Monday, July 23, 2012

A proposal for a new lay movement/organization

I am interested in starting some sort of broad-based Christian spiritual organization geared specifically towards laypeople.

Not long ago I noticed that there was a meeting nearby of the Society of Catholic Priests; I emailed the priest who was taking reservations for the event and asked him if there were any sort of parallel organization for laypeople.  He said he didn't think so, and suggested I become an Associate of a religious order; I am that, already.  But there appears to be no "Catholic" organization for laypeople of the same type.

There is the Confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament - but that has a very specific focus.   There are other kinds of organizations, too; quoting Chris Arnold from his blog "Open Thou Our Lips":

Catholic societies missing from General Convention

I popped up to General Convention on Monday, to browse the exhibition hall with its hundreds of exhibitors, to run into old friends and colleagues, and to stick my nose into the proceedings of the Houses of Bishops and of Deputies.

I noticed, and found it curious, that the Catholic societies were missing from the exhibitors. No sign of the Guild of All Souls, the Society of Mary, the Confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament, or the Society of King Charles the Martyr. No sign of the Society of the Holy Cross, nor of the Society of Catholic Priests, of which I'm a member. Perhaps next General Convention...

I am all for Catholic societies, and for other organizations that have a specific focus - but I'm more interested at the moment in a broad-based organization.   (There are, of course, also Episcopal church organizations for women (the Daughters of the King) and Altar Guilds and Vergers and Acolytes.  I'm not sure how many of these groups are very active these days - but again, they are focused on very specific things; that's great, but not what I'm thinking of.)

Now, there is the new "Acts 8 Moment" in some sort of initial state of organizing itself.  I did suggest the same thing on that website - that is, that it would be good to have an organized movement mainly for laypeople (or perhaps for clergy AND laypeople).

I love the book of Acts, myself; it's full of fascinating characters and interesting doings - and it's about the building up of the church. One of my very favorite stories is that of the Ethiopian eunuch, found in Acts 8 itself.    Quoting one of my past posts from the now-defunct pre-July 2012 Topmost Apple (I did save the XML file!):
Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch

From the sermon at today's noontime eucharist, and one of my favorite stories, Acts 8:26-40:
Then the angel of the Lord spoke to Philip, "Get up and head south on the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza, the desert route." So he got up and set out. Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, that is, the queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury, who had come to Jerusalem to worship, and was returning home. Seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah.

The Spirit said to Philip, "Go and join up with that chariot." Philip ran up and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and said, "Do you understand what you are reading?" He replied, "How can I, unless someone instructs me?" So he invited Philip to get in and sit with him. This was the scripture passage he was reading: "Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter, and as a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he opened not his mouth. In (his) humiliation justice was denied him. Who will tell of his posterity? For his life is taken from the earth." Then the eunuch said to Philip in reply, "I beg you, about whom is the prophet saying this? About himself, or about someone else?" Then Philip opened his mouth and, beginning with this scripture passage, he proclaimed Jesus to him. As they traveled along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, "Look, there is water. What is to prevent my being baptized?" Then he ordered the chariot to stop, and Philip and the eunuch both went down into the water, and he baptized him. When they came out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away, and the eunuch saw him no more, but continued on his way rejoicing. Philip came to Azotus, and went about proclaiming the good news to all the towns until he reached Caesarea.


The celebrant noted that Luke and Acts were at one time one piece, written by the same person. And that the Ascension ends Luke and begins Acts, but with different characters.

In both Luke's story of Jesus and the disciples on the road to Emmaus, read last Sunday, and in this story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch, the protagonist appears suddenly and vanishes suddenly. Poof! Philip appears, runs alongside the chariot, and yells at the Ethiopian, before the latter invites him in to talk. After the baptism: poof! Gone. He next shows up in Azotus, and then Caesarea.

In both stories, "the Scriptures are opened" to those who hear them, and their "hearts burn." In both stories, the reading of the Scriptures leads to sacramental acts: the breaking of bread at Emmaus, and baptism here.

