T&ST: Chapter 1 – Political Theology and the New Science of Politics

In order for a secular social theory to emerge, secular space and secular time had to be created. Early modern social thought (Hobbes, Spinoza, Locke, and Machiavelli) created a secular space and time identified with the sphere of the artificial (that is, of human creation) and with the exercise of arbitrary will. These linkages, in particular that between human construction and pure will, were not the necessary trajectory of a secularizing Judeo-Christianity, as the received sociological tradition has it, but rather particular mutations of the Christian tradition in the direction of heterodoxy (Hobbes, Spinoza, Locke) and neo-paganism (Machiavelli).

To make sense of this argument, it helps first to dig in a little bit to the tradition of “received sociology” which Milbank is criticizing. He’s taking aim at a strong version of the secularization thesis, particularly one which (1) understands secularization as a process of uncovering an autonomous human sphere which was always actually there (or at least there as a potentiality to be actualized) but mystified by theology or other forms of ideology and (2) describes Christianity as a necessarily an agent of secularization. Judaism and Christianity, in many versions of this account, decisively transcendentalized the divine (against animistic or shamanistic associations of the divine with nature, say — think of the prohibition of images of God in the 10 Commandments, here) and problematized an easy association between divine and human authority (against, say, the Romans or Egyptians, for whom their political leaders were at least potentially gods, God becomes human in the person of a peasant, Jesus of Nazareth), disenchanting the natural and political worlds and rendering them open to self-conscious human intervention. For a strong version of this argument, see Gaudet’s The Disenchantment of the World: A Political History of Religion.

This is the tradition that Milbank thinks is “preposterous” (10). It’s not, to be clear, that theological developments had nothing to do with secularization — one of the most important goals of this book is  to argue that secularity is necessarily bound up in theology. Rather, the problem of this tradition of analysis is that it confuses necessity and contingency and reads modern developments in Christianity into its origins, and thus argues that, because something called “the secular” was established and that its establishment was related to particular late medieval/early modern developments in Christian theology, there was always a latent secularity in human existence and Christian theology was always and necessarily a disenchanting, uncovering force. Far from a latent secularity to be uncovered, Milbank argues that the secular had to be positively constructed, its meaning decisively shifted from its old medieval usage as the interval of time between the fall of man and the Second Coming to an autonomous sphere (both a space and a time) of human activity governed by pure human will.

The particular linkage that Milbank is most interested in unpacking is the link between the factum (the made) or artificial (i.e., the sphere of human activity in the world) and the secular (the sphere of exclusively human activity in the world, from which theology – and even God! – are removed). It is this link which creates the space of the secular. While this linkage may seem obvious to us, Milbank suggests that it is not in fact necessary. He points to the Mannerists as a (frankly quite confusing) counter-example. The way that this linkage happened, says Milbank, is that Adam’s dominium (lordship) over creation was defined in terms of “power, property, active right, and absolute sovereignty” and that Adam’s personhood came to be defined in terms of this dominium (13). This is a redefinition, Milbank wants to make clear — one which erases much of the classical and medieval usage of the term in favor of a return and indeed amplification of a “more brutal and origainal dominium, the unrestricted lordship over what lies within one’s power…in Roman private law.” (13). In this redefinition, says Milbank, we can see the affinity between modern absolutism and modern liberalism: the same conception of dominium as absolute power over self connects Hobbes’ notions that the sovereign cannot bind himself and that subjects are free only regarding that about which the law does not speak (see 14).

How did this new understanding of dominium emerge? Theology! Dominium-as-sheer-power could be identified with the essence of humanity because dominium-as-sheer-power was seen as defining the essence of divinity by the nominalist-voluntarist tradition in Christian theology! In Milbank’s telling, a rich tradition of theologizing about the will of God in Trinitarian language is replaced by an effective unitarianism which understands God’s will as unitary and at some level arbitrary. This sentence seems key, although I’m not necessarily well-versed enough in the theology of the period to parse it well: “No longer is the world participatorily enfolded within the divine expressive Logos, but instead a bare divine unity starkly confronts the other distinct unities which he has ordained” (15).

Why did this theological transformation cause this new understanding of human dominium and the new ‘science of politics’ that emerged from it? For two reasons, Milbank says (see 16). (1) It made men with unimpeded property rights and especially men exercising the rights of sovereignty the closest humans to the imago Dei. (2) By dismissing a theology of human participation in the life of the Trinity in favor of understanding human-divine relationships along the pattern of a contractual covenantal bond, it promoted a similar contractual understanding of human-human relationships. Theology, for Milbank, was not just an ideological justification of processes ‘really’ happening but rather played a necessary role in constructing the new realities which defined the sphere of free human action which came to be known as the secular.

