Introducing the Creed of Saint Athanasius

One of the “Documentary Foundations”, on page 769 in the 2019 Prayer Book, is The Athanasian Creed.  It is offered there without comment, much like it is in the back of the 1979 Prayer Book, except this time in a normal font size so you don’t have to be especially young and spry in order to read it.

There is, however, a rubric in our Prayer Book that point to it.  On page 139, among the Additional Directions Concerning Holy Communion, we are told that the Athanasian Creed may be used in place of the Nicene Creed on Trinity Sunday and other occasions as appropriate.  This is probably the most widespread use of that Creed today.

In the classical Prayer Book tradition, however, it received a bit more use.  In the 1662 Prayer Book, for example, we find this rubric:

Upon these Feasts, Christmas-day, the Epiphany, St. Matthias, Easter-day, Ascension-day, Whitsunday, St. John Baptist, St. James, St. Bartholomew, St. Matthew, St. Simon and St.
Jude, St. Andrew, and upon Trinity-sunday, shall be sung or said at Morning Prayer, instead of the Apostles Creed, this Confession of our Christian Faith, commonly called the Creed of St. Athanasius, by the Minister and people standing.

That’s 13 times a year this Creed was ordered to be said.  If you’re curious about why those feasts were selected, and not others, the best I can offer is that the principle feasts of the year are covered (Christmas, Epiphany, Easter, Ascension, Pentecost, Trinity Sunday), and beyond that one feast per month is chosen, such that this Creed would be heard about once a month, usually near the end:

  • January: Epiphany (6th)
  • February: St. Matthias (29th)
  • March: Easter sometimes
  • April: Easter usually, Ascension sometimes
  • May: Ascension usually, Pentecost sometimes
  • June: Pentecost usually, Trinity, St. John Baptist (24th)
  • July: St. James (25th)
  • August: St. Bartholomew (24th)
  • September: St. Matthew (21st)
  • October: St. Simon and St. Jude (28th)
  • November: St. Andrew (30th)
  • December: Christmas (25th)

Anyway, let’s look at the Creed itself.  It’s called Of Athanasius because he is the traditionally-acclaimed author, though historical scholarship has indicated that it’s most likely a product of his school of thought, or his tradition so to speak, rather than of him himself.  Thus some like to refer to it by its first line in Latin: Quicunque vult.  But the appellation of Athanasius is appropriate nonetheless, as this does express his theology quite clearly.

In terms of contents, this Creed is by far the best and most robust resource in the Church’s arsenal when it comes to teaching the doctrine of the Trinity.  In the way it is formatted in our Prayer Book, most of page 769 deals with the Trinity, all of page 770 does, and the first “verse” of it on page 771 concludes the section on the Trinity.  The rest of the Creed (page 771) proceeds in a fashion very similar to the Nicene Creed, outlining the incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  But even this uses more developed language to expound the two natures of Christ (in close union with the 3rd and 4th Ecumenical Councils, again indicating a post-Athanasius origin).

Let’s be honest, this Creed can be a bit of a tongue-twister, and its repetitive phrases can make it difficult to understand without familiarity.  But if you read it slowly and carefully, its logic will be clear, as two things are being established very methodically: there are three Persons in the Trinity and there is one God in Unity.

Apart from its length, this Creed has other features that have contributed to its decline in popularity over the past 200 years: its vehement insistence on orthodoxy for salvation.  Note how it begins:

Whoever will be savedbefore all things it is necessary that he hold the Catholic Faith.
Which Faith except everyone do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly.

It ends with the same tone:

This is the Catholic Faith, which except a man believe faithfully, he cannot be saved.

The good news here is that it never says “understand”, only “hold” or “keep” or “believe”.  So if you or your child or your uneducated Christian friend don’t really understand what this Creed is saying, you or they are not damned.  We keep the faith, we hold and believe the faith, however well we understand and grasp its particulars in our minds.  The mystery of the Trinity is one of the greatest mysteries and paradoxes that can be found in the Scriptures, yet this Creed reminds us (and carefully explains) that no true Christian worships three Gods, or blends the Father, Son, and Spirit together into one person, neither do we blend the divinity and humanity of Jesus together into some sort of demigod half-breed.  We hold to the intellectually-difficult yet simple truths that the one God exists in three persons, and that Jesus is both fully God and fully man.

