“The British Church” – George Herbert (with some reflections thereupon)

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“A Distant View of Hythe Village and Church, Kent” – Arthur Nelson (c. 1767).

The British Church

~ by George Herbert (1633)

I joy, dear mother, when I view
Thy perfect lineaments, and hue
Both sweet and bright.
Beauty in thee takes up her place,
And dates her letters from thy face,
When she doth write.
A fine aspect in fit array,
Neither too mean nor yet too gay,
Shows who is best.
Outlandish looks may not compare,
For all they either painted are,
Or else undress’d.
She on the hills which wantonly
Allureth all, in hope to be
By her preferr’d,
Hath kiss’d so long her painted shrines,
That ev’n her face by kissing shines,
For her reward.
She in the valley is so shy
Of dressing, that her hair doth lie
About her ears;
While she avoids her neighbour’s pride,
She wholly goes on th’ other side,
And nothing wears.
But, dearest mother, what those miss,
The mean, thy praise and glory is
And long may be.
Blessed be God, whose love it was
To double-moat thee with his grace,
And none but thee.

 

Nota Bene: Herbert is referring, of course, to the Anglican via media (“middle way”), which is perhaps best thought of in Aristotelian terms as the “Golden Mean” between the extremes of surfeit (too much of something) and deficit (too little). Indeed, “via media” is itself a 19th-century term for this phenomenon; earlier centuries expressed it as the mean (cf. Herbert, above) between extremes, or even, as we shall see below, a “virtuous mediocrity.” But all can be understood in fundamentally the same sense.

Herbert’s view in this poem is expressed in rather more extreme language by Bishop Simon Patrick of Ely (1625-1707), who wrote of “that virtuous mediocrity which our Church observes between the meretricious gaudiness of the Church of Rome and the squalid slattery of fanatic conventicles” – though it should be noted that, as one scholarly commentator has pointed out, “squalid slattery” fits the sectaries of the Civil War and Commonwealth period better than the sober demeanor of the Lutheran and Reformed Churches of the Continent, the products of the magisterial Reformation.

And indeed, it was within that context – the era of the English Civil War and Interregnum, and the eventual Restoration, that Bishop Patrick was writing.

In any case, a love of order, seemliness, and good taste (cf. I Corinthians 14:40 – “Let all things be done decently and in order”) has led the Anglican Church along a middle path between these two extremes. And as it has furthermore been elsewhere noted, the via media meant positioning the English Church such that it could recognize not only its affinity with the medieval catholic tradition, on the one hand, but with the enduring legacy of the Reformation, on the other: a position of both-and, not either-or.

Indeed, I would submit that the Anglican via media represents the point where several axes come together, if one can visualize a multi-dimensional graph: the legacy of the medieval Catholic tradition and that of the magisterial Reformation, as noted above; “High Church” and “Low Church” liturgy and churchmanship; Anglo-Catholic and Evangelical theology; and indeed Eastern and Western forms of catholic orthodoxy.

I believe that, as a contemporary Collect for that great 16th-century Anglican divine, Richard Hooker, has put it, the Anglican via media is to be understood

“not as a compromise for the sake of peace, but as a comprehension for the sake of truth.”

The challenge, and the sadness, of course, is that humans have a tendency to want to hive off into our own little enclaves, and to declare our understanding of the “truth” to be the only one that is acceptable. Anglicans are no less guilty of this than are others!

 

Some reasons to read Beowulf | The Wordhoard

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“Here are just a few reasons why you might want to read Beowulf.”

Source: Some reasons to read Beowulf | The Wordhoard

There are many reasons you may wish to read Beowulf, the classic Old English epic – which has, of course, been translated into modern English many times. Among the reasons cited by this blogger:

“First, it is a famous example of literature from the Early Middle Ages. Second, it represents English-language literature in its infancy. Third, it has had impacted modern literature since its rediscovery.”

All true, of course! But I am convinced that the best reason is that it’s a rousing good story, created, recited, and later written and read, by and for our forebears – at least, the ancestors of those of us who are of English heritage, by blood, language and culture!

Here is a modern-English translation, and one that grasps the rhythms and richness of the great original. And here is a recitation of the opening stanzas, in the original language:

I like this one, because it’s set up in such a way that one can follow along in both Anglo-Saxon (Old English) and modern English!

 

The Poetry of England | The Imaginative Conservative

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Source: The Poetry of England ~ The Imaginative Conservative

“The real tragedy of England’s passing… is not that the England we love is a figment of the imagination, but that it is real, in the sense that Platonic forms are real. This real England is present in Old English and Middle English; in Chaucer and Chesterton; in Shakespeare, Austen, and Dickens. The England to be found in these places is more real than it is in present-day Birmingham or Leicester, which are only English in a superficial and fading sense. Nor does the England to be found in these places depend on our ability to see it.

