Monthly Archives: March 2011

John Donne, Presbyter and Poet, 1631

One of the greatest of English poets, and the best known preacher of his day in the Church of England, John Donne (pronounced, “dun”) was born into a wealthy and pious Roman Catholic family around 1572. (His mother was the granddaughter of a sister of Sir Thomas More.) He entered Hart Hall, Oxford in 1584 and possibly studied after this at Cambridge or abroad. He studied law at the Inns of Court in London, entering Thavies Inn in 1591 and transferring to Lincoln’s Inn in 1592. During this time he was exercised over the problem of his religious allegiance (as a Catholic recusant in a country with a established reformed Church), and according to the biographer Izaak Walton, “betrothed himself to no Religion that might give him any other denomination than a Christian“.  By 1598 he had conformed to the Church of England.  In 1598 he entered into government service and a promising political career as private secretary to Sir Thomas Egerton, the Lord Keeper of the Great Seal.  Sir Thomas’ discovery in 1602 of Donne’s secret marriage to Ann More, the niece of his employer’s wife, the previous year brought his employment abruptly to an end.  During the next several years he and his growing family lived in poverty, dependent on the charity of friends.  He found some employment in the writing of controversial literature, but after repeated failures to find regular secular employment, he at last complied with the wishes of King James the First and was ordained to the ministry of the Church of England.  The reason that he gave for his delay was scruple at accepting holy orders as a means of making a living.  Following several brief cures, Donne was appointed Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral in London in 1621, where he preached on all great festivals.  He was also a regular preacher at court and was a favorite with both James the First and his son, Charles.

During a serious illness in 1623, he wrote his Devotions upon Emergent Occasions (published in 1624) and the famous “Hymn to God the Father”.  Donne died on March 31, 1631 and was buried in St Paul’s.  His monument, which depicts him standing in his death shroud, survived the Great Fire that destroyed most of the old Cathedral.  He is remembered on this day in several Anglican sanctoral calendars.

Donne’s secular poetry, satires, love-elegies, and lyrics, was written mainly in his youth.  His religious poetry belongs mostly to the troubled and unhappy middle years of poverty and discouragement.  After ordination his genius found expression in preaching.  His poetry suffered eclipse after the Restoration but experienced a robust revival in the twentieth century.  His vigorous, dramatic style, his capacity for introspection, and the subtle blend of argument and passion in his love poems and religious poems attracted poets who were  rejecting Romanticism, mostly notably T.S. Eliot.  Donne’s sermons are masterpieces of the old formal style of preaching, packed with patristic learning and adorned with brilliant images images and striking rhetorical flourishes.  But his greatest strength was as a moral theologian, preaching as a sinner who has found mercy to other sinners.  Donne’s great theme as a love poet was the bliss of union, a theme also found in his religious poetry, and his great theme as a preacher was God’s mercy.

prepared from The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church

The Collect

Almighty God, the root and fountain of all being: Open our eyes to see, with your servant John Donne, that whatever has any being is a mirror in which we may behold you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


Batter my heart, three-person’d God

Batter my heart, three-person’d God, for you
As yet but knocke, breathe, shine, and seeke to mend;
That I may rise, and stand, o’erthrow mee,’and bend
Your force, to breake, blowe, burn and make me new.
I, like an usurpt towne, to’another due,
Labour to’admit you, but Oh, to no end,
Reason your viceroy in mee, mee should defend,
But is captiv’d, and proves weake or untrue.
Yet dearely’I love you,’and would be loved faine,
But am betroth’d unto your enemie:
Divorce mee,’untie, or breake that knot againe;
Take mee to you, imprison mee, for I
Except you’enthrall mee, never shall be free,
Nor ever chast, except you ravish mee.

A Hymn to God the Father

Wilt Thou forgive that sin where I begun,
Which was my sin, though it were done before?
Wilt Thou forgive that sin through which I run,
And do run still, though still I do deplore?
When Thou hast done, Thou hast not done†;
For I have more.

Wilt Thou forgive that sin which I have won
Others to sin, and made my sins their door?
Wilt Thou forgive that sin which I did shun
A year or two, but wallow’d in a score?
When Thou hast done, Thou hast not done;
For I have more.

I have a sin of fear, that when I’ve spun
My last thread, I shall perish on the shore;
But swear by Thyself that at my death Thy Son
Shall shine as He shines now and heretofore;
And having done that, Thou hast done;
I fear no more.

The reader will note the play on “done” and “Donne”.


Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadfull, for, thou art not so,
For, those, whom thou think’st, thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poore death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleepe, which but thy pictures bee,
Much pleasure, then from thee, much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee doe goe,
Rest of their bones, and soules deliverie.
Thou art slave to Fate, Chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poyson, warre, and sicknesse dwell,
And poppie, or charmes can make us sleepe as well,
And better than thy stroake; why swell’st thou then;
One short sleepe past, wee wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.

