An Answer to the Call for the Radical Catholic Reimagination of Everything

David Russell Mosley

flammarion-woodcut

Eastertide
Octave of the Ascension
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Friends and Family,

A few days ago a new acquaintance (really a kindred spirit and therefore friend, though we’ve not yet met) of mine, Michael Martin, wrote an essay on the Angelico Press blog entitled, “The Radical Catholic Reimagination of Everything.” For those unfamiliar with Martin, he is the Assistant Professor of English and Philosophy at Marygrove College and has written several works, the only one of which I have read thus far is The Submerged Reality: Ophiology and the Turn to a Poetic Metaphysics. Martin is like me, a believer in faërie, a poet (though a far better one as I understand it). I think we both can sign off on this line from an interview with theologian John Milbank, “I mean, I believe in all this fantastic stuff. I’m really bitterly opposed to this kind of disenchantment in the modern churches.” So I was overjoyed when Martin decided to put tires to pavement in a new way (he’s been living this stuff for some time now) when he wrote this essay.

Martin’s essay is a clarion call to those who are like minded in this endeavor which he calls the radical Catholic (and I would add catholic) reimagination of everything, or one might it even call it the C/catholic unveiling of sacramental ontology, for, ultimately, this is what Martin is driving at. At the beginning, Martin, a proponent of sophiology (something on which I hope to write more as I understand more), notes the call to Wisdom (Sophia) that appears at key moments in the Byzantine Liturgy. He then turns to another part of the liturgy, a hymn called  Megalynarion, “The Magnification of Mary.” You can read those for yourself in Martin’s essay. What I want to draw your attention to is this line from Martin:

“My investigation here is not about the liturgy, however, but about the ways in which phenomenology and sophiology discover the same phenomenon: the shining that illuminates the cosmos. This shining speaks in the languages of poetry, languages that take on a myriad of forms and are sometimes mistaken for science, sometimes for theology.”

Martin is calling us to a different way of seeing, but also a different way of doing, of being, simply put of living in reality. Martin understands that certain strains of theology do not allow for this kind of sight. He notes, via Hans Urs von Balthasar, that Neoscholasticism denuded itself of attention to the Glory of the Lord and that this proper attention was passed through certain poets, philosophers, and scientists while it was lost by the theologians. Even were one to disagree with this genealogy, one need only look at trends in theology today to see that this attention the Glory, to Sophia, to sacramental ontology has been ignored by many (though it is making something of return as theologians find themselves once again desiring to return to the sources).

In the end of his essay Martin issues a call to “poets, artists, scientists, adventurers, teachers, communitarians, distributists, scholars, and visionaries who hanker for something more living in Catholic culture.” He does not desire mere theory, men and women sitting in a room talking about how great it would be if. However, it should be obvious that Martin is not against the study of these issues in order to better inhabit these ideas and live this reality. Rather, Martin wants us to act as we talk. Theoretike and Practike must be united. Some may be Marthas and others Marys, but we need both and we need most of all those who are willing to live the hard life being both at once.

And so this is, in my own small way, my answer to Martin’s call. I am a poet, an author, a theologian, a gardener, a distributist, a husband, and a father (and more besides); I am all of those things bound up together and suspended as one made according to the Image. I am ready not simply to think about a sacramental ontology but to live it. This will be hard, already have I been confronting ways in which my habits did not accord with my beliefs and my knowledge, but I will answer this call. I must answer this call, I can feel it in the very blood that flows through me that this is right, that this is how reality really is. Confronting my son’s cancer was the first step for me in coming not simply to believe that these fantastic elements of the faith are true (I already believed), but to experience them. Yet I have let the shadows overcome me and make me believe that those moments are rare and that real life is lived without experience of the Glory. Well I say no more. I say that that way of living is ultimately damned (though we can be saved from it). Root and branch, twig and bough, I am in. Join me, as I join Martin and others and we radically (which remember means to return to one’s roots) and catholicly reimagine everything.

