Friday, May 27, 2016

Sermon for the Feast of St. Augustine (Preached at Church of the Advent, Boston)

"Then Jesus said to Simon, ‘Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.'"

+ In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and Of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Today we commemorate St. Augustine of Canterbury, whose feast would have been celebrated yesterday, but for the greater feast of Corpus Christi.  However, because of his great importance for us, as I shall explain, St. Augustine cannot be omitted, and thus is moved to today.  Today, and the three days which come before, constitute, in fact, a happy coincidence of four feasts for Anglo-Catholics.  On Tuesday we celebrated Jackson Kemper, the great missionary bishop, who, among other achievements, founded my seminary, Nashotah House.  On Wednesday we celebrated St. Bede, the great scholar monk and theologian who is the founder and patron of what would become the Anglican theological method based on Scripture and the Church Fathers.  Yesterday we celebrated the great gift of Christ's Body, Corpus Christi, given to us in the Holy Eucharist, whereby receiving His Body we are increasingly incorporated into Christ.  And today, as if summing up all these themes for us, we have St. Augustine, the first Archbishop of Canterbury, the Apostle to the English, and thus the real founder of the Anglican Church.

St. Augustine was sent by Pope St. Gregory the Great to evangelize the English people.  It is true that Christianity had been in Britain a long time before St. Augustine, but the British Christians had, for reasons we can well understand, not proven the best missionaries for the pagan Anglo-Saxon invaders, hence the mission of St. Augustine, which founded a church precisely for them.  This Anglican missionary effort has persevered throughout the ages, was brought to this country, and is well exemplified by Bp. Jackson Kemper.

When St. Gregory sent Augustine, Augustine brought three things with him.  First, and important for us, he brought the Roman Liturgy, the mass, including the venerable Roman Canon, and the Roman office.  These two together constitute the first Anglican liturgy.  The second thing he brought was Benedictine spirituality, as Augustine and his companions were Benedictine monks.  Benedictine spirituality has been a keynote of Anglican spirituality ever since.  The third thing he brought was the doctrine and theology of the Roman Church, a theology of which St. Gregory the Great was a master.  It is that Biblical-Patristic theology that we find in St. Bede, and which is a defining characteristic of Anglican theology, as exemplified by the great theologians of the Oxford Movement.

Our own Bishops trace their succession back to St. Augustine of Canterbury, to St. Gregory the Great, and back to St. Peter, whom our Lord commanded to fish for men.  The Anglican theologian, Fr. Eric Mascall, points out that Apostolic succession is not a dead thing, but a living thing.  Just as the membership of the church is not diminished by death, so too the membership of the episcopate is not diminished by death.  St. Augustine, now before the throne of God in heaven, is alive and at work in our church today by the power of the Holy Spirit given to him at his consecration to the episcopate.  He is at work through the bishops consecrated in succession to him, through the priests ordained by those bishops, such as your humble preacher, and the the gift of the Holy Spirit given to the faithful by those bishops at your confirmation.  And not only us St. Augustine at work in us, but St. Gregory the Great, St. Peter, and all the faithful bishops in their succession.  They are here today with us, sharing in the worship of this holy mass, and here, where we are increasingly incorporated into Christ, is that work more and more brought to perfection in us.

Therefore let us thank God for the gifts of St. Augustine, for the liturgy, theology, and spirituality of our Anglican tradition, and let us open ourselves to the Holy Spirit, that He may make us worthy successors to St. Augustine, that that same Spirit may let St. Augustine work through us, so that we may, like him, be fishers of men in our time.  Amen.

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