Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Bishop Sheepshanks

'Zeal for the conversion of the heathen is the thermometer of love for Christ.'

John Sheepshanks (1834-1910) was ordained in 1857 and held posts in Leeds and as a chaplain in Colombia. He was made bishop of Norwich in 1893 and recorded his travels- including several years in the Canadian wilderness- in a book titled A Bishop In The Rough (1908). He also produced several ecclesiastically inclined works including Confirmation and Unction of the Sick (1889). He is here photographed wearing the cope and morse designed by Ninian Comper for the coronation of Edward VII in 1902.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Salvate Christi Vulnera

Salvate Christi Vulnera is the Office Hymn for Lauds on the Feast of the Precious Blood.

The Five Holy Wounds
from the Loftie Hours
mid-15th century
Use of Utrecht

Hail, holy Wounds of Jesus, hail,
Sweet pledges of the saving Rood,
Whence flow the streams that never fail,
The purple streams of His dear Blood.

Brighter than brightest stars ye show,
Than sweetest rose your scent more rare,
No Indian gem may match your glow,
No honey’s taste with yours compare.

Portals ye are to that dear home
Wherein our wearied souls may hide,
Whereto no angry foe can come,
The Heart of Jesus crucified.

What countless stripes our Jesus bore,
All naked left in Pilate’s hall!
From His torn flesh ow red a shower
Did round His sacred person fall!

His beauteous brow, oh, shame and grief,
By the sharp thorny crown is riven;
Through hands and feet, without relief,
The cruel nails are rudely driven.

But when for our poor sakes He died,
A willing Priest by love subdued,
The soldier’s lance transfixed His side,
Forth flowed the Water and the Blood.

In full atonement of our guilt,
Careless of self, the Saviour trod—
E’en till His Heart’s best Blood was spilt—
The wine-press of the wrath of God.

Come, bathe you in the healing flood,
All ye who mourn, by sin opprest;
Your only hope is Jesus’ Blood,
His Sacred Heart your only rest.

All praise to Him, the Eternal Son,
At God’s right hand enthroned above,
Whose Blood our full redemption won,
Whose Spirit seals the gift of love.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

east windows, Bury St Edmunds Cathedral

For the newly-designed quire of Bury St Edmunds
Cathedral, S.E. Dykes-Bower rearranged
extant Victorian glass by C.E. Kempe
in such a manner that it seems medieval.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Sermon for Holy Tuesday 2015, preached at St Pancras Old Church

Jesus replied, ‘Where I am going you cannot follow me…’

In our gospel reading this evening the stage is set for betrayal. Judas receives from the hand of Our Lord a piece of bread and the devil enters him. A jealous heart sells a friend and teacher for silver. Do it quickly, Jesus says.

The one who made man gives himself to be unmade by a man and so begins the steep ascent to the hill of Golgotha, the place of the skull, where earth and sky themselves will cry out in anguish, Why have you forsaken me?!

And we hear Peter, dear, stalwart- sometimes slightly thick- Peter say to Jesus ‘Lord, where are you going?’ ‘Where I am going you cannot follow me,’ is the reply. Ah, Peter, if you only knew you would not want to follow! ‘You will follow me later,’ says Jesus, and so he will- crucified like his Lord on a hill outside Rome, that great and mighty city.

Where are we in the drama of this Holy Tuesday? Do we stand outside taking in the scene or do we enter it, in heart and mind?

Come, let us go in for we are Peter. We who love our Lord and teacher say to him, Lord where are you going? I will go with you; I will even die for you. We sit like Peter at table, wondering at our master’s words, pained by his prophecy, ‘you will deny me.’

We have denied him- in a thousand little ways: when we have placed love of self above love of God, when we have opened our mouths to wound rather than heal, when we have taken away when we should have given abundantly, when we have held in our hearts the jealousy of Judas.

You see, we are Judas too. But Jesus says to us still, I must go alone because where I am going you cannot follow. This terrible thing I must undergo alone. Only I can do this, and you sweet ones, whose love is now so bold, will deny me. You will disown me, say you never knew me, and your loving hearts will be turned to grief as you hear the words from your own mouths, ‘I do not know the man.’ You will betray me for earthly gain and your heart will break for it.

Speaking through the prophet Isaiah the Spirit of Jesus says, ‘I have trodden the winepress alone; from the nations no one was with me.’ Now, at this supper with his disciples, that holy child born of Mary prepares to tread the winepress of the wrath of God alone. He who was born in perfect innocence readies himself to die the death of the guilty which we have deserved from our birth. The one who was wrapped in swaddling cloths and laid in a manger will put on a kingly robe and be mocked by soldiers, the stripped of that same robe now stained red with blood, stripped of his dignity and exposed to the world who will shake their heads and call out in cruel taunts ‘Let him save himself.’

