For if that which is done away was glorious, much more that which remaineth is glorious

Tuesday, 13 November 2018

Per quem haec omnia

Per quem hæc omnia, Domine, semper bona creas, santificas, vivificas, benedicis, et præstas nobis.

Through whom, O Lord, thou dost alway create all these good things, dost sanctify, quicken, bless, and bestow them upon us.

This prayer comes just before the concluding doxology in the Roman Canon. Jungmann and a few other scholars I have read seem agreed that it originally followed on a blessing of some kind - possibly produce on various feasts or seasons of the year - that once concluded the Eucharistic prayer. The idea was to bring the gifts offered for blessing into proximity to the gifts offered for the holy sacrifice. The "good things" that the Lord creates, makes holy etc. include both the offered bread and wine and the additional things brought for blessing.


What has puzzled me on hearing the words for the last five years every Sunday is their order. Why does bless come after sanctify, for example? And why does vivify come in between those two? Is there a reason for the sequence? On casting around to find a rationale, it might help to think of the context of (1) creation and (2) eucharistia or thanksgiving. We (1) take the things of creation, (2) offer them with thanksgiving, and then God raises them to another level.

Take (1) creation first of all. In the original account God creates: "In the beginning God created"; then makes living things (days 3, 5 & 6); with blessings of fecundity following on day 5 (the blessing of fish and birds) and day 6 (the blessing of mankind, male and female); and then bestows plants for food. The obvious creation order is therefore creas, vivificas, benedicis, præstas nobis. The sanctifying is done last, on day 7, the Sabbath, which God both blesses and sanctifies. The idea is that in the Sabbath rest (a rest from the work of creation) God is making holy the day of completion and enjoyment and therefore making holy the completed and perfectly ordered cosmos. The sanctifying comes at the end, after the bestowal and blessing and all the rest: whereas in the Roman Canon it is the second term.

However the context (2) of the Eucharist is different. Here the world is being re-made, re-created. The divine Image is being impressed on creation in a new and higher way.

First, creas. The new creation is begun on the eve of the Sabbath, with the pouring of the water and blood from Christ's side. We enter this moment of Christ's death in baptism, washing away our sin and dying, unmaking the old corrupted creation. Bread and wine - made from grinding down and crushing up the stuff of the old creation - are also an image of this moment, the bread being Christ's dead body and the wine the blood that has poured from his side.

Then (sanctificas) the Sabbath is the day when we have entered into the mystery of the death of Christ, beneath the waters of baptism, when the Spirit is hovering over the darkness of inchoate existence, ready to give it new life. In the Eucharist one can draw an analogy with the Spirit fluttering above the offerings that have been set apart as holy things, ready to impregnate them with the life of God.

Vivificas: in the original creation order the Word generates light, the land emerges from the sea, and life germinates and breeds upon it. This life is of two kinds: plants bearing seeds (from which we make bread) and trees bearing fruit (from which we make wine). In the new creation, the resurrection of Christ generates the divine light of faith, and with him the Church emerges from the grave and the waters of baptism, just as the dry land rises out of the sea. The bread and wine, the seed-bearing and fruit-bearing substance of the old creation, are now re-made in Christ, and given new life as the Bread of Life and Cup of Everlasting Salvation.

The blessing (benedicas) of the fish, birds, and then Man in the creation week is a benediction to be fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth. In the setting of the new creation the fish that multiply to fill the sea are the people of God who increase in faith, and in number, filling the nations. But there is an additional blessing given to Man who is also to exercised dominion over all creation. In the blessing of the new creation, Christ the last Adam weds his Bride, the Church; and so in the Eucharist the mystery of the making one flesh of Christ and his Bride is accomplished. The Church gives birth to many sons and daughters, and with her Lord produces the fruit of goodness, and rules the healthy but bestial parts of human nature. The blessing is ultimately a nuptial blessing, a blessing of the Supper of the Lamb and the Bride, and issues in God's committal of all things in heaven and earth to Christ's rule, and the nations to the rule of Christ's people.

Præstas nobis: the bestowal of the seed and fruit bearing plants upon mankind for food in the original creation is taken up to a new height of grace in the new creation, in which the divine life is given to us as bread and wine. This is a giving not just of life and nourishment, but is the pouring into us of the very life of God, in which we become partakers of the divine nature and everything else besides. He who delivered up for us his own Son, "how shall he not with Him also give us all things?"

The reason for this prayer's inverting of the original creation order (of God's first blessing and then sanctifying the whole at the Sabbath completion of his work) is because the Eucharist is a feast of the new creation: the order of re-making and restoration is necessarily different than that of creation. In the new creation God first makes his Son holy, and then through him restores and blesses and pours out gifts on the whole. In authoring the new creation the divine irony reaches a glorious height: God sets the new creation in motion by dying, by taking into himself the old and dragging it into death; he continues by sanctifying not the whole creation but its corpse; he then animates this with his own divine life, presents it as a King in marriage to the fallen world, and through that nuptial rite bestows his own life to the new world.

