Monday, November 30, 2015

For All the Saints: St. Andrew

In many churches, both West and East, today is the feast day of St. Andrew. The Orthodox saints site has this to say about Andrew:

"He was the brother of the Apostle Peter, from Bethsaida on the shore of Lake Gennesaret. Andrew left his fisherman's trade to become a disciple of St John the Baptist. Soon after the Forerunner had baptized Jesus, he said to Andrew and his other disciple John the Theologian, 'Behold the Lamb of God!' At this, both disciples followed after Jesus. After conversing with Christ, Andrew hurried home and told his brother Simon Peter, 'We have found the Messiah.' For being the first to recognize Jesus as the Christ, St Andrew is called the First-Called.

"After Pentecost, Andrew was appointed to preach the Gospel around the Black Sea and in Thrace and Macedonia, traveling as far as Lazica in the Caucasus. According to Slavic tradition his travels took him even further, into the land that was later to be called Russia.

"In later travels the Apostle preached throughout Asia Minor with St John the Theologian, then traveled to Mesopotamia, then back to Sinope on the Black Sea, and finally to Patras in the Peloponnese, where he soon established a large community of Christians. One of his converts was Maximilla, the wife of Aegeates, the Proconsul of that region. Aegeates was so angered by his wife's conversion that he had the Apostle arrested and crucified head downwards on a cross in the shape of an 'X.' The holy Apostle rejoiced to be allowed to suffer the same death as his Master.

"The holy relics of St Andrew, after various travels, were returned to Patras in 1964, where they are now venerated.

"In the West, St Andrew is venerated as the patron of Scotland: in the Middle Ages, more than eight hundred churches in Scotland were dedicated to him."

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Interfaith Days: Advent Sunday

On the Christian calendars, today is the first Sunday of the Advent season, the fourth Sunday before Christmas, and also the Sunday following the Feast of Christ the King. It is the first day of the liturgical year.

Advent, in turn is the Western Christian season of waiting for the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus. "Advent" comes from adventus, a Latin translation of the Greek parousia, all referring to the arrival of Christ, both as a baby at Christmas and as the returned Messiah in the future. The Advent season implies expectation both for the Christmas incarnation and for Christ's eventual return.

In the Eastern Church, the season does not begin the liturgical calendar in the same way, and in many Eastern churches, the Nativity Fast has already begin.

I love to observe Advent Sunday as the beginning of the Christian year. I've written about it several times on this blog, for instance:

Thursday, November 26, 2015

For All the Saints: Isaac Watts

Isaac Watts (1674-1748) was honored yesterday by the Lutheran Church and today by the Anglican and Episcopal Churches. An English theologian and hymn author, he wrote about 750 hymns. Although churches of his time used biblical poetry in worship services, Watts developed a style of original hymns (poetry) noted both for theological appropriateness and genuineness of emotions. He also set the biblical Psalms into meter that could be sung by congregations. Some of his many hymns still hung include "Joy to the World," "Come Holy Spirit, heavenly Dove," "O God, Our Help in Ages past," "When I survey the wondrous cross," "Alas! and did my Saviour bleed," "I sing the mighty power of God," and others.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

A Year's Music: Rachmaninoff's Vespers (All-Night Vigil)

What a lovely piece! Sergei Rachmaninoff composed his Vsenoshchnoye bdeniye in only two weeks in January-February, 1915. With the Russian Revolution two years later, the piece became a line drawn between an earlier and later era of Russian religious life. The title means All-Night Vigil but has also been translated Vespers and Vesper Mass. In Russian churches, all-night services are held on the evening of holy days, and (from my reading about this piece) although Rachmaninoff was not a church attender, he was influenced by church music and considered this piece one of his best compositions. Largely based on chant, a notable aspect of the piece is the fifth section, "Nunc dimittis," where the basses descend to the low B-flat two octaves below middle C.

