“Blessed are your eyes, for they see; and your ears for they hear”
It is all about the turning. Redire ad principia is ‘a kind of circling’, as Lancelot Andrewes notes, by which we turn back to God from whom we have turned away. And while his 1619 Ash-Wednesday Sermon names that return to a principle as repentance, in a way, the whole of the Christian life is about our comings and goings to God through God’s comings and goings to us. Such divine motions are at once external and internal, temporal and eternal. The pattern of the Church Year laid out comprehensively in the classical Books of Common Prayer is not something linear but circular, a constant circling around the mystery of God revealed in and through the witness of the Scriptures in the living tradition of the Church. The intent is that we be constantly drawn more and more into the mystery of the triune God whose engagement with our humanity belongs entirely to the mystery of the divine life in itself.
Time past and time future
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present
So Eliot puts it in Burnt Norton, the first of his Four Quartets. He is echoing Andrewes’ Ash-Wednesday sermon yet again, the same sermon which has influenced his own poem, Ash-Wednesday.
That sense of the gathering up of time into eternity without which time has no meaning is wonderfully set before us in the commemorations of St. Benedict and Thomas Cranmer on this day: the one, the founder of Benedictine monasticism in the sixth century which contributed to the shape and character of Europe; the other, an archbishop and a martyr, and the architectural genius of the Book(s) of Common Prayer in the sixteenth century. A thousand years separate them and yet they are united in the Church’s eternal medley of prayer and devotion to which they both contributed in such remarkable ways.
’A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For such a journey. And such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.’
So begins T.S. Eliot’s famous poem, The Journey of the Magi, the first poem written and published after his conversion to orthodox Trinitarian Christianity in the form of Anglicanism, particularly in its Anglo-Catholic expression. That conversion was more than partially occasioned by his careful reading of the sermons of Lancelot Andrewes, particularly the Sermons on the Nativity and his Ash-Wednesday Sermon of 1619. This is more than amply demonstrated in the little book of essays that Eliot wrote to explain his conversion, a book entitled For Lancelot Andrewes of which the first essay is on Lancelot Andrewes and yet whose name is given to the whole collection. Eliot’s poem, The Journey of the Magi begins with an almost verbatim quote from Andrewes’ Sermon XV On the Nativity (1622). It bears further testimony, if more were needed, to the strong influence of Andrewes’ “extraordinary prose”, his poetic prose, one might say, on T.S. Eliot’s own poetry. But it argues for something else that connects to the joint commemoration of Benedict and Cranmer. It is that strong sense of the presence of the voices of the past as living voices in the present, voices that belong to the spiritual community of faith.