Home      Back to Trinity Sunday





The Rationale of the Trinity Season Lectionary
in the Book of Common Prayer
David G. Phillips


[click here for Word document version of the complete paper]

[click here for a short Word document summary booklet]


1.  Is there a rationale?

2.  Growth in holiness - our sanctification

3.  Are there stages in that growth?

4.  Purgation (Trinity 3 to 9)

5.  Illumination and union (Trinity 10 to 23)

6.  The beginning and end of Trinity season

7. Closing remarks

Diagram of rationale 





The Trinity Season Lectionary is that system of Collects [2], Epistles and Gospels that we hear prayed, read and preached each year on Sundays at the Holy Communion services in the Book of Common Prayer.  The pattern of readings begins on Trinity Sunday, the Sunday after Pentecost, and stretches through the last half of the Church year up to the Sunday Next Before Advent.  The length of the season varies depending on how late Easter is in a given year but normally we have at least 24 Sundays after Trinity.  This paper proposes a rationale behind the ordering of these readings during Trinity season for the consideration of the wider Church.


Why a Lectionary?


The Church in her wisdom has developed and maintained the use of a lectionary for several reasons.  Here are a few:


·        The Bible is a lengthy book and if all of its readings were used on Sundays, it would require either excessively long readings to cover it all, or a cycle that would last many years.  People would hear the most important passages rarely.


·        Not all passages of Scripture are as important as others.  The Church in her wisdom has chosen selections that would be most edifying to her children. 


·        Before Christ ascended he told the Apostles to teach all nations “to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matt 28:20).  If left to individual preachers, the laity could very well hear only the favourite passages or doctrines of the preacher and the preacher’s blind spots would remain the blind spots of the laity.  The choice of a lectionary by the Church’s learned doctors to cover all the doctrines necessary for our salvation helps to overcome the limitations of its preachers.


·        The Church can also guide its preachers, and through them its laity, into a particular way of interpreting and understanding Scripture through the deliberate selection of Epistles to go with Gospels that are related to the same doctrine it wishes to have taught.  For example, clergy and laity can be led into reading Scripture in a spiritual or allegorical way. 


Why is it important to understand the rationale?


As anyone knows who has ever sat down to prepare a sermon, particularly at the beginning of their vocation, a passage of Scripture can be looked upon in all manner of ways – a line or phrase can take one off on a favourite tangent, and one has to struggle continually against this temptation – eisegesis, reading into Scripture what one wants to find there, rather than exegesis, letting the Scripture teach.  Knowing the rationale for why certain texts are chosen for any particular day helps the preacher to let the Scripture speak (assuming the Church has chosen its readings faithfully). 


Consider the first half of the Church year – from Advent to Pentecost.  There is general agreement that these readings have been chosen to take us through the doctrines of the Creed.  So it is important that we preach those lections with this aim in mind – or we will take a small phrase and speak of what interests us that day rather than exposing parishioners to the full teachings on God.   Here’s an extreme example: one can find reference to John the Baptist in the Christmas Gospel (John 1:1-14) but obviously, the central doctrine to be taught that day is not something about John the Baptist’s place but about the Incarnation.  (Of course having a lectionary doesn’t guarantee that the preacher will stay with the text.  For example, even Luther when preaching the traditional lectionary often ends up at some point speaking of the “detestable enormities” of Rome and about justification by faith!)


Knowing the rationale is important for preaching the lectionary as it exists.  It will lead us to teach all the doctrines necessary for our salvation if this is a part of its rationale.  But also, if the Church should decide at any time to change the lectionary because of the development or fuller understanding of certain doctrines over the centuries, we must know first the rationale that went into the making of the lectionary so as to be best able to make changes.  Creative rather than chaotic change requires that we first understand the tradition.


Of course there are dangers in knowing the rationale, if it exists, that one might preach in a dead or uncreative and repetitive way. But this is the same danger that already potentially exists in the preaching of the first half of the year on the doctrines of the Creed.  The danger should not inhibit us from discovering the rationale.  Knowing that Christmas is about the Incarnation each year does not stifle creativity but in fact calls forth in the preacher a deeper search year by year into the mysteries of our faith and how best to articulate them to a particular congregation.



1.  Is there a Rationale?


I have not been able to discover any writings on a rationale for the lectionary prior to the Reformation.  If there is nothing written, perhaps it is because it was either obvious to those who preached it, or it was never explicitly taught, or its rationale had been lost.  I have not yet seen reference to a kind of logic in the early sermons of the Church.


In the Anglican Tradition since the Reformation, we have attempts to describe the rationale of the Trinity season lectionary in commentaries on the Book of Common Prayer.  It is probably fair to assume that these commentaries give us a summary of the prevailing scholarship on the matter at the time of their writing.  What follows is not an exhaustive survey of the commentaries but a few examples from those most widely used.


Anthony Sparrow, an Anglican Divine of the 17th Century, wrote a Rationale of the Book of Common Prayer and comments on the Trinity Season:


The Church … comes…to use such Epistles, Gospels, and Collects, …, as tend to our edifying, and being the living Temples of the Holy Ghost our Comforter with his Gifts and Graces; that having Oyl in our Lamps, we may be in better readiness to meet the Bridegroom at his second Advent or coming to judgment.  [The lections are] so many Ecchos and Reflexions upon the Mystery of Pentecost (the life of the Spirit) or as Trumpets for preparation to meet our Lord at his second coming.


The GOSPELS …, are of the holy Doctrine, Deeds and Miracles of our Saviour, and so may singularly conduce to the making us good Christians, by being followers of Christ, and replenished with that Spirit … the Church concludes her Annual course of such readings, having thereby given us (and in such time and order as most apt to make deep impression) the chief matter and substance of the four Evangelists.


In the EPISTLES for this time there is an Harmony with the Gospels, but not so much as some have thought in their joynt propounding of particular considerations, and those several and distinct, as the daies they belong to… but rather as they meet all in the common stream, the general meditation and affection of the season.


Clearly some people in Sparrow’s day thought there was a connection between the Epistle and Gospel.  Sparrow believed the Lectionary is about making us good Christians – about our sanctification, in preparation for our Lord’s coming.  But he suggests the Gospels and Epistles are not particularly connected and he notes that the Epistles are chosen to go in a sequential order through the Epistles as we find them in the Bible.  [But being not the first that are used in this season, they [the Epistles after Trinity 5]  seem to have been chosen with more indifferency, for they are taken out of S. Paul, and keep the very order of his Epistles, and the place they have in each Epistle.]


J.H. Blunt, in a much read commentary on the Book of Common Prayer in the 19th Century, says only this about the rationale of the Trinity season lections:


The Sundays after Trinity may be regarded as a system illustrating the practical life of Christianity, founded on the truths previously represented [in the first half of the Church year], and guided by the example of our Blessed Lord.[3] 


Evan Daniel, in his Commentary on the Prayer Book that went to its 22nd Edition in 1909, says this of the rationale of Sundays after Trinity:


The first half of the ecclesiastical year is devoted to setting forth the great doctrines of the Christian religion, the second half to setting forth its practical duties… [In Trinity season] The Gospels bring before us the teaching and example of our Blessed Lord; the Epistles exhort us to the practice of Christian virtues. [4] 


Daniel also notes the way in which the Epistles have been chosen to follow, for the most part, the order of the Epistles in the New Testament.


The Oxford American Prayer Book Commentary from 1950 by Massey Shepherd, suggests there is little rationale for the specific ordering of the Epistles and Gospels.