And this is also exactly what happens at every celebration of the eucharist: first the Scriptures are opened to us, and our hearts burn; the sacrament follows.
So I want a group focused on the larger idea of  "the opening of the Scriptures" and on "hearts that burn" - as the prelude/adjunct to the Sacraments.

The patron saints of this organization could be Bianco da Siena, who wrote the lovely "Discendi, Amor Santo," (c. 14th C., later translated by Richard Frederick Littledale whose text is the basis for the hymn "Come Down, O Love Divine") and Marguerite Porete, a Beguine, who wrote "The Mirror of Simple Souls" (c. 13th C.).

Here's Wikipedia on the Jesuati, a lay organization in Italy of which da Siena was a member:
The Jesuati (Jesuates) were a religious order founded by Giovanni Colombini of Siena in 1360. The order was initially called Clerici apostolici Sancti Hieronymi (Apostolic Clerics of Saint Jerome)[1] because of a special veneration for St. Jerome and the apostolic life the founders led[2]. Colombini had been a prosperous merchant and a senator in his native city, but, coming under ecstatic religious influences, abandoned secular affairs and his wife and daughter (after making provision for them), and with a friend of like temperament, Francesco Miani, gave himself to a life of apostolic poverty, penitential discipline, hospital service and public preaching.

The name Jesuati was given to Colombini and his disciples from the habit of calling loudly on the name of Jesus at the beginning and end of their ecstatic sermons. The senate banished Colombini from Siena for imparting foolish ideas to the young men of the city, and he continued his mission in Arezzo and other places, only to be honourably recalled home on the outbreak of the bubonic plague. Howard Eves[3] writes that the order was then "dedicated to nursing and burying the victims of the rampant bubonic plague."
Their rule of life, originally a compound of Benedictine and Franciscan elements, was later modified on Augustinian lines, but traces of the early penitential idea persisted, e.g. the wearing of sandals and a daily flagellation. Paul V in 1606 arranged for a small proportion of clerical members, and later in the 17th century the Jesuati became so secularized that the members were known as the Aquavitae Fathers. Eves[3] writes, "certain abuses, apparently involving the manufacture and sale of distilled liquors in a manner not sanctioned by Canon Law, crept in. This, along with a difficulty in maintaining a reasonable membership quota, led to the order's abolishment by Pope Clement IX in 1668."

Mathematician Bonaventura Cavalieri was a member from the age of fifteen until his death.[3]

The female branch of the order, the Jesuati sisters, founded by Caterina Colombini (d. 1387) in Siena, and thence widely dispersed, more consistently maintained the primitive strictness of the society and survived the male branch by 200 years, existing until 1872 in small communities in Italy.
The Beguines and Beghards were two other lay organizations (the first for women and the second for men) from about the same period; this movement began in northern Europe:

The Beguines

At the start of the 12th century, some women in the Low Countries lived alone and devoted themselves to prayer and good works without taking vows. At first there were only a few of them, but in the course of the century, their numbers increased. This was the age of the Crusades, and the land teemed with widowed women—the raw material for a host of neophytes. These single women tended to live on the fringe of towns, where they attended to the poor. About the beginning of the 13th century, some of them grouped their cabins together to form a community, called Beguinage.

The Beguine were not nuns; they did not take vows, could return to the world and wed if they chose, and did not renounce their property. If one was without means, she neither asked nor accepted alms, but supported herself by manual labour, or by teaching the children of burghers. During the time of her novitiate, she lived with "the Grand Mistress" of her cloister, but afterward she had her own dwelling. If she could afford it, she was attended by her own servants. She was bound to her companions by having the same goals in life, kindred pursuits, and a community of worship.

They had no mother-house, nor common rule, nor common general of the order; every community was complete in itself and fixed its own order of living. Later many adopted the rule of the Third Order of Saint Francis. These communities were varied in terms of the social status of their members; some of them only admitted ladies of high degree; others were exclusively reserved for persons in humble circumstances; others again opened their doors wide to women of every condition, and these were the most densely peopled. Several, like the great Beguinage of Ghent, numbered their inhabitants by thousands.

