11 January 2016

The principles of Anglicanism,
an introduction for lay readers

The Canticles, sung by great cathedral choirs, often provide the first introduction for many to the riches of Anglican spirituality

Patrick Comerford

Church of Ireland Theological Institute,

8.30 p.m., 11 January 2016.

Anglicanism is receiving major media attention this week.

There is a two-page spread in the latest edition of the Economist [8 January 2016], looking at church attendance statistics for the Church of England, and also asking whether Archbishop Justin Welby can hold together the Anglican Communion.

On Friday too, the Guardian carried a news report saying the Church of England – I presume they also imply every other Anglican church – is braced for a de facto split in the Anglican Communion this week “over the issues of gay rights and same-sex marriage.”

All this media attention is because the Archbishop of Canterbury has called a meeting of the 38 Anglican Primates in Canterbury Cathedral this week. The last such meeting was five years ago in the Emmaus Conference Centre in Swords, Co Dublin, in January 2011, when I was the chaplain at the meeting, and Archbishop Welby, then the Dean of Liverpool, was one of the facilitators.

All the media speculation is that six African primates or archbishops, from Uganda, Kenya, Nigeria, South Sudan, Rwanda and Congo, are going to walk out of this week’s meeting, perhaps as soon as tomorrow 12 January 2016].

Last week, Archbishop Stanley Ntagali from Uganda, where the Anglican church has backed the criminalisation of homosexuality, said he would walk out of this week’s meeting if “discipline and godly order is not restored”. A similar warning came from Archbishop Eliud Wabukala of Kenya.

The first potential for a walkout is when the order of the agenda is decided, with conservative primates insisting that sexuality is discussed first. In the unlikely event that they do not prevail, they may leave in protest. This is what commentators are calling a “soft walkout.”

More significant would be a “hard walkout” on the issue of disciplining the Episcopal Church in the US. This could lead to a formal rather than de facto rift. Again, commentators are speculating that there is an 80% chance of a “hard walkout,” which puts the likelihood of a walkout of either kind at 90%.

But the conservatives are not the only unhappy group at this week’s meeting. Others are unhappy about Archbishop Welby’s invitation to Archbishop Foley Beach, of the conservative breakaway Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), although he will be asked to withdraw when decisions are taken.

All the primates have accepted Archbishop Welby’s invitation, but two or three are expected to miss the meeting owing to ill-health. The gathering will combine prayer with discussion, although different groupings will have the opportunity to pray in separate areas if they wish.

But what holds us together as Anglicans?

For some outsiders, yes, it might appear to be some notional link if not with the Archbishop of Canterbury, then with the Church of England. But there are 38 constituent churches of the Anglican Communion, they do not all derive from the Church of England, and there are four Anglican churches on these islands that are distinctive in their expressions of Anglicanism:

1, The Church of Ireland, which, if we trace it back to Saint Patrick and those who came to Ireland before him predates the mission of Saint Augustine of Canterbury which begins in 597.

2, The Church in Wales, which was disestablished and separated from the Church of England in 1920, traces origins to early Roman and Celtic Christians, including Saint David in the early sixth century.

3, The Episcopal Church in Scotland talks about a Christian story in Scotland that dates back to the missionary work of Saint Columba and his contemporaries in the sixth century.

4, The Church of England, which traces its roots to Saint Augustine of Canterbury in the late sixth century, although we know Christianity came to the area with the earlier Romans.

The word Anglican is not in the title of every Anglican church, but there are four “instruments of communion” that are said to hold us together:

1, The Archbishop of Canterbury – who is having a difficult task of holding the Anglican Communion together this week.

2, The Primates’ Meeting – which is taking place this week in Canterbury.

3, The Lambeth Conference – which meets about every ten years. The last meeting was in 2008, but as Archbishop Richard Clarke told the Church of Ireland Gazette last Friday [8 January 2016], the next meeting is not likely to take place in 2018.

4, The Anglican Consultative Council, on which the Church of Ireland has two representatives. It is due to meet later this year.

Spiritual, liturgical and cultural heritage

But these are the structural things that hold us together as Anglicans. What about the spiritual, liturgical and cultural links or heritage that help to keep us together?

