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Francis X. Clooney, S.J.December 02, 2016
Nicholas Ferrar

Cambridge, Mass.—As readers know, my interest and expertise pertains mainly to interreligious understanding, between the Christian traditions and other, non-Christian traditions. Ecumenism I leave to others. But the boundary is not a hard and fast one. As we relate to other Christians, we are disposing ourselves to think and act in certain ways toward people who are not Christian; and if we have learned how to relate to Muslims or Hindus differently, these dispositions will affect how we relate to other Christians. How we Catholics relate to other Catholics is also relevant to how we relate to other Christians and people of still other faiths, but that is a topic for another blog.

So I was intrigued today when I had occasion to attend an Anglican Eucharist at the Divinity School, to learn that in the Episcopalian calendar December 1 is the feast of Nicholas Ferrar (1592-1637), a saintly man of great talents but apparently of slight financial acumen (he lost a fortune by investing in the London Virginia Company). Reduced in means, he moved his family to Little Gidding, founding what was a kind of monastic family community or, as Wikipedia puts it, “a family living a Christian life in accordance with the Book of Common Prayer, according to High Church principles.”

Ferrar was also a friend of the great poet, George Herbert, and preserved and posthumously published his compositions. Fittingly, Ferrar was remembered and honored by T. S. Eliot, who named one of his Four Quartets “Little Gidding,” in apparent tribute to Ferrar and his spiritual ideals. Eliot perhaps captured the deep spiritual commitment of Ferrar:

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, remembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree

Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half heard, in the stillness
Between the two waves of the sea.
Quick now, here, now, always—
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)…

I was intrigued in part because I knew nothing about Ferrar before today. Almost all of preceding points I learned first from the Rev. Matthew Potts, my colleague on the Harvard faculty, who presided and preached at the Eucharist yesterday morning. (I later filled in some details by consulting the relevant Wikipedia articles.)

But I mention all this because I am intrigued by a coincidence; my Catholic and Jesuit instincts had prepared me for another, quite different memorial: Dec. 1 is the feast of St. Edmund Campion (1540-1581). (See also today's reflection at this site by Joseph Hoover, S.J.) He was one of the most gifted students and scholars of his time, with Anglican roots. After ordination as an Anglican deacon, he became a Catholic, a Jesuit, and a Catholic priest, and teacher in Prague. But he was well-prepared to be an outspoken critic of the Anglican Church, and so he was. He put aside his own safety to return to England, where soon enough he was arrested, tried and condemned; refusing to recant, he was hung, drawn and quartered. He was only 41 at his death.

Renowned for his learning and his courage, his most famous writing was his “Brag”—declaration and challenge to the Queen’s government—that ends with these stirring words:

And touching our Societie, be it known to you that we have made a league—all the Jesuits in the world, whose succession and multitude must overreach all the practices of England—cheerfully to carry the cross you shall lay upon us, and never to despair your recovery, while we have a man left to enjoy your Tyburn, or to be racked with your torments, or consumed with your prisons. The expense is reckoned, the enterprise is begun; it is of God, it cannot be withstood. So the Faith was planted: so it must be restored. If these my offers be refused, and my endeavours can take no place, and I, having run thousands of miles to do you good, shall be rewarded with rigour, I have no more to say but to recommend your case and mine to Almightie God, the Searcher of Hearts, who send us His grace, and set us at accord before the day of payment, to the end we may at last be friends in Heaven, when all injuries shall be forgotten.

I leave to historians the finer details of Ferrar and Campion—and I welcome corrections to what I have written here—but what strikes me is that it is providential that we mark their feasts on the same day, Dec. 1: two saintly Christians separated by only a few decades in time, both Anglican by birth, even if Campion became an implacable foe of the community of his birth. Both were saintly, for neither the Roman Church nor the Anglican had a monopoly on learning or dedication or holiness, and in neither institution was piety and spirituality innocent of intrigue, politics and competition. It took hundreds of years for the terrible violence of the English Reformation and ensuing enmity to wane and understanding to blossom again.

