Archive for the ‘Saints of the 1410s’ Category

Feast of Margery Kempe (November 9)   3 comments

Above:  The Flag of England

Image in the Public Domain

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MARGERY BRUNHAM KEMPE (CIRCA 1373-CIRCA 1440)

English Roman Catholic Mystic and Pilgrim

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Well-behaved women seldom make history.

–Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

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The General Convention of The Episcopal Church added Margery Kempe to the side calendar of saints in 2009.  Her feast day, shared with Richard Rolle and Walter Hilton, became September 28.  That feast day from Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), carried over into the successor volume, A Great Cloud of Witnesses (2016).  The General Convention of 2018 kept the composite feast yet moved it to January 19, per Lesser Feasts and Fasts 2018, actually the official calendar of saints for the denomination, and successor to Lesser Feasts and Fasts 2006 (2007).  I have, however, been breaking up the composite feast while renovating this, my Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days.  That process has brought me to this post, in which I have assigned Kempe’s feast to November 9, her feast day in The Church of England.

Margery Kempe, born in King’s Lynn, Norfolk, England, circa 1373, was devout.  She also proved perplexing to certain ecclesiastical leaders.

Kempe, born Margery Brunham, came from a wealthy family.  Her father, John Brunham, was, at different times, the mayor, a Member of Parliament, a coroner, a justice of the peace, and a chamberlain.

Circa 1393, at the age of 20 years, Margery married John Kempe (d. 1431).  For two decades she bore fourteen children, wore fine clothing, and, for a time, operated a brewery.  Our saint also desired a celibate life and reported visions.  She finally took a vow of chastity at the age of 40 years; her husband was not enthusiastic about her decision.

Kempe, eccentric and devout, violated gender norms.  She sobbed frequently, reported visions of the Passion of Jesus, pondered Heaven nearly continuously, and made pilgrimages.  Our saint confessed her sins going back to childhood.  She also visited various places–Assisi, the Holy Land, Santiago de Compostela, Rome, et cetera.  Most ecclesiastical figures Kempe consulted thought she was out of her mind, but orthodox, at least.  Blessed Julian(a) of Norwich offered encouragement and support to our saint.

Kempe endured official opposition from elements of the Church.  She even received threats of violence sometimes.  Certain bishops questioned her orthodoxy; they accused her of being a Lollard, until clearing her of that alleged offense.  Lollards, who also criticized Kempe, did not mistake her for being one of their tribe.

Kempe died circa 1440.  She was about 67 years old.

Kempe, able neither to read nor write, dictated The Book of Margery Kempe, long at the Carthusian Mount Grace Priory, near Northallerton, Yorkshire.  Later, the book became the possession of the Butler-Bowden family.  Since the book’s rediscovery in 1934, many people have read translations of it.

I remember one particular commentary on the Song of Songs.  The exegete emphasized the presence of God in the details of human lives, especially those details we do not consider holy, but perhaps merely mundane.

We spend our lives in the presence of God, made manifest in ways both mundane and extraordinary.  Much of the time we are oblivious to the presence of God in our lives.

Margery Kempe nourished the awareness of the presence of God in her life.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 3, 2019 COMMON ERA

THE FOURTH SUNDAY AFTER THE EPIPHANY, YEAR C

THE FEAST OF SAINTS ANSKAR AND RIMBERT, ROMAN CATHOLIC ARCHBISHOPS OF HAMBURG-BREMEN

THE FEAST OF ALFRED DELP, GERMAN ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR

THE FEAST OF CHARLES SEYMOUR ROBINSON, U.S. PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER, HYMN WRITER, AND HYMNOLOGIST

THE FEAST OF NICHOLAS KASATKIN, ORTHODOX ARCHBISHOP OF ALL JAPAN

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Gracious God, we give you thanks for the life and work of Margery Kempe,

a mystic, who, passing through the cloud of unknowing, beheld your glory.

