Sunday, October 7, 2012

John Hazlewood on Nicholas Ferrar & Little Gidding

This is the sixth and final instalment of John Hazlewood's lecture on the Caroline Divines, given to the Institute of Spiritual Studies at St Peter's Eastern Hill in 1982. It was included in a book published by the Institute, Anglican Spirituality.  

John Hazlewood on The Caroline Divines 
Part 6: Nicholas Ferrar

Ferrar had been a close friend of George Herbert. He had also been successful in the secular world of London after a brilliant career at Cambridge. He had joined the Virginia Company and entered the Parliament to further its missionary interests. These were all dashed to pieces in the 1624 Parliament, and at the urging of Laud, the great archbishop who had also successfully urged Herbert to accept Bemerton, he was ordained deacon.

He was presented with the manor and living of Little Gidding in 1625. After some months of making the manor house and the small church habitable he went there with his family. About thirty people in all, and set up a new kind of religious community. Most of his work perished when the Puritans visited and destroyed it in 1646. He wrote the first preface to Herbert's "The Temple" and he put forward in his community the ideals of his friend. The Prayer Book offices with a monthly Communion. Confessions and absolution. Stories by which he delighted to teach the same doctrines as the great Carolines had espoused. Charles I visited them three times but Nicholas had died in 1637.

Here was a development in the spiritual and community life almost unique in its day but interestingly enough beginning again in our own. They were not always at prayer. There were games, stories, spiritual discussions, charitable work amongst the poor and the making of beautiful books. Here was a community dedicated to the whole seven days of Herbert's poem but they were too allied to the King and to what was supposed to be Roman, and their heroic attempt was finally destroyed even as Charles the King was being betrayed and prepared for his scaffold.

The influence of the Caroline Divines was immense although in the middle of its bloom much of what it stood for was thrust down into Presbyterian and Dictatorial Government.

There was a true resurrection experience for those who survived when both King and Episcopate were restored in 1661. There was a frightful schism as the non-jurors moved out after the flight of James II.

Nevertheless their type of spirituality delighted in God's creation, fled the evils of sin, rejoiced in the sensitivity of music, art and reverence. It was firmly strong in the Liturgy and generous in good works. The strong foundations of prayer always and everywhere were left to the Church and are still aimed at and pursued this day. People as diverse as Martin the missionary, the Wesleys, John Keble, Edward King are evidences of this heritage. The contemporary spiritual writer Alan Jones is one today as is Father Bryant of Cowley whose new book about the soul's journey finds itself built around the structure of a poem of George Herbert.

The great twentieth century poet T. S. Eliot ends this paper.

"If you came this way,
Taking any route, starting from anywhere,
At any time or at any season,
It would always be the same: you would have to put off
Sense and motion. You are not here to verify,
Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity
Or carry report. You are here to kneel
Where prayer has been valid. And prayer is more
Than an order of words, the conscious occupation
Of the praying mind, or the sound of the voice praying.
And what the dead had no speech for, when living,
They can tell you, being dead: the communication
Of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of living,
Here the intersection of the timeless moment
Is England and nowhere. Never and always." ("Little Gidding", last of the "Four Quartets", 1944)


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