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

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Closed for Business

The blog is now closed and I don't foresee adding any further posts. I will (try!) to continue to build the Ordinariate Reading List page as and when I have time.

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Go Gaily in the Dark

Some months ago I said I was giving up this blogging lark, and then for some reason had a big spike in my viewing figures. Vainglory then seduced me into continuing, although my original decision has been justified in that I haven't produced anything substantial. Every time I think of writing something here these days, I have something else more pressing to do. Also, I am not that interested in writing about news, ecclesiastical or political, any more. The silliness in Westminster and Washington, in Fleet Street, in the papal court and at the Synod is relentlessly tedious and I have stopped even reading about it all; I think that the best course for people like myself who have no earthly influence over these events is to form islands of Tradition and get on with it. In this - I will spare you the details - my own efforts have been not very fruitful thus far, but there is nothing to do except get on with it. Chesterton's Ballad of the White Horse has long been a favourite. The title of this post is the vision of Mary who says to Alfred that "the men signed of the cross of Christ / Go gaily in the dark", and then follows this with the very comforting words:

you have wars you hardly win
And souls you hardly save.

I tell you naught for your comfort,
Yea, naught for your desire,
Save that the sky grows darker yet
And the sea rises higher.

The other things I would like to blog about, i.e. Christian Neoplatonism, monarchy, Goethean science, Hooker and the Anglican divines: well, a friend told me that the amount of time and effort that I would put into writing pieces worth reading would be better spent researching something substantial, and I think he is right. I won't delete the blog, as some few of the posts that were actually informative to some degree (e.g. those on the Anglican Breviary, the Anglican Missal, and Margaret Barker's Temple Theology) seem to be attracting traffic even yet.

Please friends, don't give up. There is a high and holy calling to be exercised in the middle of our own bathos and misery: the Cross is for us too. The words of Christ, asking if he will find faith on the earth when he comes, haunt me. And come he will.

Friday, 11 September 2015

Prayers from the Sarum Diurnal

At Matins bound, at Prime reviled, condemned to death at Tierce;
Nailed to the Cross at Sexts; at Nones his blessed side they pierce;
They take him down at Vesper-tide, in grave at Compline lay;
Who henceforth bids his Church observe these seven hours always.

The verse above, and the following prayers for devotional use before the Hours, are taken from J.M. Neale's - or rather the St Margaret's Sisterhood's - Sarum Diurnal, where they appear alongside the traditional Aperi Domine prayer, and a prayer of the Venerable Bede.
I am not sure of the provenace of much of the material in this volume: who wrote what? The Preface is a delight, especially its waspish tone. It has not a few haughty observations about practices in the Roman Breviary, which take up rather a lot of space: "Rome" has an "unseemly haste" in frequently replacing longer Psalms by Psalm 117 (the pejorative and personalised noun "Rome" is a giveaway and conjures up a whole habit of mind and thought), its lack of "mystical interpretations" for which one searches in vain, and - all in all - it is "far surpassed by Sarum". The author also commends Sarum for its superiority on account of its "sedulous and hearty use of continual intercession for living and dead" in reference to the fact that one nocturn of the Office of the Dead was said in Sarum every day except for festivals: but there is a footnote... such may not be "practicable for many" these days, we are told, (does this mean - we won't be doing it?)... but on the other hand, "it is as well, in these days of hurry, to have such full and leisurely Offices before our eyes". This last remark comforts me greatly, as I survey all the books on my shelves I wish I had the time to read, all the manuals of various disciplines (astronomy, herb-lore, ancient Hebrew etc.) I would master if I had but a generous allowance from a conveniently deceased great-aunt's bequest to devote myself worthily to them.
The prayers that follow are an expansion of the verse above. I am not posting these as museum pieces merely, but I am unsure how widely this kind of prayer can become natural devotional prayer for many people, in either its language or its sentiment. An autobiographical note: my childhood in the 1980s and 1990s was highly unusual, perhaps as odd to some people as the Amish. We used the King James exclusively for worship (some Presbyterians still do in Northern Ireland), and its language saturated even extempore prayer, even for bedtime, such that I still find it artificial to hear or utter the pronoun "you" to address the Creator. I therefore find it impossible to judge how affected such prayers sound to other ears: but the parenthesis in At Vespers cannot but make even me smile. Also I am not sure that one should wish or pray (as so many even since the sixteenth century, and across confessional boundaries, have prayed) to have the sorrows of the Passion "ever as it were fresh" in one's ardent affection. It puts one in mind of a widely reported phenomenon, the despairing attempt to feel one's prayers passionately enough. But other than that, they and their theology seem "usable".
At Matins.
LORD Jesu Christ, Son of the Living God, Who at this Matin Hour didst will to be born, to be betrayed, taken, beaten with stripes, buffeted, and spit upon for the salvation of mankind ; make us, we beseech Thee, joyfully and patiently to endure injuries and reproaches for the glory of Thy Name ; and so continually to keep in remembrance the memory of Thy most Sacred Passion, that we may be enabled happily to attain to the glory and fellowship of Thy Resurrection ; Who livest and reignest with the Father and the Holy Ghost, God, world without end. Amen.

At Prime.
LORD Jesu Christ, Son of the Living God, Who in the First Hour of the day wast brought before Pilate : Who, the Judge of all judges, didst yet endure the severest doom; we most devoutly beseech Thee that Thou in Thy judgment wouldest be lenient to us miserable sinners ; that in the last eternal judgment we be not condemned to punishment, but may rather attain to the fellowship of Thy faithful ones in heavenly places ; Who livest and reignest God, world without end. Amen.

At Tierce.
LORD Jesu Christ, Son of the Living God, Who at the Third Hour of the day wast led forth to the pain of the Cross, for the salvation of the world ; we humbly beseech Thee that by the virtue of Thy most Sacred Passion, Thou wouldest blot out all our sins, and mercifully bring us to the glory of Thy blessedness ; Who livest and reignest God, world without end. Amen.