But, oh my people, says Jesus, all this I do for you. I am betrayed by my friends for you; I am mocked and spat upon for you; I am whipped and crowned with thorns for you; I am stripped naked for you; I am lifted up for you. I do not will to save myself because in suffering this I am saving you! ‘Where I am going you cannot follow me.’

Caught up in the scene and knowing we are a part of it, our hearts plead with Jesus to let us go with him. But he hears us and he says, gently, No. Where I am going you cannot follow me.

What a gift, this holy ‘No.’ You cannot come with me, says Jesus, because you cannot bear the mocking, you cannot bear the cross, you cannot bear the sin of the world on your human shoulders. Only my divine Spirit can bear such a load. Only my heart of love can absorb the wrath of God for sin. Only my own spirit can tread the winepress alone, can satisfy divine justice and lift the curse of the fall. Only the seed of the woman, promised from the beginning, can open the way to eternity. And in this, we may follow.

As Jesus goes out to bear our sin alone in the desolation beyond the city- beyond human habitation- he opens a way for us through his pierced hands and side, a way to follow him to Easter day, to resurrection, and to the glory of the heavenly Jerusalem whose foundations are the apostles and prophets and whose light is the sacrificial victim. The Lord once lifted high on the cross will stand victorious amid the throng of angels and saints and receive the victor’s acclamation, Worthy is the Lamb who was slain!

In union with our Lord’s sacrificial death we are given entrance into glory. By his wounds we are healed, and by the blood and water flowing from his side we are cleansed from every stain. As the Psalmist says, ‘The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.’

Jesus goes forth to bear willingly in his body the sin of his people; our sin- your sin, my sin. Denials and betrayals will pierce his holy hands and feet and he will be crowned with the world’s disdain for his perfect loveliness. For we who were unkind, the love of Jesus reaches out to us. Arms extended on the cross, the Saviour takes up the whole world and cradles it close to his breast. All our sin is lifted up by him and in him and it is burned away in the fire of his purifying love even as the just judgment of God burns away the life of the immaculate victim who cries out in lonely agony and breathes his last. The holy one goes to meet death and so saves us from death.

We who would go with him find refuge in his wounded side. In the merciful touch of his bloody hands we are held secure. There is enough love in the heart of Jesus to fill the universe and not one sin of ours will slip through his fingers.

Tonight, on this solemn Holy Tuesday, Jesus prepares to go out into the dark, setting his face like a flint, and walking steadily toward betrayal and the cross.

Why, Jesus, why do you go out into the dark, why do you go to suffer, why do you accept this betrayal?!

Because, my child, I love you.


The Arma Christi and the wound in Jesus' side
from a 14th century French breviary

Friday, March 20, 2015

You Are What You Like- a personal photo-essay

The House
The Car
The Teddy

The Carpet
The Church
The Vestment

The Music

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Laudianism, Jansenism, and Central Churchmanship

Sicut Moses. It was without doubt the goal of the so-called Laudian Counter-Reformation to lift up the image of Christ again in a Church they felt had been denuded of any visual reference to the Saviour of the world. However, in the eyes of some it was a sly return to the Papal yoke under the guise of the beauty of holiness, a slow slipping back into former ways best left buried and undisturbed. The dissatisfaction with which the reintroduction of altar rails, stained glass windows, and elaborate church music was met in the early seventeenth century has never really vanished from the more austere Protestant corners of the Church and yet there has never been, since the days of Laud himself, a greater freedom in the Church of England to embellish the daily services with Romanist art, ceremonial, and- in a striking departure from the theology of even the most generous Caroline divines- pure Roman theology based in the Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church.

Early 17th century glass depicting
Moses and the Bronze Serpent
at St Etienne du Mont, Paris
In some quarters it is possible to attend services of the Established Church conducted according to the Roman Missal and containing in them little to suggest Anglicanism's Reformation heritage. Set opposite are those churches, also ostensibly Anglican, whose worship and theology resembles nothing so much as the Anabaptist conventicles that plagued the best Reformed Churches of the Continent. Indeed, re-baptism of those having already received Trinitarian baptism is not unknown in the English Church today.