Help us, after her example, to see you more clearly and love you more dearly,

in the Name of Jesus Christ our Savior; who with you and the

Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

Job 26:1-14

Psalm 63:1-8

Romans 11:33-12:12

Matthew 5:43-48

–Adapted from Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), 611

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Feast of John Wycliffe and Jan Hus (July 6)   1 comment

Above:  Dawn with Mountain Landscape

Image in the Public Domain

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JOHN WYCLIFFE (CIRCA 1320-DECEMBER 31, 1384)

English Theologian and Church Reformer

“Morning Star of the Reformation”

Also known as John Wiclif, John Wickliffe, and John Wyclif

Episcopal feast day = October 30

Church of England feast day = December 31

influenced

JAN HUS (1371-JULY 6, 1415)

Czech Theologian, Church Reformer, and Martyr

Also known as John Huss and John Hus

Moravian, Episcopal, and Lutheran feast day = July 6

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It is better to die well than to live wickedly.  One should not sin in order to avoid the punishment of death.  Truth conquers all things.

–Jan Hus, 1415, quoted in Robert Ellsberg, All Saints:  Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time (New York:  The Crossroad Publishing Company, 1997), 292

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INTRODUCTION

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One of my purposes in renovating my Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days is to emphasize relationships and influences.  Therefore I, citing the latter, merge the Feasts of John Wycliffe and Jan Hus.

The Moravian Church, founded by Hussites, has long commemorated Hus, who has been a saint in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC), and their predecessors since the Lutheran Book of Worship (1978).  The Episcopal Church added Hus and Wycliffe to its calendar in 2009.  Meanwhile, Wycliffe, with separate feast days in The Church of England and The Episcopal Church, has remained absent from all Lutheran calendars I have consulted.

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THE “MORNING STAR OF THE REFORMATION”

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Above:  John Wycliffe

Image in the Public Domain

The fourteenth century was a difficult time for much of Europe.  During five years in the late 1340s and early 1350s the Black Death killed no less than two-fifths (and probably more) of the population of Western Europe, upending civilization there and helping to give rise to the modern world.  The tumult of that time called authorities and institutions into question as, for example, many peasants revolted, many urban workers asserted their rights, and the Church restaffed with substandard personnel.  The devastating death toll called the legitimacy of the Church into doubt in the minds of many people, some of whom favored apocalyptic understandings of recent events.

Meanwhile, the Babylonian Captivity of the Papacy (1309-1377) at Avignon, France, a great scandal, was a self-inflicted wound for Holy Mother Church.  Another great scandal and self-inflicted wound, the Great Schism of the Papacy (1378-1417), ensued promptly.

John Wycliffe lived during those times.  He, born near Richmond, Yorkshire, England, circa 1320, was a priest.  Wycliffe was also an academic at Oxford University.  He matriculated at Baillol College in 1344, became master of that college by 1360, and resigned in 1361.  He held overlapping portfolios:

  1. Rector of Fillingham (1361-1368);
  2. Prebend of Aust, Bristol (1362-1384);
  3. Warden of Canterbury Hall, Oxford (1365-1367); and
  4. Rector of Lutterworth (1374-1384).

Meanwhile, Wycliffe was also a lecturer at Oxford until his forced retirement in 1381.

Wycliffe, a popular lecturer and preacher, became a radical.  He, interested in science, theology, local history, canon law, and philosophy, earned various degrees, culminating in his Doctor of Theology degree in 1372.  His move away from affirming the status quo began in 1374, at the start of the last decade of his life.  (Not everyone grows more conservative with age.)  Wycliffe served as a royal envoy to a conference with papal representative at Bruges.  The topic was provisions, or papal appointments to posts not yet vacant.

By 1376 Wycliffe became a committed reformer of the Church.  He criticized papal taxation, fees, and appointments, perhaps more out of political considerations than theological ones.  Our saint, who affirmed the Divine Right of Kings, became convinced that in terms of both doctrine and life the Church had strayed from its apostolic roots.  He argued that the clergy should not hold secular power, so no Pope should exercise power over the English Church.  Furthermore, Wycliffe wrote, Christ is the sole Head of the Universal Church, the Bible is the Law of God, and the true Church consists solely of the predestined Elect.  Wycliffe also affirmed the priesthood of all believers, questioned the theology of purgatory and transubstantiation, opposed the veneration of relics and statues, inveighed against the invocation of saints, criticized the celibacy of the clergy, and insisted that the state (with the monarch as the head of the state church) had an obligation to seize church lands for the benefit of the poor.  Certainly the Great Schism of the Papacy (1378-1417), a time of competing Supreme Pontiffs, influenced and reinforced Wycliffe’s criticism of the Papacy.