At Sexts.
LORD Jesu Christ, Son of the Living God, Who at the Sixth Hour of the day in Golgotha with great tumult didst ascend the Cross of suffering, whereon, thirsting for our salvation, Thou didst permit gall and vinegar to be given Thee to drink ; we Thy suppliants beseech Thee that, kindling and inflaming our hearts, Thou wouldest make us to thirst for the cup of Thy Passion, and continually to find delight in Thee only, our crucified Lord ; Who livest and reignest God, world without end. Amen.

At Nones.
O LORD Jesu Christ, Son of the Living God, Who at the Ninth Hour of the day, with hands extended upon the Cross, and bowing the head, didst deliver up Thy spirit to God the Father, and with the key of death didst most meritoriously unlock the gate of Paradise ; grant to us Thy suppliants, that in the hour of death Thou wouldest mercifully cause our souls to attain unto Thee, Who art the true Paradise ; Who livest and reignest God, world without end. Amen.

At Vespers.
LORD Jesu Christ, Son of the Living God, Who at the Vesper Hour of the day, being now made subject unto death, didst will to be taken down from the Cross, and (as is piously believed) to be received into the arms of Thy Mother; mercifully grant that we, casting away the burthens of our sins, may be enabled to attain even unto the presence of Thy divine Majesty ; Who livest and reignest God, world without end. Amen.

At Compline.
LORD Jesu Christ, Son of the Living God, Who at the Compline Hour rested in the sepulchre, and wast bewailed and lamented by Thy most gentle Mother, and by the other women; make us, we beseech Thee, to abound in the sorrows of Thy Passion, and with entire devotion of heart to bewail that same Passion, and to keep it ever as it were fresh in the ardent affection of our hearts ; Who livest and reignest God, world without end. Amen.

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

The Power of the Name

I occasionally find very unusual books in a local charity shop who have a one pound section as well as a slightly overpriced but very well stocked bookstall. A little booklet caught my eye, a slender pamphlet on the Jesus prayer by Bishop Kallistos Ware, The Power of the Name. I decided on it as part of my holiday reading after glancing through the first paragraph:

"... the person who has attained hesychia, inner stillness or silence, is par excellence the one who listens. He listens to the voice of prayer in his own heart, and he understands that this voice is not his own but that of Another speaking within him."

If anyone of a practical turn of mind asked me what was the point of it, what practice - even broken, half-hearted and unfaithful practice - of the divine office achieved over a year or two, I would quote this sentence. In the Psalms one utters the heart of Christ in the Spirit. In the office one is learning to listen to this utterance, perhaps with the faintest feeling for what the author means by silence, or maybe even a beginning to be aware of the lack of silence, a realisation of the babble and noise where silence isn't.

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Modern Cheap Reprints: A Query

Before I part with a reasonably large sum for an original 1882 Cambridge hardback of Procter & Wordsworth's Sarum Breviary (Volume 1), does anyone know anything about the modern paperback reprints that are sold by the horde on Amazon and other places? Are they reliable copies of such books, or does one find pages missing?

I suppose they are a bit cheaper... and then there are three volumes in the series... and I may not find the Cambridge originals of the others any time soon. So should I really pay so much for Book 1 if I am going to end up buying cheap modern reprints of Books 2 & 3? You see my dilemma.

Thus, dear reader, reliable information about the quality of the reprints would be much appreciated. Or - even better, if you possess Volumes 1-3 and you wish to sell them to me at a reasonable price!

P.S. I have (in an on-line version of the book mentioned above) found the complete answer to a question about the benedictions for Matins lessons in the Sarum breviary, something I wrote about a number of weeks ago. More on that when I have time.


Update 17th July...
P.P.S. One can find Volumes 1 & 2 easily enough, but no publisher has yet reprinted Volume 3 containing the Proprium Sanctorum, and I can't find an old edition either. What a nuisance.

Friday, 19 June 2015

More Sarum

This is worth reading.

A Case for the Restoration of the Sarum Rite

The author doesn't think much of the argument that Sarum cannot be celebrated because it has fallen out of use. This is (I think) the only semblance of an argument against its revival. But if a religious foundation or an association get on with it and celebrate it - at least the Office to start with - then it becomes a living rite, and this argument becomes obsolete.

Friday, 15 May 2015

Temple Studies: IXth Symposium

The Presence of the LORD in the Temple

Another reminder of the 9th Annual Symposium of the Temple Studies Group.

It is on Saturday 13th June at St Magnus the Martyr, near London Bridge. For details click on the above link.

Thoroughly recommended; I went last year and am looking forward to it. The £40 entrance fee (£5 for students) is very reasonable: I've been looking at a few day-conferences in philosophy lately that have been advertised at £250 or more.

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Seven Sacraments in Christ

Something speculative:

Baptism is primarily the rite of initiation into Christianity, and is the rite accompanied by repentance and the virtue of faith - it is to enter sacramentally into Christ's Death and Resurrection. (Penance is the sacramental renewal of baptism.)

Confirmation is the rite of the gift of the Spirit, and is accompanied by love - it is to enter sacramentally into Pentecost.

The Eucharist is the rite of incorporation into Christ, and is to enter sacramentally into Christ's Ascension, although it is accompanied by the virtue of hope as it looks towards the consummation of Christ's Second Coming and the heavenly bridal feast. Participation in Christ's Ascension is what the book of Hebrews is all about, in fact: entering into the heavenly places with Christ. (Rather than His sacrifice being re-enacted, the notion of repetition belongs primarily to our sacrifice which Christ makes His own in the moment when we become the High Priest and ascend with Him.)

Ordination is also a rite of the Ascension where the one anointed participates in the eternal anointing of Christ as High Priest in the heavens; and Anointing of the sick is the imparting of that grace to the diseased in body and in soul.

Marriage, then, is the sacrament of Christ's Second Coming, His return to feast with His Bride: and having such a exalted position among the sacraments it requires every possible virtue, cardinal and theological...

