Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Mariology of St Anselm (vii) - Canon Robin Ward

This is the final part of Canon Ward's 2009 Assumptiontide Lecture at the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham:

Eadmer in his first treatise On the Excellence of the Virgin Mary remains close to the doctrine of his mentor: not yet able to account for an immaculist position in terms which did justice to the strict necessity for the Incarnation, he is satisfied with the Anselmian precept that the Virgin should shine with a purity which was only exceeded by God’s own. However, by the time he comes to write specifically about the conception of the Virgin in the 1120s, he is determined to press the argument from congruity beyond Anselm’s argument for a purification of Mary by divine action in the womb to a full exemption from original sin. In doing so he employs the striking and somewhat esoteric analogy of the chestnut: just as the chestnut is conceived and grown amid spines which do it no harm, so God is able in preparing a temple for his dwelling to ensure that though this body be conceived among the spines of sin, it would be completely unharmed by their sharp points. Eadmer concludes by stating of God: Potuit plane et voluit; si igitur voluit, fecit [Eadmer of Canterbury, Tractatus de conceptione Sanctae Mariae, PL 159, cc. 305-6], a remarkable anticipation by two centuries of the Scotist formula Potuit, decuit, ergo fecit. It was this treatise which when ascribed by mistake to Anselm enjoyed a wide and authoritative circulation during the immaculist debates of the high middle ages, and was prescribed in portions under Anselm’s name for liturgical recitation by the Council of Basle when it made observance of the feast of the Virgin’s conception mandatory in 1438 [Southern, Anselm, p. 436]. Eadmer with great intellectual acumen chose to defend the inchoate Marian instinct of his nation with the subtle dialectic of the new theology, and was amply rewarded for his ingenuity.

Anselm is no Bernard as a Marian theologian: in his character as a monk he was content to work within the customary strictures and restraints of the Benedictine life he had weighed gravely as his vocation as a young man and then accepted under the measured tutelage of Herluin the founder of Bec, and Lanfranc his intellectual mentor. Because he instigated no reform of the religious life as a counterpoint to the novel sensibility of his affective devotion, Anselm neither sought nor achieved the dissemination of his own religious ethos which Bernard inspired with the Cistercian movement. His influence was confined to a small circle of admiring disciples: his fellow monks at Bec and Canterbury; the noble women such as the Conqueror’s daughter Adelaide and Mathilda of Tuscany who possessed the leisure, the literacy and the consciousness of their own interior life to cultivate the spirituality of compunction which the Prayers and Meditations seek to evoke. Of his corpus of writings, the most original and incisive of any since Augustine, only three prayers address the Virgin, and of them only the last by his own admission satisfies the quest of his faith for a true understanding. Why then is this body of work so significant?

We must not suppose that Anselm anticipates a sort of Anglican reserve about Marian doctrine and devotion: we know from the records of his conversation that he and his brethren had an entirely contemporary taste for the newly popular collections of miracles of the Virgin, and he invoked her himself in time of peril with freedom and confidence. Even if his own doctrine of the atonement and original sin led him to reject the celebration of the Virgin’s conception, he is entirely faithful to the Augustinian inheritance of the Latin West in refusing to countenance any mention of actual sin in relation to Mary, and those most close to him, Anselm of Bury and Eadmer of Canterbury, build confidently on his foundations to endorse not only the old English liturgical tradition but the most controversial tenet of the new Marianism itself, the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. What makes Anselm’s prayers to the Virgin so remarkable and so innovative in the development of Latin ascetic theology is their intimate confidence in Marian advocacy and mediation: antithesis and paradox call him back time and again to the Christological context of salvation history, but for the pilgrim sinner in via, the Lady whose undisputed pureness is the shame of the penitent, is the same Lady whose suckling of the eternal Word gives her a paramountcy of intercessory power which applies without fail to the sinner the work of her divine Son. We see in this confident, affective, individualist piety a spirit at work which culminates in the theme of Marian servitude and the cultus of the hearts of Jesus and Mary which is so remarkable feature of the revival of Catholic spirituality in Europe in the aftermath of the Council of Trent. And may we not also see, even as Anselm writes and prays in his cell at Bec and at Canterbury, a similar spirit moving Richeldis to build a house for the Mother of God here, in the land appointed to be her dowry?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Mariology of St Anselm (vi) - Canon Robin Ward

The liturgical celebration of the conception of the Virgin Mary was politically as well as theologically sensitive at the time when Anselm was Archbishop of Canterbury. The event of Mary’s conception receives legendary attention in the Protevangelium, which is thought to be of second century origin, and there is some evidence for liturgical commemoration in the East from the end of the seventh century and shortly afterwards in Ireland. However, it is in eleventh century England that the feast of the Virgin’s conception first appears as a well established observance on the 8th December [Dictionnaire de Théologie Catholique 7.1, cc. 989-993]. Following the conquest, Archbishop Lanfranc, Anselm’s predecessor both at Canterbury and as abbot of Bec and his teacher in youth, embarked on a reform to suppress certain perceived peculiarities which had emerged in the English church regarding liturgical observances and the marriage of the clergy, and the feast of the conception of the Virgin was among those lost. The English fought back with some guile and persistence to rescue their rich liturgical inheritance of saints and commemorations, and by the second decade of the twelfth century much had been done to restore the salient features of this pre-conquest insular cultus. This was most notable in the great monastic centres such as Westminster, Ramsey and Bury: indeed, Anselm’s own nephew and namesake was instrumental in restoring the feast of the Virgin’s conception when he became abbot of Bury [Richard Southern, Anselm of Canterbury, A Portrait in a Landscape, p. 434].