The early Roman system of reckoning the Sundays of this season was to group them about certain fixed feasts. …Medieval sacramentaries and missals developed other schemes of numeration, some dating the Sundays after Pentecost, and others after Trinity.  The result was a dislocation of many of the propers originally belonging together.  The Prayer Book of 1549 made further alterations, so that there is seldom a unity of theme in the propers for these Sundays.  In most cases we have no way of knowing the reason for the selections in the first place, except that the Epistles preserve relics of a course reading. [5]


So if we take this as the sum of scholarship, we will not even look for a detailed rationale.  And in fact the skewing of the Epistles from the related Gospels in the Roman missal, as pointed out by David Curry [6], does in fact mean that Epistles and Gospels in this season do not form as coherent a teaching on any given Sunday in the Roman missal.  The scholarship which Shepherd sums up was used by the Roman Catholic Church and mistakenly taken by our own Church as part of the justification for replacing the Traditional one year lectionary that we have in our Book of Common Prayer with the modern three year Eucharistic lectionary.


But the modern understanding that a rationale is unknowable because of all the dislocations of the propers only applies to the lectionary preserved in the Roman missal.  The situation for Anglicans is different.  Our lectionary can be compared with The Comes of St. Jerome [7], a 5th century lectionary attributed to St. Jerome but which some scholars believe was developed by Claudianus Mamertus.  Robert Crouse did the comparison and found that the Comes of St. Jerome has largely the same lections as are found in the Sarum missal – the medieval lectionary used in Salisbury Cathedral and which has largely been kept intact in our Book of Common Prayer.  Sunday by Sunday throughout Trinity season the readings are very close.[8]


The Comes of St. Jerome does not include the Collects, so they may have developed over time, though they are quite early.[9]


We can see the skeleton and much of the flesh of the Prayer Book Trinity lectionary in the Comes of St. Jerome.  And we know most of the changes that have taken place since the 5th century to our readings and Collects:


·        There are some minor changes made from the Comes of St. Jerome to the Sarum Missal.  For those parts of the lectionary in the manuscript of the Comes which are now lost we cannot be sure if the Sarum copies the Comes or not (see footnote [8]).


·        During the late Middle Ages the Collects in the latter part of Trinity season (Trinity 17-24) were moved around (Blunt notes the changes between the Gregorian and Sarum Missal).[10] 


·        At the Reformation, in the 16th century, ten of the readings were slightly lengthened [11] and one shortened [12], and one Epistle was replaced (Trinity 15) (See Blunt’s Commentary).  The Collects were translated from Latin to English.  (For the purposes of this paper this has not been looked at in detail but at least one translation reflects a deliberate change in emphasis – see the Collect for Trinity 18 in Blunt’s Commentary.)


·        The 1662 revision of the Prayer Book replaced only the translations of the Epistles and Gospels in Trinity Season with the 1611 Authorized version instead of the 1540 English translation.[13] 


·        And in 1962 the Canadian revisers of the Prayer Book made changes to the choice of two Gospels (Trinity 6 and the Sunday Next before Advent) and one Epistle which also caused a slight reordering (the Epistles in Trinity 13 to 15) in the Church Year [14] from the ancient lectionary. 


Since we know much of the ancient lectionary in its original form, we can expect to discover a rationale behind the ordering of the readings Sunday by Sunday.  References made to Epistles and Gospels in the remainder of this paper refer to those of the Sarum Missal.  References to the Collects refer to the order in the Gregorian Sacramentary (which is identical with our modern Book of Common Prayer except for Trinity 17 to 24).



2.  Growth in holiness – our sanctification.


The Prayer Book commentaries generally agree that Trinity season is about our growth in holiness, our sanctification.  Liberals and Traditionalists in the Anglican Church have been critical of each other’s understanding of what constitutes a healthy spiritual life.  And this relates to our sanctification.  Those who brought in the modern liturgies in the 1980’s argued that the Book of Common Prayer stultifies spiritual growth by overemphasizing our sinfulness and the penitential life.  They argue that our liturgy does not emphasize enough the new joyful resurrection life in the Spirit.  So they deliberately changed what they called “the feel” of the liturgy. [15]  Traditionalists have responded that we cannot have growth in the spiritual life unless there is honesty about ourselves – a continuing humble acknowledgement of our sinfulness – and our utter dependence upon God’s mercy.  The healthy spiritual life, according to Traditionalists, is characterized by repentance, faith and the conversion of love at every stage.  Both Liberals and Traditionalists desire growth in the spiritual life, they disagree on the way in which we are led to spiritual maturity.  Is there something to the critique of both sides?  Are Anglicans today being led to the heights of spiritual maturity or are followers of either of these ways being held back because of inadequate teaching about our growth?


What is the fullness of that growth in holiness that Scripture calls our sanctification?


Jesus calls us to divine perfection – you must be perfect, even as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matt 5:48).  But we see in Christ’s promise of the Spirit in John the idea of growth towards that perfection – the disciples could not bear all the truth about themselves and about God but the Spirit would draw them, as they were able, into all truth (16:12f).  Jesus tells us that loving obedience to him leads us to the vision of God.  He who has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me; and he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.  (John 14:21).


St. Paul, speaking to baptized and converted Christians often makes these distinctions: between babes in Christ and the mature; between those who are still carnally minded and those who are spiritual; between the new creation being formed in them and that which is dying away; between the old Adam and the new man; between the outer man and the inner.  Growth in holiness, our sanctification, is a major teaching of the Epistles.  Work out your salvation in fear and trembling (Phil 2:12); this is the will of God, even your sanctification (Phil 2:13); God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness (1 Thess 4:7); Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord (Heb 12:14). 


What is it that makes us unholy after we have been cleansed in the waters of baptism and have turned our hearts in faith to Jesus (in theological terms, after we have been justified by faith, or made right with God by grace through faith in Jesus Christ)? 


Jesus identifies the cause of our defilement as dwelling upon or acting on the evil thoughts that continue to arise in our hearts even after we are justified by faith.  He gives lists of the sorts of thoughts that arise (see Mk. 7.20–23 and Mt. 15.18–20).  The apostles Paul, Peter, James, and Jude all speak of the danger of responding wrongly to these thoughts or feelings, described by the word “passions” (RSV) or “lusts” (KJV).  In their letters they also deal with the same thoughts Jesus spoke of (see for e.g. in the writings of St Paul in Rom. 1.29–31, Gal. 5.19–26, Eph. 4.17–6 and Col. 2.10–3; of St James in Jas 3.13–5.12; of St Peter in 1 Pet. 2.11–4.19 and 2 Pet. 2–3, and Jude 4,7,8,11,16,18). Passions, such as anger or pride or covetousness, thoughts that arise in our hearts are not sin unless we respond poorly to them by dwelling on them inwardly or following them to destructive ends.  Our sanctification involves our being made able to respond to our passions in a healthy way – putting some desires to death or redirecting that desire towards what is good – loving God and our neighbour – but I’ll speak more about this later. [16]


If Trinity Season is about our sanctification, then perhaps we should expect to see something about that growth, maybe even in a logical way from babes to the heights of maturity in Christ.



3.  Are there stages in that growth?


We know now that the lectionary we use has its origins in the 5th century.  Gary Thorne has called on us to look at the Church’s teaching at the time of the lectionary’s development in order to understand the rationale behind the choice of readings in Trinity season.


