Thursday, 19 November 2009

Augustinian hints

Noone has the right to lead a life of contemplation in which ease makes him forget the care of his neighbour, nor has anyone the right to be so immersed in a life of activity which neglects the contemplation of God.

The quotation is from Augustine’s City of God, and Professor Henry Mayr-Harting drew particular attention to it in his St Hugh’s Day lecture for the College of Canons at Lincoln Cathedral on Tuesday. Those who came to live under the monastic Rule of St Augustine held together the ‘contemplative’ vocation of monastic prayer and the ‘active’ vocation of pastoral ministry; the latter included working both parishes within the several mile walking distance of their monasteries and parishes further away in which they had lodgings.

There is much talk today of a ‘Minster model’ which for some people evokes a folk memory of a principal Saxon church whose college of priests served churches across a wider area. It was thought that Professor Mayr-Harting might be able to ground this folk memory in history for us. He decided to talk about the Augustinian Canons instead, because much more is actually known about how they operated, and because the model seems closer to our present situation.

He warned that there was really no simple existing early model from which to read off direct lessons for today, but wondered whether one or two principles might emerge on which it would be worth reflecting.

This holding together of the contemplative and active was the one which struck a chord most. People recalled twentieth century parallels in the writing of Dietrich Bonhoeffer in particular. I was reminded of the Missionary Congregation emphasis on being both ‘distinctive’ and ‘engaged’, rooted in both God and the local community. It seemed that any new structure should be judged by how well it is able to support this.

The Vicar of Grantham, whose major church has been the centre of a disbanded Team Ministry and is now touted as a possible Minister, followed up the lecture by speaking simply about the way the Deanery clergy were building partnership rather than formal structures by praying, studying and gossiping together once a week; a variation on the approach in Louth about which I posted on 27th October.

One of several other highlights of the day was the bright low sun shining off autumn oak leaves all along the journey to Lincoln; I stopped and took this picture at Middle Rasen on the way.

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