Catherine of Siena, 1380

Catherine of Siena2

Born in 1347, Catherine Benincasa was the youngest of twenty-five children of a wealthy dyer of Siena. At six years old, walking home from a visit, she stopped on the road and gazed upward, beholding a vision of “our Lord seated in glory with Saint Peter, Saint Paul, and Saint John.” She would later say that in the vision Jesus had smiled on her and blessed her. Thenceforth, Catherine devoted herself at home to a life of prayer and penance in spite of her mother’s opposition. In response to attempts to force her to live like other girls, Catherine finally cut off her hair, said to have been her chief beauty. In the end, convinced that she would stand against all opposition, her father let her live as she wished, to close herself away in a darkened room, fasting and sleeping on boards. Eventually she became a tertiary of the Order of Preachers, the Dominicans.

Catherine had numerous visions and was tried severely by loathsome temptations and degrading images. She frequently felt abandoned by the Lord. At last, in 1366, Jesus appeared to her with Mary and the heavenly host, and espoused her to himself, ending her long years of lonely prayer and struggle. She began to mix with other people, first through nursing the sick in hospital (particularly lepers and those suffering from cancer) and then by gathering a group of disciples, men and women, including Dominicans and Augustinians. They accompanied her on her frequent journeys, and their influence was manifested in several spectacular conversions and in their call to reform and repentance through a renewal of the love of God.

Opinion in her home city was sharply divided about whether she was a saint or a fanatic, but when Raymond of Capua, a leading member of the Dominicans, was appointed her confessor, he helped her to win full support from the mother house of their order. Catherine was a courageous worker in time of severe plague, she visited prisoners condemned to death, and she was called upon to arbitrate feuds and to prepare troubled sinners for confession. She expressed her ideals in her Dialogue, an ecstatic mystical work, and in her letters, both of which were dictated by her, as she never learned to write. Her personal holiness, enhanced rather diminished by criticism, together with her writings, made her an influential spiritual leader of the late Middle Ages.

During the great papal schism of the fourteenth century, with rival popes in Avignon and in Rome, Catherine wrote tirelessly to princes, kings, and popes, urging them to restore the unity of the Church. She was invited to Rome by Pope Urban the Sixth, whom she had admonished to moderate his harshness and whose papacy she supported. There she wore herself out working for the cause of the Church’s unity. She suffered a paralytic stroke on April 21, 1380, and died eight days later.

Her friend, confessor, and biographer, Raymond of Capua, later Master General of the Dominicans, wrote her Life, which was influential in her canonization in 1461. She became not only Siena’s principal saint, but also a figure of international importance whose influence, it was popularly believed, was decisive in bringing about the return of the papacy to Rome. Like Bernard of Clairvaux, Catherine had prophetic vision and personal intransigence, qualities that led both of them to identify God’s cause with their own. She was declared a Doctor (Teacher) of the Church in 1970.

adapted from The Oxford Dictionary of Saints
and Lesser Feasts and Fasts

The Collect

Everlasting God, you so kindled the flame of holy love in the heart of blessed Catherine of Siena, as she meditated on the passion of your Son our Savior, that she devoted her life to the poor and the sick, and to the peace and unity of the Church: Grant that we also may share in the mystery of Christ’s death, and rejoice in the revelation of his glory; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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The propers for the commemoration of Catherine of Siena are published on the Lectionary Page website.

The image of St. Catherine is by Giovanni di Paolo, c. 1475.

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Saint Mark the Evangelist

Saint Mark the Evangelist (Nea Moni)

A disciple of Jesus, named Mark, appears in several places in the New Testament. If all references to Mark are accepted as referring to the same person, we learn that he was the son of a woman who owned a house in Jerusalem, perhaps the same house in which Jesus ate the Last Supper with his disciples. Mark may have been the young man who fled naked when Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane. In his letter to the Colossians, the Apostle Paul refers to “Mark the cousin of Barnabas”, who was with him in his imprisonment. Mark set out with Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey, but he turned back for reasons which failed to satisfy Paul (Acts 15:36-40). When another journey was planned, Paul refused to have Mark with him. Instead, Mark went with Barnabas to Cyprus. The breach between Paul and Mark was later healed, and Mark became one of Paul’s companions in Rome, as well as a close friend of the Apostle Peter.

An early tradition recorded by Papias, Bishop of Hieropolis in Asia Minor at the beginning of the second century, names Mark as the author of the Gospel bearing his name. This tradition, which holds that Mark drew his information from the teaching of Peter, is generally accepted. In his First Letter, Peter refers to “my son Mark”, which shows a close relationship between the two men (1 Peter 5:13).