For many people outside the Anglican tradition, Anglican spirituality is experienced in its full splendour as they hear Choral Evensong, and the canticles Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis sung by great cathedral choirs.

There are many varieties of Anglican spirituality. They cannot be confined to the labels of evangelical, catholic, liberal, conservative, charismatic … and even when they are reduced to these categories, they often overlap and can never be mutually exclusive.

The Anglican gift is to hold these not in tension, but in creative tension, so that we are enriched, so that Anglicanism is enriched, and so that the Church Catholic is enriched.

So what holds these different Anglican traditions of spirituality together in one community of faith, in one pilgrim people?

When we look outside the Anglican tradition, there are some traditions in the Church that are named after their claims to universality or to holding the whole faith, as with Catholics or Orthodox. Others are named after a founder, for example, the Benedictines, Franciscans, Lutherans, Wesleyans or Calvinists. Others have been named because of a particular emphasis in prayer and spirituality, such as the Methodists, Salvationists, Jesuits, Redemptorists or Quakers. Still others have names that reveal a particular sacramental or organisational emphasis, including the Baptists and Presbyterians.

But as Anglicans we are not Henricians or Elizabethans, nor are we Cranmerists, not Laudians. Episcopalian might describe us in organisational terms, but we are not the only ones with bishops. And there are times when I am slightly uneasy with a term like Anglican – for we are not the English overseas at prayer. But “Anglican” is a convenient shorthand for a family of churches that have a shared spiritual heritage.

So, what is Anglican spirituality? And is there something unique about it?

There are a number of classical reference points for Anglican theology.

One is the emphasis, classically articulated by Richard Hooker (1554-1600), on the three-fold relationship between:

1, Scripture;
2, Reason;
3, Tradition.

Secondly, the classical articulations of Anglican theology are said to be found in The Book of Common Prayer and the Formularies:

1, The Book of Common Prayer;
2, The 39 Articles;
3, The Ordinal;
4, The Homilies.

Bishop Lancelot Andrewes (1555-1626) defined the boundaries of Anglican faith and practice as:

1, One canon reduced to writing by God himself;
2, Two testaments;
3, Three creeds (Nicene, Apostles’ and Athanasian);
4, Four general councils (Nicaea 325, Constantinople 381, Ephesus 431 and Chalcedon 451);
5, Five centuries, and the series of Fathers in that period – the centuries that is, before Constantine, and two after (from the Apostles to Gregory the Great).

The Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral seeks to summarise the Anglican approach to theology, worship and ecclesiology and is often cited as a basic summary of the essentials of Anglican identity:

1, The Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, as “containing all things necessary to salvation,” and as being the rule and ultimate standard of faith.
2, The Creeds (specifically, the Apostles' and Nicene) as the sufficient statement of Christian faith;
3, The dominical sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion;
4, The historic episcopate locally adapted.

So much for Anglican theology. But what about Anglican spirituality? And is there something unique about it?

There is a theological maxim, Lex orandi, lex credendi. In other words, we can tell what a people believe when we see how they pray.

This is particularly so when we look at Anglicanism, for there is no distinctive Anglican theology as propounded in other traditions which take their name from their founding theologian, there is no central, established authority, such as the Roman Catholic magisterium, nor do we have an extra-creedal summary of doctrine, such as the Presbyterians’ Westminster Confession of Faith. Even the 39 Articles do not hold the same authority.

Instead, Anglicans have typically appealed to The Book of Common Prayer as a guide to Anglican theology, spirituality and practice, with its selection, arrangement, and composition of prayers and exhortations, the selection and arrangement of daily scripture readings in the Lectionary, and in the rubrics describing permissible liturgical actions and variations.

Anglican theology places a high value on the traditions of the faith, acknowledges the primacy of the worshipping community in articulating, amending, and passing down the Church’s theology; and thus, by necessity, is inclined toward a comprehensive consensus concerning the principles of the tradition and the relationship between the Church and society. In this sense, Anglican theology is strongly incarnational.

But Anglican spirituality cannot be reduced to descriptions of prayer life or to The Book of Common Prayer. Nor can it be contained in the 39 Articles, or limited and constrained by the Formularies.