I don't remember how I learned of this piece, but now I listen to it frequently---the music is so lovely and evocative! I am listening to the Telarc CD with a performance by the Robert Shaw Festival Singers conducted by Robert Shaw himself. Here is another performance, from YouTube:

Here is the Russian text and English translation:

Sunday, November 22, 2015

For All the Saints: St. Cecilia

Saint Cecilia, the saint of musicians, is honored today in the churches like the Catholic, Anglican and Orthodox. Historical information about her is less abundant than legends, but she was probably martyred, in either the 2nd or 3rd century. It was said of her that she "sang in her heart to the Lord." Because of her association with music, musical events have traditionally happened on November 22, her feast day, and composers like Purcell, Gounod, Britten, and Finzi, among others, have written music to St. Cecelia. Here, for instance, is a piece by Handel:

Saturday, November 21, 2015

For All the Saints: John Merbecke, William Byrd, Thomas Tallis

On the Episcopal calendar, three musicians are honored today. John Merbecke (c. 1510- c. 1585) is known as the writer and musician who provided musical uniformity for the first Book of Common Prayer. His work was rediscovered and published in the 1840s, and again in the 20th century.

Thomas Tallis (c. 1505 – 1585), was another English composer. His choral music has been widely anthologized. Although Roman Catholic, he was able to find favor among succeeding 16th century monarchs because of his stylistic adaptability. One of his melodies was made famous by Ralph Vaughan Williams in his piece Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis.

Tallis worked with the younger composer William Byrd (c. 1539 or 40 - 1623). Byrd wrote Catholic as well as Anglican sacred music. Among other pieces, his three masses are available on contemporary recordings.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

A Year's Music: Michael Tippett's "A Child of Our Time"

News of terrorism in Paris, debates concerning international help for Syrian refugees, and concerns about justice for African Americans in this country, reminded me recently of the oratorio A Child of Our Time, composed by the British composer Michael Tippett (1905-1998). I haven't listened to it for several years and wanted to again.

Tippett wrote the piece in 1939-1941 in response to Kristallnacht, the anniversary of which was earlier this month. Tippett was a pacifist who went to prison during World War II, and some of his message of non-violence and reconciliation are part of this work, which also expresses solidarity with oppressed and homeless peoples of the world.

The title, which Tippett borrowed from a novel Ein Kind unserer Zeit, refers to the refugee boy Hershel Grynszpan, whose shooting of a German diplomat precipitated Kristallnacht, that 1938 Nazi persecution and destruction of Jewish communities. In the oratorio, the boy symbolizes Grynszpan as well as victims of inhumanity generally. Interestingly, Tippett uses American spirituals in sections where a composer like Bach or Handel would have used chorales. The spirituals further convey the themes of oppression and liberation. Tippett, who wrote the libretto as well as the music, also incorporated Jungian themes of shadow and light into the piece, notably in the third section where conclusions are explored; the other two sections had dealt with the sad state of the world and the plight of persecuted peoples, and the attempts at achieving justice. The final piece is a spiritual, looking to a final redemption:

Deep river, my home is over Jordan,
I want to cross over into camp-ground, Lord!

The Wikipedia page, from which I found much of this information, details the oratorio's composition and performance histories, as well as providing a list of the individual numbers.

I've been listening to the recording (on the Chandos label) by Richard Hickox conducting the London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, with black soloists. There are classic recordings by Sir Colin Davis as well. Here is a performance by the BBC Choral Society on YouTube:

Monday, November 16, 2015

A Year's Music: Bernstein's Kaddish Symphony

During the upcoming year I plan to listen to a variety of works that I broadly call "sacred"---classical church-related pieces, or ones that are otherwise deeply spiritual. This week I'm listening to a piece for the first time: Leonard Bernstein's Symphony No. 3 "Kaddish." I remember inspecting the LP at a record store when I was in my teens or early twenties, probably the version conducted by the composer himself. Instead of that disc, I purchased Bernstein's Mass, a long-time favorite which I write about here. This is a new recording of Kaddish on the Naxos label, by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestral conducted by Marin Alsop, and the Washington Chorus directed by Julian Wachner, with narration by the actress Claire Bloom.

The kaddish prayer is, of course, the Jewish prayer for the dead, though the prayer itself contains no reference to death but instead refers to life and the praise of God. This symphony (Bernstein's third of three) was completed and premiered in 1963 and dedicated to the memory of John F. Kennedy. Bernstein subsequently revised the piece, but Alsop returns to the first version. An unusual symphony, unlimited by the form's conventions, the piece begins with a wordless chord cluster from the chorus and, shortly, a spoken invocation in which the speaker (originally stipulated to be for a woman) addresses God. She wants to pray a kaddish, the Jewish prayer for the dead, but she wants to pray it for herself, lest there be no one later to pray for her. At this point, the chorus enters, singing words from the prayer itself.

