Eucharistic Quotes: Anglican  

Posted by Joe Rawls

Lancelot Andrewes (1555-1626) Response to Cardinal Bellarmine

Christ said "this is my body." He did not say "this is my body in this way". We are in agreement with you as to the end; the whole controversy is as to the method. As to the "This", we hold with firm faith that it is. As to the "this is in this way", (namely by the Transubstantiation of the bread into the body), as to the method whereby it happens that it is, by means of In or With or Under or By transition there is no word expressed [in Scripture]. And because there is no word, we rightly make it not of faith; we place it perhaps among the theories of the school, but not among the articles of the faith...We believe no less than you that the presence is real. Concerning the method of the presence, we define nothing rashly, and I add, we do not anxiously inquire, any more than how the blood of Christ washes us in Baptism, any more than how the human and divine natures are united in one Person in the Incarnation of Christ.

Edward Bouverie Pusey (1800-1882) The Holy Eucharist a Comfort to the Penitent

...while I believe the consecrated elements to become, by virtue of his consecratory words, truly and really, yet spiritually and in an ineffable way, His Body and Blood, I learnt also to withhold my thoughts as to the mode of this great Mystery, but as a Mystery to adore it. With the Fathers, then, and our own great Divines...I could not but speak of the consecrated elements as being what, since He has so called them, I believe them to become His Body and Blood...

M. R. Carpenter-Garnier (The Divine Guest)

The principal underlying the Incarnation is that spirit is expressed through matter, the inward through the outward, the invisible through the visible. So God became man. So Christ entered into human life, and lived and loved as a man...It is in line with this that, when he gives to his people this divine gift, this gift of himself, he should use the same method. As once at Bethlehem he hid the divine glory through uniting with it the weakness of our nature, so now that self-same life he hides under simple material forms. It is, then, to God Incarnate that we come in Holy communion.

Evelyn Underhill (1875-1941) Worship

In the Christian sacrifice, the Logos enters the time-series and is self-given under fugitive species to the creature, that by feeding on Reality the creature may be transformed: receiving by infusion the gift of charity to strengthen, purify, and at last supernaturalize his own imperfect love, and thus bring a little nearer that transfiguration of the world in Christ which is the creative goal of Christian worship.

Rowan Williams (1950- ) Resurrection: Interpreting the Easter Gospel

The Eucharist demonstrates that material reality can become charged with Jesus' life, and so proclaimed hope for the whole world of matter. The material, habitually used as a means of exclusion, of violence, can become a means of communication. Matter as hoarded or dominated or exploited speaks of the distortion and ultimate severance of relationship, and as such can only be a sign of death...The matter of the Eucharist, carrying the presence of the risen Jesus, can only be a sign of life, of triumph over the death of exclusion and isolation...If the Eucharist is a sign of the ultimate Lordship of Jesus, his "freedom" to unite to himself the whole material order as a symbol of grace, it speaks of creation itself, and the place of Jesus in creation.

Marilyn McCord Adams (1943- ) Christ and Horrors

God' unitive aims in creation lead not only to the evolution of the material into the personal, but also to Incarnation, to God's expressing divine love for material creation by becoming a human being. But God loves material creation by loving us. The Inner Teacher is omnipresent and ever helpful but difficult for personal animals to recognize or pay attention to. As animals we focus easily on what is sense-perceptible, on what we can see and touch and handle, on what is concrete and locatable in space and time. To grow up and flourish as human beings, we need embodied persons to care for us, to be role models of how to be embodied persons, of how to personify matter in wholesome ways. In the Incarnation, God enters into personal intimacy with material creation, not just through His Divine nature and across the metaphysical size-gap, but through His human nature. Jesus relates to Peter, James and John, to the women suffering from hemorrhage and spinal curvature, to blind men and lepers, embodied person to embodied person...Christ's earthly career climaxing in His passion, death, and resurrection...does not bring an end to our need or the benefit to us as human beings of contacting God, embodied person to embodied person--of seeing, touching and handling God in a determinate place and time. Our need for concrete interaction is all the more urgent given that our being embodied persons in a material world such as this exposes us to horrors. To suppose that God--even God Incarnate--is aloof from horrors while we continue to be exposed to them is alienating. If we are vulnerable to God and to the world, but God is now impassible in all His natures, then God is no longer meeting us on our own level as He once did.

Wouldn't, why wouldn't, a God Who loved material creation, and who loves us as a way of loving material creation, want--in Luther's language--to continue the Incarnation by becoming really present for us in the very sacrament that rivets our attention on horrors by showing forth the Lord's death?

Daily Readings from the Rule of Benedict  

Posted by Joe Rawls

I've recently resumed the practice of reading a short excerpt from St Benedict's monastic Rule every day. I don't read the whole thing, just those parts I think are most relevant to a married Anglican layperson living in the so-called real world. So, for example, I skip Chapter 9, which deals with the arrangement of the Night Office (Vigils). The Book of Common Prayer makes no provision for a Night Office, and if it did, I wouldn't get up to do it anyway. But if you ever visit a monastery where it is done, by all means go to it, even if just for one time. The trauma of getting up at such a Godly hour shocks the psyche into being more receptive to the message of the psalms and canticles than it might otherwise be on a full night's sleep.

But I digress. The suggested readings below are based on the RB 1980, published in the same year by the Liturgical Press. This edition of the Rule contains the original Latin text, an excellent English translation on the facing page, and enough critical apparatus to keep a graduate student amused for years. IMHO, this is the gold standard for English-language critical editions of the Rule. The numbers in the citations refer to the versification in this edition. So, good reading and Pax et bonum.