Wycliffe alarmed Popes, bishops, and leaders of religious orders, but had protectors in the royal family and among the nobility.  Nevertheless, after he became a scapegoat for a peasant revolt and Oxford authorities declared him a heretic in 1381, forced retirement became his fate.

Wycliffe was fortunate; he got to live and to retain his church positions.  He died three days after a stroke at Lutterworth on December 31, 1384.  Wycliffe was about 64 years old.

Wycliffe’s legacy continued, however.  The translation of the Bible into English was a project in which he was deeply involved, with help from others.  Wycliffe’s theology influenced Jan Hus, Martin Luther, and John Calvin.  The man had died, but his ideas lived.

Nevertheless, the Council of Constance condemned Wycliffe as a heretic posthumously in 1415.  Thirteen years later Richard Fleming, the Bishop of Lincoln, ordered the exhumation and burning of the old priest’s remains.

Some of Wycliffe’s followers were more radical than he was.  The Lollard movement began in 1380 and continued into the 1500s, influencing the English Reformation.  “Lollard” came from the Middle Dutch word for “mumbler” or “mutterer.”  The term, already applied to Flemish heretics prior to Wycliffe’s time, stuck to his followers by 1382.  It was a persecuted minority movement, some of whose members dared to plot to overthrow the government and disendow the English Church in 1431.

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THE CZECH REFORMER

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Above:  Jan Hus

Image in the Public Domain

Lord Jesus Christ, it is for the sake of the gospel and the preaching of the word that I undergo, with patience and humility, this terrifying, ignominious, cruel death.

–Jan Hus, July 6, 1415; quoted in Robert Ellsberg, All Saints (1997), 291

Jan Hus, born in Husinec, Bohemia, in 1371, was 17 years old when Wycliffe died.  Hus, influenced by Wycliffe’s writings, became a reformer in Bohemia and walked the road to martyrdom.

Hus, educated at the University of Prague (starting in 1390) was a Roman Catholic priest, as Wycliffe had been.  Hus, based in Prague, was, from 1392, chaplain of the Bethlehem Chapel, where he preached in the Czech language.  Our saint, the dean of the philosophical faculty of the University of Prague from 1401, served also as the Rector of the university in 1403 and 1409.  The following year, however, Archbishop Zbynek Zajic of Hasenberg excommunicated Hus.

Hus had been reading, marking, learning, and inwardly digesting writings of Wycliffe, as well as translating some of them into Czech.  Wycliffe’s ideas had already begun to influence politics in Bohemia, where the Church owned about half of the land, and many people, including a large number of priests, were poor.  Many peasants resented the Church, for obvious reasons.  Also, simony was rife.

Although Hus was radical in his setting, he was less radical than Wycliffe.  Hus, for example, affirmed transubstantiation consistently.  Yet, like Wycliffe, Hus condemned ecclesiastical abuses and defined the true Church as the assembly of the predestined Elect.

Hus managed to survive as long as he did because of protectors.  In 1410  King Wenceslaus IV of Bohemia attained a bull from (Antipope) Alexander V (in office 1409-1410) ordering the burning of Wycliffe’s works, forbidding the preaching of their contents at Bethlehem Chapel, and allowing no appeal.  Archbishop Zajic burned those writings that year.  The following year (Antipope) John XXIII, one of three competing Popes, placed an interdict on Prague, but Wenceslaus IV ignored it and ordered others to do the same.  Meanwhile, (Antipope) John XXIII was waging a war against King Ladislaus of Naples and selling indulgences to finance that war.  After Hus, technically excommunicated yet living as though there were no excommunication order, condemned the sale of those indulgences and accused (Antipope) John XXIII of being the Antichrist.  Wenceslaus IV had been protecting Hus, but ceased to do that in 1412, after (Antipope) John XXIII threatened the Bohemian monarch with a crusade on the charge of protecting heretics and heresy.  So, from 1412 to 1414, Hus lived, wrote, and preached in southern Bohemia for two years.