After the first movement, the speaker returns in the section called "Din-Torah"---a Jewish legal judgment---in which she accuses God of violating God's promises to humankind.

"Are You listening, Father? You know who I am:
Your image; that stubborn reflection of You
That Man has shattered, extinguished, banished.
And now he runs free—free to play
With his new-found fire, avid for death,
Voluptuous, complete and final death.
Lord God of Hosts, I call You to account!
You let this happen, Lord of Hosts!
You with Your manna, Your pillar of fire!
You ask for faith, where is Your own?
Why have You taken away Your rainbow,
That pretty bow You tied round Your finger
To remind You never to forget Your promise?

"'For lo, I do set my bow in the cloud ...
And I will look upon it, that I
May remember my everlasting covenant ...'
Your covenant! Your bargain with Man!
Tin God! Your bargain is tin!
It crumples in my hand!
And where is faith now—Yours or mine?"

(This is from the Bernstein website; all the lyrics and spoken words of the symphony are found here.

But in a little while, the speaker returns in a more conciliatory mood, and the soprano soloist sings a gentle melody to God, as if singing God to sleep. In the sections of the final movement, the speaker describes the kingdom of heaven to God, and subsequently depicts a dream to God, challenging the sleeping God to believe in her vision. Finally, God and humanity are affirmed to be in covenant with one another, with God needful of humanity as humanity is needful of God.

"O my Father, Lord of Light!
Beloved Majesty: my Image, my Self!
We are one, after all, You and I:
Together we suffer, together exist,
And forever will recreate each other.
Recreate, recreate each other!
Suffer, and recreate each other!"

The concluding choral fugue and final chord are dissonant, suggesting continuing effort rather than resolution. The Bernstein website provides a more full summary and analysis of the piece, here.

The Kaddish Symphony anticipates Mass both stylistically and in terms of subject matter. The three short sequences that begin the piece remind me of motifs in Mass, and at one point, when the speaker breathlessly says, "Amen, amen…" my mind filled in the words of Mass' celebrant, "a'm in a hurry and come again…." The themes of the questioning of faith and the possibility of a rediscovered or reconfigured faith is certainly the driving force of that later, longer piece.

An interesting interview of conductor Alsop appeared in the September 2015 issue of Gramophone magazine (pp. 52-53). She cites a Bernstein lecture in which the composer was "convinced that the first word ever uttered was sung, the substructure of all language…So having the chorus begin like this [the wordless chord that commences the symphony] was very important to him. The song without words. And language only gradually emerges."

Alsop notes, "The journey of this symphony, from atonality toward totality symbolized a huge issue for Bernstein…in this piece atonality becomes a symbol of crisis, an erosion of fundamentals and of faith, while tonality symbolizes unity and hope." She points out the choral cadenza in the Din-Torah section, in which eight sections of the shores have their own tempos. "'Din-Torah' is really about ambiguity… the choral cadenza is really an anticipation of the cathartic breakdown in Mass, when the celebrant shatters the chalice." But after this, the speaker speaks amiably, as if her shaky faith found solace---and a renewed covenant----in giving God comfort.

Interfaith Days: International Day for Tolerance

Today is the International Day for Tolerance, a United Nations interfaith observance that affirms tolerance as a basic principle for respect, rights, and well-being among cultures and nations. This site provides background on the day, established on the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), so this is the twentieth anniversary of the day. See also:

(From the 2015 Interfaith Calendar of the Diversity Awareness Partnership of St. Louis---see for more information---and various online sources.)

