I am very grateful to Natacha Tinteroff who has written this week’s lectionary blog. Natacha is a theologian with special interests in the areas of ecclesiology and liturgy. She lives in Paris and worships in Anglican churches in Paris and London.
Natacha takes the lectionary Gospel , Matthew 22.34-46 for this coming Sunday (October 25) as her starting point for an exploration of the role that ‘the mind’ has in Anglican tradition and theology, and leads from this to reflect on the contribution that Anglicans can make to Christian unity.
After Natacha’s reflection a couple of web references are given to articles and sites of interest.
Clare Amos; Director of Lay Discipleship, Diocese in Europe
‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind’ (Matthew 22, 37)
With my grateful thanks to Revd Dr. Richard Fermer, incumbent of Grosvenor Chapel, London and and to Revd Dr Alan Piggot, assistant priest, Grosvenor Chapel, London
In a scene of Shakespeare’s play Henry VIII, Cardinal Wolsey, meeting with Catherine of Aragon, Henry’s first wife, tries to engage with her in Latin. She interrupts him quickly: ‘O, good my lord, no Latin; I am not such a truant since my coming, As not to know the language I have lived in’ (Henry VIII, Act 3, scene 1). The language I have lived in, the language we have lived in: in the context of today’s Gospel, the language we have lived in sends us back to the meaning of the commandment given to us by Jesus, in the particular setting of mainland Europe, where we live and worship while belonging to the Church of England.
‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind’. This commandment, also recorded by Luke 10.27 and Mark 12.30, has come to us from the Book of Deuteronomy though with a most important difference. While Deuteronomy mentions that ‘you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might’ (Deuteronomy 6.5), ‘the mind’ is found in the version given by the Evangelists. This new addition confers a distinctive Christian outlook and perspective to the first commandment. In Hebraic culture, In Hebraic culture, most notably in the Old Testament, the heart and the soul were not deemed to be the seat of feelings or mind. The heart was where humans made their decisions in relationship with God, while the soul was the animating dynamic brought by God within humans, which made them alive. By incorporating the mind with the heart and the soul, Jesus expected humans to live and decide mindfully, under the guidance of His Father, constantly looking and discerning for His will and love. This approach of Christian discipleship has been received in a particular way by the Anglican tradition.
Indeed, we Anglicans ‘are held together in communion by the characteristic way in we use Scripture, tradition and reason in discerning afresh the mind of Christ for the Church in each generation’ (1997 Virginia Report of the Inter Anglican Theological and Doctrinal Commission, London, Anglican Consultative Council, 1997, III, 1, 3.5). This balanced approach contrasts with Roman Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant doctrines. If, since the 17th century, the Church of England has traditionally considered Scripture to contain all things necessary to salvation and to constitute the ultimate standard of faith, it also has held that the reading and understanding of the scriptural text comes through the lenses of tradition and reason. Those three sources are never taken separately. They combine in a dynamic way to make the truth of God constantly emerging afresh in each and every context. Within that way of living the Christian faith, our comprehension of the Gospel‘s truth can never be absolute. It forbids at the same time a hazardous formulation of an irrevocable doctrine as well as an unquestioning submission of the faithful to the teaching of a terrestial authority supposed to interpret authenticallythe Word of God.
Consequently, each one of us and every Anglican is invested with the responsibility of bearing witness to the truth resulting from our ‘quest for the divine through the use of human reason’ (Michael Ramsey, The Anglican Spirit, Cambridge, MA, Cowley Publications, 1992, p. 31), which can be defined as ‘the divine gift in virtue of which human persons respond and act with awareness in relation to their world and to God, and are opened up to that which is true for every time and every place’ (1997 Virginia Report, supra, 3, III, 1.9). As it was emphasized by biblical scholar and former bishop of Durham, Brooke Foss Westcott, commenting on our commandment, ‘those who are “in Christ” are bound to serve God with their whole being, with their intellect no less than their heart and their strength and their substance’ ( B.F.Westcott, Christian Aspects of Life, London, Macmillan and Co., 1897, p. 32).
Serving God with and through our intellect, always in connexion with the the heart and the soul, is certainly not a task just for a brainy elite or academic theologians. It is the duty of every Christian seeking to answer to Jesus’ first commandment. As it was emphasised by former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, ‘any Christian beginning to reflect on herself or himself within the body of Christ is in that act doing theology’ (R. Williams, ‘Theological Education is for everyone’, Christianity today, 19 August 2020). That is why theological education is of utmost importance for the Christian formation of all, including children or people with learning difficulties. It is not about accumulating knowledge but about growing with and through our minds in the love of God, ‘learning more about the world that faith creates, or the world that faith trains us to inhabit’ (R. Williams, ‘Theological Education is for everyone’). As Anglicans, it is perhaps our specific vocation to be continuously engaged in doing theology, in the true sense of reflecting on the things of God in the light of scripture, tradition and reason, individually and corporately. What can seem very theoretical is actually very practical.