This wasn’t just a change at the level of theory, says Milbank, church practices also changed (and indeed, the church was quicker to embrace the “assumed traits of modern secularity — legal formalization, rational instrumentalization, sovereign rule, economic contractualism” than the regnum (18)).

So let’s recap: to create a secular space, the sphere of human activity (the made, the historical, the artificial) had to be identified with the expression of pure human will. This required a new anthropology, which necessitated a redefinition of humanity’s dominium over the self and over the world which recouped and radicalized an old Roman legal definition which had been tamed by much of classical and medieval thought. Dominium came to be understood as a realm of sheer power which described the essence of a person. What it is to be human is to exercise unimpeded power. The reason new anthropology could come into begin had to do with voluntarist/nominalist shifts in the doctrine of God which identified God’s essence with the same sort of unitive, arbitrary willing. So much for the creation of secular space. Let’s turn to the creation of secular time.

The problem here, according to Milbank, is that the ecclesial time of the churches, as emblematized in particular by the traditional four-fold sense of scripture which brings together past, present, and future under the reflection  of leaders authorized by the church and invests that reflection with a quasi-divine authority which binds the obedience of good Christians, competes with the power of the new ‘secular’ state. I’m going to be honest: this part makes a lot less sense to me than the first part of the chapter. But here’s the argument, as best as I can sketch it:

To tame the political threat which the church posed, first one had to remove formal political power, and above all the power to coerce, from the church. The church becomes purely persuasive yet depends on state violence for the maintenance of its power (think the Reformation churches, especially the Lutheran church, here). Next, one had to “exclude all ‘private’ inspiration from politics, by declaring the temporal ‘interval’ to be for the present ‘the all'” (19). What exactly does this mean? I’m not sure — but perhaps it refers to the elimination of any political arguments that cannot accord with universal reason, particularly those arguments made using the old biblical hermeneutic. Next, you need to “capture” the text of the Bible from orthodox Christianity, because the “authoritative text of the Scriptures” is “required” by the “new space of sovereign power” because it was “the source of a positive divine reconfirmation of the covenantal principle, and for the truth that God stood behind the positive authority of nature” (19). To make this capture, the old use of the Bible, which “accorded interpretative authority to a tradition of reading, to readers whose power proceeded not from arms, property or contract, but rather from their socially made available time for reading” had to be eliminated (19). Now why was this old hermeneutic such a problem?

There is a lot here that is very hard to follow, and requires a mastery of Spinoza’s Tractatus that I do not have, but I think the real take-away is as follows:

The problem with the old Catholic biblical hermeneutic is that it refused to confine revelation to either wholly private and essentially incommunicable actions or public miracles that were long past. Rather, for the old four-fold, heavily allegorical Biblical hermeneutic, divine communication was mediated through the acts of a tradition of human interpreters whose power came from the church, not from the sovereign. Although the allegorical interpretations of scripture were in some sense of human creation, and contestable as such, interpreters were nonetheless guided by the Spirit in their interpretive work (or so the theory went, I think — I am not an expert on medieval biblical hermeneutics!). If, then, “God is still speaking” (to crib the UCC motto of the moment), there can be statements that are neither justifiable in terms of a universal rationality or a plain reading of the scripture nor dismissable by the sovereign as mere private opinion and thus unacceptable as a grounds for action.

Instead of this tradition, then, the new sovereign power laid claim to be the only power with the right to interpret Scripture in all ways that were publically or communally significant — and this is why Spinoza’s Tractatus or Hobbes’ Leviathan include lengthy discourses on proper interpretation of the Bible! This was necessary because the Bible was still necessary to ground the claims of the sovereign, especially the “convenantal principle,” as we have seen. In order to claim this power, a new, positivistic concept of revelation had to be promulgated. No longer was it possible or “any charisma to attach to transmission“, as in the old reading model (21). Now, revelation was either private and thus incommunicable or public but confined to an age of miracles that was now long past.