There were a number of influences both pagan and Christian that led to an understanding of the spiritual life as characterized by three stages of growth in holiness – purgation, illumination and union.  These actual terms for the three stages have been attributed to Denys the Aeropagite in the 6th century, but we can find similarities (not identity) in the descriptions of three stages prior to this time even if they are given other names (e.g. Origen – ethike, physike, and enoptike; Evagrius – praktike, physike, and theologia). [17]


At all times, in our life as Christians, these three stages are present.  When we start the Christian life at our baptism – we are purged of sin, we began to be illuminated by the gift of the Spirit dwelling in our hearts, and we are mystically united with Christ.  Yet as we mature in our new life in Christ, as we are sanctified, there is also a logical order in time of one stage before another.  [18]


This is perhaps clearer in the case of an adult convert to Christianity.  The excitement of new birth in Christ is followed by a difficult stage where the Christian struggles first with outward sin – the more obvious disorders.  And only after a certain “success” at purgation, cooperating with God’s grace, can our Lord infill more fully the new convert.  The passions need to be reordered – purgation first, then illumination.  James says, "What causes wars, and what causes fightings among you?  Is it not your passions that are at war in your members?  You desire and do not have; so you kill.  And you covet and cannot obtain; so you fight and wage war.  You do not have, because you do not ask.  You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” (James 4:1-3)


Think of an adolescent being tested by parents with increasing responsibility – wise parents don’t give them the car keys when they are a child, it is too much responsibility.   Wise parents let them stay out later and later, increase their weekly allowance, as they can bear it.  Just so, our Lord cannot give spiritual gifts in abundance immediately or they will be misused by us, redirected to a destructive passion.  Imagine the gifts that God can give – prophesy, wisdom, healing, miracles, discernment of spirits – can you imagine the sort of maturity that is needed to handle such powerful gifts without abuse?  Yet if we take pride or misuse a spiritual gift we show our heavenly Father that we are not ready, and He must restrain Himself from pouring out more of the gift until we mature, otherwise further gifts would be destructive to our souls. 


The more we follow the commandments and seek spiritual cleansing through Christ (purgation), the more we are able to see the depths of the wisdom in the Bible (illumination).  Our souls, like a polished mirror, reflect more fully the Divine life and we can see truth more clearly. 


Finally, our souls are being illuminated by God, we are more ready to become, and in fact are becoming, united with Him – we think and will and do more and more like Jesus.  There is a reorientation of our souls from the worldly (carnal) and towards the love of God and our neighbour (spiritual).  Our desire is stirred up by God and we become wiser about where and how to look for God.  We become more prayerful.  We want with all our hearts to see God – and we know the promise of Christ, blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God (Matt. 5:8).


Aspects of all three stages are known to us throughout our Christian life and yet there is also a logical priority in time in the stages of our sanctification – purgation, then illumination, then union. [19] (A longer paper could also speak about how this is a movement of the soul towards God from being absorbed outwardly in the world [exterior] to a recollectedness and the recovery of the “inner man” [interior] to seeking God in prayer within and above [superior].)


Can we find traces of these stages in the Trinity season readings in the traditional lectionary?   


(i)  Purgation is a stage characterized by the purging of our lives of sin, outwardly and then inwardly – it is a time of suffering.  We suffer the pains of repentance, the pains inflicted by the wicked when we seek to reorder our lives (first outwardly) to follow Christ, the pains of self-control, the crucifying of the flesh [20], and the painful birth of the virtuous life.  We can think of the passion of our Lord – though He was without sin he pointed us to the way of redemptive suffering.  We can find biblical passages in the Trinity season Epistles that call us to this way:


Trinity 3 – the God of all grace, who hath called us into his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you (1 Peter 5f)


Trinity 4 – I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us…we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. 


Trinity 5 – But and if ye suffer for righteousness' sake, happy are ye: (1 Peter 3:8f)


Trinity 6 – Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?  …our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed (Rom 6:3f)


Trinity 8 – And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified with him. (Rom 8:12f)


Trinity 9 – God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.  (1 Cor 10:1f) (Rom 8:18f)


These references to suffering and pain in the early part of Trinity season would not be significant to a rationale of growth if they were found in other readings throughout the season of Trinity.  But they are not found with the same frequency or as the main subject of the reading again.  One finds suffering spoken about in reference to something that is completed (Trinity 14), in reference to a spiritual gift – longsuffering and forbearance (Trinity 14, 17 and 24), and in reference to suffering for another (Trinity 16).  (Suffering is not referred to in Trinity 7 – perhaps it is the suffering of spiritual weakness (Gospel) and not yet being able to transfer our love for the worldly into a love for God (Epistle).)


(ii)  Illumination is the stage characterized by the infilling of our souls with grace, divine light.  It is the inflow of the Holy Spirit and how the Spirit is manifested in our souls.  It is the recovery of the inner man, a call to the resurrection life, to rise to new life in the Spirit, and to seek the vision of God.  These things can be found as a focus in the readings in the Sundays that follow Trinity 9:


Trinity 10 – Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit…But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal…Paul lists 9 gifts of the Spirit (1 Cor 12).


Trinity 11 – Paul speaks of all who have seen the risen Jesus Christ and the response is to labour more abundantly – his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain (1Cor 15)  The vision of the risen Lord is a kind of illumination.


Trinity 12 – our sufficiency is of God.  Who also hath made us able ministers of the new covenant; …of the Spirit: …how shall not the ministration of the Spirit be rather glorious? (2 Cor 3)  The Gospel is about the opening of the ears and mouth of the deaf and dumb man – is this to be read as a kind of parable pointing to the soul being opened to divine illumination and to speak it clearly?


Trinity 14 – I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh…  But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the Law…But the fruit of the Spirit is…(Gal 5:16f)


Trinity 15 – If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.  … ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted. … he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting. (Gal 5:25f)


Trinity 16 – I pray that you may…be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith…that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God (Eph. 3:16f)


If you read through the Epistles you can see a remarkable shift in focus at Trinity 10.  Doing a simple word count one finds only 5 references to the Spirit in the Sundays from Trinity 3 to 9 and only 6 references in Trinity 17 to 23.  Compare this with 23 references to the Spirit in the Sundays from Trinity 10 to 16. 


(iii) Union, the last stage of the soul’s ascent is spoken about in the Church’s tradition in different ways but includes:  the mystical marriage of the soul with God or the Church with Christ; a unity of soul with God and with neighbour; the perfecting of the image of God in the soul; entering into God’s rest; the contemplation of God; waiting for the appearance of Jesus Christ, the vision of God.  These elements are found in the latter part of the Trinity season:


Trinity 17 – When thou art bidden of any man to a wedding, sit not down in the highest seat; (Luke 14) 


Trinity 18 – In every thing ye are enriched by him, in all utterance, and in all knowledge; even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you; so that ye come behind in no gift; waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, who shall also confirm you unto the end (1 Cor 1:4f)  This coming of the Lord Jesus is not the second coming.  The Gospel speaks of knowing Christ not only as human but also as the Divine Son.


Trinity 19 – Be renewed in the spirit of your mind; and that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness. (Eph 4:23) [21]  It is the clarification of the image of God in the soul.


Trinity 20 – all things are ready: come unto the marriage.  (Matt 22:1f)


Trinity 21 – Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil…and having done all, to stand.  (Eph 6:10f)  Is this a call to endurance in prayer, to stand, a call to contemplation?  The Gospel is the healing of a man’s son who is at the point of death – an allegory of the inner man who is failing and in need of being restored (he besought Jesus that he would come down)?


Trinity 22 – Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king which would take account of his servants.  (Matt 18:21f)  He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ…that you may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ (Phil 1:3f)


Trinity 23 – For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ…  He will change our body that it may be fashioned like unto the body of His glory (Phil 3:17f)  Whose is this image and superscription?...render unto God the things that are God’s  (Matt 22:15f)  Our body is in the end in the likeness of Christ and our soul in the image of the Trinity.


The emphasis of the Epistles and Gospels during these Sundays in Trinitytide shifts and there appears to be a movement through these basic stages from purgation to illumination to union.


It makes sense that there would be an orderly progression covering all the stages of the life of a Christian being sanctified.  Every year, all priests and lay people could have their particular difficulties addressed at whatever stage they find themselves at.  Those who are more mature are reminded of what they’ve been through so that they might be better able to help in discipling the less mature.  Those who are less mature hear about the higher stages so that they don’t stop seeking.  All are being encouraged by the hope of the upward call in Christ. 


