Showing items filed under “October 2016”

Theology Matters: God the Father: How Was This Revelation Handed Down to Us?

"God is always bigger than the boxes we build for God, so we should
not waste too much time protecting the boxes." - Richard Rohr

The complexity of God exceeds our capacity for understanding.  Even in an age of advanced scholarship and information systems, we still rely on metaphors to generate an understanding of that which defies explanation, God.  Any improvement we have experienced in this realm is connected to our ability to cultivate better metaphors or
explanations of those metaphors we still use and cherish.

The origin of God as 'Father' is uncertain, although it is undoubtedly pre-Christian.  The scriptures tell us that we (humans) are made in God's image which supports descriptions that liken God to Mother or Father.  In contrast, Numbers 23:19 reminds us that God is not human. Yet, parental images would be universally understood.  Even as some struggle with their own relationship with their own father or mother,
they can often consider this description of God in terms of what an ideal Mother or Father would be to a child.  Further yet, these images conjure an array of characteristics we attribute to God, protector, care-giver, support, all framed in love that knows no bounds.

The image of God as Father (and Mother) emerges throughout scripture. The prophets of the Hebrews scriptures offer numerous examples, perhaps most notably:
"For you are our father,
    though Abraham does not know us
    and Israel does not acknowledge us;
you, O Lord, are our father;
    our Redeemer from of old is your name." (Isaiah 63:16)

And for good measure:
"For a long time I have held my peace,
    I have kept still and restrained myself;
now I will cry out like a woman in labor,
    I will gasp and pant." (Isaiah 42:14)

Of course, the image of God as Father emerges more fully as Jesus arrives and walks among us.  The vast majority of scriptural references can be found in the Gospels, as Jesus seeks to offer understanding of God.  The emphasis here is such, that if we are
considering how the image of God as 'Father' is formed in Christendom, everything else will pale in comparison.  Jesus depicts God as heavenly Father, caring for all creation.  Jesus also expounds on this image, referencing God Almighty as "my Father" or "my Father in heaven."  Here, I believe I have often been distracted in
contemplating the connection between 'Father' and 'Son' as parts of the Trinity, rather than considering the nature of the Trinity to be realized by relationship itself.

The revelation of God as 'Father' continues prominently through Church history.  Given the prominence of the metaphor throughout Jesus teaching, it is no wonder that our early Church Fathers continue this line of thinking.  Our Creeds explore the notion of God as 'Father,' although in a far more limited capacity than they speak to the other
persons of the Trinity.  The Nicene Creed begins,

"We believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is, seen and unseen."

This represents a mere nine percent of the creed, whether counted as words or
characters.  One could argue that the Father is also characterized in relationship to 'Son' and 'Holy Spirit' later in the creed.  If we are to include those references we may reach 14 percent.  Indeed, even with very few words the Father is attributed a great deal in the Creed.

Perhaps then, we return to the universal nature of this metaphor to see both how it is revealed to us and how it is to be understood. It is not surprising the human history is full of examples of how God is likened to a Father, it the most perfect Fatherhood we might imagine.

It is not surprising that this imagine withstands the tests of timenand continues to expand for us still today.  Even Thomas Aquinas, known for his great theological insight, much of which was captured in his 'Summa Theolgica' noted that he had "not yet begun to understand 'God the Father'.  So, if you are still developing your understanding, you are in good company. 

Posted by The Rev. Paul Klitzke with

Theology Matters: Prayer Book Spirituality

It is a truth frequently stated that Episcopalians are much more concerned with how we worship than the specifics of what we believe. While I disagree that this should be the case (or even that it is, in fact, necessarily the case), this statement gets at something that is very true about the Episcopal Church and the Anglican way of being in general. Ever since the Reformation, the Book of Common Prayer has been not only one of the cornerstones of the modern English language but also, along with the Scriptures, thoroughly foundational to Anglican religious practice. One could argue that Anglicans have a confessional document in the 39 Articles, but many Anglicans (regrettably) do not even know these exist, much less what they say. No, for most Anglicans, what their church believes is expressed in its worship, and the standard for that has always been the Book of Common Prayer.