So that, I hope, puts to rest any fears that the anathemas (condemnatory statements) may rile up in the heart of the reader.

If you and your church did not say the Athanasian Creed on Trinity Sunday this year (and let’s face it, very few of us even had the chance to!) consider taking up the tradition of the classical Prayer Books and saying it at Morning Prayer on John the Baptist’s birthday tomorrow!  It’s not technically authorized in our Prayer Book, but to do so would be in accord with the spirit of the rubrics, if not the letter.

St. Alban, Britain’s Protomartyr

Today is the commemoration of Saint Alban, one of the early British Saints whose name appears in the calendar of the 2019 Prayer Book.  His death date is listed as “c. 250” – the c. is for circa, Latin for “approximately”.  In this particular case, this approximation is more of an average… dates given for his death in early sources have discrepancies ranging from 209 to 304.  Also, if you’re curious about the word “protomartyr,” it means “first martyr”, or more technically, first recorded martyr.

You can read his abridged hagiography on Wikipedia if you like; two of our major sources on his story are the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles and The Ecclesiastical History by St. Bede – both are major source of information for Christianity in Britain in the first millennium A.D.  In short, Alban was a Briton who harbored a Christian priest hiding from state persecution.  Alban came to respect the priest’s faith and holiness and converted to Christ also.  When soldiers came to arrest the priest, Alban put on the priest’s garments and offered himself in the priest’s place.  His self-sacrificial subterfuge was soon found out, but he was tortured and eventually executed instead of the priest anyway.  On the way to his execution a river was miraculously dried up so the execution party could avoid a crowded bridge and a spring appeared to quench his thirst, both incidents heavily reflecting stories of Moses and Jesus.

The tricky thing about hagiographies, of course, is that this is a very stylized way of writing which only gets more elaborate over the course of history.  And even if the religious content was not an issue, there is also the simple reality that we don’t have a lot of original information from this many centuries past.  It may be that these miracle tales are historically accurate, but it’s also very likely that these stories have been told and retold in particular ways and with particular embellishments to teach the hearers something apart from the actual history of these Saints.  I would suspect, for example, that the crossing of the river on dry ground and the appearance of the water-spring are additions to the “real” history of Saint Alban, added not make Alban look super-special nor to trick posterity into believing a lie, but to illustrate the virtue of Alban’s faith by adding biblical allusions to the crucifixion of Christ and the Exodus led by Moses.

You who read this probably already know: I love history.  I even wrote a short article entitled Why History Matters a few years ago.  You might be puzzled, then, why I’m so positive about sharing a hagiography that even I admit is probably not strictly historically accurate?  The answer is this: we learn from hagiographies in much the same way we learn from history.  These old writings bring us into worlds that are different from our own, where people think differently and conceive of similar ideas in dissimilar ways.  How we understand and relate to history is very different from how they understood and related to history before them.

So as we go through Saint Alban’s Day, I encourage you to give thought to the witness of those who would die for the faith, for the name of Christ.  Regardless of what historically happened on his way to his execution, his example of truly committed faith is instructive and inspiring.  And, I daresay for most of us comfy Americans, a healthy humbling shock.

As we remember martyrs according to our Prayer Book (from page 637),

Almighty God, you gave your servant Alban boldness to confess the Name of our Savior Jesus Christ before the rulers of this world, and courage to die for this faith: Grant that we may always be ready to give a reason for the hope that is in us, and to suffer gladly for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

Visions of the New Temple – Ezekiel 40

Today at Evening Prayer we begin the final phase of the book of the Prophet Ezekiel.  I was a bit tired when filming this video, so forgive my facial expressions… covidtide has been difficult on all of us.