Two literary sources in particular stand out: the first is a letter dating from about 1085 describing how Elsi, the abbot of Ramsey, was rescued from a storm at sea by the Virgin on condition he promote the feast of her conception [J P Migne, Patrologia Latina 159, cc. 323-6]; the second is the treatise De Conceptione Beatae Mariae by Eadmer of Canterbury, monk, hagiographer of the old English saints and author of the Vita Anselmi. The names Elsi and Eadmer betray the English origin of the principal protagonists here and indicate the limited ambition behind the conduct of the controversy: this is an attempt by the conquered to justify the immemorial usages of their churches. Eadmer was both an assiduous compiler of all that pertained to the pre-conquest saints of Canterbury and a querulous critic of the exclusion of his countrymen from ecclesiastical office in favour of foreigners. However, what began as a rearguard action to defend the local English tradition of Marian piety soon became part of an international theological controversy about the Virgin’s exemption from original sin, a controversy which the attachment of Anselm’s name as author to both the letter and the treatise momentously transformed. This was because S. Bernard, mellifluous doctor of the Virgin’s privileges even as he was, specifically denied that Mary was preserved from original sin at her conception when he heard that the canons of Lyons had introduced the celebration of the festival into their church in 1138 [Bernard of Clairvaux, Ad Canonicos Lugdunenses Ep. 174, PL 182, c. 332]. What had begun as an exercise in English ecclesiastical antiquarianism now became a fissure within the new Marianism which was to persist throughout the scholastic period and in which the name of Anselm quoted as an authority was to carry great weight even into the nineteenth century.

Anselm himself appears not to have accepted the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception insofar as it had a concrete formulation in his day, and he treats it only incidentally. In Cur Deus Homo he states clearly: the Virgin of whom he was taken was conceived ‘amid iniquities’ and her mother ‘conceived’ her ‘in sin’, and she was born with original sin since she sinned in Adam ‘in whom all have sinned’ [Cur Deus Homo 16, in Anselm of Canterbury, The Major Works, p. 337]. However, in De Virginali conceptu et de peccato originali, he describes the virgin as having been cleansed by faith before conceiving her divine Son, and also states that although it is true that the Son of God was born of a spotless Virgin, this was not out of necessity, as if a just offspring could not be generated by this method of propagation from a sinful parent, but because it was fitting that the conception of this man should be of a pure mother [De Virginali conceptu 18, in Anselm, Major Works, p. 376]. This argument from fittingness subsequently becomes one of the principal tools used by Eadmer and those who succeed him in defence of the full doctrine of the Immaculate Conception to justify their position. Anselm understood original sin as an absence of original justice in consequence of Adam’s disobedience, which meant that human free will has an impeded capacity to choose the good and a propensity to choose evil which exists in potentiality from conception but does not actually come into effect until the age of reason. This account of the doctrine is more patient of an immaculist interpretation of the Virgin’s privilege at conception than the Augustinian emphasis on the transmission of original sin by the concupiscent process of procreation.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Trinity 19 - Ian Boxall

You don’t have to be in a place like this for very long before you come to understand the importance of seats. Whether it is the Vice-Principal’s seat in the House Chapel bringing with it that highly prized prerogative of closing the Chapel door, or the question of who is going to sit on the chaise longue during coffee in the Staff Room, or the shocked gasps when an unsuspecting visitor sits down in the Senior Student’s place at the beginning of Morning Prayer, seats and what they signify are important aspects of our life together. Making it onto the back row in the House Chapel is an important rite of passage, as you move from being a newcomer or continuer to a nearly leaver. Seats are important signs of belonging. They are indicators of the place and the authority one exercises within a community. In a transitional community such as this, made up of individuals who have left previous lives and responsibilities in response to a vocation, the importance of one’s seat is all the more pronounced.

So the scene in today’s gospel should be quite intelligible to us. James and John come to Jesus asking for seats on his right and left in his glory. They have left their ‘place’, their ‘seat’ in the family fishing business, and now they have just heard the Lord making a promise to those who have left house and father and mother for the sake of the gospel. In other words, they have done something for Christ; now they take him at his word and want him to return the favour. ‘Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.’ They want seats, and they are prepared to be a bit pushy in jostling for position and influence among the Twelve.

But Jesus’ response to James and John brings them up short. ‘You don’t know what you are asking.’ Or possibly, if we punctuate the sentence slightly differently, we get a rather different nuance: ‘You do know what you’re asking, don’t you?’ And that might be a better translation, exploiting the irony of the situation, because both of them may well think they know what they are asking for. They are swift to give a yes to Jesus’ next question. “Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” “We are able.”

James and John can’t be faulted for their commitment or youthful enthusiasm. After all, like so many of us here, they have left everything to follow Jesus, and now want to go one stage further. So what is wrong with their request for these particular seats?

First, they are asking for something which Christ can not promise. These are not places for him to give. What he can offer them is a share in his suffering and death, which is the only way of glory. And if the characters of James and John are set up as models for all followers of Christ, they are models in a particular way for those called to the ordained ministry in the Church. They are promised a ministry of suffering and death. Perhaps small encouragement for those of you who have signed the form and had your green slips sent off to the Ministry Division. It is not something we have flagged up in our prospectus or made a selling point on our website so far; although early Principals of St Stephen’s House were not slow to remind their ordinands that they were being prepared to be sent out for martyrdom.

Second, James and John might have changed their minds had they been able to see what seats on Christ’s right and left really look like. Towards the end of the gospel, we see two individuals placed on the right and left of Jesus. These, however, are two criminals flanking Jesus on the cross, while James and John are nowhere to be seen, having fled along with the other disciples.

That, however, is not the end of the story. Patristic commentators on today’s gospel often interpreted it as a prophecy of the martyrdoms of James and John. They would eventually come good. James, according to the Acts of the Apostles, was the first of the Twelve to undergo martyrdom, at the hands of Herod Agrippa (Acts 12:2). The Fathers were a bit more ambivalent about John, given the tradition that he lived to a ripe old age in Ephesus. Yet there were stories about St John drinking a cup of poison, as well as being plunged into boiling oil in Rome before being exiled to the island of Patmos. So John too has his living martyrdom, a ministry of ‘dying’ which doesn’t involve physical death. Both James and John, in their ministries of martyrdom, serve as paradigms for those called to ordained ministry within the Church.

