"From William Temple to George Herbert"
Anglican Origins: Prayer and Holiness
The Most Rev'd Rowan Williams,
Archbishop of Wales
Saturday, 25th May 2002, at St Peter's, Eastern Hill.
Thank you all for being here.
I've decided today to introduce you to some of what I regard as the leading and formative themes in the development of the Anglican identity since the sixteenth century. And you will have noticed that the title reads slightly oddly "From William Temple to George Herbert" and probably most of you will be aware that George Herbert died a couple of years before William Temple was thought of! But I hope that as the day unfolds you will see why I have chosen to approach the question in this way.
There's a saying which I think originates with the French, Catholic poet Charles Péguy that "everything begins in mysticism and ends in politics!". My goal today is, in a sense, to begin with politics and end with mysticism. That's to say, I'd like to trace the lineaments of developing Anglican identity by beginning to look at the way in which Anglicanism has engaged with society, and from there to try and unfold how Anglicanism nurtures and preserves its sense of the divine mystery. Because in a way, to put those two figures on the table in the beginning William Temple and George Herbert is already to indicate one of the obvious polarities in people's perception of the Anglican tradition. On the one hand, you have a figure who is very clearly, very manifestly a public person. Born, as William Temple was, into the very heart of the establishment his father was Archbishop of Canterbury, he had been headmaster of a major public school, he had been prominent in church politics and national issues Temple stands for a particular kind of Anglican identity which sees itself at the centre of the social order. Temple used that position to argue for reforms and re-imaginings of the social order, and it has been said with some truth that Temple has been one of the major architects of the post-war welfare state in Britain.
But we are all aware of the way in which that tradition of engagement has not always come over quite so benignly in Britain or elsewhere; that the Anglican conviction of being at the centre of things doesn't do a great deal of justice to other Christians, let alone people of other faiths or of no faith, and the assumption of effortless superiority on the part of the Church of England, both within Christendom and within British society, can be rather wearing, even for other Anglicans in the United Kingdom (but that's another story...)
And then there is George Herbert, someone who turned his back very conspicuously and deliberately on public life, who had been public orator of Cambridge University, close to the Royal Family and the leading social and cultural circles of his day, and who chose to live his life (and to die prematurely) as a country priest writing of course, as he did, an unforgettable digest of advice to country clergy, and a unique corpus of poetry, the mystical intensity and contemplative imagination of which is as substantial and as striking as anything you will find in European literature.
Herbert, in one sense, turns away from the obvious social leverage that William Temple represents, to a sense of silence, of frustration even, and darkness. Don't imagine for a moment (I'll say more about this later) that Herbert is best represented by the sweet and quaint extracts which we sometimes sing from our hymn books. Herbert's deepest and darkest poems are very disturbing reading indeed.
But you may perhaps now be beginning to see why I've chosen these two figures, in that order. Temple as standing for what many people see as the historical essence of Anglicanism, and Herbert for another hidden stream, as you might say, within the tradition. Do these connect? How do they connect? And what Christian integrity is represented by the connection? What Christian integrity that has something valid and important to say in the whole conversation of Christianity?
Now in a sense that's all I have to say, because in the rest of the day my job will really be to introduce you to a number of writers, to various passages, to themes and ideas that crop up across the centuries of Anglican history to try and answer the question with which I have begun. And since William Temple stands first in the title of today, let me read you a bit of William Temple.
Here is Temple writing, quite early in his career in the 1920s, about "Church, Christendom and Kingdom":
The Church is the fellowship of Christ's disciples, welded together by the operation of His Spirit within them into the organised society which is His Body. It may contain a small or a large proportion of the citizens of any country where it works. It's own distinctive activity is worship, the imparting and receiving of the Word and Sacraments. As they thus serve Him, they leaven society; and so there grows up a whole civilisation which is in greater or less degree Christian, in the sense that it is moulded by the principles of the gospel. This takes place in many countries; and those countries form Christendom. The Church is not the nations, though the nations are within the Church. The difference between them is not in membership but in function. It is still the business of the Church to inspire; it is the business of the nations and their citizens to act on that inspiration in the various affairs of life.