Sincerely,
David

I Need Advent: From Ordinary to Extraordinary

David Russell Mosley

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Ordinary Time
28 November 2015
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Friends and Family,

Today is the last day of the year. I don’t blame you if you didn’t realize that New Year’s Eve was actually tonight. After all, it’s never the same one year to the next. For those who didn’t know, tomorrow is the first day of Advent, which is the first season of the Christian Calendar. Tomorrow begins a period of fasting and waiting. This year I feel in particular need for a fresh start, for Advent.

Advent swoops in like a mournful owl searching for its evening sustenance after the longest period of Ordinary Time in the Church Calendar. Ordinary Time, the season in which we are still in for today, is a time for us as Christians to remember that the Holy Trinity is active in every season of life, including the mundane, sometimes especially the mundane as the Nativity itself reminds us (for what is ultimately more commonplace than giving birth and being born). I’ve always struggled with this long period of Ordinary Time. My prayer routines tend to fade; I slip much more easily into those pet sins I carry round with me like an evil dragon perched upon my shoulder whispering the unspeakable to me. Now don’t misunderstand me, many good things have happened during this Ordinary Time: I passed my PhD Viva, got two book contracts, have watched my boys continue to grow, and more. But still, as I wrote to you yesterday, the virtues I have attempted to cultivate have shrivelled and been replaced by vices.

I need Advent. I need this period of fasting to help me gain the mastery over my body that God gives to those who cooperate with his grace. What’s more, I need the Nativity and all the other feasts that will greet us at the beginning of this new year. I need to be reminded of the extraordinary ways God has been present in our world so that I can be better prepared to look for him and work with him in the ordinary times. In truth, there are no ordinary times. Josef Pieper, a twentieth century Catholic theologian and philosopher, writes that, “in fact the liturgy only knows feast-days, even working days being feria.”⁠1 For Pieper, the Eucharist, which is the heart of all Christian celebrations, so transfigures time that in one sense it turns every day into a feast day, even the days on which we work or fast. I’ve lost sight of this over this most recent Ordinary Time. So this year, I need Advent more than ever. I need the extraordinary to remind me that in one sense there is no ordinary. The whole cosmos is graced, gifted its being by the Almighty. The fact that there is a day at all is extraordinary. The fact that there is a you, a me, that there are rocks and trees and animals is just as extraordinary as the fact that there are angels, for we all, from the highest order of angels to the lowest order of matter come from the same source, the One who is Three, the One who is Truth, Beauty, Goodness, Unity, and Being.

Pray for me, as I will pray for you, that together we may be reminded through these times of intentional fasting and feasting that begins with Advent, that the world is extraordinary precisely because it was an act of pure gratuity on the part of God. Pray that we may have our vision transfigured so was can see the world around us anew, so that we can see past the mist and shadows and catch glimpses of Reality. This is why this year I need Advent.

Sincerely,
David

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1 Josef Pieper, Leisure The Basis of Culture, trans. by Alexander Dru (London: Faber and Faber, 1952), 80

The Eucharist Option: A Response to Problems with the Benedict Option for Living in Modernity

David Russell Mosley

Ordinary Time
10 October 2014
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Friends and Family

Recently, there has been an influx of work concerning a way of living in Modernity called The Benedict Option. This notion derives from Alistair MacIntyre’s seminal work After Virtue. The idea is rather simple, in the fall of Rome and Western Civilisation as it was then known, the Benedictines served as pockets of resistance. These communities who had withdrawn from society held on to what was best from civilisation. It is because of the Benedictines, and other monastic communities, that we still have many of great works of classical literature as well as the great works of ancient Christianity. So, following MacIntyre’s work, we now have the Benedict Option, a call for a withdrawal from this new, and rather slow, fall of the new Rome, in order to safeguard our faith and the great things of the past. The question then becomes, is this withdrawal the right response.

