George Herbert and the Eucharist  

Posted by Joe Rawls

A concise treatment of Herbert's approach to the Eucharist can be found on the excellent Anglican Eucharistic Theology site, the work of Australian Anglican priest Dr Brian Douglas (see the link in the outer sidebar).  Herbert's views are contained in A Priest to the Temple, or the Country Parson, published after his death in 1633.  His poem, The Holy Communion, is particularly expressive in this regard.


Herbert's poem expresses the view that Christ is present and conveyed...not in rich or golden things, but in the ordinary elements of bread and wine.  The presence of Christ is able to be fully in the person who receives ("which spread their force in every part") and to deal effectively with sin ("Meeting sinnes force and art").  The elements convey what they signify ("Onely thy grace, which with these elements comes") and are the means of grace in the life of the person who receives them.  The idea of the heavenly communion is again mentioned ("my bodie also thither") and it is in this communion that a person is joined to Christ ("Them both to be together").  Clearly the Eucharist is distinguished from other earthly food in the final verse and so the implication of the poem is that the presence of Christ in the elements is not a fleshly or immoderate presence, yet a real presence, to "which I can go."  It must be assumed then that Herbert's theology of the Eucharist is that of moderate realism. 

St Scholastica  

Posted by Joe Rawls

Today is the feast day of Scholastica, the twin sister of Benedict of Nursia.  She was a monastic in her own right, and was abbess of a women's community at Plombariola, about 5 miles from Monte Cassino.  All that we know of her is contained in the Dialogues of Pope Gregory the Great.  This is, of course, a hagiography and not an "objective" work of history.  Be that as it may, the following excerpt illustrates how love can trump monastic rules and even the laws of nature.  It is found in chapters 33 and 34 of the Dialogues.


His sister, named Scholastica, was dedicated from her infancy to our Lord.  Once a year she came to visit her brother.  The man of God went to her not far from the gate of his monastery, at a place that belonged to the Abbey.  It was there he would entertain her.  Once upon a time she came to visit according to her custom, and her venerable brother with his monks went there to meet her.

They spent the whole day in the praise of God and spiritual talk, and when it was almost night, they dined together.  As they were yet sitting at the table, talking of devout matters, it began to get dark.  The holy nun, his sister, entreated him to stay there all night that they might spend it in discoursing of the joys of heaven.  By no persuasion, however, would he agree to that, saying that he might not by any means stay all night outside of his Abbey.

At that time, the sky was so clear that no cloud was to be seen.  The nun, hearing this denial of her brother, joined her hands together, laid them on the table, bowed her head on her hands, and prayed to almighty God.

Lifting her head from the table, there fell suddenly such a tempest of lightening and thundering, and such abundance of rain, that neither venerable Benedict, nor his monks that were with him, could put their heads out of doors...

The man of God, seeing that he could not...return to his abbey, began to complain to his sister, saying:  "God forgive you, what have you done?"  She answered him, "I desired you to stay, and you would not hear me; I have desired it of our good Lord, and he has granted my petition.  Therefore if you can now depart, in God's name return to your monastery, and leave me here alone."

But the good father, not being able to leave, tarried there against his will where before he would not have stayed willingly.  By that means, they watched all night and with spiritual and heavenly talk mutually comforted one another...

...The next day the venerable woman returned to her monastery and the man of God to his abbey.  Three days later, standing in his cell, and lifting up his eyes to heaven, he beheld the soul of his sister (which was departed from her body) ascend into heaven in the likeness of a dove. 

The Presentation in the Temple  

Posted by Joe Rawls

Today's feast of the Presentation of Our Lord in the Temple--widely known as Candlemas in the Western Church--has as its overriding image the manifestation of the light of Jesus and our reception of it. This is well expressed in a sermon of Sophronius, the Patriarch of Jerusalem (560-638).  It can be found in PG 87, 3, 3291-3293.


In honor of the divine mystery that we celebrate today, let us all hasten to meet Christ.  Everyone should be eager to join the procession and to carry a light.

Our lighted candles are a sign of the divine splendor of the one who comes to expel the dark shadows of evil and to make the whole universe radiant with the brilliance of his eternal light.  Our candles also show how bright our souls should be when we go to meet Christ. 

The Mother of God, the most pure Virgin, carried the true light in her arms and brought him to those who lay in darkness.  We too should carry a light for all to see and reflect the radiance of the true light as we hasten to meet him.

The light has come and has shone upon a world enveloped in shadows; the Dayspring from on high has visited us and given light to those who lived in darkness.  This, then, is our feast, and we join in procession with lighted candles to reveal the light that has shone upon us and the glory that is yet to come to us through him...

The true light has come, the light that enlightens every man who is born into this world.  Let all of us, my brethren, be enlightened and made radiant by this light.  Let all of us share in its splendor, and be so  filled with it that no one remains in the darkness.  Let us be shining ourselves as we go together to meet and to receive with the aged Simeon the light whose brilliance is eternal...

...By faith we too embraced Christ, the salvation of God the Father, as he came to us from Bethlehem.  Gentiles before, we have now become the people of God.  Our eyes have seen God incarnate, and because we have seen him present among us and have mentally received him into our arms, we are called the new Israel.  Never shall we forget this presence; every year we keep a feast in its honor.