The Corporate Element in Private Prayer

There really is no such thing as private prayer, if by “private” we mean “cut off from” the corporate body of God’s people in the local church. And yet, our natural inclination as moderns seems to assume that very thing, namely, that my private prayers are just between me and God, perhaps reflecting what Charles Taylor refers to as the ‘punctual self’, whose radical independence makes for a self that is merely a ‘point’ in blank space, an abstraction from community, place, and the other.

The daily offices (morning/evening prayer) of the Prayer Book, even when used as private prayer, are not strictly separable from the corporate gathering of the local parish church. Since the prayers are spiritual offerings to God, even in private these offerings are not merely for the individual or for the individual’s family, friends, and neighbors, but for those with whom one communes at the Lord’s Table on Sundays (way back when these were also one’s neighbors). If the prayers were only for me and in no way concerned my fellow parishioners, then they would be worthless to me. They would not be pleasing to God who has placed me in a local visible part of the body of Christ in the shepherding care of his ministers. And, they would be of little value for me personally, since I don’t want to be alone – “though none go with me, I still will follow” though true, is certainly not the ideal – and I don’t want God to see me as a world to myself, separated from the saints of ages past and present. What good would it do me if God decided one day to only answer my daily private prayers and not those of my fellow parishioners? To pray “O God make speed to save us!” would make no sense at all if that were the case.

As Bishop Anthony Sparrow says in his comments on the Prayer Book (1662):

If a Church may not be had, “THE PRIEST SHALL SAY IT PRIVATELY,” says the same Rubr. 2.  And good reason;  for God’s worship must not be neglected or omitted for want of a circumstance.  It is true, the Church is the most convenient place for it, and adds much to the beauty of holiness. And he that should neglect that decency, and despising the Church should offer up the public worship in private, should sin against that Law of God that says, “Cursed is he that having a better Lamb in his flock, offers up to God a worse”:  For God Almighty must be serv’d with the best we have, otherwise we despise him.  He that can have a Church, and will offer up the holy service in a worse place, let him fear that curse: but if a Church cannot be had, let him not fear or omit to offer up the holy Service in a convenient place in private, having a desire to the Church, looking towards the Temple in prayer, 2 Chron. 6. 28. for it will be accepted, according to that equitable rule of S. Paul, 2 Cor. 8. 12. “If there be a willing mind, God accepts according to that a man hath, and not according to that he hath not.”

[…]

Let every Lay-man say this Morning and Evening Office, his Psalter, leaving out that which is peculiar to the Priest, Absolution, and solemn benediction;  and let him know that when he prays thus alone, he prays with company, because he prays in the Churches communion, the Common prayer and vote of the Church.  But let not the Priest of all others, fail to offer this service of the Congregation.  This public worship, this savour of rest, though by himself in private looking towards the Temple, “Lifting up his hands toward the mercy seat of the holy Temple,” Psal. 84. that is, having in his soul a desire and longing to enter into the courts of the Lord, praying with David, that he may go unto the Altar of God, the God of our joy and gladness, to offer up his service there, and it will be acceptable.

As Bp. Sparrow affirms, private prayers are acceptable to God because they are accompanied with a desire to go to the altar of God in one’s local church. This is because our individual prayers are tinted with the light of holiness reflected in the elect of God. The visible church is the gathering of God’s chosen people and the only church that I know (as a worshiping body) are those with whom I worship at my local parish. In other words, even when my prayers are personal, they are not merely for me but for me-as-part-of-this-parish. Since baptism brings us into a corporate gathering of believers, and Holy Communion unites us more closely with those believers – to whom Christ said, if you have anything against your brother, leave your gift at the altar and go seek reconciliation – then our local identity is a local-corporate identity. Whether I’m praying for the health of my child, my wife, or for a particular sin of my own, God does not see me only. Of course, the primary lens through which God sees me is Christ and all the saints (and angels) in heaven, but he also sees me in union with the local expression of Christ’s body (and the diocese!) where he has placed me, and he is pleased to accept my individual and private prayers as a part of that corporate gathering of believers. This corporate element of private prayer was true of ancient Israel as it is for us today. What happens to one part of the body affects the whole. The prayers of all the saints on earth ascend together as holy incense before the heavenly altar of God.