Leave a comment

Filed under Commemorations

Innocent of Alaska, Bishop and Metropolitan, 1879

Innocent of Alaska, Enlightener of North America and Apostle to Alaska, was a Russian Orthodox priest and bishop.  He is known for his missionary zeal, his great abilities as a scholar and linguist, and his leadership and administration of the Church in Alaska and the Russian Far East in the nineteenth century.  He was elevated to archbishop in Alaska and was later appointed Metropolitan of Moscow and all Russia, an office that he held until his death in 1879.

Innocent was born Ivan (John) Evseyevich Popov-Veniaminov in 1797, into the family of a church server in the village of Anginskoye in the Verkholensk District of Irkutsk, in the Far East of the Russian Empire.  His father died when he was six years old.  In 1807, John entered the Irkutsk Theological Seminary, completing his formal studies in 1818.  He married in 1817, and later that year he was ordained to the diaconate.  On the completion of his studies he was appointed a teacher in a parish school, and in 1821 he was ordained priest.

In 1823, Bishop Michael of Irkutsk received instructions to send a priest to the island of Unalaska, in the Aleutian archipelago.  John volunteered for the mission and set off with his wife, his infant son, his aging mother, and his brother Stefan.  After an arduous journey of a year’s duration, they arrived in Unalaska in 1824.  He immediately set about his study study of local languages and dialects and began his work of evangelisation that would last for fifty years and would lead to his becoming known as “the Apostle to Alaska”.  Living at first in an earthen hut, he trained the local people as carpenters, blacksmiths, and bricklayers, and with their help he built a church for them.

His parish included not only Unalaska, but the neighboring Fox Islands and Pribilof Islands, whose inhabitants had converted to Christianity before his arrival, but who had retained many of their pre-Christian practices.  Father John traveled between the islands by canoe, braving the sometimes stormy waters of the Gulf of Alaska.  His travels between the islands acquainted him with many of the local dialects.  Choosing the most widespread of these, the Aleut dialect of the Fox Islands, John devised a Cyrillic alphabet for it and, using this alphabet, translated the Gospel of Matthew and many hymns and prayers, which were published in 1840 with the blessing of the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church.

In 1829, with the blessing of the Bishop of Irkutsk, he traveled to the Bering Sea coast of the Alaskan mainland and preached to the people there.  By 1836, his missionary journeys extended as far south as the (Russian) Ross Colony north of San Francisco, where he conducted services in its small, wooden chapel.  In 1834, John was transferred to Sitka Island, where he devoted himself to the Tlingit people and studied their language and customs.  Despite their adherence to the own customs and traditions, he converted many of them to Christ.  His studies at Sitka produced his scholarly works, Notes on the Kolushchan and Kodiak Tongues and Other Dialects of the Russo-American Territories, with a Russian-Kolushchan Glossary.

In 1838, Father John traveled to St Petersburg, Moscow, and Kiev to report on his activities and to request an expansion of the Church’s activities in Russian America.  While there, he received word that his wife had died, whereupon he requested permission to return to Sitka.  Instead, church authorities suggested that he take vows as a monk.  At first he ignored these suggestions, but in 1840 he made his vows, choosing the religious name Innocent in honor of Bishop Innocent of Irkutsk.  On December 15, 1840, Archimandrite Innocent was consecrated Bishop of Kamchatka and the Kuril Islands (in Russia) and the Aleutian Islands, with his see located in Novoarkhangelsk.  He spent the next nine years in the administration of his diocese as well as in missionary work, undertaking several long journeys to remote areas.  In 1850 he was elevated to archbishop, and in 1852 the Yakut area was added to his diocese, leading to his taking up residence in the town of Yakutsk in 1853.  Innocent traveled frequently throughout his much enlarged diocese and devoted himself to the translation of the Scriptures and liturgical materials into the Yakut (Sakha) language.

In 1865, Archbishop Innocent was appointed a member of the Holy  Governing Synod of the Russian Church, and in 1867 he was appointed Metropolitan of Moscow and All Russia, succeeding his friend and mentor, Filaret.  As Metropolitan, he undertook revisions of the Church’s texts to remove errors, raised funds to improve the living of priests, and established a retirement home for priests.

He died on March 31, 1879, and was buried at Troitse-Sergiyeva Lavra.  In 1977, the Russian Orthodox Church, acting on the formal request of the Orthodox Church in America, declared Innocent a saint.  His relics were discovered during at excavation of the cemetery near the Church of the Holy Ghost at Troitse-Sergiyeva Lavra in 1994 and are now venerated by the Orthodox faithful both in Russia and in America.

