English Spirituality – September’s reflection on John Keble

(from the Called to be Holy website)

English Spiritual Writers

Each month we bring you a reflection from the English spiritual tradition – ‘treasure to be shared’ (Pope Benedict in Anglicanorum Cœtibus)


John KebleBlessed John Henry Newman dated the beginning of the Oxford Movement in the Church of England from a sermon preached by John Keble in 1833. Nearly twenty years after entering the full communion of the Catholic Church, Newman wrote in the Apologia pro Vita Sua ‘I have ever considered and kept the day as the start of the Religious Movement of 1833.’ Considering that this Revival in the life of the Church of England was to have such profound consequences – including, many believe, the reconciliation of thousands of Anglicans with the Catholic Church – one might be surprised by the occasion of this sermon. For John Keble was preaching before a congregation of judges, the Assize Sermon, and he directed his words against the proposed suppression of ten bishoprics of the Church of Ireland. Keble was not arguing about finances or the size of dioceses – the Anglican Church in Ireland was tiny – but he was asserting that no government could exercise authority or control over the Church of God, led as it was by bishops who were the successors of the Apostles. His words were the direct antithesis of the liberal attitudes in church and state of his day.

The first leaders of the Oxford Movement in the Church of England were, in the main, men of considerable learning, deeply formed in the bible and the writings of the early Church Fathers. These Oxford Movement men sought to publicise their ideas in a series of Tracts (hence the name by which they are sometimes known, ‘Tractarians’). H P Liddon was later to describe Keble’s Tract on Eucharistical Adoration as ‘perhaps the most beautiful of his contributions to the theological treasures of the Church of England.’ Keble argues that there must be ‘special adoration and worship in the heart of everyone seriously believing a special, mysterious presence of Christ, God and man, expressed by the words, This is My Body’. Keble’s authority for the Adoration of the Eucharist is contained in his many quotations from Scripture, the Fathers, Councils, Liturgies and the formularies of the Church of England, especially the Caroline Divines.

John Keble was born in 1792 and was himself the son of a clergyman. Possessed of great intellect, he was awarded a prestigious Fellowship of Oriel College, Oxford. In 1823 he resigned his college post to assist his father in his Cotswold parish. Here he wrote The Christian Year, a classic of Christian devotion. In 1831 he was elected to a professorship of poetry, and it was during this time that he preached the famous sermon on National Apostasy. But in spite of that he did not remain at the centre of the controversy but became Rector of Hursley in Hampshire in 1835 and remained there until his death, living a life of great holiness and devotion to his people. Dr Lorna Kendall, writes in A City Not Forsaken ‘The sanctity which Keble exemplified in his life and writing stemmed from a heart and will completely submitted to the Will of God … the fruit of faith and utter dependence on God is joy, such joy as sets the seal on Easter rejoicing.’

READING (A sermon outline for St Thomas’s Day):

All Christians are very much in the condition of St Thomas, when he was told of our Risen Lord, without having seen him.
By whom was St Thomas told? First by good women;
As Christians are told by their mothers,
Or by those in the place of mothers to them;
By women, who were themselves told by Angels,
That is by the Church, and the Holy Scriptures;
And afterwards told by the Risen Lord himself,
As he shewed himself to them.
Nest, as St Thomas was told by the other Apostles,
So were we, ourselves, by the Church.
And as the two disciples from Emmaus alleged Holy Scripture,
So did the Church to us.
And there were penitents there, like St Peter;
And chaste lovers like St John;
Yet St Thomas felt that he could not believe.
And so perhaps may some of us feel;
The Mystery seems too far, too high for us.
So it was with him; yet he wished he could believe.
Why? because he loved;
And therefore he soon had relief and blessing.
Many others, as the Pharisees, felt like St Thomas,
As if they could not believe,
And, so far – were like him.
But these wished to have it so;
Because they had no love.
Try your own feelings by this;
If you cannot believe the deep Mysteries of Faith,
If you cannot set your mind on these things,
Ask yourself, ‘Do I wish to do so?’
And if you do, it will be because you love;
And therefore you will pray, as St Thomas prayed;
And you will obey, as St Thomas obeyed;
You will keep away from the world;
You will abide in the ‘Upper Room’ with the Apostles;
And your Lord will come to you;
He will show you his Wounds;
And you will be happy.

COLLECT (Keble’s own composition, which stands at the head of Eucharistical Adoration):

Almighty, everliving Father,
who hast promised unto thy faithful people life by thine Incarnate Son, even as he liveth by thee;
grant unto us all, and especially to our Bishops and Pastors,
to those whom thy Providence hast in any wise entrusted with the treasure of thy holy doctrine amongst us,
thy Good Spirit, always so to believe and understand,
to feel and firmly to hold,
to speak and to think,
concerning the Mystery of the Communion of thy Son’s Body and Blood,
as shall be well-pleasing to thee, and profitable to our souls;
through the same our Lord Jesus Christ, who liveth and reigneth with thee in the unity of the same Spirit,
one God world without end. Amen.

PSALM 42 (41):

Like as the hart desireth the water-brooks, * so longeth my soul after thee, O God.
My soul is athirst for God, yea, even for the living God: * when shall I come to appear before the presence of God?
My tears have been my meat day and night, * while they daily say unto me, Where is now thy God?
Now when I think thereupon, I pour out my heart by myself; * for I went with the multitude, and brought them forth into the house of God;
In the voice of praise and thanksgiving, * among such as keep holy-day.
Why art thou so full of heaviness, O my soul? * and why art thou so disquieted within me?
O put thy trust in God; * for I will yet thank him, which is the help of my countenance, and my God.
My soul is vexed within me; * therefore will I remember thee from the land of Jordan, from Hermon and the little hill.
One deep calleth another, because of the noise of thy water-floods; * all thy waves and storms are gone over me.
The Lord will grant his loving-kindness in the daytime; * and in the night season will I sing of him, and make my prayer unto the God of my life.
I will say unto the God of my strength, Why hast thou forgotten me? * why go I thus heavily, while the enemy oppresseth me?
My bones are smitten asunder as with a sword, * while mine enemies that trouble me cast me in the teeth;
Namely, while they say daily unto me, * Where is now thy God?
Why art thou so vexed, O my soul? * and why art thou so disquieted within me?
O put thy trust in God; * for I will yet thank him, which is the help of my countenance, and my God.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, * and to the Holy Spirit;
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, * world without end. Amen

Fr Scott Anderson

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