For this reason, as Bp. Sparrow says, it is more than appropriate for us to pray privately the same prayers that we would pray together in parish worship. For example, as we say in the daily offices:

Minister: O Lord, open thou our lips.

Answer. And our mouth shall show forth thy praise.

Together: Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost

Answer. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

Minister. Praise ye the Lord.

Answer. The Lord’s Name be praised.

The plural “our” and “we” should be said in private as well, just as Christ tells us to ask for “our daily bread,” in order that we might have a daily reminder that our private prayers are always partly corporate, never absolutely private. The corporate language of our private prayers are the material of our daily sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving, and like any sacrifice, our prayer is an offering of our whole person (locally sourced!) in a community of sacrificial love. And for that reason, even when the members of the church are apart from one another, we continue to offer up our prayers and our lives for one another. For, as our Blessed Savior has taught us, in words that ring true about our daily sacrifices of prayer, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (Jn. 15:13).

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Zanchi: The Logic of Union with Christ

Zanchi argues that we approach Christ’s divine person in a logical order. That is through the mediation of his humanity. In a treatise of his translated into English in 1594 entitled An excellent and learned treatise, of the spirituall mariage betvveene Christ and the church, and every faithfull man, Zanchi explains his justification for this idea. I offer below a brief selection of his argument to emphasize that for Zanchi the preaching of the Holy Scriptures and the administration of the sacraments play a key role in the church’s union with Christ, precisely because of this logical order of cognition. Zanchi is intentionally setting himself apart from the Zwinglians, who he says believe that the faithful are only united to Christ’s divinity, and the Lutherans who he says believe that Christ has an invisible body, which is not capable of nourishing us since it is completely unlike our bodies.

1. A faithfull man is first joyned to the flesh of Christ, and then afterwardes by the flesh, he is joyned to the word it selfe, or to the Godhead.

2. The reason is taken from knowledge. As it is with knowledge and the understanding of the minde, so is it also with voluntarie uniting and coupling. For the will followeth knowledge, and so far forth chooseth, willeth, and embraceth any thing, and uniteth it selfe thereto, as it doth thoroughlie understand and knowe the same. For it alwayes desireth not unknown but known good. But we do first and sooner apprehend & know Christ propounded in the word of God as he is man, then as he is God. Therefore in a certaine order of nature, and of the actions of teh minde and of faith, wee are first united to the flesh of Christ, and by that to his deitie, and so to his whole person.

3. I easily proove [this]…from the holy Scriptures. For, when God in the beginning of the world did promise a Redeemer, he promised and propounded him immediatly, as the seede of the woman, that is, as man, Gen. 3. “Her seede…shall bruise thy head.” So promised he also to Abraham: “In thy seede shall the nations be blessed.”

[…]

20. As therefore it was [in the Old Testament] the peoples dutie to come to the visible arke and there to wait and looke for the grace of God: so let no man hope for the grace of God, except he come to Christ visible man, and eate his visible flesh, and doe incorporate the same into himselfe by faith.

21. Wherefore it is clearer then the day light that a man cannot be united to the Godhead of Christ, except he be joyned to his humanitie, and to his flesh. For the flesh of Christ is the instrument of the Godhead, but it is this instrument onely, beeing taken and joyned inseparably into the unitie of the person.

22. This whole doctrine is very lively to be seene in the Sacraments, as it were in most cleere looking glasses.

23. There are two things in every sacrament: the visible signe, and the invisible grace: the earthly thing, and the heavenly. He that bringeth faith receiveth both.

24. But in what order? Even in the same, as they are propounded of God: by the signe we receive the thing signified: and by the earthly thing, we receive the heavenly thing: for God by the one doth offer the other.

[…]

And therefore that Chrsit doth still retaine his natural flesh, and doth imprint the virtue & efficacie, & as it were the image thereof, into our flesh, by communicating his holinesse with us, whereby we are made flesh of his flesh, and bones of his bones: also that he doth by the holy Ghost ingraffe our flesh into his flesh, & so quickneth our flesh by his flesh: and again, that the father doth communicate unto us nothing concerning salvation, but by the flesh of Christ truely and really communicated with us; and this they [i.e,. the church fathers] have prooved especially by the mysterie of the Supper of the Lord.