Day 1 Prologue: 1-20

Day 2 Prologue: 21-38

Day 3 Prologue: 39-end

Day 4 Chapter 2 : 1-22

Day 5 Chapter 2 : 23-end

Day 6 Chapter 3

Day 7 Chapter 4: 1-43

Day 8 Chapter 4: 44-end

Day 9 Chapter 5

Day 10 Chapter 6

Day 11 Chapter 7 : 1-30

Day 12 Chapter 7: 31-43

Day 13 Chapter 7: 44-54

Day 14 Chapter 7: 55-end

Day 15 Chapters 19 and 20

Day 16 Chapter 27

Day 17 Chapter 31

Day 18 Chapters 33 and 34

Day 19 Chapter 36

Day 20 Chapter 48: 1-13

Day 21 Chapter 48: 14-end

Day 22 Chapter 49

Day 23 Chapter 52

Day 24 Chapter 53

Day 25 Chapter 57

Day 26 Chapter 58

Day 27 Chapter 62

Day 28 Chapter 68

Day 29 Chapter 71

Day 30 Chapter 72

Day 31 Chapter 73

St Ignatius Brianchaninov on the Jesus Prayer  

Posted by Joe Rawls

Ignatius lived from 1807 to 1867. He was born into a noble landowning Russian family. After study at a military academy at St Petersburg he received a commission in the Tsar's army as an engineer. A few years later he resigned due to illness, and after recovering his health became a monk. He was soon recognized for his piety and became abbot of a monastery near St Petersburg when he was only 26. At the age of 50 he was consecrated a bishop but quite sensibly resigned his bishopric after only four years to become a hermit (Anglican bishops take note). He spent the remainder of his life as a spiritual father, often guiding his directees by means of letter-writing. He was canonized by the Russian Church in 1988. Here are two of his comments on the Jesus Prayer:

The name of our Lord Jesus Christ is a divine name. The power and effect of that name are divine, omnipotent and salvific, and transcend our ability to comprehend it. With faith therefore, with confidence and sincerity, and with great piety and fear ought we proceed to the doing of the great work which God has entrusted to us: to train ourselves in prayer by using the name of our Lord Jesus Christ...

Novices need more time in order to train themselves in prayer. It is impossible to teach this supreme virtue shortly after entering the monastery of following the first few steps in asceticism. Asceticism needs both time and gradual progress, so that the ascetic can mature for prayer in every respect. In order that a flower might bloom or the fruit grow on a tree, the tree must first be planted and left to develop; thus also does prayer grow out of the soil of the other virtues and nowhere else. The monk will not quickly gain mastery of his mind, nor will he in a short time accustom it to abide in the words of the prayer as if enclosed in a prison. Pulled hither and thither by its acquired predilections, impressions, memories and worries, the novice's mind constantly breaks its salvific chains and strays from the narrow to the wide path. It prefers to wander stray aimlessly and mindlessly over great expanses, though this be damaging to him and cause him great loss. The passions, those moral infirmities of human nature, are the principal cause of inattentiveness and absentmindedness in prayer...The passions are brought under control and mortified little by little by means of true obedience, as well as by self-reproach and humility--these are the virtues upon which successful prayer is built. Concentration, which is accessible to man, is granted by God in good time to every struggler in piety and asceticism who by persistence and ardor proves the sincerity of his desire to acquire prayer.

Animal Saints  

Posted by Joe Rawls

Here are some excerpts from a great post published today by Christopher on his site at The title is "Creation laughs back: animals, theology and animal saints".

I now know what others must feel, after having been laughed at for mentioning animal theology in a conversation. I have long heard others talk about derisive and dismissive encounters with "serious" theologians and scholars when the topic of animal theology is mentioned.

Considering animals in relationship to God is not something extra or foreign to Christianity. In my opinion, a serious doctrine of Creation cannot ignore the rest of the living world and the Creation as a whole and finally be Christian. Even rocks glorify God. And frankly, neither can a complete doctrine of Redemption or Sanctification. Indeed, to set up one's "serious" theology in such a way that one can ignore, dismiss, or deride creatures great and small, organic and inorganic, is a sign of the Fall and the effects of sin, alienation, and division. The rest of Creation pays dearly and regularly for our lack of relational recognition and failures in thankfulness...

When I'm driving and I notice a dead deer, raccoon, seagull, squirrel, or the like, I offer a prayer of thanks to God for the life of this creature and that God will greet him or her in His Kingdom...

I am part of a strand of tradition, the Benedictine, that honors this connection to the rest of Creation and is not threatened by the suggestion that God cares for each creature. A raven, after all, is God's messenger to Abba Benedict in his early monastic life and is often shown in iconography as friend and companion. We may not know the name of that raven, but given the desert penchant to understand that Christian life was to be lived in return to the Garden, I can imagine that Abba Benedict gave the raven a name. And as the icon shows, I'm certainly within tradition to imagine that not only Abba Benedict, but also the raven is raised up, is a saint.

Eucharistic Quotes: Roman Catholic  

Posted by Joe Rawls

Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274)

This is what happens by divine power in this sacrament; for the whole substance of bread is converted into the whole substance of the body of Christ, and the whole substance of wine into the whole substance of the blood of Christ. Hence this conversion is not formal, but substantial; nor is it contained within the categories of natural motion, but may be called by its proper name, transubstantiation.