The ultimate paradigm, however, is the great High Priest himself. According to our reading from the Letter to the Hebrews, he is able to exercise this ministry precisely because of his closeness to us. He has his own seat, the throne of grace, but it is a seat which he gained through what he suffered. James and John wanted the best seats with him in his glory. But Christ does not ‘glorify himself’; he doesn’t take this glory by force. Rather the author of Hebrews explicitly reminds us of the tradition about Christ’s passion, perhaps specifically his agony in the garden, the last event witnessed by James and John before they abandoned him: ‘In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission’ (Heb. 5:7). Although he is Son, Christ assumes his throne of glory through what he suffered, revealing the way not only for James and John, but for all those who long for seats close to him.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Mariology of St Anselm (v) - Canon Robin Ward

The third or ‘great’ prayer of S. Anselm to the Blessed Virgin is intended to ask for her love and for that of Christ: it begins by hailing her as greatest among women, and then sets out a consecration of heart, lips and understanding in her service and praise, culminating in a commitment wholly to your protection. Anselm describes himself as needing Mary’s defence daily, and the prayer sets out to evoke compunction, not so much as consciousness of sin on this occasion but as overawed by the holiness and power of the Virgin: Heart of my soul … wonder at her loftiness, and beseech her kindness [Anselm, Prayers, p. 115, ll. 3, 9, 14-15]. The third prayer is more overtly Christological than the second, in that although Mary is praised as Queen of angels, Lady of the world … most mighty helper [Anselm, Prayers, p. 115, l. 19], redemptive power is explicitly allotted to her divine Son: in my heart I know and worship you, love you and ask for your affection … because it belongs to you Son to make and to save, to redeem and to bring back to life [Anselm, Prayers, p. 116, ll. 39-43]. Indeed Mary’s agency in effecting salvation is rather more tightly circumscribed at this point than in the apparent dyarchy of the second prayer: How can I speak worthily of the mother of the Creator and Saviour, by whose sanctity my sins are purged, by whose integrity incorruptibility is given me, by whose virginity my soul falls in love with its Lord and is married to its God [Anselm, Prayers, p. 116, ll. 52-7].

However, having established this cardinal principle, Anselm goes on to make Marian advocacy a core component of post-baptismal Christian living. He laments that he has lost the grace of regeneration through sin, and asks Mary to help him regain it: for I am sure that since through the Son I could receive grace, I can receive it again through the merits of the Mother [Anselm, Prayers, p. 117, ll. 80-82]. This confidence gives rise to a catena of Marian titles as Mediatrix: gateway of life, door of salvation, way of reconciliation, approach to recovery … palace of universal propitiation, cause of general reconciliation, vase and temple of life and universal salvation [Anselm, Prayers, p. 117, ll. 84-5; p. 118, ll. 91-4]. Once again, Anselm is immediately anxious to place this mediation in a Christological context: O Lady, to be wondered at for your unparalleled virginity; to be venerated for a holiness beyond all reckoning – you showed the world its Lord and its God whom it had not known [Anselm, Prayers, p. 118, ll. 99-102]. The Marian scope of the redemption is extended to include the whole natural order (Heaven, stars, earth, waters, day and night … they rejoice now, Lady … for a new and ineffable grace has been given them through you) [Anselm, Prayers, p. 118, ll. 118-122] and also all those subject to the Fall in both heaven and hell: those in hell rejoice that they are delivered … and the angels wish each other joy in rebuilding of their half-ruined city [Anselm, Prayers, p. 119, ll. 144-6, 150-]. Having established this universal debt of all things to Mary, Anselm goes on to praise her in an extended paragraph which evokes both the Magnificat and The Song of Songs, the Marian potential of which was to be realized most fully in the ecstatic commentary of S. Bernard and his fellow Cistercians : not only is the creature blessed by the Creator, but the Creator is blessed by the creature too … O beautiful to gaze upon, lovely to contemplate, delightful to love … whither do you go to evade the breadth of my heart … Lady, wait for the weakness of him who follows you; do not hide yourself seeing the littleness of the soul that seeks you! Have mercy, Lady, upon the soul that pants after you with longing [Anselm, Prayers, p. 120, ll. 162-174].

Anselm then returns to the antithetical mode familiar from the previous prayers: God is the Father of all created things, and Mary is the Mother of all re-created things. God is the Father of all that is established, and Mary is the mother of all that is re-established [Anselm, Prayers, p. 121, ll. 191-4]. She is the microcosm of all Creation, to whom the Lord gave himself, that all nature in you might be in him. Thus the Virgin is mother of justifier and the justified, bearer of reconciliation and the reconciled, parent of salvation and the saved and so Blessed assurance and safe refuge [Anselm, Prayers, p. 122, ll. 236-40]. Anselm then interestingly inverts the usual logic of adoptive sonship in Christ by claiming that we are brethren of the divine Son by virtue of our filial relationship to Mary: For if you, Lady are his mother, surely then your sons are his brothers? … Our God through Mary is our brother Anselm, Prayers, p. 123, ll. 252-4, 265]. This gives a firm basis to her intercessory power: she pleads with the son on behalf of the sons, the only-begotten for the adopted [Anselm, Prayers, p. 123, ll. 278-80]. In thanksgiving for this gift of divine brotherhood Anselm returns once more to the swooning rhetoric of the beloved: Desiring to be always with you, my heart is sick of love … If only the spirit within me might come close to the sweetness of you love, so that the marrow of my body might be dried up [Anselm, Prayers, p. 124, ll. 297-304]. Here there is a return to the striking practice of the second prayer in addressing Jesus and Mary together as complementary and co-operating in their salvific work for sinners: Perhaps I am presumptuous to speak, but the goodness of you both makes me bold. So I speak thus to my Lord and my Lady … Lord and Lady, surely it is much better for you to give grace to those who do not deserve it than for you to exact what is owing to you in justice? [Anselm, Prayers, p. 125, ll. 319-25]. This theme persists to the end of the prayer and indeed provides it with its eloquent conclusion: So I venerate you both, as far as my mind is worthy to do so; I love you both, as far as my heart is equal to it; I prefer you both, so much as my soul can; and I serve you both, as far as my flesh may. And in this let my life be consummated that for all eternity all my being may sing’ blessed be the Lord for ever. Amen. [Anselm, Prayers, p. 126, ll. 363-73].

