Tuesday, March 28, 2006

March 29: John Keble, Priest, 1866

On this day many Christians will pause to remember John Keble 1792-1866. While more Episcopalians, Anglicans, and Lutherans will commemorate him than most other Christian churches, Keble's witness and importance to the whole Church is remarkable. Sketching his life, James Kiefer tells us that Keble was “born in 1792, ordained Priest in 1816, tutored at Oxford from 1818 to 1823, and published in 1827 a book of poems called The Christian Year, containing poems for the Sundays and Feast Days of the Church Year. The book sold many copies and was highly effective in spreading Keble's devotional and theological views. His style was more popular then than now, but some of his poems are still in use as hymns.”

As many Methodists study This Holy Mystery and attempt to recover their sacramental heritage, they will do well to remember that the Church of England was at one time in terrible need to renewal and that John Keble did much to restore the HolyMystery, the Eucharist, to the center of the local parish’s life.

Again Kiefer narrates the story:

On 14 July 1833, he preached the Assize Sermon at Oxford. (This sermon marks the opening of a term of the civil and criminal courts, and is officially addressed to the judges and officers of the court, exhorting them to deal justly.) His sermon was called "National Apostasy," and denounced the Nation for turning away from God, and for regarding the Church as a mere institution of society, rather than as the prophetic voice of God, commissioned by Him to warn and instruct the people. The sermon was a nationwide sensation, and is considered to be the beginning of the religious revival known as the Tractarian Movement (so called because of a series of 90 Tracts, or pamphlets addressed to the public, which largely influenced the course of the movement) or as the Oxford Movement (not to be confused with the Oxford Group -- led by Frank Buchman and also called Moral Re-Armament, or MRA -- which came a century later and was quite different). Because the Tractarians emphasized the importance of the ministry and of the sacraments as God-given ordinances, they were suspected by their opponents of Roman Catholic tendencies, and the suspicion was reinforced when some of their leaders (John Henry Newman being the most conspicuous) did in fact become Roman Catholics. But the movement survived, and has profoundly influenced the religious thinking, practice, and worship of large portions of Christendom. Their insistence, for example, that it was the normal practice for all Christians to receive the sacrament of Holy Communion every Sunday has influenced many Christians who would never call themselves Anglicans, let alone Tractarians. Keble translated the works of Irenaeus of Lyons (28 June 202), and produced an edition of the works of Richard Hooker, a distinguished Anglican theologian (3 Nov 1600). He also wrote more books of poems, and numerous hymn lyrics. Three years after his death, his friends and admirers established Keble College at Oxford.

Grateful to God for Keble’s witness, you may wish to offer this prayer:

Grant, O God, that in all time of our testing we may know your presence and obey your will; that, following the example of your servant John Keble, we may accomplish with integrity and courage what you give us to do, and endure what you give us to bear; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

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