Teresa of Avila (1515-1582)

In the presence of Jesus in the Holy Sacrament we ought to be like the Blessed in heaven before the Divine Essence.

Odo Casel (1886-1948)

When we go with Christ in his way he becomes contemporary with us. He is neither past nor to come but present to us; he is always with us. And not only his person but also his saving act belongs to this present. There can be no deeper communion of living than that we should share the essential life and action of another.

Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (Vatican II)

...the liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; at the same time it is the fountain from which all her power flows.

Catechism of the Catholic Church

1325. The Eucharist is the efficacious sign and sublime cause of that communion in the divine life and that unity of the People of God by which the church is kept in being. It is the culmination both of God's action sanctifying the world in Christ and of the worship men offer to Christ and through him to the Father in the Holy Spirit.
1396. Those who receive the Eucharist are united more closely to Christ. Through it Christ unites them to all the faithful in one body--the Church. Communion renews, strengthens, and deepens this incorporation into the Church, already achieved by Baptism. In Baptism we have been called to form but one body. The Eucharist fulfills this call: "The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread" (1 Cor 10: 16-17).
1404. The Church knows that the Lord comes even now in his Eucharist and that he is there in our midst. However, his presence is veiled. Therefore we celebrate the Eucharist "awaiting the blessed hope and the coming of our savior, Jesus Christ, asking to share in your glory when every tear will be wiped away. On that day we shall see you, our God, as you are. We shall become like you and praise you forever through Christ our Lord.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta (1910-1997)

The humility of Jesus can be seen in the crib, in the exile of Jesus, in the inability to make people understand him, in the desertion of his apostles, in the hatred of his persecutors, in all the terrible suffering and death of his passion, and now in his permanent state of humility in the tabernacle, where he has reduced himself to such a small particle of bread that the priest can hold him with two fingers. The more we empty ourselves, the more room we give God to fill us.

When you look at the crucifix, you understand how much Jesus loved you then. When you look at the Sacred Host you understand how much Jesus loves you now.

Eucharistic Quotes: Patristic  

Posted by Joe Rawls

Here is a string of short texts dealing with the Eucharist that I think would be useful to have in one place. They are not meant to be a research tool for academic theology but rather as aids for spiritual contemplation. Regular participation in the Eucharist is a crucial part of my own spiritual practice and I go on the assumption that Jesus is somehow really present in the consecrated bread and wine. When we receive the Eucharist we establish a mystical but very real connection with Jesus, and since Jesus is divine, with God himself. The Eucharist is thus a path to theosis or union with God. I will try to follow this up with other posts dealing with Anglican and Roman Catholic Eucharistic teaching.

Ignatius of Antioch (d. between 110-117)

Each one individually and all of you together are united in one and the same faith in Jesus Christ, Son of Man and Son of God, in obedience to the bishop and the priests, in harmony, breaking one loaf of bread which is the medicine of immortality, an antidote to death that gives eternal life in Jesus Christ.

Irenaeus of Lyons (130-208)

far as we are concerned, our thinking accords with the Eucharist, and the Eucharist in its turn confirms our thinking. We offer to God what is his own, as we proclaim the communion and union of flesh and Spirit. For in the same way that earthly bread, after having received the invocation of God, is no longer ordinary bread but Eucharist, made up of two components, one earthly the other heavenly, so our bodies that share in the Eucharist are no longer corruptible, because they have the hope of the resurrection.

Ephraim of Syria (306-373)

Fire and the Spirit are in our baptism. In the bread and the cup also are fire and the Spirit.

Cyril of Jerusalem (315-387)

We pray God to send the Holy Spirit on the gifts laid here, to make the bread the body of Christ and the wine the blood of Christ. For the Holy Spirit sanctifies and transforms all that he touches.

Gregory of Nyssa (330-395)

What then is this remedy? Nothing other than that glorious body which showed itself stronger than death and has become the source of life for us. Just as a little leaven, according to the Apostle's words, is mixed with all the dough, so the body that was raised by God to immortality, once it is introduced into our body, wholly changes it and transforms it into his own substance...

The Word of God...once it became incarnate...provided his body with the means of subsistence in the usual suitable ways: he maintained its substance with the help of...bread. Even in normal conditions, when one sees bread, one sees in a sense the human body, since bread absorbed by the body becomes the body itself. So here, the body in which God had become incarnate, since it was fed on bread, was in a sense identical with the bread--the food transforming itself, as we have said, to take on the nature of the body. It was recognized, in fact, that this glorious flesh possessed the property common to all human beings: like them it was maintained with the help of bread. But this body partook of the divine dignity because of the indwelling of the Word. We are therefore entitled to believe that the bread hallowed by the Word of God is transformed to become the body of the Word...

As the bread transformed into that body was thereby raised to divine power, a similar change happens to the bread of the Eucharist. In the former case the grace of the Word hallowed the body that drew its substance from bread, and in a sense was itself bread. Likewise in the Eucharist the bread is hallowed by the Word of God and prayer...It is transformed at once into his expressed in these words: "This is my body"...

That is why, in the economy of grace, he gives himself as seed to all the faithful. His flesh composed of bread and wine is blended with their bodies to enable human beings, thanks to their union with his immortal body, to share in the condition of incorruptibility.

Ambrose (334-397)

You here it said that every time the sacrifice is offered, the Lord's death, resurrection and ascension are represented, the forgiveness of sins is offered, and yet do you not receive this bread of life every day? Anyone who is wounded looks for healing. For us it is a wound to be liable to sin. Our healing lies in the adorable heavenly sacrament...

