Vicars in Austen: Ridiculous or Virtuous Men?

David Russell Mosley


Ordinary Time
6 October 2015
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Friends and Family,

I’ve just finished, last night, the second of Jane Austen’s six novels in my annual re-read of them (if you can’t tell, I re-read a lot of books each year). This year I’ve decided to go with publication order so I began with Sense and Sensibility, just finished Pride and Prejudice, and have Mansfield Park, Emma, Northanger Abbey, and Persuasion left. This is not, for those who don’t know, exactly the order in which the books were written. In fact, along with some unfinished works, Northanger Abbey was the third book Austen wrote, but it was not published until after her death. But there is something I’ve noticed as I’ve begun this annual re-read that I thought I would share with you all at the beginning and revisit when once I’m done.

With the exception of Persuasion, which I’ll get to in a moment, the books in publication order show clergyman in the Church of England in good and bad light. This is what I mean. In Sense and Sensibility we have Edward Ferrars, firstborn son in the Ferrars family, though second born overall, who desires to enter the priesthood in the Church of England. Edward is a good man, though with some faults that ostensibly arise from his good character traits being taken advantage of by a less than good woman. Then, in Pride and Prejudice, we get the simultaneously self-important and self-effacing Mr Collins, a ridiculous clergyman with a rich patroness. In Mansfield Park we are given Edmund Bertram, a second born son desirous of entering the church, like his similarly named counterpart in S&S, but not being hindered by his family. Edmund, not unlike Edward, is a good decent man who is parish minded and desires others to lead a good, Christian life and is caught by the attentions of woman who is not so interested in this kind of life (far less so than Lucy Steele). In Emma, however, we meet Mr Elton whose primary desire as a bachelor vicar is to net himself a wealthy wife. Northanger Abbey gives us Henry Tilney, only the second, thus far, actively practicing priest when we meet him (Mr Collins being the other). He like the others is a good and moral man. Persuasion is where the deviation lies for the clergyman there plays neither quite so big a role as the others, never being even a potential love interest for the heroine, but yet is a good vicar, nor is he a ridiculous one like the others before him.

The back and forth nature of Austen’s depictions of clergy is less important, since it works even less well when examined in the order in which she wrote the books, than the fact that Austen, whose own father was a clergyman, seems to be able to see both the good and, if not the bad, then at least the absurd in the Church. I’m sure much more could be made of this and am equally sure others have noticed this before me. Still, I am now looking forward to continuing my read of Austen’s novels to see how she conceives of the Church, both in its universal sense and in its local sense.

Until then I remain,

Sincerely yours,
David

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The Sacramental Imagination of Smith of Wooton Major

David Russell Mosley

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Ordinary Time
19 November 2014
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Friends and Family,

Today I venture into the books I didn’t read as a child. I think this is important because I came to many of these books both as a Christian and often as a theologian. This means that what I see in these books is in no way coloured by my childhood experiences of them. So, the first book I want to write to you about is one of my favourites, J. R. R. Tolkien’s Smith of Wooton Major.

The story behind Smith of Wooton Major is actually really funny. Tolkien had been asked to write an introduction for a new edition of George MacDonald’s ‘The Golden Key’, another excellent story that I will likely feature in this series. The problems are twofold, however. For starters, Tolkien was a perfectionist. The Hobbit first came out in 1937 and he was soon asked for a sequel. The Fellowship of the Ring came out in 1954, seventeen years later. The other problem is that Tolkien isn’t always very good at explaining things. Dr Corey Olsen, the Tolkien Professor himself, were discussing this aspect of Tolkien just last week. What Tolkien is rather much better at is telling stories. So, in the process of writing this introduction to ‘The Golden Key’, Tolkien decides to undertake to define what a fairy tale is. In order to do this, he decides to construct an example. This example became the story Smith of Wooton Major and the introduction was left unfinished.

The story, Smith of Wooton Major, tells us the story of a person called Smith who lives in a town called Wooton Major. Wooton Major has a rather prestigious position of Head Cook. The Cook is expected to cook various meals throughout the year, but every twenty-four years he is expected to cook for the Twenty-Four Feast. At this feast, twenty-four children are in attendance. The pièce de résistance at this feast is the cake. It is on this cake that the cook’s reputation is made or falls. One particularly year, when Smith is a child and in attendance something strange happens at the feast. The Head Cook, a man called Nokes, who had taken over from Smith’s grandfather, rather than the apprentice Alf decides to put treasures inside the cake for the children to find, including a star which Alf tells him comes from Faërie. Smith finds, or rather, doesn’t realise he finds this star in his piece. One day he coughs, the star pops out and he claps to it his head. From this day on Smith is transformed. He sings as he works. He works of ironmongery are beautiful, he makes no weapons, and best of all, he has gained access to Faërie.