The possibility that without the upheaval of the Civil War the Church of England may have obtained a comfortable middle ground in regard to theology and ceremonial, the effect of which may have been to preempt the later excesses of the Anglo-Papalists of the early twentieth century and the antinomian evangelicals of today is tempting, though likely unrealistic. Still, the theological erudition and simplified ceremonies of the seventeenth-century Anglican Church demonstrate that the excesses both of a Zwinglian iconoclasm and the Jesuitical Baroque could have found their gentle cousin in a renewed sensibility akin to that of the Classical austerity of the Gallican Church which appeared in that miraculous age in the Janesenist enclave of Port Royal and indeed in many of the French dioceses. Who can tell how far the English Church may have resembled the more austere Gallican Church had the moderating influence of Laudianism and Jansenism been allowed to flourish in their respective communions.

The Mass of St Martin of Tours
Eustache le Sueur (1654)
Something truly catholic seems to have been beginning in the sixteenth century and it is a great pity movements on both sides of the Channel were quashed. A middle way is always difficult to follow. Purists of all stripes are ever-ready to hurl insult at those who they see as less committed to a strict way of being. Yet it is often the maintenance of a via media that is the most difficult; lack of prescription requires greater wisdom in judgment. It was on this point that the Laudians, and indeed the Jansenists, found themselves indicted. The former found themselves brought low by philistinism in a newly-Reformed Church that was not fully prepared to accept that visual beauty had a place in the worship of God. The latter were assailed by an institution sensitised by the unexpected triumph of a youthful Protestantism and thus unable to see in its own history the seeds of the doctrines espoused by Jansenius and Saint-Cyran.

The sometimes violent Arminianism of the more extreme members of the Laudian party was balanced on the catholic stage by the tentative Calvinism of the Jansenists and it is to the eternal shame of the Church that these movements could not be reconciled to their respective communions without the destruction that in both cases resulted. The middle ground- the aesthetic and liturgical contribution of the Laudians and the theological sense of the Jansenists- deserves greater attention for the true catholicity embodied in these two very different movements lies at the root of the via media sought by those who came, in a later century, to be called the Central Churchmen.

It is a strange gracelessness which feels the need to circumscribe the limits of human achievement in the service of God. There is, of course, the authoritative limit of the holy scriptures, but the limits found there are not onerous. Nowhere is beauty decried as pagan; never does holy writ deny the Almighty the service of our creative faculties. What is done is to provide a rule- a regula, a measure- for our service with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. Hooker rightly argued that reason and tradition had a place alongside scripture in describing Christianity in this world of matter. The incarnation of Christ, the Anglican tradition has long held, authorises a certain freedom of expression, a freedom that is tempered, not destroyed, by the Word of God. It is in the fire of love that beauty is moulded and made to serve the glorious Trinity.

Frontispiece, Rochard Hooker's
The Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity
first published 1594/7
In theology the regula of scripture likewise gives God the greater glory by describing mankind in most accurate terms as deeply flawed, inadequate to the task of redemption and in need of an alien righteousness. The position does no injustice to man's capacity for reflecting God's glory but it does preserve the necessary division between the creature and the creator. If the prime mover of the universe is to remain the prime mover of salvation man's incapacity must be admitted, for God is not God if His will can be resisted by a mere creature. In what is perhaps to some an unexpected turn, rather than destroying the good of the salvific act, ascribing it entirely to God makes it an act of supreme generosity, a pure gift without condition. The act of gracious condescension in fact elevates man to a royal priesthood offering the unbloody sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving. To make him a participant in salvation by an act of the unreformed will would present him as crowning himself; such a violent overthrowing of the established order of redemption condemns God to the role of supplicant, subject to the whim of a creature drunk on the power of free choice, a condition enjoyed only once in human history and which we know not to have ended happily.

In the past century it was the Central Churchmen who sought to keep alive the best of the Laudian reforms and their efforts issued in art and ceremonial a striking similarity to the elegant austerity of the Gallican Church of the late-seventeenth and early-eighteenth centuries. The restraint of Augustinian understanding of human inability which Jansenism introduced would have had the same effect on the wilful exuberance of Romanist theology as Laudian freedom of artistic feeling would have had for the hard-edged Puritanism of the Church of England. So much the pity that reconciliation requires self-restraint.

Peterhouse College Chapel, Cambridge
built under Matthew Wren, consecrated 1632
The ease with which we set ourselves as judge and jury over all controversy must be admitted. But if God is to be judge rather than man, it behooves us to consider first his revelation. Hooker's admittance of reason and tradition to the courtroom of ecclesiastical opinion tempers the barrenness of a decontextualised biblicism; ignorant literalism has never been a part of the Reformed tradition. When is it admitted that God-given minds may find themselves at different conclusions and, furthermore, when it is seen that even the tradition of the Church itself gives weight to variance of perspective, there is presented an opportunity to pursue the middle road under the authority of scripture without fear. For it is fear that most binds men to ungenerous views and it is the freedom which being bound by the divine revelation engenders which permits generosity.