Friday, 3 April 2015

Easter Vigil: the Anglican Missal

There cannot have been a much more emphatic pronouncement of the new order - liturgically and therefore theologically - in England in 1549, than the revised Easter rites. Leave to one side the revolution of the vernacular, and the liturgy of Cranmer's new rite of Holy Communion: imagine the difference when one came to Maundy Thursday. No reservation of the Sacrament; no special ceremony; a few extra Collects on Good Friday; and then - to cap it all - Holy Saturday with a regular rite of Holy Communion, with its own Epistle and Gospel, and (several centuries later, perhaps penned by Laud) its own Collect. One can argue as to whether Cranmer favoured Calvin's or Zwingli's theology of the sacraments, but the clear message of a regular and unexceptional rite of Holy Communion on Easter Even was a loosening of the Eucharist itself from the events that were being commemorated. The Passion and Cross, Death and Entombment, the Resurrection: these were all events in Christ's life whose effects were applied, morally and spiritually, through communion. But - if one now celebrates the Eucharist on Holy Saturday as well as on any other day of the liturgical year - they were not present actions that were enacted in very life, in the symbols upon the Altar.

The Anglican Missal, Anglo-Catholicism's first (illegal) attempt to reverse this liturgical message, printed in 1921, has a fascinating way of dealing with the Book of Common Prayer. It is Cranmer in reverse. Cranmer set about to reset the traditional words of the Mass so that much of it would sound and look the same - at least in 1549 - but in a new piece of craftmanship that as a whole subverted Catholic teaching. It was politic at the time, of course. No need to upset people too much: better to take things gradually. The Anglican Missal does the same (in reverse) for the Cranmer's Book of Common Prayer: it takes the well-worn Cranmerian phrases and turns them to a Catholic purpose. One could see this as the revenge of irony, but I don't think it was meant like that: it was an attempt (like Cranmer's) to smuggle in a complete theology by using a familiar set of words and actions. And what the framers of the Missal did with the Easter Even Epistle and Gospel is quite brilliant.

Remember that the Good Friday Passion Gospel from John normally ends with Jesus' entombment. Except that in the Book of Common Prayer, it doesn't: that particular section about the deposition of Jesus' remains in Joseph of Arimathea's tomb is reserved for the Easter Even Gospel. The Book of Common Prayer also - as mentioned - has an Epistle for Easter Even, from chapter three of the first Epistle of Peter. I suspect that this was chosen because of the reference to the "Harrowing of Hell", Christ's going to preach to the "spirits in prison" during the period between his death and resurrection. The notion is that all those redeemed by Christ's suffering were still under the power of death, in Hades, until Christ had actually suffered: at His rising He then brought them into eternal light, Adam and all the rest of them. There are a lot of colourful medieval depictions of the Harrowing, and it tended to figure graphically in mystery plays. If I am right, then the bit about baptism (in the same Epistle) crept in almost by accident, not because that was the primary link that those who chose the Epistle wished to make. The main point of the Epistle, however, is baptismal: it is to draw a link between the Christ's death and resurrection, the Ark of Noah (with the death of the Old World of sin and the rebirth of the New World of the covenant) and the washing of baptism. Thus, in an interesting twist, it is possible that Cranmer's wish to escape from a Catholic past meant that he plumped for a particularly medieval piece of Catholic imagery (the Harrowing) for Easter Even, rather than trying to preserve the ancient Christian significance of the Easter Vigil as the night of baptism. Perhaps I am being unfair, and perhaps Cranmer did mean to reference the ancient custom of baptism on the Vigil with this text. As it was, he ended up with both the Harrowing of Hell, and the baptismal theology, in the Epistle. (It would not be the only example of Protestantism in peril of embracing a truncated sixteenth century Catholicism, in its rush to escape Catholic superstition.)

What did the Anglican Missal do with the Easter Even texts for Holy Communion? It couldn't preserve them completely, if it wanted to have a Good Friday Mass of the Pre-sanctified Gifts, and an Easter Vigil with Twelve Prophecies and all the rest. One couldn't also have a rite of Holy Communion on Holy Saturday. Instead, the framers of the Missal did something very clever indeed.

The solemn blessing of the palms on Palm Sunday begins with an Epistle and Gospel: so now the Epistle and Gospel of Easter Even will precede the blessing of Paschal Fire.

Here is the ritual from the Anglican Missal: the Priest and Ministers vested without chasuble, but with a purple (Lenten) cope proceed to the Altar without lights or incense. They go to the Epistle corner and the choir sings the Introit from Psalm 88, "My soul is full of trouble: and my life draweth nigh unto hell. O Lord God of my salvation, I have cried day and night before thee. My soul etc. repeated". And here Laud's Collect (no doubt written quite deliberately to draw the connection between the Easter Vigil, baptism, and the Epistle from St Peter) comes into its own:

GRANT, O Lord, that as we are baptized into the death of thy blessed Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ, so by continual mortifying our corrupt affections we may be buried with him; and that through the grave, and gate of death, we may pass to our joyful resurrection; for his merits, who died, and was buried, and rose again for us, the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Following which there is read the Epistle from St Peter: "After which the Subdeacon does not ask a blessing, nor does he kiss the Priest's hand." Then is sung for the Gradual: Psalm 18, "The sorrows of death compassed me: and the snares of death overtook me" and Psalm 4, "I will lay me down in peave, and take my rest". Then, without lights, incense, or blessing for the Deacon, the Gospel is sung: just that portion of St John that deals with the interment of Jesus. "After which the Priest shall not be censed, nor shall he kiss the Book, but having made the due reverence to the Holy Table, he shall depart with his Ministers. And going to the door of the Church, he shall proceed to bless the new fire and do that which followeth..." i.e. the traditional Easter Vigil, which starts from here.

It is to my mind quite simply a wonderful, typologically rich, apposite addition to the beginning of the Easter Vigil, with its foretaste of what is to come (the baptismal rite) in the Petrine Epistle and Laudian Collect, to which the Gospel provides the narrative and Christological underpinning. The power and virtue of baptism in the Easter Vigil is the passage between Christ's Atoning Death and His Resurrection: between the darkness and emptiness of the Altar at the Gospel lesson of Christ's burial, and the blaze of light at the Alleluia to greet His resurrection.