That is a rough outline of the three main stages of our growth in holiness.  But is there any rationale for the selection of the particular readings within each of these three cycles of seven Sundays?  Let’s now look in more detail at the first stage, Purgation.



4.  Purgation (Trinity 3 to 9)


Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect. (Matt 5:48)

Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.  (Matt 5:8)


How do we get there?  What is it that prevents our loving God with all our heart and mind and soul and strength and our neighbours as ourselves?  What is the obstacle that gets in the way of purity of heart, perfection in our thinking and doing?  What prevents our Lord from pouring out upon us His blessing?  Is it not our sin, is it not our disordered desires, our passions?


If our body was sick in some way, we would go to the doctor and ask for his help.  If the illness or wound were obvious, we would show the doctor, if not, we would give over our body to testing and probing until the problem could be discovered.


The Church desires that her children’s disordered sinful souls be healed of all infirmities, of anything that distorts our love from its true end – God and neighbour.  It would make sense that she would order a lectionary to shine the light of the Gospel on all the aspects of our souls revealing every disorder that each might be brought to the divine Physician for healing.


By the 5th century, there was a wealth of knowledge about Christian psychology taking into account the insights of the philosophers on the soul, appropriating from them what was not contrary to Scripture, and also bringing to it the insights of the Scriptures about our souls.  The Desert Fathers battled the demons that afflict the soul and their insights were recorded for the benefit of the Church.  The early Eastern Christian monastics had contributions – Marcarius, Evagrius and his student John Cassian, who in the 5th century brought the insights of Christian psychology and the monastic life to the West. [22]


Cassian became involved in the establishment of monastic communities in the West.  He wrote two works for use by the monks to bring to them the insights of the Christian East for their spiritual formation and growth.  These two great works were commended to be read by all monks who desired perfection in the final chapter of the Rule of St. Benedict.  Monks reading The Institutes of the Coenobia and The Conferences of Cassian would be taught about the disorders of their souls and about remedies.  Here are two excerpts from Cassian’s Institutes giving his rationale for teaching about the passions:


When they explain the illusions arising from all the passions, those who are but beginners and fervent in spirit may know the secret of their struggles, and seeing them as in a glass, may learn both the causes of the sins by which they are troubled, and the remedies for them, and instructed beforehand concerning the approach of future struggles, may be taught how they ought to guard against them, or to meet them and to fight with them.  As clever physicians are accustomed not only to heal already existing diseases, but also by a wise skill to seek to obviate future ones, and to prevent them by their prescriptions and healing draughts, so these true physicians of the soul, by means of spiritual conferences, like some celestial antidote, destroy beforehand those maladies of the soul which would arise, and do not allow them to gain a footing in the minds of the juniors, as they unfold to them the causes of the passions which threaten them, and the remedies which will heal them. [23]


Elsewhere Cassian speaks about the virtues and vices in relation to the passions…


He hopes to “succeed in explaining their occasions and natures to those who are either free from them, or are still tied and bound by them, and so passing as the prophet says, through the fire of vices which terribly inflame our minds, we may be able forthwith to pass also through the water of virtues which extinguish them unharmed, and being bedewed (as it were) with spiritual remedies may be found worthy to be brought in purity of heart to the consolations of perfection.” [24]


There is a tradition that lies behind the identification of the various passions of the soul found in pagan, Jewish and Christian sources. [25]  Its purpose is to help in diagnosis of the illness and in providing appropriate counsel on how to overcome, by grace, a vice.  Cassian took the 8 principle faults identified by Evagrius as the sum of all disorders.  You’ve heard of the seven deadly sins?  They come from this whole pagan, Jewish and then Christian tradition of summing up the disordered desires of the soul under certain categories.  The idea is that every disordered desire (which becomes sin only if consented to), falls into one of these categories.


And there are Scriptural grounds for wanting to identify 7 or 8 passions.


·        Israel being brought out of Egypt and conquering by God’s grace the seven nations in Canaan (1 + 7 = 8) (A spiritual reading of this text by the Fathers sees Israel as an allegory of the soul – and the Exodus and wilderness wandering to the Promised Land as an allegory of the divine ascent of the soul as it overcomes sin and temptations.) (Deut 7:1; Acts 13:19);


·        In Wisdom literature: "He will deliver you from six troubles, in seven there shall no evil touch you." (Job 5:19) and “He who hates, dissembles with his lips and harbors deceit in his heart; when he speaks graciously, believe him not, for there are seven abominations in his heart; though his hatred be covered with guile, his wickedness will be exposed in the assembly.” (Proverbs 26:24-26)


·        In the Gospels: The 7 demons cast out of Mary Magdalene (Mark 16:9; Luke 8:2) and that strange passage from Matthew (12:43-45) where Jesus speaks of an evil spirit leaving a man and then wandering in desert places before returning with seven spirits worse than the first (1 + 7 = 8);


Cassian, following Evagrius identified 8 passions or principle faults of the soul:  gluttony, fornication, covetousness, anger (wrath), dejection (worldly sorrow or grief), accidie (sloth), vainglory and pride (which is the source of all the other faults – see also St. Gregory the Great below). [26] 


It has already been suggested that there may be 7 Sundays, Trinity 3 to 9, that focus primarily on purgation.  If we look at both the Gospel and Epistle together, perhaps we can discover an underlying rationale, a connection between the readings for these Sundays and each of the passions identified by Cassian:


Trinity 3 – Pride – our thinking ourselves better than God

(i)    Epistle – be clothed with humility for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble.  Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you.

(ii)    Gospel – it is about the rejoicing in heaven when the lost sheep and the lost coin are found.  Is this about the need of proud new converts to acknowledge that it is God who has found them not they who have found God?


Trinity 4 – Vainglory – our thinking ourselves better than others, seeking worldly glory.

(i)    Gospel – judge not and ye shall not be judged…cast out first the beam out of thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to pull out the mote that is in thy brother’s eye.  This is the antidote to vainglory and it is also a call to look within.  In the tradition there has been some uncertainty about what to identify as the root passion, it was identified in later tradition as envy.  St. Augustine in his commentary on the parallel passage in the Sermon on the Mount says, "those parties especially judge rashly respecting things that are uncertain, and readily find fault, who love rather to censure and to condemn than to amend and to improve, which is a fault arising either from pride or from envy." 

(ii)    Epistle – I RECKON that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us....  We desire glory - let it be true glory, the glory Christ will reveal in us, not vain-glory.  ...the creature was not made subject to vanity of its own will, but in accordance with the will of him who made it subject in hope.  Luther, in his commentary on this passage says that most interpreters (that he is aware of) interpret "creature" to refer to man, even though he (and many others) have interpreted the word to refer to the creation.  In the tradition there is a recognition that vainglory can be helpful in motivating us to seek to overcome the more base passions.


Trinity 5 – Dejection (Grief)

(i)    Gospel – Master we have toiled all night and have taken nothing…And after the miraculous catch of fish, Peter says, Depart from me for I am a sinful man.

(ii)    Epistle – let him seek peace and ensue it…be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled.

This is one of the less obvious passions to connect with the readings.  However, a connection becomes more apparent if one looks at the diagnosis of dejection by Cassian in the Institutes.  Cassian gives three causes of dejection, all of which are identified above, and the remedies that he suggests are found in the Epistle and Gospel. [27]


Trinity 6 – Anger (Wrath)

(i)    Gospel (not the 1962 Canadian Gospel but the original Gospel from the Sermon on the Mount)– Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill: and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgement.  But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgement.

(ii)    Epistle – our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.  Cassian says in the Institutes that the only acceptable use for anger in our souls is to direct it towards ourselves to put an end to sin. [28]  (Many voices in the tradition correct Cassian on this point by speaking of the need to distinguish between righteous and unrighteous expressions of anger.)