Sunday, November 15, 2015

For All the Saints: Albertus Magnus, Francis Asbury, George Whitefield

My very first experience teaching at the college level, was the year I served as a teaching assistant at Albertus Magnus College in New Haven, CT (1981-1982). At the time it was still a women's college. On the Roman Catholic calendar, that school's namesake, Albert the Great (1206-1280), is honored today.  This site , no longer available, had this: "Students of philosophy know him as the master of Thomas Aquinas. Albert’s attempt to understand Aristotle’s writings established the climate in which Thomas Aquinas developed his synthesis of Greek wisdom and Christian theology. But Albert deserves recognition on his own merits as a curious, honest and diligent scholar…. His boundless interests prompted him to write a compendium of all knowledge: natural science, logic, rhetoric, mathematics, astronomy, ethics, economics, politics and metaphysics…[He] is the patron of scientists and philosophers."

On the Episcopal calendar, Francis Asbury and George Whitefield are honored. Asbury (1743-1816) was one of the first two Methodist bishops when the movement was founded as a denomination in 1782. He worked for many years as a leader and preacher of the church. Whitefield (1714-1770) was an Anglican preacher who helped spread the Great Awakening in the British colonies and, although Calvinist rather than Arminian in his outlook, was associated with the Methodist movement.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

A Year's Music: Ginastera's Lamentaciones de Jeremias Propheta

I like the Argentinian composer Alberto Ginastera (1916-1983), as I write about here. A while back, I ordered a 2003 CD on the Guild label, "Oratio: 20th Century Sacred Music from Spain & Latin America," with Carlos Fernandex Aransay conducting Coro Cervantes. I'll probably write about some of the other pieces eventually but this time I listened to Ginastera's piece based on selected texts from the biblical book Lamentations. The CD notes indicate that many of the pieces are informed by the Spanish experience of Civil War, while Ginastera's was a response to the composer being removed from his teaching position during the regime of Juan Peron. While temporarily in the U.S., the composer wrote this piece, which the CD notes calls "a true symbol of the Zeitgeist of of a century which has ended with as many musical and social uncertainties as those with which it began."

I began to write this before the news of the Paris terrorist attack of Nov. 13th, and today (the next morning), the piece, and the book of Lamentations, seems fitting for the uncertainties of our present time.

"O dos omnes
O, all you who pass this way; behold and see if there be any sorrow like my sorrow. For the Lord has afflicted me, as he said in the day of his raging anger. See, Lord, I am troubled, my bowels writhe in anguish, my heart is turned within me, for I am full of bitterness; abroad the sword destroys, and at home is death. For that reason I lament, and my eye pours down water for the consoler, who may renew my soul, is taken from me. My sons are desolate, for the enemy grows is victorious. You persist in fury and you crush those under the heavens.

"Ego vir vivens
I am the man who sees my poverty under the rod of His indignation. he has led me away and suspended me in darkness, where no light is. he has made my skin and flesh old. He has broken my bones. He has put me in dark places like those long dead. But whenever I cry out and plead, He shuts out my prayer. And I said my strength and hope have perished because of the Lord.

Remember, Lord, what has befallen us, look and consider our disgrace. Turn us back to you, Lord, and we shall come back; renew our days as in the beginning. You, however, O Lord, will remain forever; your throne through the generations."

(Ginastera's text is in Latin, but this English translation and a Spanish translation is provided in the CD book.)

For All the Saints: Samuel Seabury

In the Anglican and Episcopal traditions, Samuel Seabury is honored today, the day of his birth in 1729. (He died in 1796). He was the first American Episcopal bishop, the second Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, USA, and the first Bishop of Connecticut. He attended Yale College and is honored at my alma mater, Yale Divinity School, with a wing on the campus' north side. He was a noted Loyalist during the Revolution, and was imprisoned for a short time at the war's beginning, but he was loyal to the new nation afterward. He helped develop the Anglican liturgy for the North American church.

In the Orthodox church, today also commemorates the Apostle Philip, Jesus' follower who figures in John 1, as well as other passages.

Seabury Wing at YDS is on the left by the leafless tree. 

Friday, November 13, 2015

A Year's Music: Durufle's Quatre Motets

I'll use this for the series;
Similar to the way some of my Facebook friends post "daily days of gratitude" during particular times of the year, I've been writing series of blog posts as focused spiritual disciplines. Having projects like these keep me depending upon God through the days and weeks, when life's busyness and emotional struggles like bereavement might get me off track from God's goodness. In 2014, I listened to all 196 extant sacred cantatas of J. S. Bach, on or near the Sundays and special days for which they were written, and I wrote about them on this site. In 2015, my series has been the holidays of world religions. My new series, begun this month and continuing till All Saints Day 2016, is saints and special people of the church.