Smith makes many adventures to Faërie, trying to scout out the whole of the land and experience everything he can. He eventually meets both the King and Queen of Faërie, as well as many of its inhabitants (all of whom are human in shape and size, though they are Fairies). He is frightened at times and goes places he shouldn’t. Perhaps what is most interesting, however, is that eventually, Smith must give up his star. Alf, the apprentice, had become Head Cook some time before and was preparing for his second Twenty-Four Feast and asks Smith for the star. With the star, Smith gives up some of the light it gave to his eyes and has, it would seem, lost his passport into Faërie. We feel the hardness of this for Smith for we are like him, most of us. We are ordinary people and yet we have gained access into Faërie as we have followed Smith into it. Yet it is not all bad, and I think this an important aspect.

When Smith returns from his final visit to Faërie, after he has returned the star, he meets with his son. His son, it would seem, has taken on the lion’s share of the work as of late, what with his father taking frequent trips into Faërie and all. His son tells him he hasn’t been able to go to a family party for all the work and wouldn’t go to the Feast the next day. Smith, however, tells him to make it a holiday, for there would now be four hands at the work. I have always argued that one of the key things fantasy does is render the world around us strange so we can see it for what it really is, so we can see it with fresh eyes. I think there is a relationship here to the function of the church (the building as well as the gatherings) and the celebration of the Eucharist. Smith still has work to do once his time in Faërie is done. Life isn’t over now that his time in Faërie. In fact, it almost seems that Faërie was a preparation for the rest of life. Similarly, our celebration of Eucharist is, in part, a preparation for the rest of life. Sunday is the first and eighth day of the week, both the beginning and the end and out from it flows the rest of the week. Now, unlike Smith and Faërie, Sunday sends out into Monday through Saturday only to return us to Sunday. Smith, it would seem, is not intended to return to Faërie, but we are intended to return to Sunday and one day to that Eternal Sunday that we practice in worship, the Son of God come down in glory. Faërie enabled Smith to be a better blacksmith, to be better in general. The Eucharist similarly enables us to go about our lives, taking Christ with us and reclaiming the rebellious and false kingdom of this world for the Kingdom of God.

Sincerely yours,

David

Essay Extract: The Liturgy of the Year

David Russell Mosley

English: Ash Wednesday, watercolor, 78 x 113 c...

English: Ash Wednesday, watercolor, 78 x 113 cm (detail) Polski: Popielec, akwarela, karton, 78 x 113 cm (frag.) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

First Week of Advent
3 December 2013
On the Edge of Elfland Beeston, Nottinghamshire

Dear Friends and Family,

Here is an excerpt of an essay I am working on provisionally entitle ‘The Reclamation of Time’. I thought it would provide a good accompaniment to my letter from yesterday. Please, let me know what you think in the comments below.

The Liturgy of the Year

I want to begin, then, with the liturgy of the year. This is the macro-level at which Christians can look at time. As each year roles through, beginning with Ad- vent in late November or early December and ending in Ordinary Time in late No- vember, a kind of non-identical repetition emerges. The movable dates, like Advent, Ordinary Time, Ash Wednesday, Easter, etc., are now on different dates and some- times different days of the week. Nevertheless, despite the change, they remain in many ways the same, Ash Wednesday is still Ash Wednesday, Lent is still a time of fasting. However, we are different, the year is different, and the readings are differ- ent. Our experience of any particular date will change from year to to year and yet the structure remains the same. This is the big picture, which tells the story of Christ’s coming to Earth, his life during that time, his death, his resurrection, his as- cension, and his sending of the Holy Spirit. In between the major feasts (besides the lesser festivals and Saints’ Days) are the seasons that accompany them. Seasons of feasting and fasting. It is at this level that Christian explores the notion that all of his- tory is pointed toward the coming and return of Christ, that time, on a grand scale, is here to tell that story. The roots of the Christian year, can be found in the Scriptures, to which I shall now briefly turn.

