How wonderful is God among his saints: come, let us adore him.
Year: A(II). Psalm week: 3. Liturgical Colour: White.
Other saints: St Richard of Chichester (1197 - 1253)
Richard Wych was a Worcestershire man, born at Droitwich (then known as Wych) in about 1197. His family were yeomen farmers. His parents died while he was still at school, and the property was administered by guardians, who so mismanaged the estate that Richard and his brother and sister were left almost penniless. The elder brother was equally unable to cope, and it was Richard who got the farm back on its feet, by sheer hard manual work. His brother offered to hand over the whole inheritance to Richard, but with the proviso that he “married and settled down”, as we would say. Richard however had his mind set on being a clerk – a member of the clergy, though that did not necessarily imply priesthood. At all events, he was now free to go to Oxford, where he joined the school of Edmund Rich, the future archbishop of Canterbury and Saint. Edmund had a profound influence on Richard, and their friendship was to be lifelong. After graduating in Law from Oxford, Richard went on to study in Paris and Bologna. In 1235 he returned to Oxford, where he was elected Chancellor.
By now his mentor Edmund had become Archbishop of Canterbury, and within two years he called him to be his own Chancellor. For the next three years Richard lived and worked with Edmund, and grew to revere him for his pastoral concern, his devotion to prayer, and his asceticism. In 1240 he accompanied Edmund on a visit to Rome, and was at his bedside there when he died.
Up to this time there is no indication that Richard felt a call to the priesthood. But now, in his early forties, there came a change. Instead of returning home from Rome, he went to Orleans to study theology, and there after two years he was ordained priest.
Returning to England, he took up the pastoral duties of a parish priest in Kent, but he was not to be left in obscurity for long.
In 1244 the see of Chichester fell vacant. The King, Henry III, instructed the Chapter to elect his own nominee, a certain Robert Passelewe, which they duly did, even though it was well known that this Passelewe was a thoroughly unsuitable candidate. Archbishop Boniface of Canterbury decided to make a stand against what had become in practice royal appointment to episcopal sees, and took the brave and unprecedented step of quashing the election and nominating to Chichester Richard, his Chancellor. The King’s immediate reaction was to refuse to accept the homage of Richard, or to release to him the “temporalities” (the property and income) of the see, which were legally held by the Crown during an interregnum. Richard appealed to the Pope, who upheld his appointment and personally consecrated him bishop at Lyons on 5th March 1245.
It was an unhappy beginning. When Richard came to Chichester to take possession of his see, he found the gates of the city closed against him and access to his estates barred, by order of the King. He was given lodging, in defiance of the royal will, by Simon, the Rector of Tarring, who became a lifelong friend. There and then Richard began the work of chief pastor, working from the Rectory at Tarring. He visited assiduously the parishes, monasteries and homes for the sick and poor in the diocese. After sixteen months the King relented, under threat of excommunication by the Pope, although he still refused to restore the income that had accrued to the royal treasury during the dispute. Richard took possession of his Cathedral amid great rejoicing.
The Bishop could now devote himself fully to much-needed reforms. He instituted diocesan synods, at which the teaching and laws of the Church were expounded, and local statutes enacted. These statutes covered a wide range. The sacraments were to be administered without payment, Mass was to be celebrated in a dignified manner, clergy must practice celibacy, observe residence and wear clerical dress. There were instructions regarding the hearing of confessions, and clergy were reminded of their duty of hospitality and care of the poor. At the same time he made provision for their proper payment and security of tenure. The laity were obliged to attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days, and all must know by heart the Lord’s Prayer, the Hail Mary and the Creed.
He also had to face the task of fund-raising for the maintenance of the Cathedral. He revived the practice of “Pentecostals”, directing that all parishioners should visit the cathedral church once a year at Whitsuntide, there to pay their dues. Those who lived too far away could fulfil this duty at Hastings or Lewes, and those unable to attend at all must still hand in their dues.
Richard set great store by hospitality, and he kept a good table; but he himself was frugal, and refused the good things he provided for his guests. He practised penance, wearing a hair shirt to the day of his death. He was a man of compassion, his biographer mentioning particularly his concern for handicapped children and convicted criminals. His early life on the farm is echoed in some of the miracle stories told about him – the out-of-season flowering of a fruit tree at Tarring, good advice to men fishing on the bridge at Lewes, resulting in an exceptional catch.
In 1252 the Pope appointed Richard to preach the Crusade. The Bishop saw this not just as a means of raising money but as a call to renewal of life – much as we would see a Holy Year. He began a tour along the south coast, which eventually brought him to Dover. Here he consecrated a cemetery chapel for the poor, which he dedicated to his friend and teacher, St Edmund, who had been the chief inspiration for his own life’s work. It was his last public function. A few days later he collapsed. His last prayer has come down to us: “Thanks be to thee, my Lord Jesus Christ, for all the benefits thou hast bestowed on me, for all the pains and insults thou hast borne for me. And thou knowest, Lord, that if it should please thee I am ready to bear insults and torments and death for thee; and as thou knowest this to be the truth, have mercy upon me, for to thee do I commend my soul.” He died on 3rd April 1253. He was about 56 years of age, and had been bishop no more than eight years.
His body was brought back to Chichester, where he was immediately hailed as a saint. He was canonised within the decade, and his body placed in a new shrine behind the High Altar in his cathedral, where it remained until destroyed at the Reformation. But today Richard is honoured again in that same spot, as a Saint and patron of Sussex.
Other saints: St Richard's Prayer
Thanks be to thee, O Lord Jesus Christ
for all the benefits which thou hast given us,
for all the pains and insults which thou hast borne for us:
O most merciful Redeemer, Friend and Brother,
may we know thee more clearly,
love thee more dearly,
and follow thee more nearly. Amen.