As for the content matter itself, the hermeneutic employed here, looking at Ezekiel chapters 40 through 48, is one that applies handily throughout the Old Testament: we’re not simply studying and learning history, but through historical visions we receive insight into the very Gospel of Jesus.

A Psalm & A Hymn

Psalm 90 begins with the simple but heartfelt words

Lord, you have been our refuge
from one generation to another.

This is captured and paraphrased in a famous and beloved hymn:

O God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Our shelter from the stormy blast,
And our eternal home;

Under the shadow of thy throne
Thy saints have dwelt secure;
Sufficient is thine arm alone,
And our defense is sure.

Yes, O God our help in ages past is a hymn that was written to paraphrase and reflect upon Psalm 90.  It was written by Isaac Watts in 1719, and many of his hymns are re-workings of biblical psalms.  Let’s see how more of this hymn teases out layers of meaning from Psalm 90.

Before the hills in order stood,
Or earth received her frame,
From everlasting thou art God,
To endless years the same.

This approximates verse 2 of the psalm:

Before the mountains were brought forth, or the earth and the world were made,
you are God from everlasting, and world without end.

The ancient helping power of God traced through the generation of his saints in the first verse of the psalm and first two stanzas of the hymn is here found all the in the very Days of Creation.  God has always been God, “world without end” or “from ages of ages”.  Before the aeon of time itself, God was the same God we now know and love.

The next stanza in our hymnal reads thus:

A thousand ages in thy sight
Are like an evening gone,
Short as the watch that ends the night
Before the rising sun.

This matches verses 4 & 5 of the Psalm:

For a thousand years in your sight are as yesterday,
even as a day that is past.

You scatter them them as a night-watch that comes quickly to an end;
they are even as a dream and fade away.

Verses 6 & 7 also provides more context and application of this concept of God’s timelessness:

They are like the grass, which in the morning is green,
but in the evening is dried up and withered.

For we consume away in your displeasure
and are afraid at your wrathful indignation.

The eternity of God causes us to reflect upon our mortality, and our insignificance in comparison with Him.  The days of our lives compared to his eternity is like comparing our long lives with the brief life of grass in the desert climes – just one hot day can dry and wither it away.

This leads to the next stanza in the hymn.

Time, like an ever-rolling stream,
Bears all its sons away;
They fly, forgotten, as a dream
Dies at the opening day.

Verse 7 of Psalm 90, above, and also verse 10, here, both play into that stanza.

The days of our life are seventy years, and though some be so strong that they come to eighty years,
yet is their span but labor and sorrow; so soon it passes away, and we are gone.

The following verses of the Psalm continue on that meditation: we must learn to “number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom” which, we know from the scriptures, is the fear of the Lord.  The fear of the Lord has also been described in the psalm, especially in verses 7, 8, 9, and 11.  It doesn’t feed into Isaac Watts’ hymn too directly, but it’s an important piece of context to keep in mind as we sing.

The hymn ends with a partial repetition of the beginning, but a slightly different petition.

O God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Be thou our guide while life shall last,
And our eternal home.

This matches the tone of Psalm 90 in its final few verses, which step back from the language of fear and the shortness of life, and settle upon prayers for comfort.  The Psalm does not overtly return to the language and imagery of God as our refuge or help in ages past, nor of being our home or shelter, but it the hymn and the psalm do wrap up with the same tone or mood.  Thus the hymn is an encapsulation of Psalm 90 in miniature, pulling out some major themes and leaving only hints of others.  It’s no substitute for praying the psalm, of course, but it is a wonderful point of entry.

 

This reflection was originally written for Grace Anglican Church and published on leorningcnihtes boc.

FOUR versions of the Lord’s Prayer!?

Did you know that there are four versions of the Lord’s Prayer in the 2019 Prayer Book?

You may be aware of two already.  In just about every rite in the book, a traditional-language and contemporary-language rendition of the Lord’s Prayer are offered in parallel columns.  But how do we get four versions, then?  On pages 39 and 65, the following rubric can be found:

Either version of the Lord’s Prayer may be ended with “deliver us from evil.  Amen.” omitting the concluding doxology.