Now there, I suggest, is a very interesting and clear statement of that vision of Anglican identity, and indeed Christian identity, which sees the life of the church at the heart of things, pervading the structures of society, the church remaining in some sense a body given distinctness by its worship, and yet with its boundaries being fairly open. Notice that interesting phrase that the difference between the nations and the church is not in membership but in function. That is a very deeply rooted Anglican idea. The church is not a society over against other societies; the church is members of one society functioning in a particular way. The roots, as I say, are very deep in Anglican history and thinking, and Temple is there, I suppose, giving expression to that vision which is most classically put forward just before 1600, by the great Richard Hooker, for whom the church and the commonwealth were essentially one body. The church is, for Hooker, English society at prayer in England, and anywhere else the church is Scottish, or Swiss, or French, or German (or whatever) society at prayer.
We shouldn't suppose too quickly that that means a narrow pietist or private sense of what Christian identity and Christian worship is about. Temple was very clear about that, and in another quotation from a later work, a work interestingly published under the title of "Citizen and Churchman", Temple expresses what for many people is again a classical Anglican sense of how worship is the drawing together and the offering to God of what is happening in society: He writes there that in the eucharist:
...we bring familiar forms of economic wealth, which is always the product of man's labour exercised upon God's gifts, and offer them as symbols of our earthly life.... Because we have offered our 'earthly' goods to God, He gives them back to us as heavenly goods, binding us into union with Christ in that self-offering which is His royalty.... The Eucharist, divorced from life loses reality; life devoid of worship loses direction and power.
So for Temple, as for a good many other Anglican theologians of that generation around the 1940s and 50s, the renewal of worship is itself a social and political agenda. It is to do with the offering of human goods to God so that they may be received back as divine goods, and through that receiving of divine goods, society itself is bit by bit transformed, or at the very least, permeated, soaked through in some degree by the Christian vision and Christian practice.
Temple stands, as I have said, very much at the centre of the social order, consciously, effortlessly, managing from the heart of things. But it's strange to think that a vision very like Temple's can be expressed by a much more marginal character in 20th Century Anglicanism to whom I want to turn next. Not at all a well known figure for the majority of the people in the Anglican church, even in his own country, but a theologian of astonishing originality and power. I am speaking here of the American lay theologian, William Stringfellow. A lawyer, as he would have said himself an amateur theologian, an enthusiast for art, comedy and the circus, a self-proclaimed homosexual in the days when it was not fashionable to be that in the church, even in the United States, a man whose theological reading was extraordinarily wide, and who met the great Karl Barth when Barth visited the United States, drawing from Barth an endorsement which any professional theologian would have given their right arm for. Barth, in a public discussion session in Chicago, turned to Stringfellow and said, "This is the man America should be listening to".
Now Stringfellow, in his work, his witness and indeed his lifestyle a marginal person, says something a little bit similar to Temple in another key. And my reason for turning to Stringfellow is that he, like the great Barth, is a very consistent critic of religiousness. Just like Temple, he refuses to believe that the Christian community is a community alongside others. If you take that line, Stringfellow argues, then religion becomes a human activity like other human activities. Some people like golf at weekends and some people like religion. It is really a matter of temperament and taste and consumer choice. "Personally", writes Stringfellow,
I find no cause to be interested in mere religion. It can be certain diversion, I admit, to speculate and argue about religious ideas and practices, but I am no longer in college, and my law practice does not often permit the luxury of hypothetical and speculative matters. It appears to me more urgent and more necessary to deal with history, that is, with actual life.... So I do not bother with dabbling in religion. And if, as it may in my own lifetime turn out, Protestantism like Zen or 'religious science' or other sects is or becomes only an institution of religion devoted to its own maintenance and the practice of religion for its own sake, then I am just not superstitious enough to remain a Protestant.
But when, now and then, I turn to and listen to the Bible, or when, now and then, I hear the Word of God exposed in preaching, or when now and then I see the Gospel represented in the Holy Communion,... I discern and encounter the presence of God's Word in the ordinary affairs of everyday existence in the world on these occasions, in these circumstances, I am reminded, if sometimes ruefully, that the Gospel is no mere religion in any essential respect.
