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Tuesday, April 26, 2016

I am a Papist, I Am a Puritan

It is tempting, in religious affairs as in any others, to treat minor disagreements as marks of absolute difference.  So just as Democrats and Republicans, in their squabbles, often lose sight of the fact that they are all equally Americans, so too Protestants and Roman Catholics have historically acted as though only one side or the other could be truly Christian.

John Donne was having none of it -- or at any rate, as little as he could get away with.  In an era when this absolute difference was actually enshrined in law, and yet more deeply in popular culture -- and when Anglicanism itself was torn sharply between its Puritan and Episcopalian sides -- he spent much of his ministry publicly walking a fine line.

On one hand, he was a Protestant's Protestant -- one of the Anglican representatives to the Synod of Dort, much travelled in Germany, disliked by Laud and given to taunting the Jesuits whenever he could.  On the other hand, Donne had been raised Catholic in a family of martyrs (including not one but two Jesuits); his brother had died a prisoner for the old faith, his unconverted mother lived in the Deanery of St Paul's.  Both Donne and his wife were relations of the celebrated martyr St Thomas More, and his movement to Anglicanism had been slow and painful.

It is not rare, in his preaching, for Donne to play with his auditors, coyly offering one side of himself, and depending upon them to remember the existence of the other. Our favorite example is this passage from a sermon on Acts 23:6-7, in which he expands upon Paul's exclamation to the Sanhedrin ("Men, brothers, I am a Pharisee!").  We have re-punctuated for clarity:

Beloved, there are some things in which all religions agree: the worship of God, the holinesse of life; and therefore, if when I study this holinesse of life, and fast and pray and submit my selfe to discreet and medicinall mortifications for the subduing of my body, any man will say “this is Papisticall, Papists doe this,” it is a blessed protestation, and no man is the lesse a Protestant nor the worse a Protestant for making it:  “Men and brethren, I am a Papist; that is I will fast and pray as much as any Papist and enable my selfe for the service of my God as seriously, as sedulously, as laboriously, as any Papist.” 
So if when I startle and am affected at a blasphemous oath as at a wound upon my Saviour, if when I avoyd the conversation of those men that prophane the Lord’s Day, any other will say to me “this is Puritanicall, all Puritans do this,” it is a blessed protestation and no man is the lesse a Protestant nor the worse a Protestant for making it: “Men and brethren, I am a Puritan; that is, I wil endeavour to be pure as my Father in heaven is pure, as far as any Puritan."

It is delightful to imagine the impact of such statements upon a congregation keenly sensitive to the language of theological partisanship. I am a Papist! I am a Puritan!  They are shocked, thrilled, and at the same time relieved by their knowledge that he is neither.

It is the Anglican "middle way," of course (although Donne himself offered Lutheranism as a middle path between Papism and Calvinism), and a call to such unity in faith as may have been possible at the time.  It is also the rhetorical device called coincidentia oppositorum, a cousin to the paradox by which some Lutherans call themselves "Evangelical Catholics."  

But Donne's trope, in its cultural context, is far stronger than merely saying "I am A Protestant Catholic" or whatever.  It is closer to a modern preacher saying "I am a Fundamentalist Liberal," but even that does not evoke the bare-knived enmity of the parties in question.  Perhaps we could get the same effect by saying, if there were occasion to do so, "I am a Terrorist for Peace."

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Another Thing Luther Didn't Say

As we have often observed, many of the best things Martin Luther ever said were in fact said by somebody else.  Likewise Mark Twain, Oscar Wilde and Winston Churchill.

An ELCA synod celebrated Earth Day this year by posting a pretty little meme to Facebook:

The sentiment is lovely. After all, traditional Christianity has long spoken of reading the "Book of Nature," meaning that God is revealed in the Creation.  But did Luther ever say this?

Some Facebook discussion ensued, little of it supported by research.  "How beautiful," said one.  "Doesn't sound like Luther," said another.  "Natural theology be damned," snorted a third.  That sort of thing, which substitutes opinion for fact.

