Archives For Medieval Church History

With over 2000+ years of thought, action and in some cases really good ideas, that simply just crashed and burned, Christian history is rich and vibrant. If we ignore this history and the theological enquiry attached to it, we turn our backs on faith, heritage and hard lessons learnt along the way.

The old saying still reigns:

‘I believe in order to understand’  (St. Augustine, & Anselm of Canterbury)

Unfortunately, we live in a ‘Just get me to the chorus’ era:

 ‘’Give me the theological truth – but if it doesn’t fit in a MEME that I can like, share or wave passive aggressively at my not-yet-Christian friends on Facebook, I don’t want to know about it’’.

Don’t get me wrong. Minus their manipulative passive aggressive abuse, I think MEMEs, are overall, useful. They provide a form of art-therapy for adults. Plus, the simplicity of a meme can be inspiring, and the art that goes with it can be soothing. Memes have a place.

This isn’t a beat up of that genre.

Like it or not. Christians should be interested in theology, because every Christian is in some way or another, called to have a thinking faith. As Stanley Grenz put it: ‘theology is called forth by faith’ (Theology for the community of God, 1994, p.9)

In truth, engaging with difficult reading isn’t easy, but doing so does us good.

We are shaped by the challenge and its outcome. This could be likened to carefully navigating our way up a mountain, stopping to enjoy the view, then employing the same caution on our way back down.

If we sense that the subject matter is ‘’beyond us’’, it’s more than likely a manifestation of our impatience, which seeks to impale us on the stake of ignorance. [Insert Jesus’ words about – Doves, wisdom, snakes, wolves, and sheep (Mt.10:16).]

This apathy towards learning wounds us, not just individually, but collectively,  because ‘theology is done in community’ (Grenz, 1994 p.9).

In his ‘Aids to Reflection’, poet, Samuel Taylor Coleridge stated:

An unreflecting Christian walks in twilight among snares and pitfalls!…because he will not kindle the torch which his Father had given into his hands, as a mean of prevention, and lest he should pray too late.’ 

Likewise American author, Nathaniel Hawthorne, protested the circumventing of this imperative. In his 1843 work ‘The celestial railroad’, Hawthorne reworks Bunyan’s pilgrim’s progress. The result is an attempt to tackle the dangers associated with taking short-cuts in a faith that seeks understanding.

In a brief exposition of Hawthorne’s Celestial Railroad, Jean Elshtain pointed out that

‘counter to Reformed orthodox doctrine, some 19th Century theologians suggested that there were short cuts to heaven[…]We live in a time of shortcuts […] We want to pave the way as easy as we can’.  This is evidenced by ‘social media which promises a painless way to get community, human identity and democracy’[…] ‘where techno-cyber consumerism makes it easy to have hatefulness confirmed rather than challenged.’

Elshtain goes on to suggest that this is indicative of Hawthorne’s theological critique of society:

‘Hawthorne’s work presents the promises of ease and convenience which are made by the antagonist, ‘’Mr. Smooth it away’’ as a stark contrast to the striving difficulty of ‘’Christian’’ on Bunyan’s road’.

On the surface this could be translated as progressive versus conservative, and it wouldn’t be a complete stretch. This is because they bridge between Hawthorne’s tale and current sociopolitical realities of a technological society.

We can draw a contrast between a pilgrim’s progress and the journey undertaken by progressive pilgrimsThere is a difference between the progress of pilgrims and pilgrims who call themselves progressive.The former is a dynamic, ‘pilgrim people’ (Karl Barth CD.IV.4:40), critically processing ideology through theological enquiry. The latter are a passive people, who have already surrendered their theology to ideology, and doing their best to justify their surrender.

The distinction between a pilgrim’s progress and that of a progressive pilgrim, is fleshed out by Elshtain further:

 ‘The old image of a pilgrim carrying their sins on their back  is made superfluous. This is seen in Hawthorne’s narrative critique, when people were told that there is a super hot railway that would get them there quick, without all the messy stuff about sin, remorse, penance, meaningful membership and so on’ (2013).

Like the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25:31-46), the pilgrim and the progressive pilgrim are heading the same direction. However, as in Hawthorne’s narrative, not only do they travel different paths, tragically, upon arrival, the progressive pilgrim finds that their destination is in complete contrast to that of their neighbour’s. They find out that you cannot just rock up to heaven and demand to be let in (see Matthew 7:21 and John 14:6).