He goes on a little later:
The Christian faith is distinguished... from mere religion in that religion begins with the proposition that some god exists. Christianity, meanwhile, is rejoicing in God's manifest presence among us. Religion describes human beings, mind you, usually sincere and honourable and intelligent ones, searching for God or, more characteristically searching for some substitute for God that is, some idea of what God may be like or would be like and then worshipping that idea and surrounding that substitution with dogma and discipline. But the gospel tells when and how and why and where God has sought us and found us and offered to take us into God's life.
Strong stuff and you can see why Karl Barth liked him. But the point that Stringfellow is making is that religion is precisely a human activity like other human activities distinguished only by its object. The focus is on what human beings do. But what if the focus is somewhere else? What if the focus is on God's action and God's initiative? Well that may be encountered almost anywhere, and when it is encountered it is encountered in such a way as to open your eyes and sensitise your perception to see it again in other unlikely situations. And Stringfellow repeatedly contrasted being a religious person with being a biblical person. For him, being a biblical person was being someone who understood that they were addressed and summoned, that they were under judgement, that God's initiative had already overtaken them, changing the whole frame of moral and spiritual reference in which they lived. And, says Stringfellow, the one thing that that is not about is leisure activities.
Now I hope you can see some of the connection that there is there between Temple and Stringfellow. Wildly dissimilar figures in all kinds of way, and I don't quite know how they would have got on with each other had they ever met. And yet what they had in common is precisely a resistance to the idea that faith is capable of being compartmentalised, because that would be mere religion in Stringfellow's sense. And that means that the church has got to be something a bit more a bit different from merely the expression of loyal, religious solidarity. And what that something more and something different is isn't easy to discern. For Temple, speaking from the heart of English establishment, it means the classic ethos of the Church of England, present, unobtrusively but very definitely and firmly, in the midst of the social order. For Stringfellow, working as a lawyer in the back streets of Harlem, living on legal aid payments for undertaking the defence of unlikely young criminals in the worst slums of New York, for Stringfellow, not surprisingly, it's a bit different from Temple. But something of the same comes across. Here is a practice of living before God which cannot simply be cordoned off into something called "religion" with a special object called "God" and special things that keep God happy which religious people do.
Now what I want to suggest is that this represents one of the earliest impulses of the Anglican reformation. And I want to wind the reel back now to the 16th century, to look at some of the founding fathers (mostly fathers, there are one or two mothers), founding parents of the Anglican identity in the early 16th Century, because what I want to argue is that this unease about the church or faith or Christian religion as an area among others in human life is what pervades much of the most powerful literature of the first reformed generations in the 16th Century.
I turn first to William Tyndale, great biblical translator and reformed theologian, a better theologian than he is sometimes given credit for being. People know him best as a translator, as somebody who reintroduces into the speech of faith in English some of that salty, vernacular touch that you find in the very best of earlier, medieval writing. "So the Lord was with Joseph, and Joseph was a lucky fellow" was one of Tyndale's great phrases from his translation of Genesis. Very often if you look at what the Authorised Version, the King James version, does with Tyndale, you will see a very consistent rear guard action to make Tyndale's English a little bit more restrained. But Tyndale was not just a gifted, pithy and entertaining translator: he was somebody who had a profound and far-reaching vision of the social order. And for him the reformed religion was absolutely bound up with a rethinking of the social order. For Tyndale, God was shown in the world by particular kinds of social relation. The church is the community of those who live in God-like relation to one another. The church is the community of those so overwhelmed by their indebtedness to God's free grace, that they live in a state of glad and grateful indebtedness to one another. The imagery of debt and indebtedness was one that greatly interested Tyndale, and he writes about it very eloquently in his treaties on the parable of the unjust steward in Luke 17, one of the most difficult parables in the New Testament. Tyndale has a very short way with it though. For him, it is a springboard for talking about indebtedness, and he sets up this model of grateful indebtedness against what he sees as a model of Christian or religious practice and thinking which struggles to keep God in your debt. That is for him the antichrist! Any system of religious activity and thinking which tries to give you some leverage over God "I've never denied God a moment of my time I hope he remembers