Hus died as a heretic at Constance, Baden, on July 6, 1415.  He had traveled there under a promise of safe conduct, for the Council of Constance, in 1414, but found himself a prisoner instead.  Hus, after having refused to recant, burned at the stake as a heretic.  He was 43 or 44 years old.

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CONCLUSION

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Much of the history of ecclesiastical reactions (as opposed to responses) to heresies, alleged and actual, is an account of behavior contrary to the spirit of Christ.  What in the Gospels might give one the idea that Jesus would approve of burning accused heretics?

One might disagree with Wycliffe and Hus on certain political and/or theological points, but one should recognize and respect their courage in risking their lives by resisting authority nonviolently in the knowledge that the authorities they objected to had the power to torture and execute them.

The Church has silenced and killed prophets, unfortunately.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

APRIL 26, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM COWPER, ANGLICAN HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF ROBERT HUNT, FIRST ANGLICAN CHAPLAIN AT JAMESTOWN, VIRGINIA

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O God, your justice continually challenges your Church to live according to its calling:

Grant us who now remember the work of John Wyclif

contrition for the wounds which our sins inflict on your Church,

and such love for Christ that we may seek to heal the divisions which afflict his Body;

through the same Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you

in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) 43:26-33

Psalm 33:4-11

Hebrews 4:12-16

Mark 4:13-20

Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), 659

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Faithful God, you gave John Hus the courage to confess your truth

and recall your Church to the image of Christ.

Enable us, inspired by his example, to bear witness against corruption

and never cease to pray for our enemies,

that we may prove faithful followers of our Savior Jesus Christ;

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

Job 22:21-30

Psalm 119:113-120

Revelation 3:1-6

Matthew 23:34-39

Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), 455

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Feast of Blessed Gemma of Goriano Sicoli (May 13)   Leave a comment

Above:  Blessed Gemma of Goriano Sicoli

Image in the Public Domain

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BLESSED GEMMA OF GORIANO SICOLI (CIRCA 1375-MAY 13, 1439)

Italian Roman Catholic Anchoress

In Goriano Sicoli, Italy, is the Church of Santa Gemma, the destination of a pilgrimage from San Sebastiano dei Marsi every May 11-13.  The church is a place in a story from World War II.  That story tells us that, when a soldier was preparing to store ammunition in the building, he changed his mind after a young woman (the apparition of Blessed Gemma) appeared to him and said,

Go away; this is my house.

Regardless of the truth or fiction of that story, Blessed Gemma, born circa 1375, in San Sebastiano dei Marsi, was devout.  She raised Roman Catholic, came from an impoverished family on a farm.  That family eventually sought improved financial circumstances in the village of Goriano Sicoli, in the Diocese of Sulmona.  When Blessed Gemma was young her parents died during an epidemic.  Subsequently relatives raised our saint, who worked as a shepherdess and spent much time in prayer in the fields.

Blessed Gemma, a beauty, understood that she had a vocation to the religious life.  She attracted the attention of Count Ruggero of Celano, who eventually abandoned his pursuit of her and financed the construction of her cell next to the Church of San Giovanni, Goriano Sicoli.  The arrangement was such that our saint could see the high altar.  She, an anchoress for the remaining 42 years of her life, provided spiritual counseling to all who sought it from her.  Blessed Gemma died, aged about 64 years, died of natural causes on May 13, 1439.

Devotion to the memory of Blessed Gemma (beatified by Pope Leo XIII in 1890) grew over time.  The space beneath the high altar of the Church of Santa Gemma, built on the site of the former Church of San Giovanni, became her tomb in 1613.  A similar reburial occurred in 1818, on the occasion of the construction of the second Church of Santa Gemma.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 24, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF HENRY CLAY SHUTTLEWORTH, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF DANIEL C. ROBERTS, EPISCOPAL PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

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O God, by whose grace your servant Blessed Gemma of Goriano Sicoli,

kindled with the flame of your love, became a burning and a shining light in your Church:

Grant that we may also be aflame with the spirit of love and discipline,

and walk before you as children of light;

through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you,

in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

Acts 2:42-47a

Psalm 133 or 34:1-8 or 119:161-168

2 Corinthians 6:1-10

Matthew 6:24-33

–Adapted from Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), page 723

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Feast of Blessed Julian(a) of Norwich (May 8)   1 comment