The Church of Alexandria in Egypt claimed Mark as their founder, first bishop and most illustrious martyr, and the great Church of San Marco in Venice commemorates the disciple who progressed from turning back while on a missionary journey with Paul and Barnabas to proclaiming in his Gospel Jesus of Nazareth as Son of God, and bearing witness to that faith as friend and companion to the apostles Peter and Paul.

adapted from Lesser Feasts and Fasts

The Collect

Almighty God, by the hand of Mark the evangelist you have given to your Church the Gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God: We thank you for this witness, and pray that we may be firmly grounded in its truth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

The Lesson
Isaiah 52:7-10

How beautiful upon the mountains
are the feet of him who brings good news,
who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness,
who publishes salvation,
who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”
The voice of your watchmen—they lift up their voice;
together they sing for joy;
for eye to eye they see
the return of the Lord to Zion.
Break forth together into singing,
you waste places of Jerusalem,
for the Lord has comforted his people;
he has redeemed Jerusalem.
The Lord has bared his holy arm
before the eyes of all the nations,
and all the ends of the earth shall see
the salvation of our God.

Psalm 2
Quare fremuerunt gentes

Why are the nations in an uproar? *
Why do the peoples mutter empty threats?

Why do the kings of the earth rise up in revolt,
and the princes plot together, *
against the LORD and against his Anointed?

“Let us break their yoke,” they say; *
“let us cast off their bonds from us.”

He whose throne is in heaven is laughing; *
the Lord has them in derision.

Then he speaks to them in his wrath, *
and his rage fills them with terror.

“I myself have set my king *
upon my holy hill of Zion.”

Let me announce the decree of the LORD: *
he said to me, “You are my Son;
this day have I begotten you.

Ask of me, and I will give you the nations for your inheritance *
and the ends of the earth for your possession.

You shall crush them with an iron rod *
and shatter them like a piece of pottery.”

And now, you kings, be wise; *
be warned, you rulers of the earth.

Submit to the LORD with fear, *
and with trembling bow before him;

Lest he be angry and you perish; *
for his wrath is quickly kindled.

Happy are they all *
who take refuge in him!

The Epistle
Ephesians 4:7-8,11-16

But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it says,

“When he ascended on high he led a host of captives,
and he gave gifts to men.”

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

The Gospel
Mark 1:1-15

The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

As it is written in Isaiah the prophet,

“Behold, I send my messenger before your face,
who will prepare your way,
the voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,’”

John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey. And he preached, saying, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him.

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

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The scripture texts for the Lesson, the Epistle, and Gospel are taken from the English Standard Version Bible. The Collect, and Psalm are taken from the Book of Common Prayer (1979).

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Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury, 1109