that" that is poisonous to true faith. What's more, it leads to what Tyndale regards as a kind of religious specialism. You develop and explore the whole range of specialist activities, which not everybody can perform, which become the way in which you can keep God in your debt. You create religious institutions which are designed to preserve that divine indebtedness to you, and while you are doing that, you largely ignore the concrete forms of indebtedness towards other human beings to which you ought to be attending. Now Tyndale puts this of course in blunt and practical terms. Why waste money endowing chantry chapels when you could be giving it to the poor? Why spend your life in monastic communities when your first call is to create community within the natural societies you are part of? Are not these chantries and these religious orders just an example of religious specialism trying to keep God in your debt? Now I hasten to add that I don't think Tyndale was entirely right, either about chantries or about religious orders. What I am trying to tease out is why he was so angry about them. And the answer to that is, I think, in terms that both William Temple and William Stringfellow might have recognised. He is protesting, is Tyndale, against "religion", against the separation of that sphere from other spheres of human activity. You don't want to hear me, you want to hear some Tyndale, from his A Pathway into Holy Scripture:
By faith we receive of God, and by love we shed out again. And that must we do freely, after the example of Christ, without any other respect save our neighbour's wealth (sc. "welfare") only; and neither look for reward in the earth, nor yet in heaven, for the deserving and merits of our deeds, as friar's preach; though we know that good deeds are rewarded, both in this life and the life to come. But of pure love must we bestow ourselves, all that we have and all that we are able to do, even on our enemies.
And Tyndale here picks up a favourite idea of Martin Luther, whose works, of course, he was reading at the time. Jesus Christ is not good and generous so that God will be nice to him. Jesus Christ is good and generous because the life of God lives in him. So, if we live in Christ, we aren't good and generous so as to persuade God to be nice to us. We are good and generous because that's where our life lies and we can't in one sense do anything else.
So to indebtedness, and I read from Tyndale's The Parable of the Wicked Mammon:
This order of love or charity, which some dream, the Gospel of Christ knoweth not of, that a man should begin at himself, and serve himself first, and then descend, I know not by what steps. Love seeketh not her own profit (2 Cor. xii); but maketh a man to forget himself, and to turn his profit to another, as Christ sought not himself, nor his own profit, but ours. This term, 'myself', is not in the gospel; neither yet father, mother, sister, brother, kinsman, that one should be preferred in love above another. But Christ is all in all things. Every Christian man to another is Christ himself; and thy neighbour's need hath as good right in thy goods, as has Christ himself, which is heir and lord over all. And look, what thou owest to Christ, that thou owest to thy neighbour's need. To thy neighbour owest thou thine heart, thyself, and all that thou hast and canst do. The love that springeth out of Christ excludeth no man, neither putteth difference between one and another.
And Tyndale goes on to say that your indebtedness is first to the people who are most immediately and obviously under your nose. But when he dealt with that, "if thy neighbours which thou knowest be served, and thou yet have superfluity, and hearest necessity to be among your brethren a thousand miles off, to them art thou debtor". And then, very controversially: "yea, to the very infidels we be debtors if they need".
Tyndale's early Protestant editors put that in square brackets. They thought that that was just a little bit too much for anybody to take on board. But Tyndale, as you can see from the enormous energy of his style, is really getting quite carried away here. If we are really indebted to other human beings, well we are indebted to other human beings, and there's an end of it, and if they happen to be Turks or even papists, well, never mind. We owe them what we owe Christ and we owe Christ everything, and Christ owes God his Father everything because God bestows everything upon him as he does upon us. And so back to where we started, the obvious corollary of this is that our generosity and our goodness comes from the life of Christ living in us, and it is expressed in that sense of perpetual, grateful indebtedness to all. Where there is need, there is love owing.
Interestingly the same theme recurs in a very different writer about half a generation younger than Tyndale, Edwin Sandys, who became Archbishop of York in Queen Elizabeth's reign, where once again the idea that our social ethics is rooted in debt, indebtedness, takes centre stage in Sandys' discussion of the duties of Christian people. Now the point in all this with Tyndale and with some of his followers is, as I have tried to indicate, that the life of the Christian is a way of discharging social relations in such a fashion that God's love is made manifest. Tyndale's assault on late medieval monasticism, the chantry system and various other things, is really an assault on the idea that there are duties owed to God which have nothing to do with human flourishing.