It was this generous temper that defined the Central position in Anglicanism in the first half of the twentieth century. Claims that such a moderation led inevitably to the triumph of liberalism should not be understood as bald fact. It may be that some men failed to defend the centre but that should not be understood as an argument against holding such a position in regard to fixed norms of conservatism or liberalism. In fact, having some idea of a middle ground presupposes set limits of extremes. That what one age views as the moderate cause another may view as a liberalising movement merely suggests that those who held Central views failed to maintain them in the face of ideological violence.

Central Churchmanship of the first half of the twentieth century was characterised by 'a fairly conservative view of Scripture, an adherence to the Book of Common Prayer, the Articles, the teachings of the Early Fathers' placing it squarely alongside the Caroline tradition now known as Classical Anglicanism of which the Laudian divines were the progenitors. This adherence to the mainstream of Anglican thought placed them at the midpoint between Evangelicalism and Anglo-Catholicism in their own day and in a position that would today be recognised as distinctly conservative by those same parties today, though for different reasons. Central Churchmanship's propensity for restrained ceremonial dignity would seem 'Catholic' to today's functionally nonconformist evangelicals and likewise the emphasis of Central Churchmanship on scripture and the Fathers would put them at odds with the large party of liberal Anglo-Catholics who would perceive such views as outmoded and 'biblicist' or 'literalist,' their sources of authority having evolved- or devolved to the merely human, depending on one's perspective.

Frontispiece of A Directory of Ceremonial,
Part I
(1921) showing a Gallican Altar
from the Ceremoniale Parisiense (1703)
Yet it should not seem strange that a position concerned with maintaining a mid-point of theology and ceremonial should find itself so castigated. The spectrum of opinion within Anglicanism has so shifted that what was once the centre is now seen as tending distinctly to conservatism. Clearly this says more about trends in mainstream thought than it does about genuinely Central views. Both Evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics have been influenced to such a degree by liberalism that neither would now be recognisable to its champions of former days. Indeed, so great has the triumph of liberal thought been that even ostensibly conservative members of the Church hold, apparently unawares, theological positions that would be impossible but for an acceptance of the premises of higher criticism. Often materialism, social anthropology and other anti-Christian worldviews are commonly voiced under the guise of Creedal belief.

In such a frosty climate, the warmth of divine revelation finds a hard ground indeed in which to plant the saving seed. But here holding the Central view may be of greatest value. With the feeling that extremes have come increasingly to dominate discourse, both in the sacred and secular realms, the description of Central Churchmanship as 'deliberately moderate, with the traditional Laudian idea of the beauty of holiness being given moderate rein. The overall ethos [being] one of orthodoxy, duty and devotion tempered by an abhorrence of fanaticism, the usual British reserve, and a fear of appearing Pharasaical' seems relieving and refreshing. Such a thoroughly decent via media is a distinctly refreshing antidote to the instability and chaotic infighting of mainstream Evangelicalism and Anglo-Catholicism. Perhaps never before has a Central position been so needed.

That Central Churchmanship in the early twentieth century was as much about the way of worship as its theological content demonstrates the degree to which it had an affinity with the reforming Jansenists and Laudians. Both movements sought to bring about a return to moderation, the former in theology and the latter in ceremonial and church furnishings. The extent to which the Roman Church decried the Jansenist-influnced austerity of the Gallican temper may be seen in the triumph of the theatrical Baroque in most quarters though it is a sign of the surviving moderate temper that the work of French architects like Mansart came to characterise the royal court and the great city churches of Paris rather than the corruscating Italian equivalent exemplified by Bernini. The work of Wren similarly demonstrates the degree to which severity characterised the English tradition in the seventeenth century and embodied the reverence of the Laudian school the survival of which is demonstrated in numerous church and cathedral restorations across the country including the choir stalls installed at Durham by Cosin after the Restoration.

Choir Stalls, Durham Cathedral
installed by Bishop Cosin in 1665
Along with the dignified ceremonial of such as Andrewes' chapel, it was to this aesthetic heritage the Central Churchmen looked and, for a brief moment before waves of modernism from the Continent swept across England's 'green and pleasant land,' there was a revival of visual beauty to accompany the theological perfection of the Caroline heritage newly reinvigorated in such works as More and Cross' Anglicanism, Grisbrooke's Anglican Liturgies of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries, and, perhaps most significantly, Addleshaw's The High Church Tradition.

