Thursday, 28 January 2010

An introduction to modern Islamic spirituality

The minaret of a mosque in a mountain village in Turkey (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2009)

Patrick Comerford

Introductory music:


Mevlana/Mevlevi: Sufi Music from Turkey

The context:

Coming to an understanding of the spirituality of people of other faiths is not just for our benefit, or for finding ways of deepening our own spirituality. It’s also important if we are going to understand people on their own terms, and allow them to define themselves.

Seeking to understand contemporary Islamic spirituality is not just a matter of comparative studies in spirituality. It’s also important if we are going to understand Muslims on their own terms, and understand them within the contexts we are working in ministry and in mission.

One of the noticeable changes in the Irish population today is the sizeable presence of Muslims. There are, perhaps, up to 40,000 Muslims in Ireland today. The context of your future ministry is within a changing Ireland in which Muslims are increasingly visible and playing a role, and a changing world which, since 9/11, needs to know how to deal with our fears about terrorism, our vulnerability, our prejudices (in the sense of pre-judging) about Muslims and Islam, and a legacy that has left many unresolved questions.

The theological considerations that you will have to weigh up include the problems and opportunities created by Christian/Muslim exchanges in your parish or community, including the attendance of Muslim children at schools; the possibility of intermarriage, the dilemmas surrounding interfaith public occasions; the increasing role of the Anglican Communion as one of the primary actors on behalf of Christians in creating the opportunities for Christian-Muslim dialogue; and the questions around whether we can learn from others, including Muslims, in ways that will deepen our own faith and our practice of it.

Let me first a little about the Muslims in Ireland today. Despite popular perceptions, the majority of Muslims in Ireland probably are not foreigners, when we consider the number of Irish women who have become Muslims through marriage, and the number of Muslim children born in Ireland.

Historically, the first Irish contacts with the Islamic world predate the Anglo-Norman invasion, and the first constant contacts are found from the 17th century on. In the 18th and 19th centuries, baptisms in Church of Ireland parish records in Diocese of Raphoe and Roman Catholic parish records in Diocese of Ferns indicate a Muslim presence from Co Donegal to Co Wexford in that time. Indeed, in the late 18th century, one Muslim was an active member of the Volunteers – giving an added dimension to the ideal of uniting Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter.

In the 19th century, there was still an air of exotic excitement surrounding Muslims in Ireland. But their presence has grown here especially since the mid-1950s, with the arrival of a new wave of Muslims as medical students.

The history of the arrival and the makeup of Muslims in every European country are different: in France, Muslims are mainly of North African descent; in Germany, they are mainly Turkish in origin, while in Britain, their origins, by-and-large, are mainly in the Indian subcontinent.

But these images hinder our acceptance of Muslims as being truly European. There are many Muslims who are truly European in every sense, including, for example those in Bosnia. We forget easily that Spain was a Muslim-ruled country for longer than it has been a Christian-ruled country, while Istanbul or Constantinople was seen as the greatest city in Christendom for much longer than it has been seen as a Muslim city.

In Ireland, Muslims come from a very mixed and diverse background, a large number are Irish-born, and increasingly they see themselves as being Irish, and part of the scenery, as part of the furniture.

How many of you know a Muslim?

How many of you visited a Muslim country?

How many of you have visited a mosque?

The mosque in Clonskeagh, Dublin

In your ministry, you will encounter Muslims as neighbours, in civic and social public occasions, and you will encounter fear and suspicion among your own parishioners.

Some of this fear and suspicion in founded in reality. Yes, there is a threat from al-Qaida. But it’s a threat to security in the Muslim world too, when we consider recent violence, killings and bombings in Pakistan, Iraq or Turkey.

In terms of violence instigated by Muslims, statistically more Muslims are killed by Muslims in Iraq and Pakistan each week than Christians are killed by Muslims in Britain or the US each week. Muslims can often fear each other more than we fear them. Many mainstream Muslims fear the rigorous approach to Islam among the Wahhabis, who are supported and nurtured in Saudi Arabia, and Sunni and Shia Muslims fear each other in Iraq and Pakistan.

Much of the fear – on their part and on our part – is irrational, and is not based on knowledge, experience or reality.

We need to understand them, what they believe, who they are and where they come from. Today, 1-in-5 people in the world are Muslims, and the breakdown of statistics produces interesting details. The majority of Muslims are not Arabs, and only 20 per cent of Muslims live in Arab countries. There are large communities of Muslims in the Balkans and Russia. The world’s largest Muslim country is Indonesia, and there are more Muslims in India than there are in Pakistan. The countries with the largest Muslim populations are Indonesia, India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, with more than 100 million Muslims each. There are 20 million Muslims in China. The Middle East countries with the largest Muslim populations are two non-Arab countries, Turkey and Iran. On the other hand, a large minority of Arabs are Christians, and there are even Arab Jews.

Yet, much of the fear of Muslims in the world today is based not on their religious beliefs, but is expressed in ways that are close to racism. We objectify them, make them “others” who are not part of “us,” and outsiders who bring nothing as gifts to us, but instead bring threats.

We need to see other-ness as a gift rather than a threat. And criticism and reaction, we offer it, needs not always to be negative, but certainly needs to be based on knowledge and experience.

What is Islam?

Islam (Arabic: الإسلام; al-'islām) is a monotheistic Abrahamic religion originating with the teachings of Muhammad (ca 570-632), a 7th century Arab religious and political leader. The word Islam means “submission” or the total surrender of oneself to God (Arabic: الله, Allāh). And so an adherent of Islam is a Muslim, or “one who submits (to God).” With 1.1 billion to 1.8 billion Muslims in the world, Islam is the second-largest religion in the world, after Christianity.

Muslims believe that God revealed the Qur'an to Muhammad. They see him as God’s final prophet, and the regard the Qur'an and the Sunnah (words and deeds of Muhammad) as the fundamental sources of Islam. They do not regard Muhammad as the founder of a new religion, but believe he restored the original monotheistic faith of Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and other prophets.

Muslims are generally expected to observe the Five Pillars of Islam or the five duties that unite Muslims. In addition, Islamic law (sharia) has developed a tradition of rulings that relate to virtually all aspects of life and society, from dietary laws and banking to warfare.

The word Islām means acceptance of and submission or surrender to God. Muslims demonstrate this submission by worshipping God, following his commands, and avoiding polytheism. Islam is often described as an action of returning to God – more than just a verbal affirmation of faith.

What do Muslims believe?

According to the Qur'an all Muslims must believe in God, his revelations, his angels, his messengers, and in the Day of Judgment. There are other beliefs that are particular to different schools of Islam. For example, the Sunni concept of predestination is called divine decree, while the Shi'a version is called divine justice. Shi'a Muslims hold a unique understanding of Imamah or the political and spiritual leadership of the Imams.