Indeed, the 39 Articles – while they have an important historical place in the Church of Ireland the Church of England – are not part of the shared history of all Anglican churches. The Book of Common Prayer means different things in different countries. And as for the formularies – the Ordinal in particular – they too have been challenged by different understandings of ordination, first exposed in the debates over the ordination of women.

Three insights and influences

So what has shaped Anglican spirituality?

Three profound influences on Anglican spirituality can be found in Patristics, the Benedictine tradition, and the Sarum Rite.

Only a few generations ago, no-one would have entered on a course leading to ordination in an Anglican theological college without receiving a solid grounding in their first year in Patristics, the writings of the Early Church Fathers.

The Anglican reformation was not just about Church structures but also an effort to return to the early worship of the Church and to return to Patristic ideas of liturgy and worship.

The rediscovery of the Early Fathers of the Church, and the quest to return to Patristic forms of worship, was an important factor in the Anglican reformation.

The legacy and bequests of this search are scattered throughout The Book of Common Prayer. But a noticeable example – and one that has become part and parcel of the Anglican spiritual heritage – is the Prayer of Saint [John] Chrysostom:

Almighty God, who hast given us grace at this time with one accord to make our common supplications unto thee; and dost promise, that when two or three are gathered together in thy Name thou wilt grant their requests; Fulfil now, O Lord, the desires and petitions of thy servants, as may be most expedient for them; granting us in this world knowledge of thy truth, and in the world to come life everlasting. Amen.

But even before the Reformation, the Rule of Benedict had a profound influence on English and Irish expressions of Christianity. The Benedictine daily offices later shaped the offices of Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer. The Benedictines had developed the Liturgical use of Scripture. Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer, which are based on the Benedictine offices, are almost entirely Scriptural in their words and phrases.

The Psalms provide the basis for the versicles and responses, for example. The Psalter is the only book of the Bible to be fully contained within The Book of Common Prayer, originally with the expectation that the Psalms would be read in church daily, and that the full Psalter would be read through each month.

The Book of Common Prayer brings the offices of the Benedictine monastery into the daily life of the parish church, morning and evening. For, as The Book of Common Prayer succinctly tells us, our duty as Christians is to live “a godly, righteous and sober life.”

Two related and connected strengths of The Book of Common Prayer, and two that have shaped and marked Anglicans spiritually over the generations, are the canticles and the collects.

One of the great spiritual experiences for many and sometimes their first and lasting introduction to Anglican spirituality is experiencing the way we use the Canticles Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis at Evening Prayer, particularly at Choral Evensong.

Famously, when John Keble was asked about what was at the heart of Anglicanism, he replied: “Study the Collects in The Book of Common Prayer.”

And thirdly, Anglican spirituality is, of course, liturgical. This Anglican liturgical tradition has been shaped by the western rite, strongly influenced by the Sarum tradition, and was first modernised and reformed at the Reformations by Thomas Cranmer and other.

If Morning and Evening Prayer were to shape Anglican spiritual practice on a day-by-day basis, then Anglicanism was also a return to the Eucharist, the Holy Communion or the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, as the central act of worship of the Church.

As Anglicans, no-one was to be a spectator, as in the mediaeval church, but all were to be participants.

And if the people felt too unworthy, then the Prayer of Humble Access reminded them that they were not present as spectators but as participants:

We do not presume to come to this thy Table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table. But thou art the same Lord, whose property is always to have mercy: Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his body, and our souls washed through his most precious blood, and that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us. Amen.

Devotional legacy

There is such a rich inheritance of devotional literature that it could be said that Anglican spirituality has been shaped by Anglican devotional writers, and the Anglican spiritual heritage is also a literary heritage.

But we should not forget there is a pre-Reformation corpus that is an integral part of Anglican spirituality. This includes the anonymous work we know as the Cloud of Unknowing, as well as the writings of mystics such as Margery Kempe and Julian of Norwich, the most popular of English mystics.

Julian of Norwich ... All shall be well and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well

Julian was a joyous mystic who stressed the homely love of God which has been poured upon this planet and humanity for ever. She concludes in these beautiful and well-loved words: “All shall be well and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”

When we come to great post-Reformation writers in Anglican spirituality, we should remember too that, like Julian of Norwich, these writers have not always been ordained and have not been exclusively male. Indeed who could have been a more unexpected but-oft quoted author of a pithy but mystical and spiritual understanding of the Eucharist or the Holy Communion, than Elizabeth I?