One participant suggested, perhaps a bit wistfully, that this was a paraphrase of a remark from Luther's 1527 essay That The Words "This is My Body" etc. Stand Fast Against the Fanatics.  The precise passage she cited goes like this:

The Scriptures teach us ... that the right hand of God is not a specific place on which a body must or may be, such as on a golden throne, but is is the almighty power of God, which at one and the same time can be nowhere and yet must be everywhere. [....] 
On the other hand, [the power of God] must be present in essence at all places, even in the tiniest tree leaf.  The reason is this:  it is God who creates, effects, and preserves all things through his almighty power and right hand, as our Creed confesses.  [LW 37:59, alt.]

This is Luther the ubiquitarian at work, and as such it represents a somewhat polemical position, over against the Swiss Reformers who argued that Christ, sitting at the right hand in celestial glory, could not reasonably be said to be present also in the terrestrial bread and wine.

But saying that Christ can be present in the whole Creation at once is not quite the same as saying that the message of salvation can be discovered in nature.  Not to mention that the words are entirely different.

So what is the actual source of "trees, flowers, clouds and stars"?

Funny story, with an emphasis upon "story.".

In the early 1860s, a popular novelist and poet named Elizabeth Rundle Charles was asked by an editor to write a book about Luther's life.  The result was The Chronicles of the Schoenberg-Cotta Family (1862), a curious novel that pretends to tell the story of Luther through the yes of his neighbors.  It is available on Project Gutenberg, if you are interested.

In the voice of a neighbor girl, Else, Charles tells a tale about sitting with Katie during the Doctor's absence at the Coburg in 1530. Luther using the family garden as a sort of living catechism:

It is delightful too, [Frau Luther] says, to listen to the heavenly theology [her husband] draws from birds and leaves and flowers, and the commonest gifts of God or events of life. At table, a plate of fruit will open to him a whole volume of God's bounty, on which he will discourse. Or, taking a rose in his hand, he will say, "A man who could make one rose like this would be accounted most wonderful; and God scatters countless such flowers around us! But the very infinity of his gifts makes us blind to them." 
And one evening, he said of a little bird, warbling its last little song before it went to roost, "Ah, dear little bird! he has chosen his shelter, and is quietly rocking himself to sleep, without a care for to-morrow's lodging; calmly holding by his little twig, and leaving God to think for him." 
In spring he loves to direct her attention to the little points and tufts of life peeping everywhere from the brown earth or the bare branches. "Who," he said, "that had never witnessed a spring-time would have guessed, two months since, that these lifeless branches had concealed within them all that hidden power of life? It will be thus with us at the resurrection. God writes his gospel, not in the Bible alone, but in trees, and flowers, and clouds, and stars." 
And thus, to Mistress Luther, that little garden, with his presence and his discourse, has become like an illuminated Gospel and Psalter.

In context, this actually does sound more like Luther.  It is less about finding salvation in nature than about finding in nature images of the salvation we have encountered in the external Word.  Rundle, who had certainly read a great deal in preparation for her book, may very well have had a source in Luther's works.  or she may have invented this from whole cloth.

Until somebody comes up with something better, though, we are going to call this one a phony.  So far as the evidence goes, Luther neither said nor wrote the words to which people have been heedlessly appending his name for lo these 150 years.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Lasst Uns, Nicht War?

We woke up Sunday morning singing Lasst uns erfruen.

It was the commemoration of two great church reformers: Theodor Fliedner, founder of the deaconess motherhouse at Kaisertswerth, and ... some Italian guy. We rose in a jolly mood, knowing that we would say a couple of Masses and then, toward afternoon, bless whatever animals God brought to our church door.

It was a Sunday worthy of the Te Deum, an ancient hymn which for which no really memorable combination of tune and translation has yet been provided by our service-books.  But, when the definitive English Te Deum appears, we have no doubt about the tune to which it will be sung.