Muslims believe that God revealed his final message to humanity through the angel Gabriel to Muhammad over a period of two decades or more in the years 610 to 632. The Qur'an mentions numerous figures considered as prophets in Islam, including Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses and Jesus. The Qur'an names Jews and Christians as “People of the Book” (ahl al-kitāb), and distinguishes them from polytheists, although Muslims believe that parts of the previously revealed scriptures, the Tawrat (Torah) and the Injil (Gospels), had become distorted – either in misinterpretation of the text, or in altering text, or both.

The fundamental theological concept of Islam is tawhīd – the belief that there is only one God. The Arabic term for God is Allāh; most scholars believe it was derived from a contraction of the words al- (the) and 'ilāh (deity, masculine form), meaning “the God” (al-ilāh), but others trace its origin to the Aramaic Alāhā. Tawhīd, the first of the Five Pillars of Islam, is expressed in the shahadah (testifying), which in which every believing Muslim declares that there is no god but God, and that Muhammad is God’s messenger or prophet.

For Muslims, God is beyond all comprehension. They are not expected to visualise God, but to worship and adore him as the protector. Muslims will say that God is as close to us, to you, as the vein in your neck.

Muslims consider the Qur'an to be the literal word of God. The Qur'an is divided into 114 suras, or chapters. The chronologically earlier suras, dating to Mecca, are primarily concerned with ethical and spiritual topics. The later suras from Medina are concerned mostly with social and moral issues in the Muslim community. The Qur'an is more concerned with moral guidance than legal instruction, and is considered the “sourcebook of Islamic principles and values.”

In Islam, the “normative” example of Muhammad’s life is called the Sunnah (“trodden path”). This example is preserved in traditions known as hadith (“reports”), which recount his words, his actions, and his personal characteristics. The Sunnah is seen as crucial to guiding interpretation of the Qur'an and Muslim jurists see the hadith, or the written record of Muhammad’s life, as supplementing the Qur'an and assisting in its interpretation. Muslims are encouraged to emulate Muhammad’s actions in their daily lives.

Muslims regard their belief in angels as crucial to their faith. Their duties include communicating revelations from God, glorifying God, recording every person's actions, and taking a person’s soul at the time of death.

Muslims believe in the “Day of Resurrection,” yawm al-Qiyāmah (also known as yawm ad-dīn, “Day of Judgment” and as-sā`a, “the Last Hour”) that its time is preordained by God although unknown to humanity. The Qur'an emphasises bodily resurrection, and says the resurrection of dead will be followed by the gathering of humanity, culminating in judgment by God.

The Qur'an lists several sins that can condemn a person to hell, including disbelief, usury and dishonesty. Paradise (jannah) is seen as a place of joy and bliss, with mystical traditions in Islam placing the heavenly delights in the context of an ecstatic awareness of God.

Muslims believe in predestination, or divine preordaining (al-qadā wa'l-qadar), so that God has full knowledge and control over all that happens. For Muslims, everything in the world that happens, good or evil, has been preordained and nothing can happen unless permitted by God. However, while events are pre-ordained, we have freewill in that we have the faculty to choose between right and wrong, and so are responsible for our actions.

The Five Pillars of Islam

The richly-decorated interior of a mosque in Turkey, inscribed with words from the Qur'an (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Five Pillars of Islam (Arabic: اركان الدين) are five practices essential to Sunni Islam. Shi'a Muslims talk about eight ritual practices which substantially overlap with the Five Pillars. These are:

1, The shahadah, which is the basic creed or tenet of Islam: 'ašhadu 'al-lā ilāha illā-llāhu wa 'ašhadu 'anna muħammadan rasūlu-llāh, or “I testify that there is none worthy of worship except God and I testify that Muhammad is the Messenger of God.” This declaration of faith is the foundation for all other beliefs and practices in Islam. (Shi'a Muslims consider the shahadah to be belief and do not regard it as a separate pillar, just a belief.) Muslims repeat the shahadah in prayer, and non-Muslims wishing to convert to Islam are required to recite the creed.

2, Salah, or ritual prayer, must be performed five times a day. However, Shi'a Muslims often run together the noon prayers with the afternoon prayers, and the evening prayers with the night prayers. Each salah is performed facing towards Mecca. Salah is intended to focus the mind on God, and is seen as a personal communication with him that expresses gratitude and worship. In many Muslim countries, reminders called Adhan (call to prayer) are broadcast publicly from local mosques at the appropriate times. The prayers are recited in Arabic, and consist of verses from the Qur'an.

3, Zakat, or almsgiving, is based on accumulated wealth, and is obligatory for all Muslims who can afford it. A fixed portion is spent to help the poor or needy, and also to assist the spread of Islam. The zakat is considered a religious obligation (as opposed to voluntary charity) that the well-off owe to the needy because their wealth is seen as a “trust from God’s bounty.” The Qur'an and the hadith also suggest a Muslim give even more as an act of voluntary almsgiving (sadaqah). Many Shi'a Muslims are expected to pay an additional amount in the form of a khums tax, which they regard as a separate ritual practice.

4, Sawm, or fasting during the month of Ramadan, requires Muslims not to eat or drink from dawn to dusk during Ramadan, when they should contemplate their sins. The fast is to encourage a feeling of nearness to God. During Ramadan, Muslims should express their gratitude to God and their dependence on him, atone for their past sins, and think of the needy.

5, The Hajj is the pilgrimage during the month of Dhu al-Hijjah to Mecca. All able-bodied Muslim who can afford it must undertake the Hajj at least once in their lifetime. Islamic teachers say that the hajj should be an expression of devotion to God instead of a means to gain social standing, although the pilgrim or hajji is honoured in his or her community on returning home.

In addition to the khums tax, Shi'a Muslims consider three additional practices essential to the religion of Islam. These are:

1, Jihad, which the Sunni do not consider a pillar.

2, Amr-Bil-Ma'rūf, the “enjoining to do good,” calls on every Muslim to live a virtuous life and to encourage others to do the same.

3, Nahi-Anil-Munkar, the “exhortation to desist from evil,” enjoins Muslims to refrain from vice and from evil actions and to encourage others to do the same.

Some questions:

A mosque on the Greek island of Rhodes (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The concise expressions of faith in these five pillars offer an interesting challenge to Christians.

1, Can we express our faith in coherent yet concise phrases? Are we confident about making public declarations of faith?

2, Is our daily routine punctuated by rhythm of prayer? Are we embarrassed by postures of prayer that express public submission to God?

3, As a Church and as Christians, is our giving to charity, mission, or development work limited to mere duty, or do we go beyond that? Is it an essential part of Christian life and discipleship?