Above:  Icon of Blessed Julian(a) of Norwich and Her Cat

Image in the Public Domain

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BLESSED JULIAN OF NORWICH (LATE 1342-CIRCA 1417/1423)

Mystic and Spiritual Writer

Also known as Blessed Juliana of Norwich

Anglican, Episcopal, and Lutheran feast day = May 8

Roman Catholic feast day = May 13

We know little about Blessed Julian(a) of Norwich.  We do not even know her name.  Much of what we do know about her, however, comes from her book, Revelations of Divine Love (1393), based on twenty-year-old “showings” from God and available as a paperback book in 2017.

Blessed Julian(a) devoted much of her life to God as a recluse.  In May 1373 our saint, thirty and a half years old, was near death at her mother’s house.  A priest even administered the last rites.  Yet our saint recovered and, on May 8, received sixteen revelations–“showings,” which affected her deeply and which she pondered for two decades.  At some point she became a recluse at St. Julian’s Church, Conisford, Norwich, England; she was there by 1400.  Blessed Julian(a) lived with a cat (certainly a fine companion) in a suite at the church, part of the Benedictine Community at Carrow.  Two servants, Sarah and Alice, moved in the outside world on her behalf.  Meanwhile, people sought Blessed Julian(a) out for spiritual counsel.  Among these was the mystic Margery Kempe (d. 1440).  Our saint lived into her seventies–at least into 1416, when she became a beneficiary of a will.

Revelations of Divine Love reveals much about the character and theology of Blessed Julian(a), informally beatified in the Roman Catholic Church.  The book shows her humility, for, despite the evidence of her education and keen intellect in that text, she describes herself as

a simple and uneducated creature

in the second chapter.  The book also reveals Blessed Julian(s) focus on divine kindness and on the Passion of Jesus,

our courteous Lord.

The Holy Trinity is another major topic in the Revelations of Divine Love, as in Chapter 54:

We are to rejoice that God and the soul mutually indwell each other; there is nothing between God and our soul; it is, so to speak, all God; through the work of the Holy Spirit, faith is the foundation of all the soul’s virtues.

And because of his great and everlasting love for mankind, God makes no distinction in the love he has for the blessed soul of Christ and that which he has for the lowliest soul to be saved.  It is easy enough to believe and trust that the blessed soul of Christ is pre-eminent in the glorious Godhead, and indeed, if I understand our Lord aright, where his blessed soul there is too, in substance, are all the souls which will be saved by him.

How greatly should we rejoice that God indwells our soul!  Even more that our soul dwells in God!  Our created soul is to be God’s dwelling place:  and the soul’s dwelling place is to be God, who is uncreated.  It is a great thing to know in our heart that God, our Maker, indwells our soul.  Even greater is to know that our soul, our created soul, dwells in the substance of God.  Of that substance, God, are we what we are!

I could see no difference between God and our substance:  it was all God, so to speak.  Yet my mind understood that our substance was in God.  In other words, God is God, and our substance his creation.  For the almighty truth of the Trinity is our Father:  he makes us and preserves us in himself; the deep wisdom of the Trinity is our Mother, in whom we are enfolded; the great goodness of the Trinity is our Lord, and we are enfolded by him too, and he by us.  We are enfolded alike in the Father, in the Son, and in the Holy Spirit.  And the Father is enfolded in us, the Son too, and the Holy Spirit as well:  all mightiness, all wisdom, all goodness–one God, one Lord.

The virtue that our faith springs from our basic nature and comes into our soul through the Holy Spirit.  Through this virtue all virtues come into our soul through the Holy Spirit.  Through this virtue all virtues come to us, and without it no one can be virtuous.  Our faith is nothing, else but a right understanding, and true belief, and sure trust, that with regard to our essential being we are in God, and God in us, though we do not see him.  This virtue, and all others which spring from it, through the ordering of God, works great things in us.  For Christ in his mercy works within us, and we graciously co-operate with him through the gift and power of the Holy Spirit.  This makes us Christ’s children, and Christian in our living.