Well, thank you, Cranmer; thank you very much, Laud; and bravissimo! Anglican Missal. Now wouldn't that be a fine piece of Patrimony for the Ordinariate?

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Via Media

I switched off the internet for Lenten ferias last year, and will do so again this year. I had a surprising amount of free time. A last post then, before I go back to the occasional Breviary-topics-only post until Easter.

There has been a lot of inter-blogging discussion going on about the Roman Rite, liturgical tradition etc. in the blogs that I read. One writer - here - notes that the revival of the Latin Mass and its traditions will never go beyond a certain geographic constituency, because the African and Asian churches evangelised after the introduction of the Novus Ordo have no cultural memory of the rite. Which is very true. What then is their notion of tradition, their cultural inheritance? For most of these non-European Christians, outside the Latino cultures of Central and South America, the dominant language of mission - and therefore the heritage of their "faith culture", if I could put it like that - is the English language. I am not claiming a superiority for English when I say this. It is simply a given for them, and whatever they might be told to think by clever white liberals, they do not see it as cultural imperialism that has been imposed on them.

Languages have a memory. They carry within them the seeds of their own birth. And while English may have been conceived a few centuries before the sixteenth, the birth of its power and influence was Elizabethan. Call it clichéd if you wish, but Shakespeare and the King James Bible are the cultural memory of the English-speaking world, which is increasingly the whole world, punto. Therefore, Elizabethan English - and hence Shakespeare and the Bible - is the tradition and cultural memory of people who have learnt English but recently. Yes, I know about Hollywood and all of that: but that is an influence upon current usage, not the tradition and memory of the language. Thus, when Africans, Indians and Chinese with a reasonable grasp of English hear Elizabethan English, they immediately are switched on to Tradition, to the Ancient, to the Higher Culture. This is admittedly, and largely, historical accident. But note that the same thing doesn't happen when these people hear Latin. Because there is a living memory of British hegemony in many parts of the world; English is a living language which dominates global discourse through its continued cultural and (American) political influence, and therefore archaic English has an instant and immediate power that Latin does not.

Something odd has happened in the Ordinariate group that I belong to in Greater London. The native group are now outnumbered at celebrations, by at least 2:1 or 3:1, by other people from the wider parish, whose church building we share. These people who join us are overwhelmingly not English, but are Indian, African and Oriental, and not a few families. They appreciate the Ordinariate Rite, and come back again, despite the dreadfully awkward time of 4:30pm on a Sunday, because the rite seems to them particularly sacred. Wesley's and Keble's hymns, Coverdale's canon, an Anglican-looking rite: it all fits together into what they find to be a naturally English form that is "lifted up" or sacral. It is natural to them to have an English rite in archaic language, perhaps even more so than for a native English speaker, many of whom (by all accounts) seem to find the language "affected". It isn't affected, by the way: not even close to 5% of the rite that has been made up by its framers, or that is "pseudo-Elizabethan", to use the term that is thrown around. But this kind of learned sensibility, i.e. a preference for the slangy and prosaic over the poetic and graceful, is lost on the non-native English speaker, whose ear is attuned rather to an expectation of what traditional and High English should sound like. In the Ordinariate Rite, that expectation is satisfied.

This makes me believe that the greatest power and influence of the Ordinariate Rite will be outside its native home in the Anglosphere: that is, if it ever becomes the language and the rite of mission. Its order is reasonably similar to the Novus Ordo, bar the position of the penitential rite; but it contains many of the prayers from the old rite that were lost in the new. Thus, in its mix of the familiar pattern and its ressourcement of liturgical Tradition, it has the potential to act as a bridge between the Pian and Pauline rites, and to mediate elements of the Roman rite that are in danger of permanent and irrevocable loss. It can also renew a sense of the necessity for a sacred and hieratic tongue - but also with the active participation of the faithful, most of whom will follow its meaning if they have some English - without being an exclusively clerical language.

People are apt to think of Benedict XVI's aims and desires as having been hopelessly thwarted, first of all by his own political ineptitude, then by an obstructive Curia, and then by recalcitrant liberal clerics. But if I am right, his two boldest and revolutionary acts - Summorum Pontificum and the erection of the Ordinariates - might yet meet and merge, and be fruitful in his cherished idea of "mutual enrichment" in the Ordinariate's Eucharistic Rite.

This is to say nothing of the Ordinariate's potential to act as a mediator or bridge in other contemporary ecclesiastical disputes than the liturgical. Theologically, it draws upon the Oxford Movement and Newman and therefore has a Patristic emphasis rather than a scholastic one, and hence has a sympathy with Vatican II and de Lubac; on the other hand, it is in a position to recover Hooker's latent and thinly disguised Thomism. It is open to the co-existence of clerical marriage and celibacy, seeing the importance of both. Pastorally, it is formed of small groups whose formation in Anglicanism has fostered a welcoming attitude: people can be made part of a more intimate group even if for some reason they are barred from the sacrament, and therefore their Christian fellowship extends beyond, and is not solely defined by, frequent communion. On the other hand, its teaching and instinct is firmly against the authoritarian liberalism whose influence it has but lately and gratefully left behind.

Monday, 16 February 2015

Learning the Alleluia

It was through a young deacon of the Coptic Church that I first understood what liturgical tradition meant. I met him around ten years ago, and was fascinated by his account of Coptic Christianity.

The Coptic language is taught only in the Coptic schools in Egypt: it is a descendent of Demotic (the form of Egyptian script that was written centuries before Christ) with a fair mixture of Alexandrian κοινή Greek. Demotic itself is a late version of the ancient hieratic Egyptian of the Pharaohs; and thus the Copts are a precious lingistic link with the Pyramids and their hierogyphs. Remember Chesterton's observation that only Christian men preserve the ancient beauties of paganism?