If you receive it every day, every day becomes for you Today.

If Christ is yours today, he rises for you today. Today has come.

John Chrysostrom (344-407)

On high, the armies of the angels are giving praise. Here below, in the Church, the human choir takes up after them the same doxology. Above us, angels of fire make the thrice-holy hymn resound magnificently. Here below is raised the echo of their hymn. The festival of heaven's citizens is united with that of the inhabitants of earth in a single thanksgiving, a single upsurge of happiness, a single chorus of joy.

Just as the head and the body constitute a single human being, so Christ and the Church constitute a single whole...This union is effected through the food that he has given us in his desire to show the love he has for us. For this reason he united himself intimately with us, he blended his body with ours like leaven, so that we should become one single entity, as the body is joined to the head.

Do you wish to honor the body of the Saviour? Do not despise it when it is naked. Do not honor it in church with silk vestments while outside you are leaving it numb with cold and naked. He who said, "This is my body", and made it so by his word, is the same that said, "You saw me hungry and you gave me no food. As you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me." Honor him then by sharing your property with the poor. For what God needs is not golden chalices but golden souls.

Getting Our Priorities Straight  

Posted by Joe Rawls

The following comment by Fr John-Julian of the Order of Julian of Norwich (a small Anglican religious order) appeared October 22, 2007 in Derek Olsen's excellent site Haligweorc. I'm reproducing it here almost in full because I think it can stand being read, marked, and inwardly digested by the Marys and Marthas of the church--especially the Marthas, who tend to control the institutional aspects of it. Take it away, Father:

I went into my last parish with the commitment that I would place sacramental ministry (including its quality, nature, and frequency) in absolute primary place; secondly, I would preach/teach solid history, theology, and prayer--in the pulpit and in adult forums. I would refuse to promote other projects or programs of social service or justice or "mission" (including those of the diocese or the national church--and I filled the circular file with a whole lot of brochures).

Attendance almost doubled in 18 months! Pledges more than doubled. A ten-year loan was paid off in two years.

It took a little less than two years of this kind of focussed ministry before the questions started to be asked: "Shouldn't we be doing some kind of outreach ministry? Is there some way we can apply the Gospel to the community outside our parish? Could we undertake support for a missionary? (etc)".

It was on-the-ground proof of my conviction that deepening spirituality and theological learning will automatically produce a concern for social justice and action. (And my second conviction is that primary emphasis on good works does not tend to produce deepening spirituality and/or learning).

I know this position is considered heretical by many, but for me there really is a cause-effect paradigm here...True spiritual development will eventually not ALLOW one to ignore the social justice needs.

Fun and Edifying Eucharistic Theology Quiz  

Posted by Joe Rawls

Eucharistic theology
created with
You scored as Orthodox

You are Orthodox, worshiping the mystery of the Holy Trinity in the great liturgy whereby Jesus is present through the Spirit in a real yet mysterious way, a meal that is also a sacrifice.













Booknote: The Uncreated Light  

Posted by Joe Rawls

The Uncreated Light: an iconographical study of the Transfiguration in the Eastern Church, by Solrunn Nes. Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 2007.

A Norwegian Roman Catholic iconographer? But of course! In this reworking of her University of Bergen master's thesis in art history, Solrunn Nes gives us not only artistic analysis but a very useful and concise review of the Eastern Christian view of salvation history.

The Transfiguration has always occupied a position of primary importance in Eastern spirituality, and its feastday on August 6 is celebrated with great solemnity. By contrast, it was a minor liturgical event in the pre-Vatican II Catholicism of my boyhood. Jesus and some apostles went up a mountain and something weird happened to Jesus. After the Council, the significance of the Transfiguration had nowhere to go but down.

Nes' main point is that in Jesus divinity and humanity have been fully united. The light emanating from Jesus during the Transfiguration is his divinity, uncreated light pervading his human flesh. This divine light--understood as a real manifestation of God and not a created thing--is not limited to Jesus. Human beings who have attained great intimacy with God sometimes manifest the uncreated light as well. This is the traditional Eastern interpretation of the glow radiating from Moses' face after he came down from Mt Sinai. St Simeon the New Theologian (949-1022) manifested this light several times and (atypically) wrote about it. Perhaps the best-known account of this phenomenon is the description left by the 19th century Russian Motovilov of his meeting with his spiritual father St Seraphim of Sarov.

The artistic depictions discussed by Nes include two mosaics (from St Catherine's monastery in Sinai and Sant Apollinare in Classe, Ravenna), an Ottonian manuscript illumination (10th century imperial Germany) and wood-panel icons from medieval Russia. These latter are by Theophane the Greek (reproduced above) and Andrei Rublev.

The theological points of which these pieces are artistic expressions can be summarized as follows:

  • God became human so that human beings can become Godlike.
  • The light manifested by Jesus during the Transfiguration prefigured the light he manifested when he rose from the dead. That light, in turn, prefigures the light we will manifest at the general resurrection at the end of time.
  • The general resurrection is not limited to humans but will include the entire cosmos, which will also glow with the uncreated light.
The process of becoming Godlike is called theosis or divinization. Theosis is a long, gradual process which begins in this life and continues after death. Christians can attain theosis (or begin to do so) by loving others, by living a life of prayer, and by participating in the sacraments, especially Baptism and the Eucharist.

