Monday, 16 November 2015

Liturgy 7.2 (2015-2016): Liturgy and the Word (5),
Martin Luther King, ‘Our God Is Marching On!’

The Revd Dr Martin Luther King … he delivered his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech in Washington over 50 years ago in 1963

Patrick Comerford

TH 8824: Liturgy, Worship and Spirituality

Year II, 10:30 to 1 p.m., Mondays, Hartin Room:

23 November 2015

Liturgy 7.2:


Seminar: homiletics in liturgy and homiletics in history: readings in Saint Augustine, Thomas Cranmer, Lancelot Andrewes, John Wesley and Martin Luther King.

(5) Martin Luther King: Our God Is Marching On!

Introduction:

The Revd Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) was an American Baptist minister, Nobel Peace laureate and prominent Afro-American human rights campaigner. He is best known for his non-violent direct action and his speeches in the civil rights movement in the “Deep South” in the 1950s and the 1960s.

The fiftieth anniversary of his “I Have a Dream” speech on 28 August 1963 was marked across the world two years ago.

Marking that anniversary, the Economist pointed out that King’s “I Have a Dream” speech was a simple clarification of America’s founding promise that "all men are created equal,” and have a right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” But, while it pointed out that America has changed beyond recognition over the past 50 years, the legacy of discrimination is hard to shake off.

In that speech to over 250,000 civil rights marchers on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial at the end of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on 28 August 1963, Martin Luther King called for an end to racism in the United States. He waxed eloquently as he went out live on radio and television. At the end of his speech, he left his prepared text for an improvised set of excited exhortations beginning: “I have a dream …” His improvisation was probably prompted by Mahalia Jackson as she cried out: “Tell them about the dream, Martin!”

The speech has since become a defining moment in the American Civil Rights Movement and has made him as one of the greatest orators in American history. He was assassinated on 4 April 1968.

Many of King’s speeches at marches and demonstrations have the quality and tenor of sermons, even though they were often delivered outside the context of church and liturgy.

This morning’s sermon or speech – with its repetition of the echoing question-and-answer sayings “How Long? Not Long!” – was delivered on 25 March 1965 on the steps of the State Capitol in Montgomery, Alabama, at the end of the Selma to Montgomery march that began with the violent attacks of ‘Bloody Sunday’ (7 March 1965). The sermon or speech is often referred to as “Our God Is Marching On!”

This sermon or speech changed many people’s views and Martin Luther king Jr. rallied more people to his side in the fight against segregation. This speech gained him great respect and popularity. To watch the speech click the video link below:



Martin Luther King: Our God Is Marching On!

25 March 1965, Montgomery, Alabama.


My dear and abiding friends, Ralph Abernathy, and to all of the distinguished Americans seated here on the rostrum, my friends and co-workers of the state of Alabama, and to all of the freedom-loving people who have assembled here this afternoon from all over our nation and from all over the world: Last Sunday, more than eight thousand of us started on a mighty walk from Selma, Alabama. We have walked through desolate valleys and across the trying hills. We have walked on meandering highways and rested our bodies on rocky byways. Some of our faces are burned from the outpourings of the sweltering sun. Some have literally slept in the mud. We have been drenched by the rains. [Audience:] (Speak) Our bodies are tired and our feet are somewhat sore.

But today as I stand before you and think back over that great march, I can say, as Sister Pollard said—a seventy-year-old Negro woman who lived in this community during the bus boycott—and one day, she was asked while walking if she didn’t want to ride. And when she answered, “No,” the person said, “Well, aren’t you tired?” And with her ungrammatical profundity, she said, “My feets is tired, but my soul is rested.” (Yes, sir. All right) And in a real sense this afternoon, we can say that our feet are tired, (Yes, sir) but our souls are rested.

They told us we wouldn’t get here. And there were those who said that we would get here only over their dead bodies, (Well. Yes, sir. Talk) but all the world today knows that we are here and we are standing before the forces of power in the state of Alabama saying, “We ain’t goin’ let nobody turn us around.” (Yes, sir. Speak) [Applause]

Now it is not an accident that one of the great marches of American history should terminate in Montgomery, Alabama. (Yes, sir) Just ten years ago, in this very city, a new philosophy was born of the Negro struggle. Montgomery was the first city in the South in which the entire Negro community united and squarely faced its age-old oppressors. (Yes, sir. Well) Out of this struggle, more than bus [de]segregation was won; a new idea, more powerful than guns or clubs was born. Negroes took it and carried it across the South in epic battles (Yes, sir. Speak) that electrified the nation (Well) and the world.

Yet, strangely, the climactic conflicts always were fought and won on Alabama soil.

After Montgomery’s, heroic confrontations loomed up in Mississippi, Arkansas, Georgia, and elsewhere. But not until the colossus of segregation was challenged in Birmingham did the conscience of America begin to bleed. White America was profoundly aroused by Birmingham because it witnessed the whole community of Negroes facing terror and brutality with majestic scorn and heroic courage. And from the wells of this democratic spirit, the nation finally forced Congress (Well) to write legislation (Yes, sir) in the hope that it would eradicate the stain of Birmingham. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 gave Negroes some part of their rightful dignity, (Speak, sir) but without the vote it was dignity without strength. (Yes, sir)

Once more the method of nonviolent resistance (Yes) was unsheathed from its scabbard, and once again an entire community was mobilised to confront the adversary. (Yes, sir) And again the brutality of a dying order shrieks across the land. Yet, Selma, Alabama, became a shining moment in the conscience of man. If the worst in American life lurked in its dark streets, the best of American instincts arose passionately from across the nation to overcome it. (Yes, sir. Speak) There never was a moment in American history (Yes, sir) more honourable and more inspiring than the pilgrimage of clergymen and laymen of every race and faith pouring into Selma to face danger (Yes) at the side of its embattled Negroes.

The confrontation of good and evil compressed in the tiny community of Selma (Speak, speak) generated the massive power (Yes, sir. Yes, sir) to turn the whole nation to a new course. A president born in the South (Well) had the sensitivity to feel the will of the country, (Speak, sir) and in an address that will live in history as one of the most passionate pleas for human rights ever made by a president of our nation, he pledged the might of the federal government to cast off the centuries-old blight. President Johnson rightly praised the courage of the Negro for awakening the conscience of the nation. (Yes, sir)

On our part we must pay our profound respects to the white Americans who cherish their democratic traditions over the ugly customs and privileges of generations and come forth boldly to join hands with us. (Yes, sir) From Montgomery to Birmingham, (Yes, sir) from Birmingham to Selma, (Yes, sir) from Selma back to Montgomery, (Yes) a trail wound in a circle long and often bloody, yet it has become a highway up from darkness. (Yes, sir) Alabama has tried to nurture and defend evil, but evil is choking to death in the dusty roads and streets of this state. (Yes, sir. Speak, sir) So I stand before you this afternoon (Speak, sir. Well) with the conviction that segregation is on its deathbed in Alabama, and the only thing uncertain about it is how costly the segregationists and Wallace will make the funeral. (Go ahead. Yes, sir) [Applause]

Our whole campaign in Alabama has been centred around the right to vote. In focusing the attention of the nation and the world today on the flagrant denial of the right to vote, we are exposing the very origin, the root cause, of racial segregation in the Southland.

Racial segregation as a way of life did not come about as a natural result of hatred between the races immediately after the Civil War. There were no laws segregating the races then. And as the noted historian, C. Vann Woodward, in his book, The Strange Career of Jim Crow, clearly points out, the segregation of the races was really a political stratagem employed by the emerging Bourbon interests in the South to keep the southern masses divided and southern labour the cheapest in the land. You see, it was a simple thing to keep the poor white masses working for near-starvation wages in the years that followed the Civil War. Why, if the poor white plantation or mill worker became dissatisfied with his low wages, the plantation or mill owner would merely threaten to fire him and hire former Negro slaves and pay him even less. Thus, the southern wage level was kept almost unbearably low.

Toward the end of the Reconstruction era, something very significant happened. (Listen to him) That is what was known as the Populist Movement. (Speak, sir) The leaders of this movement began awakening the poor white masses (Yes, sir) and the former Negro slaves to the fact that they were being fleeced by the emerging Bourbon interests. Not only that, but they began uniting the Negro and white masses (Yeah) into a voting bloc that threatened to drive the Bourbon interests from the command posts of political power in the South.

To meet this threat, the southern aristocracy began immediately to engineer this development of a segregated society. (Right) I want you to follow me through here because this is very important to see the roots of racism and the denial of the right to vote. Through their control of mass media, they revised the doctrine of white supremacy. They saturated the thinking of the poor white masses with it, (Yes) thus clouding their minds to the real issue involved in the Populist Movement. They then directed the placement on the books of the South of laws that made it a crime for Negroes and whites to come together as equals at any level. (Yes, sir) And that did it. That crippled and eventually destroyed the Populist Movement of the nineteenth century.

If it may be said of the slavery era that the white man took the world and gave the Negro Jesus, then it may be said of the Reconstruction era that the southern aristocracy took the world and gave the poor white man Jim Crow. (Yes, sir) He gave him Jim Crow. (Uh huh) And when his wrinkled stomach cried out for the food that his empty pockets could not provide, (Yes, sir) he ate Jim Crow, a psychological bird that told him that no matter how bad off he was, at least he was a white man, better than the black man. (Right sir) And he ate Jim Crow. (Uh huh) And when his undernourished children cried out for the necessities that his low wages could not provide, he showed them the Jim Crow signs on the buses and in the stores, on the streets and in the public buildings. (Yes, sir) And his children, too, learned to feed upon Jim Crow, (Speak) their last outpost of psychological oblivion. (Yes, sir)

Thus, the threat of the free exercise of the ballot by the Negro and the white masses alike (Uh huh) resulted in the establishment of a segregated society. They segregated southern money from the poor whites; they segregated southern mores from the rich whites; (Yes, sir) they segregated southern churches from Christianity (Yes, sir); they segregated southern minds from honest thinking; (Yes, sir) and they segregated the Negro from everything. (Yes, sir) That’s what happened when the Negro and white masses of the South threatened to unite and build a great society: a society of justice where none would pray upon the weakness of others; a society of plenty where greed and poverty would be done away; a society of brotherhood where every man would respect the dignity and worth of human personality. (Yes, sir)

We’ve come a long way since that travesty of justice was perpetrated upon the American mind. James Weldon Johnson put it eloquently. He said:

We have come over a way
That with tears hath been watered. (Yes, sir)
We have come treading our paths
Through the blood of the slaughtered. (Yes, sir)
Out of the gloomy past, (Yes, sir)
Till now we stand at last
Where the white gleam
Of our bright star is cast. (Speak, sir)

Today I want to tell the city of Selma, (Tell them, Doctor) today I want to say to the state of Alabama, (Yes, sir) today I want to say to the people of America and the nations of the world, that we are not about to turn around. (Yes, sir) We are on the move now. (Yes, sir)

Yes, we are on the move and no wave of racism can stop us. (Yes, sir) We are on the move now. The burning of our churches will not deter us. (Yes, sir) The bombing of our homes will not dissuade us. (Yes, sir) We are on the move now. (Yes, sir) The beating and killing of our clergymen and young people will not divert us. We are on the move now. (Yes, sir) The wanton release of their known murderers would not discourage us. We are on the move now. (Yes, sir) Like an idea whose time has come, (Yes, sir) not even the marching of mighty armies can halt us. (Yes, sir) We are moving to the land of freedom. (Yes, sir)

Let us therefore continue our triumphant march (Uh huh) to the realisation of the American dream. (Yes, sir) Let us march on segregated housing (Yes, sir) until every ghetto or social and economic depression dissolves, and Negroes and whites live side by side in decent, safe, and sanitary housing. (Yes, sir) Let us march on segregated schools (Let us march, Tell it) until every vestige of segregated and inferior education becomes a thing of the past, and Negroes and whites study side-by-side in the socially-healing context of the classroom.