This distinction between a pilgrim’s progress and the journey undertaken by progressive pilgrims, is upheld by Hawthorne. His description of the advantage claimed by progressive pilgrims, over the journey taken by those who follow Christian through the Wicket Gate in the Pilgrim’s Progress is as follows:

‘’The passengers being all comfortably seated, we now rattled away merrily, accomplishing a greater distance in ten minutes than Christian probably trudged over in a day. It was laughable, while we glanced along, as it were, at the tail of a thunderbolt, to observe two dusty foot travellers in the old pilgrim guise, with cockle shell and staff, their mystic rolls of parchment in their hands and their intolerable burdens on their backs. The preposterous obstinacy of these honest people in persisting to groan and stumble along the difficult pathway rather than take advantage of modern improvements, excited great mirth among our wiser brotherhood. We greeted the two pilgrims with many pleasant gibes and a roar of laughter; whereupon they gazed at us with such woeful and absurdly compassionate visages that our merriment grew tenfold”.

Pilgrims who entered through the Wicket Gate are mocked, taunted and physically assaulted by their ”wiser brothers and sisters”.

This also finds traction in Christian history with what is called the ‘downgrade (downhill slope) controversy’. This was when English Baptist Pastor, Charles Spurgeon, choose to resign from the Baptist Union in 1887 (Iain Murray ‘The Forgotten Spurgeon’, 1966:161). He issued a reasoned response against the new phenomena of altar calls, liberal protestant emotionalism and an excessive focus on personal experience. Spurgeon’s refusal was met with all forms of opposition, and yet remained steadfast:

Perhaps there is relevance here for the Church today? In 1889, Spurgeon wrote:

‘Fellowship with known and vital error is participation in sin…should truth be sold to keep up a wider fellowship? The day will come when those who think that they can repair a house, which has no foundations, will see the wisdom of quitting it altogether. All along we have seen that to come out from association with questionable doctrines is the only possible solution of a difficulty which, however it may be denied, is not to be trifled with by those who are conscious of its terrible reality’…it might be more satisfactory to take the whole house down, and reconstruct it.  
(Murray citing Spurgeon, 1966:144-155)

Interestingly, Robert Shindler, a friend of Spurgeon’s, wrote:

‘’in some cases, it is all too plainly apparent [that] men are willing to forego the old for the sake of the new. But commonly it is found in theology, that that which is true is not new, and that which is new is not true.” (‘The Sword and the Trowel’, March 1887)

Let us remember where, what and who our lives are aligned to serve. God can still speak out of the chaos in a whirlwind (Job 38:1 & 40:6). If He chooses too, we would do well to listen, understand and gratefully obey. Instead of opting for the empty progressive promises of Mr.Smooth-it-away, and Hawthorne’s ‘Celestial train’, may we have the courage to persevere and make progress as Bunyan’s Christian did.


References:

Barth, K. 1969 Church Dogmatics Vol.IV The Doctrine of Reconciliation, part 4 Hendrickson Publishers

Elshtain, J.B 2013, State of Democracy Maxwell School lecture sourced 16th June 2013

Grenz, S.J. 1994 Theology for the community of God Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. Grand Rapids MI. USA

Hawthorne, N. 1843 The Celestial Railroad sourced from http://www.nathanielhawthorne.com/short-stories/The-Celestial-Railroad.html

Murray, I. 1966 The Forgotten Spurgeon Banner of Truth Trust USA

©Rod Lampard, 2013

 

‘Mate! what a bloody good thing,

Jesus recruits soldiers amongst His enemies.”

What a naïve scoundrel I once was!

Unknowingly

unbalanced

Scared,

lost,

scarred.

Bloody terrified!

What a bloody good thing that

Jesus recruits soldiers amongst His enemies!

All too aware of the past,

unaware of my ego

Confidently uncertain of my confidence,

transparent, I was see through

Such

was my existence.

Damaged,

broken and fallen….

Ruined, and in turn destined to ruin

….What a bloody good thing,

Jesus recruits amongst His enemies

Ignorant,

manipulated,

blind to aggressors, unkind to the carers

Invulnerable to vulnerability…..

”Mate! what a bloody good thing,

Jesus recruits soldiers amongst His enemies!”


(©RL2013)

Inspired by:

‘Bloody Darwin’ (circa 1941, Anon).

Cornelius (Acts 10, ESV).

‘Jesus recruits soldiers amongst His foes’ (St. Bernard of Clairvaux, Military Orders, 12th Cent. In praise of the new Knighthood)

 

Pax Jerusalem

July 13, 2014 — Leave a comment

Clouds have assembled and we are praying for some much needed rain.