A very valuable part of Nes' book is the 51-page appendix which is a compendium of biblical and patristic texts dealing with the uncreated light.

You might also be interested in another book by Nes, The Mystical Language of Icons, also published by Eerdmans (2004). This book contains many full-color reproductions of her icons.

Anglican Theology: Follow the Bouncing Balls  

Posted by Joe Rawls

The jolly lad to the left is Richard Hooker. Richard lived from 1553 to 1600. He was ordained in the Church of England and later appointed by Elizabeth I as Master of the Temple, making him the chaplain of the Inns of Court, a key part of the English legal education system. After ten years he moved to a country parish near Canterbury where, in the remaining five years of his life, he managed to crank out his magnum opus, The Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity. Reading this is a tough slog, in that it comes off as Shakespeare written by a lawyer. Nonetheless, Hooker is considered the first great Anglican theologian. Even Pope Clement VIII was impressed by his work.

Hooker is widely credited with affirming that Anglican theology is based upon Scripture, Tradition and Reason, going so far as to create the analogy of a three-legged stool. Alas, this catchy image has proved to be something of an intellectual urban legend, for Hooker never said anything quite like that. See a recent post by Tobias Haller for a succinct discussion of the holy Hooker and his intellectual furniture.

Anglican theology has always struck me as more like trying to juggle three balls at once. The juggling act is complicated by the fact that, depending on the theologian, one of the balls is usually bigger than the others.

Evangelicals typically pay more attention to Scripture than to either Reason or Tradition. The Anglican Communion is on the verge of imploding in large part because some evangelicals, unable to compromise on " the authority of Scripture", are unwilling to gather around the altar with gays, lesbians, and those who support their inclusion in the church. Recently Nigerian Bishop Isaac Orama let fly with an exceptionally vicious example of where this can all lead which can be read about here.

Anglo-Catholics tend to give pride of place to Tradition, especially those aspects of it concerned with the sacraments, with liturgy, and with spirituality. As with evangelicals, there are several varieties of Anglo-Catholics, some of whom are less brain-dead than others. For some AC's, unfortunately, Tradition boils down to lace surplices, fiddleback chasubles, semi-closeted homosexuality, the Anglican Missal, and no girls allowed in the sanctuary (except for the altar guild, of course).

Liberal or broad-church Anglicans emphasize human Reason (with experience as a subset of reason) as the key factor in the interpretation of Scripture and theological Tradition. Members of this faction who've gone off the rails would include the late Bishop Pike, the present-day Bishop Spong, and those sympathetic with the work of the Jesus Seminar. Thes folks assume the validity of secular rationalism and assert that Christianity must adjust itself to post-Enlightenment worldviews or else become irrelevant. The net result, IMHO, is Unitarianism in drag.

Bearing this in mind, I am quite willing to admit that, concerning the issue of homosexuality, reason/experience trumps both Scripture and Tradition. Many Anglicans, both gay and straight, point to the existence of committed gay and lesbian monogamous relationships (usually in the face of overwhelming societal disapproval) as evidence that the anti-gay sanctions proclaimed for so long by the church must, at the very least, be rethought.

An excellent statement of this position can be found in an essay by Luke Timothy Johnson appearing in Commonweal, long one of the main house-organs for thinking Roman Catholics. Johnson is a Catholic himself, a professor at Emory University, and a former Benedictine monk. He left the monastery to marry a divorcee with six kids. They're still an item.

Johnson's essay is available here.

Booknote: The Essential Writings of Christian Mysticism  

Posted by Joe Rawls

The Essential Writings of Christian Mysticism, edited and with an introduction by Bernard McGinn. New York, The Modern Library, 2006

McGinn, a Roman Catholic priest and professor emeritus at the University of Chicago divinity school, has done us a great service in compiling this anthology of about 90 excerpts from the best literature on Christian contemplative spirituality. Most of the major figures are represented, beginning with Origen and ending with Merton. The eastern church contributes pieces by Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory Palamas, Simeon the New Theologian, and several others. Not unexpectedly, western writers predominate; one can make the acquaintance of Bernard, Eckhart, John of the Cross, Julian of Norwich, and many others. Regretably, the only Russian piece is a snippet from The Way of the Pilgrim.

At $20.00 in paperback the book is a very good buy and suitable for reading in bits and pieces when one is pressed for time. Of course, making time for a more leisurely read is greatly to be preferred.

I'll close by sharing three favorite excerpts.

Evagrius Ponticus

One of the brethren owned only a book of the Gospels. He sold this and gave the money for the support of the poor. He made a statement that deserves remembrance: " I have sold the very word that speaks to me saying: ' Sell your possessions and give to the poor ' (Mt 19:21)."

Anonymous, 14th Century Germany

Learn how to let go of God through God, the hidden God through the naked God. Be willing to lose a penny in order to find a guilder. Get rid of the water so that you can make wine... If you want to avoid things, learn to suffer; if you want to eat of the honey, you should not be put off by the bee's sting. If you want to catch fish, learn to get wet; if you want to see Jesus on the shore, learn to sink down into the sea first.