For as the bread is really and truly united unto us eating the same: so also is the flesh of Christ truly and in very deede united unto us who eate the same.

[…]

Because this union is made at the preaching of the Gospell in Baptisme, and in the Supper of the Lorde, therefore there are divers answeres made to this question [i.e,. the manner of how the union is made]. All confesse, that it is made at the preaching of the Gospell by faith alone: I say, an effectuall faith: neither is there any great controversie of the manner how it is made in baptisme: but there is no man ignorant how great contention there is even among those that professe Christ, of the manner how we are united to the flesh of Christ, and the flesh of Christ is united to us in the Supper of the Lord.

[…]

[We say] by faith also [Christ] is received of us into our harts, and we are united to him. Iohn 6. “Hee that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood, abideth in me and I in him.” But hee is eaten and drunken by faith, as Christ in the same place expoundeth it, saying: “He that beleeveth in me shall never thirst.” Wee are therefore united to Christ by faith.

Wherefore, whether he be propounded to us in the Word, or in Baptisme, or in the Supper, Christ is alwaies united to us, and we unto him by his Spirit and by our faith… By the vertue & power of the same holy Spirit, we drinke in the supper, the blood of Christ, and growe together into one with him, and are quickened by his Spirit

Nicholas of Cusa on Faith & Holy Communion

There are many statements in Nicholas of Cusa’s sermons that emphasize the importance of faith in those who receive the body and blood of Christ in Holy Communion. This is likely due to his early education among the Brethren of the Common Life, but it also relates to his peculiar brand of Platonism.

Therefore, this faith is best signified by means of the visible form of bodily food, which expels weakness and furnishes strength—as do, basically, the wheaten bread and the wine. Hence, take cognizance of the fact that in the power of the bread and the wine—[a power] that expels the weakness of the flesh’s ravenous hunger and that brings strength, or renews strength, (things which happen with respect to the outer man)—faith sees the power of the Word working similar things in the inner man. And that which nature ministers to the outer man by means of visible food, faith by means of invisible Food (which is the Word of God) obtains in the inner man (which is invisible),  (Sermon CLXXXIII).

Ames on the Frequency of Communion

Add William Ames to the list of those early modern reformed theologians who believed that Holy Communion should be celebrated every Sunday. In his Cases of Conscience he writes:

Chap. XXVIII.   Of the Supper of the Lord

Quest. I. Whether the frequent use of the Lord’s Supper be necessary?

I. A. I. All godly persons ought to endeavour that as often as they can conveniently, they make a religious use of the Sacrament.

First, because that Precept of an indeterminate time, ‘Doe this’ admits no other limitation but a want of an opportunity,  or some just impediment.

Secondly, because we have continuall need to feed upon Christ, and the good things purchased by him.

Thirdly, because the solemne profession of our Faith, according to Gods Ordinance, is a duty which We ought, most readily upon every just occasion, to performe.

Fourthly, because our infirmitie requireth a frequent renewing of our Covenant, and excitation of our heart and  minde.

Fifthly, because it is apparent, that in the Primitive Church the Sacrament of the Supper was administered every Lord’s Day, neither can there be any other reason given for the more rare ufe of it but the luke-warmeness of Believers, and the multitude of people in some Congregations.

Robert Abbot on the Sign of the Cross

Robert Abbot (1560–1617) was Regius Professor of Divinity at Oxford, bishop of Salisbury, proponent of Reformed theology, and opponent of Laudianism and Arminianism during the reign of James I. In a rather amusing incident, Abbot once preached a sermon in defense of the Puritans. Laud himself was in attendance, and as John Rushworth later recalled Abbot, seeing Laud in the audience, determined to aim his polemical canons directly at him. Laud, according to Rushworth, “was fain to sit patiently at the rehearsal of this sermon, though abused almost an hour together, being pointed at as he sat.”