Some of us may describe themselves as Bible-centred while others may regard themselves as traditionalists or liberals more shaped by tradition and reason respectively. However, like it or not, things are not that simple. Many of those for whom scripture is the sole acknowledged authority may be led by tradition and reason more than they are willing to acknowledge. Meanwhile, those for whom tradition and reason are most important may rely more on the Bible than they commonly affirm. Beyond our own individual sensitivities, it is a fact that reading the Scriptures in our individual Christian lives and hearing the word proclaimed in corporate worship is an essential part of our Anglican belonging. Yet it is also a fact that in our tradition we respond dynamically to the Gospel by constantly discerning what the Word of God has to say to us afresh, where we are now, in our own context. Whether we are looking at the large tragedies or the small questions of life, according to the ‘Anglican Way’, we refer to the Scriptures while grasping what they mean to us in our present situation, in the light and in dialogue with the “mind of the Church” borne by its life, worship and teaching as well as of what seems reasonable to us. This approach nurtures and feeds the mind by which we love God and by extension the way we witness to the Word Incarnate. Nobody has a monopoly on the truth of the Gospel; each mind is equally important and contributes to the discernment of the ‘mind of Christ’ for the Church.
This unique approach involves our very own Anglican language, which we have indwelt in our diocese since 1842. It fosters our religious experience outside the geographical limits of England and transcends our linguistic differences – English being a second language for many of us. In a continent where Anglicans constitute a small minority and whose ecclesiological model is little known, how can the ‘Anglican way’ of loving the Lord enrich the one church so that it can serve Christ better?
Since its beginnings, Anglicanism has been characterized by its lack of self-consciousness, if compared to other Christian traditions. During the course of history and especially during the last two centuries, Anglicans have tended to understand themselves as non-denominational Christians. Yet Anglicanism has also been described as being ‘a provisional prototype of the reunited Ecumene [the one and unified Church], the world-christianity of the future’ (W.H. Van de Pol, Anglicanism in Ecumenical Perspective, Pittsburgh, Duquesne University Press, 1965, p. 34). We have seen that in Anglicanism the three main sources of authority namely Scripture, Tradition and Reason live together in tension and that no authority or no individual is empowered with a privilege of interpreting exclusively the truth of the Gospel. This model comes to us from 16th England where an historic process of contextualization saw a local-modelling of the one Church.
The British experience of this time was marked by a will of balancing within one structure the plurality of factions ranging from the catholic traditionalists to formerly exiled Protestants. This inclusivity generally involved a rejection of the catholic and protestant elements as exclusive systems and relied on the assumption that the wholeness of the Christian truth could be achieved only by the reconciliation of opposites that when held in tension become complementary rather than contrary. As we know, the reality on the ground can differ greatly from the theory. What we may encounter now is a reluctant and broken co-habitation, which actually in some places has become exclusive of the other. However, our paradigm of reconciliation still supplies a unique framework that could open new paths for us if we are willing to rediscover it as well as in our journey towards Christian unity, and even for all, in our aggressively secularized world that constantly looks for reconciliation, especially in these troubled times.
Gracious God, As you call us to love you with our souls, hearts and minds, nurture us to be good ground into which your seeds of love can grow. Help us to embrace opportunities for theological and spiritual formation. Allow us to be transformed afresh by your living Word and to discern your presence in our lives and your mind for us. We give you thanks for the gift of the Anglican Communion of churches. You have called us in the Body of your Son Jesus Christ to continue his work of reconciliation and reveal you to the world: forgive us the sins which tear us apart; give us the courage to overcome our fears and to seek that unity which is your gift and your will; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord.
(Prayers partly inspired by Common Worship, Times & Seasons, Epiphany, Collect for Unity, Unity F1 (https://www.churchofengland.org/prayer-and-worship/worship-texts-and-resources/common-worship/churchs-year/times-and-seasons/epiphany#mmm89)
The article on Theological Education for Everyone that Natacha refers to, in which Rowan Williams speaks of his vision can be found at: https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2020/august-web-only/rowan-williams-theological-education-for-everyone.html
The Anglican Communion Office, while I worked there as Director of Theological Education, produced a succinct, but helpful definition of ‘the Anglican Way’ which can be found at https://www.anglicancommunion.org/theology/theological-education/the-anglican-way.aspx
I have always, personally, cherished the following comment by Archbishop Michael Ramsey setting out his vision of a key contribution that the Anglican tradition can make towards Christian unity. It connects with the remark of W.H.Van de Pol above:
‘While the Anglican Church is vindicated by its place in history, with a strikingly balanced witness to the gospel, to the Church and to sound learning, its greater vindication lies in pointing through its own history to something of which it is a fragment. Its credentials are its incompleteness, with the tension and travail in its soul. It is clumsy and untidy; it baffles neatness and logic. For it is sent not to commend itself as the “best type of Christianity”, but by its very brokenness to point to the universal Church wherein all have died.’