Thomas Merton

Contemplation is the highest expression of man's intellectual and spiritual life. It is that life itself, fully awake, fully active, fully aware that it is alive. It is spiritual wonder. It is spontaneous awe at the sacredness of life, of being. It is gratitude for life, for awareness and for being. It is a vivid realization of the fact that life and being in us proceed from an invisible, transcendent and infinetly abundant Source. Contemplation is, above all, awareness of the reality of that Source. It knows the Source, obscurely, inexplicably, but with a certitude that goes beyond both reason and beyond simple faith. For contemplation is a kind of spiritual vision to which both reason and faith aspire, by their very nature, because without it they must always remain incomplete. Yet contemplation is not vision because it sees " without seeing " and knows " without knowing ". It is a more profound depth depth of faith, a knowledge too deep to be grasped in images, in words or even in clear concepts. It can be suggested by words, by symbols, but in the very moment of trying to indicate what it knows the contemplative mind takes back what it has said, and denies what it has affirmed. For in contemplation we know by " unknowing. " Or, better, we know beyond all knowing or " unknowing."

St Benedict the Bridge Builder  

Posted by Joe Rawls

The image to the left is the fruit of my first (and quite possibly last) foray into icon-production. It was done during 2004 as part of the Lenten series held at Trinity Episcopal church in Santa Barbara, California. I'm a member of Trinity and the workshop was led by Colleen Sterne, who has since been ordained a priest. About tow dozen or more people made icons which were then placed in a corner of the church and blessed during Easter Vigil. They remained there until Pentecost Sunday.

An already-existing icon of St Benedict was computer-scanned by my wife. This yielded a large image which I taped to a piece of particle board with carbon paper underneath. I then traced the image onto the board and colored it with acrylic paint. I customized the final design by superimposing a Canterbury cross (which conveniently appeared at that time on the cover of Forward Movement) and an open book snitched from a Christos Pantocrator icon in an Orthodox church supply catalog.

If you are even remotely familiar with the canons of Orthodox iconography, you will probably be screaming "fake!" or at least "inauthentic!" at this point. The techinical execution of the piece also leaves something to be desired. I freely acknowledge all these sins. However, the icon does manage to visually express the convergence of several strands of my personal spirituality, a convergence that has been brewing for many years.

Benedict has always been accepted as a saint by the Eastern churches, since he lived and wrote long before the split between the Eastern and Western churches in 1054. A number of (much better) icons of St Benedict exist and can be found on the internet. In 985 a Benedictine monastery was founded on Mt Athos, the very heartland of Orthodox monasticism, by Italian monks from Amalfi. At that time Amalfi was a major economic power in the eastern Mediterranean, engaged in much trade with the Byzantine empire. The monastery lasted until 1287, almost miraculously surviving both the Great Schism and the sacking of Constantinople by the crusaders in 1204.

Closer to home, at least spiritually, the influence of Benedictine monasticism on the medieval English church was vast, beginning with Augustine of Canterbury. About half of the English cathedrals were also monastic abbeys, and a great many bishops and archbishops were monks. This influence did not die with the break with Rome, since Cranmer's first Book of Common Prayer is in many respects a condensation of the monastic offices outlined in the Rule of Benedict into the services of Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer. The Oxford Movement of the 19th century opened the door for the reappropriation of many other aspects of Benedictine spirituality, a process that continues unabated in the Anglican Communion today.

All this is suggested graphically in the icon. Benedict wears an Orthodox monastic habit. In his right hand he holds a Canterbury cross, an ancient symbol of English Christianity. His left hand holds a copy of his monastic Rule, opened to the first word of the Latin text: obsculta, which means "listen."

Praying With the Trinity Icon  

Posted by Joe Rawls

I've come up with a simple kind of contemplative prayer using the Rublev Trinity icon that I'd like to put on the table for anyone who might be interested. But first, a few words about the iconographer and the icon itself.

Andrei Rublev

Little is known of Andrei's life, including his dates. He is thought to have been born in 1360 (or perhaps 1370) and he died on January 29, 1430 (or was it 1427?). What is known is that the Russia into which he was born was a turbulent place, rent by Mongol oppression and by internecine feuding among the various Russian polities. It is also clear that Andrei somehow transcended this turmoil to become one of the church's greatest iconographers.

Andrei became a monk at a young age, entering the Monastery of the Holy Trinity (also known as Zagorsk), which was founded by St. Sergius of Radonezh, one of the great figures in Russian church history and who is also included in the calendar of the Episcopal Church. He is thought to have written the Trinity icon about 1408 during a restoration of Zagorsk after it was burned by the Mongols (in Orthodoxy, one does not paint an icon, one writes an icon). The icon is now displayed at the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow.

The Icon

Scripturally the icon is rooted in the first part of Genesis 18, which describes Abraham playing host to three heavenly messengers. Because of this, the icon is frequently named "The Hospitality of Abraham". The Church Fathers consistently interpreted the Hebrew Scriptures as foreshadowing developments which would be fully played out in the life and resurrection of Jesus. The three beings,they thought, were a direct manifestation of the Trinity to Abraham.

The icon depicts the three divine Persons as angels. The middle figure is clearly meant to represent Jesus because his garments are iconographically identical to those worn by Jesus in other renditions. The reddish-brown undergarment (symbolizing earth) is overlaid by by a dark blue cloak representing heaven. Jesus, being a union of the divine and the human, unites in his own person heaven and earth.

The figure on the left (as you look at the icon) represents God the Father. His garments are rendered, in a truely fascinating way, in an irridescent sheen of orange and blue which is near-unique in eastern iconography.

The figure on the right symbolizes the Holy Spirit, dressed in a sky-blue garment with alight green cloak representing the earth's vegetation. The Spirit, acting through the Father and the Son, holds all of creation in life.

