Wednesday, February 11, 2009

For meditation in Lent

The following was written in 1688 by Bishop Thomas Ken, Bishop of Bath and Wells, as a letter to all his clergy preparing them for Lent. Though the style of communicating is different today, the wisdom and Biblical foundation of this advice from centuries past will always be relevant. Someone asked me a question about Right Reason the other day. Drawing from the Tradition and Scripture, this appeal to rightly observe the Church calendar provides a perfect example of what the phrase actually means. The Church's calendar was not revealed in Scripture; but the calendar gives us a means to apply what is revealed in Scripture. And, that is a perfect example of Right Reason.

The following is published with gratitude to Project Canterbury for preserving so many of these historic Anglican documents, and making them available online.

All Glory be to God.

Reverend Brother,

THE time of Lent now approaching, which has been anciently and very Christianly set apart, for penitential humiliation of Soul and Body, for Fasting and Weeping and Praying, all which you know are very frequently inculcated in Holy Scripture, as the most effectual means we can use, to avert those Judgments our sins have deserv'd; I thought it most agreeable to that Character which, unworthy as I am, I sustain, to call you and all my Brethren of the Clergy to mourning; to mourning for your own sins, and to mourning for the sins of the Nation.

In making such an address to you as this, I follow the example of St. Cyprian, that blessed Bishop and Martyr, who from his retirement wrote an excellent Epistle to his Clergy, most worthy of your serious perusal, exhorting them, by publick Prayers and Tears to appease the Anger of God, which they then actually felt, and which we may justly fear.

Remember that to keep such a Fast as God has chosen, it is not enough for you to afflict your own soul, but you must also according to your ability, deal your bread to the Hungry: and the rather, because we have not onely Usual objects of Charity to relieve, but many poor Protestant Strangers are now fled hither for Sanctuary, whom as Brethren, as members of Christ, we should take in and Cherish.

That you may perform the office of publick Intercessour the more assiduously, I beg of you to say daily in your Closet, or in your Family, or rather in both, all this time of Abstinence, the 51st Psalm, and the other Prayers which follow it in the Commination. I could wish also that you would frequently read and meditate on the Lamentations of Jeremy, which Holy Gregory Nazianzen was wont to doe, and the reading of which melted him into the like Lamentations, as affected the Prophet himself when he PenÍd them.

But your greatest Zeal must be spent for the Public Prayers, in the constant devout use of which, the Publick Safety both of Church and State is highly concern'd: be sure then to offer up to God every day the Morning and Evening Prayer; offer it up in your Family at least, or rather as far as your circumstances may possibly permit, offer it up in the Church, especially if you live in a great Town, and say over the Litany every Morning during the whole Lent. This I might enjoyn you to doe, on your Canonical Obedience, but for Love's sake I rather beseech you, and I cannot recommend to you a more devout and comprehensive Form, of penitent and publick Intercession than that, or more proper for the Season.

Be not discourag'd if but few come to the Solemn Assemblies, but go to the House of Prayer, where God is well known for a sure Refuge: Go, though you go alone, or but with one besides your self; and there as you are God's Remembrancer, keep not silence, and give Him no rest, till He establish, till He make Jerusalem a praise in the earth.

The first sacred Council of Nice, for which the Christian world has always had a great and just veneration, ordains a Provincial Synod to be held before Lent, that all Dissensions being taken away a pure oblation might be offer'd up to God, namely of Prayers and Fasting and Alms, and Tears, which might produce a comfortable Communion at the following Easter: and that in this Diocese, we may in some degree imitate so Primitive a practice, I exhort you to endeavour all you can, to reconcile differences, to reduce those that go astray, to promote universal Charity towards all that dissent from you, and to put on as the Elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, long-suffering, forbearing one another and forgiving one another, even as Christ forgave you.

I passionately beseech you to reade over daily your Ordination Vows, to examine yourself how you observe them; and in the Prayers that are in that Office, fervently to importune God for the assistance of His good Spirit, that you may conscientiously perform them. Teach publickly, and from house to house, and warn every one night and day with Tears; warn them to repent, to fast and to pray, and to give Alms, and to bring forth fruits meet for repentance, warn them to continue stedfast in that faith once delivered to the Saints, in which they were baptiz'd, to keep the word of God's Patience, that God may keep them in the hour of Temptation; warn them against the sins and errours of the age; warn them to deprecate publick judgments, and to mourn for publick provocations.