Let us march on poverty (Let us march) until no American parent has to skip a meal so that their children may eat. (Yes, sir) March on poverty (Let us march) until no starved man walks the streets of our cities and towns (Yes, sir) in search of jobs that do not exist. (Yes, sir) Let us march on poverty (Let us march) until wrinkled stomachs in Mississippi are filled, (That’s right) and the idle industries of Appalachia are realised and revitalised, and broken lives in sweltering ghettos are mended and remoulded.

Let us march on ballot boxes, (Let’s march) march on ballot boxes until race-baiters disappear from the political arena.

Let us march on ballot boxes until the salient misdeeds of bloodthirsty mobs (Yes, sir) will be transformed into the calculated good deeds of orderly citizens. (Speak, Doctor)

Let us march on ballot boxes (Let us march) until the [George] Wallaces of our nation tremble away in silence.

Let us march on ballot boxes (Let us march) until we send to our city councils (Yes, sir), state legislatures, (Yes, sir) and the United States Congress, (Yes, sir) men who will not fear to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with thy God.

Let us march on ballot boxes (Let us march. March) until brotherhood becomes more than a meaningless word in an opening prayer, but the order of the day on every legislative agenda.

Let us march on ballot boxes (Yes) until all over Alabama God’s children will be able to walk the earth in decency and honour.

There is nothing wrong with marching in this sense. (Yes, sir) The Bible tells us that the mighty men of Joshua merely walked about the walled city of Jericho (Yes) and the barriers to freedom came tumbling down. (Yes, sir) I like that old Negro spiritual, (Yes, sir) “Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho.” In its simple, yet colourful, depiction (Yes, sir) of that great moment in biblical history, it tells us that:

Joshua fit the battle of Jericho, (Tell it)
Joshua fit the battle of Jericho, (Yes, sir)
And the walls come tumbling down. (Yes, sir. Tell it)
Up to the walls of Jericho they marched, spear in hand. (Yes, sir)
“Go blow them ramhorns,” Joshua cried,
“Cause the battle am in my hand.” (Yes, sir)

These words I have given you just as they were given us by the unknown, long-dead, dark-skinned originator. (Yes, sir) Some now long-gone black bard bequeathed to posterity these words in ungrammatical form, (Yes, sir) yet with emphatic pertinence for all of us today. (Uh huh)

The battle is in our hands. And we can answer with creative nonviolence the call to higher ground to which the new directions of our struggle summons us. (Yes, sir) The road ahead is not altogether a smooth one. (No) There are no broad highways that lead us easily and inevitably to quick solutions. But we must keep going.

In the glow of the lamplight on my desk a few nights ago, I gazed again upon the wondrous sign of our times, full of hope and promise of the future. (Uh huh) And I smiled to see in the newspaper photographs of many a decade ago, the faces so bright, so solemn, of our valiant heroes, the people of Montgomery. To this list may be added the names of all those (Yes) who have fought and, yes, died in the nonviolent army of our day: Medgar Evers, (Speak) three civil rights workers in Mississippi last summer, (Uh huh) William Moore, as has already been mentioned, (Yes, sir) the Reverend James Reeb, (Yes, sir) Jimmy Lee Jackson, (Yes, sir) and four little girls in the Church of God in Birmingham on Sunday morning. (Yes, sir) But in spite of this, we must go on and be sure that they did not die in vain. (Yes, sir) The pattern of their feet as they walked through Jim Crow barriers in the great stride toward freedom is the thunder of the marching men of Joshua, (Yes, sir) and the world rocks beneath their tread. (Yes, sir)

My people, my people, listen. (Yes, sir) The battle is in our hands. (Yes, sir) The battle is in our hands in Mississippi and Alabama and all over the United States. (Yes, sir) I know there is a cry today in Alabama, (Uh huh) we see it in numerous editorials: “When will Martin Luther King, SCLC, SNCC, and all of these civil rights agitators and all of the white clergymen and labour leaders and students and others get out of our community and let Alabama return to normalcy?”

But I have a message that I would like to leave with Alabama this evening. (Tell it) That is exactly what we don’t want, and we will not allow it to happen, (Yes, sir) for we know that it was normalcy in Marion (Yes, sir) that led to the brutal murder of Jimmy Lee Jackson. (Speak) It was normalcy in Birmingham (Yes) that led to the murder on Sunday morning of four beautiful, unoffending, innocent girls. It was normalcy on Highway 80 (Yes, sir) that led state troopers to use tear gas and horses and billy clubs against unarmed human beings who were simply marching for justice. (Speak, sir) It was normalcy by a café in Selma, Alabama, that led to the brutal beating of Reverend James Reeb.

It is normalcy all over our country (Yes, sir) which leaves the Negro perishing on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of vast ocean of material prosperity. It is normalcy all over Alabama (Yeah) that prevents the Negro from becoming a registered voter. (Yes) No, we will not allow Alabama (Go ahead) to return to normalcy.

[Applause]

The only normalcy that we will settle for (Yes, sir) is the normalcy that recognises the dignity and worth of all of God’s children.

The only normalcy that we will settle for is the normalcy that allows judgment to run down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream. (Yes, sir)

The only normalcy that we will settle for is the normalcy of brotherhood, the normalcy of true peace, the normalcy of justice.

And so as we go away this afternoon, let us go away more than ever before committed to this struggle and committed to nonviolence. I must admit to you that there are still some difficult days ahead. We are still in for a season of suffering in many of the black belt counties of Alabama, many areas of Mississippi, many areas of Louisiana. I must admit to you that there are still jail cells waiting for us, and dark and difficult moments.

But if we will go on with the faith that nonviolence and its power can transform dark yesterdays into bright tomorrows, we will be able to change all of these conditions.

And so I plead with you this afternoon as we go ahead: remain committed to nonviolence. Our aim must never be to defeat or humiliate the white man, but to win his friendship and understanding. We must come to see that the end we seek is a society at peace with itself, a society that can live with its conscience. And that will be a day not of the white man, not of the black man. That will be the day of man as man. (Yes)

I know you are asking today, “How long will it take?” (Speak, sir) Somebody’s asking, “How long will prejudice blind the visions of men, darken their understanding, and drive bright-eyed wisdom from her sacred throne?” Somebody’s asking, “When will wounded justice, lying prostrate on the streets of Selma and Birmingham and communities all over the South, be lifted from this dust of shame to reign supreme among the children of men?” Somebody’s asking, “When will the radiant star of hope be plunged against the nocturnal bosom of this lonely night, (Speak, speak, speak) plucked from weary souls with chains of fear and the manacles of death? How long will justice be crucified, (Speak) and truth bear it?” (Yes, sir)

I come to say to you this afternoon, however difficult the moment, (Yes, sir) however frustrating the hour, it will not be long, (No sir) because “truth crushed to earth will rise again.” (Yes, sir)

How long? Not long, (Yes, sir) because “no lie can live forever.” (Yes, sir)

How long? Not long, (All right. How long) because “you shall reap what you sow.” (Yes, sir)

How long? (How long?) Not long: (Not long)

Truth forever on the scaffold, (Speak)
Wrong forever on the throne, (Yes, sir)
Yet that scaffold sways the future, (Yes, sir)
And, behind the dim unknown,
Standeth God within the shadow,
Keeping watch above his own.

How long? Not long, because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. (Yes, sir)

How long? Not long, (Not long) because:

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord; (Yes, sir)
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored; (Yes)
He has loosed the fateful lightning of his terrible swift sword; (Yes, sir)
His truth is marching on. (Yes, sir)

He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat; (Speak, sir)
He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgment seat. (That’s right)
O, be swift, my soul, to answer Him! Be jubilant my feet!
Our God is marching on. (Yeah)

Glory, hallelujah! (Yes, sir)
Glory, hallelujah! (All right)
Glory, hallelujah! Glory, hallelujah!
His truth is marching on. [Applause]

(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism, Liturgy and Church History, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. This posting was prepared for the Module TH 8824: Liturgy, Worship and Spirituality, on the MTh course, on 16 November 2015 in advance of a seminar on 23 November 2015.

Note: For the past half century, there has been public controversy about the copyright status of Martin Luther King’s speeches. I am making them available on this site solely for educational purposes, to advance understanding of human rights, democracy, scientific, moral, ethical, and social justice issues, which constitute a ‘fair use’ of copyrighted material under Title 17 USC section 107 of the US Copyright Law, and this material is not being distributed for profit.

Copyright inquiries and permission requests may be directed to: Estate of Dr Martin Luther King, Jr, Intellectual Properties Management, One Freedom Plaza, 449 Auburn Avenue NE, Atlanta, GA 30312.


Liturgy 7.2 (2015-2016): Liturgy and the Word (4), John Wesley,
Sermon 101: The Duty Of Constant Communion

John Wesley, by William Hamilton

Patrick Comerford

TH 8824: Liturgy, Worship and Spirituality

Year II, 10:30 to 1 p.m., Mondays, Hartin Room:

23 November 2015

Liturgy 7.2:


Seminar: homiletics in liturgy and homiletics in history: readings in Saint Augustine, Thomas Cranmer, Lancelot Andrewes, John Wesley and Martin Luther King.