Trinity 7 – Accidie (Sloth)

(i)    Epistle – as ye have yielded your members servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity; even so now yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness.  Is sloth the result of having restrained the passions of the flesh, but not yet turning that same desire over to a love of God and neighbour?  One can be in a state of paralysis in regards to love.

(ii)    Gospel – it is the miracle of the loaves and fishes – If I send them away fasting to their own houses, they will faint by the way.  Is the young Christian flagging in zeal and needing spiritual strengthening? – Christ will supply our need in the Holy Communion.


Trinity 8 - Covetousness

(i)    Epistle – My brethren, we are debtors not to the flesh, to live after the flesh…but…as many as are led by the Spirit they are children of God…and if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ.  Robert Crouse has noted the financial terms used in the Epistle and the Collect (give us all things profitable) for the Sunday.  We desire to gather up all sorts of things in the world, because we forget that we are heirs of God, heirs to all that is really important.

(ii)    Gospel – Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.  The motivation of false prophets is often given in Scripture to be covetousness.  (e.g. Jer. 8:10; Ezek. 34:1-10; Luke 16:10-15; Acts 16:10-15; 1 Tim. 3:2; and 2 Peter 2:3, 14, 15)  St. Paul is at pains in many places in the New Testament to make clear that his motivation is not covetousness.


Trinity 9 – Lust (Gluttony and Fornication)

(i)    Epistle – Now these things were our examples, to the intent we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted.  Neither be ye idolaters, as were some of them; as it is written, The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.  Neither let us commit fornication, as some of them committed, and fell in one day three and twenty thousand…  [Note that in the Canadian 1962 Book of Common Prayer the revisors removed the line in this Epistle that refers to fornication, and so may have obscured in part the original logic.]

(ii)    Gospel – the unjust steward is commended for his prudence, for using this worlds goods in such a way as to be received into the eternal habitations.  On the previous Sunday, the Epistle reminds us we are not “debtors to the flesh”.  Now the Gospel speaks of two debtors, for which deals are made.  This Gospel parable may be about temperance, in the sense that we do have to make deals with our desires (e.g. food cannot be utterly forsaken, sexual desire if forsaken by all would be our end in one generation!).  We are to fulfill some of the desires of the body, but in such a way that we do not forsake our salvation. 

Josef Pieper speaks of the relationship between unchastity (warned against in the Epistle) and prudence (commended in the Gospel):  Unchaste abandon and the self-surrender of the soul to the world of sensuality paralyzes the primordial powers of the moral person: the ability to perceive, in silence, the call of reality, and to make, in the retreat of silence, the decision appropriate to the concrete situation of concrete action.  This is the meaning inherent in all those propositions which speak of the falsification and corruption of prudence, of the blindness of the spirit, and of the splitting of the power of decision.  [Pieper, Ch. 5, Chastity and Unchastity in his essay Temperance.]


The suggested order of the passions being dealt with in these seven Sundays does not follow the way the passions are listed by Cassian in the Institutes.  However, there is a wonderful correspondence between this order and the widely accepted anatomy of the soul in pagan and Christian sources.


Through philosophical reflection the early Greeks identified three aspects of the soul of a human being (just as medical doctors have categorized and described the anatomy of the body by observation): the rational, and the irrational (which is made up of the irascible and desiring) aspects. [29]  The early Christian psychologists connected certain passions or disorders of the soul with each of these three aspects: pride and vainglory as passions of the rational aspect of the soul; wrath, dejection and sloth as passions of the spirited or irascible aspect of the soul; and covetousness, gluttony and fornication as passions of the desiring or appetitive aspect of the soul. [30]


If the above proposed connections between the lections in Trinity 3 to 9 and the passions are valid, then we see that in fact the passions are dealt with in this logical order (2 related to rational aspect, followed by 3 related to the irascible aspect, followed by 2 (or 3) related to the desiring aspect).  And it is most appropriate to deal with pride and vainglory first, or successes in self control in the other aspects of the moral life may only increase pride and vainglory and overturn our salvation.  Humility first and always before God in the spiritual ascent counters Pelagianism.


The order in which it has been suggested that these passion of the soul are dealt with in Trinity 3 to 9 is not exact, but very close to the relationship between the capital sins identified by St. Gregory the Great in his great work, Moralia in Job (Bk XXXI, xlv, 89), in the 6th century:


The first offspring of pride is vain glory, and this, when it hath corrupted the oppressed mind, presently begets envy.  Because doubtless while it is seeking the power of an empty name, it feels envy against any one else being able to obtain it.  Envy also generates anger; because the more the mind is pierced by the inward wound of envy, the more also is the gentleness of tranquillity lost.  And because a suffering member, as it were, is touched, the hand of opposition is therefore felt as if more heavily impressed.  Melancholy [dejection/sloth] also arises from anger, because the more extravagantly the agitated mind strikes itself, the more it confounds itself by condemnation; and when it has lost the sweetness of tranquillity, nothing supports it but the grief resulting from agitation.  Melancholy also runs down into avarice; because when the disturbed heart has lost the satisfaction of joy within, it seeks for sources of consolation without, and is more anxious to possess external goods, the more it has no joy on which to fall back within.  But after these, there remain behind two carnal vices, gluttony and lust.  But it is plain to all that lust springs from gluttony, when in the very distribution of the members, the genitals appear placed beneath the belly.  And hence when the one is inordinately pampered, the other is doubtless excited to wantonness.


What about the second and third stages or cycles of seven Sundays?  Is there an explanation for the ordering of the readings within these stages?



5.  Illumination and Union


When we compare the subject matter dealt with in the lections in the second and third cycles of illumination and union with the order of the lections in the first cycle there appears to be a remarkable correspondence. It is helpful at this point to remember that St. Augustine had left to the Church, by the time the lectionary was developed, a certain psychology of the soul and understanding of the soul’s ascent to God in the Confessions and in his treatise On the Trinity

The latter two series of seven Sundays (Trinity 10-16 and Trinity 17-23) may be dealing with these similar disorders and in the same pattern as in the first series, but in the context of the changed circumstances of the more spiritually mature Christian.  We are led from looking at our outward actions and passions (Trinity 3-9) to look more deeply into our souls to root out disordered love at its source in our thoughts (Trinity 10-16).  Then we are led to the heights of perfection (Trinity 17-23).  We move from dealing with the “outer man” to the unlocking and transformation of the hidden “inner man” (see the reference in the Trinity 16 Epistle to "the inner man"), that aspect of our soul made in the image and likeness of God. In St. Augustine’s De Trinitate, it is only the highest aspect of the rational soul that is a proper image and likeness of the Triune God.  When we reach this higher stage we are beyond being driven by disordered passions, but not beyond imperfections in our knowing (Trinity 17 and 18) and willing (Trinity 19 to 21) and so our loving. (For St. Augustine, to love is to will the good that one knows.)

Of course we are not just dealing with disorder in the soul, but also are being encouraged at every stage with the particular promises of God and the blessings, the gifts, the virtues, adorning our souls as we grow in Christ.

In purgation we are praying to be delivered from sin – consenting to disordered passions.  In the stage of illumination we are being warned to be aware still of the temptation but as it relates to the life of prayer, a more inward disposition of the soul. We are concerned in the last stage not about being delivered from the particular sin but “the bands of those sins” (in the original Collect for Trinity 17) – the remaining distorted inner disposition of our souls resulting from previous habits of sin.  And at this stage we are concerned with the infection of the devil (no longer the world and the flesh as these have been overcome earlier) as we are dealing with the mind in contemplation of God.


To see the pattern being suggested in these higher stages, it is helpful to look at two examples of how the passions or related temptations and the adorment of the soul with virtue may be being dealt with.  Consider what the lections for Trinity 3, 10 and 17 have to do with pride: 


(i)                  In Trinity 3 there is a warning in the Epistle that God resists the proud and there is a call to humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God and he will exalt us.  In the Gospel we are reminded that it is God who first loved and found us not we who loved and found God.


