exemplary person and teacher, but not a divine being) and a generally anti-orthodox approach that sees the early church and its councils as repressive agents of Empire.

A central problem is that, in our churches, this narrative and its resulting theology is seen as the only alternative to fundamentalism.

And it’s not.

I’m not a fundamentalist; I don’t read the Bible like a fundamentalist. I read it as a poetry of God’s presence and, in doing so, I read it in the company of the early church. I don’t read the Bible as a dead historical site to be excavated for its ideas, but as a living city that invites us to both imagine and live the world that God imagines.

So—I need to read some more Borg. I realize that I tend to respond to something of a caricature of his thought; I’d like to be able to be more fair to him and to be able to speak to what he does say rather than what I hear others report him to have said.

Posted in Church History, Scripture | 13 Comments

Anglican Breviary Online Update!

I realized that I haven’t given much of an update on the Anglican Breviary online recently.

The wiki can be found at

Last night I caught up on some work I had backing up including quite a bit of material from the post-Christmas period and Epiphany (with much thanks to Richard and Scott!). I also modified the side-bar to make it more user-friendly, and to give better access to the seasonal material that has been entered.

Here’s our status:

  • Most of Advent is in.
  • The text of Christmas is all in; there are a few bits that need the formatting markup. The majority of that is in, though.
  • Epiphany and its Octave are mostly in. A couple of days are lacking, as is some more formatting.

I’d love to start a push towards Lent before we actually get there so we can get the material in both here and also into the St. Bede’s Breviary.

The issue—as always—is one of time and resources. (My ISP is reminding me it’s time to re-register the URL as well…) I’ll be contacting those who have helped who are currently without assignments for entering more text; if you’d to help out, leave a comment or drop me an email. And, as always, donations are appreciated and help move things along. (I just learned that my button on the wiki wasn’t working through the “front door” url, so I’m co-opting the St. Bede’s Breviary link—just earmark it for the Anglican Breviary and list the form you want your name to appear on the Benefactors page!)

Posted in Anglican, Breviary | Tagged | 1 Comment

Sacramental Ecclesiology

If you haven’t read this piece on Children and the Eucharist, you should.

The writer has accurately identified the next big theological crisis facing the Episcopal Church. All of the questions around communing children, the place of Confirmation, if/whether/how “First Communion” is “a thing,” and the communing of the unbaptized are simply different ways of entering a larger complicated inter-related question.

The 1979 American Book of Common Prayer placed recovery of a baptismal ecclesiology at its center. This was a good and correct move. The problem, however, is that a baptismal ecclesiology functions properly within a broader sacramental ecclesiology. What I mean by that is this:

Church is fundamentally about a sacramental path to discipleship.

Everything from how we comprehend the coherence between the local church and the mystical Church, how we enter the church, how the church frames and provides its rites and sacraments, how the church frames and understands its saints must proceed from an understanding of the church as a mystical vehicle for the grace of God given, received, and expressed normatively in her sacraments.

Baptismal ecclesiology is a very important piece of this complete vision—necessary but not sufficient!

What we need to do now is to flesh out the rest of our sacramental ecclesiology in a clear and coherent way that reflects deep continuity with the Scriptures and the Apostolic faith and is true to our current experience and context. Until this has occurred, we will find ourselves running around with incoherent band-aid fixes…

Posted in Anglican, Sacraments, Theology | Tagged | 4 Comments

On the Evolving Situation: Bishops & Bicycles

I had a long and deep post on this situation written. I thought it was pretty good, but wanted to think about it and edit it again before posting so I saved it as a draft.

The draft didn’t save; the post is gone.