4, Have we lost the spiritual values of fasting and preparation associated with Lent and Advent?

5, Do we see our lives as pilgrimages, that “this land is not my home, I am only travelling through?” How do you respond to ideas such as pilgrimage and retreat?

Islamic Law or Sharia

Islamic law covers all aspects of life, from matters of state, like governance and foreign relations, to issues of daily living. There are the punishments for five specific crimes: unlawful intercourse, false accusation of unlawful intercourse, consumption of alcohol, theft, and highway robbery. There are laws of inheritance, marriage, and restitution for injuries and murder, and rules for fasting, charity, and prayer.

Islamic law has four fundamental roots, which are given precedence in this order: the Qur'an, the Sunnah (actions and sayings of Muhammad), the consensus of the Muslim jurists (ijma), and analogical reasoning (qiyas).

Islamic law does not distinguish between matters of “church” and “state.” The ulema function as both jurists and theologians. But as the Muslim world came into contact with Western secular ideals, Muslim societies responded in different ways. Turkey has been a secular state since the reforms of Atatürk, while the Iranian Revolution in 1979 replaced a mainly secular regime with an Islamic state under Ayatollah Khomeini.

Many practices fall into the category of adab or Islamic etiquette, including greeting each other with as-salamu `alaykum (“peace be unto you”), saying bismillah (“in the name of God”) before meals, and using only the right hand for eating and drinking. Islamic hygienic practices mainly fall into the category of personal cleanliness and health, such as the circumcision of male children.

Muslims, like Jews, are restricted in their diet, and prohibited foods include pig products, blood, carrion, and alcohol. All meat must come from herbivorous animals slaughtered in the name of God by a Muslim, Jew, or Christian. Muslims may also eat game they have hunted or fished for themselves. Food that Muslims may eat is known as halal food.

Islamic scholars disagree whether the texts justify traditional Islamic practices such as veiling and seclusion (purdah).

What is Jihad?

Jihad means “to strive or struggle” in the way of God and a small number of Muslim scholars regard it as the “sixth pillar of Islam.” Jihad, in its broadest sense, is “exerting one’s utmost power, efforts, endeavours, or ability in contending with an object of disapprobation.” This may be a visible enemy, the devil, or some aspects of one’s own self. But jihad also describes striving to attain religious and moral perfection.

Jihad usually means military exertion against non-Muslim combatants in the defence or expansion of the Islamic state, the ultimate purpose of which is to universalise Islam. Jihad, the only form of warfare permissible in Islamic law, may be declared against apostates, rebels, highway robbers, violent groups, non-Islamic leaders or states that refuse to submit to the authority of Islam. Most Muslims understand jihad as only a defensive form of warfare.

For most Muslims, jihad is a collective duty: its performance by some individuals exempts the others. For most Shia Muslims, offensive jihad can only be declared by a divinely appointed leader of the Islamic community.

One of the leaders of “neo-Sufism” in modern Turkey, Said Nursi, argued that “the time of the ‘jihad of the sword’” is over, and that now is the era of the “jihad of the word,” meaning a reasoned attempt to propose Islam as a basis for a reconciliation of science and modern institutions with religious faith and morality.

As early as 1911, Nursi argued that Muslims and “pious Christians” should make common cause in defending a moral and spiritual vision of human life against the momentary illusions of consumer culture.

The divisions of Islam

Islam consists of a number of religious denominations that are essentially similar in belief but with significant theological and legal differences. The primary division is between the Sunni and the Shi'a, with Sufism generally considered a mystical inflection of Islam rather than a distinct school. About 85 per cent of Muslims are Sunni and about 15% are Shi'a.

Sunnis recognise four major legal traditions, or madhhabs: Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi'i and Hanbali. All four accept the validity of the others and a Muslim might choose any one that he/she finds agreeable. There are also several orthodox theological or philosophical traditions within Sunnism. For example, the recent Salafi movement sees itself as restorationist and claims to derive its teachings from the original sources of Islam.

Within 18th century Sunni Islam, the Wahhabi movement took hold in what is now Saudi Arabia today. Wahhabism was founded by Ibn Abd al-Wahhab, and is a fundamentalist ideology that condemns practices like Sufism and the veneration of saints as un-Islamic.

The 20th century saw the formation of many new Islamic “revivalist” movements, including the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Jamaat-e-Islami in Pakistan. They see Western cultural values as a threat to Islam, and promote Islam as a comprehensive solution to every public and private question of importance. They inspired later movements such as the Taliban in Afghanistan and Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida.

Shi'a Muslims believe in the political and religious leadership of infallible Imams from the descendants of Ali ibn Abi Talib. They say that Ali, as the cousin and son-in-law of Muhammad, was his rightful successor. The Shi'a follow a legal tradition called Ja'fari jurisprudence. Shi'a Islam has several branches, the largest of which is the Twelvers (itnā'ašariyya), while the others are the Ismaili, the Seveners, and the Zaidiyyah.

Muslim mystics and Sufism

Many Westerners have been introduced to Islamic spirituality through contact with or reading about Sufism. Sufism has been described as “the pursuit of spiritual experience by bodily discipline and mystical intuition” (H.A.R. Gibb). Professor Victor Danner, in The Islamic Tradition (1988), says: “Sufism has influenced the spiritual life of the [Islamic] religion to an extraordinary degree; there is no important domain in the civilisation of Islam that has remained unaffected by it.”

While the Muslim-Arab elite engaged in conquest, some devout Muslims began to question the piety of indulgence in a worldly life, emphasising rather poverty, humility and avoidance of sin based on renunciation of bodily desires. Devout Muslim ascetic exemplars such as Hasan al-Basri inspired a movement that evolved into Sufism.

Both Sufism and Shi'ism underwent major changes in the 9th century, so that Sufism became a full-fledged movement that had moved towards mysticism and away from its ascetic roots, while Shi'ism splintered into different groups, due to disagreements over the succession of Imams, many of them developing their own emphasis on mysticism.

Beginning in the 13th century, Sufism underwent a transformation, largely due to the efforts of al-Ghazzali to legitimise and reorganise Sufism. He developed the model of the Sufi order – a community of spiritual teachers and students. Another important development for Sufism was the creation of the Masnavi, a collection of mystical poetry by the 13th century Persian poet Rumi. The Masnavi had a profound influence on the development of Sufi religious thought, and for many Sufis it is second in importance only to the Qur'an.