No one can reade God's holy Word but he will see, that the greatest Saints have been the greatest Mourners: David wept whole Rivers; Jeremy wept sore, and his Eyes ran down in secret places day and night like a Fountain; Daniel mourned three full weeks, and did eat no pleasant bread, and sought God by prayer and supplications, with fasting, and sackcloth and ashes; St. Paul was humbled and bewailed and wept for the sins of others; and our Lord himself when He beheld the City wept over it. Learn then of these great Saints, learn of our most compassionate Saviour, to weep for the publick, and weeping to pray, that we may know in this our day, the things that belong to our peace, lest they be hid from our eyes.

To mourn for National Guilt, in which all share, is a duty incumbent upon all, but especially on Priests, who are particularly commanded to weep and to say, Spare Thy people, O Lord, and give not Thine Heritage to reproach, that God may repent of the evil, and become jealous for His Land, and pity His people. [4/5]

Be assur'd that none are more tenderly regarded by God than such Mourners as these; there is a mark set by Him on all that sigh and cry for the abominations of the Land, the destroying Angel is forbid to hurt any of them, they are all God's peculiar care, and shall all have either present deliverance, or such supports and consolations, as shall abundantly endear their Calamity.

Now the God of all Grace, who hath called you unto His eternal Glory by Christ Jesus, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you in the true Catholic and Apostolick Faith profess'd in the Church of England, and enable you to adorn that Apostolick Faith with an Apostolick Example and Zeal, and give all our whole Church that timely repentance, those broken and contrite hearts, that both Priests and People may all plentifully sow in Tears, and in God's good time may all plentifully reap in Joy.

From the Palace in Wells,

Febr. 17. 1687.

Your affectionate
Friend and Brother

Tho. Bath and Wells.


Canon Tallis said...

But your greatest Zeal must be spent for the Public Prayers, in the constant devout use of which, the Publick Safety both of Church and State is highly concernÍd: be sure then to offer up to God every day the Morning and Evening Prayer; offer it up in your Family at least, or rather as far as your circumstances may possibly permit, offer it up in the Church,

Bishop Ken is one of the great saints of Anglicanism. His natural and unaffected belief in the Apostolicity and Catholicity of the Church of England and hence of fully obedient Anglicanism is something which all Anglicans, but especially the clergy should take to heart. Here he is writing to us all and to all ages and we should receive it as if he were, as he is, our bishop and for out times.

The attack upon the Church and upon Biblical Christians is in full tide and we need to be prepared and to prepare our people for what is yet to come.

Thank you, Father, for finding this and setting it before us as we get ready for the season of Lent. It is most, most appropriate.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Fr. Hart, for posting this meditation as we prepare ourselves for the contemplative Lenten season. I especially appreciated Bishop Ken's advice to his clergy that they read their Ordination vows daily as a reminder of the great responsibilities entrusted to them (and to us).

Tom McHenry+

Canon Tallis said...

I am more than slightly appalled that this post has received so few comments.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

Sometimes people do not comment because they simply have nothing to say but "amen." At least I think so, and hope so.

Canon Tallis said...

Then they really ought to say so rather than simply remain silent. Perhaps I am prejudiced because I think that this is one of the finds of the season and one that should be welcomed and Amen-ed by all.

poetreader said...

I agree, Father. It is a real gem. I'd rather meditate than try to add my own petty little comments to such as this. I, for one, wish more people would shut up. Listening and absorbing seems to be a lost art.


Albion Land said...

Amen, I say, and amen!

Albion Land said...

On a more substantive note: I note with fondness that Bishop Ken has recommended two things that have long been a part of my Lenten observations, though I must confess to not approaching the daily recitation that I wished: Psalm 51 and The Litany.

PS A salute from the rich and stimulating world of Orthodox catechesis, where I now find myself sojourning and where this week's pre-Lenten focus is on the Prodigal Son.