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TRADITIONAL ANGLICAN CHURCHES

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ANGLICAN BLOGS AND WEB SITES

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Trouble

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Numavox Records (Music of Kerry Livgen & Co.)

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WOMEN'S ORDINATION TO THE PRIESTHOOD

A Defense of the Doctrine of the Eternal Subordination of the Son  (Yes, this is about women's ordination.)

An (Extended) Short History of the Diaconate

"Buckle Your Seabelts": Can a Woman Celebrate Holy Communion as a Priest? (Video), Fr. William Mouser

Essays on the Ordination of Women to the Priesthood from the Episcopal Diocese of Ft. Worth

Faith and Gender: Five Aspects of Man, Fr. William Mouser

Father is Head at the Table: Male Eucharistic Headship and Primary Spiritual Leadership, Ray Sutton

FIFNA Bishops Stand Firm Against Ordination of Women

God, Gender and the Pastoral Office, S.M. Hutchens

God, Sex and Gender, Gavin Ashenden

Homo Hierarchicus and Ecclesial Order, Brian Horne

How Ordaining Women Harms Ministry to Men, C.R. Wiley

Let's Stop Making Women Presbyters, J.I. Packer

Liturgy and Interchangeable Sexes, Peter J. Leithart

Male-Only Ordination is Natural: Why the Church is a Model of Reality, Steven Wedgeworth

Ordaining Women as Deacons: A Reappraisal of the Anglican Mission in America's Policy, John Rodgers

Priestesses in Plano, Robert Hart

Priestesses in the Church?, C.S. Lewis

Priesthood and Masculinity, Stephen DeYoung

Reasons for Questioning Women’s Ordination in the Light of Scripture, Rodney Whitacre

Streams of the River: Articles Outlining the Arguments Against the Ordination of Women to the Priesthood ,

Traditional Anglican Resources

William Witt's Articles on Women's Ordination (Old Jamestown Church archive)

Women Priests?, Eric Mascall

Women and the Priesthood, Catholic Answers

Women Priests: History & Theology, Patrick Reardon

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Tuesday
Jul032012

Martin Thornton: Christian Proficiency

This entry marks the beginning of what will be many such entries on the topic of Anglican spiritual life.  I say "spiritual life" rather than "spirituality", as the latter term too often these days smacks of the "democratization of mysticism", which I treat below.  Christianity isn't a "spirituality", but it is to be marked by a "spiritual life", or more precisely, a life in the Spirit, which we call "holiness" or "sanctification."

Thorton's book was instrumental in the renewal of my own spiritual life some time ago, and I heartily recommend it to all, Anglicans and non-Anglicans, though it was written for the former.  Here's a book review:

Christian Proficiency

By Martin Thornton. Cowley Publications.  Pp. 201.  ISBN 093638462X

First published in 1959, Martin Thornton's Christian Proficiency must be regarded as a classic of Anglican spirituality.  Unlike many earlier manuals on the spiritual life which were written for "professional" theologians and spiritual directors, this book was written for the ordinary Christian.   Thornton, who died in 1986, did not believe that the pursuit of proficiency in the spiritual life is a matter of self-improvement or self-realization.  Nevertheless, the preface asserts that in this book he was writing for the "faithful laity".  He wrote other books (Pastoral Theology: A Reorientation, Spiritual Direction) for clergy, but this book is an attempt to provide the laity with a theological and practical introduction to essential principles of the spiritual life.

As the author himself readily acknowledges, "proficiency" is not a term that readily comes to mind when one thinks of the spiritual life.  Nevertheless, it is the term used by medieval writers on spirituality to distinguish those who are no longer beginners but who have not yet attained to perfection.  The "Proficient" is best described as one who has an adult relationship with God.  The book sets out to describe what this level of spirituality looks like and how one might achieve it--with the help of a capable spiritual director.  Although many of his illustrations are drawn from English sports, like cricket, which are a bit of a mystery to most American readers, Thornton's comparison of the spiritual life to athletic training puts the subject into both biblical and practical modern context.  St. Paul is the first to use this analogy and the Greek word for athletic practice or discipline is askesis, the root of our word "ascetic", meaning one who practices serious spiritual discipline.

From this it will quickly be inferred that Thornton has little interest in spiritualities which are based on emotion, enthusiasm, or other rarified states of mind or spirit.  There is a legitimate place for what might be described as mystical experience.  The emotions of ordinary Christians are a significant part of their spiritual lives.  But neither is at the heart of Christian proficiency, which is characterized by order and balance grounded in what Thornton unapologetically describes as a "system".  Heightened emotion and enthusiasm cannot be sustained indefinitely.  For some people, interest in the spiritual life may begin in an experience which is emotionally charged and, for many, the ongoing practice of the spiritual life may have moments of a deeply felt assurance, or of a sense of inner peace, or possibly even more profoundly mystical moments.  However, Thornton is concerned with what happens in the large gaps between such experiences, and with the spiritual lives of those who may never experience such heights of spiritual exaltation.  His approach is objective--not cold or indifferent, but practical.  He is, above all else, a pastor, and he is concerned, once again, with ordinary Christians and how they may become efficient in their essential work as members of the Body of Christ.

Christian Proficiency is a singularly Anglican approach to the spiritual life.  The essentials of the system, as Thornton describes it, are found in the Book of Common Prayer, in the threefold practice of Eucharist, Daily Office, and private prayer.  He provides a theological rationale and traces his understanding of this system back to its theological roots and the experience and teaching of the great spiritual writers of the Church, particularly those who figure in the development of English spirituality.  From the beginning, he makes it clear that the spiritual life is the life not of individual Christians but of the Body of Christ, of which each of us is a member, dependent upon and responsible to the whole.  The purpose of this work is not merely the salvation of the individual, but the incorporation of the whole world into Christ.  The accomplishment of so great a task is not dependent upon us alone, but it does require us to be efficient.

http://www.amazon.com/Christian-Proficiency-Martin-Thornton/dp/1608996638

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Reader Comments (2)

Do you have additional posts on this? I'm interested in seeing a chapter breakdown, etc. — Amazon doesn't have the "look inside" option activated, probably because this is an older book. Thanks much for any further posts you can direct me to, or other help. Paul

June 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Hughes

I don't have any online reference, Paul, but here is the table of comments from paperback:

1) "Proficiency" in Christian Tradition
2) "Proficiency" and Doctrine
3) The Christian Framework
4) Spiritual Direction
5) Rule
6) Recollection
7) Mental Prayer
8) Colloquy
9) Self-Examination and Confession
10) Some Aids and Advantages
11) Some Difficulties and Dangers
12) Contingency in Modern Life
13) Christian Maturity and the World
14) The Progress to Maturity: Conclusion
Glossary

June 14, 2013 | Registered CommenterEmbryo Parson

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