Monday, December 8, 2008

The Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary

While the American prayer book has no black letter holy days, the English and Scots books abound in them. Elizabeth's Latin prayer book almost had one for every free day in the year. And while that might be just a little excessive, it is good to have them as they remind us of our history and that others before us have succeeded in the path which we attempt to follow.

But today is a little and maybe a great deal more of that. The red letter feast days of our Lady in the prayer book, the Purification and Annunciation, are really feasts of our Lord, but the black letter holy days are as uniquely hers as possible. Today, the feast of her conception, according to some liturgical scholars originated with the English in the eighth century. True or not, it has remained in the English calendar since the reign of Elizabeth I. I am particularly fond of it because of a story regarding my first real mentor and spiritual director in the faith. She found the feast delightful because in the Sarum missal the gospel for this day is the genealogies from St Matthew. It was wonderful, she thought, that God saw fit to have his divine son's human descent be from such a list of scoundrels. I share her view.

But in modern times, the feast has another point. It reminds us that the Church has always regarded life to have begun with conception and this is one of the two feasts in the calendar which point this out. If as Christians we are intended to choose life over death, then we must choose it for the truly innocent as well and regard all abortion not only as a sin but as a crime. The Christian life, the Biblical life demands sexual purity both in and outside of marriage. The very institution has as its end the protection of the children which are one of its major intentions. Civilization fall when they forget or ignore this. Ours, such as it is, may be on its way. Remembering the purpose of this feast and celebrating it just may be a step in preventing that.

Sunday, December 7, 2008


"The Canon of Scripture is perfect, and most abundantly of itself is sufficient for all things." St Vincent of Lerins

I am not now and never have been a big fan of "Bible Sunday." It has always been my conviction that the two parts of the historic liturgy most misunderstood of the reformers were the season of Advent and the Ember Days. That being said, it becomes apparent that classical Anglicans like all truly orthodox Christians can in no way under estimate their importance for keeping us individually and as tradition and Church from wandering off like lost sheep. Consequently I find myself turning to something which I wrote almost twenty years ago for the tiny Anglican Rite Jurisdiction of the Americas parish for which I was ordered deacon and priest. I have made some tiny edits, but it is essentially just what I wrote out one Sunday morning to go inside the bulletin for the purpose of deepening our folks appreciation of just who they were by baptism and how they were supposed to respond.

"Since the Scripture being of itself so deep and profound, all men do not understand it in one and the same sense, but divers men, diversely, this man and that man, this way and that way, expound and interpret the sayings thereof so that one's thinking, so many men, so many opinions almost may be gathered out of them . . . for the avoiding of error, the prophets and apostles must be expounded according to the rule of the ecclesiastical and catholic sense." Against Heresy, chapter ii.

"Within the Catholic Church, we hold that which hath been believed everywhere, always and of all men: for that is truly and properly Catholic, which comprehendeth all things in general after an universal manner. And that we shall do if we follow Universality, Antiquity, Consent.

"Universality shall we follow thus, if we profess that One Faith to be true which the whole Church throughout the world acknowledgeth and confesseth.

"Antiquity shall we follow, if we part not any whit from those senses which it is plain that our holy elders and fathers generally held.

"Consent shall we likewise follow, if in this very Antiquity itself, we hold the definitions and opinions of all, or at any rate almost all, the Priests and Doctors together."
Against Heresy. chapter ii.

The above passages from Against Heresy by st Vincent of Lerins are critical for understanding the true Anglican approach to the Catholic Faith. The English or Anglican Reformation, unlike that of the Continent, was essentially conservative. It was an attempt to do that thing which we are currently told in so many ways can not be done - to turn back the clock. The point of the Anglican Reformation was to return to the faith and practise of the earliest Church and not to invent a new faith, even one based upon a modern (to them) reading of the Holy Scriptures themselves. This can be seen in the Book of Common Prayer which, while it might have been compiled by Cranmer and his famous committee, was essentially a collection and translation as well as simplification of the same worship that had gone on in English parishes, cathedrals and monasteries from the time of the arrival of the earliest Christian in Britain.

John Jewel, the famous bishop of Salisbury in the reign of Elizabeth I, took largely the same tack in his defense of the Church of England. In a sermon preached at St. Paul's Cross on 26 November 1559 he stated that "if any learned man of our adversaries be able to bring any one sufficient sentence out of any old doctor or father, or out of any old general council, or out of the Holy Scripture, or any one example out of the primitive church for the space of six hundred years after Christ, in proof of the specifically Romish doctrines and practices, I will go over to him." This was the basis for his opus, the Apologia pro Ecclesia Anglicanae which achieved a theological status almost on a par with the Thirty Nine Articles. Archbishop Parker endorse a proposal for binding the Apology with the Catechism and the Articles and authorized as authoritative.

Queen Elizabeth I herself wrote and spoke in a similar manner. When writing to the Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand in reply to his letter thanking her for seeing to the safety and comfort of Queen Mary's bishops , she put her position plainly: "We and our people - thanks be to God - follow no novel and strange religion, but that very religion which is ordained by Christ, sanctioned by the primitive and Catholic Church and approved by the consentient mind and voice of the most early Fathers."

The similar opinion and expression can be found in almost all of the lights of the Anglican Reformation. Hooker, Andrewes, Laud all reflect a view that is directly related to the teaching of St Vincent as to the nature and content of the Catholic faith. And what they believed, we should also believe and allow our thinking processes to be shaped by it. Certainly that Anglican giant of the twentieth century, C. S. Lewis, did so. His introduction to St Athanasius's 'de Incarnatione' is a model of the same type of thinking. If we are going to be truly christian or truly Anglican, we must work ourselves around until we have the same habits of mind that we find in St Vincent seeking the ancient faith rather than modern error.