You may find that confusing – why would one opt for the shorter version?  Don’t just the Romans do the short version?

This rubric has some interesting history behind it; welcome to “Weird Rubric Wednesday”.

If you look at various Prayer Books before our own you’ll find a pretty clear pattern: the doxology is often omitted from the Lord’s Prayer.  Let’s list it out:

  • Beginning of Morning Prayer:
    1662 Yes, 1928 Yes
  • Among the Prayers of Morning Prayer:
    1662 No, 1928 Unspecified, 1979 Yes, 2019 Yes
  • Beginning of Evening Prayer:
    1662 Yes, 1928 Yes
  • Among the Prayers of Evening Prayer:
    1662 No, 1928 Unspecified, 1979 Yes, 2019 Yes
  • Beginning of the Lord’s Supper:
    1662 No, 1928 No
  • At the reception of Communion:
    1662 Yes, 1928 Yes, 1979 Yes, 2019 Yes
  • Baptism & Confirmation:
    1662 No, 1928 Yes, 1979 Yes, 2019 Yes

You can see a slow trend from a fairly even split of using or omitting the Lord’s Prayer’s doxology toward uniform use of that doxology.  A further detail in this sequence in the 1979 Prayer Book’s introduction of Noonday Prayer and Compline, in which the doxology is omitted from the Lord’s Prayer.  Thus, only in the 2019 Prayer Book has the doxology become ubiquitous.  These “weird rubrics”, however, note the two Offices in which we are formally invited to consider using the short form of the Lord’s Prayer, and it is the same two (Midday and Compline) as appointed in the 1979 Book.

In ordinary practice, the average lay person who doesn’t use the Prayer Book religiously is going to default to the one version he or she knows from Sunday mornings: what is said at the Holy Communion.  If certain Offices omit the doxology, many such people are going to have a big trip-up moment.  So from that practical perspective, one of the factors aiding this slow shift was merely simplifying things so there were fewer things for newcomers to mess up!

Anyway, in your own prayers and use of the 2019 Prayer Book, it is not going to be this Customary’s business to regulate which version of the Lord’s Prayer you ought to use at which points.  It is traditional to use the short version in most Offices and the long version at the Communion.  But if you’re praying all the Offices every day, plus other devotions like the Family Prayer mini-offices, then you’ll be saying the Lord’s Prayer many times a day, and it might be good to change up which version you use just to help avoid turning into a parrot!

Recent Article Round-Up

Normally it is the purpose of this blog to write about liturgy, music, prayer, and the Scriptures to help elucidate the purpose and meaning of Anglican worship.  Occasionally, though, it is helpful to point to other related topics that inform one’s understanding of liturgy and worship in some other context.  So today I’m offering a round-up of recent articles from The North American Anglican which should be of value to anyone wishing to walk deeper in the Anglican tradition.

The Ornaments Rubric is a paragraph near the beginning of the 1662 Prayer Book authorizing a particular approach to vestments for Anglican ministers.  This article tells some of the story of its development and where Classical Anglicanism ended up: https://northamanglican.com/the-strange-story-of-the-ornaments-rubric/

Further articles on the Ornaments Rubric were written, and another one popped up the other day, giving another angle of interpretation: https://northamanglican.com/the-ornaments-rubric-again-a-friendly-critique-of-recent-commentary/

That article ends with a common accusatory assumption about the 18th century – that the 1700’s was largely characterized by a decline in religion.  This article gives us a glimpse of how inaccurate that assumption is, and why it matters: https://northamanglican.com/sober-delight-and-rational-exaltation-why-18th-century-anglicanism-matters/

Now we step forward to the 19th century.  It is a common accusation among our lowchurchmen that the Oxford Movement opened the floodgates to all manner of liberalizations and rebellions against established church authority.  This article argues that such an accusation is a fallacy, and appeals for cooperation between our high and low parties: https://northamanglican.com/did-the-oxford-movement-ruin-everything/