One of Abbot’s most interesting works is his two volume defense of William Perkins’ A Reformed Catholike. In this work Abbot defends the great Puritan theologian against the polemical attacks of certain Roman Catholic theologians, particularly William Bishop. Though he attacks the “popery” of Bishop, Abbot only does so insofar as he believes that Bishop does not himself maintain the principles of a true Reformed Catholic, that is, the recognition and defense of what is necessary for salvation and the distinction of what is necessary from what is indifferent (adiaphoron). One example of an indifferent practice that Bishop (according to Abbot)elevates to a necessary practice is the ancient rite of the sign of the cross, which the faithful often made upon themselves and priests often performed over the holy instruments of worship.

Abbot argues that the practice is not strictly commanded by scripture, and although it is a longstanding tradition in both Eastern and Western Christianity, the abuses that have been added to the practice render it dangerous, and therefore it should be strongly curtailed for the sake of saving the church from superstition. Since it is an indifferent matter, however, making the sign of the cross should be left up to the churches to determine for themselves, he argues, a determination that he implies should be based on surveying the extent of the error and abuse surrounding the practice among the churches.

Of the signe of the Crosse … we condemne it not being taken as an arbitrarie and indifferent ceremonie, voluntarily vpon occasion accepted by the discretion of the Church, and left free to the like discretion as occasion requireth, either to be wholly relinquished, or the vse thereof to be moderated and abridged without opinion of anie violation or breach of religion towards God. So long as it was kept within compasse of being onely a matter of admonition, a token of profession, and occasion of remembrance of the name of Christ, so long there was no reason for any man to contend concerning the vsing of it. But since it hath growne from being a meere ceremonie, to be accounted as a Sacrament of grace and saluation, an instrument of sanctification and holinesse, containing a spirituall vertue and power of blessing, and ministring inward strength against our spirituall enemies, it hath concerned the godly discretion and wisedome of the Church, to vse due care to redresse those erroneous and superstitious conceipts thereof, which tend to the detriment and wrong of the faith and name of Iesus Christ. We haue receiued no commandement thereof from God, no institution of Iesus Christ, no word or warrant of the Apostles, and therefore being brought in by men, it ought to be subiect to the iudgement of the Church, and not the Church tyed to any bondage of the vse of it. Our Church therefore hath vsed her libertie in this behalfe, and though we denie not but that the signe of the Crosse were in most frequent vse, as M. Bishop saith, in the primitiue Church, yet considering it to be a thing iniurious to the faith and crosse of Christ where it is made a matter of mysticall consecration and blessing, hath discharged vs of it where it was taken in that sence; and yet that we seeme not wholly to explode that which antiquitie hath approoued, hath there retained it where it may carrie no shew of being subiect to that construction. We vse it not to our selues, to our meates and drinkes, to the water of baptisme, to the bread and wine of the Lordes Supper, or any otherwhere where it was vsed with that meaning as in Poperie it was vsed in all these: we vse it in baptisme with the application first intended, and to them which yet know not the vse of it, that that which is done to them may be a remembrance to vs, & to them also when they shall hereafter know and see the same in others, not to be ashamed of Christ crucified, and of the bearing of his crosse, but with courage and constancie to follow him whose in baptisme we haue vowed our selues to be. As touching the testimonies of antiquitie which M. Bishop alledgeth for the approuing thereof, first Tertullian and Ambrose and Cyril do simply note the vulgar vse of it, which in them and in those times we condemne not; they had their reason for the vsing, and so haue we for the leauing of it, (Abbot, The second part of the Defence of the Reformed Catholicke, London: George Bishop, 1607, pp. 1118-1119).

[…]

Ambrose maketh this the vse of the signe of the crosse, that thereby a Christian man euery while writeth vpon his owne forehead the contempt of death, as who knoweth that without the crosse of Christ he cannot be saued. When Iulian obiected to Christians the vse of the Crosse, Cyril maketh no more thereof but this, that they made it in remembrance of all goodnes and all vertue. Whatsoeuer they say of the crosse or of the signe of the crosse, they referre it to the faith of Christ crucified, not to the crosse it selfe, but to the inward cogitation of the benefite of his crosse. The mind marked with the crosse, saith Cyril, is plentifully fed with heauenly food, and grace of the holy Ghost: whosoeuer turneth the eyes of his mind to Christ nailed to the crosse, he shall be forthwith cured from all wound of sinne. They vsed the outward signe onely to turne the minde to the beholding of the crosse of Christ, thereby hoping to receiue comfort and defence. But Poperie hath taught men so to conceiue, as if God had giuen to the signe of the crosse some formal power to do great wonders for vs, & in this sence haue witches & charmers borowed it from them, (ibid., p. 1122).

