Friar John's Ruminations

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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Holy Women, Holy Men

Blessed feasts of blessed martyrs,

holy women, holy men,

with affection’s recollections

greet we your return again.

Worthy deeds they wrought, and wonders,

worthy of the Name they bore;

we, with meetest praise and sweetest,

honor them for evermore.

12th-century Latin text,

translated John Mason Neale

#238, The Hymnal 1982

The 2006 General Convention, meeting in Columbus, voted to approve an "A" resolution from the Standing Commission for Liturgy and Music (SCLM) to substantially revise the Lesser Feats and Fasts book, the "sanctoral" or "Book of Saints" the Episcopal Church uses for it's, well Lesser Feasts. They then produced (as one member put it a tad condescendingly put it) what "General Convention wanted." They have proposed a massive reorganization of the Book, complete with a new name "Holy Women, Holy Men," based off of the lyric quoted above. It is comprised of 112 additions, several adjustments, but no subtractions. I was surprised by and then a bit turned off by the size of the change, but decided to focus my thoughts into one or two spots. I also kept many of my reflections to myself as I watched the discussion unfold on the blogosphere and the HoB/D list.

The response has been mixed. The Establishment Left of TEC has received this, predictably, with open arms. The Conservatives were equally predictable in their rejection. Apparently, "Let your yes be yes and your no be no" has been amended to end with "in a predictably automatic way according to camp." The rest of us, many of whom you will note over at the side of your screen, were mixed in our reactions. I had several little things that stuck in my craw, some of that will be below. Other people had other issues. So, after a while, I went through and I googled a few of the names I was unfamiliar with. I was underwhelmed by most but one or two stood out as particularly good and others as bad. What kept coming to me was the question of why so many, and why some of the people chosen. Rather than indulge in to overly wrought a discursive essay, I'll simply list and briefly explain some of my problems.

1. Saint John of the Cross: This is the most complicated of my objections, so I list it first. I'll start with my general queasy feeling towards "San Juan de la Cruz" being listed in the book. If we were to take the time to list any other saint by their native name it wouldn't bother me as much. As it is, it is just a precious little addition to make the whole mess more "multi-cultural." Second, the date, November 24th, given on the Calendar for John is unexplained. Admittedly, back in the mists of time that was the date for John's commemoration. His death date is December 14th, that is his commemoration in the Roman Catholic and other Western Churches. In the 19th century his day interfered with the octave of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, and so was moved to the day that he joined the Carmelites as John of St Mathias. In the 1950's Rome saw that as silly and moved him back to his first date of commemoration. Why then do we put him there? Even the Church of England commemorates him in December. I would guess that this date matches Ye Olde Kalendar in the Anglican Breviary, one of the many Anglo-Catholic books which has enshrined the 19th Century as the epitome of the Churchs' life and history. No doubt that was one of the reasons, but I'll not lay money on it. Now, there is a perfectly good person in HWHM, Henry Budd, one of the first Anglican Religious in the US, if not the Communion. My question would be though, why not commemorate him on a date of "event" and not put John in his place with the rest of the Church? This isn't just a question of being picky for it's own sake, but rather for the sake of continuity, or dare I say, Catholicity. (I'll also add that I think the collect is trite and precious.)

2. John Muir: He was an agnostic if not an atheist. To be more exact he was raised in the Church of Scotland then in one of the Cambelite sects because his father didn't think that the CoS was keeping it real enough. Later in life he would reject the concept of God all together "as purely a manufactured article as any puppet of a half-penney theater." How is he an example to the Faithful? He is rammed rather uncomfortably in with Archdeacon Hudson Stuck who was an old time social reformer type and outdoors-man. He helped climb Mount McKinley and was active in passing labor laws and teaching discipleship as caring for one another. I haven't found much that identifies the good Archdeacon as an Environmentalist, but my research is incomplete. What I find objectionable is that a faithful Christian is given second billing to a man who had no such faith, no matter how admirable he may be otherwise.

3. Charles, King and Martyr: This is a reverse objection to the one above, but they are connected. Why, after all this time, do we not include him on our calendar? He is present as a feast on the calendars of many of the other Anglican Churches in the World, and he was a Christian faithful to the catholic faith he had received. He died, in no small part, because he refused to compromise on the good order of the Church and was executed by the Puritans because of it. That there is no room on our calendar for him, but there is for Muir is I indicative of part of the trouble. You see Muir is popular with the "cool kids" of the Establishment in TEC, but Charles II is not.

