The editing work is done on A Great Cloud of Witness (hence AGCW) and it is off getting printed. I believe it will be available from Church Publishing next month. Once again, the Official Calendar of the Episcopal Church is Lesser Feasts & Fasts 2006. AGCW has no official standing in the Church. It is merely a devotional resource that can be used or not as a person or parish wills. It is incorrect and misleading to say “Today the Church celebrates…” referencing contents of AGCW. And yet, it is still under discussion within the SCLM as we try to work through what an Episcopal Calendar is and is for.
I have ranted before that the post-Vatican II reworking of the “new” Book of Common Prayer give us in some places—like the Calendar—the appearance of catholicity but without the substance. No where is this more obvious to me than the Calendar. What we have in the Calendar section looks like a sanctoral kalendar, and there are many who use it that way. However, the broad majority of the Episcopal Church does not interact with or utilize the Calendar as a sanctoral kalendar in the Catholic fashion.
Now—clearly—I don’t know the mind of the whole church. What I’m going by here are recent debates I’ve had over individuals in the Calendar and applications—formal or informal—for additions to the Calendar.
I was having a discussion with one senior clergyman formerly on the SCLM over John Calvin (May 28th in AGCW). The most telling moment was when he responded to one of my queries with “I don’t care if people don’t like him—he’s important!”
I’m currently in discussions with a liaison from my diocese to include Origen of Alexandria into one of our calendrical lists. The case being put forward recognizes that Origen was a very important early Christian figure and theologian who has been unfairly treated over the centuries and who deserves to receive his due. I’m largely sympathetic here. Origen got dragged into a complicated tangle of theological and personality conflicts a couple of centuries after his death and was judged as a result of how that played out. De Lubac is absolutely right on the importance of Origen to Christian spirituality and especially Origen being at the heart of most renewals of monastic/ascetic theology.
Not to pick on anyone, but a comment here exemplifies the logic that I’m seeing—wondering about Stephen Langton who gets the credit for the modern scheme of chapter divisions that we use in our modern Bibles.
Do we select individuals because they are “important” or because we think or hope that they should be “famous” or do we select them because they are holy? (And what is or should be the relationship between the two?) And that—right there—is what I would point to as the difference between a catholic perspective on the kalendar versus a protestant one.
I believe that a catholic perspective looks on the names in the kalendar chiefly as examples of lives living out Christian maturity, exemplifying the sacramental path of discipleship. These are our very present fellow members of the Body of Christ who strengthen us with their prayers now and who give us direction and encouragement by their lives and how they participated within the mysteries of Christ. Holiness therefore is the primary consideration and criterion.
A protestant perspective identifies the people who church folk should know. The folks we want to be famous (whether they are currently or not). Importance is therefore the primary consideration and criterion.
So—what is it that we have? Or, what is it that we think we have? Honestly, I think that our first efforts towards the Calendar that we currently have reflect a confusion on this point. Take a look at these two paragraphs. They come from Prayer Book Studies IX (1957), the first published work on the Calendar as the SLC considered revising things…
The choice of commemorations in the proposed Calendar of this Study has been made primarily on the basis of selecting men and women of outstanding holiness, heroism, and teaching in the cause of Christ, whose lives and deaths have been a continuing, conscious influence upon the on-going life of the Church in notable and well-recognized ways. There are included martyrs, theologians, statesmen, missionaries, reformers, mystics, and exemplars of prayer and charitable service. In every instance, care has been taken to list persons whose life and work are capable of interpretation in terms morally and spiritually edifying to the Church of our own generation.
In the list of primary criteria, holiness receives top billing. Importance is in here—as to some degree it must—but the ranking places holiness over importance.
The next page, though, has this:
It has often been remarked that the Prayer Book provides the parish priest with an excellent teaching manual for the study of the Bible, the doctrines and ethics of the Church, and, of course, the principles and practices of worship and prayer. It has lacked but one thing, an adequate instrument for teaching the history of the Church. The present proposal should do much to meet this need. With the names on this Calendar arranged in a historical, or topical order, the parish priest or teacher will have a convenient guide and outline of Church History from its beginnings to the present time. Such a study should greatly reinforce the other teachings of the Prayer Book, as they are exemplified in the lives of the saints.
This is fundamentally an argument for importance. This is Calendar as tool for catechesis, not tool for mystagogy. This is a tool for teaching dates and individuals, not for presenting paths of holiness. What if this paragraph had been written differently to say something like this:
The Prayer Book contains liturgies and provides directions for the worship of the Church. It provides texts for the Church’s daily praise of God and for the celebration of the sacraments as the God-given means of grace. However, what it did not contain up until this point is how this pattern of worship creates and molds lives that are lived primarily outside of churches. The Calendar that we present here teaches Church doctrine and sacramental theology by the ways that these people lived out their lives in the world, conforming their hearts, minds, spirits, and bodies to the call to die daily to self, to daily take up the cross, and follow Christ.
Now that would be Calendar as mystagogy rather than Calendar for catechesis. But that’s not what we got, and that’s not how we see it now.
When I was faced with the dilemma of the Calendar, I saw a cross-road with two major choices. First, try to change the perspective of the Episcopal Church to understand the Calendar as a mystagogical tool first. Second, meet the Church where it was but try to direct it towards what I understand to be the more complete understanding. AGCW goes the second route. It foregrounds the important and significant but also states quite clearly that it is not and is not intended to be a sanctoral kalendar. It embraces the catechetical role. Had it been approved, it would have much more clearly put the responsibility for sanctoral recognition and use at the local level, not the Church-wide level. But it wasn’t. And now we need to figure out where to go next…