Elizabeth can be credited with holding together in one Anglican tradition the competing claims within the Church of England and Anglicanism after the death of her half-sister Mary. And it is she who is said to have written of the Eucharist:

His was the Word that spake it:
He tooke the bread and brake it:
And what that Word did make it,
I do believe and take it

In the immediate post-Elizabethan age, Anglican spiritual writers included country parsons such as George Herbert (1593-1633), who is remembered for his careful pastoral nurturing of his parish and his parishioners, and for his poetry, much of which has been adapted as hymns.

Herbert’s spirituality is the Anglican Via Media or Middle Way par excellence. His poetry is constantly evident of the intimacy of his dealings with God and his assurance that, alone in a vast universe, he is held safe by the Crucified Christ.

Richard Baxter later said of him that Herbert speaks to God like one that really believes a God and as one who whose business in this world is most with God.

In his poem Obedience, George Herbert wrote:

O let thy sacred will
All thy delight in me fulfil!
Let me not think an action mine own way.
But as thy love shall sway,
Refining up the rudder to thy skill

George Herbert ... Prayer, the Church’s banquet

For George Herbert, prayer is concerned not only with things heavenly, but also with the earthly. In his poem Prayer he writes:

Prayer, the Church’s banquet, Angels’ age,
God’s breath in man returning to his birth,
The soul in paraphrase, heart in pilgrimage,
The Christian plummet sounding heav’n and earth;
Engine against th’Almighty, sinner’s tower,
Reversed thunder, Christ-side-piercing spear,
The six-days world transposing in an hour,
A kind of tune, which all things hear and fear;
Softness and peace, and joy, and love, and bliss,
Exalted Manna, gladness of the best,
Heaven in ordinary, man well drest,
The Milky Way, the bird of Paradise,
Church-bells beyond the stars heard, the soul’s blood,
The land of spices; something understood

In this poem, Herbert is saying that in prayer it is possible to be transported, even if momentarily, to another realm. “Angel’s age,” “the milky way,” and a “tune beyond the stars” suggest that prayer touches the infinite. The poem concludes with “something understood” – a profound but elusive encounter with the mysterious otherness of God.

Herbert was close to Nicholas Ferrar and the Community of Little Gidding, which showed that prayer, community life, and a life of discipleship and service ought to be inter-woven.

Herbert, John Jewel and Richard Hooker were profoundly influential on the Caroline Divines, including John Cosin, Lancelot Andrewes and Jeremy Taylor.

John Cosin was as a bishop who sought to improve the worship and liturgy of the Church, and who drew on patristic sources for his Collection of Private Devotions, as did Lancelot Andrewes in writing his Latin Devotions. There he wrote that “he who prays for others, labours for himself.”

John Donne ... Each man’s death diminishes me

He was a contemporary of the poet John Donne (1571-1631), who was Dean of Saint Paul’s Cathedral, London, for his last ten years. He is best remembered today for his lines:

No man is an island,
entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
a part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less,
as well as if a promontory were,
as well as if a manor of thine own
or of thine friend’s were.
Each man’s death diminishes me,
for I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
for whom the bell tolls,
it tolls for thee

The devotional writings of the Caroline Divines emphasises the centrality of the incarnation in Christian spirituality: the incarnation revealed to humanity in Jesus Christ, the Word Incarnate, in the sacrament of Christ’s body and blood, in the revelation of Christ’s continuing presence in the holy example of the saints. In their devotion, the Carolines shied away from abstraction in favour of the fruits of love and charity, and their devotional life was worked out in their pastoral service.

Jeremy Taylor (1613-1667), who ended his days as a bishop in the Church of Ireland, in the dioceses of Connor, Down and Dromore, is best known for his Holy Living (1640) and Holy Dying (1641), which had a profound influence spiritually on later generations, including figures as diverse as John Wesley and John Keble.

No book other than the Bible and The Book of Common Prayer has had a more profound and lasting influence on the distinctive inwardness of Anglican devotion. No other book so clearly expresses the essence of the classical Anglican understanding of the spiritual life, with its insistence that there is no division between what is religious and what is secular.