The son of a spendthrift Lombard nobleman with whom he quarrelled as a young man, Anselm was born at Aosta in the Italian Alps around 1033 and took monastic vows in 1060 at the Abbey of Bec in Normandy.  He succeeded his teacher Lanfranc as prior in 1063 and Herluin, the founder of Bec, as abbot in 1078.  As abbot he showed himself a capable spiritual director, his intuitive, sensitive mind well suited to the care of his monks.  He succeeded Lanfranc as archbishop of Canterbury in 1093, four years after Lanfranc’s death, because the English king William Rufus (William the Second) kept the primatial see vacant for that time, despite the wish of the English clergy to have Anselm succeed earlier.  Anselm’s episcopate was stormy, in continual conflict with the crown over the rights and freedom of the English Church, particularly in the matter of the investiture of bishops and clergy.  He suffered exile twice because of his conflicts with King William and his successor, King Henry the First.  Although he was not conspicuous for his political skill, Anselm secured a wider recognition for the primacy of the see of Canterbury, with the Church in Wales, Ireland, and (with some important reservations) Scotland acknowledging the primacy, while York also had to accept a papal decision favorable to Anselm and the see of Canterbury.  Among his other accomplishments as archbishop, he held councils which insisted on stricter observance of clerical celibacy, and he established a new episcopal see at Ely. During 1077-8, Anselm wrote the Monologion and the Proslogion.  The latter work has been famous for centuries for its “ontological argument” for the existence of God.  The work demonstrated the originality of Anselm’s thought and prepared the way for his later theological works.  God, writes Anselm, “is greater than which nothing greater can be thought.”  Even the fool, who in Psalm 14 says in his heart, “There is no God”, must have an idea of God in his mind, the concept of an unconditional being (ontos) that which nothing greater can be conceived, otherwise he would not be able to speak of “God” at all.  And so this something, “God”, must exist outside the mind as well, because if he did not, he would not in fact be that that which nothing greater can be thought.  Since the greatest thing that can be thought must have existence as one of its properties, Anselm asserts, “God” can be said to exist in reality as well as in the intellect, but is not dependent upon the material world for verification.  To some, the ontological argument has seemed mere deductive rationalism; to others it has the merit of showing at least that faith in God need not be contrary to human reason. Anselm’s important treatise on the Incarnation, Cur Deus Homo? was written after he returned to England from his first exile.  The work is famous for its exposition of the “satisfaction theory” of the atonement, in which Anselm explains the work of Christ in terms of the feudal society of his day.  If a vassal break his bond, he has to atone for this to his lord.  Likewise, sin violates a person’s bond with God, the supreme Lord, and atonement or satisfaction must be made.  We are of ourselves incapable of making this satisfaction, because God is perfect and we are not.  Therefore, God himself has saved us, becoming perfect Man in Christ, so that a perfect life could be offered on the Cross in satisfaction for sin. Undergirding Anselm’s theology is a profound piety, best summarized as “faith seeking understanding”.  He writes, “I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order that I may understand (credo ut intelligam).  For this, too, I believe, that unless I first believe, I shall not understand.”  This understanding of the relationship of prior faith and subsequent knowledge received new emphasis in the work of several late twentieth century theologians and philosophers both of religion and science. Anselm died on April 21, 1109.  The Canterbury calendar of c. 1165 provides the earliest known evidence for his feasts, one of them commemorating his death and the other his translation (April 7).

prepared from The Oxford Dictionary of Saints and Lesser Feasts and Fasts (1980)

The Collect

Almighty God, you raised up your servant Anselm to teach the Church of his day to understand its faith in your eternal Being, perfect justice, and saving mercy: Provide your Church in every age with devout and learned scholars and teachers, that we may be able to give a reason for the hope that is in us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, on God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

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The propers for the commemoration of Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury, are published on the Lectionary Page website.

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Charles Henry Brent, Bishop of the Philippines and of Western New York, 1929

Born in Canada in 1862, educated at Trinity College of the University of Toronto, and ordained in the Anglican Church of Canada, Charles Henry Brent came to the United States where, in 1901, the House of Bishops of The Episcopal Church elected him Missionary Bishop of the Philippines. Though he arrived in Manila with all the trappings of the new American establishment, Bishop Brent soon demonstrated that he would resist the nationalistic and cultural imperialist temptations that marked some Protestant missions. He refused to waste his time in criticism of the Roman Catholic faith of most Filipinos. He declined to serve as a mere chaplain to the wealthy American expatriate community in Manila. As a missionary bishop, he determined instead to go to the multitude of non-Christians in the islands and to see that American government of the islands was responsible.

Bishop Brent founded several schools and a charity hospital in Manila. He began a crusade against the opium trade, which he expanded to the Asian continent, becoming in 1909 a sort of early 20th century “drug czar” as President of the Opium Conference in Shanghai.

His evangelistic missions took him to the sophisticated Chinese community of Manila and to the pagan and uncivilized Igorots of Luzon. He initiated a Christian mission among the hostile Moros of the Sulu Archipelago. But by 1917 his health was such that he accepted election as Bishop of Western New York, having declined three previous elections to remain at his post in the Philippines.

As remarked in Lesser Feasts and Fasts (1980), Bishop Brent

was the outstanding figure of the Episcopal Church on the world scene for two decades. The central focus of his life and ministry was the cause of Christian unity. After attending the World Missionary Conference in Edinburgh in 1910, he led the Episcopal Church in the movement that culminated in the first World Conference on Faith and Order, held in Lausanne in 1927, and over which he presided.

The historian James Thayer Addison described Brent as “a saint of disciplined vigor…a priest and bishop who gloried in the heritage of his Church, yet who stood among all Christian brothers as one who served…He was everywhere an ambassador of Christ.”

While serving as Bishop of Western New York, Brent preached a sermon at the consecration of Dr E. M. Stires as Bishop of Long Island, which sermon Brent entitled, “The Authority of Christ”. The concerns of the truly catholic bishop and ecumenist show in his admonition that

The unity of Christendom is no longer a beautiful dream. It is a pressing necessity for the arousing of that passion for Christ which will be the most flaming thing in the world…Nationalism began to eat into the body of Christendom four hundred years ago and has continued to work until Christianity has been nationalized instead of the nations being Christianized…Until the churches unite we shall have to move as men grievously wounded—haltingly, lamely, without a supernational and final guide in the moral and spiritual movements of the time. We shall be unable to invite the nations to walk in the light of the Kingdom of God and in this way bring their glory and honor, together with that of their rulers, into it.