David Russell Mosley

That there is a religious calendar for the ancient Hebrews is indisputable. When it came into its final form is beyond my purview. The point is that for the He- brew people, the theological and cultic ancestors of Christianity, the year was to be viewed through the lens of the various celebrations and commemorations of God’s actions in the history of Israel. The question then becomes, is this something, on the macro level, that was taken on by early Christianity. This seems equally clear from Luke’s use of Pentecost in Acts as well as Paul’s mention of it in 1 Corinthians 16.8. Still, however, there is little mention of any other major celebrations or commemora- tions in the works of the New Testament. It is, perhaps, a bit inconclusive to what extent the earliest Christians were beginning to think of the year in terms of God’s interactions with humanity throughout history, and especially in the sending of His Son. Nevertheless, with celebrations of the Old Testament in their blood, it at least provides a foundation on which to build a more intentional understanding of the year rather than a simple progression of months and seasons.

As the year developed over the centuries, it worked itself, like the Hebrew calendar before it, around the comings of God into human history. Louis Bouyer writes, ‘God’s intervention in the history of mankind since the Fall, God’s word mak- ing itself more and more perfectly heard and understood by men, all this Divine ac- tion seems from the beginning to be founded on one clearly defined objective:––the formation, out of common and fallen humanity, of a people which should eventually be God’s Own People.’1 These interventions, as he calls them,2 are for one purpose, to create a community known as the People of God. Thus in the yearly celebrations of God’s interactions with humanity, the people who celebrate form that very com- munity. They participate in the divine actions by commemorating them and even re- enacting them by their very celebrations. Bouyer writes concerning the homilies of

men like Gregory of Nazianzus and Leo the Great, ‘On every page, these [homilies] remind us of the fact that in the liturgical year we are not only making a commemo- ration of the past but also actually living again the realities on which we are meditat- ing with the Church.’3 The Church, which is forming itself and being formed into the People of God by participation in the celebrations and solemnities of the Church Year, is also participating in the realities being celebrated. In Advent we await the first and now also the second coming of Christ; in Christmas and Epiphany we live again the reality of his incarnation; in Lent we relive the reality of his death; in Easter his Resurrection and defeat of sin and death; in Pentecost, his sending of the Spirit. Even in Ordinary time we relive with the Church the reality of the times be- tween God’s obvious interactions with history. All of this points us ultimately to the return of Christ. Schmemann, commenting on Pentecost, writes, ‘No matter what the original liturgical expression of Pentecost may have been, its preservation in the Church––as the fifty day period following Easter––points again to the Christian ‘adoption’ of a definite understanding of the year, of time, of the natural cycles, as having a relation to the eschatological reality of the Kingdom.’4 In fact, as Bouyer argues, the Church Year is both an expression of the Word and Mystery entrusted to the Church, but it is also a kind of creation of that Mystery. That is, by participating in the liturgy, the Church calls forth Christ in the mystery. As he writes:

For the liturgical year, seen as a whole, is the great proclamation by the Church of the Word with which she is entrusted. In the celebration of the li- turgical year, therefore, the Mystery is proclaimed, communicated and par- ticipated in. Since the liturgy is, according to the fine phrase of Pius XI, “the principal organ of the ordinary magisterium of the Church,” and as liturgy is all set out within the framework of the liturgical year, the framework contains not only an expression of the Mystery, working by faith through charity and tending toward its final revelation. For the Word of the Mystery cannot be so solemnly proclaimed by the Church without thereby creating what it proclaims.5

The importance of the year cannot be underemphasises. It is preeminent to all the other liturgies of time which follow it. Therefore, I shall now move from the liturgy of the year to the liturgy of the week. It is, perhaps, interesting to note that there is no real liturgy of the month. This could possibly be the case because Christians, in part due to the Julian calendar and a rejection of things that appeared too Jewish, no longer followed a lunar calendar. It is also likely, however, that as the seasons of the Church Year developed, this implicitly became their liturgy of the month, or more appropriately, their liturgy of the season. Thus rather than having twelve months the Christian Year has six seasons (five if Epiphany is only a feast day and not a season).

Sincerely yours,
David Russell Mosley

1 Louis Bouyer, Life and Liturgy (London: Sheed and Ward, 1965), 23.
2 I would prefer a different word here from intervention, perhaps interjection, though even that provides too deist an account of the God who upholds the cosmos at all times.
3 Louis Bouyer, Life and Liturgy (London: Sheed and Ward, 1965), 186-7.
4 Alexander Schmemann, Introduction to Liturgical Theology trans by Asheleigh Moorhouse (London: The Faith Press, 1966), 69.
5 Louis Bouyer, Life and Liturgy (London: Sheed and Ward, 1965), 189.

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Happy Michaelmas: Celebrating the Reality of Angels

David Russell Mosley

 

Icona della Chiesa Ortodossa Russa dell' Assem...