“If England continues to sink into the primeval soup of ‘post-Christian’ barbarism, it is possible that nobody will read Shakespeare a century from now. They will not want to read it and will probably be unable to read it even if they wanted to. Yet the goodness, truth, and beauty to be found in Shakespeare, Chaucer, et al will not be in the least diminished by the inability of future generations to see it. A tree does not cease to exist because a blind man cannot see it. England will not cease to exist because the ‘post-English’ barbarians residing in England fail to understand that which is beyond their ken.”

True indeed! Yet what a loss it would be to the world, if the real England, the true England, the “Olde England,” were to retreat utterly and forever into the Mists of Avalon, into the realm of Platonic forms, into the Mind of God, and into the memory of poets and mystics and musers like me, to exist no more in the world of men…

The feast of St. Joseph of Arimathea | Holy Smokes

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 August 1st is the feast of St. Joseph of Arimathea in the United states (July 31 in the east). His story is one of mystery and tradition…

Source: Holy Smokes: The feast of St. Joseph of Arimathea

And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England’s mountains green?
And was the holy Lamb of God
On England’s pleasant pastures seen?

— William Blake, “And did those feet in ancient time? (Jerusalem)

Today is the commemoration of St. Joseph of Arimathea (as found in “Lesser Feasts and Fasts 1963,” approved for use in the UECNA), who is best known from the Gospel accounts as the one who gave his tomb to be the burial place of our Lord, Jesus Christ, following his crucifixion. The Collect for this day reads:

O MERCIFUL God, by whose servant Joseph the body of our Lord and Saviour was committed to the grave with reverence and godly fear: Grant, we beseech thee, to thy faithful people grace and courage to serve and love Jesus with unfeigned devotion all the days of their life; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

He – Joseph of Armimathea – may have another significance, too, especially for those of us who are of the English tradition. There is a persistent legend that Joseph was not only the recoverer of Jesus’ body, but his uncle, and a tin-merchant with trading contacts as far afield as Cornwall, in what was then the Roman Province of Britannia; and that he took the young Jesus with him on a trip there during the so-called “lost years” of Jesus’ life.

There is even a tradition that when Joseph thrust his thornwood staff into the ground, it took root, flowered, and blossomed, becoming the famous Glastonbury Thorn that survives to this day near the old Abbey of Glastonbury. It is, at any rate, this legendary trip (which cannot be conclusively proven – nor for that matter, disproven) which serves as the inspiration for the lines from the poet William Blake, quoted above, which became the well-known hymn, “Jerusalem”:

Personally, I tend to believe this pious legend – or at least give it the benefit of the doubt – and to consider that there is at least a good chance that “those feet in ancient times” did indeed “walk upon England’s mountains green”! Britain was in ancient and medieval times known as a particularly holy island, and what better reason for that, than that our Saviour did indeed grace “England’s green and pleasant land” with His sacred footsteps?

In any case, wishing you a blessed Feast of St. Joseph of Arimathea!

Glories of the West – the Pre-Rafaelites: “Gather Ye Rosebuds While Ye May” (Waterhouse)

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This lovely painting fortuitously came across my newsfeed this morning, posted by a friend of mine, Paul Edward Lafferty Smallwood, who posted it and commented,

“‘Gather Ye Rosebuds While Ye May,’ 1909, John William Waterhouse, English. John William Waterhouse (1849 – 1917) was an English painter known for working first in the Academic style and for then embracing the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood’s style and subject matter. His artworks were known for their depictions of women from both ancient Greek mythology and Arthurian legend.”

The reference is to a poem by Robert Herrick (1591-1674), entitled “To the Virgins, to Make Much of TIme”:

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying;
And this same flower that smiles today
Tomorrow will be dying.

The glorious lamp of heaven, the sun,
The higher he’s a-getting,
The sooner will his race be run,
And nearer he’s to setting.

That age is best which is the first,
When youth and blood are warmer;
But being spent, the worse, and worst
Times still succeed the former.

Then be not coy, but use your time,
And while ye may, go marry;
For having lost but once your prime,
You may forever tarry.

 

Michaelmas; a sonnet for St. Michael the Archangel | Malcolm Guite

Continuing my sequence from Sounding the Seasons, the collection of my sonnets for the church year, published by Canterbury Press, the 29th September brings us the feast of St. Michael and All Angels which is known as Michaelmas in England, and this first autumn term in many schools and universities is still called the Michaelmas term.

Source: Michaelmas; a sonnet for St. Michael the Archangel | Malcolm Guite

Today, September 29th, being Michaelmas – the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels – in the Western Christian calendar, here is a Michaelmas sonnet by the inestimable Malcolm Guite. Includes both the written sonnet, and a recitation of it by Malcolm, a priest in the Church of England, and a gifted poet. With commentary, including this excellent short sketch of Michael (whose name means “Who is like God?”) himself:

“The Archangel Michael is traditionally thought of as the Captain of the Heavenly Host, and, following an image from the book of Revelation, is often shown standing on a dragon, an image of Satan subdued and bound by the strength of Heaven. He is also shown with a drawn sword, or a spear and a pair of scales or balances, for he represents, truth, discernment, the light and energy of intellect, to cut through tangles and confusion, to set us free to discern and choose.”