(ii)                In Trinity 10 the focus is the illumination of the mind with all of these spiritual gifts in the Epistle.  But the Gospel is about Jesus weeping because the people don’t know the time of His visitation and the cleansing of the Temple where he condemns them for making His house a den of thieves.  St. Paul and the Fathers saw the Temple as an image of the soul.  So if our soul is being illuminated with gifts from God and we are taking pride in those gifts as if they are ours – we are stealing the glory, we have become thieves of grace through our pride.  The Epistle is about the blessings of illumination, Christ manifesting Himself to our soul, the Gospel a warning not to take pride in them, of recognizing His manifestation or visitation. 


(iii)               In Trinity 17 there is again a call to humility in the Epistle – walk with all lowliness and meekness…acknowledging the one God and Father who is above all, and through all, and in you all - humility is before God and neighbour.  The Gospel is the complete healing of the man with dropsy, an image in the body of the swelling of pride in the soul.  Jesus tells the story about our need to humble ourselves to take the lowest seat when we are invited to a wedding.  The stage is the union of our souls in the mystical marriage, and we are reminded that the union is not a private affair with each of us struggling to be first with God but it is a union together with others (we sit at table with others). But also we are being reminded that at a certain point, in contemplation, one cannot attain to the heights by discursive reason. At this point we must wait patiently in stillness, to be lifted up, if God so wills, to the heights of heaven - "Friend, go up higher" (infused contemplation).


We are being warned both of the danger of pride that can afflict us at each stage in a different way and of course the remedies that our Lord reveals as well as the ways our souls are adorned and beautified and perfected by Christ (with humility, with spiritual gifts, with a final healing of all inclinations to pride and the gift of mystical marriage). 


Let’s now consider what the lections for Trinity 8, 15 and 22 have to do with covetousness: 


(i)                  In Trinity 8 the Epistle reminds us we are not debtors to the flesh but heirs of God, joint heirs with Christ – we needn’t want all manner of things to satisfy the appetites of the flesh as we are heirs of God’s abundance, the most important, the eternal things.  The Gospel is a warning about ravenous wolves – greed as it is manifested outwardly in its extreme form.


(ii)                In Trinity 15 we are reminded not to sow to the flesh but to sow to the Spirit and reap life everlasting, which is what our souls really want, what is of eternal importance.  We are to covet the spiritual things.  The Gospel speaks about how we cannot serve God and Mammon – about the danger of worldly distractions to the spiritual life and how we are to root out in our thoughts any remaining division in our loyalities, any ambivalence. 


(iii)               In Trinity 22 – Paul prays that our love may abound more and more in knowledge and all judgement…and be filled with all the fruits of righteousness – the result of sowing to the Spirit.  The Gospel is a warning about the unforgiving servant. When it comes to the heights of heavenly contemplation, the currency of exchange is mercy. We are not wrong to covet God’s mercy, which we realize more and more as we draw near that we are most in need of. Jesus assures us that we can be forgiven all debts that the Holy Spirit is making us aware of and yet we must be willing to share that mercy ever more and more with others.  We come to know reconciliation with God and with our neighbour at the same time.


Notice that in all these readings and in the Collects for these three Sundays financial language recurs – debts, heirs, Mammon, profits.  The Collect carries through the same language: in Trinity 8 – put away from us all hurtful things, and give us those things which be profitable for us;  in Trinity 15 – keep us ever by thy help from all things hurtful, and lead us to all things profitable for our salvation; and in Trinity 22 (the collect as it is found in the Gregorian order) – keep us from all things that may hurt us; that we being ready both in body and soul may cheerfully accomplish those things that thou wouldest have done.  Not only is there a similarity of language and intent but the changes also emphasize growth – first it is put away from us, then it is keep us...from and lead us and in the final stage  keep us fromwe being ready both in body and soul.


These two examples are the simplest to show the pattern being suggested, but in the other Sundays one can find a similar correspondence, a dealing with the disordered passions outwardly, then a more inward reflection on our thoughts and finally on the perfecting of our knowing and willing and loving while being encouraged by the adornment of the soul through the three stages – purgation, illumination and union.


If this is the overall rationale, the preacher would be led often to a spiritual or allegorical reading of the Gospels in the latter two cycles to make sense of their relation to the Epistle of the day.  This makes spiritual sense – as the soul matures it reads Scripture in a fuller light, even so, the Gospels over this season of Trinity are read in a literal way at first and then in the literal and allegorical way.  The Epistle for Trinity 9, at the end of what is being suggested is a cycle of purgation, in fact could be seen as commending this shift.  The Reformers by lengthening the Epistle may have helped (knowingly or unknowingly) to commend this shift in reading.



6.  What about the beginning and the end of Trinity season?


We have looked at the three cycles of seven Sundays from Trinity 3 to Trinity 23.  What about the Sundays before and after these cycles?


Trinity 1 and 2 may set the stage or act as a kind of introduction for the laying forth of the divine ascent of the soul in the twenty-one Sundays that follow.  The whole of the first half of the Church year has been about revealing the doctrine of God and showing forth His love towards us.  Now we are to look at how we are to respond to that love.  Both Epistles speak about how our love of God is imperfect and that this is shown in us by our imperfect love of our neighbour.  The season of Trinity will be about perfecting that love which is the antithesis of hate.


Here again is the passage from Proverbs:


“He who hates, dissembles with his lips and harbors deceit in his heart; when he speaks graciously, believe him not, for there are seven abominations in his heart; though his hatred be covered with guile, his wickedness will be exposed (and, as Christians we might add, healed) in the assembly (the Church).”  [Proverbs 26:24-26]


Here are excerpts from the Epistles: 


Trinity 1 BELOVED, let us love one another: for love is of God, and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God…If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us… If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? 


Trinity 2 He that loveth not his brother abideth in death.  Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him.  Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.


So there is perhaps in these early Epistles an introduction to the season identifying its purpose and our motivation: the perfecting of our love that we might no longer harbor hatred but love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and love our neighbours as ourselves.


In the Gospels there is a contrast of two feasts: Trinity 1 is the sumptuous feasting of the rich man whose heart ignores his poor neighbour’s plight and leads to the rich man’s eternal torment; and, Trinity 2, is the invitation to the heavenly banquet and the warning not to make excuses.  Do these Gospels act as a call to enter upon the ascetic life?  Do these Gospels describe those who are in need of encouragement to leave the fleshpots of Egypt that they might battle the seven nations in the promised land and so possess their souls? [31]  In speaking of final judgment and of the gracious invitation by God to all, they act as a kind of spur to enter on the journey of ascent.


Trinity 24:


The Epistle clearly describes our final joy:

For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you and make request that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding: that ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and long-suffering with joyfulness; giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light.”


Surely this is the perfection of the human soul.


The Gospel describes a little girl who dies (in the Gospel parallel accounts it is noted that she was twelve), and as Jesus goes to her he is met by a woman who has suffered twelve years (the fullness of time), who touches his garment and when she sees Him she is made whole.  The original Gospel stops here - perhaps a sign that it is to be read allegorically.  Could it refer to the old Eve who has died and the new Eve who, after suffering a while, finally has the vision of God and is made whole?  Or, perhaps it is a comparison of our situation before the start of our Christian life, where we were counted as dead and where others called on Christ to come down to us, with our situation at a state of maturity where our wills are restored and we are actively cooperating with His grace to seek Him out and to touch His garment and are rewarded with the vision of God.  [32]


And, finally [33], what about Trinity Sunday?


In both Gospel and Epistle there are inferences of the holy Trinity, but the readings are also about us.  In the Gospel Jesus speaks to Nicodemus and tells us we must be born again.  In the Lesson we are given the vision of heaven in Revelation.  Are these lections chosen because they refer to the beginning and the end, the whole of our life in Christ? 


