Archive for May 7th, 2010

Our Selves, Our Souls, Our Bodies – More on Faith

May 7, 2010

And here we offer and present unto Thee, O Lord, our selves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy and living sacrifice unto Thee…

From Thomas Cranmer’s Eucharistic Prayer

Regardless of what opinion one may have of the English reformer Thomas Cranmer’s theology, no one can deny him a central place in the history of the English language and the impact of his phrasing on the traditional prayers offered in the English tongue. The phrase, quoted from his Eucharistic prayer, is a poetic development of Romans 12:1, “I beseech you therefore brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto the Lord, which is your reasonable worship.”

Both Cranmer’s poetry and the inspired writings of St. Paul point to a relationship with God that includes our bodies. This can be read in a merely moral manner, in which keeping our bodies pure of bodily sin is seen as the sacrifice of which St. Paul speaks. For myself, I think that Cranmer has caught the greater intent of St. Paul’s statement in his expansion: “our selves, our souls and bodies.” And, I think as well, that it is most appropriate that he included this within the context of Eucharistic worship.

The Elder Zacharias of Essex has said that the essence of worship is exchange. We offer to God what God has given to us, and receive in exchange what we could never have by nature. “All things come of Thee, O Lord, and of Thine own have we given Thee.”

In modern practice, much of Christian worship and the Christian life, has been reduced to the mental level – whether of the will, intellectual assent, or the emotions (the emotions are a part of the mind – not the “heart” as it is classically used in the fathers). These are not wrong things to offer to God – but they can be quite misleading in their imbalance. Perhaps the most serious mistake that can be drawn from these mental offerings, is the effective reduction of God to an idea. God is not an idea, and virtually every idea we have of Him is either mistaken or idolatrous.

Many have taken Christ’s statement that “God is Spirit and those who worship Him must worship Him in Spirit and in Truth,” as the basis for thinking of God as something like idea. But ideas are not spirits. There is nothing more spiritual about a thought than there is in a physical action. Thus those who oppose ritual as though it were inherently unspiritual are guilty of confusing spiritual with mental.

It is worth noting that among the most specific commandments of Christ with regard to worship are the actions of Baptism and the Eucharistic meal. Even in the area of prayer, when asked how to pray, Christ answered with a specific prayer: the Our Father. Thus there should be little surprise that the earliest texts describing Christian worship include directions for specific actions and occasional directions for specific words.

But there are further implications included within the commandment to “present our bodies as a living sacrifice.” The reduction of Christian worship to mental and emotional efforts is also a reduction of what it means to be human – or at least a reduction in what we value as human beings. “What I do with my body is my own business,” is fraught with absurdity. We are not our own creation.

Earlier discussions on faith point to this same issue. Is faith to be understood simply as a mental exercise, or is it somehow something more? The modern English language offers little help in speaking of something that is as rich as faith. The same can be said of the word know. Knowledge is often treated as though it were purely mental, but there are many things which we know in other ways: how to walk, how to ride a bicycle, etc. The word ignore is interesting. For it implies not just not knowing but willfully not knowing.

When speaking of faith, we are describing a relational trust that is rooted in our participation in the life of God. St. Paul says that “faith works by love” (Gal. 5:6). Marriage, at its best and highest moments, can have something of this experience on a human level. The relationship is more than mental and emotional. It is physical and involves a union with the other than can only proceed from trust, freedom and love. It would not be wrong to describe such a relationship as faith. The Church asks husbands and wives to be faithful – which means far more than simply avoiding sex with other persons. It is little wonder that marriage is a common image used for the relationship between God and His Church.

The old English marriage service had an interesting use of language. The groom, while placing the ring on his bride said: “With this ring I thee wed, with my body I thee worship, and with all my worldly goods I thee endow.” Yes, indeed.