William Ames: Reverence for the Instruments of Worship

William Ames argues that there is an individual and uncommon reverence due to religious objects such as the Bible and the elements of the Eucharist. These are the instruments of God’s holy action and should be treated as such, he says.

From his Cases of Conscience:

Chap. XXXI. Of reverence, of Worship.

Quest. I. Whether and how farre is religious reverence to be given to these things which belong to Worship, as to the words of the Scripture, the holy Bible, the Water of Baptisme, the Bread and Wine in the Lords Supper?

I. A. 1. Reverence or honor is in a three fold sense called Religious; either, First, because it flowes from Religion, as the proper act of it, containing in it that vertue and direct relation which is in religious Worhip: or, Secondly, only because it is commanded by Religion, as something agreeable with the nature of it: or, Thirdly, because it is both commanded by Religion, and hath a foundation in the relation of something, or person, to Religion or holy Worship. In the first sense, Religious worship is due to God alone. In the second way, that civill honour which is commanded in the fifth Precept, and is especially due to Superiours, is rightly called religious. In the third sense, it is due to all those things Which properly belong to worship.

2. 2. In holy use, although divine honour is not to be given to holy things; nor are those things to bee accounted as the next objects of that Worship, by which the honour is carryed to God; Nor lastly, is there any worship of an inferiour degree to be given to them: all which are the errours of Popish Doctors, while they worship the Eucharist as God, Images as the next termes [terminos proximos], though not the last of religious worship; and the holy Utensels with a religious observance: yet that honour which is due to God, cannot in a due manner be given to him, unlesse those instruments of his worship bee used with singular reverence, because of that neere connection and relation,that is between an action, and the instrument of the action.

3.3. Out of holy use, because wee have no externall thing consecrated by Divine Institution, and placed in a religious state, in that manner, that the Arke, Altar, Temple, and such like were under the Old Testament, therefore no positive honour that is religious, is due to any externall thing. Yet there is a privative kind of reverence, which necessarily followeth of the religious honour of God: whereby heed is to be taken, that nothing be done to such things as belong to Worship out of holy use,by meanes whereof that reverence which ought to be observed in holy use, or worship, may be diminished. Such is the care whereby heed is taken, that the words or phrases of Scripture be not mingled with jests: that the Bible be not trampled upon, or applied to any use which hath a shew of basenesse, or unseemlinesse, that the Bread or Wine left after the Communion, bee not exposed to any contumelious use, &c.

 

Christmas: The Day on which Kings and Prophets Longed to Feast

nativity
Nativity by Bastiano Mainardi (†1513)

Lancelot Andrewes, English bishop and theologian, preached a sermon on Christmas day in the year 1609 and again in 1610. In both of these sermons Andrewes encourages his audience to be thankful for the “fullness of times” now ushered in by birth of the Messiah. The Feast of the Nativity is not merely a time for celebrating the birth of a king, he says, but also the dawning of the last age of human history, when the eternal God took human form. This celebration calls for thanksgiving and feasting, for participating in the activities of eternity made temporal. It calls for being full because we have been filled. It also calls for worship and for participating in the greatest act of thanksgiving, that is, the Eucharist. Andrewes explains:

After our ioy-fulnesse, or fulnes of ioy, our fulnes of thankes, or thank-fulnes, is to ensue: for, with that fulnesse, we are to celebrate it likewise. Our minds first & then our mouthes, to be filled with blessing, and praise, and thankes to Him that hath made our times, not to fall into those emptie ages of the world; but to fall within this fulnes of time, which so many Kings & Prophets desired to haue liued in, but fell short of; And liued then, when the times were full of shaddowes, and promises, & nothing else.  How instantly they longed, to haue held such a Feast, to haue kept a Christmasse, it is euident, by Dauids Inclina caelos; by Esaies Vtinam disrumpas caelos, Bow the Heauens, and Breake the Heauens: How much (I say) they longed for it: and therefore, that we make not light account of it. To render our thankes then, and to remember to doe it fully, To forget none: To Him that was sent, & to Him, that Sent; Sent his Sonne, in this; the Spirit of his Sonne..