This semi-monastic institution was adapted to its age and spread rapidly throughout the land. The women influenced the religious life of the people. Each of these institutions was a centre of mysticism, and it was the Beguines, the Beghards, and the sons of Saint Francis who shaped the thought of the urban population of the Low Countries. There was a Beguinage at Mechlin as early as 1207, at Brussels in 1245, at Leuven before 1232, at Antwerp in 1234, and at Bruges in 1244. By the close of the century, most communes in the Low Countries had a Beguinage, whilst several of the great cities had two or more.

As the 13th century progressed, the women tended to become mystics and relied less on their own labour, often turning to begging instead. In some cases, this shift toward mysticism caused problems for the Beguines. For example, Marguerite Porete, a French Beguine and mystic, was burned at the stake in Paris in 1310 by civil authorities (heresy was against state law at that time). She was condemned by the Church for heresy and accused of being a Free Spirit. She was finally condemned and executed for reasons that are still not entirely clear. One reason may have been her refusal to remove her book The Mirror of Simple Souls from circulation.

The Beghards

The widespread religious revival inspired several kindred societies for men. Of these the Beghards were the most widespread and the most important. The Beghards were all laymen, and like the Beguines, they were not bound by vows, the rule of life which they observed was not uniform, and the members of each community were subject only to their own local superiors. They held no private property; the brethren of each cloister had a common purse, dwelt together under one roof, and ate at the same board.

They were for the most part men of humble origin—weavers, dyers, fullers, and so forth—they were closely connected with the city craft-guilds. For example, no man could be admitted to the Beghards' community at Brussels unless he were a member of the Weavers' Company. The Beghards were often men to whom fortune had not been kind—men who had outlived their friends, or whose family ties had been broken by some untoward event, and who, by reason of failing health or advancing years, or perhaps on account of some accident, were unable to stand alone. If, "the medieval towns of the Netherlands found in the Beguinage a solution of their feminine question"[citation needed], the growth of the Beghard communities provided a place for the worn-out workingman.

The men had banded together in the first place to build up the inner man. While working out their own salvation, they remained mindful of their neighbours and ,thanks to their connection with the craft-guilds, they influenced the religious life. They are credited with shaping the religious opinion of the cities and towns of the Netherlands for more than 200 years, especially for the peasant.

So you see, there is quite a history of lay spiritual organizations with deep mystical roots.  (The English Little Gidding is another example.)

I'm interested in a spiritual organization dedicated to study, discussion, and prayer, mainly, I think (and perhaps to writing as well).   Because, going back to the Book of Acts:  discussion is at the heart of every story that has to do with "Sacramental action."   Again:  first the Scriptures are opened, and hearts burn; then the sacrament follows.  Whenever a person is baptized, or breaks bread, or is ordained, somebody holds forth - often in great detail - on the story of Salvation.  The centrality of  "the Word" (that is, a clear explanation of the ideas and events involved) is made utterly explicit - and human beings talk to one another, one person explaining what's happening, and questions are taken.   It's all put out there for people to hear and to judge for themselves; there's nothing hidden or (dare I say it) gnostic about it.   One thing our organization could be dedicated to is finding new ways to communicate all of it (especially since the story itself is no longer embedded in the culture in the way it's been for so many hundreds of years).

BTW, discussion and explanation is very central to what happens in A.A., too; A.A.'s primary Sacrament is, in fact, talking.  It's "sharing our experience, strength, and hope" with others, so they can get sober; this is crucially important and really the sole reason for A.A.'s existence in the first place.  I'd go so far as to say, in fact, that talking is the entire basis and raison d'etre of Alcoholics Anonymous; it's an organization dedicated to communication between human beings. And this is pretty clearly central to the Book of Acts as well; what story is more wonderful than that of Philip and the Ethiopian, riding along in their chariot together, talking for hours - and then together finding a stream by the side of the road, right in the middle of their journey, so that the Ethiopian can be baptized?

The organization's doctrinal foundation would consist very simply of the Apostles' and Nicene Creeds; no other position need be taken.