This third Prayer to Mary represents Anselm’s mature reflection on the rôle of the Blessed Virgin in the divine economy of salvation, and her place in the piety and devotion of Christian people. The most prominent theme is that of Marian advocacy for the Christian whose sorrow for sin is shown in its true light by the contrasting purity of the Mother of God. Anselm is clear that priority in the work of redemption as completed belongs to Christ, and that the end of the Christian life is the contemplation and praise of God in heaven. However, as a pilgrim sinner in via, Anselm is prepared to ascribe to Mary a rôle which actively complements that of her divine Son in the dispensation of grace, a privilege which derives from her status as co-operative cause of the incarnation and therefore mother of all redeemed creation. This theme of Marian mediation in the order of redemption is one which Anselm’s disciple and biographer Eadmer develops for himself in a way which sets less store by Anselm’s anxiety to keep within the bounds of an overtly christological soteriology, and which is significant in the contemporary controversy which arose over the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Mariology of St Anselm (iv) - Canon Robin Ward

The second Prayer of S. Anselm to the Virgin is somewhat longer, and is designated for use when the mind is anxious [Anselm, Prayers, p. 110]. Here the emphasis on sin as defiling disease is replaced with a more resolutely forensic analysis of the human condition: Mary is hailed as virgin and mother (By your blessed virginity you have made all integrity sacred/ and by your glorious child-bearing / you have brought salvation to all fruitfulness) [Anselm, Prayers, p. 110, ll. 5-6], and the sinner comes to her fleeing as one of the fearful crowd of the accused as Lady of might and mercy [Anselm, Prayers, p. 110, ll. 10-11]. In contrast to the preceding prayer Christ is introduced at the beginning of the second paragraph, but as an object of fear: it seems to me as if I were already / before the all-powerful justice of the stern judge/ facing the intolerable vehemence of his wrath [Anselm, Prayers, p. 110, ll. 13-15]. In the face of this inexorable judgement Anselm petitions the Virgin as the one whose womb embraced the reconciliation of the world, the one whence I know came the world’s propitiation [Anselm, Prayers, p. 110, ll. 21-1, 24]; expressions which flow naturally from the patristic definition of Ephesus that Mary is fittingly called Mother of God. What follows is rather different and demonstrates for the first time in Anselm’s Marian prayers a definite change in sensibility: who can more easily gain pardon for the accused by her intercession/ than she who gave milk to him who justly punishes or mercifully pardons all and each one? [Anselm, Prayers, p. 110, ll. 25-8].

This appeal to a tender humanity as the refuge for the sinner with both Mother and Son is then developed by Anselm with some ingenuity as the prayer continues to unfold: O human virgin,/ of you was born a human God, to save human sinners,/ and see, before both son and mother/ is a human sinner/ penitent and confessing,/ groaning and praying [Anselm, Prayers, p. 111, ll. 56-60]. Paradoxical contrasts abound: the accused flees from the just God/ to the good mother of the merciful God; and Dear Lord, spare the servant of your mother;/ dear Lady, spare the servant of your son [Anselm, Prayers, p. 112, ll. 83-6]. Most startling here is the couplet which begins the seventh paragraph of the prayer and which contains an expression unique in Anselm’s devotional works: Christ is called Judge of the world; Mary, with great daring, its reconciler [Anselm, Prayers, p. 113, 102-3]. Even the just sentence to hell which the sinner deserves is delivered not only by the Lord’s command but also with Mary’s consent. It would be Anselm’s faithful disciple Eadmer who would develop this theme more fully. The conclusion of the prayer continues this remarkable equation of Christ and Mary as a complementary pair in the work of redemption: God, who was made the son of a woman out of mercy;/ woman, who was made mother of God out of mercy;/ have mercy upon this wretch,/ you forgiving, you interceding [Anselm, Prayers, p. 113, ll. 117-8]. Only at the very end does Mary recede and, the fear of damnation past, the forgiven sinner anticipates entering with her into the joy of the blessed/ to praise you, God/ who are worthy to be praised and exalted for ever. Amen [Anselm, Prayers, p. 114, ll. 137-8]. This prayer, like the first, failed to satisfy Anselm and it was not until he embarked on a third, much longer prayer which he continued to revise for some twenty years, that he came to settle on an apt devotional idiom which did justice to his own theological preoccupations and his desire to express in fervent and affective prose the poignant human dignity and powerful mediation of the Mother of God.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Mariology of St Anselm (iii) - Canon Robin Ward

The first Prayer gives us some indication of the character of these difficulties. His technique in composing a prayer to one of the saints was to make common ground between the experience of the sinner and some incident in the life of the saint: this is particularly apparent in his prayer to S. Peter, in which Anselm does not hesitate to say of himself He may have strayed but at least it is not he who has denied his Lord and Shepherd [Anselm, Prayers, p.137, ll. 75-6]. Now in the case of Our Lady this was hardly possible: although as we shall see Anselm is not an advocate of the nascent doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, nevertheless he adheres with fidelity to the common practice of the Latin church, since Augustine wrote in his De Natura et Gratia, We must except the holy Virgin Mary, concerning whom I wish to raise no question when it touches the subject of sins, out of honour to the Lord. [Augustine of Hippo, De Natura et Gratia, 36]. Instead we have a stark contrast between the abject petitions for healing and salvation on the part of Anselm in his character as repentant sinner, and an exaltation of the Virgin’s advocacy which anticipates in its intensity the theme of Marian servitude which plays so significant a role in the piety of the Counter-Reformation French School. Anselm’s monastic precursor the Cluniac abbot Odilo had already introduced this theme in his personal submission to the Virgin as most merciful Advocatrix, wearing a cord around his neck at her altar as a sign of his slavery [Southern, The Making of the Middle Ages, p. 221]. It is a theme which Anselm develops from the start of his first Prayer, when he apostrophizes Mary as Life-bearer and mother of salvation [Anselm, Prayers, p. 107, l. 10].