Icona della Chiesa Ortodossa Russa dell’ Assemblea dell’Arcangelo Michele. Tempera su legno. La rappresentazione dei sette arcangeli. Michele al centro, sopra la mandorla di Cristo. Gabriele and Raffaele in piedi a fianco rispettivamente a sinistra e destra. Dietro di loro, da sinistra a destra Jehudiel, Selaphiel, Uriel, e Baraquiel. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Michaelmas 2013
On the Edge of Elfland
Beeston, Nottinghamshire

Dear Friends and Family,

Today is what is often called in the Church Calendar Michaelmas or Michael and All Angels. Today we celebrate the fact that we are not alone in worshipping and serving the Lord our God. There are troops, whole companies of angels who do his will, his bidding.

Perhaps this is just my own problem, but I certainly often find myself forgetting about angels. I spend so much time, at least in my own head, combatting popular theology which says children or all people become angels when they die (because they do not), that I forget to give proper thought to real angels. The Scriptures are replete with angels and the hosts of the Lord. Last night for Vespers I read accounts of Elisha being surrounded by fiery chariots and a great host, the same it would seem he saw taking Elijah. This morning, the passages I’ve read have either centred on how the angels also worship the Lord, how they help Christians in our times of need, like Peter in Acts 12, or how they combat the devil and his demons (Revelation 7). The truth of the matter is angels are not only very much real, but the good ones are working alongside us to spread the Gospel, the story of God incarnate, of salvation, redemption, deification.

So do not, like me, forget the angels, but also do not worship them, they never allow it themselves, and they are just as created as we are. I would argue that because we are related to angels through our intellect, just as we are related to all creation through our materiality and the lower levels of our soul, and just as all that creation will be lifted up with us in the final days, so too will the angels be raised up through us, because we have a share in them. This is the idea that humanity is a microcosm, a little version of all things created, being related to all things in creation. This includes angels for angels are intellect and we have intellect (just as rocks are material and so are we; or plants seek nutrients just as we do; or animals emote and move, etc., and so do we. Because we are a microcosm and all things are related to us, as we are deified all things will be raised up with us, this must include angels who are part of Creation. Thus we should not worship them, but welcome them, sing their praise, be thankful to and for them, and allow them to lead us closer to Christ.

I leave you with the Collect for today:

12th century icon of the Archangels Michael an...

12th century icon of the Archangels Michael and Gabriel wearing the loros of the Imperial guards. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Everlasting God,
you have ordained and constituted the ministry of angels and mortals in a wonderful order:
grant that as your holy angels always serve you in heaven,
so, at your command,
they may help and defend us on earth;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.

 

Sincerely yours,
David Russell Mosley

My Time with the Monks

David Russell Mosley

26 September 2013
On the Edge of Elfland
Beeston, Nottinghamshire

Dear Friends and Family,

Lauren’s parents left us bright and early this morning at 4:45 after a tearful good-bye. It’s been a good visit with lots of time to relax. This trip did, however, mean for me no time to do a proper post on how I spent my weekend before my in-laws arrived.

From the 13 to the 15 of September I stayed at Mucknell Abbey down near Worcester, Worcestershire. There I lived and prayed with the monks and nuns. Mucknell Abbey is an Anglican Benedictine Monastery with about 12 Brothers and Sisters. I went there both to refresh my soul and to discern the Lord’s will for some things coming in our future. What I got, in many ways was so much more.

One of the first things I realised when I had spent just a few hours at the Abbey is that I’ve become too dependent on technology to fill the silences in my life. I tend to describe myself as a self-abnegating  neo-Luddite. IMG_0704Well I certainly despised myself for how often I would turn to my phone (having left my computer behind) during the silences in my room at the abbey.

I had brought a few books with me, two of them unnecessary as it turns out, as well as a couple of journals to record any thoughts or ideas I had while there. Nevertheless, having no one else there with me to talk to about these experiences made it difficult for me. I am most definitely a people person, but I need to learn to better appreciate disconnected solitude. In the end, I think I would have been better off bringing my computer so I could do some writing for my thesis or for fun. Equally, an option I did not take advantage of or perhaps should have, was to do some work with the monks and nuns of the abbey. I would have loved to work in the garden, but thought I should try for almost total seclusion. In the end, this was a bad idea for me.