John Wesley preaching

(4) John Wesley: Sermon 101: The Duty Of Constant Communion

Introduction:

The Revd John Wesley (1703-1791) was an Anglican priest and theologian who is seen – alongside his brother Charles Wesley – as the founder of Methodism.

His sermons are a key to understanding Wesley, for Methodism began when he took to open-air preaching, albeit reluctantly at first. His great contribution was to appoint itinerant preachers who travelled widely to preach as well as to evangelise and to care for people.

Wesley was a fluent, powerful and effective preacher. He usually preached spontaneously and briefly, though occasionally at great length. His written sermons are characterised by spiritual earnestness and simplicity. They are doctrinal but not dogmatic. Both his Notes on the New Testament (1755) and his Sermons are doctrinal standards for Methodists.

John Wesley says in a preface to the sermon we are looking at this afternoon:

The following discourse was written above five-and-fifty years ago, for the use of my pupils at Oxford. I have added very little, but retrenched much; as I then used more words than I do now. But, I thank God, I have not yet seen cause to alter my sentiments in any point which is therein delivered. 1788 J.W. “Do this in remembrance of me.” Luke 22: 19.

The interior of the Chapel in Edgehill Theological College, the Methodist theological college in Belfast (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Sermon 101: The Duty Of Constant Communion

The Sermons of John Wesley, 1872 Edition (Thomas Jackson, editor)

It is no wonder that men who have no fear of God should never think of doing this. But it is strange that it should be neglected by any that do fear God, and desire to save their souls; And yet nothing is more common. One reason why many neglect it is, they are so much afraid of “eating and drinking unworthily,” that they never think how much greater the danger is when they do not eat or drink it at all. That I may do what I can to bring these well-meaning men to a more just way of thinking, I shall,

I. show that it is the duty of every Christian to receive the Lord’s Supper as often as he can; and,

II. Answer some objections.

I. I am to show that it is the duty of every Christian to receive the Lord’s Supper as often as he can.

1. The First reason why it is the duty of every Christian so to do is, because it is a plain command of Christ. That this is his command, appears from the words of the text, “Do this in remembrance of me:” By which, as the Apostles were obliged to bless, break, and give the bread to all that joined with them in holy things; so were all Christians obliged to receive those sign of Christ’s body and blood. Here, therefore, the bread and wine are commanded to be received, in remembrance of his death, to the end of the world. Observe, too, that this command was given by our Lord when he was just laying down his life for our sakes. They are, therefore, as it were, his dying words to all his followers.

2. A Second reason why every Christian should do this as often as he can, is, because the benefits of doing it are so great to all that do it in obedience to him; viz., the forgiveness of our past sins and the present strengthening and refreshing of our souls. In this world we are never free from temptations. Whatever way of life we are in, whatever our condition be, whether we are sick or well, in trouble or at ease, the enemies of our souls are watching to lead us into sin. And too often they prevail over us. Now, when we are convinced of having sinned against God, what surer way have we of procuring pardon from him, than the “showing forth the Lord’s death”; and beseeching him, for the sake of his Son’s sufferings, to blot out all our sins.

3. The grace of God given herein confirms to us the pardon of our sins, by enabling us to leave them. As our bodies are strengthened by bread and wine, so are our souls by these tokens of the body and blood of Christ. This is the food of our souls: This gives strength to perform our duty, and leads us on to perfection. If, therefore, we have any regard for the plain command of Christ, if we desire the pardon of our sins, if we wish for strength to believe, to love and obey God, then we should neglect no opportunity of receiving the Lord’s Supper; then we must never turn our backs on the feast which our Lord has prepared for us. We must neglect no occasion which the good providence of God affords us for this purpose. This is the true rule: So often are we to receive as God gives us opportunity. Whoever, therefore, does not receive, but goes from the holy table, when all things are prepared, either does not understand his duty, or does not care for the dying command of his Saviour, the forgiveness of his sins, the strengthening of his soul, and the refreshing it with the hope of glory.

4. Let every one, therefore, who has either any desire to please God, or any love of his own soul, obey God, and consult the good of his own soul, by communicating every time he can; like the first Christians, with whom the Christian sacrifice was a constant part of the Lord’s day service. And for several centuries they received it almost every day: Four times a week always, and every saint’s day beside. Accordingly, those that joined in the prayers of the faithful never failed to partake of the blessed sacrament. What opinion they had of any who turned his back upon it, we may learn from that ancient canon: “If any believer join in the prayers of the faithful, and go away without receiving the Lord’s Supper, let him be excommunicated, as bringing confusion into the church of God.”

5. In order to understand the nature of the Lord’s Supper, it would be useful carefully to read over those passages in the Gospel, and in the first Epistle to the Corinthians [1 Corinthians 11], which speak of the institution of it. Hence we learn that the design of this sacrament is, the continual remembrance of the death of Christ, by eating bread and drinking wine, which are the outward signs of the inward grace, the body and blood of Christ.

6. It is highly expedient for those who purpose to receive this, whenever their time will permit, to prepare themselves for this solemn ordinance by self-examination and prayer. But this is not absolutely necessary. And when we have not time for it, we should see that we have the habitual preparation which is absolutely necessary, and can never be dispensed with on any account or any occasion whatever. This is, First, a full purpose of heart to keep all the commandments of God; and, Secondly, a sincere desire to receive all his promises.

II. I am, in the Second place, to answer the common objections against constantly receiving the Lord’s Supper.

1. I say constantly receiving; for as to the phrase of frequent communion, it is absurd to the last degree. If it means anything less than constant, it means more than can be proved to be the duty of any man. For if we are not obliged to communicate constantly, by what argument can it be proved that we are obliged to communicate frequently yea, more than once a year, or once in seven years, or once before we die Every argument brought for this, either proves that we ought to do it constantly, or proves nothing at all. Therefore, that indeterminate, unmeaning way of speaking ought to be laid aside by all men of understanding.

2. In order to prove that it is our duty to communicate constantly, we may observe that the holy communion is to be considered either, (1), as a command of God, or, (2) As a mercy to man.

First. As a command of God. God our Mediator and Governor, from whom we have received our life and all things, on whose will it depends whether we shall be perfectly happy or perfectly miserable from this moment to eternity, declares to us that all who obey his commands shall be eternally happy; all who not, shall be eternally miserable. Now, one of these commands is, “Do this in remembrance of me.” I ask then, Why do you not do this, when you can do it if you will When you have an opportunity before you, why do not you obey the command of God.

3. Perhaps you will say, “God does not command me to do this as often as I can: “That is, the words “as often as you can,” are not added in this particular place. What then Are we not to obey every command of God as often as we can Are not all the promises of God made to those, and those only, who “give all diligence;” that is, to those who do all they can to obey his commandments Our power is the one rule of our duty. Whatever we can do, that we ought. With respect either to this or any other command, he that, when he may obey it if he will, does not, will have no place in the kingdom of heaven.

4. And this great truth, that we are obliged to keep every command as far as we can, is clearly proved from the absurdity of the contrary opinion; for were we to allow that we are not obliged to obey every commandment of God as often as we can, we have no argument left to prove that any man is bound to obey any command at any time. For instance: Should I ask a man why he does not obey one of the plainest commands of God, why, for instance, he does not help his parents, he might answer, “I will not do it now, but I will at another time.” When that time comes, put him in mind of God’s command again; and he will say, “I will obey it some time or other.” Nor is it possible ever to prove that he ought to do it now, unless by proving that he ought to do it as often as he can; and therefore he ought to do it now, because he can if he will.

5. Consider the Lord’s Supper, Secondly, as a mercy from God to man. As God, whose mercy is over all his works, and particularly over the children of men, knew there was but one way for man to be happy like himself; namely, by being like him in holiness; as he knew we could do nothing toward this of ourselves, he has given us certain means of obtaining his help. One of these is the Lord’s Supper, which, of his infinite mercy, he hath given for this very end; that through this means we may be assisted to attain those blessings which he hath prepared for us; that we may obtain holiness on earth, and everlasting glory in heaven.

I ask, then, Why do you not accept of his mercy as often as ever you can God now offers you his blessing; – why do you refuse it You have now an opportunity of receiving his mercy; – why do you not receive it You are weak: – why do not you seize every opportunity of increasing your strength In a word: Considering this as a command of God, he that does not communicate as often as he can has no piety; considering it as a mercy, he that does not communicate as often as he can has no wisdom.

6. These two considerations will yield a full answer to all the common objections which have been made against constant communion; indeed to all that ever were or can be made. In truth, nothing can be objected against it, but upon supposition that, [at] this particular time, either the communion would be no mercy, or I am not commanded to receive it. Nay, should we grant it would be no mercy, that is not enough; for still the other reason would hold: Whether it does you any good or none, you are to obey the command of God.

7. However, let us see the particular excuses which men commonly make for not obeying it. The most common is, “I am unworthy; and ‘he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself.’ Therefore I dare not communicate, lest I should eat and drink my own damnation.”

The case is this: God offers you one of the greatest mercies on this side heaven, and commands you to accept it. Why do not you accept this mercy, in obedience to his command You say, “I am unworthy to receive it.” And what then You are unworthy to receive any mercy from God. But is that a reason for refusing all mercy God offers you a pardon for all your sins. You are unworthy of it, it is sure, and he knows it; but since he is pleased to offer it nevertheless, will not you accept of it He offers to deliver your soul from death: You are unworthy to live; but will you therefore refuse life He offers to endue your soul with new strength; because you are unworthy of it, will you deny to take it What can God himself do for us farther, if we refuse his mercy because we are unworthy of it.

8. But suppose this were no mercy to us; (to suppose which is indeed giving God the lie; saying, that is not good for man which he purposely ordered for his good;) still I ask, Why do not you obey God’s command He says, “Do this.” Why do you not You answer, “I am unworthy to do it.” What! Unworthy to obey God Unworthy to do what God bids you do Unworthy to obey God's command What do you mean by this that those who are unworthy to obey God ought not to obey him Who told you so If he were even “an angel from heaven, let him be accursed.” If you think God himself has told you so by St. Paul, let us hear his words. They are these: “He that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself.”