Over at Mere Fidelity, a primarily reformed theology podcast associated with the website Mere Orthodoxy, the gentlemen discuss the pros and cons of such an approach. There is first the concern about Modernity. Is it the same as the barbarism that invaded Rome? Is it a unique situation in which the Church has found itself? There are certainly similarities, and like all new times that face the Church, it is, in its own way unique, but does this mean that withdrawal, that the Benedict Option, is the appropriate response? The gentlemen at Mere Fidelity are uncertain. Withdrawal seems somewhat anti-Gospel, or at least anti-Evangelical (in the sense of spreading the Gospel). Yet a kind of withdrawal is necessary, we cannot simply mirror the culture in which we live. So the Benedict Option seems a poor or at least incomplete vision of how we ought to live, but what then is the appropriate response?

Chad Pecknold, associate professor of systematic theology at the Catholic University of America, has suggested an alternate approach, not the Benedict Option, but the Dominican Option. The Benedictines were monks who formed communities and sequestered themselves off from the rest of society, in order to serve that society; the Dominicans, on the other hand, sequester themselves as a community (in the way the live, dress, etc.) that exists within society, not outside it or on its outskirts. They are mendicants and itinerants. That is, they go in amongst society, begging and preaching. They wear their habits, standing out like sore thumbs (if you’ll excuse the cliché), and serve, as Pecknold terms it, as ‘a “contrast society” that is very much engaged with the world—an evangelistic witness which is joyful, intellectually serious, expansive, and charitable.’ If Benedictines serve as a physical, moral, and spiritual withdrawal, Dominicans serve as a moral and spiritual withdrawal, but a physical presence (which includes its own kind of withdrawal). Pecknold sees this as the better option because it involves both separation and engagement, it draws out the truth of the Benedictine but draws out more clearly for us of the non-optional evangelistic witness. We stand apart, but as a presence in the world.

I think, however, what both the gentlemen at Mere Fidelity and Dr Pecknold, leave out, (Pecknold because of the misconceptions of what the Benedictines actually do) to a certain extent, is the need for various forms of being in, but not of the world. The Dominicans did not replace the Benedictines, they simply had a different mission. Pecknold acknowledges that not all Christians should be Dominicans, but doesn’t acknowledge (though I’m sure he would agree with me) that some who ought not to be Dominicans ought to be Benedictines. That is, all Christians are called to different ways of relating to the societies and cultures around us. Some ought to be Benedictines, fully withdrawing in order to guard and protect the faith, to be outposts of Christianity fully separate, but still not disengaged, with the society around them. Some ought to be Dominicans, different in the physical presence within society, but engaging with it directly as a subversive, contrasting society within society. Still others might be called to a Franciscan Option of full poverty, or an Anchorite Option of total, individual withdrawal. And other options which I cannot give a name to. What ought to tie all of this together, what joins the various ways of living in the midst of Modernity and its ills (and goods), is the Liturgy, whose heart is the Eucharist itself. This is what I would call Christians to: a dedication to the Eucharist, which will lead to a dedication to the Liturgy (in its main and varied expressions), which will lead to various ways of dealing with Modern society. The Body and Blood of Christ is the font from which all ways of living the Christian life flow. This is how we first live both differently and within the society around us, by a transformative and participatory meal in which the Divine and the Human meet, in which Time and Eternity are intermingled. Begin here, and many ways of living will follow.

Sincerely yours,
David

The Poetry of Easter: Creation’s Hope

David Russell Mosley

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Easter 2014
On the Edge of Elfland
Beeston, Nottinghamshire

Dear Friends and Family,

Advent and Christmas tend to put me in the mood for fairy-stories and fantasies. After all, it is a time of magic, of enchantment, for the God has entered Creation. Easter, however, puts me in mind for poetry. Right now, for instance, I’m attempting to read The Divine Comedy liturgically. The poem begins on the day before Good Friday and ends, apparently, on the Wednesday after Easter. Now, I haven’t reached Paradise yet, but I want to share a passage from there with you.