At the moment I have neither the time nor the energy to reconstruct it, but I do hope to at a later point. For the moment, I just want to say these few things:

  • As a cyclist and the husband of a cyclist in Baltimore, people outside of this area need to know that this situation has a specific local importance. The crash has thrown a huge light on a rampant problem that hopefully will be leveraged to create safer cycling conditions. Far too many times in the city and metro area, drivers have been let go with a light slap on the wrist after injuring, maiming, or killing cyclists, especially if said drivers have privilege and connections; the cycling community is fed up with it. As a result, this case has acquired a large symbolic meaning for Baltimore cyclists and voters entirely apart from church concerns and church politics. Keep in mind that the State’s Attorney and the judge(s) involved in the case are playing to the local crowd more than they are to you.
  • On one hand, clergy are human. As humans, they are just as susceptible to weakness, temptation, sin, and really dumb choices as anyone else. On the other hand, clergy have voluntarily offered themselves as leaders and exemplars of communities of spiritual and moral transformation. Nobody forced you to become a priest or to stand to be bishop so, yes, your moral choices do receive more scrutiny than the average layperson. Deal with it.
  • As a community of spiritual and moral transformation, we do have a responsibility to help our clergy in their humanity, specifically in setting up gracious and caring systems of accountability. When the girls and I moved churches recently (long story—more on that later), one of the first questions I asked the rector of the church where we landed was: what day is your day off and do you actually take your days off? I truly believe that all clergy ought to be accountable to their vestries with a listing of their time showing a breakdown of how their working time was allocated within broad programmatic areas (worship, Christian ed, sick visitation, regular visitation, sermon prep, worship, meetings, admin, etc.) and also recording whether they actually got their days off—properly defined as a 24-hour period where there was no job-related activity including answering emails and phone calls! Furthermore, vestries need to have it beat into them that clergy not taking their days off is not a sign of dedication, but of over-work and possible disease. Clergy are very susceptible to golden calf syndrome—they love to be needed. Ego addiction is a real thing.
  • We as a diocese and we as a church need to have some conversations around accountability when there are known problem areas. A lot of heat has been focused around the fact that the diocesan Standing Committee, Search Committee, and our diocesan bishop knew in the vetting process that there was a prior DUI, and that the electing convention did not have this information. What concerns me more is that once the election occurred and she was elected, there does not seem to have been an accountability mechanism set up to ensure that it never happened again. I could be wrong on that—but my hunch is that I’m not…
  • How do we create mechanisms for accountability that do not have a stigma associated with them that will help us lovingly care for our human clergy, particularly those who need attention and assistance in specific areas? I don’t know. But we need to do more and better talking about it.
Posted in Anglican | 5 Comments

On the Current BCP, A Response

A very interesting article showed up in my Twitter feed this morning: How radical a revision? by Fr. Matthew Olver. You should definitely take the time to read it. He’s wrestling with a question that I think should be coming to the fore in the next decade or so—a critical reassessment of the ’79 Book of Common Prayer particularly in terms of its connection with what has come before it. Just as Roman Catholic liturgical scholarship is exploring the issue of continuity or rupture around the changes wrought by Vatican II, we are starting to see the same discussions surface in the Episcopal Church as well.

Olver’s piece focuses on a phrase by Urban T. Holmes, suggesting that the ’79 BCP should be and is a shift “away from Cranmer and the Tudor deity.” Olver goes on to question how this shift could have occurred:

What makes the Holmes/Shepherd declaration (“we must move away from Cranmer and the Tudor deity”) so provocative is that many trumpet the 1979 BCP as the “triumph of the Anglo-Catholic movement,” and this movement was most certainly committed to the “classical theology” that Holmes and Shepherd, among others, deemed no longer “viable.”

Olver then goes on to list certain apparent Anglo-Catholic victories. He will later argue that these don’t ultimately save the book from this “move away”, but I want to make a comment on his list before getting there.

While he mentions things like the expansion of the Calendar and the appearance of Noon Prayer, he did not list what I regard as the single greatest shift in Episcopal liturgical understanding. Remember, even at the foundation of the first American prayer book, the pattern of weekly worship was that implied by the earlier English books:

[In colonial America] On Sundays the usual forms of worship were, in the morning, the sequence of Morning Prayer, Litany, and Ante-Communion, with sermon and prayers, followed later in the day by Evening Prayer, again with a sermon. Holy Communion was celebrated four times each year, although there was a monthly Communion service in some places. (Hatchett, “The Colonies and States of America” in The Oxford Guide to the Book of Common Prayer)