When the Church of England severed communion with the Bishop of Rome, Thomas Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury at the time, took it upon himself to begin to reform the Church’s services, slowly but surely. The English reformers having been successful in influencing Henry VIII to provide the English Bible for use in every parish church, Cranmer soon set about to do something similar for the service of the Church. When Henry died and his son, Edward VI, rose to the throne, Cranmer had the chance to bring to light the first Book of Common Prayer, promulgated by royal act for use in every parish church in 1549.

The Book of Common Prayer was both revolutionary and conservative. It was revolutionary because, in many ways, it was so markedly different from the late medieval services that the Christians of England were so familiar with. For one thing, it was not in Latin, which even most common priests did not understand, but in English, a tongue much closer to home. For another, Cranmer brilliantly consolidated into one book what previously required a whole bookshelf – one book for the Daily Office, one book for the Eucharist, one book for the pastoral offices, one book just for readings, one book just for music, one book just for the bishop, and so on. He also managed to consolidate the sevenfold and overly-complicated Daily Office used by monks and clergy into a much simpler twofold Office of Morning and Evening Prayer for use by everybody, both laity and clergy. He also did away with some ceremonial whose meaning had become totally lost and detached from its original usage, clearing up a lot of late medieval clutter.

But it was also very conservative because it retained the essentials of what came before it, and it recovered the spirit of what the Church had done in its first 500 years after the descent of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. In his preface to the first Prayer Book, Cranmer stated his intention of restoring the “godly and decent order of the ancient fathers.” Cranmer was not interested in throwing out the baby with the bathwater, and the Book of Common Prayer represents a balanced approach to reform that contrasts markedly with what many reformers on the continent were doing. The Prayer Book shows that the Church of England was interested in retaining set forms of prayer, bishops, priests, and deacons, sacraments, vestments, and things of beauty in the church. It enshrines the ancient Apostles’, Nicene, and Athanasian Creeds, standards of the faith explicated by the ancient councils of the Church. Finally, the Prayer Book ensured that the Bible was read frequently and in its fullness; in fact, large parts of its service are quotes from or allusions to Scripture. The point was to show that the Church of England was not intending, in any way, to sever continuity with the Christians of the first centuries of the Church.

It might be hard to believe but, at the time, the Prayer Book made almost nobody happy. For the reformers it did not go nearly far enough, and for the conservatives it went way too far. Over the course of the next 500 years, the Prayer Book would see some revision, but, overall, it retained its basic nature. Over time, its balanced approach came to be venerated, and Anglicanism echoed its reformed catholicism – returning to the ancient essentials, retaining helpful accretions, and discarding unhelpful ones. The Prayer Book came to be seen as containing a well-balanced system and rule for Christian life, from the font to the grave.

Our 1979 Book of Common Prayer does the same thing. While much of the language is updated and some of it newly composed, in its essentials it does not depart from the spirit of the Prayer Books that went before it. It represents the best of liturgical scholarship at time of its publication in attempting to reshape the forms of the church’s services along the model of the early Church. It is comprehensive, providing services for the great Sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist, along with the lesser sacraments of confirmation, confession, marriage, ordination, and unction, as well as forms of prayer and worship for every stage and season of life and for the daily life of Christian individuals and communities. It is one book for use by all orders of the Church – layperson, bishop, priest, and deacon, secular and monk. It is in the language of the people (including translations in Spanish, French, and other languages used by Episcopalians). It continues to be thoroughly grounded in the Scriptures. It embodies the same reformed catholic ethos grounded in the teaching of the Scriptures that Cranmer and generations after him sought to retain, live, and pass on.

The Book of Common Prayer remains a great gift, for us who use it, and, indeed, to the whole Christian Church. May God give us the grace to guard and to treasure this wonderful inheritance.

The Rev. D. J. Griffin works at Church of the Annunciation in Lewisville

Posted by The Rev. D.J. Griffin with

Priests from throughout the diocese explore religious topics with depth and nuance.