The final section of this chapter (one which also refers to ecclesial time) takes us out of the voluntarist political theology of Hobbes, Spinoza, Locke, and their ilk and to the “historicist perspective” of Machiavelli (23). What makes Machiavelli a break from the tradition which preceded him was not, Milbank wants to say, Machiavelli’s awareness of the need to adapt politics to historical particulars — this notion would not have been surprising or threatening to many of his forbears – but rather his retrieval of a specifically pagan “political and philosophical time” which competes with and indeed rejects Christianity (23). If in Hobbes we see a sort of perversion of Christian theology, in Machiavelli we find at least a partial rejection of it and an attempt to construct politics and morality upon a different source entirely, namely, that of antique, pagan virtu. With it comes a circular view of time dominated by conflict, the ebb and flow of fortune, and the actions of valiant, heroic men to capitalize upon it.

Milbank concludes by noting the import of both the voluntarist/contractualist/natural rights/liberal social theory and the thought of Machiavelli for future developments in social theory: these are two of the most vital sources, he says, from which it sprung. Yet from both a specifically Christian perspective and a sort of Foucauldian critical one, these traditions, far from being universal or necessary or rational, are dependent upon either a specific Christian heterodoxy or an attempt to return to paganism. Moreover, he suggests — although this was not, I think, adequately demonstrated in the text itself, that “the ‘science of conflict’ is not merely one branch of social science but rather that the ‘scientific’ approach seeks ‘to know’ power and conflict as ontologically fundamental” (25). Willed power as ontologically fundamental, sure — but conflict? Not necessarily. At any rate, the point, as far as Milbank is concerned, is that if Christianity seeks to make room for or accomodate secular reason, such a move involves a rapproachment with either a perversion of proper theology or a straight-up rejection of it — either “deviancy or falsehood,” as he puts it (25).

 

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T&ST: Chapter 1 – Political Theology and the New Science of Politics

T&ST: Introduction

A helpful way to think about Theology and Social Theory is as two related projects, one critical and one constructive, one speaking with the “nihilistic” voice of contemporary social theory, and one with a Christian version of the “MacIntyrean voice,” rejecting the tradition of secular, liberal social theory in favor of a retrieval of conceptions from classical and medieval Christian thought, particularly the virtues and the common good.

The first, critical project, which takes up the bulk of this book, is an archaeology of secular social theory which traces its development as a set of deviations (in the direction of either heresy or neo-paganism) from orthodox Christian theology, deviations which were no more rationally grounded than the orthodox positions they replaced. The goal of this archaeology is two-fold. First, this archaeology seeks to establish that the tradition of secular social theory, often held to be objective, scientific, and rational, is in fact contingent, limited, and no more rationally defensible than the positions it attacked. The second goal is to establish that secular social theory, rather than providing a totally non-theological, non-metaphysical analysis of an autonomous field opened up by its removal of theology, is in fact theological through-and-through. “I hope to make it apparent that ‘scientific’ social theories are themselves theologies or anti-theologies in disguise” (3). This critical project, as Milbank notes, is not wholly original in contemporary social theory; his dependence upon a mode of analysis pioneered (or so the genealogy usually goes) by the famous troika of Marx, Freud, and Nietzsche, and refined especially by the left-Nietzschean tradition, of whom Michel Foucault is the foremost expositor, is quite clear. Even the second of the two goals of this archeology is hardly without precedent; one thinks of Carl Schmitt here (if perhaps with a shudder!), and Milbank cites MacIntyre, Gllian Rose, Rene Girard, Guy Lardreau and Christian Jambet as theorists, in one way or another, of “the idea of the critical non-avoidability of the theological and metaphysical” (2). This archaeology is carried out in three treatises: “Theology and Liberalism,” examining the liberal discourses of early liberal political theory/”scientific politics” and political economy; “Theology and Positivism,” examining positivism and sociology in general, and “Theology and Dialectics,” examining the Hegelian and Marxist traditions.

The constructive project, which is begun in the first three treatises but made explicit in the last, “Theology and Difference,” makes an argument for the superiority of Christianity over both secular social theory and the nihilistic critique of secular social theory which secular social theory produced, one which is ultimately related to their differing relationships to difference. For Milbank, secular social theory necessarily tends towards something like a Nietzschean critical position: an ontology of chaos and violence, where what fundamentally is is a struggle for power between, well, everything — a struggle that cannot be rationally adjudicated, for reason itself cannot be grounded upon anything other than the exercise of sheer power. This struggle, then, and the promotion of new forms of difference, takes on a sort of quasi-moral stature: the invention of new values out of thin air and their propagation by sheer force of will is, for Nietzsche, glorious! Foucault talks in a quite different register, but I think the same sort-of-moral vision is there; both oppose totalizing visions which seek to stamp out an original difference. For Christianity, according to Milbank, the fundamental ontology is also difference; like Nietzscheanism but unlike, say, Marx or Hegel, Christianity does not seek to impose a totalizing order by violence (either literal or metaphorical). But this difference is understood not as chaos but as peace — and in his final treatise, Milbank tries to sketch out a “historicist and pragmatist, yet theologically realist” Christian tradition which he believes can withstand the critique of contemporary social theory and provide the only discourse able to overcome the nihilism that the victorious left-Nietzschean critique of secular social theory has left us with.