Remember that little phrase that he uses: "our neighbour's wealth only". The shedding of love is to do with the welfare of the neighbour. And to reinterpret acts of love to mean acts of religious devotion at the expense of the practical upbuilding of community, that is, as Tyndale would see it, the work of the antichrist. As I have said, I don't by any means endorse Tyndale's version of what monasticism amounts to. But it is possible to see, if you look at the social patterns of the late middle ages, the degree to which the monastic world, and indeed the clerical world in general, had become a fairly self-contained corporation of skilled professionals whose task was the performance of specifically religious duties. The multiplication of clergy whose job was to say mass for the departed, and that was that, reinforces precisely that sense that the church was a kind of state within the state, another sort of nation.
It has its own laws in the canon law and it has its supreme magistrate in the Bishop of Rome. So Tyndale's protest against monasticism and clericalism becomes very closely interwoven with a political protest against Catholicism seen as a kind of international political network. And one of the things that is very hard when we read the polemic of this period is to understand that very often what reformed controversialists are attacking in Catholicism is what they see as a kind of para-state, an imitation society, an international political network, controlled by a foreign monarch. I don't say they were right, but that's what they saw, and that's what they objected to, and they objected partly out of conventional nationalist reasons, and partly for the theological reasons that Tyndale outlines.
Tyndale, however, failed to persuade Henry VIII that his theology was accurate, and though he was executed on the continent, it was with the full connivance and cooperation of Henry VIII's government and the Bishop of London, a very sinister man called Stokesly. Tyndale died, of course, famously praying: "Lord, open the King of England's eyes". Looking at the subsequent career of Henry VIII, that poses something of a problem for the success of intercessory prayer!
Well you can see why, I hope, the three Williams Tyndale, Temple and Stringfellow have something in common. And it is Tyndale who gives the most vivid, the most unforgettably concrete theological anchorage for this vision in this, I have to say, absolutely marvellous treatise on the parable of the unjust steward, or as he calls it, The Parable of the Wicked Mammon. When I first read that text, which was only a few years ago, it was at a time when issues of debt and indebtedness were featuring very largely in discussions of international politics and when I, like a good many others in Britain, had become very involved in the Jubilee 2000 campaign for the cancellation of international debt. And I am bound to say that Tyndale's work, which completely turns on its head assumptions which we might make about debt, is a powerful, prophetic stimulus to our thinking about the global economy. Do we think first in terms of the debt that the poor owe to the rich? No, says Tyndale, we think first of the debt owed by the rich to the poor, because only that is theologically understandable in the light of the kind of God we have been led to believe in.
But having duly conscripted Tyndale for contemporary purposes, which I do quite shamelessly, I want just to turn briefly to another of the great and very "listenable-to" writers, or speakers of the day, who developed some of his views a little bit further, and that is Bishop Hugh Latimer, the Bishop of Worchester, martyred under Queen Mary, but in the reign of King Edward VI one of the most popular and influential preachers in Britain. Latimer's preaching style, like Tyndale's writing style, is colloquial and brisk, and it has to be said, often very funny indeed. Poor King Edward VI had to sit through hours and hours and hours of sermons in his short life, (doubtless much shortened by these experiences!) but I like to think that when he saw Latimer's name on the list of the Chapels Royal his heart lifted slightly, though I can't imagine that listening to Latimer would ever be boring.
Now Latimer, like Tyndale, is a critic of the monastic philosophy that he sees around him, the closed corporation model of the religious specialist. And in one of his sermons on the Lord's Prayer preached at court, he talks about how the virtues of the monastic life have to be translated into the common life of the Christian household. And he picks up a story from the Desert Fathers:
I read once a story of a holy man, (some say it was St Anthony,) which had been a long season in the wilderness, neither eating nor drinking any thing but bread and water: at the length he though himself so holy, that there should be nobody like unto him. Therefore he desired of God to know who should be his fellow in heaven. God made him answer, and commanded him to go to Alexandria; there he should find a cobbler which should be his fellow in heaven. Now he went thither and sought him out, and fell in acquaintance with him, and tarried with him three or four days to see his conversation. In the morning his wife and he prayed together; then they went to their business, he in his shop, and she about her housewifery. At dinner time they had bread and cheese, wherewith they were well content and took it thankfully. Their children were taught to fear God and say their Pater-noster, and the Creed, and the Ten Commandments; and so he spent his time doing his duty truly. I warrant you, he did not so many false stitches as cobblers do now-a-days. St Anthony perceiving that, came to all knowledge of himself and laid away all pride and presumption. By this example you may learn, that honest conversation and godly living is much regarded before God; insomuch that this poor cobbler, doing his duty diligently, was made St Anthony's fellow. So it appeareth that we be not destituted of religious houses; those which apply their business uprightly and hear God's word, they shall be St Anthony's fellows; that is to say, they shall be numbered among the children of God.