The Son and Holy Spirit incline their heads towards the Father, showing that they each proceed from him. Their unity in love is shown by their being equally spaced around the table, all three on the same level. The table itself symbolizes the Eucharist.

The Icon Prayer

Find yourself a good reproduction of the icon (many can be downloaded from the net). Assume your usual position for contemplative prayer. Position the icon so that you can look at it comfortably. During the prayer you will alternately focus your attention on each of the three figure plus on the icon as a whole.

Focusing on the left-hand figure, say: God the Creator, have mercy on us.

Now, shifting focus to the middle figure, say: God the Redeemer, have mercy on us.

Shifting focus to the right-hand figure, say: God the Sanctifier, have mercy on us.

Finally, focusing on the entire icon, say: Holy Trinity, one God, have mercy on us.

If your are more of a traditionalist, you may of course substitue "Father", "Son", and "Holy Spirit" for "Creator", "Redeemer", and "Sanctifier".

Spend a set block of time saying the prayer repetitively, much as you would do with the Jesus Prayer.

Invitations to Lambeth: Much Ado About Little  

Posted by Joe Rawls

The invitations to Lambeth 2008--specifically who got one and who got left out--have generated much ecclesiastical dish, a good bit of heat, but little light.

Integrity and many of its supporters are calling for the American bishops to boycott the meeting because Gene Robinson of New Hampshire wasn't invited. Archbishop Akinola of Nigeria threatens to boycott Lambeth because Martyn Minns, his agent in the US, was snubbed by the Archbishop of Canterbury. The Ugandans have already said that they're sitting this one out. Other elements of the Global South may well follow suit. I didn't get an invitation either, but of course I'm not a bishop. If I had one, would I go?

At first blush, Lambeth 08 doesn't sound all that interesting. Lots of Bible study, plus workshops on episcopal leadership, whatever one might imagine that to be. Perhaps on the last day, right after the group photo, they'll form a gigantic circle on the University of Kent athletic field, join hands, and sing "Kumbaya". If I were spending 3 weeks in England, I'd experience much more spiritual growth by attending Evensong at St. Pauls,' High Mass at All Saints Margaret Street, hanging out at the British Museum, or eating lots of Indian food (not necessarily in that order). Not getting invited to this thing is sort of like being in high school and not getting invited to a party thrown by a bunch of geeks who drink Red Bull and go to Star Trek conventions.

However (and there's usually a however in these things), when one takes a wider view, +Gene is still a serving bishop, the other bishops in the Episcopal Church have their invites, and big chunks of the extremist evangelical faction are poised to stay away. From my viewpoint, that's a net gain, especially considering how things looked right after the Primates' communique in February. A progressive boycott would leave the field to whatever reactionaries might show up, plus the rather bland types who put maintaining the institution above either gay rights or doctrinal orthodoxy.

So,if I were a bishop, I'd go to Lambeth, speak my piece, try not to look at my watch too often, and schedule an extra week for Indian food.

Booknote: Short Trip to the Edge  

Posted by Joe Rawls

Short Trip to the Edge: where earth meets heaven--a pilgrimage. By Scott Cairns. HarperSanFrancisco, 2007.

The author teaches creative writing at the University of Missouri-Columbia. He's a convert to the Greek Orthodox church by way of the Presbyterians and Episcopalians--a lot of that is going on these days. The book relates three pilgrimages he made to Mt. Athos during the course of a sabattical year.

Cairns has been practising the Jesus Prayer for ten years or so but has gotten to the point where he feels like he is making no progress at all. He thinks that if he can find a spiritual father--a spiritual director, only more so--at one of the Athonite monasteries, he can give his spiritual life a good jump-start. This is the basic plot of the book, which is loaded with colorful descriptions of monastic life, even more colorful characters, and beautiful renderings of the rugged Mt. Athos landscape.

Cairns visits several monasteries and has talks with a number of monks, one of which I quote from in my post on the Jesus Prayer. In the end, he doesn't find one single spiritual father, but rather realizes that he has many. His spiritual practice is indeed deepened, though not in the spectacular way he may have been seeking at the outset.

His 14 year-old son accompanies him on the last pilgrimage and there are several genuinely touching scenes of father and son at all-night vigils, hiking along the trails between monasteries, and the like. Quality time, indeed.

On the more negative side, there are a few incidents of the occasionally rough treatment of guests to which visitors to Mt.Athos are sometimes subjected. Once he has to spend the night in an old storeroom where non-Orthodox guests are consigned. When the guestmaster finds out he's only a convert to Orthodoxy, apparently that means he's not Orthodox enough. On another occasion, a guest (who doesn't quite have it all together) is receiving communion during a Liturgy when he suddenly flails his arms about and spills some of the consecrated wine on his shirt and on the floor as well. The monks take him aside and make him take off his shirt, nwhich is then burned. Another monk then pours a flammable liquid over the wine spilled on the floor and sets it on fire. We read in the Rule of Benedict that all guests are to be recieved as Christ. For some eastern monks, apparently, some guests are to be received as Christ was by Pilate.