And in that vision of heaven we read of twenty-four seats with twenty-four elders around the throne of God – is there any significance that there are twenty-four Sundays in the original Trinity season lectionary – do we not sit and from a different perspective each Sunday face and contemplate the same God? [34]  And there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God.  Would there be any relation between the cycles of seven Sundays which refer to the passions that are restrained and transformed by these seven Spirits of God – the adorning of the soul with heavenly virtues? Was this Lesson included as a kind of hidden key to open up the logic of the season?


7.  Closing Remarks


The beauty of knowing the rationale, if this is it, is that the light of Scripture can be brought to shine in all its fullness on every aspect of the disordered and sanctified soul and at each stage of the Christian’s life – it would cover the length and breadth of our sanctification. 


Think of that passage from the Gospel where Jesus says, cast out first the beam out of thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to pull out the mote that is in thy brother's eye.  If our preachers are faithfully preaching the Scriptures, knowing this rationale would aid them in looking at their own souls year by year so they could be healed by grace.  The lectionary itself would act as a kind of spiritual direction.  Preachers would then be better able to take the mote out of their brother’s and sister’s eyes.  And their preaching would, by grace, bring about healing in the flocks committed to their charge and help them to bring healing to their neighbours. 


But is the teaching on the passions and their transformation something that is still of value or has it been superseded by newer developments in the understanding of the soul?  Can anyone argue that pride and vainglory are no longer things that get in the way of love at every stage in our spiritual maturing?  It is claimed that one in ten in America suffer depression. [35] Surely this malady of the soul is the passion of dejection or grief and does not the Church have a wealth of ancient and modern wisdom to contribute on the subject?  We know that our modern psychiatric profession has much to say about anger management – could not the Church recover its voice to speak to its flock the wisdom of the Scriptures and 2000 years of teaching on anger?  Surely spiritual sloth, covetousness (our Lord says “beware of all covetousness” Luke 12:15), gluttony and fornication are still as dangerous as ever to our souls’ health. 


Even if our Church fails to speak about these passions, the secular press continues to bring them before our minds.  Harper’s Magazine a few years back held a contest for advertising firms to make a poster for each of the seven deadly sins.  CBC Ideas, a few years ago, did a series on the seven deadly sins and two years ago Nora Young prepared 7 shows aired on CBC daytime national radio reconsidering these sins (and also a series on the 7 heavenly virtues).  This year Oxford University Press in conjunction with New York Public Library commissioned popular authors to each write a volume in a series on The Seven Deadly Sins. [36]  The passions, or the sins that they lead to, do not go away if we do not talk about them.  The Church has much practical advice to contribute on the disorders and remedies for the soul and we alone can point to the source and end of its true and final health and salvation, our Lord Jesus Christ.  If the liberals no longer want to speak about sin and of the need for repentance, surely indications are that the world would like us to address these ever present maladies of the soul.


If the liberals are right that the Prayer Book stultifies spiritual growth by an overemphasis on sin, we have a corrective to our spirituality (and to theirs) built right into it in the Trinity Season lectionary – if we preach it knowing such a rationale.  Maybe this is a call for Prayer Book Traditionalist priests to be more deliberate in giving at least 7 weeks a year (Trinity 10 to 16) to preaching on the divine illumination of our souls and at least 7 weeks a year (Trinity 17 to 23) to preaching on the union of our souls with God, the vision of glory, the life of heaven.  Let them bring all the insights of Scripture and of the saints reminding us continually of the hope of the upward call of Christ and making us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light.


In the Eastern Church it is the practice in monasteries during Lent each year to read through the thirty steps of John Climacus’ Ladder of Divine Ascent.  In the Western Church, we have this treasure of the Trinity Season lectionary, which could become an annual opportunity to ponder in the last half of the Church year in a supremely ordered way the mystery of the divine ascent of our souls by grace.  How appropriate the Trinity season lectionary is for Anglicans, who cherish the idea that the Prayer Book is a spiritual system helping to foster our vocations as monastics living in the world.


Now unto Him that is able to keep us from falling and to present us faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy; to the only wise God our Saviour be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever.  Amen.







The numbers in the boxes indicate the Sunday after Trinity Sunday.







Gospel Miracle - Resurrection/Wholeness

Lust (gluttony,





Gospel Miracle - Resurrection

Gospel Miracle


Our loving










Gospel Miracle

Gospel Miracle

Gospel Miracle


Our willing




Gospel Miracle

Gospel Miracle

Gospel Miracle










Our knowing



Gospel Miracle







>>>>adornment of virtue and putting off of vice>>>>



to heavenly banquet





earthly feasting




new birth
24 thrones 7 spirits

our beginning and end






* Note that the cardinal virtue justice appears in the soul when the various aspects of the soul are adorned by the appropriate cardinal virtue.  Also, it is clear that the three theological virtues are needed throughout the ascent. 



Notes on the Text:

1.  The substance of a talk given to the Prayer Book Society of Nova Scotia at St. George’s Round Church, Halifax, October 23, 2004.  (Latest revision June 2011.)  The author gratefully acknowledges that the ideas for this paper were developed during a period of prayer and learning undertaken at and supported by the Elliot House of Studies in Savannah, Georgia under the tutelage of the Rev. Dr. Michael Carreker and the Rev. Gavin Dunbar. 


2.  A “Collect” is the prayer said just before the Sunday readings and has been described as the prayer that “collects together” the topics of the Sunday readings (J.H. Blunt, The Annotated Book of Common Prayer, (London, 1884)).


3.  John Henry Blunt, The Annotated Book of Common Prayer being and Historical, Ritual, and Theological Commentary on the Devotional System of the Church of England, Revised and Enlarged Edition (London, 1884), p. 304.


4.  Evan Daniel, The Prayer Book: Its History, Language, and Contents, 22nd Edition, (London, 1909), p. 290.


5.  M. H. Shepherd, The Oxford American Prayer Book Commentary, (New York, 1950) p. 188-189.


6.  David P. Curry, “Doctrinal Instrument of Salvation: The Use of Scripture in the Prayer Book Lectionary” in The Prayer Book: A Theological Conference held at St. Peter’s Cathedral, Charlottetown, PEI, June 25-28, 1985, pp.53-54.


7.  J.P. Migne, Patrologiae, Volume 30, pp. 487-532.


8.  In the Comes of St. Jerome, the Sunday Lections are named as Sundays after Pentecost, then Sundays after the Feasts of Sts. Peter and Paul and St. Lawrence but the correspondence is close.  Epistles and Gospels for Trinity Sunday to Trinity 5 are identical; lections for two Sundays corresponding with Trinity 6 and 7 appear to be missing; Trinity 8 (Epistle is missing); Trinity 9 (E is different: Romans 8:1-6 ); Trinity 10 (E &G are different: Romans 8:12-17a and Luke 10:25-37); Trinity 11 (identical G & E); Trinity 12 (E is different: 2 Cor 5:1-11); Trinity 13 (E missing); Trinity 14 (E missing); Trinity 15 (Epistle is different: Gal 5:16-24); Trinity 16 (Epistle is different: Gal 5:25-6:10), Trinity 17 (identical G & E); Trinity 18 (Gospel is different: Matt 22:23-33); Trinity 19 & 20 (identical G & E).  The original manuscript is missing lections for the rest of Trinity season.  Of the lections we know, 80% are the same (28/35).


9.  According to Blunt they are mostly fifth century:  Collects for Trinity 5, 9, 10, 12, 13, 14 are first found in the Sacramentary of St. Leo Bishop of Rome AD 440-461; Collects for Trinity 1, 2, 6, 7, 8, 11, 15, 16, 18, 19, 20, 21 are first found in the Sacramentary of St. Gelasius, Bishop of Rome 492-496; and Collects for Trinity 3, 4, 17, 22, 23, 24, and 25 are first found in the Sacramentary of St. Gregory, Bishop of Rome AD 590-604.