Why this project? The goal of this book is essentially to liberate theology from its largely self-imposed secular captivity. In modernity, theology (especially in its liberal versions) has understood itself no longer as a ‘metadiscourse’ structuring all knowledge but rather as having expertise only in a particular field (or perhaps even a certain non-field, if you will — a realm of the numinous utterly beyond the reach of reason) and dependent upon autonomous, secular discourses for knowledge about anything outside of the particular area of theology’s expertise. Thus, say, if theology wants to say anything about the social world, including how the church as it exists in the social world, it must turn to sociology. I think this is a reasonably accurate depiction of much of theology’s current condition — and certainly that of liberal and liberationist theologies. Take Latin American liberation theology, for example: Gustavo Gutierrez often quite explicitly bases his analysis upon Marxism and writes about secularity as a human coming of age, of man taking the dominion which is his by right and casting off the shackles of superstitions both theological and political-economic which prevent the structuring of society according to human will.

For Milbank, there is an irony in this situation: while leading theologians continue to express both implicitly and explicitly the autonomy and universality of the secular and social science, developments in social theory have ruthlessly criticized such a view. In one sense, then, this book is written to force theologians to take into account developments in social theory over the last, say, forty years; social theory has moved a long way since A Theology of Liberation or The Secular City. In forcing theologians to do this taking of account, Milbank hopes to persuade them to reject the notions that “there is a significant sociological ‘reading’ of religion and Christianity, which theology must ‘take account of,’ and the idea that theology must borrow its diagnoses of social ills and recommendations of social solutions entirely from Marxist (or usually sub-Marxist) analysis, with some sociological admixture” (3). If secular social theory and the explanations it produces are not universal, rational, and autonomous, but rather contingent and dependent upon theological/metaphysical grounds which are ultimately opposed to orthodox Christianity, theology needs to totally rethink its relationship to these discourses and seek to re-situate itself as a master discourse. As we have seen above, this is necessary for Milbank because Christian theology alone can provide a discourse in which difference is understood, not as endless violence but instead as peace and harmony and thus, by liberating itself from its self-marginalization, liberate us from the nihilism which is the ultimate result of secular social thought.

T&ST: Introduction

Blogging through John Milbank’s Theology and Social Theory: An Introduction

I’ve begun working my way through John Milbank’s Theology and Social Theory: Beyond Secular Reason. It’s been on my to-read list for a long time now, but it’s difficult enough that I have stayed away. However, I think it will prove helpful for a paper I have been working on, so have decided that it is time to forge ahead and try to make some sense of this book! I’m going to be blogging through it, mostly because I find that the work of actually laying out an argument is very helpful in understanding it, especially for difficult texts (this is more-or-less how a college professor of mine had us read through Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit). But, if anyone out in the ether is struggling with this text as much as I am, perhaps these reflections will prove helpful! My intention at this point is to go chapter-by-chapter, laying out the argument and responding to it as best as I am able. Let’s see how this goes!

Blogging through John Milbank’s Theology and Social Theory: An Introduction

Commentary: Collects for the Fifth Sunday in Lent

First of all, you might have noticed that I have added another source to the ones we’ve been looking at, namely, the Anglican Church of Canada’s 1985 Book of Alternative Services, which (its name notwithstanding) is, I believe, the liturgical resource used by most Anglican Church of Canada parishes today. As we have seen in ELW and (once) in the LBW, the BAS adapts to the three-year lectionary cycle by sometimes offering multiple prayers of the day for a given day based on the year in the lectionary cycle. Interestingly, it appears as though this split only happens in Lent in the BAS — otherwise, there is only one set of proper prayers per day.