Why, this is quite another thing. Here is not a word said of being unworthy to eat and drink. Indeed he does speak of eating and drinking unworthily; but that is quite a different thing; so he has told us himself. In this very chapter we are told that by eating and drinking unworthily is meant, taking the holy sacrament in such a rude and disorderly way, that one was “hungry and another drunken.” But what is that to you Is there any danger of your doing so, – of your eating and drinking thus unworthily However unworthy you are to communicate, there is no fear of your communicating thus. Therefore, whatever the punishment is, of doing it thus unworthily, it does not concern you. You have no more reason from this text to disobey God, than if there was no such text in the Bible. If you speak of “eating and drinking unworthily” in the sense St. Paul uses the words, you may as well say, “I dare not communicate, for fear the church should fall,” as “for fear I should eat and drink unworthily.”

9. If then you fear bringing damnation on yourself by this, you fear where no fear is. Fear it not for eating and drinking unworthily; for that, in St. Paul’s sense, ye cannot do. But I will tell you for what you shall fear damnation; – for not eating and drinking at all; for not obeying your Maker and Redeemer; for disobeying his plain command; for thus setting at nought both his mercy and authority. Fear ye this; for hear what his Apostle saith: “Whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, is guilty of all.” (James 2: 10.)

10. We see then how weak the objection is, “I dare not receive [The Lord’s Supper], because I am unworthy.” Nor is it any stronger, though the reason why you think yourself unworthy is, that you have lately fallen into sin. It is true, our Church forbids those “who have done any grievous crime" to receive without repentance. But all that follows from this is, that we should repent before we come; not that we should neglect to come at all.

To say, therefore, that “a man may turn his back upon the altar because he has lately fallen into sin, that he may impose this penance upon himself,” is talking without any warrant from Scripture. For where does the Bible teach to atone for breaking one commandment of God by breaking another What advice is this, – “Commit a new act of disobedience, and God will more easily forgive the past!”

11. Others there are who, to excuse their disobedience plead that they are unworthy in another sense, that they “cannot live up to it; they cannot pretend to lead so holy a life as constantly communicating would oblige them to do.” Put this into plain words. I ask, Why do not you accept the mercy which God commands you to accept You answer, “Because I cannot live up to the profession I must make when I receive it.” Then it is plain you ought never to receive it at all. For it is no more lawful to promise once what you know you cannot perform, than to promise it a thousand times. You know too, that it is one and the same promise, whether you make it every year or every day. You promise to do just as much, whether you promise ever so often or ever so seldom.

If, therefore, you cannot live up to the profession they make who communicate once a week, neither can you come up to the profession you make who communicate once a year. But cannot you, indeed Then it had been good for you that you had never been born. For all that you profess at the Lord’s table, you must both profess and keep, or you cannot be saved. For you profess nothing there but this, – that you will diligently keep his commandments. And cannot you keep up to this profession Then you cannot enter into life.

12. Think then what you say, before you say you cannot live up to what is required of constant communicants. This is no more than is required of any communicants; yea, of everyone that has a soul to be saved. So that to say, you cannot live up to this, is neither better nor worse than renouncing Christianity. It is, in effect, renouncing your baptism, wherein you solemnly promised to keep all his commandments. You now fly from that profession. You wilfully break one of his commandments, and, to excuse yourself, say, you cannot keep his commandments: Then you cannot expect to receive the promises, which are made only to those that keep them.

13. What has been said on this pretence against constant communion, is applicable to those who say the same thing in other words: “We dare not do it, because it requires so perfect an obedience afterwards as we cannot promise to perform.” Nay, it requires neither more nor less perfect obedience than you promised in your baptism. You then undertook to keep the commandments of God by his help; and you promise no more when you communicate.

14. A Second objection which is often made against constant communion, is, the having so much business as will not allow time for such a preparation as is necessary thereto. I answer: All the preparation that is absolutely necessary is contained in those words: “Repent you truly of your sins past; have faith in Christ our Saviour;” (and observe, that word is not here taken in its highest sense;) “amend your lives, and be in charity with all men; so shall ye be meet partakers of these holy mysteries.” All who are thus prepared may draw near without fear, and receive the sacrament to their comfort. Now, what business can hinder you from being thus prepared – from repenting of your past sins, from believing that Christ died to save sinners, from amending your lives, and being in charity with all men. No business can hinder you from this, unless it be such as hinders you from being in a state of salvation. If you resolve and design to follow Christ, you are fit to approach the Lord’s table. If you do not design this, you are only fit for the table and company of devils.

15. No business, therefore, can hinder any man from having that preparation which alone is necessary, unless it be such as unprepares him for heaven, as puts him out of a state of salvation. Indeed every prudent man will, when he has time, examine himself before he receives the Lord’s Supper. whether he repents him truly of his former sins; whether he believes the promises of God; whether he fully designs to walk in His ways, and be in charity with all men. In this, and in private prayer, he will doubtless spend all the time he conveniently can. But what is this to you who have not time What excuse is this for not obeying God He commands you to come, and prepare yourself by prayer, if you have time; if you have not, however, come. Make not reverence to God’s command a pretence for breaking it. Do not rebel against him for fear of offending him. Whatever you do or leave undone besides, be sure to do what God bids you do. Examining yourself, and using private prayer, especially before the Lord’s Supper, is good; But behold! “to obey is better than” self-examination; “and to hearken,” than the prayer of an angel.

16. A Third objection against constant communion is, that it abates our reverence for the sacrament. Suppose it did What then Will you thence conclude that you are not to receive it constantly This does not follow. God commands you, “Do this.” You may do it now, but will not, and, to excuse yourself say, “If I do it so often, it will abate the reverence with which I do it now.” Suppose it did; has God ever told you, that when the obeying his command abates your reverence to it, then you may disobey it If he has, you are guiltless; if not, what you say is just nothing to the purpose. The law is clear. Either show that the lawgiver makes this exception, or you are guilty before him.

17. Reverence for the sacrament may be of two sorts: Either such as is owing purely to the newness of the thing, such as men naturally have for anything they are not used to; or such as is owing to our faith, or to the love or fear of God. Now, the former of these is not properly a religious reverence, but purely natural. And this sort of reverence for the Lord’s Supper, the constantly receiving of it must lessen. But it will not lessen the true religious reverence, but rather confirm and increase it.

18. A Fourth objection is, “I have communicated constantly so long, but I have not found the benefit I expected.” This has been the case with many well-meaning persons, and therefore deserves to be particularly considered. And consider this: First, whatever God commands us to do, we are to do because he commands, whether we feel any benefit thereby or no. Now, God commands, “Do this in remembrance of me.” This, therefore, we are to do because he commands, whether we find present benefit thereby or not. But undoubtedly we shall find benefit sooner or later, though perhaps insensibly. We shall be insensibly strengthened, made more fit for the service of God, and more constant in it. At least, we are kept from falling back, and preserved from many sins and temptations: And surely this should be enough to make us receive this food as often as we can; though we do not presently feel the happy effects of it, as some have done, and we ourselves may when God sees best.

19. But suppose a man has often been at the sacrament, and yet received no benefit. Was it not his own fault? Either he was not rightly prepared, willing to obey all the commands and to receive all the promises of God, or he did not receive it aright, trusting in God. Only see that you are duly prepared for it, and the oftener you come to the Lord’s table, the greater benefit you will find there.

20. A Fifth objection which some have made against constant communion is, that “the Church enjoins it only three times a year.” The words of the Church are, “Note, that every parishioner shall communicate at the least three times in the year.” To this I answer, First, What, if the Church had not enjoined it at all, Is it not enough that God enjoins it We obey the Church only for God’s sake. And shall we not obey God himself If, then, you receive three times a year because the Church commands it, receive every time you can because God commands it. Else your doing the one will be so far from excusing you for not doing the other, that your own practice will prove your folly and sin, and leave you without excuse.

But, Secondly, we cannot conclude from these words, that the Church excuses him who receives only thrice a year. The plain sense of them is, that he who does not receive thrice at least, shall be cast out of the Church: But they by no means excuse him who communicates no oftener. This never was the judgment of our Church: On the contrary, she takes all possible care that the sacrament be duly administered, wherever the Common Prayer is read, every Sunday and holiday in the year.

The Church gives a particular direction with regard to those that are in Holy Orders: “In all cathedral and collegiate Churches and Colleges, where there are many Priests and Deacons, they shall all receive the communion with the Priest, every Sunday at the least.”

21. It has been shown, First, that if we consider the Lord’s Supper as a command of Christ, no man can have any pretence to Christian piety, who does not receive it (not once a month, but) as often as he can. Secondly, that if we consider the institution of it, as a mercy to ourselves, no man who does not receive it as often as he can has any pretence to Christian prudence. Thirdly, that none of the objections usually made, can be any excuse for that man who does not, at every opportunity obey this command and accept this mercy.

22. It has been particularly shown, First, that unworthiness is no excuse; because though in one sense we are all unworthy, yet none of us need be afraid of being unworthy in St. Paul’s sense, of “eating and drinking unworthily.” Secondly, that the not having time enough for preparation can be no excuse; since the only preparation which is absolutely necessary, is that which no business can hinder, nor indeed anything on earth, unless so far as it hinders our being in a state of salvation. Thirdly, that its abating our reverence is no excuse; since he who gave the command, “Do this,” nowhere adds, “unless it abates your reverence.” Fourthly, that our not profiting by it is no excuse; since it is our own fault, in neglecting that necessary preparation which is in our own power. Lastly, that the judgment of our own Church is quite in favour of constant communion. If those who have hitherto neglected it on any of these pretences, will lay these things to heart, they will, by the grace of God, come to a better mind, and never forsake their own mercies.

(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism, Liturgy and Church History, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. This posting was prepared for the Module TH 8824: Liturgy, Worship and Spirituality, on the MTh course, on 16 November 2015 in advance of a seminar on 23 November 2015.

Liturgy 7.2 (2015-2016): Liturgy and the Word (3),
Christmas Sermon 1622, Lancelot Andrewes

The Adoration of the Magi, depicted in the 19th century Oberammergau altarpiece in the Lady Chapel in Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

TH 8824: Liturgy, Worship and Spirituality

Year II, 10:30 to 1 p.m., Mondays, Hartin Room:

23 November 2015

Liturgy 7.2:


Seminar: homiletics in liturgy and homiletics in history: readings in Saint Augustine, Thomas Cranmer, Lancelot Andrewes, John Wesley and Martin Luther King.

(3) Lancelot Andrewes

Introduction:

Sir John Harington observed during the reign of King James I (the king who gave his name to the King James or Authorised Version of the Bible), that when it came to the time for the sermon, “courtiers’ eares are commonly so open as it goes in at one eare and out at the other.”

