20 October 2009

Jeremy Taylor & the Allegorical Tradition

One of the many new names to me in Fr Andrew Louth’s masterpiece, Discerning the Mystery: An Essay on the Nature of Theology (Wichita, KS: Eighth Day, 2007), reviewed here, was that of 17th-c. Anglican divine, Jeremy Taylor (1613-1667). Fr Louth introduces him on p. 126 as an example of the allegorical tradition, writing that Taylor’s Life of Christ was ‘a sustained example of the kind of exegesis that his been discussed in this chapter [Return to Allegory].’ The substantial excerpts from this work are quite nice, and one passage recalled to my mind a book I’ve been re-reading of late—Chesterton’s The Ballad of the White Horse (SF: Ignatius, 1993). Taylor writes:

[F]or the voice of the church is sad in those accents which express her own condition; but as the dove is not so sad in her breast as in her note, so neither is the interior condition of the church wretched and miserable, but indeed her song is most of it elegy within her own walls. (qtd. Fr Louth, p. 128)

I thought this seemed a potential inspiration for King Alfred’s response to the Danes in Book III, ll. 349-356 of the Ballad:

Our monks go robed in rain and snow,
But the heart of flame therein,
But you go clothed in feasts and flames,
When all is ice within;

Nor shall all iron dooms make dumb
Men wondering ceaselessly,
If it be not better to fast for joy
Than feast for misery.

(Chesterton, pp. 60-1)

It is interesting though that while Fr Louth makes his point well showing Taylor’s affinity for the allegorical tradition, he also makes a rather large admission, giving away as much as he’s given whether knowingly or unknowingly. Having told us on p. 122 that ‘It is in the liturgy par excellence that the allegorical way comes into its own’, he introduces Taylor with this:

With the Caroline divines we find that what would have happened in the liturgy passes over into the sermon—or the kind of extension of a sermon that such a work as the Life of Christ represents. It is easy to see why. The liturgy of the Church of England had been greatly simplified at the Reformation: gone were the hymns and antiphons that had picked up the allegorical significance of the texts used in the celebration of the feasts of the Church. (pp. 126-7)

So doesn’t this mean that the reformed C of E is less able to pass on the tacit dimension of Tradition, since it is forced to articulate allegory in sermonic books, rather than in its more natural setting of liturgy? I could not but recall that Fr Louth was still an Anglican clergyman when he wrote this book, but it seems that he’s already discovering some shortcomings in his particular tradition.

On the promising subject of Jeremy Taylor, I found an interesting post here. If it is to be relied upon, he is apparently venerated as a Saint by some Anglicans. Here are some of Taylor’s works online. I shall close with a hymn he wrote on heaven, taken from The Golden Grove or, A Manuall of Daily Prayers and Letanies (London: Printed by J.F. for R. Royston at the Angel in Ivie-lane, 1655), here at Project Canterbury:

O Beauteous God, uncircumscribed treasure
Of an eternal pleasure,
Thy Throne is seated far
Above the highest Star,
Where thou prepar’st a glorious place
Within the brightness of thy face
For every spirit
To inherit
That builds his hopes on thy merit,
And loves thee with a holy charity.
What ravish’d heart, Seraphick tongue or eyes,
Clear as the mornings rise,
Can speak, or think, or see
That bright eternity?
Where the great Kings transparent Throne,
Is of an intire Jaspar stone:
There the eye
And a sky
Of Diamonds, Rubies, Chrysoprase,
And above all, thy holy face
Makes an eternal Clarity,
When thou thy
Jewels up dost binde: that day
Remember us, we pray,
And the Crystal, ’bove the skyes,
There thou may’st appoint us place
Within the brightness of thy face;
And our Soul
In the Scrowl
Of life and blissfulness enrowl,
That we may praise thee to eternity.

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