Wednesday, 12 September 2018

Myths About Little Gidding

Apropos a book I have just read about Nicholas Ferrar who retired from Court, high politics and business with his wider family to set up a household for prayer in an out-of-the-way farm, here are some myths about Little Gidding that need to be dismissed. (And perhaps there is a note of warning in what follows for those of us who are thinking of a similar kind of structure to live out the so-called Benedict Option.)

(1) It was a rich family buying a nice farm where they could afford to live with servants and carry on hobbies and pray together.

They were financially straightened. Only one of Nicholas's letters goes into financial detail, an exasperated response to his wastrel younger brother who lived in London. His brother was asking yet again for more money, with protestations of deep repentance for having wasted the last installment. Nicholas tells him that his mother's legacy of £180 per annum is already providing him with £40 per year, that they are hundreds of pounds in debt, and face ruin without some unexpected providence. He also details that they have only two or three servants left (the household was probably around 30 people), have cut back drastically on daily food - his nieces Mary and Anna are weighing theirs out - and that his mother can just about afford the clothes on her back. It seems to me like the letter of a man trying hard to keep his temper, who says: right, you are asking for money, let me tell you just how much we are living on here in our opulence.

(2) Nicholas retired to Little Gidding because of the collapse of the Virginia Company through the loss of James I's favour, and his elder brother's financial ruin, which left his worldly and political hopes bereft.

He received offers of a powerful Privy Council post after the Virginia Company had its charter withdrawn, as well as an offer of at least one other diplomatic post, and when his friends found out that he had received deacon's orders and was retiring to Gidding they thought they would help him out by offering him lucrative livings if he would take priest's orders. He refused all offers. There is every reason to suppose from his letters that he had conceived the plan to retire to a life of prayer years before, and the fall of the Virginia Company was the signal that he had been waiting for to leave his London life.

(3) Life there was peace and harmony, secluded and cloistered.

Three things that I read dispel this idea. (i) They were scarcely a day without a caller, because the house - although in a remote village in Huntingdonshire - was only three miles' distance from the great North Road from London to Edinburgh. Many of these callers were strangers, turned up unannounced, and included a large number of the idle curious. (ii) Nicholas's sister-in-law Bathsheba (wife of his elder brother John) was not at all happy at Little Gidding, and perhaps deserves some sympathy although she certainly managed to make John's life a misery for much of the time, and cause considerable upset. (iii) Once the little school was up and running, some nobility would send their sons there for tutoring, and there are hints in Nicholas's letters that some of these youngsters needed a firm hand and had perhaps been sent because the kindly discipline and ordered round of life at Little Gidding was felt to be what they needed to give them some self-control and moral fibre.

Sunday, 5 August 2018

For Loyal Irishmen

An interesting genealogy of the Royal Family from John O'Hart's Irish Pedigrees (1892). A nice touch that it takes us right back to Adam, who was (as it sayth in St Luke his Gospell) the son of God.

Historically, I think there is a fairly good claim that the most ancient lineal descent of our Royal Family runs back through the patriarchal head of the Scottish royal house, Kenneth MacAlpin, to Fergus Mor MacEarca (see no. 90 on the list) who may have been a contemporary of St Patrick, and it is anyone's guess as to where the list prior to Fergus passes over from history into myth.

My own conviction is that Conn of the Hundred Battles (born in the fifth generation after Christ, c.200), has too cool a title to be written out of history; and it is cooler still that when a debauched man called Nero was president of the EU and the legions were building their horrid motorways all over the green English countryside, Ireland was ruled by a man called Fiacha of the White Oxen.

Monday, 16 July 2018

The House of Special Purpose

On account of the date, I was reading tonight about the last days of the Romanovs, and came across a few odd coincidences.

The last imprisonment of the family as Ekaterinburg was at Ipatiev House, designated "The House of Special Purpose" by the Soviets. Ipatiev (the Wonderworker) - Saint Hypatios in English - was a Bishop of Gangra in Galatia, in the north of Asia Minor, martyred in 326 on his way home from the First Council of Nicaea where he had sided with Athanasius against the Arian heresy.

The Romanov dynastic rule began at the monastery of Ipatiev (by Kostroma, close to the Volga) in the seventeenth century when Mikhail, staying there at the time, was chosen as the Tsar by the Russian parliament, the Zemsky Sobor. Mikhail was a nephew of the last Rurik Tsar, Feodor I, a dynasty that had founded Rus in the ninth century; therefore Tsar Nicholas had been heir to 1000 years of royal rule.