However, Bishop Lancelot Andrewes (1555-1626) fascinated all with his style of preaching. Peter McCullough, in his edited Lancelot Andrewes: Selected Sermons and Lectures, says Andrewes was colloquial yet learned, using “curt syntactical units” to build up something that marches on pleasingly, like a Bach fugue.

Because each part depends on what went before, it is hard to quote short excerpts from his sermons.

In one of his great Christmas sermons, preached in 1611, he reflects on what it means to say “The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory … full of grace and truth.” That sermon contains the essence of what became George Herbert’s poem, ‘Come my Way my Truth my Life.’ It is also the starting point for TS Eliot’s lines about ‘The word without a word’ in ‘Gerontion’ and ‘Ash Wednesday.’ And it may also have provided CS Lewis with his original locus for the children’ first glimpse of Aslan emerging from his Pavilion in the midst of the encamped Narnians.

Lancelot Andrewes ... editor of the Authorised Version of the Bible, and inspiration for TS Eliot

But perhaps the best-known passage from any of his sermons reads: “A cold coming they had of it at this time of the year, just the worst time of the year to take a journey, and specially a long journey in. The ways deep, the weather sharp, the days short, the sun farthest off, in solstitio brumali, the very dead of winter.”

These words from a sermon preached to King James I at Whitehall on Christmas Day 1622 provided TS Eliot with the inspiration for his poem, ‘The Journey of the Magi.’

It is also one of the earliest instances I know of where we find the proverb: ‘The nearer the Church, the farther from God.’

There is a poetic and lyrical quality to the prose sermons of Lancelot Andrewes, and there was nothing accidental in their structure, for he preached after learning his sermons by heart.

During his life Andrewes was, variously, Master of Pembroke College, Cambridge, Dean of Westminster Abbey, Bishop of Chichester, Bishop of Ely and Bishop of Winchester, and was one of the translators of the King James Version of the Bible.

His best-known sermons lasted perhaps an hour or more, beginning by stating the Bible text in Latin and English, and then giving the structure he is to follow in commenting on it.

His preaching style has long gone out of fashion. But in his time they may have been the Sunday theatre of the day.

The tomb of Lancelot Andrewes by the high altar in the Church of Saint Mary Overie, then in the Diocese of Winchester but now Southwark Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Lancelot Andrewes, Christmas Day Sermon, 1622

Project Canterbury, Library of Anglo-Catholic Theology, Lancelot Andrewes Works, Sermons, Volume 1, pp 249-264.

Sermon of the Nativity, Preached upon Christmas Day 1622 before King James, at Whitehall, on Wednesday 25 December 1622, transcribed by Dr Marianne Dorman (2001).


Saint Matthew 2: 1-2

Behold there came wise men from the East to Jerusalem, Saying, Where is He That is born King of the Jews? for we have seen His star in the East, and are come to worship Him.

Ecce magi ab Oriente venerunt Jerosolymam, Dicentes, Ubi est Qui natus est Rex Judaeorum? Vidimus enim stellam Ejus in Oriente, et venimus adorare Eum.


There be in these two verses two principal points, as was observed when time was; 1. The persons that arrived at Jerusalem, 2. and their errand. The persons in the former verse, whereof hath been treated heretofore. Their errand in the latter, whereof we are now to deal.

Their errand we may best learn from themselves out of their dicentes &c. Which, in a word, is to worship Him. Their errand our errand, and the errand of this day.

This text may seem to come a little too soon, before the time; and should have stayed till the day it was spoken on, rather than on this day. But if you mark them well, there are in the verse four words that be verba diei hujus, ‘proper and peculiar to this very day.’ 1. For first, natus est is most proper to this day of all days, the day of His Nativity. 2. Secondly, vidimus stellam; for on this day it was first seen, appeared first. 3. Thirdly, venimus; for this day they set forth, began their journey. 4. And last, adorare Eum; for ‘when He brought His only-begotten Son into the world, He gave in charge, Let all Angels of God worship Him’. And when the Angels to do it, no time more proper for us to do it as then. So these four appropriate it to this day, and none but this.

The main heads of their errands are 1. Vidimus stellam, the occasion; 2. and Venimus adorare, the end of their coming. But for the better conceiving it I will take another course, to set forth, these points to be handled.

Their faith first: faith in that they never ask ‘Whether He be,’ but ‘Where He is born;’ for that born He is that they stedfastly believe.

Then ‘the work or service’ of this faith, as St. Paul calleth it, ‘the touch or trial,’ δοκίμιον, as St. Peter; the ostende mihi, as St. James; of this their faith in these five. 1. Their confessing of it in venerunt dicentes.

Venerunt, they were no sooner come, but they tell it out; confess Him and His birth to be the cause of their coming. 2. Secondly, as confess their faith, so the ground of their faith; vidimus enim, for they had ‘seen’ His star; and His star being risen, by it they knew He must be risen too. 3. Thirdly, as St. Paul calls them in Abraham’s, vetigia fidei, ‘the steps of their faith,’ in venimus, ‘their coming,’ coming such a journey, at such a time, with such speed. 4. Fourthly, when they were come, their diligent enquiring Him out by ubi est? for here is the place of it, asking after Him to find where He was. 5. And last, when they had found Him, the end of their seeing, coming, seeking; and all for no other end but to worship Him. Here they say it, at the 11th verse they do it in these two acts; 1. procidentes, their falling down, 2. and obtulerunt, their ‘offering’ to Him. Worship with Him with their bodies, worship Him with their goods; their worship and ours the true worship of Christ.

The text is a star, and we may make all run on a star, that so the text and day may be suitable, and Heaven and earth hold a correspondence. St. Peter calls faith ‘the day-star rising in our hearts,’ which sorts well with the star in the text rising in the sky, That in the sky manifesting itself from above to them; this in their hearts manifesting itself from below to Him, to Christ. Manifesting itself by these five. 1. by ore fit confession, ‘the confessing of it;’ 2. by fides est substantia, ‘the ground of it;’ 3. by vestigia fidei, ‘the steps of it’ in their painful coming; 4. by their ubi est? ‘careful enquiring;’ 5. and last, by adorare Eum, ‘their devout worshipping.’ These five, as so many beams of faith, the day-star risen in their hearts. To take notice of them. For every one of them is of the nature of a condition, so as if we fail in them, non lucet nobis stella haec, ‘we have no part in the light, or conduct of this star.’ Neither in stellam, ‘the star itself,’ nor in Ejus, ‘in Him Whose the star is;’ that is, not in Christ neither.

We have now got us a star on earth for that in Heaven. The first in the firmament; that appeared unto them, and in them to us, a figure of St. Paul’s: Ἐπεφάνη, ‘the grace of God appearing, and bringing salvation to all men,’ Jews and Gentiles alike. The second here on earth is St.Peter’s, Lucifer in cordibus; and this appeared in them, and so must in us. Appeared 1. in their eyes, vidimus; 2 in their feet, venimus; 3. in their lips dicentes ubi est; 4. in their knees, procidentes, ‘falling down;’ 5. in their hands, obtulerunt, ‘by offering.’ These five every one a beam of this star. 3. The third in Christ Himself, St. John’s star. ‘The generation and root of David, the bright morning star, Christ.’ And He, His double appearing. 1. One at this time now, when He appeared in great humility; and we see and come to him by faith. 2. The other, which we wait for, even ‘the blessed hope, and appearing of the great God and our Saviour’ in the majesty of His glory.

These three: 1. The first that manifested Christ to them; 2. the second that manifested them to Christ; 3. The third Christ Himself, in Whom both these were as it were in conjunction. Christ ‘the bright morning star’ of that day which will have no night; the beatifica visio of which day is the consummatum est of our hope and happiness for ever.

Of these three stars the first is gone, the third yet to come, the second only present. We to look to that, and to the five beams of it. That is it must do us all the good, and bring us to the third.

St. Luke calleth faith the ‘door of faith.’ At this door let us enter. Here is a coming, and ‘he that cometh to God,’ and so he that to Christ, ‘we must believe, that Christ is;’ so do these. They never ask an sit, but ubi sit? Not ‘whether’ but ‘where He is born.’ They that ask ubi Qui natus? take natus for granted, presuppose that born He is. Herein is faith, faith of Christ’s being born, the third article of the Christian Creed.

And what believe they of Him? Out of their own words here; 1. first that natus, that ‘born’ He is and so Man He is, His human nature. 2. And as His nature, so His office in natus est Rex. They believe that too. 3. But Judaeorum may seem to be a bar; for then, what have they to do with ‘the King of the Jews?’ They be Gentiles, none of His lieges, no relation to Him at all; what do they seeking or worshipping Him? But weigh it well, and it is no bar. For this they seem to believe: He is so Rex Judaeorum, ‘the King of the Jews,’ as He is adorandus a Gentibus, ‘the Gentiles to adore Him.’ And though born in Jewry, yet Whose birth concerned them though Gentiles, though born far off in the ‘mountains of the east.’ They to have some benefit by Him and His birth, and for that to do Him worship, seeing officum fundatur in beneficio ever. 4. As thus born in earth, so a star He hath in Heaven of His own, stellam Ejusi, ‘His star;’ He the owner of it. Now we know the stars are the stars of Heaven, and He that Lord of them Lord of Heaven too; and so to be adored of them, of us, and all. St. John puts them together; ‘the root and generation of David,’ His earthly; and ‘the bright morning star,’ His Heavenly or Divine generation. Haec fides Magorum, this is the mystery of their faith. In natus est, man; in stellam Ejus, God. In Rex, ‘a King,’ though of the Jews, yet the god of Whose Kingdom should extend and stretch itself far and wide to Gentiles and all; and He of all to be adored. This for corde creditor, the day-star itself in their hearts. Now to the beams of this star.

Next to corde creditor is ore fit confession, ‘the confession’ of this faith. It is in venerunt dicentes, they came with it in their mouths. Venerunt, they were no sooner come, but they spake of it so freely, to so many, as it came to Herod’s ear and troubled him not a little that any King of the Jews should be worshipped beside himself. So then their faith is no bosom-faith, kept to themselves without saying anything of it to anybody. No; credidi, propter quod lecutus sum, ‘they believed, and therefore they spake.’ The star in their hearts cast one beam out at their mouths. And though Herod who was but Rex factus could evil brook of ‘Rex natus,’ must needs be offended at it, yet they were not afraid to say it. And though they came from the East, those parts to whom and their King the Jews had long time been captives and their underlings, they were not ashamed neither to tell, that One of the Jews’ race they came to seek; and to seek Him to the end ‘to worship Him.’ So neither afraid of Herod, nor ashamed of Christ; but professed their errand, and cared not who knew it. This for their confessing Him boldly.