Sufism (Arabic: تصوف‎ - taṣawwuf, Turkish: tasavvuf, Persian: صوفی‌گری, sufigari) is not a denomination within Islam. Instead, it is understood as the mystical-ascetic dimension of Islam. By focusing on the more spiritual aspects of religion, Sufis strive to obtain direct experience of God by making use of “intuitive and emotional faculties” that one must be trained to use. Most Sufi orders or brotherhoods are known as tariqas. They may be associated with Sunni Islam or Shia Islam, although the major ones, such as the Qadiri and Naqshbandi orders, are associated with traditional Sunni Islam.

The word Sufi is said to originate from Arabic صوف‎ (sūf), the Arabic word for wool, referring to the simple cloaks the early Muslim ascetics wore. Others say the root word of Sufi is the Arabic صفا (safā), meaning purity, referring to the Sufi emphasis on purity of heart and soul.

Others suggest the origin is from Ašhab as-Sufā (“Companions of the Porch”) or Ahl as-Sufā (“People of the Porch”) – a group of devout Muslims who spent much of their time on the veranda of Mohammad’s mosque, devoted to prayer. However, the 10th century Persian historian Abū Rayhān al-Bīrūnī linked the word sūfīya with the Greek word Sophia (wisdom, especially divine wisdom).

A practitioner of Sufism is generally known as a Sufi (Arabic: صُوفِيّ‎), although some senior members of the tradition reserve this term for those who have attained the goals of the Sufi tradition. Another common name is the word Dervish (derived from Persian: درویش - darwīš).

Almost all traditional Sufi schools (or orders) trace their chains of transmission back to Muhammad through his cousin and son-in-law Ali ibn Abi Talib. The Naqshbandi order is a notable exception, and traces its origins to the first Caliph, Abdullah (Abu Bakr).

Sheikh Ahmad Zarruq, a 15th century Sufi master, wrote in his major work The Principles of Sufism that Sufism is “a science whose objective is the reparation of the heart and turning it away from all else but God.” Sheikh Ahmad ibn Ajiba, a famous Moroccan Sufi, defined Sufism as “a science through which one can know how to travel into the presence of the Divine, purify one’s inner self from filth, and beautify it with a variety of praiseworthy traits.”

Sufis believe that it is possible to become close to God and to experience this closeness while one is alive. The chief aim of all Sufis is to let go of all notions of duality, including any concept of an individual self, and to realise the Divine unity.

Sufis teachers make extensive use of parable, allegory, and metaphor, and it is held by Sufis that meaning can only be reached through a process of seeking the truth, and knowledge of oneself. Sufism as a whole is primarily concerned with direct personal experience.

Junayd al-Baghdadi was among the first theorists of Sufism. He concerned himself with fanā and baqā, the state of annihilating the self in the presence of the divine, accompanied by clarity concerning worldly phenomena derived from the altitude of that perspective. Uwais al-Qarni, Harrm bin Hian, Hasan al-Basri and Sayid ibn al-Mussib are regarded as the first mystics among the Taabi'een in Islam. Rabia al-Basri was a female Sufi and known for her love and passion for God.

Rumi, a universal mystic and a devout Muslim ... his way of sufism teaches unlimited tolerance, positive reasoning, goodness, charity and awareness through love

A significant part of oriental literature comes from the Sufis, who created books of poetry containing the teachings of the Sufis. Some of the more notable examples of this poetry are Attar’s Conference of the Birds and Rumi’s Masnavi. Rumi, or Mevlana Celaleddin-i-Rumi (Jalal-e-Din Rūmī, 1207-1273) was a universal mystic and a devout Muslim. His way of sufism teaches unlimited tolerance, positive reasoning, goodness, charity and awareness through love. The Mevlevi order was formalised and propagated by his son Sultan Walad and the scribe of the Mathnawi, Husamaddin Chalabi.

From 1200 to 1500, the “Classical Period” or the “Golden Age” of Sufism, there was an increase in Sufi activity throughout the Islamic world. This period is considered as. Lodges and hospices soon became not only places to house Sufi students, but also places for practicing Sufis and other mystics to stay and retreat.

Mujaddid Alf Sani, a 17th century reformer of the Naqshbandi order, is also a seminal personality in the propagation of Sufism, as he began a movement that aimed to purify Islam by returning to the Quran and the Sunna as the basic sources for Islam, while maintaining the integrity of the spiritual dimension of Islam.

Sufi practices

Dhikr is recollecting or remembering the name of God, which is commanded in the Qur'an for all Muslims. This has been one of the most fundamental features of Sufism from the beginning. To engage in dhikr is to have awareness of God. The practice of dhikr within Sufism is a devotional act including the repetition of the divine names, supplications and aphorisms from the hadith literature, and sections of the Qur'an. Some Sufi orders have developed ritualised dhikr ceremonies that may include recitation, singing, instrumental music, dance, costumes, incense, meditation, ecstasy, and trance.

Muraqaba is a form of meditation used to attain higher states of consciousness.

Sufi whirling or spinning, a twirling meditation that originated among the Turkish Sufis, it is still practiced by the Dervishes of the Mevlevi order

Sufism has produced a large body of poetry alongside numerous traditions of devotional dance, such as Sufi whirling, and music, such as Qawwali, a form of devotional Sufi music found throughout Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Iran and Turkey and known for its secular strains.

Sama or Sema' (Arabic “listening”) refers to Sufi practices that can involve the sort of music and dance associated with the “whirling dervishes.” The practice of Sufi whirling or spinning (Arabic: رقص سماع) is a twirling meditation that originated among the Turkish Sufis, and it is still practiced by the Dervishes of the Mevlevi order. It is a symbolic ritual through which dervishes (semazens) aim to reach the “perfect” (kemal). They try to desert their nafs, egos or personal bad desires by listening to their master and to Sufi music, thinking about God and whirling.

In the symbolism of the Sema ritual, the semazen’s camel-hair hat (sikke) represents the tombstone of the ego. His wide, white skirt represents the ego’s shroud. By removing his black cloak, he is spiritually reborn to the truth. At the beginning of the Sema, the semazen holds his arms crosswise, to represent the number one, thus testifying to God’s unity. While whirling, his arms are open: his right arm is pointed towards the sky, ready to receive God’s blessings; his left hand, upon which his eyes are fastened, is turned towards the earth. The semazen conveys God’s spiritual gift to those who are witnessing the Sema. Revolving from right to left around the heart, the semazen embraces all humanity with love. The human being has been created with love in order to love. Rumi says: “All loves are a bridge to Divine love. Yet, those who have not had a taste of it do not know!”

Recently, there was a performance by Whirling Dervishes in the Vatican, providing an occasion to discuss the diverse nature of Islam.

Sufism emphasises non-quantifiable matters, such as states of the heart. The authors of many Sufi treatises used allegorical language to describe these states, in some cases comparing them with intoxication, which is forbidden in Islam. Some groups even considered themselves above the Sharia and spoke of Sufism as a method of by-passing the rules of Islam in order to attain salvation directly.