As you have doubtless seen, there are three BAS proper prayers for each Sunday; there is not only a collect of the day, said in the beginning of the service, but also  a prayer over the offerings said at the beginning of the celebration of the Eucharist and a prayer after communion said, well, after communion. While few Protestant orders of worship that I know of incorporate these three proper prayers (Common Worship, as we have seen, incorporates two of the three, omitting the prayer over the offerings), this is not a Canadian innovation — rather, it is a restoration of the full set of proper prayers used in Catholic worship at least since Trent and, I believe, well before. In pre-Novus Ordo Catholic liturgies, what the BAS calls the prayer over the offerings is referred to as the “secret”; in contemporary Catholic usage it is also called the prayer over the offerings. The prayer after communion, it’s worth noting, is actually optional. The BAS also offers a congregational postcommunion prayer similar to the ones in the 1979 prayerbook. I think there’s a lot to be said for this expansion of the proper prayers: the addition of more variable parts to the service means that there are more opportunities to express the particular meaning of each individual Sunday. It is worth noting that only one of the six eucharistic prayers in the BAS use a proper preface, however — so that is one way that the American prayerbook incorporates seasonal content that the BAS decidedly does not emphasize.

Finally, a liturgical note: many of the Anglican prayerbooks (although not the ’79 BCP) describe this Sunday as “Passion Sunday” or the beginning of Passiontide. Passiontide denote the last two weeks of Lent. It’s during this period that all crosses, statues, images, etc., are typically veiled and there are also changes in the Daily Office. Post-Vatican II, the Roman Church no longer celebrates Passiontide but it is preserved to some degree in Anglican usage (and probably by Latin Mass Catholics as well).

With all that out of the way, let’s take a look at the collects for this week:

As usual, the 1928 BCP/1662 BCP/LSB/LH collect of the day are all the same prayer. It’s a fine enough prayer, although hardly theologically rich or particularly strongly connected to the season. Indeed, Marion Hatchett argues rather forcefully that, as a simple prayer for protection it is “not at all suited to the time of the church year” (175). Apparently, this position was the one that carried the day for whatever set of individuals were charged with examining the collects of the day in the revision that produced the 1979 prayerbook, as the 79 BCP uses instead a prayer which was actually originally a collect appointed for use in the Easter season; we’ll encounter it again in the 1928 and 1662 prayerbooks on the Fourth Sunday after Easter. I think, all things considered, that the revision was a good one. While this prayer would also function well late in Eastertide, the prayer to “grant your people grace to love what you command and desire what you promise” is surely a good one for a season of penitence and self-reflection, especially as the season wears on and those of us who have given up our favorite vices are finding it hard indeed to love God’s commands and desire God’s promises. Moreover, the reminder that this work we do (by God’s grace) on ourselves during Lent is not just mortification for mortification’s sake but rather because it is only by fixing our hearts on God that we can find true joy is surely a helpful one.

The Common Worship and Book of Alternative Services collects of the day for this day are quite similar. The ascriptions are different, with the Common Worship one generically appropriate to the season and the BAS one more closely linked to the week’s readings, but the petition is nearly the same. The wording is a little different, though — and I think I prefer the BAS wording, which highlights the transforming power of Christ’s cross for those who have faith in it rather the faith that Christians have in that the cross of Christ. Both are, I think, theologically correct, but the Common Worship one threatens – to use an old Lutheran turn of phrase – to make faith a work, in my opinion, while the BAS one resolutely focuses on the cross.

Not too much to say about the ELW collects; as usual, they are quite lyrical and draw well upon the appointed lections. I do wonder about the use of the term “Creator God” in the Year C collect a little. Is it supposed to be replacing “Almighty God” or “God the Father” in the style of inclusive-language substitutes for traditional trinitarian language? If so, identifying the act of creation solely with the first person of the Trinity tends towards modalism/Sabellianism and contradicts the Nicene Creed; we Christians have historically confessed that the Word and the Spirit as well as the Father were involved in creation. Now, I don’t want to get into a whole discussion of the use of inclusive language “substitutes” for the Father/Son/Holy Spirit trinitarian formula like Creator/Redeemer/Sanctifier — the short version of my stance on them is that I understand and respect the reasons for which people advocate for them and enthusiastically support the use of feminine and gender-neutral language  and pronouns for God alongside the traditional masculine ones, but believe hat none of the substitutes in common usage actually mean the same thing as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and that the replacement of the traditional terms threatens to erase a robustly trinitarian theology in favor of either a modalistic unitarianism or a sort of tritheism. In short, I like the prayer but would prefer an “O God” to “Creator God” at the beginning. Of course, the Apostle’s Creed identifies God the Father primarily as Creator, so one might argue that I am making much ado about nothing here; certainly addressing God the Father as Creator on occasion is not problematic — but the collects have traditionally been expressions (as the Apostle’s Creed, worthy though it is, has not) of developed trinitarian theology, and I see no pressing reason to move away from that!