But faith is said by the Apostle to be, ¯pñstasij, and so there is a good ‘ground;’ and Ïlegxoj, and so hath a good ‘reason’ for it. This puts a difference between fidelis and credulous, or as Solomon terms him fatus, qui credit omni verbo; between faith and lightness of belief. Faith hath ever as ground; vidimus enim, an enim, a reason for it, and is ready to render it. How came you to believe? Audivimus enim ‘for we have heard an Angel,’ say the shepherds. Vidimus enim, ‘for we have seen a star’ say the Magi, and this is a well-grounded faith. We came not of our own heads, we came not before we saw some reason for it, saw that which set us on coming; Vidimus enim stellam Ejus.

Vidimud stellam, we can well conceive that; any that will but look up, may see a star. But how could they see the Ejus of it, that it was His? Either that it belonged to any, or that He it was it belonged to. This passeth all perspective; no astronomy could shew them this. What by course of nature the star can produce, that they by course of nature the stars can produce, that they by course of art or observation may discover. But this birth was above nature. No trigon, triplicity, exaltation could bring it forth. They are but idle that set figures for it. The star should not have been His, but He the star’s, if it had gone that way. Some other light then, they saw this Ejus by.

Now with us in Divinity there be but two in all; 1. Vespertina, 2. Matutina lux. Vespertina, ‘the owl-light’ of our reason or skill is too dim to see it by. No remedy then but it must be as Esay calls it, matutina lux, ‘the morning-light,’ the light of God’s law must certify them of the Ejus of it. There, or not at all to be had whom this star did portend.

And in the Law, there we find it in the twenty-fourth of Numbers. One of their own Prophets that came from whence they came, ‘from the mountains of the East,’ was ravished in spirit, ‘fell in a trance, had his eyes opened,’ and saw the Ejus if it many an hundred years before it rose. Saw orietur in Jacob, that there it should ‘rise,’ which is as much as natus est here. Saw stella, that He should be ‘the bright morning-Star,’ and so might well have a star to represent Him. Saw sceptrum in Israel, which is just as much as Rex Judaeorum, that it should portend a King there, such a King as should not only ‘smite the corners of Moab,’ that is Balak their enemy for the present; but ‘should reduce and bring under Him all the sons of Seth,’ that is all the world; for all are now Seth’s sons, Cain’s were all drowned in the flood. Here now is the Ejus of it clear. A Prophet’s eye might discern this; never a Chaldean of them all could take it with his astrolabe. Balaam’s eyes were opened to see it, and he helped to open their eyes by leaving behind him this prophecy to direct them how to apply it, when it should arise to the right Ejus of it.

But these had not the law. It is hard to say that the Chaldee paraphrase was extant long before this. They might have had it. Say, they had it not: if Moses were so careful to record this prophecy in his book, it may well be thought that some memory of this so memorable a prediction was left remaining among them of the East, his own country, where he was born and brought up. And some help they might have from Daniel too, who lived all his time in Chaldea and Persia, and prophesied among them of such a King, and set the just time of it.

And this, as it is conceived, put the difference between the East and the West. For I ask, was it vidimus in Oriente with them? Was it not vidimus in Occidente? In the West such a star, it or the fellow of it was seen nigh about that time, or the Roman stories deceive us. Toward the end of Augustus’ reign such a star was seen, and much scanning there was about it. Pliny saith it was generally holden, that star to be faustum sydus, ‘a lucky comet,’ and portended good to the world, which few or no comets do. And Virgil, who then lived, would needs take upon him to set down the ejus of it.

Ecce Dionaei &c., entitled Caesar to it. And verily there is no man that can without admiration read his sixth Eclogue, of a birth that time expected, that should be the offspring of the gods, and that should take away their sins. Whereupon it hath gone for current, the East and West, vidimus both.

But by the light of their prophecy, the East they went straight to the right Ejus. And for want of this light the West wandered, and gave it a wrong ejus; as Virgil, applying it to little Salonine: and as evil hap was, while he was making his verses, the poor child died; and so his star shot, vanished, and came to nothing. Their vidimus never came to a venimus; they neither went, nor worshipped Him as these here did.

But by this we see, when all is done, hither we must come for our morning light; to this book, to the word of prophecy. All our vidimus stellam is as good as nothing without it. The star is past and gone, long since. ‘Heaven and earth shall pass, but this word shall not pass.’ Here on this, we to fix our eye and to ground our faith. Having this, though we neither hear Angel nor see star, we may by the grace of God do full well. For even they that have had both those, have been fain to resolve into this as their last, best, and chiefest point of all. Witness St. Peter: he, saith he, and they with him, ‘saw Christ’s glory, and heard the voice from Heaven in the Holy Mount.’ What then? After both these audivimus and vidimus, both senses, he comes to this, habemus autem firmiorem, &c. ‘We have a more sure word of prophecy’ than both these; firmiorem, a more clear, than them both. And si haec legimus, for legimus is vidimus, ‘if here we read it written,’ it is enough to ground our faith, and let the star go.

And yet, to end this point; both these, the star and the prophecy, they are but circumfusa lux, without both. Besides these there must be a light within the eye; else, we know, for all them nothing will be seen. And that must come from Him, and the enlightening of His Spirit. Take this for a rule; no knowing of Ejus absque Eo, ‘of His without Him,’ Whose it is. Neither of the star, without Him That inspired it. But this third coming too; He sending the light of His Spirit within into their minds, they then saw clearly, this the star, now the time, He the Child who this day was born. He That sent these two without, sent also this third within, and then it was vidimus indeed. The light of the star in their eyes, ‘the word of prophecy’ in their ears, the beam of His Spirit in their hearts; these three made up a full vidimus. And so much for vidimus stellam Ejus, the occasion of their coming.

Now to venimus, their coming itself. And it follows well. For it is not a star only, but a load-star; and whither should stella Ejus ducere, but ad Eum? ‘Whither lead us, but to Him Whose the star is?’ The star to the star’s Master.

All this while we have been at dicentes, ‘saying’ and seeing; now we shall come to facientes, see them do somewhat upon it. It is not saying nor seeing will serve St. James; he will call, and be still calling forostende mihi, ‘shew me thy faith by some work.’ And well may he be allowed to call for it this day; it is the day of vidimus, appearing, being seen. You have seen His star, let Him now see your star another while. And so they do. Make your faith be seen; so it is, their faith in the steps of their faith. And so was Abraham’s first by coming forth of his country; as these here do, and so ‘walk in the steps of the faith of Abraham,’ do his first work.

It is not commended to stand ‘gazing up to heaven’ too long; not on Christ Himself ascending, much less on His star. For they sat not still gazing on the star. Their vidimus begat venimus; their seeing made them come, come a great journey. Venimus is soon said, but a short word; but many a wide and weary step they made before they could come to say venimus; lo, here ‘we are come;’ come, and at our journey’s end. To look a little on it. In this their coming we consider, 1. First, the distance of the place they came from. It was not hard by as the shepherds, but a step to Bethlehem over the fields; this was riding many a hundred miles, and cost them many a day’s journey. 2. Secondly, we consider the way that they came, if it be pleasant, or plain and easy; for if it be, it is so much the better. 1. This was nothing pleasant, for through deserts, all the way waste and desolate. 2. Nor secondly, easy neither; for over the rocks and crags of both Arabias, specially Petraea, their journey lay. 3. Yet if safe, but it was not, but exceeding dangerous, as lying through the midst of the ‘black tents of Kedar,’ a nation of thieves and cut-throats; to pass over the hills of robbers, infamous then, and infamous to this day. No passing without great troop or convoy. 4. Last we consider the time of their coming, the season of the year. It was no summer progress. A cold coming they had of it at this time of the year, just the worst time of the year to take a journey, and specially a long journey. The ways deep, the weather sharp, the days short, the sun farthest off, in solsitio brumali, ‘the very dead of winter.’ Venimus, ‘we are come,’ if that be one, venimus, ‘we are now come,’ come at this time, that sure is another.

And these difficulties they overcame, of a wearisome, irksome, troublesome, dangerous, unseasonable journey; and for all this they came. And came it cheerfully and quickly, as appeareth by the speed they made. It was but vidimus, venimus, with them; ‘they saw,’ and ‘they came;’ no sooner saw, but they set out presently. So as upon the first appearing of the star, as it might be last night, they knew it was Balaam’s star; it called them away, they made ready straight to begin their journey this morning. A sign they were highly conceited of His birth, believed some great matter of it, that they took all these pains, made all this haste that they might be there to worship Him with all the possible speed they could. Sorry for nothing so much as that they could not be there soon enough, with the very first, to do it even this day, the day of His birth. All considered, there is more in venimus than shews at the first sight. It was not for nothing it was said in the first verse, ecce venerunt; their coming hath an ecce on it, it well deserves it.

And we, what should we have done? Sure these men of the East will rise in judgment against the men of the West, that is with us, and their faith against ours in this point. With them it was but vidimus, venimus; with us it would have been but veniemus at most. Our fashion is to see and see again before we stir a foot, specially if it be to the worship of Christ. Come such a journey at such a time? No; but fairly have put it off to the spring of the year, till the days longer, and the ways fairer, and the weather warmer, till better travelling to Christ. Our Epiphany would sure have fallen in Easter week at the soonest.

But then for the distance, desolateness, tediousness, and the rest, any of them were enough to mar our venimus quite. It must be no great way, first we must come; we love not that. Well fare the shepherds, yet they came but hard by; rather like them than the Magi. Nay, not like them neither. For with us the nearer, lightly the farther off; our proverb is you know, ‘the nearer the Church, the farther from God.’ Nor it must not be through no desert, over no Petraea. If rugged or uneven the way, if the weather ill-disposed, if any so little danger, it is enough to stay us. To Christ we cannot travel, but weather and way and all must be fair. If not, no journey, but still and see farther. As indeed, all our religion is rather vidimus, a contemplation, than venimus, a motion, or stirring to do ought.

But when we do it, we must be allowed leisure. Ever veniemus, never venimus; ever coming, never come. We love to make no great haste. To other things perhaps not adorare, the place of the worship of God. Why should we? Christ is no wild-cat. What talk ye of twelve days? And if it be forty days hence, ye shall be sure to find His Mother and Him; she cannot be churched till then. What needs such haste? The truth is, we conceit Him and His birth but slenderly, and our haste is even thereafter. But if we be at that point, we must be out of this venimus; they like enough to leave us behind. Best get us a new Christmas in September; we are not like to come to Christ at this feast. Enough for venimus.