The brutal murder of the Romanovs, 405 years after the election of Mikhail at Ipatiev monastery, was in the basement of Ipatiev House. I wonder if anyone has written anything of these curious coincidences; are there any Russian poems or works that draw out the poignancy of this juxtaposition?

And another couple of questions: why doesn't the Orthodox church in Russia recognise the authenticity of the last two Romanov bodies? Is it just a matter of time before further tests are completed, or are there other complicating factors? And is there the remotest interest in Russia or outside it among emigres in re-establishing a Romanov dynasty?

Thursday, 28 June 2018

The Blue Flower

Fr Anthony Chadwick has published the first Summer issue of The Blue Flower, for which I have written an article about William Morris, Romantic medievalism and the Tractarians. The starting point for my piece is Morris's Art and Labour, an essay that I came across in the Queen's University library in Belfast over 15 years ago, and that stuck with me. 

The governing Romantic motif of a return to a golden age or Eden by means of a transformed imagination is a secularised and internalised version of Christian redemption, and the Romantics' turn to the Middle Ages for inspiration is an aesthetic witness to this underlying Christian foundation for their philosophy. The argument in the piece is that the Tractarians - Pusey in particular, with a helping hand from Coleridge - re-Christianised the Romantic philosophy and aesthetic in their ideas of language and symbol.

Tuesday, 26 June 2018

Is and Ought

Is morality, right and wrong, a consequence of the essentially sacramental nature of reality, of creation? This is an idea that has been slowly coalescing in the back of my head for a long time, but I still don't know how to articulate it properly.

Just say Coleridge is right, and Imagination - an iteration of the divine creative act in us, that unites sense and ratio into sacramental symbol - is constitutive of what things are. In that case, morality and obligation flows from what things mean, what they are as symbols, and it requires an act of imagination. For example, the obligation to love our neighbours as ourselves is rooted in an imaginative grasp of who or what my neighbour is, as an image of God. The commands of the Decalogue begin with the rejection of all images precisely because God made them to reveal Him, in the sense that they are His creative acts (and by derivation, our creative acts). They do not reveal Him as objects that are severed from Him (and from us), standing over against Him as autonomous things; they reveal Him as living acts. Even the sacraments in which we are said to receive His life are acts with a divine meaning, accomplished by the symbols; and whatever hyperbole is applied to the consecrated elements of the Eucharist, Communion is properly eating and drinking. No worship ought to be done to the phenomena of bread and wine but to the noumenal Christ whose saving acts they both reveal and hide.

It was an axiom of Hume's philosophy that you cannot get an "ought" out of an "is". Natural law moral theorists try to overcome this by talking about the telos or goals of our actions, but are then driven to explain their ideas of the overall purpose of human actions to get back to an "ought" that is based in an ultimate right or wrong. But the overall purpose of human acts in the world is surely rooted in what we are, and what the things around us are. And so we are back to the "is" of the symbolic and sacramental nature of creation, to get the "ought" of ethics.

I have been reading bits and pieces of James Jordan's and Peter Leithart's commentary on the Old Testament, and the Pentateuch in particular, on the Biblical Horizons website. What strikes me about his typological readings is the principle that what is being revealed in the obscure Mosaic code of ritual purity and sacrifice is in fact a symbolical and sacramental approach to nature; the Christian's task is to uncover the spirit of the types as pointers to Christ, and then be transformed by that spirit in one's daily acts, encompassing both one's treatment of others and one's behaviour to "nature".

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

After This

Was it Schubert who said of opus 131,
After this, what is there left for us to write?
I've recently found out about so-called late Beethoven, and this from the "Cavatina" is my one of my favourites so far - but my preference changes depending on which quartet I listen to again...

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Merely Habits

We are always faced both with the question 'what must be destroyed?' and with the question 'what must be preserved?' and neither Liberalism nor Conservatism, which are not philosophies and may be merely habits, is enough to guide us.
From T.S. Eliot's The Idea of a Christian Society, 1938

T.S. Eliot's observation could be extended beyond politics into any antagonism of progressives vs. conservatives.

Wednesday, 31 January 2018

The Irish option

Some of the reviewers of Dreher's Benedict option idea have suggested that it is actually early Irish monasticism that presents us with a practical outworking of his ideas, rather than the Benedictines. In some of these communities in Ireland there were monks and nuns, along with those who were married, in a common cenobitic life. There was often a threefold purpose: firstly worship, then scholarly pursuit including teaching of the young, and missionary activity.


I'm prompted to write this on hearing news of a community in formation who have the following blog, and who are drawing on this tradition: https://columbanhouse.blogspot.co.uk/


It looks like the sort of thing I would aspire to - a loosely based community of prayer, working out a rough and ready Benedictine rule adapted to suit its own circumstances.