I want to close with a brief discussion of the Lutheran Worship collect in the context of Passiontide. Now, to the best of my knowledge, few Lutheran churches, Missouri Synod or otherwise, observe Passiontide; certainly I did not growing up. The Lutheran Hymnal does call the Fifth Sunday in Lent Passion Sunday, probably following the 1928 prayerbook as usual, but Lutheran Worship simply calls it the Fifth Sunday in Lent. Yet I believe that understanding that the Fifth Sunday of Lent is, historically, Passiontide/Passion Sunday helps us make sense of the Lutheran Worship collect for this Sunday. The petition in this collect asks God to “help us so to remember and give thanks for our Lord’s Passion that we may receive remission of sins and redemption from everlasting death”; it’s the first collect in Lent that refers explicitly to Christ’s passion and death. I believe that the reason this collect is put here rather than some other week is as a sort of commemoration of Passiontide, preparing the congregation (as Passiontide did) for the Holy Week observance to come.

Commentary: Collects for the Fifth Sunday in Lent

Collects for the Fifth Sunday in Lent

The Collect for the Fourth Sunday in Lent, from a variety of Anglican and Lutheran sources.

1979 Book of Common Prayer (Rite II):
Almighty God, you alone can bring into order the unruly wills and affections of sinners: Grant your people grace to love what you command and desire what you promise; that, among the swift and varied changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

1928 Book of Common Prayer:
We beseech thee, Almighty god, mercifully to look upon thy people; that by thy great goodness they may be governed and preserved evermore, both in body and soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Common Worship (2000):

Collect: 
Most merciful God, who by the death and resurrection of thy Son Jesus Christ delivered and saved the world: grant that by faith in him who suffered on the cross we may triumph in the power of his victory; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

Post Communion:
Lord Jesus Christ, you have taught us that what we do for the least of our brothers and sisters we do also for you: give us the will to be the servant of others as you were the servant of all, and gave up your life and died for us, but are alive and reign, now and for ever.

 

Book of Alternative Services (1985):

Year A:

Collect:
Almighty God, your Son came into the world to free us all from sin and death. Breathe upon us with the power of your Spirit, that we may be raised to new life in Christ, and serve you in holiness and righteousness all our days; through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord.

Prayer over the Gifts:
Giver of life, your Son has destroyed the power of death for all those who believe in him. Accept all we offer you this day and strengthen us in faith and hope; through Jesus Christ, the Lord of all the living.

Prayer after Communion:
God of hope, in this eucharist we have tasted the promise of your heavenly banquet and the richness of eternal life. May we who bear witness to the death of your Son, also proclaim the glory of his resurrection, for he is Lord for ever and ever.

Years B and C:

Collect:
Most merciful God, by the death and resurrection of your Son Jesus Christ, you created humanity anew. May the power of his victorious cross transform those who turn in faith to him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

Prayer over the Gifts:
Eternal God, your only Son suffered death upon the cross to bring the world salvation. Accept the praise and thanksgiving we offer you this day, in the name of Jesus Christ the Lord.

Prayer after Communion:
Merciful God, you have called us to your table and fed us with the bread of life. Draw us and all people to your Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ.

1662 Book of Common Prayer:
We beseech thee, Almighty God, mercifully to look upon thy people; that by thy great goodness they may be governed and preserved evermore, both in body and soul, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006):

Year A:
Almighty God, your Son came into the world to free us all from sin and death. Breathe upon us the power of your Spirit, that we may be raised to new life in Christ and serve you in righteousness all our days, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Year B:
O God, with steadfast love you draw us to yourself, and in mercy you receive our prayers. Strengthen us to bring forth the fruits of the Spirit, that through life and death we may live in your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Year C:
Creator God, you prepare a new way in the wilderness, and your grace waters our desert. Open our hearts to be transformed by the new thing you are doing, that our lives may proclaim the extravagance of your love given to all through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Lutheran Book of Worship (1978):
Almighty God, our redeemer, in our weakness we have failed to be your messengers of forgiveness and hope in the world. Renew us by your Holy Spirit, that we may follow your commands and proclaim your reign of love; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Lutheran Service Book (2006):
Almighty God, by Your great goodness mercifully look upon Your people that we may be governed and preserved evermore in body and soul; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Lutheran Worship (1982):
Almighty and eternal God, because it was your will that your Son should bear the pains of the cross for us and thus remove from us the power of the adversary, help us so to remember and give thanks for our Lord’s Passion that we may receive remission of sins and redemption from everlasting death; through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

The Lutheran Hymnal (1941):
We beseech Thee, Almighty God, mercifully to look upon Thy people, that by Thy great goodness they may be governed and preserved evermore both in body and soul; through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, who liveth, etc.