Dante writes:

“All things, among themselves,
possess an order; and this order is
the form that makes the universe like God.
Here do the higher beings see the imprint
of the Eternal Worth, which is the end
to which the pattern I have mentioned tends.
Within that order, every nature has
its bent, according to a different station,
nearer or less near to its origin” (I.103-110)

All of Creation, made by God, is tending toward him. Every inch of Creation has a trace of God within it. In this sense, we can call Creation sacramental because it points toward its origin. It is even, says Dante, tending toward that origin, just as we are. That is, just as we are intended for union with God in the life to come, intended for deification, so too is Creation intended to unite with God, according to its station, according to its place in the Cosmos. This is why, as I wrote over at Theology Think for Palm Sunday, Easter brings hope to Creation and not simply humanity. Let’s remember that as we celebrate the Resurrection of Our Lord today.

I deal with this subject in a few places in my thesis, key to my understanding of Creation’s role in the life to come is Maximus the Confessor who writes:

With us and through us he encompasses the whole creation through its intermediaries and the extremities through its own parts. He binds about himself each with the other, tightly and indissolubly, paradise and the inhabited world, heaven and earth, things sensible and things intelligible, since he possesses like us sense and soul and mind, by which, as parts, he assimilates himself by each of the extremities to what is universally akin to each in the previously mentioned manner. Thus he divinely recapitulates the universe in himself, showing that the whole creation exists as one, like another human being, completed by the gathering together of its parts one with another in itself, and inclined towards itself by the whole of its existence, in accordance with the one, simple undifferentiated and indifferent idea of production from nothing, in accordance with which the whole of creation admits of one and the same undiscriminated logos, as having not been before it is (Amb. 41 1312A-B).

Maximus is arguing several things here, but the key is twofold. First, it is essential to note that Maximus sees humanity as playing a role in God encompassing all creation into himself. God does this, ‘with us and through us’ (Amb. 41 1312A). Humanity, as I argued in the first chapter, has a priestly role to play for the rest of Creation and this is due, in large part, to humanity’s microcosmic nature, that in humanity is there a convergence of all created beings, ‘things sensible and things intellectual’ (Amb. 41 1312A). God encompasses all this in himself in the Incarnation. In this way, using the microcosmic nature of humanity, God unites all created beings to himself.

The second key is that all of creation is included in this. Maximus does not delineate between mineral, vegetable, and animal, some being included, others not. All beings are related to one another and to God, as Maximus writes:

For in their true logos all beings have at least something in common with one another. Amongst the beings after God, which have their being from God through generation, there are no exceptions, neither the greatly honoured and transcendent beings [angels] which have a universal relationship to the One absolutely beyond any relation, nor is the least honoured among beings destitute and bereft since it has by nature a generic relationship to the most honoured beings (Amb. 41 1312B-C).

Here, Maximus goes further than Aquinas, who only seems to see a role in the eschaton for mineral creation, humanity, and the angels. For Maximus, this cannot be, for all created beings are related to one another, even the lowest is related to the highest, by virtue of being a created being. What it more, all beings are held together by God through Jesus Christ.

What this means is that God in Christ and through us is raising up all Creation to himself. We must remember our brothers and sisters outside the human race in the rest of Creation. Remember Christ’s words, ‘”I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.”’

Let me leave you with, compared to Dante’s (and many others) some rather base verses of my own:

The flowers all grow towards an end;
Trees and rivers clap for joy.
The mountains on their knees bend;
The birds make a joyful noise.
For water from the holy side
Spilled out, and red blood
Poured onto Creation’s hide.
At last we understood,
Redemption is not for us alone.
If we were silent,
Every rock, and every stone,
Every bird and beast and violet,
Would with one breath
Proclaim the death
Of Jesus Christ, Our Lord.

Sincerely yours,
David Russell Mosley

Fiat and Doom, Mary and Frodo: Feast of the Annunciation and Destruction of the Ring

David Russell Mosley

Feast of the Annunciation
On the Edge of Elfland
Beeston, Nottinghamshire

Dear Friends and Family,

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Annunciation. This is the day we commemorate and make present again that joyous moment when the archangel Gabriel told Mary what was to happen to her. Mary’s obedience in this moment is the beginning of the undoing of the disobedience of Adam and Eve. Mary becomes, in a way, a new Eve and her son will be the New Adam. This on its own is of utmost importance. However, there is another event that is celebrated on this day. It was on this day so very long ago, or so we are told, that the One Ring was bitten off of Frodo Baggins’s hand by Gollum and fell into the volcanic pit of Orodruin.