This Sunday morning sequence didn’t change until the late nineteenth century. Again, Hatchett: “That sequence had always been the usual Anglican practice, but in the 1892 Prayer Book it was no longer required; Morning Prayer, Litany, and Ante-Communion could be used separately.” (I had actually thought that Convention had allowed this earlier in the nineteenth century, but Hatchett doesn’t mention it here.) As is well known, the pattern of quarterly or monthly Communion was common up through the years of the ’28 BCP and into present memory. Where the ’79 BCP alters this significantly is in the first substantive sentence of the book:

The Holy Eucharist, the principal act of Christian worship on the Lord’s Day and other major Feasts, and Daily Morning and Evening Prayer, as set forth in this Book, are the regular services appointed for public worship in the Church. (p. 13)

This proclamation of the Eucharist as the principal act of worship on Sundays and Feasts is a major shift and the single biggest change to Episcopal worship practice since the separation of the three-service block. This change cannot be overlooked as a major alteration and an apparent win for the Anglo-Catholic side over and against Evangelicals and others.

You can’t have a catalog of changes and apparent wins without including this one.

That having been said, I do actually agree with Olver that the ’79 BCP often appears to be more of an Anglo-Catholic victory than it really is. I wrote about this a while ago and said it this way:

Of the classical church “parties” two were happiest with the ’79 BCP: the catholic wing and the broad church wing, particularly among the elites for whom the LRM [Liturgical Renewal Movement] represented an ecumenical consensus open to a liberality of spirit in contrast to liturgical and ecclesial conservatism; the “Spirit of Vatican II” and the “Spirit of ’79” made common cause with one another.

The Catholic wing thought they had made major strides because many of their longstanding issues with the Cranmerian reform had finally been undone. The liturgy had moved back towards a classic Western (Roman) model. The Calendar was once again filling with the heroes of the Great Church and of Western Catholicism in addition to a variety of Anglican worthies. Antiphons and propers were licit again. The Eucharist was the primary service on Sundays.

While these things were accomplished, it had more to do with their consonance with the aims of LRM than a tide of catholicity sweeping through the Episcopal Church.

Due to the influence of the LRM and its influence in the upper reaches of liturgical thought in the Episcopal Church, the ’79 BCP ended up having a more catholic appearance due to 1) the recovery of historical ideals that also guided the reform of the Roman liturgy post Vatican-II and 2) ecumenical rapprochement with Roman Catholics. Furthermore the performance of the liturgy likewise took on a more catholic appearance with a proliferation of chasubles in places where they would have been anathema as ‘too popish’ just a generation before.

. . .

We are at the point where we must come to terms with the fact that we have inherited a prayer book with a greater catholic appearance but without catholic substance behind it. To put a finer point on it, we have a catholic-looking calendar of “saints” yet no shared theology of sainthood or sanctity. While a general consensus reigned that the appearance was sufficient, the lack of a coherent shared theology was not an issue. When we press upon it too hard—as occurred and is occurring in the transition from Lesser Feasts & Fasts into Holy Women, Holy Men into whatever will come next—we reap the fruits of a sort of potemkin ecumenism that collapses without common shared theology behind it.

I think the coming discussion needs to wrestle with whether the prayer book shapes or reflects Episcopal theology. My own sense is that the ’79 book sought to do both. For my part, the changes the subcommittee I co-chair will be recommending to General Convention regarding the Calendar seek to do the second: reflect. More on this later…

To pick up the thread of Olver’s article again, he ultimately locates the challenge to the “classical theology” and “Cranmer and the Tudor deity” in the notion of baptismal ecclesiology. This is a fairly standard position for the book’s critics. And, not surprisingly, he draws on Colin Podmore’s critique of baptismal ecclesiology.

I have a couple of issues here.