Today we have a rather hostile culture toward traditional Christianity.  Celebrating our Anglican inheritance, and the beauty it enshrines, is a point made in this article: https://northamanglican.com/the-beauty-of-holiness/

Now for a rather more direct article about liturgy.  One of the big scholarly debates of the past 50 years or so is the validity of the “Liturgical Renewal” of the 1960’s & 70’s, inspired largely by the scholarship of Gregory Dix, who coined the term “the shape of the liturgy.”  The novus ordo in the Roman Church and the “Rite II” materials in the 1979 Prayer Book, and carried over into the 2019 Prayer Book, are heavily influenced by this modernist 20th century mentality.  There has been a lot of push-back against Dix in recent times, including accusations that he over-stated or even falsified his historical evidence.  Rather than a whole rejection of Dix’s work, however, this article calls for a sober use of the good among his school of thought: https://northamanglican.com/the-shape-fallacy-fallacy/

And last of all, for those who are tempted today by the Roman Church: https://northamanglican.com/a-dissuasive-from-popery/

Getting through Psalm 78

The 15th Day of the month is here, and that means Psalm 78 dominates the landscape of Evening Prayer tonight. Let’s re-visit this entry from a year and a half ago about how to get through this, second-longest, psalm in the Bible.

The Saint Aelfric Customary

Depending upon your mood and state of mind (or heart) we may have a bit of a Tuesday Terror looming at Evening Prayer: the 78th Psalm.  Assuming you’re using the 30-day cycle of Psalms by Thomas Cranmer that has adorned every Prayer Book for over 450 years, this evening is when we come to Psalm 78, the second-longest Psalm in the book, and the longest that we pray straight through.

In terms of genre, it covers a few bases.  It is a didactic psalm, written with the express purpose of teaching its reader, singer, or pray-er.  It is a history psalm, telling stories of the people of Israel throughout their past.  It is a parable, according to its opening verses, intending to teach us about divine faithfulness and human unfaithfulness through the medium of story.

Something that can help one get through this Psalm attentively and profitably is…

View original post 210 more words

Filling in the Blanks: Joshua

I skipped a Friday post for a Saturday post this week because today (June 13th) is the last consecutive reading from the book of Joshua in Morning Prayer.  After today we skip from chapter 10 to chapter 14, and after that jump all the way to chapter 22 to finish the book from there on.  That’s a lot of skipped material, what’s going on?

The book of Joshua contains a lot of writing that is stereotyped and repetitive, as well as lengthy portions that are essentially maps in prose form.  Think of the first half Joshua as a train: it starts moving very slowly (conquering one town at a time, with specific stories at each encounter), then it speeds up bit by bit as it gives an account of the conquest of the Promise Land in larger and larger pieces.  It is obvious that there is a lot of history that isn’t being handed down here; we get a few specific stories in the beginning and the rest of the territory is basically assumed under Israelite control, with very little description of how things went.

Then in the second half of the book you get some very lengthy descriptions of tribal boundaries.  This is incredibly boring reading for most people, wading through geographic references (mountains, rivers, hills, fortifications) that most of us know little about – and many of which are not even identified with certainty by archaeologists anymore.  But most Bibles today have maps in the back… if you look closely at the one(s) with the early tribal borders then you’re basically looking at a best-guess depiction of what the second half of Joshua is trying to describe.

So yes, all Scripture is God-breathed and useful for instruction, edification, and so forth, but some parts are going to be more useful than other parts.  For the Old Covenant Jew, this was extremely important, outlining when their tribes and families were to inhabit and dwell.  To the Christian, this is almost completely relegated to historical interest.  There are Gospel overtones, of course: the intricate detail God goes into as he “makes a place” for his people in Palestine is a reminder of the intricate detail he goes into now as Jesus “makes a place for us” in the heavenly Jerusalem.