One of Brent’s prayers for the mission of the Church was included in the American Book of Common Prayer (1979):

Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace: So clothe us in your Spirit that we, reaching forth our hands in love, may bring those who do not know you to the knowledge and love of you; for the honor of your Name. Amen.

Bishop Brent died in 1929.

The Collect

Heavenly Father, whose Son prayed that we all might be one: Deliver us from arrogance and prejudice, and give us wisdom and forbearance, that, following your servant Charles Henry Brent, we may be united in one family with all who confess the Name of your Son Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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The propers for the commemoration of Charles Henry Brent, Bishop of the Philippines and of Western New York, are published on the Lectionary Page website.

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The Annunciation of Our Lord

The feast of the Annunciation celebrates the angel Gabriel’s announcement to the Virgin Mary that she was to become the mother of the Messiah, and her willing submission to God’s will, whereupon the Word of God was conceived and made incarnate in her womb. The celebration of the feast probably began in the East in the fifth century and was introduced into the West in the sixth and seventh centuries. By the time of the Tenth Synod of Toledo in 656, it was celebrated nearly universally in the Church. While the feast falls exactly nine months before December 25, it is likely that the dating of the birth of Jesus depends on the dating of his conception, rather than the other way round. There was widespread belief amongst first century Jews in the “integral age” of prophets and other great men of God, like Abraham; that is, that their lives formed an integral whole, and that they died on the same dates as their birth or conception. Thus, from a presumed dating of the crucifixion to March 25, the angelic announcement to Mary and the conception of Jesus were dated to March 25, and the birth of Jesus to December 25, nine months later.

Gabriel announced to Mary that she would conceive and bear a Son who would be the Messiah, the Son of the Most High, whose name would be Jesus. Astounded, Mary asked how this could be so, since she was a virgin and as yet unmarried. The angel replied that the Holy Spirit would come upon her, and that the power of the Most High would overshadow her, and through this divine means she would conceive. “With God,” said Gabriel, “nothing is impossible.” The same God who had caused Mary’s elderly and barren cousin Elizabeth to conceive would also cause her to conceive without the agency of a man. ” The Messiah was to be born, “not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:13). Mary was chosen by the grace of God to be the mother of the Messiah, and so Gabriel called her “favored one”, and Mary’s assent to the angelic announcement opened the way for God to accomplish the salvation of the world, so that all generations call her “blessed” (Luke 1:48).

Cyril of Jerusalem was the first to use the title Theotokos, “God-bearer”, for the Blessed Virgin Mary, a title that was affirmed by the Council of Ephesus (the Third Ecumenical Council) in 431. In the mid-second century Justin Martyr wrote that Mary is “the new Eve”, and as the mother of the New Israel, Mary is the counterpart to Abraham, the father of the chosen people of God.

Although the festival has long been associated with the Mary (in England it is called “Lady Day”), it is a feast of our Lord – the feast of the Annunciation of our Lord, the commemoration and celebration of his conception in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In many parts of western Europe, throughout the Medieval period, the Renaissance and even into the eighteenth century, March 25 was considered the beginning of the new year, reflecting the idea that with the Lord’s conception a new age had begun. There was also a tradition that March 25 was the day on which the world was created, thus joining the first creation and the new creation in one day.

prepared from various sources, including
the New Book of Festivals & Commemorations
and Lesser Feasts and Fasts

The Collect

Pour your grace into our hearts, O Lord, that we who have known the incarnation of your Son Jesus Christ, announced by an angel to the Virgin Mary, may by his cross and passion be brought to the glory of his resurrection; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

The Lesson
Isaiah 7:10-14

Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, “Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.” But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test.” And he said, “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.

Psalm 40:5-11
Expectans expectavi

Great things are they that you have done, O LORD my God!
how great your wonders and your plans for us! *
there is none who can be compared with you.

Oh, that I could make them known and tell them! *
but they are more than I can count.

In sacrifice and offering you take no pleasure *
(you have given me ears to hear you);

Burnt-offering and sin-offering you have not required, *
and so I said, “Behold, I come.