First, both Olver’s article and Podmore’s paper present the evidence in such a way to suggest that the notion of baptism as the entrance to ministry is a very modern notion and one done chiefly for the sake of social activism—particularly with an eye to the ordination of women and active homosexuals. This is an untenable move. You cannot have a full and proper discussion of baptismal ecclesiology and the ministry without at least a reference to Martin Luther’s Letter to the German Nobility.  In this piece, Luther is arguing against the notion that the pope and his clergy can over-ride the authority of the secular princes; one of the chief ways he does it is through an appeal to baptism:

It is pure invention that pope, bishops, priests and monks are to be called the “spiritual estate”; princes, lords, artisans, and farmers the “temporal estate.” That is indeed a fine bit of lying and hypocrisy. Yet no one should be frightened by it; and for this reason — viz., that all Christians are truly of the “spiritual estate,” and there is among them no difference at all but that of office, as Paul says in I Corinthians 12:12, We are all one body, yet every member has its own work, where by it serves every other, all because we have one baptism, one Gospel, one faith, and are all alike Christians; for baptism, Gospel and faith alone make us “spiritual” and a Christian people.

But that a pope or a bishop anoints, confers tonsures; ordains, consecrates, or prescribes dress unlike that of the laity, this may make hypocrites and graven images, but it never makes a Christian or “spiritual” man. Through baptism all of us are consecrated to the priesthood, as St. Peter says in I Peter 2:9, “Ye are a royal priesthood, a priestly kingdom,” and the book of Revelation says, Rev. 5:10 “Thou hast made us by Thy blood to be priests and kings.” For if we had no higher consecration than pope or bishop gives, the consecration by pope or bishop would never make a priest, nor might anyone either say mass or preach a sermon or give absolution. Therefore when the bishop consecrates it is the same thing as if he, in the place and stead of the whole congregation, all of whom have like power, were to take one out of their number and charge him to use this power for the others; just as though ten brothers, all king’s sons and equal heirs, were to choose one of themselves to rule the inheritance for them all, — they would all be kings and equal in power, though one of them would be charged with the duty of ruling.

To make it still clearer. If a little group of pious Christian laymen were taken captive and set down in a wilderness , and had among them no priest consecrated by a bishop, and if there in the wilderness they were to agree in choosing one of themselves, married or unmarried, and were to charge him with the office of baptizing, saying mass, absolving and preaching, such a man would be as truly a priest as though all bishops and popes had consecrated him. That is why in cases of necessity any one can baptize and give absolution, which would be impossible unless we were all priests. This great grace and power of baptism and of the Christian Estate they have well-nigh destroyed and caused us to forget through The canon law. It was in the manner aforesaid that Christians in olden days chose from their number bishops and priests, who were afterwards confirmed by other bishops, without all the show which now obtains. It was Thus that Sts. Augustine, Ambrose and Cyprian became bishops.

Since, then, the temporal authorities are baptized with the same baptism and have the same faith and Gospel as we, we must grant that they are priests and bishops, and count their office one which has a proper and a useful place in the Christian community. For whoever comes out the water of baptism can boast that he is already consecrated priest, bishop and pope, though it is not seemly that every one should exercise the office. Nay, just because we are all in like manner priests, no one must put himself forward and undertake, without our consent and election, to do what is in the power of all of us. For what is common to all, no one dare take upon himself without the will and the command of the community; and should it happen that one chosen for such an office were deposed for malfeasance, he would then be just what he was before he held office. Therefore a priest in Christendom is nothing else than an office-holder. While he is in office, he has precedence; when deposed, he is a peasant or a townsman like the rest. Beyond all doubt, then, a priest is no longer a priest when he is deposed. But now they have invented characters indelebilis, and prate that a deposed priest is nevertheless something different from a mere layman. They even dream that a priest can never become a layman, or be anything else than a priest. All this is mere talk and man-made law. (, emphasis added)

Luther does have a lower view of the priesthood than many Anglicans throughout history, and his formulation here takes issue with certain aspects of the Apostolic Succession (but not with others!). However, to suggest that the idea that [baptism = ministry] is a recent invention of social activists is factually incorrect. Indeed, I see it as part of the “classic theology” that we seek to retain—an expression of it, rather than an overturning of it.

On the contrary, the problem that I have with the phrase “baptismal ecclesiology” is that I believe it is not being thought through enough and that all of its implications have not been fully considered or applied. In its semi-official use “baptismal ecclesiology” is intended as a rejection of clericalism and exclusion. Where it does not tread is into broader questions of its implications for ecclessiology particularly around the dead—which was the impetus for my first major article against Holy Women, Holy Men.

There’s a lot more to say on that last point but in the interest of time, I’ll save it for later.

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