Keble's Holy Light  

Posted by Joe Rawls

Today the Anglican calendar commemorates John Keble (1792-1866), whose 1833 Assize Sermon is generally reckoned as the jumping-off point of the Oxford Movement.  He wrote a number of theological treatises including a translation of Irenaeus, a critical edition of the works of Richard Hooker, and several of the Tracts for the Times.  But his greatest fame was as a poet.  The Christian Year, a poetic anthology dealing with the feasts and seasons of the liturgical calendar, appeared in 1827 and achieved great popularity, going through numerous editions for the rest of the 19th century.  He was Professor of Poetry at Oxford from 1831-1841 and spent the last thirty years of his life as vicar of Hursley, a small country parish.  Keble College Oxford was named in his honor.

Keble wrote a number of hymns  and these are probably how he is likely to be known by the average Anglican.  The following translation of Phos hilaron, made from the Greek in 1834, gives a taste of his talent as a hymnographer.


Hail, Gladdening Light

Hail, gladdening Light, of His pure glory poured,
Who is immortal Father; heavenly blest;
Highest and holiest--Jesus Christ our Lord!
Now are we come to the sun's hour of rest;
All times are ordered in Thy Word alone,
Therefore the day and night Thy glories own.

The lights of evening now around us shine;
We hymn Thy blest humanity divine;
Worthiest art Thou at all times to be sung,
By grateful hearts, with undefiled toungue,
Son of our God, Giver of life, alone!
Therefore shall all the worlds Thy glories own.

Eschatological Thoughts  

Posted by Joe Rawls in ,

Today's Daily Office readings contains one of my favorite passages, Romans 8:19-23:  "For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God.  We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies."

This passage underpins Christian eschatological thought, which occupies a preeminent place in the theology of the Eastern churches.  Metropolitan Kallistos Ware addresses this topic with his usual clarity in The Orthodox Way (revised ed, St Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1995), pp 136-137.  His notion that post-resurrection life is not just for people, but for animals and the whole created order as well, adds a powerful spiritual element to our thinking about ecological issues.


"At the resurrection", state The Homilies of St Macarius, "all the members of the body raised; not a hair perishes" (compare Luke 21: 18).  At the same time the resurrection body is said to be a "spiritual body" (see ! Cor 15:  35-46).  This does not mean that at the resurrection our bodies will be somehow dematerialized; but we are to remember that matter as we know it in this fallen world, with all its inertness and opacity, does not at all correspond to matter as God intended it to be.  Freed from the grossness of the fallen flesh, the resurrection body will share in the qualities of Christ's human body at the Transfiguration and after the Resurrection.  But although transformed, our resurrection body will still be in a recognizable way the same body as that which we have now:  there will be continuity between the two...

..."A new heaven and a new earth"[Rev 21: 1]:  man is not saved from his body but in it; not saved from the material world but with it.  Because man is microcosm and mediator of the creation, his own salvation involves also the reconciliation and transfiguration of the whole animate and inanimate creation around him--its deliverance "from the bondage of corruption" and entry "into the glorious liberty of the children of God" (Rom 8:21).  In the "new earth" of the Age to come there is surely a place not only for man but for the animals:  in and through man, they too will share in immortality, and so will rocks, trees and plants, fire and water.

Gregory of Nyssa and Epektasis  

Posted by Joe Rawls

Gregory of Nyssa (335-384), whose feast is observed today by the Episcopal Church, is one of the great theologians of the Christian East;  in recent years his fame has spread westwards.  He had nine siblings, two of whom were Basil the Great and Macrina.  He left behind a large corpus of writings and was influential in formulating the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity.  One of his major contributions to spirituality was the concept of epektasis.  Meaning roughly "upward striving", the notion first appears in Paul: "Forgetting those things that are behind, and reaching forth [epekteinomenon] unto those things which are before, I press towards the mark" (Phil 3:13).  The upward striving towards God is incremental and never ends, whether in this life or the next.  Seen in this light, theosis means that people get more and more like God but without, however, attaining God's transcendence.  This contrasts with Platonic philosophy, itself very influential in Eastern Christian theology, which regarded stability as perfection (many references to an unchanging, passionless God) and change as a sign of imperfection.

One place where Gregory discusses epektasis is in his Life of Moses (many editions), a recasting of the patriarch in terms of Christian mysticism.  A sample appears below. 


For this reason we also say that the great Moses, as he was becoming ever greater, at no time stopped in his ascent, nor did he set a limit for himself in his upward course.  Once having set foot on the ladder which God set up (as Jacob says), he continually climbed to the step above and never ceased to rise higher, because he always found a step higher than the one he had attained.

...He shone with glory.  And although lifted up through such lofty experiences, he is still unsatisfied in  his desire for more.  He still thirsts for that with which he constantly filled himself to capacity, and he asks to attain as if he had never partaken, beseeching God to appear to him, not according to his capacity to partake, but according to God's true being.

In Praise of Icons  

Posted by Joe Rawls

Today our Eastern Orthodox friends celebrate the First Sunday of Great Lent, also known as the Sunday of Orthodoxy or the Triumph of Orthodoxy.  It is preeminently an affirmation of the role of icons in Christian life, following the long and debilitating struggle over iconoclasm.  An informative reference to the subject can be found here on the site of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North America.

Below can be found a quote from the decrees of the Seventh Ecumenical Council (Nicea, 787), which summarizes the Eastern Christian teaching on icons quite succinctly.


We define that the holy icons, whether in color, mosaic, or some other material, should be exhibited in the holy churches of God, on the sacred vessels and liturgical vestments, on the walls, furnishings, and in houses and along the roads, namely the icons of our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ, that of our Lady the Theotokos, those of the venerable angels and those of all saintly people.  Whenever these representations are contemplated, they will cause those who look at them to commemorate and love their prototype.  We define also that they should be kissed and that they are an object of veneration and honor (proskynesis), but not of real worship (latreia), which is reserved for Him who is the subject of our faith and is proper for the divine nature.  The veneration accorded to an icon is in effect transmitted to the prototype; he who venerates the icon, venerates in it the reality for which it stands.