Anselm entitles the prayer as one appropriate to be used when the mind is weighed down with heaviness, and it begins with an emphatic statement of all that separates Mary, among the holy ones the most holy after God, and the supplicant Anselm, who is sick with the sickness of vice … putrid with the ulcers of sin. [Anselm, Prayers, p. 107, ll. 2, 13-15]. He fears his state will repel rather than attract the attention of the Virgin, hoping for conversion but held back by despair [Anselm, Prayers, p. 107, l. 26]. Two paragraphs follow in which Anselm again contrasts his own state with that of Mary’s purity: what confusion there is for an impure conscience/ in the presence of shining purity; and yet Mary can herself by a glance from your mercy … cure the sickness and ulcers of my sins [Anselm, Prayers, p. 108, l. 46]. To Mary is given the role of judging: Anselm continues, Because of these sins of mine, Lady/ I desire to come to you and be cured,/ but I flee from you for fear of being cursed [Anselm, Prayers, p. 108, ll. 57-8]. The prayer concludes with an extended counterpoint of sin and purity, mercy and misery, which juxtaposes Mary who is powerful in goodness and good in power with the wretchedness of the penitent sinner: Most dear Lady, do not let what grieves you be,/ and there will be nothing to defile your holiness [Anselm, Prayers, p. 109, ll. 67, 85]. Only at the very end of the prayer does the Christological context of the redemption emerge: all this may be asked of Mary by virtue of the blessed fruit of your womb,/ who sits at the right hand of his almighty Father/ and is praised and glorified above all for ever [Anselm, Prayers, p. 109, ll. 89-91]. There is a certain monotony of development in this prayer which Anselm tacitly acknowledges when he tells Gundolf that it is divided into paragraphs lest he be bored; despite this, it is still an expression of Marian advocacy and mediation which is quite novel in the Latin devotional tradition.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Mariology of St Anselm (ii) - Canon Robin Ward

It is Anselm in his most celebrated work the Cur Deus Homo who through precisely the sort of proto-scholastic analysis which most irritated Father Benson unlocks the potential for this affective revolution. Put tersely, Anselm overturns the then prevalent understanding of the atonement as the defeat of the devil by God’s action in the incarnation, a putting right of the feudal offence of diffidatio on the part of the whole race by One who effectively deceives the deceiver, and ascribes instead the virtue of the act of redemption to the authentic humanity and in particular the authentic human sufferings of the Son of God. [Southern, The Making of the Middle Ages, pp. 224-5.] This intellectual revolution accompanies a devotional one. Until the eleventh century, the visible cultus of the saints in the Latin church was primarily one concerned with the veneration of relics, a perception of heavenly patronage which reflected both the Carolingian scepticism about sacred images and the intensely local character of saintly influence: tutelary deities made tangible watched over their votaries from dim crypts and kept them safe from harm. A visit to the crypt of S. Sernin in Toulouse is the perfect evocation of this sensibility, in which neither the presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament nor the relic-less veneration of the Virgin have a significant part to play. But just as Anselm places a novel emphasis on the condescension of the Word in accepting freely human nature for our redemption, so in contemporary art two new images appear, images which will remain seminal ensigns of medieval piety: the crucifix and the Virgin with Child. The warrior redeemer of The Dream of the Rood and the distant Byzantine imperial Theotokos give way to the suffering Man of Sorrows who is like us in all things except sin, and the mother who is suckling all the redeemed in the person of her divine Son, truly Fons Amoris.

The emergence of the shrine and cult at Walsingham reflects precisely this Anselmian change of sensibility in all its principal characteristics. Whatever credence we may give to the details set out in the Pynson ballad, we know at least that the origins of the shrine here date from about the period in which Anselm was active as a theologian, an abbot and an archbishop. Moreover, the impetus for the shrine’s foundation seems to emerge from the personal devotional life of a woman of leisure, Richeldis de Faverches. Here is a woman living in the world who has the time and the resources to develop a genuine interior life, one which then expresses itself through a visionary experience to construct a sophisticated and resonant monument to the new piety in tangible form, the Holy House. The old problem for Marian piety was no relics. Richeldis subverts this with the direct visionary impetus of the Virgin in person, who calls her client to look beyond Stiffkey’s fair vale to the newly-rediscovered geography of the Holy Land itself. It is hard to think that many of those tough, relic-touting, mace-wielding bishops whom we meet in the pages of the Chanson de Roland or in the cartoon-strip loutishness of the Bayeux tapestry would have been remotely interested in the Virgin’s house at Nazareth even if they had known of it: the appeal is too domestic, too devotional, perhaps even too sentimental. But Walsingham is on the cusp of something new, a humane tenderness of devotion in which the believer inculcates the mysteries of the redemption through a devout meditation on the condescension of the Word made Flesh.

Anselm himself had some difficulty in articulating the appropriate register for this new Marian devotion in his own piety. His celebrated Prayers and Meditations, most of which are the work of the 1070s, are a landmark in Latin Christian asceticism [Anselm of Canterbury, The Prayers and Meditations of St Anselm with the Proslogion, translated and introduced by Benedicta Ward, used throughout this paper]: although some tentative para-liturgical catenae of psalm verses and patristic extracts had circulated for private use for some two centuries before his time, Anselm achieves a striking originality in these compositions which is reminiscent of Augustine in The Confessions. Written by a Benedictine, they are intended for a wider audience than his confrères and indeed were particularly valued by noble women like Mathilda of Tuscany whose patronage was essential to the propagation of this new spirituality. Divorced from dependence on set liturgical forms, they demonstrate the process of faith seeking understanding in an affective register: Anselm turns over and over in a vivid rhythmic prose the mysteries of sin and redemption, and in so doing evokes sorrow for sin, compunction at the divine suffering in the Incarnation and Redemption, and a definitive turning of the mind and heart to heaven. Three authentic Marian prayers survive from this collection, which Anselm tells us were written at the behest of a fellow monk at Bec [Anselm of Canterbury, Ep 28, 1.20]. Sent to his friend Gundolf a monk and future Bishop of Rochester at Caen in 1072, Anselm confesses that only the third really satisfied him, and that in view of the difficulties involved, Gundolf must forgive him for the unusual length of each composition.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Mariology of St Anselm (i) - Canon Robin Ward

The Principal, Canon Robin Ward, gave the 2009 Assumptiontide Lecture at the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham on the subject of the Mariology of St Anselm of Canterbury. In a number of installments, the lecture will be reproduced here.