Here is an antiphon (verse) expressing a perfect tone for such a winters day. It is of the 6th or 7th century[i] century and performed by Ensemble Organum, Director: Marcel Peres.

English from the Latin:

Give peace, O Lord, in our time Because there is no one else Who will fight for us If not You, our God.

(The following are from Psalm 122:6-9)

Let there be peace in your strength, and abundance in your towers

I wish you peace for the sake of my brothers and my family

I have sought good for you because of the house of the Lord God

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: they shall prosper that love thee

Glory to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, just as it was in the beginning, and now and always, and forever.

Amen.’[ii]

Sources:

[i] hymnary.org
[ii]  Da pacem domine

 

Now and then, for some laughter-is-the-best-medicine downtime, I’ll browse Pinterest just for the large amount of humour one can find there.

I’m finding out that it’s becoming quite a good therapeutic habit; a necessary sanctuary; a healthy ”go-to” especially after an evening read of other news feeds.

Here are some I found the other day.

(Granted, these aren’t that ”funny”, but they show some inventiveness. Therefore-eth I rank-eth them thus worth sharing-eth.)

medieval humour

 

 

medieval humour2

Medieval words that bounce off the page, and land in the present.

Cath_Siena quote 4_1

Bernard of Clairvaux, as shown in the church o...

Bernard of Clairvaux, as shown in the church of Heiligenkreuz Abbey near Baden bei Wien, Lower Austria. Portrait (1700) with the true effigy of the Saint by Georg Andreas Wasshuber (1650-1732), (painted after a statue in Clairvaux with the true effigy of the saint) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A few years back I spent a semester studying Medieval Church History. One particular outcome of this course was a bourgeoning appreciation for what my lecturer called, ‘the discipline of emulation’ (Gray).

This is an area of meditation that falls closely near  the ‘discipline of study’ [1].

Engaging with this discipline meant copying out verbatim, Bernard of Clairvaux’s, ‘In Praise of the New Knighthood’.

The task was to rewrite, by hand, the entire treatise.

This process allowed me to see how participating in spiritual disciplines require endurance and, how working through a discipline can uncover areas of our lives that we would otherwise be ignorant of.

I was not displaced from the spiritual significance of the exercise, nor was I disconnected from the insights gained by focusing completely, both mentally and physically on the text.

Taking the time to carefully reproduce an accurate hand written copy of the text required solitude and silence.

I was powered by a solid commitment to the task at hand. As a retail manager by trade, I have had the proverbial, ‘time is money’ engrained into my subconscious, cognitive behavioural stimuli.

At that time this ludicrous measuring stick became a serious obstacle for me. Through engaging in this discipline I was shown how rushed my life had become. I also discovered that I struggled, psychologically and emotionally, to give myself permission to relax and not feel guilty about it.

I am grateful for moving through this unique form of ‘experimental archaeology’[2].

The intense focus, helped re-enforce a spiritual reading of Bernard’s treatise. On completion of the project, I found that I had become more concerned with understanding the text.

My purpose was no longer just to complete the task, but to genuinely listen to what Bernard had intended to convey to his readers. My whole approach was effectively transformed. Subsequently, so was my appreciation for the form, content and context of the document as a whole.

Scribes filled libraries with accurate copies of valuable information. They preserved material, which has become a primary witness that would have otherwise been lost to modern society.

The challenge to carefully reproduce the information before me, made me aware of how modern society could benefit from the example of scribes.

Scribes took their time to get it right. They did not want to bear false witness by making errors of transposition and translation. For the scribes this emulation was a product of worship.

To copy a text is to cherish it and move closer to the author and his or her subject. When mistakes were made there must have been a constant tension between pushing on or giving up.

For a medieval scribe, emulation as a spiritual discipline, was sincere Christian worship. Perhaps blogging is a spiritual discipline that follows closely in line with emulation.

Such awareness may allow those of us who blog, to apply what we do as a method of worship, motivated in similar ways as that which motivated the scribes. Consequently, presenting ourselves and our work, as a living sacrifice, offered up in Spirit and in Truth (Jn.4:24)[3].

2 Cor 11_33_12_9

An example: the work of a scribe: 2 Cor. 11_33_12_9 


References:

[1] Forster, R. 2008 Celebration of discipline: the path to Spiritual Growth, Hodder & Stoughton, London UK.

[2] disclaimer: I understand that this activity would not be completely  considered experimental archaeology. We did not use materials such as ink, parchment or vellum et.al. Nevertheless,given the task I view this exercise as a participation in a form of experimental archaeology.

[3] John 4:24 ‘God is Spirit, and those who worship the Him must worship in Spirit and truth’