Columbanus was a monk of a then-thriving abbey in my native Bangor in Ireland, an austere man who wore himself out in missionary work in what is now Northern France, Switzerland and who died in Northern Italy. I once made a pilgrimage of sorts to Bobbio where he ended his life - one can reach it by a long bus journey from Piacenza, up a winding valley where the rocky Trebbia runs down to the Po. I tried to get to see the famous Antiphonarium Benchorensis (Antiphonary of Bangor in Latin - a clue as to my blog's web name) at the Ambrosian Library in Milan, but they more or less laughed at me. It's never on public display.

Thursday, 25 January 2018

The Roman Canon & the Interpretation of Scripture

I wrote a couple of pieces about the intriguing structure of the Roman Canon recently. I have found a dissertation on-line by Matthew Gerlach (now teaching at University of Mary in Ohio) who gives a very thorough, lucid and systematic treatment of the chiastic structure of the anaphora that I found persuasive. He uses the modern form of the Canon as the basis for his study.

He also correlates the theology underlying the Roman Canon with the spiritual exegesis of the Fathers, and the fourfold sense of Scripture (literal, allegorical, tropological and anagogical senses). The claim is that there is a strong parallel and even identity between the patristic understanding of the symbols of Scripture and the symbols of the Eucharistic offering. In addition, spiritual exegesis and the fourfold sense is not an arbitrary reading but is integral to the holy commercium or exchange between Christ and his Body the Church, between its past, its present and its future glory. On reading and re-reading this part of the thesis, I found this extremely stimulating and fruitful and will be returning to it again.

There is also a section about Aquinas's Eucharistic theology which is well worth the read. Acording to Gerlach's perspective, the Aristotelian substance/accidents distinction in Aquinas is utilised because it fits in with his Eucharistic theology of the consecrated gifts being sacramental signs (like the symbols of Christ in Holy Scripture). That is the right way round to read Aquinas; not through the lens of Aristotelian philosophy primarily. The substance/accidents distinction doesn't do justice to Thomas's thought on the importance of the figural significance of the bread and wine, the respect that he gives to the sign qua sign.

It is a while since I have read something that brought things together that I thought I already knew and created a sense of freshness and space for the mind and soul from their synthesis.


A couple of tentative ideas have surfaced as I have been reading about the Roman Canon of late, from various sources including Gerlach's thesis.

Chiasmus is a very good structure for memorisation. If one walks into a room to do something and forgets why one is there, the best way to remember is to try to think of what one was doing just before, and then just before that, i.e. to retrace one's steps in reverse. In memorisation of a text, a series of parallels that pivot on the centre of the text is a very helpful aid. Some people argue that chiasmus is a natural product of an oral tradition: linearity is more of a written textual phenomenon.

Might this be some help to solving the problem of the construction of the Roman Canon? If it was primarily a remembered and orally transmitted prayer initially, with at least some chiastic elements (the verbal and grammatical identity of the memorial of the living and dead in the first and second halves of the anaphora respectively is a case of chiasmus staring us in the face, surely), then might its later and final written form - say, in the fourth century - have been so arranged and augmented to preserve and reinforce its chiastic structure?

Here's a speculation.

Just suppose that there were a series of orally transmitted prayers used in the Eucharistic prayer of the Roman church from the early part of the second century, but not all of them in every celebration. Some of the prayers might therefore overlap and repeat what the others said (like the intial sentences of the Te igitur and the Hanc igitur, or the quasi-epicletic material of the Quam oblationem and the Hanc igitur) because they were once alternative formulations. Some (like the central parts of the anaphora) may have been simply invariable. Suppose the original recited formula was something close to the Alexandrian anaphora, with a rough rule of order in oral recitation, so that the celebrant would have improvised some less central parts of the anaphora from a choice of several traditional prayers that were not identical in wording but carried the same euchological meaning in around the same place in the anaphora. The "through Christ our Lord" at the end of each prayer would therefore have a function partly as a brief break from the effort of recall, to serve as a moment of recollection for the celebrant who would then follow the traditional sequence in his recitation of the next prayer.

Just suppose, when the Roman Canon came to be a written text, that several succeding bishops or their clergy, or just one particular bishop, augmented the natural, oracular chiastic form of the prayer as it already stood - there being some very strongly chiastic elements present already, viz. the central part of the prayer from Qui pridie to the Unde et memores, and the commemoration of the living and dead. Some of the variable prayers of similar euchological function were moved around or altered so that the naturally existing chiasmus of the anaphora would be completed as nearly as possible, without violating the integrity of the oral tradition overly, preserving the variable prayers within the new text.

What one would end up with would be a chiastic structure which had some clearly parallel elements, some not so clearly parallel, and a slightly untidy overlap and anticipation within the latter group (because of prayers with duplicate function having been moved from their original position, or two prayers of the same function being altered slightly so that they could both be included). Which is more or less how the Roman Canon reads.

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