Revelations of Divine Love, translated by Clifton Wolters (1966)

We know little about Blessed Julian(a) of Norwich, but that fact might not matter very much.  We can still read her book, after all.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 3, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF GEORGE KENNEDY ALLEN BELL, ANGLICAN BISHOP OF CHICHESTER

THE FEAST OF JOHN RALEIGH MOTT, ECUMENICAL PIONEER

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Lord God, in your compassion you granted to the Lady Julian

many revelations of your nurturing and sustaining love:

Move our hearts, like hers, to seek you above all things,

for in giving us yourself you give us all;

through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with

you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

Isaiah 46:3-5

Psalm 27:5-11

Hebrews 10:19-24

John 4:23-26

Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), page 363

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Feast of St. Frances of Rome (March 9)   Leave a comment

st-frances-of-rome

Above:  St. Frances of Rome

Image in the Public Domain

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SAINT FRANCES OF ROME (1384-MARCH 9, 1440)

Foundress of the Collatines

St. Frances of Rome, a native of that city, came from an aristocratic family.  Her parents were Paul Bussa and Jacobella de’ Roffredeschi.  At the age of 12 years our saint married Lorenzo de’ Ponziani, to whom she remained wedded for 40 years.  The couple had three children.  St. Frances, as a widow , became a Benedictine nun.  She continued to do what she had done as a laywoman–to serve the sick and the poor.  In 1433 she founded the Oblates for the Tor de’ Specchi (the Collatines).  Our saint also founded the first home for abandoned children in Rome.  Furthermore, she reported 97 visions, in which she saw, among other things, Hell and Purgatory.  Our saint died on March 9, 1440.  She was about 56 years old.

Pope Paul V canonized her in 1608.

St. Frances is the patron of women, Rome, motorists, motorcyclists, aviators, Roman housewives, taxi cab drivers, and people ridiculed for their faith.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 13, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT HILARY OF POITIERS, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF POITIERS, “ATHANASIUS OF THE WEST,” AND HYMN WRITER; MENTOR OF SAINT MARTIN OF TOURS, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF TOURS

THE FEAST OF CHRISTIAN KEIMANN, GERMAN LUTHERAN HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT KENTIGERN, A.K.A. MUNGO, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF GLASGOW

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARGUERITE BOURGEOYS, FOUNDRESS OF THE SISTERS OF NOTRE DAME

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O God, by whose grace your servant Saint Frances of Rome,

kindled with the flame of your love, became a burning and shining light in your Church:

Grant that we also may be aflame with the spirit of love and discipline,

and walk before you as children of light,

through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you,

in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

Acts 2:42-47a

Psalm 133 or 34:1-8 or 119:161-168

2 Corinthians 6:1-10

Matthew 6:24-33

–Adapted from Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), page 723

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Feast of Thomas a Kempis (July 24)   1 comment

Thomas a Kempis

Above:  Thomas à Kempis

Image in the Public Domain

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THOMAS À KEMPIS (CIRCA 1380-JULY 25, 1471)

Roman Catholic Monk, Priest, and Spiritual Writer

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The Episcopal Church observes the life and legacy of Thomas à Kempis on July 24.

Thomas Hemerken was a native of Kempen, now on the German side of the Rhine River and near the Dutch border.  In the late 1300s the political structure was that of the Holy Roman Empire.  He studied with the Brethren of the Common Life at Deventer, Holland, for seven years.  The Brethren lived simply and communally.  They operated influential schools, supported themselves financially by copying manuscripts, emphasized the inner life and virtuous living, emphasized practical theology, and practiced moderation with regard to ascetic and penitential practices.  The founder of the order was Gerhard Groote (1340-1384), who had come from a wealthy family and renounced his worldly ways.  In 1399 our saint joined the Brethren at Mount St. Agnes, near Zwolle, Holland.   His brother was the prior there.  Kempis took monastic vows in 1407, became a priest six years later, and advanced to the rank of subprior in 1425.  He was an introvert who was more comfortable in the company of books than people. (I respect that.) Kempis enjoyed copying the scriptures, works of the Church Fathers, and books about asceticism.

Kempis died at Mount St. Agnes on July 25, 1471.

