Commitment, Continuity, and Conversation

I keep this older posting at the head of my blog, outlining the viewpoint of all that follows. The particular spirituality of the Appalachian Riders for our Lady is based on our three foundational principles of commitment, continuity and conversation in addition to the general Catholic evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, obedience and stability adapted to a lay context. The Riders strive to promote a conversational culture, authentically Christian and Catholic, in the midst of a world largely lacking culture of any sort. While somewhat bookish, given our use of books to establish continuity, we prefer conversation over writing and recognize that mere talking is rarely conversation. I think apologetics is a waste of time better spent on positive statement of belief. Our vows of commitment, continuity, and conversation do not necessarily mean that we have any natural inclination or talent in these areas. My own investigations center around the apparent paradox of Christologies seeming to be close together when their related Ecclesiologies are far apart. My booklist (each Rider, during their novitiate, settles on 24 books) is:

  • Bible, unabridged Revised Standard Version
  • The Liturgy of the Hours, unabridged
  • Exodus and Isaiah; Brevard S. Childs
  • The Confessions; by Saint Augustine
  • Book of Prayers; St Gregory of Narek
  • Dante’s Divine Comedy; Anthony Esolen
  • Fifteen Plays; by William Shakespeare
  • The Book of Common Prayer (1928)
  • Methodist Hymnbook-with Tunes 1933
  • Collected Poems & Prose; Robert Frost
  • The Geometry of Spacetime; Callahan
  • Canon and Creed; Robert Jenson
  • Remaining in the Truth of Christ
  • Seven Marriage Principles; J. Gottman
  • History of the Church; James Hitchcock
  • Lumen Christi Simple Gradual; Bartlett
  • Jesus of Nazareth; Pope Benedict XVI
  • Enchiridion Symbolorum; Denzinger
  • Compendium of the Catholic Catechism

My booklist starts with Scripture, centered in the Psalms, and continues its intertwining of history, poetic literature, and philosophy broadly considered up to contemporary times. Essential to the culture of the Appalachian Riders for our Lady is participation in daily Mass at our particular parishes (7am Mass at St Ambrose in Salt Lake City, Utah in my case). We also try to form connections outside the Catholic Church (in my case, with St John’s Anglican, to which my wife belongs) wasatch Thomas Gwyn and MaryAlice Dunbar

Christian Perspectives

I want to commend the Catholic perspective to you. Of course, that raises several questions:

  • Is it reasonable to speak of THE Catholic perspective?
  • Is my characterization of this perspective warranted?
  • Can one also speak of THE Protestant perspective, especially given the range of protestant ecclesial bodies?

I propose that the protestant perspective is that the Christian life is best lived and considered from the primary viewpoint of the individual or, at most, the congregation. On the other hand, I commend the Catholic perspective: the Christian life is best lived and considered from the primary viewpoint of the universal Church, extended in spacetime and militantly subsisting in the Catholic Church whose head steward is the bishop of Rome. After addressing those preliminary questions, I intend into commend the Catholic perspective in three aspects:

  • better able to cope with adversity
  • more resources for spiritual formation
  • closer alignment with the scriptural canon

All these points are controversial; however, I intend not to argue for them but rather to chew on them.  The difference between a primarily individual perspective and a primarily ecclesial perspective also has a significant political component since the State desires no competitor to its hegemony (see, for example, Alan Jacobs biography of The Book of Common Prayer which documents how this worked out in England) and hence is inclined to favor an individual perspective which it can divide and conquer. An individual perspective is important and necessary, of course. And some would argue, that only a personal perspective is even possible.  I do not consider ‘individual’ and ‘personal’ to be synonyms. I’m also assuming that the more alive an entity, the more applicable the principle that the whole is more than the sum of its parts. In addition, whenever possible I’d like to phrase matters sociologically rather than ecclesiologically. A major advantage of a perspective more social than individual is that one can ‘check one’s answers’ — the boredom of, for example, discussion about end-time scenarios or sectarian doctrine being that one can not check one’s theory in one’s day to day life and interactions with others as one can, on the other hand, regarding ethics and how to live in community.

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St Gregory of Narek: Doctor of the Church

St Gregory of Narek has been recognized as the 36th Doctor of the Church.  I think this is perhaps the most significant event within the Catholic Church since Vatican II; not surprisingly, almost completely overlooked in the world’s media. His feast day will be, I hear, February 27th.

His Book of Prayer, composed around the turn of the first millennium and also known as  St. Grigor Narekatsi’s Book of Lamentations, is online in an English translation by Thomas Samuelian.

