«Repentance, Transformation and Holiness John Stroyan Page 1 Repentance, Transformation and Holiness In this paper I explore certain aspects of the ...»
Lancelot Andrewes, Sermon 4 on Repentance, Ash Wednesday 1619, Anglican history.org/lact/andrewes/v1/Wednesday4.html Richard Hooker, Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, 5.47.4 Julian of Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love, ch.52.Penguin London, 1966, p151 Henry Bull, Christian Prayers and Meditations, Cambridge, Parker Society, 1842, ppx1x Robert Ottley, Lancelot Andrewes, 1905, Methuen & Co London, p180, words of Archbishop Alexander of Armagh Jeremy Taylor, Holy Living and Dying, Cosimo, New York 2007,p238 Matt.9.13; Mark 2.17; Luke 5.32.
Quoted in Bulletin of Spiritual Edification 10th March 2013, Ecumenical Patriarchate, Archdiocese of Thyateira & Great Britain.
Repentance, Transformation and Holiness John Stroyan Page 7
When the ungodly turn, immediately all their sins are forgiven.33
Holiness is a mark of the humility that recognises its own frailty and sinfulness. Charles Simeon, Vicar of Holy Trinity Cambridge for 54 years, understood the criteria for all preaching as being ‘Does the sermon humble the sinner, exalt the Saviour and promote holiness?’ As the parable of the Pharisee and the tax gatherer reveals it is only in the place of humility or even humiliation that we can be right before God. Simeon longed to be in this place of ‘dust’, the only safe place for a Christian.
Repentance is in every view so desirable, so necessary, so suited to honour God, that I seek that above all. The tender heart, the broken and contrite spirit are to me far above all the joys that I could ever hope for in this vale of tears. I long to be in my proper place, my hand on my mouth and my mouth in the dust. I feel this is safe ground. Here I cannot err.34 As each person is ‘ashed’ in the Anglican Ash Wednesday Liturgy, he or she hears the words spoken to them personally ‘Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return, turn away from sin and be faithful to Christ.’ As George Herbert (1593-1632), in his poem Love,
Holiness is fashioned from this penitent humility. So Simeon can speak of ‘the happy condition of the self-condemning penitent.’35 John Donne, poet and Dean of St. Paul’s,
Without humility no man shall hear God speak to his soule. But if God bring thee to that humiliation of soule and body here, he will emprove and advance thy sanctification abundatius.36 Repentance and seeing Now my eyes see you, therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.37 The ‘true repentance’, that Anglicans pray for in the Litany, is God’s work in us and prompted by the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth; ‘If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us’.38 If we see truly, we will repent. We need the Holy Spirit to help us truly to see39, as God sees.40 When Isaiah experiences the holiness and glory Ashley Null, Thomas Cranmer’s Doctrine of Repentance, Oxford OUP 2000 p189, from CGC 11,219v H.G.C.Moule, Charles Simeon (London 1956) p133-4.
Charles Simeon, Horae Himileticae, xx369 Evelyn Simpson, John Donne, Selected Prose,1967,p362 quoted in Moorman, ‘The Anglican Spiritual Tradition’ London DLT 1983,p89 Job 42.6 1 John 1.8 John 3.3 Psalm 36.9(b) Repentance, Transformation and Holiness John Stroyan Page 8 of God in the Temple, he sees the stark reality of his own sinfulness and that of his people and repents.41 When Job finally sees God after having heard so much of God, he cannot but repent. ‘I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eyes see you; therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.’42 As Bonhoeffer put it ‘We can only see the problem when we have been grasped by the solution.’ To be called to holiness is to be called first to contemplation, that is, to see things as they really are. Walter Hilton (c. 1340 - 1396)
the very needful work of contemplation. That is for a man to enter into himself, to know his own soul and the powers thereof. By this inward sight thou shalt come to see the nobility and dignity that naturally it had in its first creation; and thou shalt also see the wretchedness and mischief which thou art fallen into by sin. From this sight will arise a desire with great longing in thine heart, to recover again that dignity and nobleness which thou hast lost.43 Repentance, for Hilton, is about recovering the ‘soul’s dignity’ or the image of God. But this restoration of God’s image in humanity is not a function simply of human repentance but of the grace and mercy of God.
But that reforming could not be made by any earthly man, for every man was in the same mischief, and none was sufficient to help himself and so much less another man.
Therefore it needed to be done by Him that was more than man, God alone.44… The passion of our Lord and this precious death is the ground of all the reforming of man’s soul without which man’s soul could never be reformed to the likeness of Him.45 For Thomas Traherne (1636 -1674), it is also sight that leads to repentance and particularly the seeing of the blessedness of the state from which we have fallen.
‘Till you see the world is yours, you cannot weigh the greatness of sin, nor the misery of your fall, nor prize your Redeemer’s love… for the greatness of sin proceedeth from the greatness of His love whom we have offended… none of which can be seen till Truth is seen.’46 ‘To have fallen from infinite glory and blessedness is infinite misery but cannot be seen till the glory of the estate from which we have fallen is discovered.’47 Traherne then cites from Revelation48, words from the message to the Church in Ephesus ‘Remember from whence thou art fallen and repent’.49 It is this seeing that leads to repentance.
Put simply, true self-knowledge or sight will lead us inexorably to repentance and to compassion for others also in need of God’s mercy. In Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure,
Isabella pleads to the judgemental Angelo for the life of her brother:
This mercy is of God and a mark of human holiness. It is the merciful who receive God’s mercy51 and in showing that mercy, God’s image is revealed in them. As William Blake
It is the apprehension of the love and mercy of God and the consequent recognition of our
need of it that leads to repentance. St. Benedict in his Prologue to the Rule quotes St. Paul:
Do you not know that God’s kindness is to lead you to repentance?53 For Cranmer, repentance is always a response to what God has done in Christ.
True repentance is the movement of the Holy Spirit in the human heart, constantly drawing us
back into the life of the Holy Trinity. So it is that Gregory of Nyssa can say:
When you turn to him, you become that which he is himself.54 Holiness Turn me and I shall be turned, for you are the Lord my God.55 Holiness can only truly be a characteristic of those who do not recognise it in themselves, of those who are continually ‘turning’ to God and acutely aware of their need of God’s continuing mercy and the completion of the transforming work of the Holy Spirit in their lives. Sanctity is, therefore, not a static or a fixed state but dynamic involving continual self
giving to and recreation in God. T.S. Eliot, deeply influenced by Lancelot Andrewes, reflects
something of this when he writes:
From wrong to wrong the exasperated spirit proceeds, unless restored by that refining fire Where you must move in measure, like a dancer.56 As J.H. Newman writes of the Church ‘it changes always in order to remain the same. In a higher world it is otherwise, but here below to live is to change and to be perfect is to have changed often.’57 This must be the case as holiness is not and never can be a matter of human achievement but rather a continuing co-operation with the grace and mercy of God, whose mercies are ‘new every morning’. 58
Charles Wesley (1707-1788) writes in his hymn, Love Divine, all loves excelling:
Sanctification, or the growing in holiness, is life-long. There can be no end to this turning to
God in this life. Isaac the Syrian writes:
And there is no limit to the process of perfection, because the perfection of the perfect is indeed endless. Therefore repentance is not restricted either in seasons or in actions, even till death.59
Change - from glory into glory - is a characteristic of life lived in the Holy Spirit. Paul writes:
And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another;
for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.60
T.S.Eliot, The Four Quartets, Little Gidding, 11.4 J.H.Newman On the Process of Development in Ideas s.7 Lamentations 3.22-3 Isaac the Syrian, d.700 Mystic Treatises 55 2 Cor.3.18