10.  Blunt, The Annotated Book of Common Prayer, pp.


11.  The Epistles for Trinity 2, 19, 21, 22, and 24; the Gospels for Trinity 6, 16, 22, 23, and 24.


12.  The Gospel for Trinity 21. 


13.  J.H. Blunt’s Commentary p. 244.


14.  The 1962 Canadian revisers recovered the Epistle replaced by the Reformers (Trinity 15) but removed the ancient Epistle for Trinity 13.  So the Epistle for Trinity 14 (ancient) became the Epistle for Trinity 13 (1962), the Epistle for Trinity 15 (ancient) became the Epistle for Trinity 14 (1962) and the Epistle for Trinity15 (Reformation) remained the Epistle for Trinity 15 (1962).   The Epistles for these three Sundays become consecutive readings from Galatians.


15.  M. Ingham, Rites for a New Age, pp.113-126.


16.  Paul speaks often about the passions in Romans, Galatians, Ephesians, 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus (e.g. Eph. 2:3); see also for example 1 Peter 1:14, 2:11, 4:2; James 4:1-3; and Jude 1:16, 18.


17.  Andrew Louth, The Origins of the Christian Mystical Tradition from Plato to Denys, (Oxford, 1981), pp. 58, 102.


18.  Kenneth Kirk, Some Principles of Moral Theology and their Application, (London, 1920), pp. 48-52.


19.  Think of different aspects of the Christian life itself beginning with Baptism – purgation, then we are taught by Scripture – illumination, and made ready then for Holy Communion – an ever deepening union with our Lord.  And this 3 staged pattern of our redemption has been pointed out by the Church to be revealed in the Scriptures – The Law revealing the disorders of our souls and calling us to restrain ourselves, identified with purgation; the Prophets speaking in the Spirit of the deeper meaning of the Law and leading us to look for a Saviour, identified with illumination; and in the New Testament, the Incarnation, death and resurrection of our Lord, making possible our Union.  Origen saw three stages being taught respectively in Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon (A. Louth, Origins of the Christian Mystical Tradition, p. 58).


20.  Gregory the Great describes this well in the Moralia, Book VI, Para. 42: "when the wounded soul begins to pant after God, when, setting at nought all the alluring arts of the world, it stretches forth in desire to the land above, all is forthwith turned to its trial, whatsoever aforetime was accounted pleasing and alluring in this world. For they that had a fond affection for him living in sin, cruelly assault him when he lives aright. The soul that is raised up toward God, is subject to rude assaults from the flesh, wherein it formerly lay grovelling in enjoyment, the slave of evil habits; former pleasures recur to the mind, and push hard the resisting soul with a grievous conflict. But because that, while we are afflicted with transitory labour, we are rescued from everlasting pain, it is fitly subjoined; [Job 13,Ver. 19.] He shall deliver thee in six troubles, yea, in seven there shall no evil touch thee."


21.  Note that the ancient Epistle (Ephesians 4:23-28) for this Sunday began with this verse – it was the Reformers who added verses before and after the original Epistle (Ephesians 4:17-32) which somewhat obscures the suggested focus.


22.  Marilyn Dunn, The Emergence of Monasticism: From the Desert Fathers to the Early Middle Ages, (Oxford, 2000), pp. 73f.


23.  Cassian, Institutes, Book XI, Chapter XVII.


24.  Ibid., Book V, Chapter II.


25.  M.W. Bloomfield, The Seven Deadly Sins: An Introduction to the History of a Religious Concept, with Special Reference to Medieval English Literature.  See Chapters 1 and 2. 


26.  St. Gregory the Great developed a slightly revised list about a hundred years later which was taken up writers such as Dante in The Divine Comedy and continues to be used as the norm in the West.  St. Gregory’s list is pride, envy, wrath, sloth, covetousness or greed, gluttony and lust.  These principle faults are understood by Evagrius as different from the sins which results from assenting to them.  “What Evagrius means by these is not so much the grand sins they call to mind, as temptations that play on the particular tendency of the soul thus indicated.” (A. Louth, Origins of the Christian Mystical Tradition, p. 105).


27.  From Book IX of The Institutes of Cassian: Related to the Gospel: “BUT sometimes (the spirit of dejection) is found…to spring from the desire of some gain which has not been realized, when a man has found that he has failed in his hope of securing those things which he had planned.”  “THERE is, too, another still more objectionable sort of dejection, which produces in the guilty soul no amendment of life or correction of faults, but the most destructive despair: which did not make Cain repent after the murder of his brother, or Judas, after the betrayal, hasten to relieve himself by making amends, but drove him to hang himself in despair.”  The looking inward at the soul (encouraged last week) also results in a sudden revelation of sinfulness (large catch) but Christ says “fear not.” (i.e. have courage) Related to the Epistle (and Collect):   “But sometimes without any apparent reason for our being driven to fall into this misfortune, we are by the instigation of our crafty enemy suddenly depressed with so great a gloom that we cannot receive with ordinary civility the visits of those who are near and dear to us; and whatever subject of conversation is started by them, we regard it as ill-timed and out of place; and we can give them no civil answer, as the gall of bitterness is in possession of every corner of our heart….AND so God …commands that we should not give up intercourse with our brethren, nor avoid those who we think have been hurt by us, or by whom we have been offended, but bids us pacify them, knowing that perfection of heart is not secured by separating from men so much as by the virtue of patience.  Which when it is securely held, as it can keep us at peace even with those who hate peace.”


28.  Ibid. Book VIII  Chapter VII. “Of the only case in which anger is useful to us.  We have, it must be admitted, a use for anger excellently implanted in us for which alone it is useful and profitable for us to admit it, viz., when we are indignant and rage against the lustful emotions of our heart, and are vexed that the things which we are ashamed to do or say before men have risen up in the lurking places of our heart.” 



29.  Louth, The Origins of the Christian Mystical Tradition, pp. 8. 


30.  Ibid, pp. 105-106.  


31.  See John Cassian, The Institutes, Book IV, Chapter XIII – “We cannot enter the battle of the inner man unless we have been set free from the vice of gluttony;” and in The Conferences, Part I, Book V, Chapter XVIII.


32.  The Anglican Reformers were uncomfortable with some of the excesses of patristic allegorizing and this may explain why they lengthened the Gospel to include the resuscitation of the little girl.


33.  The Sunday Next before Advent has been omitted, but is a part of Trinity season.


34.  There is also the Sunday Next Before Advent, but it could be argued to be a transition between Trinity and Advent. This connection between the twenty-four thrones and the twenty-four Gospels in Trinity season comes from a Trinity Sunday sermon by the Rev. Dr.. Gary Thorne at St. George's in Halifax, Canada. 


35.  The American Psychiatric Association gives this figure and the following definition for Depression on its website.  Depression has a variety of symptoms, but the most common is a deep feeling of sadness. People with depression may feel tired, listless, hopeless, helpless, and generally overwhelmed by life. Simple pleasures are no longer enjoyed, and their world can appear dark and uncontrollable.  Emotional and physical withdrawal are common responses of depressed people.  Depression can strike at any time, but most often appears for the first time during the prime of life, from ages 24 to 44. One in four women and one in 10 men will confront depression at some point in their lives.  Compare this description with Cassian’s description of Dejection in footnote 27.


36.  The series has been published during 2004 with the final three books coming out in November and December.  The authors are: Michael Eric Dyson, Pride; Joseph Epstein, Envy; Robert A.F. Thurman, Anger; Wendy Wasserstein, Sloth; Phyllis Tickle, Greed; Francine Prose, Gluttony; and Simon Blackburn; Lust.