The Coptic deacon told me about learning the Easter Alleluia, for their Vigil, that lasts from an hour before midnight until dawn. The Alleluia lasts for twenty-four minutes. He and another deacon were instructed by an older deacon. They both swore a solemn vow before instruction (1) never to write down the music for "performance" or even transmission outside the liturgy, (2) never to change a single note or even a melismatic variation, and (3) to pass it to another deacon exactly as they were taught it. He thus was able to claim - plausibly enough, I think - that when he intoned the Easter Alleluia, the ears of the fourth century would have nodded in agreement, with every cadence and modulation of his voice.

The sheer romance of this woke me up to whole idea of tradition in the liturgy; but there was another thing that struck me in his reminiscence of home, a home to which he would most likely return when his dental training was finished. It was a place where one expected trouble, persecution, and where martyrdom was not a remote idea. It was a different air than the air that I breathed in Britain, and it gave to his quiet faith a powerful and virile attraction. It was obvious that he did not feel that Catherine of Alexandria was a distant martyr figure. To him, martyrdom and suffering for one's faith were as natural and "wired in" one might say, as our - fading - complacency. I have no idea what has happened to him since.

I hate to see the sight of people lined up for killing even in a photograph - such as the newspaper photographs of the recent Coptic martyrdoms. I am convinced, deep down, that to willingly look on a killing, for mere curiosity and the titillation of horror, is even more wicked when one watches on television than if one was there in the flesh. I cannot quite believe that our reality TV culture extends to watching people being incinerated live. I would ask people who screen and watch this kind of thing if they want to be part of the show: perhaps they should go out to Syria, Iraq or the latest country our sissy-fool politicians have liberated from tyranny, and pose for selfies with the likes of Jihadi John pointing his gun at their head to achieve the ultimate narcissistic thrill of reality TV, just before their demise.

But - base voyeurism aside - there is a good reason to know that Christians are being martyred, because - as the term suggests - a martyr is a flaming and triumphant witness to Christ. The wielder of the sword brings about the victory of the Cross and the crucified. The final words of Psalm 110 (Vulgate 109) have struck me of late in this connection, as having a strange irony. Christ will "judge among the heathen, he shall fill the places with the dead bodies, and smite in sunder the heads over divers countries". A strange judgment indeed when it is Christ's body that is smitten, and one without sense if we did not know of the resurrection by the life-giving Spirit, and his coming reign when the smitten heads of these new Saints will be uplifted in power over all nations: "He shall drink of the brook in the way, therefore shall he lift up his head".

I suppose the question for us in the West is whether we will all be damned, too bloated and fearful to be anything other than ashamed of Christ in our diabolic luxury, wittering on endlessly in Synods and conferences, refusing to take the Gospel of repentance and faith to a truth-starved world: while others kneel and die.

Monday, 2 February 2015


Sorry; the speculations on things Johannine are becoming progressively wilder as it gets late and I am more and more carried away. If I am a bit late with the P.P.S. idea about the Gospel of John's original ending, I'll bet no-one has thought of this one... [Oh, yes they have, as I have discovered. Martha has been under suspicion for the address of II John: see below.]

There is a dispute about Eusebius, Papias, and the authorship of the second and third Johannine epistles, as well as the book of Revelation. Eusebius seems to quote Papias as saying that he heard eye-witness accounts of Jesus from the Lord's disciple, the Elder, πρεσβύτερος John. He is called (by Papias, whose life may have overlapped with John's by up to 30 years) a "surviving" witness. He has however, named John, along with James and so on, in the sentence before, as being the Lord's disciples. So it seems that he is either repeating himself (because John falls into two categories, both a group of Apostolic witnesses, and also a smaller group of living eyewitnesses), or he is (Eusebius thinks) talking about two different Johns: John the Apostle and John the Elder. I am inclined to agree with some commentators that Eusebius is fishing around for an excuse to deny Apostolic authorship of the book of Revelation, which he doesn't know what to do with, and which he wants to offload onto a putative second John, the Elder. Eusebius really didn't like chiliastic beliefs and Revelation 20 was always going to be a problem for him. The difficulty with this theory of Eusebius is that he is the only person to even mention the existence of two Johns; what little else we possess of Papias and every other Asian author in the period of the Apostolic Fathers points towards a single John at Ephesus, the Apostle.

The epithet "the Elder" is present in Peter's writings too (cf. I Peter 5) and seems in Peter's epistle to identify Apostles and the most senior of the Christians, and to be contrasted with the νεώτεροι, or "young" in the faith. One of the problems with interpreting words at a distance is that they can be both "official" - in the sense that presbyter was a term for the assistant of the episcopal president at the Eucharist - and also "everyday" language: the word presbyter in Peter is possibly designating the original disciples of Christ, who are the Elder in the faith, as opposed to the "young" who have been baptised by them. So designating the Apostle John as the Elder is entirely consonant with him being the Apostle; and the same goes for the Apostolic authorship of the second and third of the Johannine letters.

Now for the theory, on II John. What is the rather cryptic absence of names about? A need for secrecy, so that an intercepted letter would not incriminate? There seems to be more to it than that. The letter starts with an address to the "elect lady" who is referred to as beloved of all those who walk in truth, where Truth is being used as a name of Christ. Why is there such a general presumption of love for the elect lady from all Christians? The epistle is to the elect lady and "her children"; but it becomes clear later on that her children are in fact the church to whom John is writing, who must keep out the Docetist heresy. What church was under the patronage of a lady - if this was a church meeting in her household merely would they be called her children, especially if they are later addressed as being responsible for giving heresy short shrift? There is also an abrupt change of address from singular you to plural you at two points in the letter - John reminds the lady (singular) that the lady heard Christ's commandment of love "from the beginning", that we (John and the lady?) should love one another, before going to extend the command to you (plural), presumably to include the lady's children. The plural you is then continued to command the exclusion of Docetists. He then signs off with a personal greeting to the lady, from the children of the elect sister: again, some kind of spiritual maternity is being spoken of. 

I think that the letter's contents, and especially the introduction to the lady who will (John is sure) be beloved of all Christians, point towards a lady who is significant in the story of the Gospel, and who would be known by all. The options are rather few: Mary, Martha, Mary Magdalene... Mary the Mother of Jesus?