Collects for the Fifth Sunday in Lent

Commentary: Collects for the Fourth Sunday of Lent

I want to start things off by making a brief point about last week’s post. It turns out that the old 1662 BCP collect for the Third Sunday of Lent has not totally disappeared from the Episcopal liturgy! It now appears (with slight variation in wording) as the Collect for Monday in the Third Week of Lent in Holy Women, Holy Men (and I believe Lesser Feasts and Fasts as well). So, if its disappearance from the 1979 prayerbook was keeping you up at night, you can rest easy.

Now, you may have noticed that things have gotten a little bit unusual with the Collect for the Fourth Sunday of Lent. First of all, the 1979 prayerbook collect is very different in tone from the collects for the second and third Sundays in Lent we looked at earlier, and it’s also totally different from the 1928/1662 collect. Common Worship, then, actually has two collect + postcommunion sets for this Sunday, one for the Fourth Sunday of Lent and one for optional use for  the observance of something called Mothering Sunday. Moreover, the mirroring we’ve seen quite consistently between the 1979 BCP and Lutheran Worship (and sometimes the Lutheran Book of Worship as well) is totally absent this time. So what’s going on?

The answer has to do with this Sunday’s particular position in Lent. This Sunday is traditionally called Laetere Sunday. The name comes from the beginning of the Introit in the old Roman Rite, which is taken from Isaiah 66:10. It begins as follows: “Rejoice with Jerusalem and be glad for her, all you who love her; rejoice greatly with her, all you who mourn over her…” Beginning a service in Lent with the word “rejoice” seems like a strange choice, but Laetere Sunday, about halfway between the beginning of Lent and Easter, was traditionally a time of the lessening of the Lenten fast. The propers and lessons are more joyful and less penitential in tone, and pink vestments were worn rather than the purple ones worn through the rest of Lent. Note the similarity to Gaudete Sunday here. As Marion Hatchett tells us in the Commentary on the American Prayerbook, this Sunday was also called Mothering Sunday and people would in some areas visit the diocesan cathedral (the mother church of the diocese) on this day. It is also associated with the celebration of one’s human mother; indeed, the U.K. equivalent to the American holiday of Mother’s Day is celebrated on this day (at least according to Wikipedia…).

The 1979 prayerbook celebrates Laetere Sunday by doing away with the old Gregorian collect which was preserved in the 1662 and American 1928 prayerbooks in favor of one composed in the twentieth century by an F.B. McNutt; Hatchett editorializes here that McNutt’s collect is far superior for this day than the dramatically penitential Gregorian collect. Hatchett’s criticism of the old collect is fair, although I would argue that in the old Roman Rite, the more joyful minor propers (the introit, gradual, tract, offertory, and communion) alongside the penitential collect would have conveyed the tone of the day as a lessening (but not total elimination!) of the Lenten fast quite nicely. Of course, the minor propers disappeared from Anglican worship entirely (to the best of my knowledge) from the Reformation until the Oxford Movement, and even today are used mostly if not exclusively in Anglo-Catholic parishes; it’s not like the composers of the 1979 prayerbook were going to bring back the old mass propers as normative for all Episcopalians (although a boy can dream, right?). Given that reality, I do think that the collect probably needed to be changed, although I’m not sure I like the total elimination of a penitential aspect. The collect works all right with RCL readings for this Sunday – for this year, there’s a reference to manna in the Old Testament reading, and of course the famous feast upon the prodigal son’s return in the Gospel. Also, I like that the collect preserves to some extent the old Gospel reading for this day from 1662/1928/the 1951 Roman Missal, namely the feeding of the five thousand in John 6.

To turn to some of the other prayerbooks: I like both sets of Common Worship prayers, especially the one for Mothering Sunday. In particular, the depiction of God as like a mother feeding her children at the breast in the postcommunion is an excellent feminine metaphor for God with a long historical pedigree — think of Julian of Norwich or parts of the monastic tradition here!