Sufi mystical poetry:

Rumi (1207-1273) was a Sufi mystic who founded the Mevlevi order, known as the Whirling Dervishes. His masterpiece, the six-volume Mathnawi, dates from 1248 on, and was first written in Persian, and includes parables, ecstatic love odes, jokes and practical advice on meditation. In recent years, he has received new popularity in the west.

One of his poems that I love best is “The Mouse and the Frog,” from which I quote:

A mouse and a frog met every morning
on the riverbank.
They sit in a nook of the ground and talk.

Each morning, the second they see each other,
they open easily, telling stories and dreams and secrets,
empty of any fear or suspicious holding-back.
To watch and listen to those two
is to understand how, as it’s written,
sometimes when two beings come together,
Christ becomes visible.


Or another poem from Rumi:

A soul not clothed with Love
brings shame on its existence.
Be drunk on Love,
for Love is all that exists.
They ask, ‘What is Love?’
Say, ‘Renouncing your will.’
He who has not renounced will
has no will at all.
The lover is a mighty king,
standing above the two worlds.
A king does not look
at what is beneath him.
Only Love and lovers
have eternal life.
Set your hearts on this alone;
the rest is merely borrowed.


(Divani-I Shamsi-I Tabrizi 455: A1:54, translation John Daldock).

Two other examples are provided by Rabi’ah al-‘Adawiyyah (ca 717-801), who is one of the best-known saints in Islam and is a prominent figure in Sufi mysticism. Her poetry and writings have been compared with those of the later great Spanish mystics, including Theresa of Avila and John of the Cross:

“Love of God hath so absorbed me that neither love nor hate nor any other thing remains in my heart.”

A lifelong celibate, her devotion and love for God was so great that she is credited with being one of the first great Sufis to give ecstatic voice to the theme of Divine Love. Her poems about the love of God are among the first love poems in Sufi literature.

I love thee with two loves, love of my happiness,
And perfect love, to love thee as is my due.
My selfish love is that I do naught
But think on thee, excluding all beside;
But that purest love, which is thy due,
Is that the veils which hide thee fall, and I gaze on thee,
No praise to me in either this or that,
Nay, thine the praise for both that love and this.


The 99 names of God:

In Indonesia, it is reports said, a growing number of young students and affluent housewives are attracted to Sufi prayer services, especially Thursday night gatherings when followers sing the 99 names of God.

The Sufi practice of meditating on the 99 names of God found in the Quran has become popular throughout the Islamic world. These 99 names, which do not include the name Allah, are usually listed as:

1, Ar-Rahman, the All-Compassionate
2, Ar-Rahim, the All-Merciful
3, Al-Malik, the Absolute Ruler
4, Al-Quddus, the Pure One
5, As-Salam, the Source of Peace
6, Al-Mu'min, the Inspirer of Faith
7, Al-Muhaymin, the Guardian
8, Al-'Aziz, the Victorious
9, Al-Jabbar, the Compeller
10, Al-Mutakabbir, the Greatest
11, Al-Khaliq, the Creator
12, Al-Bari', the Maker of Order
13, Al-Musawwir, the Shaper of Beauty
14, Al-Ghaffar, the Forgiving
15, Al-Qahhar, the Subduer
16, Al-Wahhab, the Giver of All
17, Ar-Razzaq, the Sustainer
18, Al-Fattah, the Opener
19, Al-'Alim, the Knower of All
20, Al-Qabid, the Constrictor
21, Al-Basit, the Reliever
22, Al-Khafid, the Abaser
23, Ar-Rafi', the Exalter
24, Al-Mu'izz, the Bestower of Honours
25, Al-Mudhill, the Humiliator
26, As-Sami, the Hearer of All
27, Al-Basir, the Seer of All
28, Al-Hakam, the Judge
29, Al-'Adl, the Just
30, Al-Latif, the Subtle One
31, Al-Khabir, the All-Aware
32, Al-Halim, the Forebearing
33, Al-'Azim, the Magnificent
34, Al-Ghafur, the Forgiver and Hider of Faults
35, Ash-Shakur, the Rewarder of Thankfulness
36, Al-'Ali, the Highest
37, Al-Kabir, the Greatest
38, Al-Hafiz, the Preserver
39, Al-Muqit, the Nourisher
40, Al-Hasib, the Accounter
41, Al-Jalil, the Mighty
42, Al-Karim, the Generous
43, Ar-Raqib, the Watchful One
44, Al-Mujib, the Responder to Prayer
45, Al-Wasi', the All-Comprehending
46, Al-Hakim, the Perfectly Wise
47, Al-Wadud, the Loving One
48, Al-Majíd, the Majestic One
49, Al-Ba'ith, the Resurrector
50, Ash-Shahid, the Witness
51, Al-Haqq, the Truth
52, Al-Wakil, the Trustee
53, Al-Qawi, the Possessor of All Strength
54, Al-Matin, the Forceful One
55, Al-Wáli, the Governor
56, Al-Hamid, the Praised One
57, Al-Muhsi, the Appraiser
58, Al-Mubdi, the Originator
59, Al-Mu'id, the Restorer
60, Al-Muhyi, the Giver of Life
61, Al-Mumit, the Taker of Life
62, Al-Hayy, the Ever-Living One
63, Al-Qayyum, the Self-Existing One
64, Al-Wajid, the Finder
65, Al-Májid, the Glorious
66, Al-Wahid, the Only One
67, Al-Ahad, the One
68, As-Samad, the Satisfier of All Needs
69, Al-Qadir, the All-Powerful
70, Al-Muqtadir, the Creator of All Power
71, Al-Muqaddim, the Expediter
72, Al-Mu'akhkhir, the Delayer
73, Al-Awwal, the First
74, Al-Akhir, the Last
75, Az-Zahir, the Manifest One
76, Al-Batin, the Hidden One
77, Al-Walí, the Protecting Friend
78, Al-Muta'ali, the Supreme One
79, Al-Barr, the Doer of Good
80, At-Tawwib, the Guide to Repentance
81, Al-Muntaqim, the Avenger
82, Al-Afu, the Forgiver
83, Ar-Ra'uf, the Clement
84, Malik al-Mulk, the Owner of All
85, Dhul-Jalali Wal-Ikram, the Lord of Majesty and Bounty
86, Al-Muqsit, the Equitable One
87, Al-Jami, the Gatherer
88, Al-Ghani, the Rich One
89, Al-Mughni, the Enricher
90, Al-Mani', the Preventer of Harm
91, Ad-Darr, the Creator of the Harmful
92, An-Nafi, the Creator of Good
93, An-Nur, the Light
94, Al-Hadi, the Guide
95, Al-Badi, the Originator
96, Al-Baqi, the Everlasting One
97, Al-Warith, the Inheritor of All
98, Ar-Rashid, the Righteous Teacher
99, As-Sabur, the Patient One

The word Allah simply means the God.