Our saint’s enduring legacy is Of the Imitation of Christ, or the Imitation of Christ for short, a book whose authorship many people have doubted for a long time.  In my copy, dated 1891, for example, Anglican priest, poet, and educator Frederic W. Farrar (1831-1903) argued in his introduction that the authorship of the Imitation of Christ was an impossible question to answer.  Other scholars have been certain, however, that Kempis wrote the book.  The author of an old Encyclopedia Britannica article argued that the preponderance of evidence affirmed that our saint wrote the book, for example.

The text builds on orthodox Christology and Trinitarian theology and emphasizes, as its title indicates, imitating Christ:

“He that followeth Me, walketh not in darkness,” saith the Lord.  These are the words of Christ, by which we are admonished how we ought to imitate His life and manners, if we will be truly enlightened, and be delivered from all blindness of heart.

Let therefore our chiefest endeavor be, to meditate upon the life of JESUS CHRIST.

–Page 13 in my copy, published in 1891

Kempis favored frequent reception of the Holy Eucharist as a spiritual practice.  Daily reception is best, he wrote.  The sacrament and the scriptures are both essential for Christian living, he insisted:

In the mean time I will walk in faith, strengthened by the examples of the Saints.

I have also holy books for my comfort and for the glass of my life; and above all these I have Thy most Holy Body and Blood for a singular remedy and refuge.

–Page 305 in my copy, published in 1891

The Imitation of Christ has become the second most influential work in Western Christianity and the Christian book translated into the second greatest number of languages.  The Bible occupies the first rank in both categories.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

APRIL 10, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE THIRD SUNDAY OF EASTER, YEAR C

THE FEAST OF PIERRE TEILHARD DE CHARDIN, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST, SCIENTIST, AND THEOLOGIAN

THE FEAST OF HENRY VAN DYKE, U.S. PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER AND LITURGIST

THE FEAST OF HOWARD THURMAN, PROTESTANT THEOLOGIAN

THE FEAST OF MIKAEL AGRICOLA, FINNISH LUTHERAN LITURGIST, BISHOP OF TURKU, AND “FATHER OF FINNISH LITERARY LANGUAGE”

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Holy Father, you have nourished and strengthened your Church

by the inspired writings of your servant Thomas a Kempis:

Grant that we may learn from him to know what is necessary to be known,

to live what is to be loved,

to praise what rightly pleases you,

and always to seek to know and follow your will;

through Jesus Christ our Lord,

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

Ecclesiastes 9:11-18

Psalm 33:1-5, 20-21

Ephesians 4:32-5:2

Luke 6:17-23

Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), page 483

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Feast of Peter of Chelcic and Gregory the Patriarch (September 13)   1 comment

Holy Roman Empire 1559

Above:  Bohemia, 1559

Image Source = Hammond’s World Atlas–Classics Edition (1967)

Scan by Kenneth Randolph Taylor

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PETER OF CHELCIC (CIRCA 1390-CIRCA 1460)

Bohemian Hussite Reformer

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GREGORY THE PATRIARCH (CIRCA 1420-SEPTEMBER 13, 1473)

Founder of the Moravian Church

I have been writing about saints from the history of the Moravian Church for a while.  With this post I add two foundational figures from the history of that denomination to the Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days.

Peter of Chelcic (circa 1390-circa 1460), whose origins have remained mysterious, was the Moravian forerunner.  The opinions of the fiery preacher were not mysterious, however.  He condemned the union of church and state, the violence of the Hussite Wars, the profiteering of priests who charged fees for the administration of sacraments, the existence of religious sects, and royal authority.  He was a communalist, a pacifist, an anarchist, a radical egalitarian, an advocate of simple living, and a champion of the poor.  Peter, a leader of the Bohemian Reformation, had read and absorbed works of John Wycliffe and Jan Hus.  Peter taught the priesthood of the believer, communal living, and a life of voluntary goodness.  Good works, he said, are vital even though all people depend on divine grace.  He also affirmed only two sacraments–baptism and the Holy Eucharist–and offered Eucharistic theology which presaged Lutheran Consubstantiation.  Peter’s theology also influenced the Anabaptist movement, which came into existence in the 1520s.