In her teaching office, the Church says, ‘The writings of these 36 saints are both important and reliable.’  Of course, in no way comparable to or in conflict with the canon of Scripture; however, useful in the ongoing life of the Church.

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Canon of Scripture

It seems to me that the real reason for Protestant abridgement of the scriptural canon has more to do with product branding and market differentiation than with doctrine, per se.

However recent scholarship on the importance of Second Temple Judaism for understanding the New Testament writings, say of Paul for example, provide another argument for including what Protestants refer to as the Old Testament Deuterocanonical books.  For use of these texts in the New Testament and early Church writings, see:

http://www.scripturecatholic.com/deuterocanon.html

Abridging Maccabees, Wisdom, Sirach, etc from the Scriptures has the effect of making the New Testament seem more of a break from, and less a fulfillment of, earlier Scripture. Thus it favors a revolutionary model of reformation rather than a continuity model of reformation.

Over at the Soul Device blog, there’s an interesting series on these books with the first article on Defending the Deuterocanonicals

And, for those with abridged Bibles, here’s Wisdom, chapter 2:

1 For they reasoned unsoundly, saying to themselves, “Short and sorrowful is our life, and there is no remedy when a man comes to his end, and no one has been known to return from Hades.

2 Because we were born by mere chance, and hereafter we shall be as though we had never been; because the breath in our nostrils is smoke, and reason is a spark kindled by the beating of our hearts.

3 When it is extinguished, the body will turn to ashes, and the spirit will dissolve like empty air.

4 Our name will be forgotten in time and no one will remember our works; our life will pass away like the traces of a cloud, and be scattered like mist that is chased by the rays of the sun and overcome by its heat.

5 For our allotted time is the passing of a shadow, and there is no return from our death, because it is sealed up and no one turns back.

6 “Come, therefore, let us enjoy the good things that exist, and make use of the creation to the full as in youth.

7 Let us take our fill of costly wine and perfumes, and let no flower of spring pass by us.

8 Let us crown ourselves with rosebuds before they wither.

9 Let none of us fail to share in our revelry, everywhere let us leave signs of enjoyment, because this is our portion, and this our lot.

10 Let us oppress the righteous poor man; let us not spare the widow nor regard the gray hairs of the aged.

11 But let our might be our law of right, for what is weak proves itself to be useless.

12 “Let us lie in wait for the righteous man, because he is inconvenient to us and opposes our actions; he reproaches us for sins against the law, and accuses us of sins against our training.

13 He professes to have knowledge of God, and calls himself a child* of the Lord.

14 He became to us a reproof of our thoughts;

15 the very sight of him is a burden to us, because his manner of life is unlike that of others, and his ways are strange.

16 We are considered by him as something base, and he avoids our ways as unclean; he calls the last end of the righteous happy, and boasts that God is his father.

17 Let us see if his words are true, and let us test what will happen at the end of his life;

18 for if the righteous man is God’s son, he will help him, and will deliver him from the hand of his adversaries.

19 Let us test him with insult and torture, that we may find out how gentle he is, and make trial of his forbearance.

20 Let us condemn him to a shameful death, for, according to what he says, he will be protected.”

21 Thus they reasoned, but they were led astray, for their wickedness blinded them,

22 and they did not know the secret purposes of God, nor hope for the wages of holiness, nor discern the prize for blameless souls;

23 for God created man for incorruption, and made him in the image of his own eternity,

* 24 but through the devil’s envy death entered the world, and those who belong to his party experience it.

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A Hymn Book

To my way of thinking, a hymn book is for congregational use. The ‘congregational use’ defines the genre and has several implications:

A bit trivial, but symptomatic, is the mere size of a hymnal..a three inch thick, massive tome is not made for congregational use. A good hymnal will fit in one’s hand easily while still having both words and music, and indexes thereunto. Furthermore, this ‘use’ is not just for looking up a particular song, so it will not be organized alphabetically; rather, it will be organized theologically and systematically so as to aid the congregation in their understanding of the Christian faith.

In order to be useful for the entire congregation, the lyrics of the hymns will be both detailed and extensive in doctrine and the related music, while having tunes broadly singable, will support multiple voices in harmony.  A hymnal is to congregational singing as a book of Gregorian chant is to monastic singing.

It also needs to be in print, and actively supported by its publisher :)

My favorite hymnal is The Methodist Hymn-book – with tunes (1933) available for 13 pounds sterling from the Methodist Publishing House in Britain.

The black hardback is 21cm x 14cm and 3cm thick (ie 1.2 inches) and about 1050 pages of thin, opaque paper.