In one troparion for his commemoration, the faithful proclaim

You evangelized the northern people of America and Asia,
Proclaiming the Gospel of Christ to the natives in their own tongues.
O holy hierarch Father Innocent,
Enlightener of Alaska and all America, whose ways were ordered by the Lord,
Pray to Him for the salvation of our souls in His Heavenly Kingdom!

prepared from various sources

The Collect

Holy and immortal God and Father, you blessed your people by calling Innocent from leading your Church in Russia to be an apostle and light to the people of Alaska, and to proclaim the dispensation and grace of God: Guide our steps, that as he labored humbly in danger and hardship, we may witness to the Gospel of Christ wherever we are led, and serve you as gladly in privation as in power; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, to the ages of ages.  Amen.


The Collect is taken from the website of the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music of The Episcopal Church, with amendment.

Leave a comment

Filed under Commemorations

John Keble, Presbyter and Renewer of the Church, 1866

New every morning is the love
Our wakening and uprising prove:
Through sleep and darkness safely brought,
Restored to life and power and thought.

These familiar words of John Keble are from his cycle of poems entitled The Christian Year (1827), which he wrote to restore within the Church of England a deep feeling for the church year, “to bring the thoughts and feelings of the reader into unison with those exemplified in the Prayer Book.”  The work went through ninety-five editions, but this was not the fame Keble sought.  His consuming desire was to be a faithful pastor who finds his fulfillment in daily services, confirmation classes, visits to village schools, and a voluminous correspondence with those seeking spiritual counsel.

Born in 1792, Keble received his early education in his father’s vicarage.  At fourteen, he won a scholarship to Oxford, and after a brilliant career at Corpus Christi College, he was elected to one of the much-coveted Fellowships of Oriel College, having graduated from his college with highest honors.  In 1815 he was ordained deacon and in 1816 presbtyer.  In 1817 he became a tutor at Oriel, but he resigned in 1823 to become his father’s curate in his rural cure in the Cotswolds.  There he composed the poems of The Christian Year.  In 1831 he was elected professor of poetry at Oxford.

England was in the early nineteenth century undergoing a turbulent change from a rural to an industrial and urban society.  Among the reforms of the 1830s, Parliament acted to abolish ten Anglican bishoprics in Ireland.  Keble vigorously attacked this action as undermining the independence of the Church.  His assizes sermon of July 14, 1834, preached at the opening of the court term before the University, denounced this “national apostasy” and was the spark that ignited the Oxford Movement.  Those drawn to the Movement began to publish a series of “Tracts for the Times” – hence the popular term, “Tractarians” – which sought to recall the Church to its ancient sacramental heritage.  John Henry Newman was the intellectual leader of the movement, Edward Bouverie Pusey was the prophet of its devotional life, and John Keble was its pastoral inspiration.

In 1836, Keble became Vicar of Hursley, near Winchester, where he settled down to family life and remained as pastor and priest until his life’s end.

Though bitterly attacked, Keble’s loyalty to the Church was unwavering.  Within three years of his death, John Keble College was established at Oxford “to give an education in strict fidelity to the Church of England”.  For Keble, this would have meant dedication to learning in order “to live more nearly as we pray”.

from Lesser Feasts and Fasts, with additions and amendments

The Collect

Grant, O God, that in all time of our testing we may know your presence and obey your will; that, following the example of your servant John Keble, we may accomplish with integrity and courage what you give us to do, and endure what you give us to bear; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Leave a comment

Filed under Commemorations

A work in progress

After further investigation and reflection, I have amended the Calendar.

I have moved the commemoration of Thomas Ken, Bishop of Bath and Wells to March 20, one day closer to the date of his demise on March 19 (Saint Joseph’s day).  The Calendar in Common Worship (Church of England) commemorates Ken on June 8, the date on which he and the other Seven Bishops were committed to the Tower, but it seems more fitting to remember his witness on (or near) the date of his death, rather than the date of his imprisonment for a political-ecclesiastical act of defiance (which, under the circumstances, cannot be understood as a clear instance of witnessing to the Gospel against the powers of this world).  The commemoration of March 20 also corresponds to the new date given to Ken in the Calendar of The Episcopal Church.

Having moved Thomas Ken to March 20 also means shifting Saint Cuthbert’s commemoration from March 20, the date of his death, to September 4, the date of the translation of his relics (the Calendar in Common Worship provides September 4 as an alternative date for Cuthbert).  I have decided against the conflation of the commemorations of Saint Aidan and Saint Cuthbert as provided in the Calendar of The Episcopal Church (on August 31).