And so, most daily lectionaries omit almost half of the book of Joshua; it’s a lot of reading for very little unique benefit.  But if you do want to take the time to read through the omitted chapters, consider using this Customary’s Midday Prayer Lectionary, which picks up with chapter 11 today and continues through the ten omitted chapters one day at a time.

Video Introduction to the season after Trinity

Now that it’s Trinitytide, let’s talk about what this season is all about!  A lot of people like to divide the calendar into two halves: “the story of Jesus” for the first half and “the story of the Church” for the second half (Trinitytide), but that isn’t really how the season after Trinity Sunday works, either in the traditional calendar & lectionary or in the modern.  Allow me to explain, in video form…

For further reading on the traditional calendar: https://leorningcniht.wordpress.com/2014/06/30/explaining-the-season-after-trinity-sunday/

Subject Index:

  • 00:00 Introducing this season
  • 01:33 Major Theme: Discipleship
  • 03:16 Historical/Traditional Trinitytide
  • 07:41 Modern Trinitytide in the 2019 Prayer Book
  • 14:04 a concluding prayer

Sometimes you should change the biblical text

wrw

Now there’s a title that will get just about any serious Christian a little worried… “sometimes we should change the biblical text”?  What mad heresy is this?

So let’s get straight to the Weird Rubric of the week.  It’s on page 737.

When a Lesson begins with a pronoun, the reader should substitute the appropriate noun.

Yeah, so the title of this article is kind of click-bait… the change to the biblical text here is actually just a swapping out of a pronoun with a noun.  For example, today at Morning Prayer we’ve got a Gospel lesson from Luke 22, starting at verse 39.  “And he came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed him.”  This is a great example because you can read the entire paragraph and still never find out who “he” is.  Obviously it’s Jesus; it usually will be in the Gospels.  But sometimes it’s not immediately obvious, so it is prudent (and canonical, or rubrical) to replace the first “he” with “Jesus” so the congregation understands what’s being read.

Some who are especially zealous for the integrity of God’s Word may still not like this, so I should point you to another precedent for this practice.  Bible translators already do this!  In the Greek, the New Testament uses pronouns even more often than we do in English, such that in order to render the text more clearly there are plenty of instances where the Greek text says “he” but the English puts in the person’s name.  For example, slightly earlier in Luke 22, you’ll find verse 33 is a quote from Peter and verse 34 is a quote from Jesus. Now, it’s part of a dialogue, so it’s not too confusing to repeat “he” for both speakers, but it’s more clear to put the names in.  Thus does the ESV.

A similar practice, not directly mentioned in the rubrics of the 2019 Prayer Book, is to omit a proposition or connecting word (such as “therefore” or “for” or “but” or “then”) if one is placed at the beginning of a reading.  The length and contents of a lectionary reading, especially at the Holy Communion, has been evaluated already.  It presents a full and complete thought, such that having a connecting word at the beginning can prove more distracting than helpful.  Yes, these connectors remind us that the passage belongs in a larger context, but that is always going to be the case whether there is such a word there or not.  So it’s usually best to drop such words when found at the top of a reading, to allow the text to stand on its own so the hearers can receive it more easily.  Let the preacher deal with the context if and as necessary.

For the most part, this advice is more pertinent to the readings at Holy Communion than in the Daily Office. This is because the Daily Office Lectionary is continuous – nearly every reading picks up where the previous day’s reading left off.  Connecting words and pronouns are thus less distracting, because the previous chapter or passage has already been heard the day before.  In the service of Holy Communion, we almost never have that advantage; and even when we do, there’ll typically have been a whole week past since the previous contiguous lesson, so having those pronouns replaced will still be a helpful reminder.

If you find this a little tricky to keep track of, consider this instruction on page 716:

The public reading of Scripture in the liturgies of the Church is among the most important features of any act of worship. No one should be admitted to this high privilege who has not thoroughly prepared the passage to be read, so that the lesson can be read with clarity, authority, and understanding.

Make sure you practice at public reading!  A smooth reading experience makes a smooth listening experience possible. Today’s “weird rubric” is there to help you make that happen.