Tag Archives: prayer

Medieval stupidity? Works-righteousness? Monastic uselessness? Getting beyond the caricatures


We all know medieval people were ignorant, gullible bumpkins who didn’t even understand the gospel message of grace, right? After all, they believed in a flat earth, salvation by works, and a monastic life completely shut off from culture and society. Uh . . . no.

Advertisements

But what did monks DO all day? The holy routines of medieval monasticism


monks_singing_medieval hymn

What did monks do all day? Columba Stewart tells us in his marvelous little book Prayer and Community: The Benedictine Tradition (Orbis, 1998):

The Work of God

At the center of the Benedictine life was the daily round of liturgy called by Benedict the “Work of God” (opus dei). The Rule specified eight such ‘offices’ per day. The first, very early in the morning, was “a comparatively long service of psalms and readings called Vigils.” Then came Lauds [“lawds”] followed almost immediately by four other brief offices during the day—Prime, Terce [“terse”], Sext, None [rhymes with “bone”], an evening office (Vespers) and a brief bedtime office (Compline [“COMP’-lin”]). All told, this amounted to nearly four hours per day spent in communal prayer, during which the monks would work their way through all of the psalms once each week.[1]

Important to the monastic life was the slow, meditative reading of scripture, called the lectio divina. Continue reading

Paralyzed by grace? What we can learn from monastic discipline


discipline-of-prayer-the

We wonder today why we are spiritually anemic. This post from the monasticism chapter of my forthcoming Medieval Wisdom: An Exploration with C S Lewis moves on from the first of the “principles of mastery”–passion–to the third–discipline:

Holiness is not optional, and it requires effort

All this talk of passion may make us think that what is required it the single big, heroic action: casting ourselves into harm’s way for the sake of our loved one. But wise teachers of the spiritual life have reminded us of something we have sometimes forgotten: our lives as Christians are not all about single crisis experiences—single events that change our lives. The imagery of sawdust-trail conversions and emotional “altar calls” may sometimes lead us to think in that way, seeking a sudden, emotional experience as the solution to all our ills—but it just ain’t so.

John Wesley, to take just one example, reminded us that those powerful moments of repentance and coming to faith are just the “porch” or the “door” into the Christian life. The substance of the Christian life, which lasts as long as we live, is holiness. Wesley had a favorite phrase to explain holiness. Continue reading

The roots of heart religion – Anselm of Canterbury


Mary Magdalene

Mary Magdalene (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is the third part of the tour of medieval heart religion from the affective devotion chapter of my Getting Medieval with C S Lewis. It follows the first part here, which looks at Origen and Augustine, and the second part here, on Gregory the Great:

Anselm (1033-1109)

There is no better example of the holism of love and logic, theology and devotion, in the medieval period than Anselm of Canterbury. When not chasing dialectical rabbits in his attempt to understand, but not explain away, the mysteries of God’s existence and Incarnation, Anselm wrote a series of highly evocative, meditative, imaginative prayers focused on the lives and personalities of Christ, Mary, and the saints, designed for people to use in their private devotions. His stated purpose in publishing these was “to inspire the reader’s mind to the love and fear of God” and inflame the desire to pray.[1]

This was the beginning of a shift in “canons within the canon,” from the early medieval spiritual focus on the Old Testament (especially the Psalms) to the high and late medieval fascination with the Gospels.[2]

Medievalist R W Southern finds Anselm’s in prayers an “unusual combination of intensity of feeling and clarity of thought and expression.” He attributes to them “a new note of personal passion, of elaboration and emotional extravagance” that would change devotional practice henceforth, opening the way to the “masterpieces of late medieval piety.”[3] Continue reading

“Prayer closet” a KJV-ism


Having a lot of fun sifting through Appendix B of Translation that Openeth the Window, ed. David Burke. This is a book of top-notch essays on the King James Version of the Bible, published by the Society for Biblical Literature (SBL). Appendix B is titled “Words That Have Changed in Meaning.” Say the editors:

“The following is a list of over five hundred archaic and obsolete words and phrases in the King James Bible, along with their contemporary equivalents, to help the modern reader understand more readily the meaning of the King James Version. Each expression is followed by those passages containing the expression particularly likely to cause some degree of misunderstanding.”

And there it is, nestled among the “C”s:

“closet(s) private room(s), Joel 2:16; Matt 6:6; Luke 12:3.” Continue reading

Is contemplative prayer a legitimate Christian practice?


Cover of

Over at Internet Monk, an excellent review of a book on classic Christian spirituality, Gary Thomas’s Sacred Pathways, has stirred up a heck of a hornet’s nest. A couple of critics are insisting at some length that contemplative prayer of the sort Thomas, Foster, Willard, and others recommend is “syncretistic” and thus dangerous.

Here is an excerpt from the review:

If you’ve read anything else by Gary Thomas or checked out his website, you know that unlike some evangelicals he believes that the Holy Spirit has been active throughout Christian history, not just since 1517. Continue reading

Glimpses into Benedict, his Rule, and Benedictine monasticism, from Columba Stewart


These are brief excerpts and quotations I marked while reading Columba Stewart, OSB, Prayer and Community: The Benedictine Tradition (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1998)

The whole Orbis Traditions series of which this book is a part is outstanding–short, affordable paperbacks that are meaty, wise, and quotable. And Stewart’s is the best of the series out of the 4 or 5 I’ve read so far. You will find here (1) a nutshell biography, (2) a lively exegesis of various sections of the Rule, and (3) succinct and penetrating observations on the distinctives of the Benedictine way: the lectio divina, the “work of God” (liturgy), silence, personal prayer, humility, obedience, and much else that I, at least, found illuminating. Continue reading