But what is venimus without invenimus? And when they come, they hit not on Him at first. No more must we think, as soon as ever we become, to find Him straight. They are fain to come to their ubi est? We must now look back to that. For though it stand before they came, and came before they asked; asked before they found, and found before they worshipped. Between venimus, ‘their coming,’ and adorare, ‘their worshipping,’ there is the true place of dicentes, ubi est?

Where, first, we note a double use of their dicentes, these wise men had. 1. As to manifest what they knew, natus est, ‘that He is born,’ so to confess and ask what they knew not, the place where. We to have the like.

2. Secondly, set down this; that to find where He is, we must learn to ask where He is, which we full little set ourselves to do. If we stumble on Him, so it is; but for any asking we trouble not ourselves, but sit still as we say, and let nature work; and so let grace too, and so for us it shall. I wot well, it is said in a place of Esay, ‘He was found,’ a non quaerentibus, ‘of some that sought Him not,’ never asked ubi est. But it is no good holding by that place. It was their good hap that so did. But trust not to do it, it is not everybody's case, that. It is better advice you shall read in the Psalm, haec est generatio quaerentium, ‘there is a generation of them that seek Him.’ Of which these were, and of that generation let us be. Regularly there is no promise of invenietis but to quaerite, of finding but to such as ‘seek.’ It is not safe to presume to find Him otherwise.

I thought there had been small use now of ubi est? Yet there is except we hold the ubiquity, that is ubi non, ‘any where.’ But He is not so. Christ has His ubi, His proper place where He is to be found; and if you miss of that, you miss of Him. And well may we miss, says Christ Himself, there are so many will take upon them to tell us where, and tell us of so many ubis. Ecce haec. ‘Look you. here He is;’ Nay, in penetralibis, ‘in such a privy conventicle’ you shall be sure of Him. And yet He, saith He Himself, in one of them all. There is then yet place for ubi est? I speak not of His natural body, but of His mystical, that is Christ too.

How shall we then do? Where shall we get this ‘where’ resolved? Where these did. They said it to many, and oft, but got not answer, till they had got together a convocation of Scribes, and they resolved them of Christ’s ubi. For they in the East were nothing so wise, or well seen, as we in the West are now grown. We need call no Scribes together, and get them tell us, ‘where.’ Every artisan hath a whole Synod of Scribes in his brain, and can tell where Christ is better than any learned man of them all. Yet these were wise men; best learn where they did.

And how did the Scribes resolve it them? Out of Micah. As before to the star they join Balaam’s prophecy, so now again to His orietur, that such a one should be born, they had put Micah’s et tu Bethlehem, the place of His birth. Still helping, and giving light as it were to the light of Heaven, by a more clear light, the light of the Sanctuary.

Thus then to do. And to do it ourselves, and not seek Christ per alium; set others about it as Herod did these, and sit still ourselves. For so, we may hap never find Him no more than he did.

And now we have found ‘where,’ what then? It is neither in seeking nor finding, venimus nor invenimus; the end of all, the cause of all is in the last words, adorare Eum, ‘to worship Him.’ That is all in all, and without it all our seeing, coming, seeking and finding is to no purpose. The Scribes they could tell, and did tell where He was, but were never the nearer for it, for they worshipped Him not. For this end to seek Him.

This is acknowledged: Herod, in effect, said as much. He would know where He were fain, and if they will bring him word where, he will come too and worship Him, that He will. None of that worship. If he find Him, his worshipping will prove worrying; as did appear by a sort of silly poor lambs that he worried, when he could not have his will on Christ. Thus he at His birth.

And at His death, the other Herod, he sought Him too; but it was that he and his soldiers might make themselves sport with Him. Such seeking there is otherwhile. And such worshipping; as they in the judgment-hall worshipped Him with Ave Rex, and then gave Him a bob blindfold. The world’s worship of Him for the most part.

But we may be bold to say, Herod was ‘a fox.’ These mean as they say; to worship Him they come, and worship Him they will. Will they so? Be they well advised what they promise, before they know whether they shall find Him in a worshipful taking or no? For full little know they, where and in what case they shall find Him. What, if in a stable, laid there in a manger, and the rest suitable to it; in as poor and pitiful a plight as ever was any, more like to be abhorred than adored of such persons? Will they be as good as their word, trow? Will they not step back at the sight, repent themselves of their journey, and wish themselves at home again? But so find Him, and so finding Him, worship Him for all that? If they will, verily then great is their faith. This, the clearest beam of all.

‘The Queen of the South,’ who was a figure of these Kings of the East, she came as great a journey as these. But when she came, she found a King indeed, King Solomon in all his royalty. Saw a glorious King, and a glorious court about him. Saw, him, and heard him; tried him with many hard questions, received satisfaction of them all. This was worth her coming. Weigh what she found, and what these here, as poor and unlikely a birth as could be, ever to prove a King, or any great matter. No sight to comfort them, nor a word for which they any wit the wiser; nothing worth their travel. Weigh these together, and great odds will be found between her faith and theirs. Theirs the greater far.

Well, they will take Him as they find Him, and all this notwithstanding, worship Him for all that. The Star shall make amends for the manger, and for stella Ejus they will dispense with Eum.

And what is it to worship? Some great matter sure it is, that Heaven and earth, the stars and Prophets, thus do but serve to lead them and conduct us to. For all we see ends in adorare. Scriptura et mundud as hoc sunt, ut colatur Qui creavit, et adoretur Qui inspiravit; ‘the Scripture and world are but to this end, that He That created the one and inspired the other might be but worshipped.’ Such reckoning did these seem to make of it here. And such the great treasurer of the Queen Candace. These came from the mountains in the East; he from the uttermost part of Æthiopia came, and came for no other end but only this, to worship; and when they had done that, home again. Tanti est adorare. Worth the while, worth our coming, if coming we do but that, but worship and nothing else. And so I would have men account of it.

To tell you what it in particular, I must put you over to the eleventh verse, where it is set down what they did when they worshipped. It is set down in two acts ‘falling down,’ and ‘offering.’ Thus did they, thus we to do; we to do the like when we will worship. These two are all and more than these we find not.

We can worship God but three ways: we have but three things to worship Him withal. 1. The soul He hath inspired; 2. the body He hath ordained us; 3. and the worldly goods He hath vouchsafed to bless us withal. We to worship Him with all, seeing there is but one reason for all.

If He breathed into us our soul, but framed not our body, but some other did that, neither bow your knee nor uncover your head, but keep on your hats, and sit even as you do hardly. But if He hath framed that body of yours and every member of it, let Him have the honour both of head and knee, and every member else.

Again, if it be not He That gave us our wordly goods but somebody else, what He gave not, that withhold from Him and spare not. But if all come from Him, all to return to Him. If He send all, to be worshipped with all. And this in good sooth is but rationabile obsequium, as the Apostle calleth it. No more than reason would, we should worship Him with all.

If all our worship be inward only, with our hearts and not our hats as some fondly imagine, we give Him but one of three; we put Him to His thirds, bid Him be content with that, He get no more but inward worship. That is out of the text quite. For though I doubt not but these here performed that also, yet here it is not. St. Matthew mentions it not, it is not to be seen, no vidimus on it. And the text is a vidimus, and of a star; that is, of an outward visible worship to be seen of all. There is a vidimus upon the worship of the body, it may be seen, procidentes. Let us see you fall down. So is there upon the worship with our worldly goods, that may be seen and felt offerentes. Let us see whether and what you offer. With both which, no less than with the soul God is to be worshipped. ‘Glorify God with your bodies, for they are God’s,’ saith the Apostle. ‘Honour God with your substance, for He hath blessed your store,’ saith Solomon. It is the precept of a wise King, of one there; it is the practice of more than one, of these three here. Specially now; for Christ hath now a body, for which to do Him worship with our bodies. And now He was made poor to make us rich, and so offerentes will do well, comes very fit.

To enter farther into these two would be too long, and indeed they be not in our verse here, and so for some other treatise at some other time.

There now remains nothing but to include ourselves, and bear our part with them, and with the angels, and all who this day adored Him.

This was the loadstar of the Magi, and what were they? Gentiles. So are we. But it if must be ours, then we are to go with them; vade, et fac similiter, ‘go, and do thou likewise.’ It is Stella gentium, butidem agentium, ‘the Gentiles’ star,’ but ‘such Gentiles as overtake these and keep company with them.’ In their dicentes, ‘confessing their faith freely;’ in their vidimus, ‘grounding it thoroughly’; in their venimus, ‘hasting to come to Him speedily’; in their ubi est, ‘enquiring Him out diligently’; and in their adorare um, ‘worshipping Him devoutly.’ Per Omnia doing as these did; worshipping and thus worshipping, celebrating and thus celebrating the feast of His birth.

We cannot say vidimus stellam; the star is gone long since, not now to be seen. Yet I hope for all that, that venimus adorare, ‘we be come thither to worship.’ It will be more acceptable, if not seeing it we worship though. It is enough we read of it in the text; we see it there. And indeed, as I said, it skills not for the star in the firmament, if the same day-star be risen in our hearts that was in theirs, and the same beams of it to be seen, all five. For then we have our part in it no less, nay full out as much as they. It will bring us whither it brought them, to Christ, Who at His second appearing in glory will call forth these wise men, and all who have ensued the steps of their faith, and that upon the reason specified in the text; for I have seen their star shining and showing forth itself by the like beams; and as they came to worship Me, so am I come to do them worship. A venite then, for a venimus now. Their star I have seen, and give them a place above among the stars. They fell down; I will lift them up and exalt them. And as they offered to Me, so I am come to bestow on them, and to reward them with endless joy and bliss on My heavenly Kingdom. To which, &c.

The Journey of the Magi, by TS Eliot

A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.
And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times when we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
And running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities dirty and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.

Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wineskins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory.

All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.

The Adoration of the Magi ... a stained glass window in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism, Liturgy and Church History, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. This posting was prepared for the Module TH 8824: Liturgy, Worship and Spirituality, on the MTh course, on 16 November 2015 in advance of a seminar on 23 November 2015.

Liturgy 7.2 (2015-2016): Liturgy and the Word (2),
Thomas Cranmer’s ‘Sermon on the Knowledge of Scripture’

Thomas Cranmer (1489-1556), Archbishop of Canterbury … his legacy includes The Book of Common Prayer, the Collects and the 39 Articles

Patrick Comerford

TH 8824: Liturgy, Worship and Spirituality

Year II, 10:30 to 1 p.m., Mondays, Hartin Room:

23 November 2015

Liturgy 7.2:


Seminar: homiletics in liturgy and homiletics in history: readings in Saint Augustine, Thomas Cranmer, Lancelot Andrewes, John Wesley and Martin Luther King.