Lasst uns erfreuen comes to us from the Auserlesene, Catholische, Geistliche Kirchengesange, published by Peter von Brachel at Cologne in 1623.  It has been used in many hundreds of hymnals since then, and the 2006 Evangelical Lutheran Worship matches it with no fewer than four different texts:
  • Now All the Vault of Heaven Resounds (367)
  • A Hymn of Glory Let Us Sing (393)
  • Ye Watchers and Ye Holy One (424)
  • All Creatures Worship God Most High, Formerly Known as Our King (835)
(It could also be matched with The Whole Bright World Rejoices Now, Percy Dearmer's translation of Die ganze Welt, Herr Jesu Christ.  Were one interested.)

Each of these hymns is a masterpiece in its own right, and the same tune (give or take a few alleluias, which tend to move about) serves them all equally well.  And each strikes the notes of triumph and praise suitable to the Te Deum, as well as to the general run of Easter hymnody.

But which of them, we wondered as we hummed the tune, is the original -- the English translation of the German hymn which has lent us its opening verse as a name, lo these four hundred years?  The answer, we were surprised to discover, is none of them.  Despite the immense popularity of the music, the text of the hymn printed at Cologne in 1623 seems to be utterly absent from English  hymnals; indeed, we cannot even find an English translation.

Turns out to be a nice little Easter hymn.  We imagine that it was never picked up for translation because most English hymnals were historically Protestant, and this hymn mentions by name the Much-Dreaded Mother of God.  Still, it's not a bad German song, and we expect some capable poet could make it into a very good English one.

Here it is, if you were curious (source):

1. Laßt uns erfreuen herzlich sehr
Maria seufzt und weint nicht mehr
Alleluia! Alleluia!
Verschwunden alle Übel sein,
Jetzt glänzt der helle Sonnenschein,
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

2. Sag an, o freudenreiches Herz,
Wo ist denn jetz, Ach, Weh und Schmerz?
Alleluia! Alleluia!
Glorreich vom Grab erstanden ist
Der Menschen Trost, Herr Jesu Christ.
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

3. O freudenreiche Osterzeit,
Wo sich ein jeder Christ erfreut,
Alleluia! Alleluia!
Stimmt an den fröhlichen Jubelton,
Singt alle, wer nur singen kann:

Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

There is a supplementary stanza, of unknown provenance, which Paul Villiger prints between 2 and 3 above:

Sag an, Maria, Jungfrau rein, Alleluja!
Kommt das nicht von Sohne dein?  Alleluja!
Achja, dein Sohn erstanden ist.  Aleluja!
Kein Wunder, daß du fröhlich bist.  Alleluja!

Our own German is pretty much useless, but here is Google Translate's rough draft, ever-so-slightly amended:

1. Let us rejoice most heartilyMaria sighs and no longer cries
Alleluia ! Alleluia !Be gone all evil,Now shines the bright sunshine,
Alleluia ! Alleluia ! Alleluia ! Alleluia ! Alleluia ! 

2. Tell me, O heart rich with joy,

 Where are now "Ah, woe and pain" ?
Alleluia ! Alleluia !
Risen glorious from the graveIs our consolation, Lord Jesus Christ .
Alleluia ! Alleluia ! Alleluia ! Alleluia ! Alleluia !

3. O Joyful Eastertide ,

Where every Christian doth rejoice,
Alleluia ! Alleluia !
Together on the happy note of joy,
Sing, all those who can sing:
Alleluia ! Alleluia ! Alleluia ! Alleluia ! Alleluia !

And that dubious supplemental stanza may go like this


Tell me, Mary, virgin pure, Alleluia !

Is it not about your son?  Alleluia !

Ah, yes, your son is risen. Aleluja !
No wonder that you're happy. Alleluia !

Friday, June 06, 2014

Alain Resnais, RIP

The most memorably bad date of my collegiate life went like this:

A friend's girlfriend had arranged a blind date for me.  Given that this girlfriend was herself a difficult character -- pageant queen gone to terrifying seed -- a wiser man would have politely demurred.  But hey, I was looking for love.