The Jesus Prayer  

Posted by Joe Rawls

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, have mercy on me

Jesus, mercy


Thes are all variations (and not an exhuastive list at that) of the Jesus Prayer, one of the underpinnings of eastern Christian spiritual practice which is gaining increasing popularity among non-Orthodox Christians in the West.
The prayer is biblically rooted in 1 Thessalonians 5:17, "Pray without ceasing." It is alluded to in the Sayings of the Desert Fathers and becomes firmly rooted in Orthodox monasticism by the 7th century. The lives of many monks, especially hermits, revolve around the constant repetition of the Jesus Prayer. But it can become a vital pathway to contemplation for those of us who are not monks.
Because the prayer is short, it can be said during odd moments of free time in the course of an otherwise hectic day. I myself say it while walking my dog or when driving mto work. While stopped at intersections, I focus on individuals driving in the opposite direction and say, "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, have mercy on him (or her)." The prayer can be easily customized into an intercessory prayer; simply fill in the blank after "have mercy on..." with whomever it is you want to remember.
But of course, it is best to set aside blocks of time to do the prayer. You should find yourself a quiet room; for some folks a quiet dark room will work even better. Find a chair that will let you sit up straight. Closing your eyes might help. Bishop Kallistos says you should not use an icon because that would be distracting. I cheat. I have an icon of Jesus, a detail of an original from the monastery of Hilandar on Mt. Athos. It helps me, but then, who am I?
When your are ready, simply begin saying the version of the prayer you have chosen. That's basically all ther is to it. It's not that complicated. Sure.
When I do the prayer, I try to stay focused on the human-divine person of Jesus as our own direct link to God. Ifind that if I focus consciously on the words, I have a better chance of reducing the background mental static of random thoughts and well-loved obsessions that interfere with prayer--what our Buddhist friends call "the monkey-mind."
When you first begin the prayer, you may want to experiment with different versions of it until you find one that works best for you. Once this is chosen, you should stick with that one particular version. Some monk or other has said something about frequently transplanted saplings not thriving, which makes sense to me.
How many times should you say the Jesus prayer? We read in The Way of the Pilgrim about the pilgrim starting off with a thousand times per day and working his way up to six or twelve thousand times or whatever. However, most spiritual writers say that what matters is setting aside blocks of time to devote to the prayer; the actual numer of times it is recited is of secondary importance.
I find a prayer rope helpful, not to keep track of how many times I'm saying the prayer, but to keep my hands occupied. It actually helps me keep focused.
An interesting variation on the prayer is found in Scott Cairns' Short Trip to the Edge, a description of his pilgrimages to Mt.Athos. Ath the monastery of Vatopedi, he discusses his difficulties in prayer with one of the monks. The monk says

Tell me how you pray.
"I say the Jesus Prayer."
"Do you say it slowly?'
"Well, I don't hurry."
"Do you listen to the words?"
"And to the stillness between the words?"
Hmm, I thought, then added, "The stillness between the words?"
"When you pray the prayer, say it once, and then wait listening. Then say it again. Then wait, listening."
(Cairns, p. 244)

St. Theophan the Recluse, the great 19th century Russian starets, distinguishes three stages in saying the prayer:
1. We start out by simply concentrating on the words.
2. We the get to a level at which we can pray without distraction.

3. Eventually the prayer becomes so ingrained into our psyches that it always runs in the backs of our minds, whether we consciously say the words or not.

I'll close with two other relevant quotes:

The more rain falls on the earth, the softer it makes it; simularly, Christ's holy name gladdens the earth of our heart the more we call upon it.

St. Hesychios the Priest (Philokalia )

Be encouraged! Take up prayer more readily and continue without interruptions--and you will soon obtain your desired goal. Soon, a reverent attention to the One God will be established, and with it, inner peace. I say sson, not now or in a day or two, Months may be required, sometimes even years. Ask the Lord, and he will help.

Theophan the Recluse, Letter 42

Theosis: what it's all about  

Posted by Joe Rawls

God became human so that people might become gods

We non-fundamentalist western Christians tend not to think too much about what happens when we die. Hell is no longer a serious possibility for most of us who are even halfway liberal mainline Protestants, Anglicans, or Roman Catholics. We do not deign to believe in a God who would be so judgemental as to consign people to the eternal slammer. On the other hand, how excited can we get over spending eternity floating on a cloud dressed in an angel costume? Some fans of process theology think that when we die we exist only as memories in God's (admittedly huge) data banks.
So what sense do we make of the above quote by Athanasius, the fourth-century bishop of Alexandria? Isn't that a bit too outrageous, even if we're grasping for a few optimistic straws? Becoming a god? Isn't that what the Mormons promise themselves after a lifetime of taking part in temple ordinances and putting on holy underwear?
Strange as it sounds, this doctrine has been at the heart of Eastern Christian theology and spiritual practice for nearly its entire history. But let's clarify what theosis means.
Right off the bat, theosis is not the same as pantheism. The essence of our human nature is not replaced by divine nature. As Bishop Kallistos Ware, perhaps the leading English-language Orthodox theologian, puts it,
we are able to affirm a direct or mystical union between man [sic] and God...
but at the same time we exclude any pantheistic identification between the
two: for man participates in the energies of God, not the essence. There is
union, but not fusion or confusion. Although "oned" with the divine, man still
remains man; he is not swallowed up or annihilated, but bewtween him and
God there continues always to exist an"I-Thou" relationship of person to
(The Orthodox Way, p. 23)
The doctrine of theosis--also known as deification, divinization, or partaking of the divine nature--is scripturally rooted mainly in Psalm 82:6 (Now I say to you, "You are gods, and all of you children of the Most High) and in 2 Peter 1:4 ( about being "partakers of divine nature.)
In the eastern tradition, we achieve theosis by prayer, meditation, moral living, and, most particularly, participation in the sacraments, especially the Eucharist.