I've just noticed something. If Chapter 21 were a late addition by John or his friends to the Gospel, then one might expect that the end of Chapter 20 would be a more stylistically and thematically planned ending to the Gospel. One might expect it to match the Prologue, in fact.

The "light of men" comes on the First day of the week when light was created; the doors are shut so that the world, who did not receive him, remain in the uncomprehending darkness; he is the Maker of all things who is present on the Eighth day as well as the First, emphasising that everything in between was made by him also; on the Eighth day his bodily presence is shown to Thomas, paralleling the "Word made flesh"; Thomas (his "own") did not receive him; he gives power to his own to become the sons of God, and empowers them to make others God's children by breathing his Spirit upon them (not by the will of man or the flesh, but by the will of God); the John of the Prologue is paralleled by the witness of John the Apostle in the Finale; and the motif of faith in his Name is present in both sections. The ordering is not identical: but I think there is a case to be made that this is the original ending. I am sure that this has been noted before by somebody, somewhere.

I also think that this parallel (on account of the naming of "John" in the first section without the qualifying "Baptist") gives further weight - if any further were needed - to the authorship of the Apostle. The name of John in the Prologue is a cryptic clue to the identity of the author, when taken with its parallel final section: he is the witness sent from God.

A Postscript on John

One final postscript to my previous two posts. The ending of John's Gospel suggests that there were rumours going around in his old age, that he was anxious to dispel; and that the little addendum written at the end of the Gospel by his Ephesian followers (perhaps the whole of chapter 21, as the Gospel would otherwise finish neatly at the end of chapter 20?) at his bidding was partly for this purpose, viz. to dampen people's expectations. One is tempted to surmise that his High Priestly garb added to the mystique of his persona, and helped to feed the gossip.

The interesting thing is that John does not directly say that people are wrong, but merely that this is an interpretation of what Jesus said, and not a verbatim report: he did not say "John will not die", but "If I will that he tarry", etc. There is a degree of ambiguity here, and presumably the addition to the Gospel ("we know that his testimony is true") indicates that John is still alive at this point, although the "is true" might conceivably have been written after his death.

It seems, however - from the ending of the Acts of John - that this rumour persisted nonetheless. And the fact that the final section of the Acts was a liturgical text for his feast within, at most, two generations after his death in the churches of Asia over which he exercised his Apostolic authority, is also interesting. Polycrates does not mention (or rather Eusebius does not say that he mentions) anything more about John's tomb than that it was at Ephesus, which makes one wonder if the assumption story was (as we say) a pious gloss. The tradition that seems to have got about the most is that of the manna, which shakes and moves over his tomb as if he is breathing - and indeed one of the assumption stories seems to play into this tradition, by mentioning that his body was replaced by a "fountain" of earth, which accounts for the stirring of the manna.

Finally then: is the reason for the disappearance of the High Priestly garb and office in Christianity, after the terms of office of both James the Just and John, because John was buried with this clothing? And is a further reason that there was (at the time) a doubt in people's minds as to whether or not he was actually dead, asleep, or even translated, fueled by the ambiguity of the late addition to his Gospel?

Saturday, 31 January 2015

Johannes Assumptus

Rooting around for more writings about John the Apostle and Evangelist at Ephesus, I came across a very Docetist little tract from the second century called the Acts of John. I don't know what the scholarly view is of this text, but one part of it - the very dogmatically Docetist part, in which John has a vision of Christ during the crucifixion, telling him that he is really up above it all, not down there on the messy and unpleasant cross - is very obviously not by the same John who wrote "the Word was made flesh". It seems to me that this part is very much detachable from last section, which deals with John going to his rest.

This final part has many manuscript versions and was meant to be read on his feast day. There are two possible endings.

Before both alternative endings, John celebrates the Holy Eucharist and distributes, and then has the men dig a trench. Stripping down to his shift, he strews his garments in the hole, and then prays. Having "sealed himself in every part" - presumably this means having made the holy sign over various parts of his body (the cross X was the sign of the Hebrew letter Tau, and signified the Tetgrammaton in the Temple liturgy, and hence also the Holy Name of Jesus in the baptismal rite) -
he stood and said: Thou art with me, O Lord Jesu Christ: and laid himself down in the trench where he had strown his garments: and having said unto us: Peace be with you, brethren, he gave up his spirit rejoicing.
The first ending, and the commonest, says that afterward "manna" issuing from the tomb was seen of all. This seems to tie in with a tradition, still current in Augustine's time who mentions it, that John's tomb at Ephesus still heaved with his breathing, as he was not in fact dead; and that the white dust around his altar (called manna) which was stirred had great power of healing. This miracle was said to be observable on the 6th May which was the day of his feast (St. John at the Lateran Gate), and the church containing his tomb was long a great pilgrimage site. The Anglo-Saxon bishop Willibald was a pilgrim to the tomb; pilgrims brought the white dust back with them in flasks.

The second ending is just as intriguing, given the cryptic and ambiguous ending of the Gospel of John, as to whether or not John would actually die, and which ending may have been written by one of the Ephesian Christians who witnessed the events recounted here:
We brought a linen cloth and spread it upon him, and went into the city. And on the day following we went forth and found not his body, for it was translated by the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, unto whom be glory.
Yet another variation on the assumption ending ties together the two accounts - the claim that his body was translated into heaven, and the tradition of the "manna":

On the morrow we dug in the place, and him we found not, but only his sandals, and the earth moving (lit. springing up like a well), and after that we remembered that which was spoken by the Lord unto Peter.
It is notable that there are no churches in Christendom, nor have there ever been, who claimed to have relics of St. John. It is notable that John's Gospel does not deny the story that John would "tarry" till the coming of Christ, but only denies the particular rumour that Jesus had meant to say that John would not die when he spoke to Peter after the resurrection. In the Old Testament, Moses and Elijah were translated, the representatives of the Law and the Prophets; in the New Testament, Mary... and John? The immaculate and maternal Church, and the adopted and filial Church, respectively?