The University Church of Saint Mary, Oxford, where Thomas Cranmer preached his final sermon on 21 March 1566 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

(2) Archbishop Thomas Cranmer: Sermon on the Knowledge of Scripture Part 2 (The Second Part of the Sermon of the Exhortation to Holy Scripture Against Fear and Excuses)

Introduction:

Archbishop Thomas Cranmer (1489-1556), the ‘Father of the Prayer Book,’ was a leader of the English Reformation and Archbishop of Canterbury (1533-1555) during the reigns of Henry VIII, Edward VI and (briefly) Mary I. He built a favourable case for Henry VIII’s divorce and supported the principle of royal supremacy.

As Archbishop of Canterbury, he was responsible for establishing the first doctrinal and liturgical structures of the Church of England. He did not make many radical changes in the Church, but succeeded in publishing the first officially authorised vernacular service, the Exhortation and Litany.

During the reign of Edward VI, Cranmer wrote and compiled the first two editions of The Book of Common Prayer, a complete liturgy for the Church of England. With the help of Continental reformers, he developed new doctrinal standards in areas such as the Eucharist.

With the accession of Mary I to the throne, Cranmer was tried for treason and heresy, and he was executed in Oxford in 1556. On the day of his execution, he dramatically withdrew his recantations. As the flames drew around him, he placed his right hand into the heart of the fire and his dying words were, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit ... I see the heavens open and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.”

His legacy lives on through The Book of Common Prayer – although it is difficult to ascertain how much of the Prayer Book is actually Cranmer’s personal composition – and through the 39 Articles, which are part of his legacy although not his composition. But we can agree that his chief concern was to design corporate worship to encourage a lively faith.

This excerpt from Thomas Cranmer’s preface to the Great Bible of 1539 is an apt introduction to part two of his sermon:

... the Apostles and prophets wrote their books so that their special intent and purpose might be understood and perceived of every reader, which was nothing but the edification of amendment of the life of them that read or hear it ... Wherefore I would advise you all that come to the reading or hearing of this book, which is the word of God, the most precious jewel and most holy relic that remaineth upon earth; that ye bring with you the fear of God, and that ye do it with all due reverence, and use your knowledge thereof, not to vain glory of frivolous disputation, but to the honour of God, increase of virtue, and edification both of yourselves and other.

Thomas Cranmer’s memorial in the chapel of Jesus College, Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Second Part of the Sermon of the Exhortation to Holy Scripture Against Fear and Excuses

In the first part of this Sermon, which exhorteth to the knowledge of Holy Scripture, was declared wherefore the knowledge of the same is necessary and profitable to all men; and that, by the true knowledge and understanding of Scripture, the most necessary points of our duty towards God and our neighbours are also known.

Now, as concerning the same matter, you shall hear what followeth. If we profess Christ, why be we not ashamed to be ignorant in his doctrine, seeing that every man is ashamed to be ignorant in that learning which he professeth? That man is ashamed to be called a Philosopher which readeth not the books of philosophy; and to be called a Lawyer, an Astronomer, or a Physician, that is ignorant in the books of law, astronomy and physic. How can any man, then, say that he professeth Christ and his religion, if he will not apply himself, as far forth as he can or may conveniently to read and hear, and so to know, the books of Christ’s Gospel and doctrine? Although other sciences be good, and to be learned, yet no man can deny but this is the chief, and passeth all other incomparably. What excuse shall we therefore make, at the last day, before Christ, that delight to read or hear men’s fantasies and inventions, more than his most holy Gospel? and will find no time to do that, which chiefly, above all things, we should do; and will rather read other things that that, for the which we ought rather to leave reading of all other things? Let us therefore apply ourselves, as far forth as we can have time and leisure, to know God’s word, by diligent hearing and reading thereof, as many as profess God, and have faith and trust in him.

But they that have no good affection to God’s word, to colour this their fault, allege commonly two vain and feigned excuses. Some go about to excuse them by their own frailness and fearfulness, saying, that they dare not read Holy Scripture, lest through their ignorance they should fall into any error. Other pretend that the difficulty to understand it, and the hardness thereof, is so great, that it is meet to be read only of Clerks and learned men.

One the fear of falling into error.

As touching the first: Ignorance of God’s word is the cause of all error; as Christ himself affirmed to the Sadducees, saying, that they erred, because they knew not the Scripture (Matthew 22). How should they then eschew error, that will still be ignorant? And how should they come out of ignorance, that will not read nor hear that thing which should give them knowledge? He that now hath most knowledge, was at the first ignorant; yet he forbare not to read, for fear he should fall into error, by the same reason you may then lie still, and never go, lest, if you go, you fall into the mire; nor eat any good meat, lest you take a surfeit [eat to excess]; nor sow your corn, nor labour in your occupation, nor use your merchandise, for fear you lose your seed, your labour, your stock: and so, by that reason, it should be best for you to live idly, and never to take in hand to do any manner of good thing, lest peradventure some evil thing may chance thereof. And if you be afraid to fall into error by reading of Holy Scripture, I shall shew you how you may read it without danger of error.

Read it humbly, with meek and lowly heart, to the intent that you may glorify God, and not yourself, with the knowledge of it: and read it not without daily praying to God, that he would direct your reading to good effect; and take upon you to expound it no further than you can plainly understand it: for, as St. Augustine saith, the knowledge of Holy Scripture is a great, large, and high place; but the door is very low, so that the high and arrogant man cannot run in; but he must stoop low, and humble himself, that shall enter into it. Presumption and arrogancy is the mother of all error; and humility needeth to fear no error. For humility will only search to know the truth: it will search and will bring together one place with another; and where it cannot find out the meaning, it will pray, it will ask of others that know, and will not presumptuously and rashly define any thing which it knoweth not. Therefore, the humble man may search any truth boldly in the Scripture, without any danger of error. And if he be ignorant, he ought the more to read and search Holy Scripture, to bring him out of ignorance. I say not may, but a man may profit with only hearing; but he may much more profit with both hearing and reading.

On the hardness of Scripture.

This have I said as touching the fear to read, through ignorance of the person. And concerning the hardness of Scripture; he that is so weak that he is not able to brook strong meat, yet he may suck the sweet and tender milk, and defer the rest until he wax stronger, and come to more knowledge. For God receiveth the learned and un-learned, and casteth away none, but is indifferent unto all. And the Scripture is full, as well of low valleys, plain ways, and easy for every man to use and to walk in, as also of high hills and mountain, which few men can climb unto. And whosoever giveth his mind to Holy Scriptures with diligent study and burning desire, it cannot be, saith St. John Chrysostom, “that he should be left without help. For either God Almighty will send him some godly Doctor to teach him – as he did to instruct the Eunuch, a nobleman of Ethiopia, and treasurer unto Queen Candace; who having a great affection to read the Scripture, although he understood it not, yet, for the desire that he had unto God’s word, God sent his Apostle Philip to declare unto him the true sense of the Scripture that he read – or else, if we lack a learned man to instruct and teach us, yet God himself from above will give light unto our minds, and teach us those things which are necessary for us, and wherein we be ignorant.”

And in another place Chrysostom saith, “that man’s human and worldly wisdom, or science, is not needful to the understanding of Scripture; but the revelation of the Holy Ghost, who inspireth the true meaning unto them that with humility and diligence do search therefore.”

“He that asketh shall have, and he that seeketh shall find, and he that knocketh shall have the door opened” (Matthew 7). If we read once, twice, or thrice, and understand not, let us not cease so; but still continue reading, praying, asking of others: and so, by still knocking, at the last, the door shall be opened, as St. Augustine saith. Although many things in Scripture be spoken in obscure mysteries, yet there is nothing spoken under dark mysteries in one place, but the self-same thing in other places is spoken more familiarly and plainly, to the capacity both of learned and unlearned.

And those things, in the Scripture, that be plain to understand, and necessary for salvation, every man’s duty is to learn them, to print them in memory, and effectually to exercise them; and, as for the dark mysteries, to be contented to be ignorant in them, until such time as it shall please God to open those things unto him. In the mean season, if he lack either aptness or opportunity, God will not impute it to his folly: but yet it behoveth not, that such as be apt should set aside reading, because some other be unapt to read: nevertheless, for the hardness of such place, the reading of the whole ought not to be set apart.

Conclusion.

And briefly to conclude: as St. Augustine saith, “By the Scripture all men be amended; weak men be strengthened, and strong men be comforted.” So that surely none be enemies to the reading of God’s word, but such as either be ignorant, that they know not who wholesome a thing it is; or else be so sick, that they hate the most comfortable medicine, that should heal them, or so ungodly, that they would wish the people still to continue in blindness and ignorance of God.

Thus we have briefly touched some part of the commodities of God’s holy word, which is one of God’s chief and principal benefits, given and declared to mankind here on earth. Let us thank God heartily for this his great and special gift, beneficial favour, and fatherly providence. Let us be glad to receive this precious gift of our heavenly Father. Let us hear, read, and know these holy rules, injunctions, and statutes of our Christian religion, and upon that we have made profession to God at our baptism. Let us with fear and reverence lay up, in the chest of our hearts, these necessary and fruitful lessons (Psalm 1); let us night and day muse, and have meditation and contemplation in them; let us ruminate, and, as it were, chew the cud, that we may have the sweet juice, spiritual effect, marrow, honey, kernel, taste, comfort and consolation of them. Let us stay, quiet, and certify our consciences with the most infallible certainty, truth, and perpetual assurance of them. Let us pray to God, the only Author of these heavenly studies, that we may speak, think, believe, live, and depart hence, according to the wholesome doctrine and verities of them. And, by that means, in this world we shall have God’s defence, favour, and grace, with the unspeakable solace of peace, and quietness of conscience; and, after this miserable life, we shall enjoy the endless bliss and glory of heaven: which he grant us all, that died for us all, Jesus Christ: to whom, with the Father and the Holy Ghost, be all honour and glory, both now and everlastingly. Amen.

The Martyrs’ Memorial at the south end of Saint Giles’ near Saint John’s College, Oxford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism, Liturgy and Church History, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. This posting was prepared for the Module TH 8824: Liturgy, Worship and Spirituality, on the MTh course, on 16 November 2015 in advance of a seminar on 23 November 2015.