We met at the student center, and it was clear in an instant that we were ill-matched.  I studied English, she studied Chem.  She had no evident interest in art or politics, I couldn't for the life of me remember what chelation and reagents were.  Apart from the aforementioned friend's girlfriend, we seemed not to have a single acquaintance in common -- and this on a very small campus.

But that was okay, because I had an ace in the hole:  the campus film club.  Every week, in one of the lecture halls, they screened a movie classic.  That was where I became acquainted with Fassbinder, Antonioni, and all the other highbrow moviemakers that college kids love.  But this particular night, they had scheduled one of those perfect date movies -- a screwball comedy from the 1930s or 40s.

I forget what it was, exactly.  My Man Godfrey?  Holiday?  Bringing Up Baby?  Anyway, it was a guaranteed good time, 100 minutes of laughter followed by a glamorous big-screen kiss.  Hard to resist.

So off we went to Blodgett Hall, where we sat in the uncomfortable seats normally reserved for Anthropology 101.  We make awkward small talk, and waited for the lights to dim.

Then disaster struck.

"I'm sorry," said the president of the club, walking in front of the screen and holding a round steel film canister.  "The company that we rent these things from seems to have screwed up.  Instead of [Godfrey/Holiday/Baby], they seem to have sent us a French at film called Hiroshima, Mon Amour."

Ah, yes.  Hiroshima, Mon Amour.  For those who have never had the pleasure, it is Alain Resnais' 1959non-linear meditation on memory and war, which launched the Nouvelle Vague.  A French actress and a Japanese architect are ending their affair, and ... talking about it. He remembers being in Hisrohima when the bomb fell, she remembers being shaved bald as punishment for a fling with a German soldier.  There are pictures of people dying and disfigured by the effects of atomic warfare.

"So," I said cautiously when the lights came up afterward.  "You want to, maybe, get a beer?"

"I don't drink" she said.  This might have been true, or might not.  For all I know, she might have taken the pledge that very moment.  It was probably just as well.

Anyway, I did not get lucky that night, and have always blamed Alain Resnais.  He was a good director -- I like L'Annee Derniere a Marienbad as much as you can like that sort of thing -- and haven't let this particular disaster interfere with a lifetime of snobby Francophilia.  But the guy did cost me a night of amorous fun, which is a serious offense.  Yes, it was thirty-odd years ago -- but I have neither forgotten nor forgiven

Anyway, Resnais is dead at 91.  The rest of the world mourns; I hereby declare victory.

Monday, June 02, 2014

Anne B. Davis, RIP

Years ago, I stood uncomfortably in a Brooklyn apartment full of 20-somethings, holding a cocktail, making the sort of small talk that gets progressively more difficult as each succeeding salvo falls flat.  It was a Christmas party thrown by (if I recall) a friend's ex-girlfriend.  Or something like that.  The crowd was a mix of artists, journalists and -- mostly -- youngsters trying to find their way in life.  I was about a year away from discovering my own vocation, some college pals were about the same distance from law school.  One guy was twenty years out from his bestseller and a couple more from his suicide.

For whatever reason, the party was failing.  That indefinable chemistry that creates a good time simply was not there.  We were all shuffling our feet, checking our watches, wondering whether there weren't some place else we could go to have the kind of fun we wanted.

And then Ann B. Davis came to save us.

She had help:  Robert Reed, Florence Henderson, a bunch of youngish adults including the pulchritudinous Eve Plumb.  Because, yes, somebody had done the unthinkable:  turned on the television at a party.  And what happened to be on television that night (probably 18 December 1988) was a holiday special reuniting the Brady Bunch.

