We are here standing in a tradition of 172 years marked by faithfulness and authenticity to a vision set by the founders of this holy House. This approach to education has marked the formation of candidates for the priesthood who have learned the sense of place and the expanded heart for mission here. One may call it a ‘philosophy’ of education, but it is better described as a three-way approach to forming witnesses to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
• To be Anglican: stressing the best of the English Church tradition as it is lived out in the Churches which make up the Anglican Communion around the world. “The Anglican Way is a particular expression of the Christian Way of being the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church of Jesus Christ. It is formed by and rooted in Scripture, shaped by its worship of the living God, ordered for communion, and directed in faithfulness to God’s mission in the world. In diverse global situations Anglican life and ministry witnesses to the incarnate, crucified and risen Lord, and is empowered by the Holy Spirit. Together with all Christians, Anglicans hope, pray and work for the coming of the reign of God.” [Theological Education for the Anglican Communion http://www.anglicancommunion.org/ministry/theological/signposts/english.cfm]
The foregoing approach to Anglican identity, life and practice articulated by the Anglican Way Consultation of the Anglican Communion reflects theological formation at Nashotah House. It is demonstrated particularly by a theology grounded in the Incarnation and a zealous concern for the apostolic nature of the Church, a spirituality nurtured by the BOOK OF COMMON PRAYER and liturgical worship reflecting the “beauty of holiness,” from which arises a concern for social justice (especially for the poor and disadvantaged). As Blessed Michael Ramsey (100th Archbishop of Canterbury and Professor at Nashotah House) said, “To be a theologian is to be exposed to the vision of heaven and the tragedy of mankind.”
• To be Benedictine: reflecting the formative influence of Benedictine monasticism on the English Church; particularly a love of learning and a desire for God. James Lloyd Breck, the founder of Nashotah House, wanted his “Mission House” to be a monastic institution. The foundation of a monastic community did not happen, but the deep influences of the Benedictine tradition abide.
Life at Nashotah House is designed to reflect the Benedictine monastic tradition, and to form clergy and lay ministers capable of forming, leading and living in community. Nashotah House is not out to make its students into monks, but the formation at the House does draw on what have been described as the three animating influences of education within the Benedictine tradition. First and foremost, Christ who is encountered anew each day in Scripture and the human person (also consonant with the Anglican and Catholic elements of our educational philosophy). Second, the Rule of Benedict as it is lived in a community shaped by its values. The third influence is the venerable tradition and example of those who have pursued Christian and monastic holiness over the centuries.
The whole point of the Rule is to ground a “school of the Lord’s service,” which will lead the soul willing to listen deeply and learn to “run the way of God’s commandments with expanded hearts and unspeakable sweetness of love.” [RB prol] It is no surprise to see the myriad references to Scripture and the examples of those who have sought God with heart, soul and mind. At the conclusion of the Rule Benedict writes, “On the other hand, he that hasteneth on to the perfection of the religious life, hath at hand the teachings of the holy Fathers, the observance of which leadeth a man to the height of perfection. For what page or what utterance of the divinely inspired books of the Old and the New Testament is not a most exact rule of human life? Or, what book of the holy Catholic Fathers doth not loudly proclaim how we may go straight to our Creator? So, too, the collations of the Fathers, and their institutes and lives, and the rule of our holy Father, Basil—what are they but the monuments of the virtues of exemplary and obedient monks?” [RB 73] What the House seeks to form, then, is the “expanded heart,” and the mind along with it, that will give students the means to live into their ministerial callings. This is the transformation of life that is at the heart of Benedictine monastic life. As a faculty this would entail modeling community for the students, especially reflecting the elements of the “good zeal” of chapter 72 of the RULE.
• To be Catholic: embracing the fullest expression of the undivided Church, as Lancelot Andrewes put it, “One canon [the Bible], reduced to writing by God himself, two testaments, three creeds, four general councils, five centuries, and the series of fathers in that period – the centuries, that is before Constantine, and two after, [that] determine the boundary of our faith.” While these boundaries – in terms of councils, etc. – might be now expanded, they still provide a basis for theological reflection and engagement. Further, we seek to be truly Catholic in the sense of comprehensiveness, which is a major component of Anglican identity, which can embrace a broad spectrum of churchmanship, while holding to a solid orthodox theology. Again, to draw on the RB (chapter 72), we are able to study, to live, and to pray with any who “prefer nothing whatever to Christ.”
The concern for a classical approach to theological education naturally rises out of the focus on Catholicity. The term “classic” has many definitions and understanding its scope and meaning the source of many arguments. David Tracy, the American Roman Catholic theologian, has addressed it rather comprehensively in his The Analogical Imagination. “A classic is a person, text, event, melody, or symbol encountered in some cultural experience that bears a certain excess of meaning as well as certain timelessness; it confronts and provokes us in our present horizon with the feeling that something else might be the case (Tracy, 1981, 101-07). This notion, therefore, is an articulation of the experience one has when encountering a truly significant book, person, work of art, or piece of music. In contrast to mere period pieces, which are meaningful for a time but which one eventually ‘grows out of,’ genuine classics transform one’s horizon. They bring a meaning that is both particular and universal (Tracy, 1994, 115), and give rise to limit-experiences that can bear the power of the whole (Sanks, 713).
This, then, is how we approach formation at Nashotah House and, to paraphrase St. Benedict, run the way of God’s commandments with hearts overflowing with the sweetness of love.