Of course, I realise that The Lord of the Rings is not real, or at least not real in the same sense that the Annunciation is real, but for a moment I want to explore the implications of Tolkien choosing this day and what relation it may have to the Feast of the Annunciation.

Tolkien was a devout Roman Catholic and while there is no explicit reference to the Christian religion in The Silmarillion, The Hobbit, or The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien himself had always thought of his works as explicitly Catholic. That is, they had a Catholic (or perhaps simply Christian) metaphysics. The world he created was our world in the distant past when men and elves were not estranged, when the Fall had happened but even Israel was a long ways off. So why is the 25th March the date for the destruction of the Ring?

I think there may be a few possible answers gleaned by looking at what the day signifies in the Christian Calendar and what it signifies in the story. First, in both instances there is an importance behind the events. Mary is told she has been chosen to be the Mother of God (not that God was to have a beginning as God, but that he would have a beginning as a man). Something the whole world is said to have been waiting for is now happening, or will happen, in her, the entrance of God into his Creation. In The Lord of the Rings, Frodo and Sam and Gollum arrive at the fires of Mt Doom to destroy the One Ring, the very thing all Middle Earth has been, perhaps unknowingly, been longing for since Sauron made it. In both cases an appointed time has come.

Also in both instances, the act is not carried out by the actors. However, this plays out very differently in each case. Mary does not make herself pregnant with the Word of Life. She was not even aware that this might happen to her. She is merely told that this will happen, and presumably happens that very day, perhaps that very moment. Mary is not active in this except in her acceptance, as she says, ‘“Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word”’ (Lk 1.38).

Frodo is the exact opposite, however. He has come to Mt Doom for the very purpose of destroying the Ring. Yet when he arrives he refuses his task, ‘“I have come,” he said. “But I do not choose now to do what I came to do. I will not do this deed. The Ring is mine!”’ (LOTR, 945). Frodo falls, he fails where Mary succeeded, and yet the task is accomplished. Gollum, who’s life has been spared on multiple occasions, but importantly by each of the three ringbearers (Bilbo, Frodo, and Sam), and most recently by the third, sees his moment. Somehow finding the invisible Frodo and feeling his way to the ringed finger, Gollum bites it off and takes hold of the Ring. He is, ‘dancing like a mad thing,’ beaming with a corrupted joy until his celebrations take him off the edge of the cliff and into the fires below. The Quest has not failed, though Frodo had, by what the reader at least can call divine providence. Frodo and Sam are rescued and Middle Earth is free for a time, but the divine help needed in this moment foretells a future moment when providence will not be the course of action, but that God will step into his creation to set all things right.

This is, I believe, the connection between the two. Each shows the beginning of a new age, each is the undoing of a previous evil, and each is done in a kind of passive way by the main actor in each story. Frodo is almost a kind of anti-Mary who’s quest is accomplished without his will. In the quest of Frodo the evils of Sauron are undone. In the fiat (Let it be so) of Mary is the beginning of the end of all evils, of death and sin through her offspring, the one who, like the offspring of Eve would crush the serpent’s head.

So let us remember Frodo and Sam and Gollum while we also remember Mary and Christ, for the story of The Lord of the Rings can lead us to the even truer story of Incarnation, Resurrection, and Return. After all, as Tolkien himself wrote in ‘On Fairy-Stories’:

‘I would venture to say that approaching the Christian Story from this direction, it has long been my feeling (a joyous feeling) that God redeemed the corrupt making-creatures, men, in a way that fitting to this respect, as to others, of their strange nature. The Gospels contain a fairy-story, or a story of a larger kind which embraces all the essence of fairy-stories. They contain many marvels––peculiarly artistic, beautiful, and moving: “mythical” in their perfect self-contained significance; and among the marvels is the greatest and most complete conceivable eucatastrophe. But the story has entered History and the primary world; the desires and aspirations of sub-creation has been raised to the fulfillment of Creation. The Birth of Christ is the eucatastrophe of man’s history. The Resurrection is the eucatastrophe of the story of the Incarnation. This story begins and ends in joy’ (‘On Fairy-Stories, 88-9).