Do you think any of the 99 Names would be out of place in a Christian litany?

Which names do you think have Biblical resonances?

Compare 73 and 74, the First and the Last, with the Alpha and the Omega.

How about the way, the truth and the light?

The Christian composer John Tavener was commissioned by Prince Charles to write The Beautiful Names, a musical setting for the 99 Names of God drawn from the Qur'an and performed in Westminster Abbey. This eclectic work draws inspiration from several religions other than Islam and Christianity, but has provoked unease among Christians who regard it as inappropriate for performance in a Christian church.

Christopher Howse, a Roman Catholic columnist in the Daily Telegraph, wrote: “The word Allah refers to the same God that Jews and Christians worship. There is no doubt of that. He is the God of Abraham and Isaac; the one living God. He is the God that Jesus worshipped and whom he invoked, in Aramaic, as he died on the cross, calling on him by the name Eloi.” However, these views also drew a storm of protest.

Christian-Muslim dialogue

Church and Mosque side-by-side in an urban setting in Egypt (Photograph, Patrick Comerford)

In 2006, an Open Letter was signed by 100 leading Islamic authorities and scholars in response to Pope Benedict’s Regensburg address. This has been followed last year with a new message from 138 Muslim leaders addressed to the Pope, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and others, calling for co-operation on the basis of the fundamental principles of love of God and neighbour, the “two great commandments” recalled by Jesus in Mark 12: 29-31.

They said commandments to love of God and neighbour – found in both the Qur'an and the Bible – are the “common word” that offers to the encounter between Islam and Christianity “the most solid theological foundation possible.”

The official website of the second letter can be found here.

Some reading:

Coleman Barks has three volumes of translation of Rumi’s poetry: Like This, Open Secret and We are three.

John Baldock, The Essence of Rumi (London: Arcturus, 2006).
John Baldock, The Essence of Sufism (Royston: Eagle/Arcturus, 2004).
John Bowker, Voices of Islam (Oxford: One World, 1995).
Colin Chapman, Cross & Crescent: responding to the challenge of Islam (Leicester: IVP, 1995).
Patrick Comerford, Reflections of the Bible in the Qur'an (Dublin: National Bible Society of Ireland, 2009).
J.S. Cutsinger, Paths to the Heart: Sufism and the Christian East (Bloomington IN: World Wisdom, 2002).
William Dalrymple, From the Holy Mountain: a journey in the shadow of Byzantium (London: Flamingo/Harper Collins, 1998).
Hugh Goddard, Christians & Muslims: From double standards to mutual understanding (Richmond: Curzon Press, 1995).
B.E. Hinze and I.A. Omar (eds), Heirs of Abraham: the future of Muslim, Jewish and Christian Relations (Maryknoll NY: Orbis, 2005).
Michael Ipgrave (ed), The Road Ahead: a Christian-Muslim Dialogue (London: Church House Publishing, 2002).
Michael Ipgrave (ed), Scriptures in Dialogue: Christians and Muslims studying the Bible and the Qur'an together (London: Church House Publishing, 2004).
Tarif Khalidi, The Muslim Jesus: Sayings and Stories in Islamic Literature (Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 2001).
Michael Nazir-Ali, Islam: A Christian Perspective (Exeter: Paternoster Press, 1983).
Michael Nazir-Ali, Mission and Dialogue (London: SPCK, 1995).
Leslie Newbigin, Lamin Sanneh and Jenny Taylor, Faith and Power: Christianity and Islam in ‘Secular’ Britain (London: SPCK, 1998).
Malise Ruthven, Islam in the West (London: Penguin, 2000).

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. This essay is based on notes for a seminar with Year III B.Th. students on the course, “Spirituality for Today,” on 28 January 2010.

The Anglican Communion 2: The First Lambeth Conference, 1867

Canterbury Cathedral .... the Lambeth Conferences are called by the Archbishop of Canterbury

Patrick Comerford,

2:1 Introduction:


John Colenso ... his heresy trial was one of the principal reasons for calling the first Lambeth Conference

The first Lambeth Conference, which met in 1867, was called as a result of the response within the Anglican Church of Canada to the heresy trial of John Colenso, Bishop of Natal, and the ensuing mess left by Colenso being deposed by Robert Gray, Archbishop of Cape Town, and the failure of the Courts in England to clarify the standing of Anglican bishops and the Churches in the colonies.

On 20 September 1865, the Irish-born missionary, Bishop John Travers Lewis (1825-1901) of Ontario, tabled a motion that received unanimous support from the Provincial Synod of the Canadian Church, urging the Archbishop and Convocation of Canterbury to call a “General Council” representative of “the members of our Anglican Communion in all quarters of the world ... gathered from every land.”

Bishop John Travers Lewis (1825-1901) of Ontario ... the Cork-born bishop, called for a general council of the Anglican Communion

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Charles Longley, responded positively, but decided first that he must consult his episcopal brothers “in both branches of the united Church of England and Ireland.”

Eventually, the Convocation of Canterbury agreed to support sending out an invitation to all bishops in communion with the Church of England. But it was agreed that any conference could not enact any canons or reach any decisions binding on the Church.

At the time, there were 145 bishops in the Anglican Communion world-wide – if Colenso is included in this count. The invitation to the first conference was sent from Lambeth Palace on 22 February 1867 to 144 bishops of the Anglican Communion, including the 12 bishops of the Church of Ireland. In addition, there were Irish bishops working with the Churches overseas, including Lewis of Ontario.

2:2 Preparatory discussions

A number of preparatory meetings were held before the conference was convened, and these were attended by the Archbishops of Armagh and Dublin and the Bishops of Meath and Down.

A number of clear priorities for the conference, including visible church unity and mission, emerged as central themes at these meetings and the debates they produced.

The Bishop of Montreal, Francis Fulford (1803-1868) – who would play a key role at the conference – saw Anglican unity as a step towards eventual unity or reunion with the English Nonconformists, the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Scandinavian Church, and even the Church of Rome. In 1861, as Metropolitan of Canada, he had called the first provincial synod of the “United Church of England and Ireland in Canada” in Montreal.

The Cork-born Bishop of Ontario, John Travers Lewis, wanted the conference to discuss methods of bringing about inter-communion with the Greek and Scandinavian Churches.