And yet today, we can revere and thank God for both of them. Both remind us that neither economics or politics or religious clashes can ever be strong enough to crush the spirit of a holy person. As the 500th anniversary of the Reformation—2017—approaches, we are graced with this double feast and reminded, rather simply, neither to deny past violence and misunderstanding, nor to miss the chance to learn from our fellow Christians in other church communities. If we do, we may understand and appreciate more our non-Christian neighbors too. Then, we can even pray the words of Little Gidding:

And all shall be well and
All manner of things shall be well
When the tongues of flame are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.

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William Rydberg
7 years 5 months ago
One supposes that the author is trying to be charitable describing BOTH of the men as EQUALLY (canonized?) Saints which is nice, however from a catechetical Catholic perspective such assumptions are problematic if the inference is that the those listed in the current "Calendar of Saints (Church of England)" are in their entirety equivalent. However, a quick scan of "Calendar of Saints (Anglican)" contain persons like Thomas Cranmer (excommunicated?), George Fox (founder of the Quakers?), and Charles 1st of England... in Christ,
Nicholas Clifford
7 years 5 months ago
At the risk of sounding like a crusty old pedant (which of course I'm not) the Book of Common ought to be,of course, the Book of Common Prayer.
Sam Sawyer, S.J.
7 years 5 months ago

Thank you for catching the typo; we've corrected it.

PJ Johnston
7 years 5 months ago
This reminds me of an Anglican who commented on two holy days falling on a single day: Upon the Annunciation and Passion Falling upon One Day. John Donne, 1608 Tamely, frail body, abstain today; today My soul eats twice, Christ hither and away. She sees Him man, so like God made in this, That of them both a circle emblem is, Whose first and last concur; this doubtful day Of feast or fast, Christ came and went away; She sees Him nothing twice at once, who’s all; She sees a Cedar plant itself and fall, Her Maker put to making, and the head Of life at once not yet alive yet dead; She sees at once the virgin mother stay Reclused at home, public at Golgotha; Sad and rejoiced she’s seen at once, and seen At almost fifty and at scarce fifteen; At once a Son is promised her, and gone; Gabriel gives Christ to her, He her to John; Not fully a mother, she’s in orbity, At once receiver and the legacy; All this, and all between, this day hath shown, The abridgement of Christ’s story, which makes one (As in plain maps, the furthest west is east) Of the Angels’ Ave and Consummatum est. How well the Church, God’s court of faculties, Deals in some times and seldom joining these! As by the self-fixed Pole we never do Direct our course, but the next star thereto, Which shows where the other is and which we say (Because it strays not far) doth never stray, So God by His Church, nearest to Him, we know And stand firm, if we by her motion go; His Spirit, as His fiery pillar doth Lead, and His Church, as cloud, to one end both. This Church, by letting these days join, hath shown Death and conception in mankind is one: Or ‘twas in Him the same humility That He would be a man and leave to be: Or as creation He had made, as God, With the last judgment but one period, His imitating Spouse would join in one Manhood’s extremes: He shall come, He is gone: Or as though the least of His pains, deeds, or words, Would busy a life, she all this day affords; This treasure then, in gross, my soul uplay, And in my life retail it every day.
Anne Chapman
7 years 5 months ago
One of the many aspects of Anglicanism that has drawn me in since I began attending an Episcopal church on Sundays is their understanding that holiness and saintliness are found outside their own church. Thus their calendar of saints does not just include Anglicans, but Catholics and Protestants as well.. Each church within the Anglican communion can name its own calendar of saints, since the national churches are best situated to know who among their number have shown "historical character and devotion beyond doubt". The Anglicans, who generally demonstrate an honest understanding of their own humanity, thus of their own fallibility, and thus a refreshing humility lacking in the Catholic and Orthodox churches (both of which claim to be the "one, true church" and the sole possessor of Truth}, do not "canonize" saints and make no assertions regarding their abode in the afterlife. If the Catholic church would honestly acknowledge that it is not infallible, that it cannot perfectly interpret God's will and God's mind, become more humble, it would be a very good thing. Then, perhaps, it would not longer limit "sainthood" primarily to clergy and vowed religious and engaging in the charade of proving miraculous intercessions as a qualification for "sainthood"..

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