 

Sincerely yours,
David Russell Mosley

Being a (Non-Roman) Catholic Evangelical: Liturgy as a Way of Living Differently

David Russell Mosley

My prayer station at home.

My prayer station at home.

29 January 2014
On the Edge of Elfland
Beeston, Nottinghamshire

Dear Friends and Family,

A few weeks ago now at our church, St Nicholas (an Anglican church in the Church of England), our rector, Steve gave a sermon on Acts 2.42-3.10. The gist of the sermon (you can listen to the whole series here) is about our public impact as we attempt to live life together. At the end of the sermon, Steve enjoined us to start a conversation about how we could live differently. You see, Steve pointed out something I think often all too true. If you asked a Christian what Christians believe, they could give you some kind of answer. If, however, you asked them what do Christians do? They might have a much harder time answering that question.

There are, of course, many answers to this question of what Christians do and how we can live differently within our communities. The most obvious answers are perhaps social justice and evangelism. Feeding and caring for the poor, the oppressed, the widowed is an essential aspect of Christianity. In fact, in the passage Steve preached from, Peter and John, in healing the lame man, were doing an act of social justice that was also an act of evangelism. These two things are essential in any attempt to live in our world, but differently from it. However, there is another that I think often underplayed as an aspect of living differently.

I’ve written more about liturgy on this blog than almost any other topic, which is perhaps ironic since I do not come from a particularly liturgy affirming tradition. That being said, I want to suggest that liturgy is the other main way we can actively live differently within our societies.  Consider how different it would look if on high feast days and high solemnities, like Christmas, Epiphany, Candlemas, Ash Wednesday, Holy Week, Easter, Pentecost, etc., we all went to church for a service and then had a feast (on the feast days). And not just go to church, what if we actually had day long events and did our best to get out of work for the day? What if we invited people over for Twelfth-Night? What if on Ash Wednesday we all showed up to work with an ashen cross on our foreheads?

What if we actually treated Sundays as the first day of the week and not simply the precursor to the Monday work week? What if the start of Advent was more important to us (as the start of the Church Calendar) than New Year’s Eve? What if all our churches offered at least Morning and Evening Prayer services so people could come and experience fixed hour prayer? What if we thought of time differently? What if our day was broken up into set times of prayer (whether following a set liturgy or praying on our own)?

I firmly believe that if we treated the Church Calendar, the week, and the day as the Church has understood them in centuries past as what is really real, as opposed to the way modern society has chosen to organise our time, we would stand out. Liturgy is more than a method, but I would suggest it is as important as social justice and evangelism for living differently in the world. You can look over some of my past posts to see why I think this is, but ultimately, it is because I think God upholds every minute of every day and liturgy helps to live within such a rhythmic way as makes this reality known.

Sincerely yours,
David Russell Mosley

Being a (Non-Roman) Catholic Evangelical: Getting High (Church, that is)

David Russell Mosley

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18 January 2014
On the Edge of Elfland
Beeston, Nottinghamshire

Dear Friends and Family,

A few days ago over at The American Conservative, Gracy Olmstead wrote an article entitled, ‘Why Millennials Long for Liturgy: Is the High Church the Christianity of the future?’ In the article, Olmstead cites several Protestant converts to various kinds of more Tradition (read Liturgical) branches of Christianity. This is a major trend I have seen myself in many of those with whom I attended university and even within myself. Olmstead posits that  Millennials, the generation that spans from roughly 1977~1982-c.2000, are in search of deeper and more mystical faiths, often than those in which they were brought up (the article notes a former Reformed Baptist, and two Presbyterians who switched from a typically Low-Church Evangelicalism to various High-Churches). I myself know of several Presbyterians, some Nazarenes, and many within my own tradition (the Restoration Movement) who have gone high Methodist, Anglican Church of North America or Episcopalian, Eastern Orthodox, or Roman Catholic.