These alterations are occasioned by the inclusion of Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury and Martyr, on March 21, the date of his martyrdom in 1556.  In the Calendar of Book of Common Prayer (1979), Cranmer is commemorated with the other Oxford Martyrs, Nicholas Ridley and Hugh Latimer, on October 16.  But the new Calendar of The Episcopal Church, the Calendar in the Book of Alternative Services (Anglican Church of Canada), and the Calendar in Common Worship provide a commemoration on the date of Cranmer’s martyrdom, as seems fitting for the father of the Book of Common Prayer and the most influential figure of the English Reformation.

All of which is to say that this weblog project, to provide a sanctoral Calendar for North American diaspora Anglicanism, is a work in progress.

Update: I have also posted an entry on James Ussher, Archbishop of Armagh for March 24.

Leave a comment

Filed under Commemorations, General

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.


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).

1 Comment

Filed under Holy Days: Other Feasts of our Lord

A hymn for the Annunciation

Gabriel’s message does away
Satan’s curse and Satan’s sway,
out of darkness brings our Day:
so, behold, all the gates of heaven unfold.

He that comes despised shall reign;
he that cannot die, be slain;
death by death its death shall gain:
so, behold, all the gates of heaven unfold.

Weakness shall the strong confound;
by the hands, in graveclothes wound,
Adam’s chains shall be unbound:
so, behold, all the gates of heaven unfold.

Art by art shall be assailed;
to the cross shall Life be nailed;
from the grave shall hope be hailed:
so, behold, all the gates of heaven unfold.

– Piae Cantiones, 1582; translated John Mason Neale (1818-1866)

Leave a comment

Filed under Holy Days: Other Feasts of our Lord, Hymns

Mary consoles Eve

Mary Consoles Eve (Sr Grace Remington, OCSO) © Sisters of the Mississippi Abbey)

O Eve!

My mother, my daughter, life-giving Eve,

Do not be ashamed, do not grieve.

The former things have passed away,

Our God has brought us to a New Day.

See, I am with Child,

Through whom all will be reconciled.

O Eve! My sister, my friend,

We will rejoice together


Life without end.

— Sr Columba Guare © 2005 Sisters of the Mississippi Abbey

Leave a comment

Filed under Holy Days: Other Feasts of our Lord, Poetry

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.


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.

1 Comment

Filed under Commemorations

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.


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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Commemorations

James DeKoven, Presbyter, 1879

James DeKoven was born in Middletown, Connecticut in 1831, ordained by Jackson Kemper (the first missionary bishop in the United States) in 1855, and appointed professor of ecclesiastical history at Nashotah House.  In addition, he administered a preparatory school and assisted at the Church of St John Chrysostom in Delafield, Wisconsin.

From the time of its foundation, Nashotah House was associated with many of the principles of the Oxford Movement, above all in its emphasis on the sacramental life of the Church and the expression of devotion to the Eucharist – including such practices as bowing to the Holy Table, at the Name of Jesus, and before receiving communion.  In 1859, DeKoven became Warden of the Church college at Racine, Wisconsin, where he emphasized the life of worship.  He died there in 1879.

DeKoven came to national attention at the General Conventions of 1871 and 1874, when the controversy over “ritualism” was at its height.  In 1871, he asserted that the use of candles on the altar, incense, and genuflections were lawful, because they symbolized “the real, spiritual presence of Christ” which the Protestant Episcopal Church upheld, along with the Orthodox and the Lutherans.  He cited a recent decision of an ecclesiastical court in the Church of England which affirmed as the teaching of the Church that “the spiritual presence of the Body and Blood of our Lord in the Holy Communion is objective and real”.

Because of his advocacy of the “ritualist” cause, consents were not given to his election as Bishop of Wisconsin in 1874, and of Illinois in 1875.

To the General Convention of 1874, DeKoven expressed the religious conviction that underlay his churchmanship:  “You may take away from us, if you will, every eternal ceremony; you may take away altars, and super-altars, lights and incense and vestments…and we will submit to you.  But, gentlemen…to adore Christ’s Person in his Sacrament – that is the inalienable privilege of every Christian and Catholic heart.  How we do it, the way we do it, the ceremonies with which we do it, are utterly, utterly, indifferent.  The think itself is what we plead for.”

adapted from Lesser Feasts and Fasts (1980)

The Collect

Almighty and everlasting God, the source and perfection of all virtues, you inspired your servant James DeKoven to do what is right and to preach what is true: Grant that all ministers and stewards of your mysteries may impart to your faithful people, by word and example, the knowledge of your grace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


Project Canterbury has published online a number of James DeKoven’s writings.

Leave a comment

Filed under Commemorations