It was, evaluated as either comedy or drama, simply godawful.  (Can Mike and Carol get their kids together for Christmas?  No, because Peter is schtupping his boss and Jan is getting a divorce).  But about half of us drifted silently toward the TV, finding comfortable spots to sit or to recline, laughing at the jokes.  We laughed at the jokes, we followed the plot, we relaxed and enjoyed ourselves.  A room full of modestly sophisticated New Yorkers, tense and insecure, was turned ad break by ad break into one full of snorting, giggling children.  The mood softened and we all relaxed.

And at the center of all this, of course -- literally the center of the Brady family, as depicted on the famous opening credits -- was Ann B. Davis, the actress who played Alice the housekeeper.  She was a wry, materterine presence, the voice of wisdom and experience holding the strangely blended family together.  She died last week, age 88, following a fall.

Davis was already a celebrated TV actress when she got to the Bradys, having won two best-supporting Emmy awards for her work as Schultzy on The Bob Cummings Show.  This was news to me when I saw the obit, never having heard of Bob Cummings or his show.  What I had heard, over the years, were veiled references to Davis having hooked up with "a religious group" of some sort, even going so far as to "give it her money."  In context, this was always made to sound as though she had joined a cult.

Well, she had.  The Episcopal cult.

Davis was raised in Erie, Pennsylvania, and lived out her final years in Ambridge, Pennsylvania.  She lived her last years in the home of the Rev. William C. Frey, who is indeed a bishop of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America.  He is the former bishop of Colorado and a former dean of the Trinity Episcopal School of MInistry in Ambridge, which Davis attended for a while.

Trinity is a seminary representing the low-church and theologically conservative wing of PECUSA, which opens its doors eagerly to future leaders of non-Episcopalian Anglican churches and which has in recent years dropped the word "Episcopal" from its own publicity, although retaining it as part of the legal name.  (Just as PECUSA has dropped/retained the word "Protestant.")

Frey does sound like an odd duck.

In 1971, he was deported from Guatemala for "interfering the political affairs" of that country, of which he was the Episcopal bishop.  It appears that his interference consisted of nothing more than calling for an end to political violence and asking that all citizens be guaranteed their constutional protections, which is never a bad thing to do and, in the midst of Guatemala's brutal civil war, was probably a very good one. Reading between the lines, the guy sounds like something of a lefty -- in those days.

Davis seems to have met him in 1974, when she was playing summer stock theater in  Denver and he was the (apparently newish) Bishop of Colorado. She experienced some sort of adult conversion experience, and in her own words, "decided to sell my house in L.A. and yield my life to the Lord."  This involved moving, with Frey's family and some others, into a converted Victorian in the Mile-High City.

In 1978, Frey's wife explained to a local newspaper that their home was not -- contrary to what you may have heard -- a commune.  It was rather, she said, "an ecclesiastical Waltons," a large house in which 18 people lived together, rose each morning to read the Lectionary, and were supported by three incomes -- those of Bishop Frey, of an unnamed aerospace engineer, and of Ann B. Davis.

It is not hard to guess which of those incomes was largest, four years after a run on one of America's most beloved sitcoms. but ... so what?  if she wanted to support Denver's own Little Gidding, why shouldn't she?

The same local newspaper identifies Frey as a leader in "the Episcopal Charismatic Fellowship," which is, more than anything, a reminder of what the 1970s were like.  (As recently as the 2000s, Lutheran pastors were asked, when filling out forms, for their opinion of "the charismatic renewal among us."  Many of us scratched our heads about that one; it would have been easier to answer a question about the renewal of Scholasticism or monothelitism among us.)

In any case, a key thing to remember about Frey is that he remained an Episcopalian, even as his church splintered.  In 2009, he was assisting the Diocese of the Rio Grande, and a separatist website took umbrage at how much satisfaction he expressed at the PECUSA's ability to retain legal title to its parishes.  He may be an odd duck, but he's a loyal one.

So far as we can tell, David lived out her life as part of the Frey housegold, both in Denver and in Ambridge.  It seems likely that her money helped support the household, and probably the seminary.  She was, it seems, an Episcopalian of Charismatic tendencies and a communitarian lifestyle.  Rare enough in her profession, and kind of neat.