The renewed medievalism of English Use of the first decade or so of the century had its effect as well and it is the synthesis of the two strands of thought that best characterised Central Churchmanship at its finest- an English Altar with six candles as seen in many a parish church and in some cathedrals, most gloriously at York. Of course, the association of Central Churchmanship with the Establishment may be one reason for its precipitate decline after 1965. The world changed and the Church, so entangled in it, was dragged along against its better judgment.

High Altar, York Minster
by Walter Tapper
15th century England
meets 17th century France
Still, Central Churchmanship offers a way forward. If self-consciously detached from the bonds of the excesses of the Establishment, a self-limiting middle path devoted to the scriptures, the Creeds, and the Anglican tradition embodied in the writings of the first two centuries of Anglican Divines and worshipping with moderate ceremonial in the context of an austere beauty fulfils a necessary need in a world of extremes, a need that is increasingly difficult to find in a climate of polarisation. With Masses and prayer for the dead on one hand and drum kits on the other, one often wishes for a sensible alternative to both.

Unfussy and uncluttered in both theological temper and aesthetic expression, Central Churchmanship provides a respite from the chaos of sectarian religiosity which is at heart either Papalist or independent. Likewise, standing apart from the frenetic haste of contemporary life Central Churchmanship provides a community to which one may belong as a reasonable individual- mind and heart able both alike to express themselves- without sacrificing the essential Christian desire to view life in the world through the light of scripture and to form it accordingly. Holding in tension the best of its reformist predecessors, Laudianism and Jansenism, it stands as a witness to reasonable thinking beyond and above traditions rife with zealotry. To be a Central Churchman is to stand in a permanent oasis of peace, historically proved, biblically grounded, and utterly reasonable while the streams of time and sectarian circumstance ebb and flow and ultimately decay.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Sermon for the Feast of St Catherine of Alexandria, preached 25 November at St Pancras Old Church

We’re in red tonight, a strong hint that something dramatic and possibly gory happened a long time ago, and St Catherine of Alexandria, who we now celebrate, does not disappoint. You may remember that her symbol is the broken wheel- the wheel on which she was to be tortured but which split asunder at her holy touch. Eventually beheaded (that’s the gory bit) St Catherine was much prayed to, especially during the middle ages, and she is counted among the most important of the Virgin Martyrs.

But what fascinates me most about St Catherine isn’t the exciting story of her martyrdom or the prominence of her cult. It’s her mystic marriage to Christ. I think the vision the young virgin Catherine had was probably as strange as it sounds. Having decided that she would only marry someone more beautiful, more intelligent, with greater wealth and dignity than she, Jesus appeared to her and, with the Blessed Virgin and other saints as witnesses, betrothed her soul to Himself. In her life, in her suffering and death, St Catherine came to be in perfect spiritual union with Jesus Christ. 

This idea of a mystic marriage to Christ might seem completely foreign to us. Saints like Catherine were unique figures, surpassing in virtue and piety. However, tonight I’d like us to take a moment to think about the idea of what it means to be one with Christ. St Paul uses the phrase ‘in Christ’ in almost all of his epistles. He writes to members of the Church- those who have claimed faith in Christ and been baptised- and tells them that they are in union with Christ.

St Paul teaches us that somehow, through the mysterious working of the Holy Spirit, we who believe are united to Christ in a mystical bond. We may not have had a vision of being wed to Christ before angels and saints but the reality of our lives is that we live as spouses of Christ.

This unique relationship, grounded in faith, means that everything we do is made holy by His presence. Just as in marriage there is a legal union of man and woman so that even debts become jointly held, by our union with Christ our debt of sin is wiped away and all of His perfections become ours. Our imperfect successes are made perfect in Him; our failures and our sins are resolved before God the Father in Him. Our life, our death, our resurrection is all in Christ. Our life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ appears we will appear with Him in glory.

On this feast of St Catherine, be encouraged. In union with Christ you are safe forever. No one can dissolve your mystical marriage to the Lord Jesus. Nothing can separate you from His love. Nothing you have done or will do will divorce you from His presence. With St Catherine, we are united to the most beautiful, the wisest, the most dignified and the wealthiest person in the universe. In all things we have the assurance that He will never leave us nor forsake us.

Let us thank and praise our heavenly spouse who gave His life for us and lives to intercede for us always. And let us thank God for St Catherine whose mystic vision opens for us a new window on the wondrous reality of our spiritual union with the Lord Jesus Christ.

The Mystic Marriage of St Catherine
Ridolfo Ghirlandaio
and Michele Tosini
(c. 1530)