Christopher J. Lane on Catholic Vocational Culture

Christopher J. Bede Lane, Obl.S.B., Ph.D., on Catholic Vocational Culture

[ Image: Dr. Christopher J. Lane, associate professor of history at Christendom College, author of _Callings and Consequences: The Making of Catholic Vocational Culture in Early Modern France_.  (Images l to r: McGill-Queen’s University Press, Christendom College) ]

Congratulations to Professor Chris J. Bede Lane, Obl.S.B., Ph.D., on the attention and accolades garnered by his 2021 study, _Callings and Consequences: The Making of Catholic Vocational Culture in Early Modern France_.  The book won two 2022 Catholic Media Association Book Awards, one in the History category and one in the History of Theology category.  And last week (2 February 2023), Rachel Hoover, of _Catholic World Report_, published an interview with Chris on his book and its importance to our understanding of vocational culture today.

Chris’s book merits mention here in part because he, a former Episcopalian now in communion with Rome and an oblate of the Anglican-patrimonial group of Benedictine oblates, the St. Benet Biscop Chapter of St. John’s Abbey Oblates, exemplifies an aspect of the Anglican patrimony few associate with welcoming former Anglicans/Episcopalians into full communion with Rome supported by _Anglicanorum coetibus_ and the Ordinariates.  The Anglican heritage of liturgy and liturgical music most readily comes to mind when many think of the Anglican patrimony.  But Chris, a historian, provides a helpful reminder of the value placed on historical research and reflection in English spirituality.  Chris’s patron saint as an oblate, St. Bede the Venerable, stands at the headwaters of this English and monastic interest in history.  The role of being “deep in history” was also an important element in the Oxford Movement—for Newman and for the other authors of/contributors to the series of Tracts for the Times—and might help explain why a movement (movements usually being short-lived) has had such deep and lasting effects.

The scholarship in _Callings and Consequences_ also merits mention here because it should prove helpful from the Anglican-patrimonial perspective.  The book’s research focuses on sixteenth- and seventeenth-century France.  But Anglican Britain’s relationship with its Catholic past in the area of consecrated religious life was not as fully uprooted, discarded, and erased from memory by Henry VIII’s Dissolution as is often assumed.  For example, John Bramhall (1594-1663) Anglican bishop of Armagh, did not see why monasticism “might not agree well enough with reformed devotion” (The Works of … John Bramhall, vol. 1 [Oxford: Parker, 1844], 120) and Herbert Thorndike (1598-1672) regarded the suppression of monastic life as “a blot on the Reformation” (The Theological Works of Herbert Thorndike, vol. 5 [Oxford: Parker, 1842], 571).  Nicholas Ferrar and Little Gidding (early seventeenth century) were part of the Church of England’s own efforts at a kind of development of doctrine related to vocation.  Though none of these developments can be regarded as mainstream within the Church of England during this era, they point to the possibility of more interest in, and possible contact with, developments in France than has been recognized.  In any case, the often-fraught attempts at reviving consecrated-religious life in the Church of England of the latter half of the nineteenth century often meant looking to religious orders in France—these contacts sometimes well documented—making the value of the research in _Calling and Consequences_ to the Anglican context more apparent.

Of course, part of the value of this research is that it provides a fuller historical context for the development of new and varied forms of consecrated life in the early modern period and for an appreciation of vocational discernment regarding what has been called lay spirituality.  As stated in the overview of _Calling and Consequences_ provided by the publisher, beginning in “the mid-seventeenth century, French Catholic clergy began to promote the innovative idea that everyone, even an ordinary layperson, was called to a vocation or ‘state of life’ and that discerning this call correctly had implications for one’s happiness and salvation, and for the social good.”  To many of us, a vocation squarely in the layperson’s “state of life” hardly sounds innovative.  Here too, however, a basis for deeper historical and theological reflection is needed, which _Calling and Consequences_ will help address.    

Br. John-Bede Pauley, O.S.B.


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