Thursday, 29 January 2015

The High Priest at Ephesus

I post the following as a hurried draft I had written recently, without references... It is a bit disjointed. What I will eventually try to do with this is flesh out the detail, to say that mystical practice and vision was very important, and that the Apostles themselves engaged in it. The connection of this mysticism with liturgy is that the Atonement liturgy of the Holy of Holies in the Temple, and then the Eucharistic liturgy which had significant ritual continuity with it, were seen as taking place in heaven. Temple mysticism - which became Eucharistic mysticism - takes the mystic to heaven, or to receive a vision of it. The early, Apostolic, development of the liturgy could therefore have been informed by visions of the risen Christ, which were given to the ecstatic in a liturgical frame of reference. Some of the stuff I am saying here is speculative, of course - and the piece about James as High Priest will not please those who think of the Bishop of Rome in that role. Shouldn't it have been Peter? I could take the speculation below to another and more doubtful stage, and suggest that it was the Roman church rather than its bishop which was the guarantor of orthodoxy in early tradition - although the pastoral role given by Christ to Peter does of course lend him the role of teacher, the one who confirms the brethren. But should the role of the High Priest, the liturgical primacy, if I could put it that way, go to someone a bit further East? Since Ephesus isn't so important in Asia Minor these days - Constantinople? What a relief that would be to a lot of us.

The Apostle John, one of the three "pillars" of the Apostolic church, outlived the other chief Apostles. The other two pillars, James the brother of the Lord and Peter, and also Paul the Apostle to the Gentiles, were martyred by A.D. 70. He alone was left, and this would have made him unquestionably the most venerable figure in the Church for the final third of the first century: he is said to have died in old age, possibly surviving into his eighties and the time of Trajan.

There is reasonable internal evidence that the Apocalypse was written at around the time of the destruction of Jerusalem, and John's exile on Patmos may refer to his flight from that city. The earthly Jerusalem, the place of Christ's crucifixion and his brother's martyrdom, and Rome, where Peter and Paul were recently martyred, are both presented as anti-types of the heavenly Jerusalem; the book is laden with the symbolism of the Temple and rotates around the Jewish liturgical year. But there is (as yet) no overwriting of this pattern with a specifically Christian cycle, or a Christology worked out in terms of the Christian rite itself. He is the Apocalyptic Christ, the Son of Man from Daniel; and if we glimpse a Christian liturgy, it is part of the narrative and there is no reading of the meaning of Christ through the liturgy. He is present in it, as an actor in the celestial drama, as the Lamb, but is not (explicitly) its subject.

Then we have the Gospel of John, written later in Ephesus, perhaps intentionally supplementing the other canonical Gospels, but which is deeply sacramental. In it, the famous discourse on the bread of life, the water, the vine, all presuppose an established ritual and liturgical life; the Jewish liturgical cycle has receded into the background, and any reference to e.g. the Day of Atonement is now present to add emphasis to Christ's depiction as the eternal High Priest, entering again into the Holy of Holies from whence he descended. The Passover feast is effaced to allow the final address of Christ, in which the eschatological return of Christ is juxtaposed with the pneumatic descent, and both together are placed in the Eucharistic feast.

What happens between John's authorship of these two books - assuming this dating is correct - between his flight from Jerusalem and his death perhaps 25 years later? There is a persistent rumour - through several fragments of lost authors including Polycrates, the second century bishop of Ephesus - reported in Eusebius, that John "wore the plate on the mitre" in Ephesus, which would have made him High Priest: the plate was the golden plate inscribed with the Tetragrammaton that the High Priest wore on his mitre in the Holy of Holies for the great Day of Atonement. But there are also odd hints around about James, the brother of the Lord (identified as having experienced a separate resurrection experience of Christ, apart from the Apostles, in Paul's first letter to the Corinthian church), having been the High Priest. A lost author quoted in Clement speaks of James as the only one being able to go into the sanctuary, and that he wore linen not wool (both the solitary privilege and the garb identifying him as High Priest); and other early writings - admittedly of doubtful provenance - talk about James as having been placed by Jesus over the twelve Apostles. But it does all add up, even the New Testament evidence: why should Paul refer to James receiving a specific visit of the risen Christ over and above the Apostles? And then there is the episode in Acts known as the council of Jerusalem, in which Peter (the chief of the Apostles) speaks, but James sums up and gives the final decision.

There is some evidence beginning to emerge about the continuity the Temple theology, and elements of Temple ritual, in the first century Jewish sect of Christians, or Nazarenes as they were called in Jerusalem. Suffice to say that it is interesting to note that this rumour of a significant figure in the New Testament wearing the High Priest's clothing should be attached first to James in Jerusalem and then John in Ephesus. First James, whose importance in the New Testament is emphasised even more startlingly outside it; and then, after his martyrdom and the destruction of Jerusalem, the same mystery follows John (now the only one of the pillars of the Church left) to Ephesus. What exactly was this mysterious role? It cannot have been anything (conceptually and theologically) like the role of the High Priest of the Temple, if the letter to the Hebrews is anywhere close to an accurate stating of early Christian ideas.

The practice of temple mysticism may provide a clue. Temple mystics were said to be "caught up" into heaven: even Paul, recounting his experience, was unsure if his whole body was rapt, or only his spirit. In his letter to the Galatians, he gives an account typical of what would come to be known as merkavah mysticism: he ascends to the Third Heaven, where paradise was located (each of the Seven Heavens of the mystics were home to various angels, heavenly bodies, and even places such as the Garden of Eden). He also speaks - at various times - of being given instructions by the Lord directly, and possibly even the form of the Eucharistic rite itself, if his "received of the Lord" in the first letter to the Corinthians does not mean indirectly, through the other Apostles. The temptations of Christ in the wilderness - his being caught up to the pinnacle of the Temple, or to an exceeding high mountain where he is shown the nations of the earth - may refer to a similar rapture. And the Apocalypse of Isaiah, contemporaneous with the Apostolic Fathers, gives a more detailed mystical vision, an account of Christ's death, resurrection and ascension, in a Dantesque vision of the descent and harrowing of Hell, and then the progressive and triumphant ascent through the Seven Heavens, through which he has descended disguised as an angelic being to come to earth under the devil's radar, so to speak.