I plan to do an additional series, beginning today, on sacred music. I'll listen to at least one sacred work each week and write about it---again, as a kind of pleasurable spiritual discipline. Lord willing, I'll continue this series until Advent 2016, when I'll be in sight of my sixtieth birthday. "Sacred" is a broad term, usually meaning classical religious music: I'll probably write mostly about those, but I'll delve into other styles, as well.

My first post is about a short piece that I always love to hear again and and again: Maurice Duruflé's Quatre Motets sur des thèmes grégoriens, Op 10 (1960). My daughter and her choir in Ohio performed these pieces, so I also associate them with my love for her. A few years ago, I wrote about the piece here.

As this site indicates, "Duruflé shows his particular genius for invoking the spiritual element of plainsong in a polyphonic context, achieving a suppleness of rhythm alongside strong characterization of each text. Ubi caritas et amor flows freely and syllabically in a meditative fashion, while Tota pulchra es (for high voices) is lighter and more sprightly, yet soft and feminine. Tu es Petrus is a rousing and optimistic work, the churches’ foundation on the rock of Peter being indicated by the building of the motet on its canonic opening to a strong and sturdy final cadence. Tantum ergo returns us to the meditative, wistful style… [and] the concluding ‘Amen’ settles as a sigh on this group of motets, crystallizing as they do the essence of Duruflé’s considered, yet inspired musical language." Emily's choir often sang that first piece (words from this site):

Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.
Congregavit nos in unum Christi amor.
Exsultemus, et in ipso jucundemur.
Timeamus, et amemus Deum vivum.
Et ex corde diligamus nos sincero.
Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.
Simul ergo cum in unum congregamur:
Ne nos mente dividamur, caveamus.
Cessent iurgia maligna, cessent lites.
Et in medio nostri sit Christus Deus.

Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.
Simul quoque cum beatis videamus,
Glorianter vultum tuum, Christe Deus:
Gaudium quod est immensum, atque probum,
Saecula per infinita saeculorum. Amen.

English Translation
Where charity and love are, God is there.
Love of Christ has gathered us into one.

Let us rejoice in Him and be glad.
Let us fear, and let us love the living God.
And from a sincere heart let us love one.

Where charity and love are, God is there.
At the same time, therefore, are gathered into one:
Lest we be divided in mind, let us beware.
Let evil impulses stop, let controversy cease.
And in the midst of us be Christ our God.

Where charity and love are, God is there.
At the same time we see that with the saints also,
Thy face in glory, O Christ our God:
The joy that is immense and good, Unto the
World without end.

Here is another choir, The Cecilia Consort, performing the motets in a nicely unhurried way:

For All the Saints: Mother Cabrini, John Chrysostom

Today the church honors Frances Xavier Cabrini, an Italian-American sister who founded the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart. This order supported Italian immigrants to the U.S. After she arrived in America in 1889, she soon began to organize schools and orphanages for immigrants, and eventually also hospitals. She founded 67 institutions altogether. Although Elizabeth Seton was the first native-born American to be canonized (1975), Cabrini was the first naturalized U.S. citizen to be canonized (1946). See also this site.

John Chrysostom, early Church Father who died in 407, is honored on several days: in the Catholic and some Lutheran Churches, in September, and in some other churches in January. In Orthodox churches, he is honored today. Chrysostom was an Archbishop of Constantinople and is considered among the great Church Fathers. He wrote commentaries on several biblical books, along with nearly 1450 sermons and 240 epistles.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

For All the Saints: John the Merciful

An interesting saint on the Orthodox calendar today: John the Merciful, Patriarch of Alexandria, who died in 619. He puts me to shame as an example of generosity and lovingkindness, so I copy some information about him here, to remind me later.