I am bound to say that Latimer treats the story from the Desert Fathers pretty freely. I don't remember the bread and cheese in the sayings of the Desert Fathers, nor indeed the cobbler, but Latimer typically makes a good vivid and contemporary story out of it. But note that phrase: "We be not destituted of religious houses". He is preaching after the dissolution of the monasteries, and he is saying, 'Monasteries have not been dissolved. They have gone domestic'. And the kind of manifestation of God's will and God's ways which we once looked for in monastic life, we must now look for in the life of the Christian household where people learn their prayers and do their duty. And I think you can see how that is one particular outworking, one particular kind of reflection, on the sort of theology that Tyndale is taking for granted.
Temple, Stringfellow, Tyndale, Latimer. All of them people convinced that the graceful initiative of God in Christian life actually impacts on what the social order looks like. Impacts in such a way that you can't restrict its effects to the performance of religious duties, the doing of religious things. It confuses a doctrine of the church and a doctrine of power in many ways, and the confusion is manifest through Anglican history. But it is arguably quite a fruitful confusion. It means that for every Anglican writer who treats theology as a kind of ideology of the existing state of power, you are quite likely to find another one, and you may even find a page in the same writer, in which the same theology is being deployed in order to battle against a restriction of the divine freedom, or the divine initiative, in such a way that God's grace is not allowed to have its proper impact on the ordinary relations of human beings in love and justice and what Tyndale would call mutual indebtedness.
And my last case study is a very different writer from somewhere in between the two chronological extremes I have already mentioned, and that is Samuel Taylor Coleridge, writing early in the 19th Century, in an essay on the constitution of church and state. Curiously, it is a work which Coleridge's best recent biographer, Richard Holmes, totally ignores, and there are a good many readers of Coleridge as poet and critic who have failed to take up his reflections on church and state, because it is assumed that his interest in theology was something of a sideline. Anyone who has read more than a few pages of Coleridge ought to know better, but there we are.
Coleridge's essay on the constitution of church and state is, remarkably, a kind of crystallisation of just the principles I have been trying to outline this morning. It is a long protest against the idea that there can be a single institutional centralised controlled Christian body called 'the church'. The church is something which exists in one sense in God's eyes alone. The church as an international body, the church as a body subsisting through time, that exists from God's perspective, but we are very much astray when we try to identify that church that exists from God's perspective with a visible body here and now. And of course he is, just like Latimer and Tyndale, attacking a particular version of Roman Catholic theology. Now that doesn't mean that the church is invisible, that it is simply the sum total of everybody leading Christian lives. In every specific setting, the church has an identity of its own, because the church does distinctive things back to William Temple and the priority of worship. The church prays, the church studies, reflects, the church offers its worship, the church intercedes, and what's more, on the basis of all that, the church asks good questions, because out of this prayer and this worship the church gradually matures its sense of what a human being is like in such a way that it is equipped to ask awkward questions of the society around. But the distinctiveness of the church lies in these activities, rather than in any clearly demarcated social boundary which would say, here's the church, here's society. And in a fine phrase, Coleridge says that "the church is the friendly opposite of society". It is wherever the church happens, the church is, wherever there is a distinctive gospel-based perspective to be offered in the social context.