Nor should we neglect the Puritan divines, who were contemporaries of the Caroline Divines but are often written out when it comes to telling the story of Anglican spirituality.

Among them was Richard Baxter (1615-1691). He too was influenced by the poetry of George Herbert, and although he ended his days as a Presbyterian he spent most of his life as an Anglican. He described his faith as ‘catholic’ or ‘mere’ Christianity – a term that we can see was later to be adopted as his own by CS Lewis. One of his most joyful yet mystical contributions to our hymnody is Ye holy angels bright, with its mystical understanding of the Communion of Saints and our place in it.

Thomas Traherne was a hidden mystic of the same period, whose writings only became known long after his death in 1674. In his Centuries of Meditation, Traherne sees God in everything and everything praising God.

Curiously, the most influential book from this time, though, may have been one whose author remains unknown. The Whole Duty of Man, first published in 1657, reached its 28th edition in 1790, so that for more than a century, this anonymous book shaped an Anglican spirituality that was defined by the Bible and The Book of Common Prayer in terms of doctrine and worship, and in practice by an understanding “that religion without morals is but superstition, that Christianity is not a set of beliefs but a way of life.”

Jeremy Taylor’s spirituality, as expressed in his Holy Living and Holy Dying has many echoes in William Law’s A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life (1728), which brought deeply sacramental piety and emphasis on community of the Nonjurors back in the mainstream of spirituality, especially through his influence on John Wesley.

The great Anglican movements of the late 18th and the 19th centuries were the Evangelical Revival and the Oxford Movement, which had a second generation expression in the Anglo-Catholic Movement.

Those two strands were not so much about style and churchmanship as about mission work: the evangelical movement gave us the Church Mission Society (CMS) and its related family of mission societies, while the Oxford Movement and the later Anglo-Catholics gave us USPG and its family of mission agencies, now known simply as Us.

In both cases, they show us once again that to be truly Anglican is to be incarnational. And in living this through, their faith was expressed in social action. For men like William Wilberforce, it was translated into action through their opposition to slavery and the slave trade. He was convinced that Christianity required the response of the heart as well as the head. For a later generation of Anglo-Catholics it was lived out in commitment to the poor and the oppressed in the slums and the inner cities, exemplified in the life and work of the slum priests.

The great hymn writer of the Oxford Movement and of the later Anglo-Catholics was John Keble, whose hymns and poems are collected in The Christian Year. If what we sing rather than how we pray shows what we believe – a new way of looking at the maxim Lex Orandi Lex Credendi – then through the English Hymnal Percy Dearmer and Ralph Vaughan Williams have had a profound influence on modern expressions of Anglican spirituality.

But two of the most influential writers in terms of Anglican spirituality must have been CS Lewis and TS Eliot. CS Lewis, who was born in Belfast, is known to all of us as a spiritual writer ever since we first read the Chronicles of Narnia. However, if you have not already read it, could I recommend to you The Four Loves, which is known and loved well beyond the Anglican tradition of spirituality.

TS Eliot, on the other hand, is one of the most celebrated poets of the 20th century. Ash Wednesday (1930) is the first long poem written by him after his conversion to Anglicanism in 1927. In this poem, Eliot deals with the struggle that ensues when one who has lacked faith strives to move towards God. Sometimes referred to as Eliot’s “conversion poem,” Ash Wednesday is richly but ambiguously allusive and deals with the aspiration to move from spiritual barrenness to hope for human salvation, inspired by Dante’s Purgatorio. Its groundwork of orthodox Christianity discomfited many of the more secular members of his literary circle.

The Four Quartets ... considered by many to be TS Eliot’s masterpiece, it led to him receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature

However, Eliot and many other critics considered The Four Quartets his masterpiece, and it was this work that led to him receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature. In The Four Quartets, Eliot draws upon his knowledge of mysticism and philosophy. It consists of four long poems, each first published separately: Burnt Norton (1936), East Coker (1940), The Dry Salvages (1941) and Little Gidding (1942). Each has five sections. Although they resist easy characterisation, each approaches the same ideas in varying but overlapping ways, and are strongly theological and spiritual.