To beginne with Osculamini filium, it is the first duetie enioyned vs this day, to kisse the Babe new borne, that when his Father would send Him, sayd,  Ecce venio [Behold, I am coming], so readily: and when he would make Him, was content with Corpus aptasti mihi, to haue a body made him, meete for him to suffer in: who willingly yeelded to be our Shilo; to this ἀπέστειλεν [he sent] heere; yea to be not onely Christ, but an Apostle for vs (Heb. 3.1.), euen the Apostle of our profession.  And not to Him that was sent and made alone: but to the Father that sent Him, and to the Holy Ghost that made Him, (as by whom He was conceiued.) To the Father, for his mission; The Sonne, for his Redemption; the Holy Ghost, for his Adoption; For by him it is wrought. He that made Him the Sonne of man, doth likewise regenerate vs, to the state of the Sonnes of God. And this for our thankfulnesse.

And, to these two, (to make the measure full) to ioyne, the fulnesse of duetie, euen whatsoeuer duetifull minded persons, may yeeld to a bountifull minded, and a bountifull handed Benefactor. And with this to begin, to consecrate this first day of this fulnesse of time: euen with our seruice to Him at the full; which, is then at the full, when no part is missing: when all our dueties, of preaching, and praying, of Hymnes, of offering, of Sacrament, and all, meet together. No fulnes there is of our Liturgie, or publike solemne seruice, without the Sacrament. Some part; yea, the chief part is wanting, if that be wanting. But our thanks are surely not full, without the Holy Eucharist, which is by interpretation, Thankesgiuing it selfe. Fully we cannot say, Quid retribuam Domino [what shall I return to the Lord]? but we must answere, Calicem salutaris accipiam, we will take the cup of saluation, & with it in our hands giue thanks to Him; render Him our true Eucharist, or real Thanksgiuing indeed. In which cup is the blood, not only of our redemption of the Couenant, that freeth vs from the Law, and maketh the Destroyer passe ouer vs: but of our Adoption of the new Testament also, which intitles vs, and conueyes vnto vs (Testament-wise, or by way of Legacie) the estate we haue in the ioy and blisse of his heauenly kingdome, wherto we are adopted. We are then made partakers of Him, and with Him of both these His benefits. We there are made to drinke of the Spirit,  by which we are sealed, to the day of our redemption, and adoption both. So that, our freeing from vnder the lawe, our inuestiture into our new adopted state, are not fully consummate without it.

And what? Shall this be all? No, when this is done, there is allowance of 12. dayes more, for this fulnesse of time: that, we shrinke not vp our duety then into this day alone, but in the rest also remember, to redeeme some part of the day, to adopt some howre at the least, to be thinke our selues of the duetie, the time calleth to vs for: that so, we haue not Iobs dies vacuos, no daye quite emptie in this fulnesse of time. Hereof assuring our selues, that what we doe in this fulnesse of time, will haue full acceptance at His hands. It is the time of his birth, which is euer a time as accepted, so of accepting, wherein, what is done, will be acceptably taken to the full: fully accepted, and fully rewarded by Him, of whose fulnesse we all receiue: with this condition, of grace for grace, euer one grace for an other.  And so, growing from grace to grace, finally from this fulnes, we shal come to be partakers of another yet behinde, to which we aspire. For all this, is but the fulnesse of time: but that, the fulnesse of eternitie, when time shall be runne out, and his glasse emptie, Et tempus non erit amplius [And time shall not be full anymore];  which is, at His next sending. For yet once more shall God send him, and He come againe.

So, I hope you all find yourselves filled with joy on this Feast of the Nativity, finding yourselves fully accepted in His grace. Look forward to that day when the fullness of time will become the fullness of eternity, and have a very Merry Christmas.