Perhaps it is the hidden hipster within me, but I hate doing things that are trendy, or be seen to be trendy. In fact, in a recent Facebook thread a joke was made (by me, of course) that trendy is the last word most people would use to describe me. That being said, I wonder what it is that drives people like myself to seek more High-Church expressions of faith. I don’t think its possible for me, at least, to say what the general motivations are toward High-Church expressions of the Faith, but I can at least try to describe why I feel this way.

For me, it was the study of Christian history that began to move me down this path. My own tradition has often stressed that the Church should look as much like it did in the book of Acts, particularly chapter 2, as it can.  There are, I believe, many problems with this, but I don’t want to get into that. What learning about the history of Christianity, taught me, however, is that this picture we had of the apostolic church was for one, not as cut and dry as we tended to teach. Also, even if it was, things changed rapidly within a hundred years. You see, Protestantism can tend to focus on either the individual tradition of a given group (Baptist history, Presbyterian, Restoration Movement, etc.) or can focus too much on the brief pictures we’re given in the book of Acts which is meant to teach some bigger things than how to organise our churches. Doing a Master’s degree in Church History taught me that there is an awful lot between Acts chapter 2 and today and not all of it is bad.

In fact, as I learned about the history of Christianity, I realised that we technically share a vast majority of the same history with our Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox brothers and sisters. Working with rough dates and generalisations, it could be said that all of Christianity (or the majority anyway) shares all of its history from the Life of Christ until 1053 (the typical date given for the schism between East and West). Western Christianity then continues until, roughly, the sixteenth century and the Reformation. What this means, I realised, is that there are 1600 years where we share ancestry and history with Roman Catholics and about 960 years that we also share with the Eastern Orthodox. This taught me that we need to take the practices and theology of those periods much more seriously than we tend to. We cannot simply write off ancient and medieval theologians because they are Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox and not Protestants. There were no Protestants!

This plus my own work, mostly private, in recent years in the theology behind much that is contained within Liturgy (the Church Calendar, the Divine Hours,) and high sacramentality (Eucharist and Baptism as sacraments and the world as sacramental) has left me desirous of more than I have often received in Low-Church Evangelicalism.  Even now, I attend an Anglican church here in Nottingham, but, particularly the service we attend, it still tends toward a more Low-Church expression, desiring to be more Spirit led, which I believe means allowing for spontaneity (not a bad thing, in my opinion, though rather limiting since that attitude can tend toward saying the Spirit doesn’t move, or move as freely, within structure).

The issue for Low-Churches, however, is not one of simply having a stylistically more liturgical service. That could perhaps help with retention of young people, but it doesn’t get to the root of the desire, at least not for me. This isn’t, for me, merely a preference for a traditional style of worship. It isn’t as though I unequivocally prefer hymns or chants to praise choruses and contemporary Christian worship music (I actually like some of the latter); nor is merely a desire for more communal prayers; lectionary based preaching; or more attention to the Eucharist. It is the theology behind so many of these things. I read the Scriptures and the great theologians of the Ancient and Medieval worlds and I see a worldview that sees the World as constantly upheld by and participating in the God, a world where Angels can appear to young women, where bread and wine can be body and blood, where miracles can happen. In essence, I see a different world than the one the Enlightenment and science divorced from theology and philosophy has taught us to see. I see a world where time can be used to tell the story of the Incarnation, the Crucifixion, the Resurrection, everyday, every week, every year. I’m not sure, however, that most standard Protestant theologies can give us this, tied as they often are to Modernism. Nevertheless, I don’t give up hope. I hope, pray, write, and teach about these things in the hopes that change can be affected, not simply in what we do, but in what we believe. If something doesn’t happen, however, I firmly believe we will see more young Christians and young converts, attaching themselves to traditions which already have these elements of liturgy and sacramentology, because let’s face it, that is much easier than changing our traditions themselves.

Sincerely yours,
David Russell Mosley