Burnt Norton asks what it means to consider things that might have been. East Coker continues the examination of time and meaning, focusing in a famous passage on the nature of language and poetry. Out of darkness, Eliot continues to reassert a solution: “I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope.” The Dry Salvages strives to contain opposites:

… the past and future
Are conquered, and reconciled

Little Gidding is the most anthologised of the Quartets. Here for the first time he talks of Love as the driving force behind all experience. From this background, the Quartets end with an affirmation of Julian of Norwich:

And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well

In The Four Quartets, Eliot draws upon the theology, art, symbolism and language of such figures as Dante, and mystics Saint John of the Cross and Julian of Norwich. The “deeper communion” sought in East Coker, the “hints” and whispers of children, the sickness that “must grow worse in order to find healing,” and the exploration that inevitably leads us home all point to the pilgrim’s path along the road of sanctification.

‘And the fire and the rose are one’ ... a candle and a rose on a table in a restaurant in Rethymnon, Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

I conclude with the last canto of Little Gidding:


What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from. And every phrase
And sentence that is right (where every word is at home,
Taking its place to support the others,
The word neither diffident nor ostentatious,
An easy commerce of the old and the new,
The common word exact without vulgarity,
The formal word precise but not pedantic,
The complete consort dancing together)
Every phrase and every sentence is an end and a beginning,
Every poem an epitaph. And any action
Is a step to the block, to the fire, down the sea’s throat
Or to an illegible stone: and that is where we start.
We die with the dying:
See, they depart, and we go with them.
We are born with the dead:
See, they return, and bring us with them.
The moment of the rose and the moment of the yew-tree
Are of equal duration. A people without history
Is not redeemed from time, for history is a pattern
Of timeless moments. So, while the light fails
On a winter’s afternoon, in a secluded chapel
History is now and England.

With the drawing of this Love and the voice of this Calling

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, unremembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree
Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.
Quick now, here, now, always—
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flame are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.

Poets, Artists and Writers

‘The Light of the World’ by William Holman Hunt (1827-1910) …one of the founders of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood

There are others. We could have looked at poets like Christina Rossetti, artists like William Holman Hunt and the Pre-Raphaelites, writers such as at Dorothy Sayers, for example, or modern novelists like Susan Howatch and Catherine Fox today.

For many Anglican spirituality has been conveyed down the generations by great composers, from William Byrd, John Taverner, Thomas Tallis, Orlando Gibbons and Thomas Tomkins, to Hubert Parry, Charles Stanford, Vaughan Williams, Herbert Howells and John Rutter.

Who can say whether the lyrics of U2, most of them Dublin-born Anglicans, will shape future spiritual thinking? – already we have had celebrations that have used the designation U2charist.

But spirituality is always elusive and mercurial when it comes to defining or analysing it. It is not always true that its influences and growth can be found in writers and poets.

Who can claim credit for the interesting movements in the past century, such as the Parish Communion Movement of the 1930s, the Charismatic Movement in the 1960s and 1970s, the search for Fresh Expressions of Church in our own time? Yet each has had a profound impact on our understanding of Anglican spirituality.

Many of these new insights have been and hopefully will continue to be channelled into the life of the church, and become part of the spiritual life of all Anglicans, though liturgical revival, through theological education, through the ways we live out our lives.

Questions and answers


Ash Wednesday marked TS Eliot’s conversion to Anglicanism

I concluded before our questions and answers with the final canto from Little Gidding in TS Eliot’s The Four Quartets. His conversion which led him to Anglicanism, like so many of our conversions I am sure, was deeply spiritual and he knew there was no going back to the old ways. He marked this with his poem, Ash Wednesday, which opens:


Because I do not hope to turn again
Because I do not hope
Because I do not hope to turn
Desiring this man’s gift and that man’s scope
I no longer strive to strive towards such things
(Why should the agèd eagle stretch its wings?)
Why should I mourn
The vanished power of the usual reign?

Because I do not hope to know
The infirm glory of the positive hour
Because I do not think
Because I know I shall not know
The one veritable transitory power
Because I cannot drink
There, where trees flower, and springs flow, for there is
nothing again

Because I know that time is always time
And place is always and only place
And what is actual is actual only for one time
And only for one place
I rejoice that things are as they are and
I renounce the blessèd face
And renounce the voice
Because I cannot hope to turn again
Consequently I rejoice, having to construct something
Upon which to rejoice

And pray to God to have mercy upon us
And pray that I may forget
These matters that with myself I too much discuss
Too much explain
Because I do not hope to turn again
Let these words answer
For what is done, not to be done again
May the judgement not be too heavy upon us

Because these wings are no longer wings to fly
But merely vans to beat the air
The air which is now thoroughly small and dry
Smaller and dryer than the will
Teach us to care and not to care Teach us to sit still.

Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death
Pray for us now and at the hour of our death.

So, being an Anglican is more than the Bok of Common Prayer, or watching Songs of Praise on a Sunday evening. It is more than, as CS Lewis once described it, more than “Gin and Lace.”

What it becomes after this week’s meeting in Canterbury Cathedral, I do not know. But then, I doubt whether the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Archbishop of Armagh, or any of the 38 Primates of the Anglican Communion know this.

(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism, Liturgy and Church History, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. These lecture notes were prepared for a meeting of the Dublin and Glendalough Lay Ministry Guild on Monday 11 January 2016.

Finding Eliot and Betjeman
on a book barrow in the rain

Saint Bartholomew’s Church in the rain in Ballsbridge on Sunday morning (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Patrick Comerford

The heave rainstorm that gave me a thorough soaking as I walked along the beach and then the promenade in Bray on Saturday afternoon, eventually eased off on Sunday morning [10 January 2016].

Although there was no opportunity for a walk on a beach yesterday, I had a short walk by the banks of the River Dodder in Ballsbridge between the Said Eucharist and the Solemn Eucharist in Saint Bartholomew’s Church, and later went for a stroll through the book barrows in Temple Bar on Sunday afternoon.

The dredging of the riverbed and recent shoring up of the river bank seems to have been successful with the River Dodder, and the floods that were once a regular occurrence in places like Rathfarnham and Ballsbridge seem to have been kept at bay this winter, despite the floods being experienced throughout the island, including the valleys of the Shannon, the Blackwater, the Suir, the Barrow, the Nore and the Slaney.

Two delightful finds in Temple Bar on Sunday afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

In Temple Bar, the light drizzle may have kept tourists and browsers away from the second-hand bookstalls, but I was delighted to pick up two books in the space of a few minutes.

John Betjeman’s Church Poems seems a delightful book fir a priest to pick up on a Sunday after presiding at the Eucharist in a well-loved church:

Across the wet November night
The church is bright with candlelight
And waiting Evensong

This book, first published in 1981, gathers together Betjeman’s poems on religious themes and churches, including King’s College Chapel, Cambridge, Holy Trinity in Sloane Street, London, Christ Church, Swindon, and Saint Enodoc’s Church in Cornwall, where he was buried.

This book is enriched with rare, inventive and witty illustrations by John Piper, who had worked with Betjeman on the Shell Guides .

Having spent the morning in Saint Bartholomew’s Church, Ballsbridge, it was natural to turn to Betjeman’s celebration of another Saint Bartholomew’s in this collection.

Betjeman kept a flat opposite Saint Bartholomew’s Churchyard and Saint Bartholomew’s Hospital in Smithfield, London, and considered the church to have the finest surviving Norman interior in London:

The ghost of Rahere still walks in Bart’s;
It gives an impulse to generous hearts,
It looks on pain with a pitying eye,
It teaches us never to fear to die.

Eight hundred years of compassion and care
Have hallowed its fountain, stones and square,
Pray for us all as we near the gate—
St. Bart the Less and St. Bart the Great.

I also bought a worn and torn but much wanted second-hand copy of TS Eliot’s Selected Prose, published by Penguin in 1953. John Hayward edited this collection of essays and addresses, and they provide an introduction to Eliot as a literary and social critic rather than as a poet and playwright.

This selection is broken into two categories – Literary Criticism and Social and Religious Criticism – and it presents Eliot’s opinions on literature, society and religion over a 50-year period.

Later in the afternoon, I went to a 100th birthday party in Maynooth, Co Kildare, for a woman who is the matriarch of her family. Four generations of her family were there to celebrate the life of a woman who was born before the 1916 Rising, before the Battle of the Somme, and just a few weeks after The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock was first published in 1915. We stand on the shoulders of giants.

Walking on the beach in Bray in the rain on Saturday afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)