Bishop Horatio Southgate (1812-1894), who had once been the American Episcopal bishop in Constantinople but was by then a parish rector in New York, wanted to restore the Creed of Nicaea and Constantinople to its original state by removing the filioque clause in the hope of advancing relations with the Eastern Orthodox Church.

Some bishops even suggested conferring the title of Patriarch on the Archbishop of Canterbury.

On the other hand, the Dean of Westminster Abbey, Arthur Stanley, objected to the invitation to the Episcopal Church in the US, pointing out that that church had abandoned the Athanasian Creed. At the same time, he pleaded for the invitation to be extended to the Lutheran Churches of Scandinavia.

2: 3 Conference debates

Eventually, the conference met at Lambeth Palace for four days from 24 to 27 September 1867. The invitation was accepted by 76 bishops, including 18 English bishops, six from the Scottish Episcopal Church, and five from the Church of Ireland: the archbishops of Armagh (Beresford) and Dublin (Trench), and the bishops of Meath (Butler), Kilmore (Verschoyle) and Limerick (Graves).

In addition, there were 24 bishops from the Churches in the colonies, including Cork-born John Travers Lewis from Ontario, and 19 from the US including John Henry Hopkins (1792-1868), the first Episcopal Bishop of Vermont and the eighth Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church – he was born in Dublin on 30 January 1792, but had emigrated with his parents to Philadelphia when he was a boy.

A number of English bishops, however, refused to attend, including the Archbishop of York and the Bishop of Durham. No one session was attended by all the bishops present – and only Beresford of Armagh and Butcher of Meath were present for the formal photograph.

But the signatures of all the bishops were printed with the final encyclical letter, and the names of several bishops who were unable to attend were added to the list.

In their resolutions, the bishops described themselves as the “Bishops of Christ’s Holy Catholic Church in visible Communion with the United Church of England and Ireland.”

At the opening service of Holy Communion, Archbishop Trench of Dublin read the Epistle and Archbishop Beresford of Armagh read the Gospel: in the absence of the Archbishop of York, the Archbishop of Canterbury was finding ways of demonstrating that the two Irish archbishops were Primates in their own right too.

Bishop John Henry Hopkins ... the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church and Bishop of Vermont, was born in Dublin

At the opening of the conference, the Archbishop of Canterbury had the two Irish archbishops seated to his immediate right and left: seated to his right were the Archbishop of Armagh, the Bishop of London (the most senior-ranking bishop in the Province of Canterbury, but also the Bishop of the capital of the Empire), the Presiding Bishop of the American Church (the Dublin-born Bishop John Henry Hopkins of Vemont), the Primus of Scotland, the Bishop of Calcutta (India) and the Bishop of Sydney (Australia); ranged to his left were the Archbishop of Dublin, the Bishop of Montreal (an interesting precedent given the role of the Canadian Church in prompting this conference), and the Bishops of New Zealand and Cape Town.

Obviously, there was an intention to visibly symbolise the universal nature of a communion spread across every continent; there was a visible impression that the home churches were the Church of England, the Church of Ireland and the Scottish Episcopal Church; and there was the clear sign that the American church had not separated from the other Anglican churches.

But the gathering was not a synod, and any attempts to make it one were strongly resisted. The Archbishop of Canterbury had difficulty in keeping the bishops to the agenda, and this drew a negative reaction from some of the Bishops of the Church of England who had agreed to attend only after they had debated and accepted the initial agenda. Their worries and fears were that their independent exercise of episcopal authority within their dioceses might be infringed upon.

On the first day, the bishops produced a preamble that included a reference to “the first Four General Councils” of the church. Some bishops were quite insistent that the reference should be to four, not six, councils; others felt that any reference to any councils would detract from the supremacy of Scripture.

In the end the words “General Councils” were retained, without number, although the first four councils would eventually become a sort of benchmark for Anglicans in deciding what acceptable and orthodox doctrine was.

A more important statement in the preamble was the expression of “ardently longing” for church unity, which would continue to be an important agenda item for successive Lambeth conferences. And so naturally the main agenda items for the conference were Anglican unity, the colonial churches and co-operation in mission.

The conference spent its first day considering inter-communion between the Anglican Churches, recognising the real fear that the lack of formal links could cause a breakdown in relations between the different Anglican Churches.

On the second day, the conference turned its attention to the Churches in the colonies, and despite the protests of several bishops, Longley agreed to a request from Gray to change the already-agreed programme and an unexpected debate opened up on the grades of synodical authority within the Anglican Communion, including diocesan, provincial and perhaps even patriarchal synods. But all the conference could agree on was a general resolution calling for the maintenance of unity of faith and discipline, and a committee was appointed to report on the subject.

When it came to the debate on mission on the third day, Gray was anxious to gain support for his action against Colenso.

The Presiding Bishop of the American Episcopal Church, John Henry Hopkins, was ruled out of order when he tried to introduce a resolution of condemnation. The Bishop of Vermont felt a resolution from Bishop Selwyn of New Zealand did not go far enough, and that it should declare Colenso deposed and excommunicated.

Eventually, the bishops agreed, in a 49-10 vote, that the situation in Natal had deeply injured the whole Anglican Communion. Once again a committee was appointed to draft a latter on the subject.

The bishops discussed setting up a Spiritual Court of Appeal, but once again this was referred to a committee to consider. The conference agreed that a short “encyclical letter” should be signed by the bishops, but this too was committed to a committee to draft.

When a second and unexpected debate on the Colenso affair arose, and the bishops eventually agreed 43-3 on the procedures to be put in place for choosing and consecrating a new bishop for the Diocese of Natal.

In all, the conference passed 13 resolutions, perhaps the most important being one calling for a synod or synods above the provincial synods, in order to maintain unity in faith and discipline; another calling for a voluntary spiritual tribunal to hear appeals beyond provincial level; and two resolutions supporting Gray’s action against Colenso. But the resolutions also looked at the principles under which the Book of Common Prayer should be revised

The bishops who formed the drafting committees were asked to stay on in England, and the conference closed on the Friday evening. On the Saturday, 34 bishops attended a closing communion service in Lambeth Parish Church. It had been expected that this would take place in Westminster Abbey, but Dean Stanley had refused the use of the abbey except for some form of mission service. The bishops could attend, but they would have to make it clear that any such service was being held “without any relation to the Conference itself.”

Westminster Abbey ... Dean Styanley refused the use of the abbey for the closing service

During the next few months, the drafting committees met, and they presented their reports, nine in all, at a further session on 10 December.

Six resolutions were passed at the adjourned conference. But by now most of the bishops had returned home, and so the reports were simply received and sent for publication, without any real debate. It was realised that this first Lambeth conference had not been organised in a way that allowed the bishops to work efficiently and to carry that work forward. Another Lambeth Conference was inevitable – and that would make both the Lambeth Conference and the Anglican Communion institutions.