Nine hundred years ago on the Wednesday of Holy Week 1109 Archbishop Anselm of Canterbury died in the seventy-sixth year of his life and the sixteenth of his pontificate. Politically, his archiepiscopate had been a trying succession of exiles and conflicts with the new Norman monarchy in England over the independence and autonomy of the church as a spiritual power, efforts which his admirers have seen as a worthy anticipation of S. Thomas Becket and S. John Fisher, but which one of his eighteenth century successors dismissed as those of a rebel to his king, a slave to the popedom and an enemy of the married clergy [Benedicta Ward, Anselm of Canterbury, His Life and Legacy, p. 90]. Theologically, he is the outstanding Latin between Augustine and Thomas Aquinas: his famous articulation of theological endeavour as Fides querens intellectum is the dynamo of the scholastic mentality, in which the theologian as intellectual pilgrim perseveres in devout study from acquiescence to understanding, in which there (is) no resting place short of a final illumination [Richard Southern, The Making of the Middle Ages, p. 216]. Again, not everyone thought this a good thing: Richard Benson, the founder of the Cowley Fathers whose monastery S. Stephen’s House now inhabits, said that Anselm had done more harm than almost any other teacher by his endeavour to make plain ... divine truths to the necessities of human reasoning [Ward, Anselm, p. 3]. This is a little ungracious to the greatest monastic thinker ever to live in these islands, for it was as a monk and abbot of Bec, a son of S. Benedict from his youth, that Anselm was formed under the guidance of his teacher Lanfranc to be the exemplar and inspiration of a Copernican revolution in theological sensibility, one which has its first stirrings in the monasteries of old Francia and which comes to its culmination in Dante and S. Francis of Assisi.

In what did this revolution consist? The great historian of this period Sir Richard Southern entitled the concluding chapter of his magisterial study The Making of the Middle Ages ‘From Epic to Romance’. It is fashionable now to play down the darkness of the Dark Ages, rather as our forefathers liked to laud insular Saxon freedoms in stark contrast to the servitude of the Norman yoke. But who can doubt that the humane sensibility which in the twelfth century brought into being the cathedral at Durham and the equally sophisticated architecture of the French Arthurian romances represents a singular transformation of aspiration and technical skill in contrast to the jejeune efforts of the preceding five centuries. Fundamental to this renaissance was the security which came with the eclipse of the threat from militant Islam and the recovery of political order characteristic of the emergence of the national feudal kingdoms. Joseph Pieper reminds us that whenever western civilization flourished, leisure was the basis of culture, and there was precious little time for leisure in the embattled militarized world of Beowulf or the Song of Roland.

Theologically, this change of sensibility began in the monasteries and then expanded to embrace the transformation of intellectual horizons which followed from the experience of crusading and the international character of the new way of learning: faith sought understanding not only in greater depth than ever before, but over greater distances. Anselm himself is typical of this new expansiveness: born in Aosta, he moved to Burgundy and then to Normandy to find the teaching he needed, and settled at Bec because Lanfranc could give it to him. For those who preceded him, the English and Irish missionaries whose energies secured the conversion of Europe, such an experience although freely embraced would have been expressed in the poignant poetry of exile; for Anselm, what the epic sensibility perceived as a displacement, a loss for the sake of the kingdom, has become already that most romantic of activities, a quest for truth. Now this intellectual spaciousness, this shift from the local and insular to a more expansive outlook, is of fundamental importance for one of the most distinctive theological and devotional developments of the period: the rediscovery of Christ’s humanity as a locus of affective piety, and with it the emergence of a Marian cult which revolutionizes for good the Latin Christian perception of heavenly patronage for the pilgrim people of God.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Source of Life - Imogen Black

Given by Imogen Black, a second-year ordinand, whilst on placement at St Peter's, Eaton Square. The service also saw the celebration of the sacrament of baptism - the name of the candidate has been removed.

They reasoned unsoundly, saying to themselves,
“Short and sorrowful is our life,
and there is no remedy when a life comes to its end.”

(Wisdom of Solomon, chapter 2, verse 1.)

This morning’s first reading is, as it stands, arguably rather a depressing one, hardly seeming fit for a day on which we celebrate a child’s baptism. It presents the words of the ungodly, the wicked, who assert that this life is all we have, and then advocate that it should be spent in violence, oppressing and torturing the righteous man because he is inconvenient to [them] and opposes [their] actions.

A look at the reading’s context, however, brightens the picture somewhat. The author himself, we should note, has declared the ungodly to be ‘unsound’ in their reasoning, and if the passage selected had gone on one sentence further, we would have heard why. They are in fact wrong that this life is all that there is, for, the author declares, God created us for incorruption. There is life after an earthly life comes to its end, regardless of how short and sorrowful a person might complain it has been.

Wisdom was written as a Jewish not a Christian text, but the conviction that there is life after death is of course a Christian one too. We see it in today’s Gospel, where Jesus tries to instruct his disciples that “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.” The disciples are unhappy with this, and afraid; yet in their confusion and fear they are failing to notice something very obvious. Yes, Jesus is declaring that he is about to suffer, indeed to suffer horrifically, but that categorically will not be the end of the story. After that, he asserts, he will rise again; out of his death will come life.

That Jesus’ death proved to be a source of life, for his followers, for us, potentially for all mankind, is absolutely central to the Christian faith and is at the root of what we are celebrating today. For this reason the readings, grim though they may seem in their talk of suffering and evil, are not in fact inappropriate for a baptism. For baptism, so the Church teaches, is in fact intimately connected with the concept of life coming after death.