In the roll of the book it is written concerning me: *
‘I love to do your will, O my God;
your law is deep in my heart.”‘

I proclaimed righteousness in the great congregation; *
behold, I did not restrain my lips;
and that, O LORD, you know.

Your righteousness have I not hidden in my heart;
I have spoken of your faithfulness and your deliverance; *
I have not concealed your love and faithfulness from the great congregation.

The Epistle
Hebrews 10:4-10

For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.

Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said,

“Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired,
but a body have you prepared for me;
in burnt offerings and sin offerings
you have taken no pleasure.
Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God,
as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.’”

When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), then he added, “Behold, I have come to do your will.” He does away with the first in order to establish the second. And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

The Canticle
The Song of Mary, Magnificat

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior; *
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed: *
the Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his Name.
He has mercy on those who fear him *
in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm, *
he has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, *
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things, *
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel, *
for he has remembered his promise of mercy,
The promise he made to our fathers, *
to Abraham and his children for ever.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit;*
as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen.

The Gospel
Luke 1:26-38

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”

And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.

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The scripture texts for the Lesson, the Epistle, and Gospel are taken from the English Standard Version Bible. The Collect, Psalm, and Canticle are taken from the Book of Common Prayer (1979).

 

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James Ussher, Archbishop of Armagh, 1656

James Ussher was born in Dublin in 1581 into a respected Anglo-Irish family. He entered the newly-founded Trinity College, Dublin at the age of thirteen. Already a gifted polyglot, he received his Bachelor of Arts degree by 1598 and received his Master of Arts and a Fellowship by 1600. He was ordained to the diaconate (and possibly to the presbyterate on the same day) in 1602 by his uncle Henry Ussher, Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland. In 1606 he was appointed chancellor of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral and prebend of Finglas, and became the first professor of theology at Trinity College and a Bachelor of Divinity in 1607, subsequently receiving his doctorate in divinity in 1612. He later served Trinity College as vice-chancellor and as provost. In 1621 he was appointed Bishop of Meath by King James the First, becoming a national figure in Ireland as a member of the Privy Council, and he was nominated Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland in 1625.

Ussher was an historian and scholar of vast learning and erudition and was acquainted with most of the English writers and divines of his day. The breadth of his learning made him an authority on subjects as diverse as the early history of the Irish Church (which he sought to demonstrate as differing from the Roman Catholic Church and being closer to the reformed Church of Ireland) and the epistles of Saint Ignatius of Antioch. His researches on the latter uncovered two manuscripts in libraries in England (and a third that he traced to the Medicean library in Florence) on the basis of which he demonstrated the authenticity of seven genuine letters, thereby producing the strongest extant evidence of the existence of episcopacy in the early Church at a time when the authenticity of the Ignatian epistles, and the existence of the episcopate in the early Church, was under attack by presbyterian churchmen and divines in England and Scotland.

Although a Calvinist in theology, Ussher was at least conciliatory with William Laud, the High Church archbishop of Canterbury who strenuously resisted Calvinist Puritans in the Church of England, supporting Laud’s appointment as Chancellor of Trinity College in 1633. However, he resisted Laud’s pressure to bring the Church of Ireland into conformity with the Church of England, and at a convocation in 1634 ensured that the English Articles of Religion were adopted in addition to the more Calvinistic Irish Articles, not instead of them, and that the Irish canons were redrafted on the basis of English canons, rather than being replaced by them.

In 1640, in the midst of the turbulence of the growing conflict between King Charles the First and Parliament, Ussher left Ireland for what would be the last time. His home and income were destroyed in the Irish uprising of 1641, and Parliament voted him an annual pension. During the governmental conflict that became the English Civil Wars and the religious conflict between the supporters of episcopacy and its presbyterian detractors, he endeavored to bring about a reconciliation between the episcopalians and the presbyterians in the Church of England. Eventually the irresolution of the conflict and open warfare led him to choose between his Puritan allies in Parliament and his instinctive loyalty to the monarchy.

With the establishment of a presbyterian government in the Church and the defeat of the royalist cause, Ussher retired to his scholarly studies. In 1647 he produced a treatise on the origin of the Creeds. His most famous work, the Annales veteris testamenti, a prima mundi origine deducti (Annals of the Old Testament, deduced from the first origins of the world) was published in 1650, and its second volume, Annalium pars postierior, in 1654. In this work he calculated the date of Creation and produced a chronology of the world from that date, October 23, 4004 BC to the present-day. While his chronology fell into disrepute (mostly through twentieth century association with “young earth” creationism), this work represented a considerable feat of scholarship, requiring great depth and breadth of learning in what was then known of ancient history, including the rise of the Persians, the Greeks and the Romans, as well as expertise in the Bible, biblical languages, astronomy, and ancient calendars and chronology. His account of extrabiblical historical events, such as the dates of the deaths of Alexander the Great and of Julius Caesar, is usually in close agreement with modern accounts.