There were Hussite factions after the execution of Jan Hus in 1417.  The two germane to this post were the Taborites and the Calixtines/Utraquists.  Peter of Chelcic was a Taborite.  The Taborites were similar to the Lollards, who formed in support of Wycliffe’s views and expanded on them.  The Calixtines/Utraquists, many of whom had returned to Holy Mother Church in 1434, were the Hussite establishment.  They administered the Holy Eucharist in both kinds–wafer and wine, hence the name “Utraquist.”  The leaders of the Utraquists were the Bohemian monarchs and the Archbishop-Elect of Prague.  From 1448 the latter was John Rockycana (circa 1396-1471).  He was the Archbishop-Elect, not the Archbishop, because Prague was a vacant see from 1421 to 1561, for political reasons.

I have chosen to be more generous to Rockycana than J. E. Hutton, author the now-public domain A History of the Moravian Church (1909), was.  He, in Chapter 5, wrote of Rockycana:

For all his fire in the pulpit, he was only a craven at heart.

Later in the same paragraph Hutton wrote that Rockycana sought not

the Kingdom of God, but his fame and glory.

That evaluation might be correct, but I do not know that for a fact.  I do know for a fact that Rockycana was in a difficult situation, flung between the Roman Catholic Church on one side and radical Hussite factions on the other side.  In an age when the union of church and state was normative, there was no separation between matters political and theological.  Thus the union of church and state created perilous ground to tread.  In that context Rockycana helped the nascent Moravian Church, or the Bohemian Brethren, until he stopped doing so, as he balanced political-theological considerations.  This reality made him imperfect, but not necessarily “a craven at heart.”

Rockycana’s nephew was Gregory the Patriarch (circa 1420-September 13, 1473), the founder of the Moravian Church.  Gregory, a son of a Bohemian knight, had been a monk.  The monastery, he learned, however, was corrupt, so he left.  Rockycana gave his nephew a copy of some of the writings of Peter of Chelcic.  Gregory found much worthy in them and befriended Peter.  Later, Gregory, with support from Rockycana, established a settlement in the valley of Kunwald in 1457 or 1458.  (J. E. Hutton wrote in A History of the Moravian Church that the traditional date, March 1, 1457, which the Moravian Church has taken as its founding, lacks documentary support.)  Thus the origins of the Moravian Church, or the Bohemian Brethren, entailed merging Taborite and Calixtine/Utraquist elements.  King George Podiebrad of Bohemia (reigned 1458-1471), who was initially supportive of the Kunwald settlement, changed his mind in 1461, when he learned that the Brethren of Kunwald were administering the Holy Eucharist in the forms of bread (not wafers) and wine.  This seemed like heresy to him, and he resolved not to condone heresy in his realm.  The first persecution of the Moravian Church followed.  It entailed incarcerating people, torturing them, and burning some of them at the stake as heretics.  Gregory endured torture until his uncle arranged for his release.

The scattered community of Kunwald reconstituted itself in time.  The synod of 1467 established the Moravian episcopate.  That succession of bishops has remained unbroken despite the century or so (1620-1722) the Moravian Church existed as an underground institution.  The first bishop was Matthias of Kunwald (died in 1500), who succeeded Gregory as the leader of the Brethren in 1473.

The Moravian Church, the original Protestant denomination, has blessed the human race with a generous theology (“In essentials, unity; in nonessentials, liberty; and in all things, love”) and a magnificent musical legacy.  Peter of Chelcic and Gregory the Patriarch were present at creation, laying the foundations of a work which has grown to become a global church.  I, although an active member and communicant of a different communion, one to which I am suited by temperament, thank God for the Moravian Church.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

APRIL 17, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF DANIEL SYLVESTER TUTTLE, PRESIDING BISHOP OF THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH

THE FEASET OF SAINT MARY EUPHRASIA PELLETIER, FOUNDER OF THE CONTEMPLATIVES OF THE GOOD SHEPHERD

THE FEAST OF SAINT ROBERT OF CHAISE DIEU, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT

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Almighty God, we praise you for your servants

Peter of Chelcic and Gregory the Patriarch,

through whom you have called the church to its tasks and renewed its life.

Raise up in our own day teachers and prophets inspired by your Spirit,

whose voices will give strength to your church and proclaim the reality of your reign,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Jeremiah 1:4-10

Psalm 46

1 Corinthians 3:11-23

Mark 10:35-43

–Adapted from Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 60

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