And so there are pragmatic ways of organising church life in this or that setting, but there are no ways of building up the church as something in itself outside of its ongoing conversation with the society around. So here is a very vivid apologia for the Church of England as Coleridge understood it, whose theological roots, I would want to suggest, are very much in the vision of Tyndale and Latimer and have quite a bit to do with the vision of Temple and Stringfellow. Coleridge, who is notoriously not a very easy or lucid writer to read, doesn't give you always wholly clearly lines of argument here, but I think if you read this essay closely enough, you will be able to tease out from it some of these theological themes as taken for granted.
Now as a kind of bridge into what I want to say in the next session, let me very briefly take the reflection a stage further. Thus far, I have been arguing that some of our definitive and classical Anglican writers, and I have taken examples from three different eras, are bound in common by a particular vision of the relation of church and society. It is not without its shadows and its ambiguities: that should be clear enough. Yet it has a serious theological principle at its heart, a principle which is quite surprisingly close to some of the ideas of Karl Barth, as William Stringfellow saw. And that principle is that the church is not about "religion" religion as a separable activity. And the commands of God, the ways in which we become not acceptable to God but aligned with God, are to do with our fundamental social relations. Replace that with a doctrine of special religious duties and you have undermined the whole point of a church which witnesses to the priority and freedom of God's action.
But in that vision of a church not bound by religiousness, there is already coming very faintly into focus, a whole attitude to human experience, and the bridge I want to build is from this apparently political and social philosophy and vision towards a nuanced picture of the whole human experience, the human psyche, which I believe comes to light in other kinds of Anglican devotion and theology. You will find it in Hooker, you will find it in Herbert, you will find it in many other poets and also in some Anglican philosophers. And it's the attitude which I have tried to sum up recently in a phrase I rather like (even if nobody else does!) and that is "contemplative pragmatism": that is, an attitude of time-taking, patient, absorbing awareness of the particular situation you're in. Nothing, you may say, distinctively Anglican about that, and perhaps there isn't. But the point is that that is the kind of virtue that a great deal of Anglican literature, from the 16th Century onwards, seems to inculcate: a willingness to look at apparently secular, apparently unpromising situations, to look long enough and hard enough for God to come to light. Which means, a certain suspicion of hasty, gung-ho religious language, a certain suspicion of exaggerated religious experience that is, that God is, yet again, a really exciting leisure activity.
This can turn, and very often in Anglican history did turn, into almost a deliberate cultivation of dryness and dullness. The way in which 18th Century Anglicans, at least, used the word 'enthusiasm' tells us a great deal; because enthusiasm, as you will be aware, is something to be avoided at all costs by decent Anglicans. And although the word had a more robust meaning in the 18th century than it does today, some of the feeling has survived, as you may have noticed. And as the famous remark ascribed, I think, to Bishop Butler addressing John Wesley has it: "Sir, the pretending to extraordinary visions and revelations of the Holy Ghost is a horrid thing, a very horrid thing!". But when one has noted all those not so edifying and not so helpful expressions, one can turn to, and I shall after the break turn to, some slightly less trivial and less maligned examples of it: the sense that comes over very clearly in Hooker, or Herbert, or Henry Vaughan, or for that matter in T.S. Eliot and R.S. Thomas, that the work of God is something which requires an enormously selfless patience to discern, so that external experience as a failure or dryness are not necessarily the marks of spiritual failure.
Nothing particularly Anglican indeed. It's the wisdom which comes through in St John of the Cross, or indeed in Augustine Baker, the Anglo-Welsh mystic of the 17th century, or in Jean Pierre de Cossard in France, rather later on. But there are some very particular ways in which it emerges in the Anglican tradition, and particularly, I would argue, in Anglican lay theologians and writers. And another feature that I want to speak about a little more later on is the degree to which Anglicanism has, from the beginning, fostered and encouraged lay theologies; sometimes theologies which are at a bit of an angle to what the hierarchy would like to see, but nonetheless vivid and interesting for that. And particularly in the modern period, the inspiration to the whole literary world of imagination which Anglicanism has given, has to be seen as part of that distinctive identity that has evolved in this Christian experiment called Anglicanism of which we are the heirs.
I hope I have given you some indication of where I would like to go in the next session in making the links between the world of George Herbert, and I promise that after the coffee break the readings will be a little less prosaic. Though I hope I may have whetted your appetite at least for a bit of Tyndale and Latimer: because they deserve it.
Part Two of this seminar
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