I'm not at all averse to a mystical element, either; that could be part of the study/discussion aspect - perhaps via the writings of people like St. John of the Cross and the others I've mentioned above.   We could have a website to talk about different topics, etc.  The Jesuati, and the Beguines and Beghards, could be a great historical inspiration for such a lay group - and "the Acts 8 Moment" could provide some current inspiration.  I do think we're in a sort of a "new moment" at present - even though, of course, it's only new to us who are living now.   Moments like this have happened before - but I think it's important to build up a true organization around them, rather than  depending on "momentum" to carry things through.  I think, too, that it's important for people to feel they belong to something larger.

I don't think such an organization should be specifically Anglican (or Lutheran, or Catholic, or Quaker); it should be open to all laypeople, IMO.   It might emphasize the Anglican tradition of equal emphasis on Mass and Daily Prayer, though, and of course since I would be founder (!), the Anglican tradition would get its due, since I don't really know any other.  (Anyway, Anglicanism is really ideally suited as a "base of operations" for lay spirituality, primarily because of the Book of Common Prayer and what it's meant in Anglicanism's history.   Another excellent resource for such an organization is the website Full Homely Divinity, which explores this idea in wonderful and inspiring depth.)

In other "new movement" news:  Robert Hendrickson is proposing a "New Oxford Movement" at his blog, too.

Now, I can't steal the "Acts 8 Moment" from the people who've started it - and I can't steal Fr. Hendrickson's idea, either, or start my own lay adjunct to the "Society of Catholic Priests" - but I'd really like to get going on some sort of new lay (or clergy and lay) organization.  I'm willing to start a new blog to discuss it, if anybody else would be interested (and I can think of a few people I think would be!).

Let me know what you think in the comments, if you're interested.


aredstatemystic said...

Wonderful! Count me in!

yh said...

sounds great. you need just two other people to start. (but consider also charles de foucauld who wrote a little rule for a little community but stayed alone till he was murdered ...)

bls said...

Thanks, RSM - I kind of thought you might say so. ;-)

And thanks yh - that's funny. Don't know abut de foucauld, but will obviously have to check it out....


Kelvin Holdsworth said...

I think that if I remember correctly, the Society of Catholic Priests was founded to be the clerical society associated with the values of the organisation which everyone could join called Affirming Catholicism.

Derek Olsen said...

This is the right time to start this. I've already been in several discussions around this topic and with Fr. Hendrickson and some other related movements.

I'll shoot you an email...

bls said...

Thanks, Kevin. I got the idea that AffCath wasn't very active, at least in the U.S.; last time I looked at its website, the stuff on the "Events" page was from years ago. I'll check again, though; I do think AffCath is more active in the U.K., so maybe things have picked up here.

I'm really open to anything - but would like a strong lay emphasis, and some "patron saints" (they don't have to be called exactly that!) for inspiration. I think we should have a focus on study and ongoing discussion, too (including offering resources); I think that's where we need to be at this time in history. There is also - I remembered as I was looking around yesterday - the Third Order of St. Francis, which may in fact be exactly what I'm looking for, so I won't have to start anything myself! I believe there are some requirements to join that, though; I don't think I want to have any requirements except the Creeds and maybe regular prayer. And I'm not sure I want this to be a "monastic" thing per se; I'm really interested in something all laypeople can feel at home in.

Thanks, Derek. I will of course be really interested in your ideas!

Kelvin Holdsworth said...

Affirming Catholicism is not particularly active in Scotland (where I am) either. It is sometimes said that it did not take off here because those who would share its views form quite a significant proportion of the church anyway and so it just wasn't really needed.

bls said...

I think that's it, Kelvin. Also, AffCath seems to be mainly taking a position, along the lines of "even though we are women and gays, we respect the traditions of the church."

That's fine, too - and it was needed, maybe - but I'm interested in something else. I want to be involved in doing certain things, rather than just taking positions.

Michael said...

Saying the Lord's prayer three times daily might be a good requirement

bls said...

I agree, Michael - prayer is actually the most important part of this, without a doubt.....