A baptism has various aspects. Certainly, part of what we are doing today is thanking God for this child’s birth, sharing with her parents and family in their joy. But there is rather more going on than that, which is why the Church of England distinguishes between a simple service of thanksgiving for a child’s birth and a baptism. What takes place at baptism is explained by St Paul in the sixth chapter of his letter to the Romans. Anyone who is baptized in Jesus’ name, he says, is baptized into Jesus’ death. This may sound alarming, but it shouldn’t be. For if, Paul continues, we die and are buried with Christ, we will also then be raised with him; as Christ’s own death led to new life, so we, by sharing in that death, can share in that life.

The fact that in baptism we are united with Jesus in his death is shown by its actions. In this church we have a fairly traditional small English font, a basin over which this child will be held as water is poured over her head. But in the early Church things were done rather differently: people were baptized not by pouring water but by immersing them fully in water (Jesus himself, we know, was baptized in a river) and there are churches today that still do that. The advantage of that is that the symbolism of the actions becomes rather clearer. As the person – child or adult – is fully submerged under the water, they are symbolically drowned, they die with Christ; as they are brought out of the water again, they are symbolically raised from the dead, into their new life in Christ.

I say ‘symbolically’, but it is important to remember that this ‘symbol’ has an actual effect. Jesus, living and dying sinless, broke the hold of sin over mankind, enabling us to enjoy a new life with God. When we are baptized we are, through the grace of God, in a mysterious way united to Jesus in his dying and in his rising. As St Paul puts it, we do indeed die at our baptism: we die to sin so that we can live to God. Of course this is not to claim that n. at her age is busily committing sins, rather acknowledging mankind’s tendency to sin, the temptation to live selfishly, which we all experience as we grow up. Baptism admits this human tendency, and asserts that we are not enslaved to it, but given by God the opportunity of a new start, a new life with him.

Such opportunity, such new life is to be taken seriously. That is why promises will be made today on this child's behalf, promises to turn away from sin and turn instead to Christ. That she is not answering for herself is not a problem; indeed it is a good reminder that baptism is a gift, given generously to us because God loves us, not something we earn by what we ourselves do. But the promises indicate an expectation that this child, as she grows, will herself seek Christ; today she is beginning her own journey of faith.

And it is not only n.’s parents and godparents who will be responsible for helping her on that journey. Baptism is not a private matter – the reason why n. is being baptized at one of our main Sunday Eucharists is that baptism involves joining a community, the community of the universal Church, and, more specifically, the Christian community here. It will therefore be the job of all of us in this community to pray for her and help nurture her in her faith as she grows. Later in this Eucharist, we will be celebrating the fact that we are one body, the body of Christ. As we do so let us then remember and celebrate that this child is part of that body too.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Trinity 18 - Fr Damian Feeney

Given by Fr Damian Feeney, Vice-Principal of St Stephen's House, on Trinity 18 - Sunday 11th October 2009.

This has been a week when the recurring refrain for a new Vice-Principal has been ‘Well, I won’t make that mistake next year’. The list is long enough to be embarrassing, so I won’t give you the catalogue – suffice it to say that next year I will try very hard not to be preaching at the end of a preaching studies course which I have led.

The air has been full of veneration this week. The relics of St Thérèse of Lisieux have rested sufficiently long in Oxford for thousands to have venerated her at the Oratory. After Gerrards Cross there are two further stops before a final spell at Westminster Cathedral. Prior to Oxford, there were similar events at sixteen other venues. Those who feel that this is something of a whirlwind itinerary for the ‘Little Flower’ need not worry – she has already made similar trips to Brazil, Russia, Kazakhstan, the United States, Ireland, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Burkina Faso, Lebanon and Iraq. As one member of our College Council once observed of the Statue of Our Lady of Walsingham, she ‘likes a trip out’.

On Wednesday evening, when so many were queuing in Oxford to see Thérèse, veneration of a rather different kind was taking place on Television, as 5.5 million people tuned in to see the ‘Pride of Britain’ awards. People from all sorts of walks of life were honoured, from the man who left school at 15 with no qualifications, but who went on to invent the MRI scanner (Sir Peter Mansfield - how many lives has that saved?) to 12 year old Jake Peach who had survived the most harrowing leukaemia treatment and now spent all his spare time fundraising for Great Ormond Street Hospital (£600,000, at the last count). In between there was Royal Marine Sergeant Noel Connolly, who threw himself at a suicide bomber on a motorbike, saving 30 lives in the Kandahar province of Afghanistan and Jasvinder Sanghera who, motivated by the suicide of her sister who had been forced into an arranged marriage, has devoted her life to supporting those who, like her, have rejected a similar path for themselves. Each of these singular people had their moment of fame – perhaps the most amusing being Chris Saunders, the ex-heroin addict turned Rehab Centre Manager who was on record as wanting to thank the judge who had sent him down, because it was during that sentence that he got his life together. Well, the re-union happened – in some ways a bizarre moment, but in others part of a powerful story of re-building and repentance.

Aside from being a hopeless romantic and therefore a sucker for this kind of thing, I believe that such moments can and do lift the spirits. First of all, these people are not isolated, because the truth is, there are many people like this – good people, living good lives in ordinary places, lifting the vision of communities and providing opportunities for others. Doubtless the people who appeared on Television are the tip of the iceberg. There are many, but we don’t hear about them so much. Secondly, these stories provide inspiration for others, who discover that there is more than one way to react to adversity, setback, or hardship. That way might be described as ‘heroic virtue’ – the phrase coined by Augustine of Hippo to describe the early Christian martyrs, and used by Benedict XV in describing St Thérèse in 1921. Thérèse herself was no stranger to suffering and hardship, of course: a troubled, bullied childhood, the constant pain of family bereavement, tuberculosis, an earthly life of only twenty-four years. When I think of Thérèse I’m reminded of Kristin Hallenga, aged twenty-three on Wednesday night whose breast cancer diagnosis has come hopelessly late, and whose response to this shattering blow is to organise an initiative, amusingly called ‘Cop a Feel’ which encourages women to self-examine for early signs of breast cancer. It is a very far cry from the first instinct, that of shock, tears and self-centred lamentation.