2:4 Achievements and failures

The first Lambeth Conference failed to achieve any great accomplishments. Despite the preliminary debates that discussed mission, unity, inter-communion with the Scandinavian Churches, and even the removal of the filioque clause, many of its final reports and resolutions look like petty, internal housekeeping.

But the significance of the first Lambeth Conference lies not in those reports and resolutions but in the very fact that it had met. The Anglican Communion, a concept only first articulated in 1851, now had a visible structure of unity in the forum of the Lambeth Conference. This unity would be maintained despite the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland.

To put that first Lambeth Conference into the context of its time, we must remember it met at the same time Pope Pius IX was planning to call the first Vatican Council, held in 1869-1870. It was a time when the larger Church groupings were afraid of fraying at the edges, they needed to show their unity, they needed a visible forum for debate, and they were seeking visible signs of authority.

For Roman Catholics, that would be expressed in the doctrine of Papal Infallibility. Anglicans, however, would opt for a more diffuse form of authority, and have refused over the decades either to confer the title of Patriarch on the Archbishop of Canterbury, or to give super-synodical powers to the Lambeth Conferences.

Nor should the timing of this first Lambeth Conference be separated from the political climate globally.

Many pointed out that the American Civil War had just ended, and that such a conference would not have been possible a few years earlier.

Others pointed out that the conference was meeting in the climate of the great powers of Europe being at peace for the first time in living memory.

And, of course, this of course was the year in which Alfred Nobel invented dynamite and in which Karl Mark published the first part of Das Kapital.

A second Lambeth Conference would meet in 1878, and the conferences have met since then at roughly 10-year intervals.

In all, there have been 14 Lambeth Conferences: the last one in Canterbury in July and August 2008. Will there be another one in 2018?

Whatever happens, the Lambeth Conference has developed into a deliberative body, convened solely at the invitation of the Archbishop of Canterbury. It still has no canonical or constitutional status, although it has enhanced the archbishop’s primacy within the Anglican Communion.

For some, these are weaknesses, for others these are strengths.

2:5 Huntingdon’s proposals

William Reed Huntington (1838-1909) ... he inspired the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral

The next conference took place in 1878. But two other important events in the life of the Anglican Communion took place before that: the diestablishment of the Church of Ireland; and, in 1870, the publication by an American Episcopal priest, William Reed Huntington (1838-1909), of his book, The Church Idea, An Essay toward Unity.

Huntington later became rector of Grace Church, an influential New York parish. Although never a bishop, Huntington had more influence on the Episcopal Church – perhaps even on the Anglican Communion – than most bishops.

Huntingdon’s proposals in the Church Idea were aimed initially at establishing what he described as “a basis on which approach may be by God’s blessing, made toward Home Reunion” – his way of describing Anglican reunion with the Roman Catholic and the Orthodox Churches. But his proposals eventually helped the formulation of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral, which summarised four elements that would help both define what an Anglican Church is and what Anglicans would accept as the basis for talks on Church unity.

Huntingdon was worried about what the word Anglicanism conveyed, and its nostalgic appeal. “The word brings up before the eyes of some a flutter of surplices, a vision of village spires and cathedral towers, a somewhat stiff and stately company of deans, prebendaries and choristers, and that is about all.” [The Church Idea, p. 124].

And he warned:

“If our whole ambition as Anglicans in America be to continue a small, but eminently respectable body of Christians, and to offer a refuge to people of refinement and sensibility, who are shocked by the irreverences they are apt to encounter elsewhere; in a word, if we are to be only a countercheck and not a force in society; then let us say as much in plain terms, and frankly renounce all claims to Catholicity. We have only, in such a case, to wrap the robe of our dignity about us, and walk quietly along in a seclusion no one will take much trouble to disturb. Thus may we be a Church in name, and a sect in deed.”

It is interesting to note that Huntington was anticipating by 50 years Ernst Troeltsch’s formative church-sect typology.

But Huntingdon’s vision of the Church was formed by a very deep theology. He wrote:

“But if we aim at something nobler than this, if we would have our Communion become national in very truth, – in other words, if we would bring the Church of Christ into the closest possible sympathy with the throbbing, sorrowing, sinning, repenting, aspiring heart of this great people, – then let us press our reasonable claims to be the reconciler of a divided household, not in a spirit of arrogance (which ill befits those whose best possessions have come to them by inheritance), but with affectionate earnestness and intelligent zeal.” [p. 159.]

And so, in pursuit of those claims, Huntingdon laid out his four principles:

● The Holy Scriptures as the Word of God;
● The Primitive Creeds as the Rule of Faith;
● The two sacraments ordained by Christ himself (i.e., Baptism and Holy Communion); and
● The Episcopate as the keystone of Governmental Unity.

Huntingdon’s proposal stood for almost a century and a half as a cornerstone of Anglican ecclesiology and Anglican ecumenical endeavour. They were eventually adopted at the 1888 conference, and the formula has become known as the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral. Are they being replaced by an Anglican Covenant?

Next:

Next week (Thursday 4 February 2010, 2-4 p.m.), I hope we can look at how that formula was debated, and received, and to look at the 1878 conference and the 1888 conference, and to see how they developed not only a more efficient way of meeting and deliberating. We can ask how the bishops at the Lambeth Conferences started to deal with change, how they started to do theology, and how they started to shape and define Anglican ecclesiology as a consequence of Huntingdon’s book.

Then, in the following session (Thursday 11 February 2010, 2-4 p.m.), I hope we can look at the other Lambeth conferences, and ask whether they were momentous or important, and look at the instruments of unity in the Anglican Communion

And in our final week (Thursday, 18 February 2010, 2-4 p.m.), we can look at the unity and divisions within the Anglican Communion, discuss the Windsor Report, the Covenant proposals, GAFCON, Lambeth 2008, and the future of the Anglican Communion.

Appendix 1: The Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral

In the opinion of this conference, the following articles supply a basis on which approach may be by God’s blessing made towards home reunion:

A, The Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as “containing all things necessary to salvation,” and as being the rule and ultimate standard of faith.

B, The Apostles’ Creed, as the Baptismal symbol; and the Nicene Creed, as the sufficient statement of the Christian faith.

C, The two sacraments ordained by Christ himself – Baptism and the Supper of the Lord – ministered with unfailing use of Christ’s words of institution, and of the elements ordained by him.

D, The historic episcopate, locally adapted in the methods of its administration to the varying needs of the nations and peoples called of God into the unity of his Church.

Lambeth Conference 1888, Resolution 11

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, Dublin. This lecture was given on Thursday 28 January 2010 as part of the Year III B.Th. course: The Anglican Communion