Adoration and Worship 1-35
The hymnal begins with thirty five songs of adoration and worship, starting with Charles Wesley’s ‘O for a thousand tongues’, set to both Richmond and Lydia tunes. The next two hymns are Kethe’s ‘All people that on earth do dwell’ and Watts’ ‘Before Jehovah’s awful throne’ from the 16th and 17th centuries respectively.

Next, an extensive section on

God: Father (36-81), Son (82-272), Holy Spirit (273-301)
One of my favorites in this section is #49, ‘Thy ceaseless, unexhausted love’ by Charles Wesley. Also, #51, George Herbert’s ‘The God of love my shepherd is’.
The section on the Lord Jesus Christ has the following subsections:

  • His Glory, Name, and Praise
  • His Incarnation
  • His life, teaching and example
  • His suffering and death
  • His resurrectiona dna ascension
  • His priesthood and sympathy
  • His kingdom, present and future

(See also the later, extensive section on ‘The Church’)

Next, A section on

The Holy Scriptures (302-310)
follows. Not much needs to be said here, as the Scriptures speak for themselves.Then, the most distinctive classical, Wesleyan section

The Gospel Call
Distinctive to this section are hymns such as ‘Sinners, turn, why will you die?’ – such songs are difficult to sing and may sound hypocritical UNLESS one profoundly recognizes one’s own state as a sinner, saved by Grace.Next, an extensive section on

The Christian Life (339-658)
with subsections on

  • Repentance and Forgiveness
  • Faith and Regeneration
  • Dedication
  • Joy and Thanksgiving
  • Temptation and Conflict
  • Trustfulness and Peace
  • Prayer
  • Christian Holiness
  • Service and Influence
  • Pilgrimage, Guidance, Perservance
  • Death, Judgment, The future life

followed by another extensive section on

The Church (659-833)
with subsections:

  • The Lord’s Day
  • Worship in the Sanctuary
  • Privileges and security of Christ’s Church
  • The Communion of Saints
    • Christian Fellowship
    • The Church in Prayer
    • Lovefeast and Covenant Services
  • The Sacraments
    • Baptism
    • The Lord’s supper
    • Marriage
    • Ministers and Teachers
    • Missions at home and abroad
    • The Church militant and triumpant

.
(Of course, being Catholic, I have significant disagreements with this section on the Church.)

The hymnal concludes with sections:

For little children
(834-866)School and work (867-872)Home and family worship (873-877)

National and social life (878-923)

Times and Seasons (924-984)

to which are appended various indexes, passages of scripture and also
significant sections on
Ancient Hymns and CanticlesPsalms

The psalms have, rather than Gregorian chant notation, four part ‘Anglican’ chant

The long, distinctively Wesleyan section on ‘The Christian Life’ deserves further comment, of course. However, since the various Wesleyan ecclesial bodies are, in my opinion, separated religious orders with impaired connection with the Church Catholic and which try to live ‘the Christian Life’ apart from ‘The Church’  it will be a good while before I get back to that. First, there needs to be extensive consideration of the Church and her history.

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Coping with the Protestant Gap

As one reads the Old Testament seriously, one gains a sense of a continuous historical narrative, fulfilled in Christ Jesus. The one little gap in this, the so-called inter-testamental period, is even smaller nowadays what with scholarship in recent decades on the importance of the context of second-Temple Judaism (of course this is more of a problem for Protestants who abridged Maccabees, Wisdom and Sirach from their bibles).

However, while the canon of Scripture ends with the book of Revelation, the working out of God’s revelation in Christ continues and if one is brought up evangelical the sudden gap of significant positive history comes to be troublesome, at least with regard to recognized official texts.

The best illustration of this, in my opinion, is to compare the Church of England’s Book of Common Prayer with the Catholic Church’s Liturgy of the Hours. While both are based around the liturgical center of Scripture in the Psalms, the continuing presence of the Holy Spirit after New Testament times is only evident in the Liturgy of the Hours.

