Keeping Lent

By H. Boone Porter

Lent Book Number

Reading is one of the most important resources for illumination, growth, and spiritual development. For many years THE LIVING CHURCH has accordingly greeted Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent with a Book Number. Quite apart from the fact of Lent, it is a good time of year for reading. Hunting season, Christmas, and New Year are past, and the out-of-door pleasures of spring are still far ahead.

We do not confine our reviews or articles in this issue to devotional books, or to books that are especially Lenten in content. After all, the world of books is a broad one. A truly good book is, we hope, in season at all times. A good book can always inform us and delight us. The well written book and, we would add, the well-illustrated book and the well printed book have something further. The literary arts, in the broadest sense, are humane, they teach us how to be human. This is something that neither technology, nor government edicts, nor a thriving economy can accomplish.

It is an enterprise, furthermore, in which Christians have a deep investment. Christians, of course, know that to be merely human in a natural sense is never enough, but it is an essential beginning. As St. Jerome asked so many centuries ago, if people do not appreciate literature, if they have no feeling for the different kinds of prose and poetry, how can they fully understand the Book of Books, the Holy Scriptures? Jerome’s point is still timely.

Ash Wednesday

As we enter the holy season, we hope it is not unseemly to wish our readers happy Lent. A purely secular worldly life is never truly happy. Men and women can never find fulfillment on bread alone. Lent is a time to address ourselves to the higher values that are generally neglected, the long-term goals that are so often forgotten, the vision that is so frequently blurred. The gospel of Jesus Christ is good news, and after several weeks of diligent attention to it, we will indeed be more happy as well as more whole, for all times and all seasons.

It has sometimes been suggested that Lent is obsolete, or that its observance is too difficult for us in modern America. We would suggest that the opposite is true. If we were starving, ill clothed, and poorly housed, as most of the world’s population has always been, then we might wonder what we could give up. That is not the problem for most of us today in this country (although it remains the case with a significant number of the forgotten very poor). Most of us could very well eat and drink less, not to mention smoking less. Most of us could forego dozens of little luxuries with which we surround ourselves, and be better off in many ways.

The point of Lent, however, is not the negative act of giving things up, but the positive act of establishing better priorities. A heroic and challenging approach to our faith, to which this holy season of Lent calls us, is precisely what most of us need. The principal obstacles to it are not the troubles of the times, or the world around us, or our secularist, friends, or internal dissension within the church. The principal obstacles are inside you and me. Learning to place the blame where it belongs is step number one. God grant you many more steps, and a truly happy Lent!

The Battle of the Myth

Among other book reviews, we are carrying this week a longer discussion of the recent English collection of essays, The Myth of God Incarnate. This book has become the object of considerable debate on both sides of the Atlantic. In order to appreciate the issues, one must recall that the word myth is used in many ways in religious language. So too is the term incarnation. There is more than one way to express the truth that “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself” (II Cor. 5:19), but for most Christian theologians, during most of Christian history, the classic orthodox formulation of this basic belief has been that of the Council of Chalcedon, of 451 AD. The text of the so-called “Chalcedonian Definition” will be found on page 864 of the Proposed Book of Common Prayer. A shorter statement of the doctrine will be found in Article II of the Articles of Religion at the back of the Prayer Book. It is these, and other similar formulations, which are challenged by this group of authors.

The Rev. Dr. H. Boone Porter was editor of The Living Church from 1977 to 1990. This article was published in our February 5, 1978 issue.

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