As the Orthodox calendar that I've consulted indicates: "On the day of his elevation to the Patriarchate, he ordered a careful census of his 'masters,' as he called the poor and beggars. It was found that there were 7,500 indigents in the city, and St John ordered that all of them be clothed and fed every day out of the Church's wealth…. His lack of judgment in giving to the poor sometimes dismayed those around him. Once a wily beggar came to John four times in four different disguises, receiving alms each time. When the holy Patriarch was told of this, he ordered that the man be given twice as much, saying 'Perhaps he is Jesus my Savior, who has come on purpose to put me to the test.' Still, the more generously he gave, the more generously God granted gifts to the Church, so that money was never lacking either for the poor or for the Church's own real needs. One of the clergy once gave only a third of what the Patriarch instructed to a rich man who had fallen into poverty, thinking that the Church's treasury could not afford to give so much. Saint John then revealed to him that a noblewoman who had planned to give an enormous gift to the Church had, shortly thereafter, given only a third of what she originally planned.

"Once, when he was serving the Divine Liturgy at the Cathedral, the Patriarch stopped just before the consecration, instructed the deacon to repeat the litanies, and sent for one of his clergy who bore a grudge against him and would not come to church. When the man came, the Patriarch prostrated himself before him and, with tears, begged his forgiveness. When they were reconciled, he returned to the altar and proceeded with the service."

Interfaith Days: Birth of Bahá'u'lláh

In the Baha'i faith, today is one of the nine holy days, the Birth of Bahá'u'lláh, who is the founder of the faith. He was born in Tehran on November 12, 1817, named Mírzá Ḥusayn-`Alí Núrí . He is considered one of God's messengers and he fulfillment of eschatological hopes of Christianity, Islam, and some other religions. As this site indicates, "Bahá'u'lláh taught that humanity is one single race and that the age has come for its unification in a global society. He taught that "there is only one God, that all of the world’s religions are from God, and that now is the time for humanity to recognize its oneness and unite." His claim to divine revelation resulted in persecution and imprisonment by the Persian and Ottoman authorities, and his eventual 24-year confinement in the prison city of `Akka, Palestine (present-day Israel), where he died [in 1892]. He wrote many religious works, most notably the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, the Kitáb-i-Íqán and Hidden Words."

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Interfaith Days: Diwali, Bandi Chhor Divas, Ashok Vijayadashami

Today is the Hindu festival Diwali. It is a major festival that celebrates the victory of good over evil. As this site indicates, "Diwali is called the Festival of Lights and is celebrated to honor Rama-chandra, the seventh avatar (incarnation of the god Vishnu). It is believed that on this day Rama returned to his people after 14 years of exile during which he fought and won a battle against the demons and the demon king, Ravana. People lit their houses to celebrate his victory over evil (light over darkness). The goddess of happiness and good fortune, Lakshmi, also figures into the celebration. It is believed that she roams the earth on this day and enters the house that is pure, clean, and bright. Diwali celebrations may vary in different communities but its significance and spiritual meaning is generally 'the awareness of the inner light'."

In the Jain religion, a similar festival this night celebrations the attainment of liberation (moksha) by the founder Mahavira. It is also the Sikh holiday Bandi Chhor Divas, which celebrations the liberation of the sixth guru, Guru Hargobind and 52 other princes from prison. In Buddhism, the day is Ashok Vijayadashami, the day when Emperor Ashoka converted to Buddhism. See this site and this site for more details on the holidays.

For All the Saints: Martin of Tours

I looked at my sites of church liturgical calendars and realized St. Martin of Tours is on all four lists, although Orthodox Christians honor him on the 12th rather than the 11th of November. Born about 315, he was first a Roman soldier but even in the military he tried to live the life of a Christian monk, even using his sword to cut his clothes in half to help a beggar stay warm in winter. Many artistic renderings of Martin, like this painting by El Greco, focus upon this story.