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Monthly Psalter

The Anglican’s Book of Common Prayer has a useful 30 day cycle:

1Morning:  1-5  1Evening: 6-8
2M: 9-11  2E: 12-14
3M: 15-17  3E: 18
4M: 19-21  4E: 22-23
5M: 24-26  5E: 27-29
6M: 30-31 6E: 32-34
7M: 35-36 7E: 37
8M: 38-40 8E: 41-43
9M: 44-46 9E: 47-49
10M: 50-52 10E: 53-55
11M: 56-58 11E: 59-61
12M: 62-64 12E: 65-67
13M: 68 13E: 69-70
14M: 71-72 14E: 73-74
15M: 75-77 15E: 78
16M: 79-81 16M: 82-85
17M: 86-88 17E: 89
18M: 90-92 18E: 93-94
19M: 95-97 19E: 98-101
20M: 102-103 20E: 104
21M: 105 21E: 106
22M: 107 22E: 108-109
23M: 110-113 23E: 114-115
24M: 116-119 24E: 119.1-4
25M: 119.5-9 25E: 119.10-13
26M: 119.14-18 26E: 119.19-22
27M: 120-125 27E: 126-131
28M: 132-135 28E: 136-138
29M: 139-140 29E: 141-143
30M: 144-146 30E: 147-150

 

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The Case for the Psalms

From the introduction of N.T. Wright’s little book, The Case for the Psalms:

But I’m not writing simply to say, “These are important songs that we should use and try to understand.”  That is true but it puts the emphasis the wrong way around–as though the Psalms are the problem, and we should try to fit them into our world.  Actually, again and again it is we, muddled and puzzled and half-believing, who are the problem, and the question is more how we can find our way into their world, into the faith and hope that shine out in one psalm after another.

As with all thoughtful Christian worship, there is a humility about this approach.  Good liturgy, whether formal or informal, ought never to be simply a corporate emoting session, however ‘Christian,’ but a fresh and awed attempt to inhabit the great unceasing liturgy that is going on all the time in the heavenly realms. (That’s what those great chapters, Revelation 4 and 5, are all about.)  The Psalms offer us a way of joining in a chorus of praise and prayer that has been going on for millennia and across all cultures.  Not to try to inhabit them, while continuing to invent non-psalmic ‘worship’ based on our own feelings of the moment, risks being like a spoiled child who, taken to the summit of Table Mountain with the city and the ocean spread out before him, refuses to gaze at the view because he is playing with his Game Boy.

In particular, I propose in this book that the regular praying and singing of the Psalms is transformative.  It changes the way we understand some of the deepest elements of who we are, or rather, who, where, when, and what we are: we are creatures of space, time, and matter, and though we take our normal understandings of these for granted, it is my suggestion that the Psalms will gently but firmly transform our understandings of all of them.  They do this in order that we may be changed, transformed, so that we look at the world, one another, and ourselves in a radically different way, which we believe to be God’s way.  I hope my exposition of these themes will help to explain and communicate my own enthusiasm for the Psalms, but I hope even more that they will encourage those churches that have lost touch with the Psalms to go back to them as soon as possible, and those that use them but with little grasp of what the’re about to get inside them in a new way.

tablemountain

The Psalms thus transform what I have called our ‘worldview.’ I use this term in a specific way that I have developed over the last twenty years.  A ‘worldview’ in this sense is like a pair of spectacles: it is what you look through, not what you look at.  Worldviews, in this sense, are complex and consist of the swirling combination of stories, symbols, habitual praxis, and assumed answers to key questions (Who are we? Where are we? What’s wrong? What’s the solution? and What time is it?).  This developed notion of ‘worldview’ has its roots in some aspects of continental philosophy, though I have developed it slightly differnetly; I have set it all out in various places, such as the volumes in my series Christian Origins and the Question of God.  There is, however, a quite different meaning of ‘worldview’ that has recently become popular in some circles in America, particularly under the influence of Francis Schaeffer and his disciples. There it is used to refer to a basic kit of would-be Christian assumptions that for some reason have taken on a particular political slant. That is not what I am talking about, as will become clear.

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Catholic Liturgy

When folks talk about the liturgy of the Church, the discussion usually centers around various aspects of the Sunday service. However, it seems to me that the most basic things are:

  • The liturgy is a daily liturgy
  • The liturgy centers around the Psalms

For example today, on December 30th, the scriptures for Mass were:

  • Wisdom 18:14-15
  • 1 John 2:12-17
  • Psalm 96:7-10
  • Luke 2:36-40

and, in the Liturgy of the Hours, for the Office of Readings for today:

  • Psalm 85
  • Psalm 89
  • Colossians 1:15-2:3

and, in the Liturgy of the Hours, in the 4 week cycle of daily prayer for today:

  • Psalm 10
  • Psalm 12
  • Psalm 24
  • Tobit 13:1-8
  • Psalm 33
  • Psalm  119:1-8
  • Psalm 13
  • Psalm 14
  • Psalm 20
  • Psalm 21:2-8,14
  • Revelation 4:11; 5:9-12

In fact, a daily liturgy centered on the Psalms is even the case in some protestant ecclesial bodies, see for example the Anglican’s Book of Common Prayer.

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