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Hallo again to all.

Lately we have been thinking about unexpected changes in life. This weekend we had reason to be at Sewanee, an Anglican university and seminary in the rural Southeastern United States. The architecture looks like a transplant from Oxford—or at least, what would happen if Hogwarts turned up in Tennessee—in all the best ways.

During the American Civil War, the campus became part of the war effort by the rebel Southern states. When the tide of war turned against the South, Union troops torched the campus, leaving Sewanee to rebuild, only three years after its original cornerstone was laid.  But, as luck would have it, the second Bishop of Tennessee, Charles Todd Quintard, attended the first Lambeth Conference shortly thereafter, during which occasion he was able to speak with colleagues in the United Kingdom, especially those affiliated with Oxford. These English connections helped finance a rebuilding effort. Thus 'Oxford in Tennessee' by way of the tensions leading up to civil war.*

Anyone who has had the occasion to reconsider a career in the modern era, too, has had the baleful moment of looking at a CV and wondering how to make a change in career or employment look deliberate and intentional. Yet, the history of our faith is littered with the remains of 'would be' careers and plans. Never mind the obvious examples: Saul/Paul turning from a persecutor of the early Church to an apostle, or disciples drawn from casting nets for fish to casting nets for souls. Our own Anglican tradition owes its form to a series of historical accidents involving England's royal succession, the beginnings of reform movements in Western Christendom, and the quirks of fate that afflicted Henry VIII and his royal successors.

One wonders, too, what the CV of a man like the fourth century Roman aristocrat Aurelius Ambrosius would have looked like, if he had gone before a Crown Commission for a nomination to the episcopacy. His entire early career had been that of a proper member of the Roman governing elite of the fourth century, not at all that of a Christian clergyman. As a member of the emperor's council and former provincial governor, in AD 374 Ambrose was instead made to become a bishop, as he satisfied both Trinitarian and Arian Christians—for all that he became a strong opponent of the latter heresy during his episcopacy. And so the future St. Ambrose was baptised, ordained, and consecrated all in the same week.

His credentials would not have recommended themselves to a modern selection committee or in diocesan walkabouts. Yet he provided a model of hymnody and defense of Nicene orthodoxy that shaped the church for centuries to come. This is not to ignore his own flaws—he freely urged the emperor Theodosius not to provide restitution to a synagogue that had been destroyed by a Christian mob, for example.† Nor can we ignore the flaws of any of these instances, from the violence of the English reformation to the connections of slavery to Sewanee's original founding.

Still, these examples are in our world, part planning, part accident, both for good and for ill—just as much as sudden illnesses, deaths, and career changes in all our own lives We are reminded of a sentence from the office of Compline that appears in many Books of Common Prayer throughout the communion in some variation (here drawn from Ireland's prayer book):

Be present, O merciful God, and protect us through the silent hours of this night, so that we, who are wearied by the changes and chances of this fleeting world, may repose upon thy eternal changelessness; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Do you have a favorite historical quirk that you would like to share? Be sure to let us know with a letter to the editor if you do.

See you next week, as we all faces the 'changes and chances' of life.

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All of us at Anglicans Online

*See the (as ever) useful Wikipedia for some of these details, as well as Sewanee's own website.
†Ambrose was not shy in the slightest about scolding emperors, sometimes to more humane effect, such as when Theodosius massacred protestors at Thessalonica.

24 April 2016

A thin blue line
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