Such stories reflect the Christian narrative, which accepts suffering but does not accede to it, using it rather as a fulcrum with which the world might be moved. Surely this, too, is heroic virtue, even if in our minds we create a distinction between a Canonized Saint and Doctor like Thérèse and the award winners from Wednesday. Being prime-time television, we weren’t party to any insights about whatever religious beliefs the winners may or may not have held (although I noticed Jasvinder Sanghera wearing a cross) but that doesn’t lessen my desire to label the stories which we heard Works of the Kingdom.

Having acknowledged his need for obedience to the Commandments as a starting point, the sticking point for the young man in this morning’s gospel comes when he is challenged by Jesus to re-define himself – no longer a self-sufficient man of means but someone whose living must be dependent upon God. Jesus’ call to the young man to sell up and give the money away is far more than a rejection of worldly prosperity. It is an invitation to take his place among the truly poor, to take account of his need of others, and their need of his – a need to live as one of a community. . His challenge is ours – the challenge to see through the affluent, sophisticated context in which we find ourselves, and recall, in humility, our dependence upon God and one another. It is the challenge which Thérèse faced, and the challenge which all who seek after truth face. Having so venerated the relics of an astounding saint, we should use this moment as a spur – to recognise again the good news that every community contains seekers after truth, those whose circumstances throw up reactions of heroic virtue, and to act as those who encourage such good news stories and enable them to see the light of day. Such stories, whether from a canonized saint or from closer to home, lift our eyes to see the possibilities of community life lived to the full, (not least in our own community here) and inspire a positive re-appraisal of our own potential under God. If we have venerated heroic virtue this week, let us be people who seek it, promote it, and live it.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Thérèse of Lisieux - Daniel Lloyd

Each Monday a student gives a short homily at the end of Evening Prayer. This week Daniel Lloyd, a third year ordinand, reflects on the visit of the relics of S. Thérèse of Lisieux to Oxford. During the visit staff and students went to venerate the relics and attend Mass at the Oxford Oratory in her presence. It was a wonderful, grace-filled visit for the 6,200 pilgrims of which we were but a small part.

Most of us will never have seen the bones of a twenty-four-year-old woman. As you will probably know, unless you have spend the weeks before the start of term living in a cave, the relics of Marie-Françoise-Thérèse Martin, Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, are making a journey around this country. They are presently reposing in Nottingham Cathedral, having been inter alia to Liverpool, Portsmouth and York, and with Gerrards Cross and London to come. On Wednesday and Thursday, they will be in the Oratory here in Oxford, where a comprehensive programme of devotions and veneration is to take place.

Thérèse is, in many ways, a saint of modernity. Hers is an iconography inseparable from photography and mass-media reproduction. Staged representations of a type common in the late nineteenth-century confront us at every turn: Young Thérèse Martin with her high collar and hair worn up, Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus in full habit looking pensive in a garden, even the soon-to-be beata, crowned with flowers, depicted serene on her deathbed.

There is no doubt that she was forthright person. Indeed, at fifteen she wanted so much to enter the Carmelite Convent at Lisieux that, on being refused by its superior, she went to Rome with her father Louis to seek audience of Pope Leo XIII. A letter she wrote back to the Convent included the line “the good Pope is so old that one would think he is dead”, a line excised at the time of her canonization process.

Nevertheless, Leo outlived the eager teenager by six years, since she died of tuberculosis in 1897, at the age of just 24. The sceptic says, in the readiness with which she posed for holy photographs, and in a certain flintiness of gaze which one might detect in the pale-faced little creature, we can discount her as an anomaly, a sugary saint manufactured for an exhausted French church going through difficult relations with the state, as close to a real saint as a telly academic is to those horny-handed toilers in Bodley’s Library.

The journalist and former MP Matthew Parris gives our sceptic a helping hand, or rather a great big shove, in a recent column in the Times: ‘“Organisers said that the arrival of the casket […] was likely to attract hundreds of thousands of pilgrims.” I’m sorry: “pilgrims”? Isn’t the word “dupes”? Does balanced reporting require neutrality even towards the self-evidently preposterous?’

So, we can discount the saint because we don’t understand her; we can discount the veneration of her relics because such practice is self-evidently, and I quote, “paganistic nonsense”. Her shrine at Lisieux is bad-taste in marble and mosaic, and we are beyond this outmoded attitude. It’s modern, and we’re all post-modern now.

I think not. S. Thérèse’s spiritual autobiography is not to be dismissed as just good PR. Thérèse is a saint who, by her very example of holiness has something to say to all of us. From her we learn that we can and should all desire to be holy. She who spoke of love as her vocation reminds us that we should put love at the heart of all things. We see the importance of family life in nurturing vocations, not only the vocation to diaconate, priesthood or the religious life, but also to that love of God and neighbour to which we are all called.

As Hans Urs von Balthasar wrote, “It was God's purpose for Thérèse to light up certain aspects of revelation afresh for the benefit of contemporary Christendom, to make certain accepted but neglected truths astonishingly clear.” Thérèse’s “Little Way” speaks openly and clearly about the nature and appearance of charity in daily life. Critics call her childish, simplistic: but rather, her very simplicity is her greatest challenge to us.

And, as for the relics themselves, Pope Benedict put it thus: “By inviting us to venerate the mortal remains of the martyrs and saints, the Church does not forget that, in the end, these are indeed just human bones, but they are bones that belonged to individuals touched by the transcendent power of God. The relics of the saints are traces of that invisible but real presence which sheds light upon the shadows of the world and reveals the Kingdom of Heaven in our midst.”

Are we prepared to take the opportunity afforded us to go and affirm the faith in the Communion of Saints which we have already confessed with Thérèse, who said “I am your sister and your friend; Jesus will not disappoint you”?