Today's Gospel: "With all your mind"
Sometimes there is a message for us in some words of the Gospel that even the evangelists don’t notice. There is an example here, hidden in words so uninteresting that we can’t even be sure who said them. Matthew and Mark say Jesus, while Luke says the scribe.
Jesus (or the scribe) appears to be quoting from the Old Testament, but one phrase does not exist in any text of the Commandments: that we should love the Lord our God with all our mind.
It is easy not to notice this phrase, and indeed Matthew, Mark and Luke don’t notice it. We know this because normally when Jesus departs from the Old Testament it is noticed, and remarked upon, and made the subject of a whole “But I say to you…” discourse.
There are two aspects to this. One is what it says about the past, the other is what it says to us. The past is straightforward. The Jews have never been “people of the Book” in the sense of believing in the Bible and nothing but the Bible. They have, it is true, had a peculiar reverence for every sacred word, but they have lived not in unthinking obedience to those words alone but in a dialogue, you might even say in a relationship, with the sacred text. So the fact that “all your mind” appears here, without attracting notice or comment, must mean that it had become a part of the generally accepted interpretation of the words of Scripture. When, centuries after the Pentateuch, the Jews came across the new, Greek ways of thinking – as the Wisdom literature shows that they did – they immediately realised that this new thing called “mind” was included, no doubt about it, in the commandment to love.
What this says to us is more important than just a footnote in the history of ideas. It is the foundation and justification of all science. God does not command the impossible. If he is to be loved with the mind, that can only be because he is lovable with the mind, or, to detheologize the language, because Ultimate Being can be related to rationally. The Gospel phrase tells us that things make sense and that we have the equipment to make sense of them.
What does omnipotence mean? Does it mean that the Omnipotent can do anything at all? If that were true, all science would be at an end. If God willed that when I dropped a glass on the floor it would shatter, then even if God had willed the same whenever anyone in the past had ever dropped a glass, that would still not bind God. God would still be free to decide, if I dropped a glass on the floor now, that this particular glass, alone among all the glasses in history, should bounce and not break.
Which is to say: on this interpretation of divine omnipotence, science is impossible. We cannot predict the result of an experiment, because next time God may decide differently. We cannot even lay down laws of nature based on previous experience, because to call a law a “law” is to claim to be able to bind God, which is blasphemy.
This is not merely an academic quibble. When the 11th-century Muslim philosopher al-Ghazāli propounded this very idea, it captured the mainstream of Islamic thinking and led to the virtual suicide of science in Islam and the abandonment of rational thinking about the physical world, as being unnecessary, or sacrilegious, or both.
We are saved from this by this one little phrase in the Gospel, about loving God with all our mind. It is more than mere permission, it is a command to understand, to go out and do science, and it was followed whenever Christians had leisure to think. It led to the dazzling 13th-century renaissance and the birth of modern science, and we are still living through its consequences.
As for divine omnipotence, this is not the place to go into it in detail, but the answer to al-Ghazāli must surely be that God can indeed make the glass bounce, but God cannot make the glass bounce and still be God, since to break the laws and regularities of nature whimsically and without reason would be to abandon lovability-with-the-mind. This is exactly the argument that theologians use against pointless or frivolous miracles, but it applies to science as well, and to the possibility of doing science at all.
About the author of the Second Reading in today's Office of Readings:
Second Reading: St Cyprian (210 - 258)
Cyprian was born in Carthage and spent most of his life in the practice of the law. He was converted to Christianity, and was made bishop of Carthage in 249. He steered the church through troubled times, including the persecution of the emperor Decius, when he went into hiding so as to be able to continue looking after the church. In 258 the persecution of the emperor Valerian began. Cyprian was first exiled and then, on the 14th of September, executed, after a trial notable for the calm and courtesy shown by both sides.
Cyprian’s many letters and treatises shed much light on a formative period in the Church’s history, and are valuable both for their doctrine and for the picture they paint of a group of people in constant peril of their lives but still determined to keep the faith.
Liturgical colour: white
White is the colour of heaven. Liturgically, it is used to celebrate feasts of the Lord; Christmas and Easter, the great seasons of the Lord; and the saints. Not that you will always see white in church, because if something more splendid, such as gold, is available, that can and should be used instead. We are, after all, celebrating.
In the earliest centuries all vestments were white – the white of baptismal purity and of the robes worn by the armies of the redeemed in the Apocalypse, washed white in the blood of the Lamb. As the Church grew secure enough to be able to plan her liturgy, she began to use colour so that our sense of sight could deepen our experience of the mysteries of salvation, just as incense recruits our sense of smell and music that of hearing. Over the centuries various schemes of colour for feasts and seasons were worked out, and it is only as late as the 19th century that they were harmonized into their present form.
|Mid-morning reading (Terce)||Jeremiah 22:3 ©|
Practise honesty and integrity; rescue the man who has been wronged from the hands of his oppressor; do not exploit the stranger, the orphan, the widow; do no violence; shed no innocent blood in this place.
|Noon reading (Sext)||Deuteronomy 15:7-8 ©|
Is there a poor man among you, one of your brothers, in any town of yours in the land that the Lord your God is giving you? Do not harden your heart or close your hand against that poor brother of yours, but be open-handed with him and lend him enough for his needs.
|Afternoon reading (None)||Proverbs 22:22-23 ©|
Because a man is poor, do not therefore cheat him, nor, at the city gate, oppress anybody in affliction; for the Lord takes up their cause, and extorts the life of their extortioners.