Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Edward Bouverie Pusey: "To think of God becoming man"

Today on the Episcopal Church calendar we remember Edward Bouverie Pusey (1800-1882).  Here's a brief snapshot of his life and witness from the website For All the Saints:

The revival of High Church teachings and practices in the Church of England, known as the Oxford Movement, found its acknowledged leader in Edward Bouverie Pusey. Born near Oxford, August 22, 1800, Pusey was educated at Christ Church College in that city’s University and was elected a Fellow of Oriel College in 1823. Not long afterwards he studied in Göttingen and Berlin, where he became acquainted with many leading German biblical scholars. During the next years he devoted himself t the study of Hebrew, Arabic, and other Semitic languages both at Oxford and in Germany. In 1828 he was ordained deacon and priest and was also appointed Regius Professor of Hebrew and Canon of Christ Church, offices he held for the rest of his life. At the end of 1833 he joined John Keble and John Henry Newman in producing the Tracts for the Times, which gave the Oxford Movement its popular name of Tractarianism.

His most influential activity, however, was his preaching – catholic in content, evangelical in his zeal for souls. He drew on the Greek Fathers and the Christian mystical tradition, and his sermons, while stressing the heinousness of sin and the nothingness of the world, rise to contemplative rapture in their emphasis on the indwelling of Christ, salvation as participation in God, and the blessedness of heaven. But to many of his more influential contemporaries it seemed dangerously innovative. A sermon preached before the University in 1843 on “The Holy Eucharist, a Comfort to the Penitent” was condemned by the vice-chancellor and six doctors of divinity as teaching error, and Pusey was suspended from his university pulpit for two years, a judgment he bore patiently. However, the condemnation secured a wider publicity for the sermon in printed form and drew attention to the doctrine of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, which Pusey defended with devotion. In another university sermon, preached in 1846 on “The Entire Absolution of the Penitent”, he claimed for the Church of England the power of the keys and the reality of priestly absolution. The sermon encouraged the revival of private confession in modern Anglicanism.

In the following excerpt from one of his sermons, Pusey waxes eloquent about the Incarnation.

It surpasses all thought, it amazes, it confounds, to think of God becoming man; the Infinite enshrined within the finite, the Lord of all blended with His servant, the Creator with His creature!  It is a depth of mystery unsearchable.  We must shrink with awe when we pronounce it.  Of old they fell down and worshiped, when, in our Creed, they uttered it - 'God was made Man.'  It was an unimaginable condescension for God to create.  From Eternity, in Eternity, (since it had no beginning), He was Ever-blessed, Love loving Love in the Holy Spirit, Who is the Bond of Love and Unity.  He was, in Himself, All-perfect.  He needed nothing, changed not.  And yet, in that He created, He did a new thing, and formed those who needed Him, as though He needed them.  He formed them to serve Him Who needed them not, and He accepted their service.  It was much, as Scripture saith, to 'humble Himself to behold the things which are in Heaven and earth.'  But that He, Who is All in all, should add something to Himself; that He Who is a Spirit, should take into Himself that which was material; in a world that God (if we realize to ourselves what that word GOD is) should take into Himself what is not GOD; one must stand speechless with awe at so amazing a mystery.  How must we be amazed and scarce believe for joy, to think that that which He so took was man, ourselves, our fallen, sinful, in Him Alone unsinful, unsinning nature.


Rob Scot said...

What a great passage! Thanks for providing it. The more I contemplate the Incarnation, the more I find myself realizing that it is, indeed, "a depth of mystery unsearchable". I would even say that Christian theology, when once one realizes how truly centered it is on the doctrine of the Incarnation, opens itself up to all sorts of charges of irrationality. And yet, this in itself provides a sort of confirmation to my mind. It would be suspicious, indeed, if the Almighty GOD could be contained neatly in a rational and systematic theology.

Bryan Owen said...

Thanks for the comment, Rob. Well said!