This site provides many other stories about his piety and service. Eventually he became Bishop of Tours, and his shrine became a stop for pilgrims. He died in about 397 (unlike many other early Christians regarded as saints, he was not a martyr), and he is remembered for his constant devotion, asceticism, and concern for the poor. Although he is associated with France---when the 1918 armistice was signed on St. Martin's day, some French saw the coincidence as providential---he is a popular saint across Europe and elsewhere in the world.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

For All the Saints: Leo the Great

Today is the feast day of Pope Leo I. He was born about 400, became pope in 440, and died November 10, 461. He strengthen the office of the Bishop of Rome and wrote theological works that became foundational for the Council of Chalcedon, which elucidated the hypostatic unction of Christ's two natures. He actually met the famous Attila the Hun and persuaded him not to invade Italy! Here is a site that praises important aspects of St. Leo's papacy:

Sunday, November 8, 2015

For All the Saints: Duns Scotus

On the Roman Catholic calendar, the philosopher John Duns Scotus is honored today. He died on November 8, 1308, aged about 42 years. With William of Ockham and Thomas Aquinas he is considered one of the three most important theologian-philosophers of the High Middle Ages. He is known for several things, for instance: his metaphysical argument for the existence of God, his Augustine-influenced voluntarism that emphasized both the divine will and human freedom, his denial of a real distinction between essence and existence, his Aristotle-influenced metaphysics of being and transcendentals, and his defense of the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, a defense that was cited in Pope Pius IX's declaration of the dogma in 1854. Duns Scotus was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1993. The online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy provides a summary of his life and thought, which is still influential.

Thank you, Lord, for Duns Scotus.

In the Greek Orthodox church, today is also a day for honoring the angels and archangels: "the Synaxis of the Chief Captains of the Heavenly Host, Michael and Gabriel, and of the other Bodiless Powers of Heaven." (The Western church honors the angels on Michaelmas, September 29.)

Saturday, November 7, 2015

For All the Saints: Willibrord
Back in 1979, during my first semester at Yale Divinity School, I joined two Episcopalian friends for the Wednesday evening vespers at nearby Berkeley Divinity School. The Berkeley dean preached about the saint commemorated that day, the Northumbrian missionary Willibrord. The dean was lighthearted about the saint's name, which he kept pronouncing Willy Board (or something like that). One of my friends thought the dean had been too flippant---whatever. I've long since forgotten what the dean preached about, but I was glad to see this saint on the list for today, and to recall his significance on the thirty-sixth anniversary of the evening that I first learned about him.

Born about 658, Willibrord was called to be a missionary to the pagan North Germanic tribes of Frisia, in what is now the Netherlands. He made two trips to Rome, not as a pilgrim (not uncommon even for other Anglo-Saxons) but to be consecrated by the pope as a missionary. Pope Sergius, consequently, consecrated him as Bishop of the Frisians (and thus he became the first bishop of the new diocese of Utrecht), where Willibrord preached, founded churches, established a monastery at Utrecht, as well as the Abbey of Echternach and a Benedictine covent at Horren in Trier. Escaping the area during a time of persecution in the 710s, Willibrord persevered and lived a long time, until November 7, 739. He was interred in Echternach, in what is now Luxembourg. He was considered a saint very soon after his death.

Thank you, Lord, for Bishop Willibrord.

Friday, November 6, 2015

For All the Saints: William Temple

On the Episcopal calendar of saints, William Temple (1881-1944) is honored today. In the Church of England he was Bishop of Manchester (1921–29), Archbishop of York (1929–42) and Archbishop of Canterbury (1942–44). He was known for his social vision, his ecumenical and interfaith work, his efforts for a just society, and his efforts to help Jewish refugees during World War II. A preacher, teacher, and author, he wrote a well known book, Christianity and Social Order (1942), among other books. This site provides more information about him, including the praise of George Bernard Shaw!

Thank you, Lord, for William Temple.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

For All the Saints: Hermas, Patrobolus, Linus, Gaius, Philologus

On the Orthodox Christian calendar, five saints are honored today. I call these "walks-ons"---anyone who is mentioned in the Bible only a time or two, but who are significant nevertheless.

The Orthodox church count these five among Jesus' Seventy Disciples. This information is from

St. Hermas and St. Patrobolus, both mentioned by St. Paul in Romans 16:4. St. Hermas may be the author of the early Christian writing called The Shepherd of Hermas, and he became Bishop of Philippi. St. Patrobolus was Bishop of Pozzuoli in Italy.

St. Linus is traditionally considered the immediate successor to St. Peter as Bishop of Rome. He is mentioned in 2 Timothy 4:21.

St. Gaius (Romans 16:23) was Timothy's successor as Bishop of Ephesus.

St. Philologus (Romans 16:15) became Bishop of Sinope via the apostle Andrew.