More the conciliator than the controversialist, Ussher sought to achieve in his Reduction of the Episcopacy unto the Form of Synodical Government (1641) a common ground or via media between presbyterians and episcopalians, whereby presbyters would be involved in a synodical government of the church and the central role of the episcopacy would be preserved. While it was rejected in its day both by the High Church episcopalians and the Puritan presbyterians, Ussher’s rationale, grounded in the theology of the Ordinal of the Book of Common Prayer and in the Scriptures, turned out to contain the essence of the form of church government that has evolved in most provinces of the Anglican Communion.

Ussher died on March 21, 1656. So great was his reputation for scholarship, tolerance, and sincerity that on his death he was given a state funeral and burial in the chapel of Saint Paul in Westminster Abbey by Oliver Cromwell, despite his earlier support for the royalist cause and his writings in support of episcopacy. His funeral is thought to have been the only time that the burial office of the Book of Common Prayer was read in the Abbey during the Commonwealth period. His gravestone, placed in 1904 by the Provost of Trinity College, bears a Latin inscription, the English translation of which reads:

“In pious memory of JAMES USSHER who was born in Dublin in 1581, entered among the first students of Trinity College, promoted to the archiepiscopal see of Armagh, primate of all Ireland, the hundredth heir of St Patrick the apostle of Ireland, historian, critic, theologian, most learned among the holy, most holy among the learned, exiled from his own in this city of Westminster, he fell asleep in Christ in 1656. He was expelled from his sacred see and country by those same seditions which went on to grant him burial in this church among the most honoured….”

prepared from various sources

The Collect

O God, by your Holy Spirit you give to some the word of wisdom, to others the word of knowledge, and to others the word of faith: We praise your Name for the gifts of grace manifested in your servant James Ussher, and we pray that your Church may never be destitute of such gifts; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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Archbishop James Ussher is not included in any Anglican calendar with which I am familiar. I propose his inclusion in a common Anglican sanctorale because of his scholarship, his work for reconciliation between factions of Christians in the Church of the day, and his support for synodical government under the authority and leadership of bishops.

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Gregory the Illuminator, Bishop and Missionary of Armenia, c. 332

Armenia was the first state to become officially Christian, and this set a precedent for the adoption of Christianity in the Roman Empire in the fourth century (beginning with the emperor Constantine, and becoming more thoroughly so under the emperor Theodosius). As a buffer state between the empires of Rome and Persia, Armenia endured many shifts of policy, as first one and then the other empire became the kingdom’s “protector”.

Gregory, known as the Illuminator and as the Apostle to the Armenians, was born about 257. According to legend his father was an Armenian or Parthian of noble birth who assassinated the Persian king Chosroes the First. As an infant Gregory was rescued and taken to Caesarea in Cappadocia, where he was brought up as a Christian. There he married a woman named Mary, who bore him two sons. About 280, he returned to Armenia as a missionary, eventually converting the Armenian king, Tiridates the Great (Armenian Trdat), to the Christian faith. With the king’s help, the country became Christian, and paganism was rooted out. About 300, Gregory was ordained a bishop at Caesarea. He established his cathedral at Vagharshapat, which came in time to be known as Echmiadzin (Ejmiadzin) and which remains to this day the seat of the Catholicos of the Armenian Church.

There is no record that Gregory attended the Council of Nicaea in 325, but according to tradition he sent his younger son Aristages in his stead, whom he had ordained as his successor as the catholicos (bishop) of the Armenian Church. Gregory spent his last years in ascetic solitude, and he died around the year 332.

adapted from Lesser Feasts and Fasts

The Collect

Almighty God, whose will it is to be glorified in your saints, and who raised up your servant Gregory the Illuminator to be a light in the world, and to preach the Gospel to the people of Armenia: Shine, we pray, in our hearts, that we also in our generation may show forth your praise, who called us out of darkness into your marvelous light; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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The propers for the commemoration of Gregory the Illuminator, Bishop and Missionary of Armenia, are published on the Lectionary Page website.

Among the works written by the late Armenian-American composer Alan Hovhaness is his Prayer of St Gregory, written in honor of St Gregory the Illuminator.

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