The morning of the second day was perhaps the worst and the best. As I said, I went to discern the Lord’s will on some choices I had before me. In the silences of the abbey, my soul was laid bare. All the fears and doubts, all my trepidations were laid out before me. I could hear the voices telling me I wasn’t good enough, I was too sinful, this was too hard. I spent much of my time wandering about the grounds of the abbey, taking in the beauty, and arguing with myself, the tempters, and God.IMG_0713

 

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In the end, the main thing that saved me were the divine hours. These monks keep seven hours, or at least seven in which I was allowed to participate: Readings at 6; Lauds at 7; Terce at 8:45; Eucharist at 12; None at 2:15; Vespers at 5:30; and Compline at 8:30. IMG_0707I only had one full day of the hours, but it was so very moving. In the divine hours time and eternity meet in Liturgy. You begin to understand what time is in the hours. You learn that time is, like you, a creature of the Creator, longing for its own transfiguration, longing to more resemble Eternity in which it participates. In the hours you learn that time was made for us, not us for time. Time is our brother, not our master nor out slave. We work together with time to proclaim the Lord’s Incarnation, the Lord’s death, the Lord’s resurrection, and the Lord’s promised return. Both before and since my time at the abbey, I have tried to keep three of the hours, for me, Mattens, Sext, and Vespers. I’m not always successful, but I will continue to work at it.

My time at the abbey was difficult. It was perhaps one of the hardest things I’ve had to do in a long time, but it showed me God. God’s glory, God’s will were in those brief moments I allowed myself of silence and in the longer moments when I read were made clear to me. In the weeks to come I will be able to divulge more about why I went to the abbey, but for now all I can is highly recommend going to a monastery if you have things you need to sort out with God, and to make sure that you work as well as pray while you’re there. Below are some more pictures from my time at the abbey.

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Sincerely yours,
David Russell Mosley

What’s in a Name? Or, Why I Changed the Name of My Blog

David Russell Mosley

 

10 September 2013
The Edge of Elfland
Beeston, Nottinghamshire

Dear Friends and Family,

For a long time now, I have contemplated changing the name of this blog. If I could change the web address as well without loosing comments or stats (and if I can and you know how, please tell me), I would. The reason I have wanted to change the name has only recently dawned on me: It is unlikely I will spend the rest of my life in Nottingham. Being an American citizen aside, even were I to find work here, it is unlikely that work would forever keep me in Nottingham. Nevertheless, I see a future for this blog. It has served me well in discussions adjacent to the academia, fully in the Church, and often from my own life.

The reason I’ve changed the name to Letters from the Edge of Elfland, perhaps requires a bit more explanation. Or perhaps not since my last few posts have centred around Faerie and theology. Nevertheless, allow me to give a brief explanation. In some of my favourite stories the main characters always seem to live right on the edge of Faerie, or Elfland (the terms being interchangeable). Anodos in MacDonald’s Phantastes not only has his bedroom turn into a forest, but it is a forest on the edge of Faerie; The Pevensies move into a house with a Wardrobe that leads to Faerie; even Frodo and Sam  and Merry and Pippin live near the Grey Havens from where the Elves sail to Valinor. The idea is that we are always living right on the edge, the balance between the natural and the supernatural (or in the case of Faerie the natural and the extra-natural). So wherever I am, it will be true to say that I am on the edge of Elfland, for I will always be at the intersection of Heaven and Earth, Faith and Reason, Super-nature and Nature, Elfland and the World.

This does not mean I’m only going to write about fantasy literature from now on, or poetry, though I will continue to write about those things. My posts will continue to be a mix of theological reflection, extracts from my scholarly work, reflections on the Church and the Christian Life, reflections on my own life as a Christian, husband, theologian, PhD Student, and someday soon (I pray) PhD graduate. Nevertheless, as my time here in Nottingham winds down, I thought a change here at the blog was in order. This way, no matter where I am, my letters to you will always be coming from the edge of Elfland.

 

Sincerely yours,
David Russell Mosley

Easter: He is Risen

English: Icon of the Resurrection

English: Icon of the Resurrection (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Dear Friends and Family,

Today we celebrate the risen Christ. Let us remember the victory we have in Jesus. Death is defeated. Not only are our sins forgiven, but we are being made new; not only  are we being made new, but Christ is saying to us, “I say you are gods.” Let us celebrate the new reality that Christus Victor brings.

Yours,
David

An Easter Prayer and Response

Death is swallowed up in victory.
Where, O death, is your sting?
Christ is risen from the dead,
the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.
Death is swallowed up in victory.
The trumpet will sound
and the dead shall be raised.
Where, O death, is your sting?
We shall not all sleep,
but we shall be changed.
Death is swallowed up in victory.
Where, O death, is your sting?

John 20:1-18

English Standard Version Anglicised (ESVUK)

20 Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” So Peter went out with the other disciple, and they were going towards the tomb. Both of them were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. And stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there, and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples went back to their homes.

11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. 12 And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14 Having said this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her,“Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher).17 Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her.