Now, with the Lutheran collects, I’m not totally sure what is going on here; I don’t have an equivalent commentary to Hatchett’s for the ’79 prayerbook on hand to explain the source material from which these various collects were made.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship continues, as we have seen, the pattern of drawing the collects quite explicitly from the RCL lections. The collect for Year C is quite lovely although I’m not sure about the line “by our baptism clothe us with the garments of your grace” — the theology here seems to be a little confused, or at least confusing. How exactly is the “by” functioning here? And what exactly does it mean to be “clothe[d]…with the garments of God’s grace”? Are we asking God to “clothe us with the garments of [God’s] grace” in the moment of baptism? That’s a little strange, given that almost everyone praying this prayer is likely to be baptized already. Or are we asking God to “clothe us with the garments of [God’s] grace” because of or in light of our baptism? This seems more likely, but I’m not sure how exactly that fits with Lutheran sacramental theology, given that baptismal regeneration occurs at the moment of baptism in the Lutheran tradition. Or is the collect trying to talk about sanctification here? I’m really not sure.

As for the others, while the Lutheran Hymnal collect, as usual, follows the 1928 prayerbook one, my best guess for the ELW/LSB/LW collects is that they are also attempts (like the collect revision for the 1979 prayerbook) to celebrate Laetere Sunday with collects that are less intensely penitential than the old Gregorian collect we saw in the 1662 and 1928 prayerbook collects. The Lutheran Worship and Lutheran Service Book collects do a good job retaining a sense of God’s grace relieving deserved punishment in a collect that is nonetheless more joyful than the old Gregorian one by shifting the emphasis to our response to God’s mercy.

Commentary: Collects for the Fourth Sunday of Lent

Collects for the Fourth Sunday of Lent

The Collect for the Fourth Sunday of Lent, from a variety of Anglican and Lutheran sources.

1979 Book of Common Prayer (Rite II):
Gracious Father, whose blessed Son Jesus Christ came down from heaven to be the true bread which gives life to the world: Evermore give us this bread, that he may live in us, and we in him; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

1928 Book of Common Prayer:
Grant, we beseech thee, Almighty God, that we, who for our evil deeds do worthily deserve to be punished, by the comfort of thy grace may mercifully be relieved; through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Common Worship (2000):

Collect: 
Merciful Lord, absolve your people from their offences, that through your bountiful goodness we may all be delivered from the chains of those sins which by our frailty we have committed; grant this, heavenly Father, for Jesus Christ’s sake, our blessed Lord and Saviour, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

Post Communion:
Lord God, whose blessed Son our Saviour gave his back to the smiters and did not hide his face from shame: give us grace to endure the sufferings of this present time with sure confidence in the glory that shall be revealed; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Common Worship also includes the option of observing Mothering Sunday on this Sunday, with the following collect and post communion:

Collect:
God of compassion, whose Son Jesus Christ, the child of Mary, shared the life of a home in Nazareth, and on the cross drew the whole human family to himself: strengthen us in our daily lives that in joy and sorrow we may know the power of your presence to bind together and to heal; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

Post Communion:
Loving God, as a mother feeds her children at the breast you feed us in this sacrament with the food and drink of eternal life: help us who have tasted your goodness to grow in grace within the household of faith; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

1662 Book of Common Prayer:
Grant, we beseech thee, Almighty God, that we, who for our evil deeds do worthily deserve to be punished, by the comfort of thy grace may mercifully be relieved, through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006):

Year A:
Bend your ear to our prayers, Lord Christ, and come among us. By your gracious life and death for us, bring light into the darkness of our hearts, and anoint us with your Spirit, for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Year B:
O God, rich in mercy, by the humiliation of your Son you lifted up this fallen world and rescued us from the hopelessness of death. Lead us into your light, that all our deeds may reflect your love, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Year C:
God of compassion, you welcome the wayward, and you embrace us all with your mercy. By our baptism clothe us with the garments of your grace, and feed us at the table of your love, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Lutheran Book of Worship (1978):
God of all mercy, by your power to heal and to forgive, graciously cleanse us from all sin and make us strong; through you Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Lutheran Service Book (2006):
Almighty God, our heavenly Father, Your mercies are new every morning; and though we deserve only punishment, You receive us as Your children and provide for all our needs of body and soul. Grant that we may heartily acknowledge Your merciful goodness, give thanks for all Your benefits, and serve You in willing obedience; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Lutheran Worship (1982):
Almighty God, our heavenly Father, your mercies are new every morning, and though we have in no way deserved your goodness, you still abundantly provide for all our wants of body and soul. Give us, we pray, your Holy Spirit that we may heartily acknowledge your merciful goodness toward us, give thanks for all your benefits, and serve you in willing obedience; through Jesus Christ, you Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

The Lutheran Hymnal (1941):
Grant, we beseech Thee, Almighty God, that we, who for our evil deeds to worthily deserve to be punished, by the comfort of Thy grace may mercifully be relieved; through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, who liveth, etc.

Collects for the Fourth Sunday of Lent