4. The Amazingly Elastic Standards: Here are the standards of inclusion on the Calendar as outlined in 2006. Here they are for the new book. Now, using the standards as given there why would, say Muir, a Cambelite Agnostic/Atheist get recognized when Charles II isn't? I'm being deadly serious here. Are we to assume that the Sierra Club is now a devotional society of TEC? Are we to discount the Anglican credentials of Charles and the fact that he has a devoted society that has lobbied for him, as well as a well defined devotion dedicated to his memory? This is just one example of the "cool kids" making a decision and roling with it. I could list Barth, Fannie Crosby, or Kierkegarrd as example of other faithful Christians who seem to not fill in all the criteria for the calendar but are there and people like Laud, Church, Charlotte Young, or Auber are not.

5. Those Who Have Left Us: HWHM adds three names that stood up and slapped me when I saw them. John Henry Newman, GK Chesterton, and Elizabeth Anne Seaton all left the Anglican faith for "greener pastures" in the Bark of Peter. I am deeply ambivalent about this, in particular with Chesterton who could be very sardonic about Anglicanism. Newman requires his own post.

A bit later I'll expand upon what i mean by "The Cool Kids" and my feelings about the elitism that runs around in our Church.


Марко Фризия said...

I read through HWHM in the Blue Book (which I found online in pdf form -- how cool is that!).
Another interesting commemoration is Lt. Alexander D. Goode, a rabbi who died with three other chaplains aboard the U.S.A.T. Dorchester. I don't have any problems with this particular commemoration. But I am curious if Jewish folks might be uncomfortable with this commemoration. Are we, in effect, "baptizing" him by putting him on a Christian calendar of saints? Some Jews were uncomfortable by the canonization of Carmelite sister Edith Stein in the Roman Church. I am glad St. George (I am a total St. George groupie) is finally being added to the TEC calendar. I like the addition of John Cassian. I met Deaconess Harriet Bedell when I was a little boy. I am delighted to see her commemoration on the calendar. We named our food bank "Harriet's Place" in her honor. If I could remove someone, it might be William Laud (not too keen on his support for torture and mutilation of his opponents). I suppose the thing to remember is that these saints are all optional commemorations. When I pray the daily office, I might skip over some lesser feasts. And I think some parish clergy probably do that at daily Eucharists. And I sometimes add saints who are not listed in our current calendar (like St. George). I am obviously not clergy, a theologian, or a deputy to GC. So I am relieved I won't have to decide via a vote. This was a good and thoughtful blog posting by you. Peace!

Melissa said...

I'd heard that there were some, ah, unusual not so say curious additions and/or changes.

I think that some Eastern Orthodox would be upset that some of their bishops such as Innocent of Alaska St. Tikhon are added. That they are referring to the latter as an "ecumenist" is not going to go over at all well either.

I like the Pre-Raphaelites and Christina Rossetti, but I'm not sure what she would be added. The same is true for Copernicus and Kepler. Their work in astronomy was very important and admirable but why would they be added to this list which one would think had to do with those who are particularly remembered for their faith and relation to the Anglican Communion in some way.

Isabel Hapgood was indeed an Episcopalian but I agree with you about adding "those who left". One wonders what G.K.Chesterton would have said about his inclusion.

Just giving the list a once-over it strikes me that there's an air of "We need to include musicians, and artists and don't forget environmentalists, and someone who did something with science etc etc."

Frair John said...


I'm sorry it took me so long to respond to you, but life has not been kind on my time.

Thank you for your comments and for dropping by.

Every time I turn around I get another exampel of a questionable addition. All i can hope is that the feedback process is open enough for a real chance to be heard.

brian said...

Charles I was one of those sincere friends who end up doing more harm to a cause than its worst enemies but are somewhat useful after death as martyr figures.
Stubborn, devious, too weak for the job and absolutely self-righteous, he probably should stay in the history books and out of the church.

Brad Evans said...

Nobody likes Charles I: there was a Civil War in England for a lot of good reasons. "The Lord's Annointed" nonsense is ridiculous in a country that cut all ties to monarchy. The man was stupid enough to think that his touch would cure skin diseases!