If the book of Hebrews rules out a notion of James - or John - fully playing out the High Priest's role for the early Christians, then perhaps there is a clue here for what they were doing. In Apostolic theology, there was a surprising running together of a cosmic Christ the Logos (most famously in John's Prologue, but also in Paul's letters) with an adoptionist notion of Christ's Sonship: but then the theology of the High Priest's role was that he was "adopted" as the Lord, the Son of the Most High God, when he went within the Holy of Holies and made atonement, with the divine Name on his mitred forehead. The adoptionist theology drew upon this notion - with his divine adoption at the descent of the Spirit after his baptism in the Jordan - to name Christ the eternally adopted High Priest, and identify him with the figure of Melchisedec, the High Priest without beginning of days who appeared to Abraham. But Christ is not only the High Priest: he also specifies quite clearly in the Gospels that he is the Temple. And as every Jew knew, the Temple and its structure were the form and pattern of God's creation, from the First Day of Creation (the Holy of Holies) to the Sixth Day (Adam, the son of God and High Priest). So Christ as Temple is also the cosmic Christ as Logos, the pattern of the New Creation - that is, the Church, begotten upon the Eighth Day in his resurrection.

Thus it is only in the context of Christ as Temple, with all its connotations, that the idea of James or John acting as the Christian High Priest makes any sense at all. Firstly, if Christ was the Temple, then he was the pattern of the New Creation, and it is with this frame of reference that the role of a High Priest in the early church is to be understood (rather than the frame of the Day of Atonement, now declared eternally fulfilled by the author of Hebrews). The eternal Atonement on the celestial altar was the holy place which the Christian High Priest approached. Secondly, a prophetic vision of the totality of creation was revealed to Paul and the other Christian Temple mystics in the mystical rapture they experienced: their theology of the cosmic Christ as Temple was married to their mystical practice, and knowledge of the "pneumatic" or spiritual body of the New Creation. The entrance of James the High Priest into the heavenlies - and specifically alone, as the early author claims - may suggest mystical praxis.

There is one further connection that may be pertinent to the puzzle of the Christian High Priest. Some scholars are inclined to make short work of Basil's claim that the anaphora as it was in his time - he describes it as the part of the Eucharistic prayer said just before and after the words of institution, which are written in Paul and the Gospels - was handed down orally from the Apostles. A similar claim crops up in the Alexandrians, in Clement and Origen, too, and is given even less credence because it is mixed up with claims about hidden and mystical knowledge handed on by the Apostles. There is nothing that would disprove the claim: all that we know of the most ancient Eucharistic rites, the Liturgy of St James and the Roman rite, points to the fact that some parts of the Eucharistic prayer are too old to date from any extant references. But there are hints: for instance, the phrase "command thy Holy Angel to bear these gifts to thine altar on high" in the Roman canon could come straight from the book of Revelation, and is certainly witness to a form of expression of an adoptionist Christology that had disappeared in the late second century. No-one, not even at that early stage of church history, still refers to Christ as the "Holy Angel" (a term for the High Priest) who is both High Priest at the celestial altar of eternal atonement, and also the sacrificial gift upon it.

There is no dissonance in seeing the High Priest's role in the Apostolic age as both entering in to the heavenlies by mystical praxis, and also as a Eucharistic president who brought back the Manna from the heavenly altar. Temple mysticism was just that, related closely to the Temple; and it became (I would suggest) Eucharistic mysticism. James was a High Priest by virtue of his entrance into the highest Heaven as Christ (wearing the divine Name is equivalent to entering Heaven as Jesus); the saints of Jerusalem entered as Christ also, because by partaking of the Bread of the Face (shewbread) served by the High Priest, their sacerdotal character as a people is confirmed.

Was the liturgical and Eucharistic practice of the early Church was very "high", in the sense of being at certain points a highly proscribed (rather than an informal and spontaneous) ritual, even if very simple in its outlines and action? The central and most ancient prayers of the rites - as Basil claims - may indeed have been handed down as the authoritative High Priestly prayers to the bishops the Apostles appointed. If this is true, then the place for spontaneity in the liturgy is not in the Eucharist, but in the exercise of the gifts of the Spirit which may well have been the third part of a primitive tri-partite liturgy of catechesis, communion, and charismata. Just as there is canonical and Apostolic authority in the Scriptures, so also the ancient Eucharistic rites - like them, recognised and accepted without question for a millenium and a half - have an authority that makes the replacement of their prayers a doubtful proceeding. The reason for the presence of a visible liturgy in Revelation, and its comparative absence in John's Gospel, where it is replaced by a profound reflection upon the sacraments, is that John as Evangelist is no longer an observer of the High Priest's liturgy, but is himself the celebrant.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Blake on the Epiphany

First of all, I did say I had finished with this blog, but I find that I need a companion blog to the on-going project on the Septies In Die website that I am trying (slowly) to put together. I will probably continue to put titbits on here, and occasionally let off steam.

A Tasty Morsel from the Epiphany Office

Gregory the Great's Gospel Homily for the Epiphany (Lesson VII of Epiphany Matins):
"When the Redeemer was born, why was it that, to the shepherds of Judaea, an Angel was sent to bring the tidings thereof [of the birth of the King of Heaven], whereas it was a star that led the Wise Men of the East to worship him? It would seem that the Jews, who had been hitherto under the governance of reason [the divine reason of the Law], received a revelation from a reasonable being, that is, an Angel; but that the Gentiles, who knew not the right use of reason, were brought to the Lord, not by a voice, but by a sign, that is, by a star."

Compares and contrasts delightfully with blessed William Blake's Auguries of Innocence:
God appears, and God is light,
To those poor souls who dwell in night;
But does a human form display
To those who dwell in realms of day.

Warren’s Sarum Missal in English