According to my other list of saints, today is the commemoration day of Elizabeth, cousin and friend of Mary and mother of John the Baptist, in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. In the context of friendships, I wrote about Elizabeth a few years ago:

Thank you, Lord, for these faithful people from the Bible.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

For All the Saints: Martin de Porres

Martin de Porres Velázquez, O.P. died on this day in 1639, aged 59. He was a lay brother of the Dominican order, known for his tireless work for the poor. Living by an austere personal lifestyle, he begged a considerable amount of money each week to care for the sick and poor of Lima, Peru. Biracial, he was allowed to join the Dominicans even though his superiors normally disallowed black persons. He also set up a children's hospital, an orphanage, and an animal shelter for the care of sick stray animals. He was beatified in 1827 and canonized in 1962. He is the patron saint of people seeking interracial harmony and of mixed-race persons. See also:

Thank you, Lord, for Marin de Porres.

Monday, November 2, 2015

For All the Saints: Daniel Alexander Payne

This is the beginning of a new year-long series for this blog.

During the past two years, I've felt my own spiritual life helped by committing to year-long reflections. In 2014, I listened to and wrote about Bach's sacred cantatas, on or near the special days for which they were written. In 2015, I've written short summaries of interfaith holidays. Working on these posts has kept me focused upon spiritual realities during times when I was very busy, or blah-feeling, or distressed, or whatever---all the usual things that make a person neglect matters of the Spirit.

Beginning with this last day of All Hallows' Tide, a time of remembering the saints of the church, I want to write about persons who are honored on different liturgical lists. A "saint" can mean someone formally canonized by the Roman Catholic church, or any servant of God who became historically memorable. Lord willing, I'll continue this series until All Saints' Day 2016, which puts me in sight of my sixtieth birthday. It will be a personal way that I discipline myself to think about matters of the Spirit as the days and weeks go by, plus (as with the other two series) I'll learn and share interesting things as I go. I've bookmarked sites of saints on the Lutheran and Episcopal calendars and also a Roman Catholic and an Orthodox site. Each day, I'll select at least one saint from among these calendars and write something about her or him, based on Wikipedia and other online sites.

I live in St. Louis, which has been a focal point of the Black Lives Matter movement, so it's wonderfully appropriate that the first saint (in this case, from the Lutheran calendar), is Daniel Alexander Payne, an American bishop, college leader, educator, and author who was a major shaper of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. He was one of the founders of Wilberforce College in Ohio and was the first African American college president in the U.S. He also led efforts to support southern freedmen following the Civil War. He died on this day in 1893, aged 82.

Thank you, Lord, for Bishop Payne.

Interfaith Days: Haile Selassie's Coronation

Cover story in 1930
In the Rastafarian faith, today is an important day: the anniversary of the Coronation of Emperor Haile Selassie in 1930. This site provides historical background and Emperor Selassie's own words about the occasion, and this site is also helpful. This site indicates: "The Rastafarians (or Ras Tafarians), members of a political-religious movement among the black population of Jamaica, worship Haile Selassie I, 'Might of the Trinity.' His original name was Tafari Makonnen (1892-1975), and he was emperor of Ethiopia under the name Ras (meaning "Prince") Tafari. Rastafarians consider the Ethiopian emperor the Messiah and son of God, and the champion of their race. Their beliefs, which combine political militancy and religious mysticism, include taboos on funerals, second-hand clothing, physical contact with whites, the eating of pork, and all magic and witchcraft….The dedication of babies to Ras Tafari, recitations, and singing are typically part of the celebrations on this day."

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Interfaith Days: All Saints' Day

In many Christian denominations, today is All Saints' Day, although in Eastern Christianity, the festival is the first Sunday after Pentecost. It is the middle day of Hallowmas, the three-day festival commemorating those saints, known and unknown, who have died (in Catholic theology: those who have attained the beatific vision in Heaven). Many churches have a recitation of the names of members of that congregation who have died during the previous year. As this site indicates, the feast was mentioned in a sermon as early as 373 AD, and the date of November 1 was instituted by the 8th century Pope Gregory III, while the 9th century Pope Gregory IV made it a feast of the entire church. See also this site for the meaning of being a saint.