Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi

Lex orandi, lex credendi 

One of the books I’ve returned to over and over again throughout the years is the small yet dense little powerhouse Earthen Vessels by the ex Catholic turned Orthodox Hieromonk Gabriel Bunge.  In it he shows just how closely the inner disposition of your heart somehow is greatly affected by the way you pray–both posture and gesture as well as content. He lays this out with devastating clarity in the concluding chapter of his little book.

The traditions of the Church, of Scripture, and of the Fathers have left us an abundant treasure, not only of texts, but also of customs , forms, gestures, and so on, associated with prayer. In the modern age— especially in Western Christianity—little of it remains.  Earthen Vessels page 187.           

He goes on to mention that for many this loss of Tradition means we need to move on, taking up things like Zen and the like, but he says ( and rightly in my experience) that it’s false to say that ” faith” and ” discipline” are separate and stand independently.  In essence, many moderns believe that one can just as easily pick and choose how to pray even if it’s from a different religion or none and still remain safely within ones own faith.

In another passage he says ( of traditions):

…those “practices” that were discussed on the preceding pages constitute the formation of biblical-Christian prayer, as this process was realized in the course of salvation history. They are in no way “time-bound externals”, but rather the ” earthen vessels” in which the imperishable ” treasure ” has come down to us. Page 192

He’s saying that things like facing east, scripture and various ecclesiastical traditions that have been handed on are part and parcel of the Faith. Inner and Outer are related. Like the Old Believers who rightly saw the same thing, one cannot just willy nilly change things or practice Buddhism or some other religion in the context of some form of Christianity and remain safely Christian or within the received tradition. I have experienced this myself.

The Traditions are part of the language of our Faith, the guideposts, signs and symbols pointing us Heavenward along our path, a path I might add that we are receiving from our ancestors, not creating for ourselves.

Therefore the loss of this ” language” unquestioningly leads to speechlessness , that is, the inability to communicate to others that ” meaning” which we ourselves no longer have experienced existentially. Today this is called a ” break in the tradition” : the inability to understand the ” language” of our Fathers in Faith, and our mute helplessness before our own children.

Nevertheless, nature abhors a vacuum. The parents might be content to have lost the “way”, but their children will not be reconciled so easily to the idea. They search for new “ways”, unaware that they thereby “introduce things that are foreign to our path”, thus exposing themselves to the danger of becoming, themselves “strangers to the ways of our Saviour”(Evagrius).

The fact is, whether you like it or not, that the choice of the “means” determines the result. Anyone who devotes himself to “practices” and “methods” that are not home grown in the soil of his own faith will imperceptibly be led toward that ” faith” which developed these practices as a genuine expression of itself.  Page 193-194

I could organize this better and delve deeper into it but I’ve not got the patience for such an academic exercise, although I sometimes wish I did. In my opinion this book and these conclusions are rock solid and ought to be read and pondered deeply by any would be serious Tradition minded Christian.

One thing that led me to really seriously consider leaving Catholicism ( among other things) was really engaging with this book. If how you pray determines how you believe, than what you see in modern Catholicism today perhaps stems from this papally sanctioned tinkering and abandoning the traditions of the Western Patrimony. I sometimes wonder if writing this book was one major catalyst in Father Bunge’s own turn to abandon Roman Catholicism.

In my own experience what Bunge says holds true, as I have been  through a lot of struggles in my own prayer life, vacillating between the Benedictine Office, the various Eastern Prayer styles and even if I’m honest Zen Buddhism and mystical Islam. While I never seriously wanted to become a Zennist or a Muslim on a certain level whenever I read deeply from either Muslim or Buddhist texts, or in the case of Buddhism tried to sit meditation I felt drawn somehow by the power of those traditions. There is great danger in not sticking to something, as you will be drawn almost in spite of yourself even if you can pull away intellectually. This is just me being brutally honest.

In terms of Christian styles I’ve been drawn back into some sort of relationship with Rome every time I’ve seriously engaged with the Office, even re taking up western stuff like the rosary, although with no traditional Latin monasteries or parishes near by the church cognitive dissonance of trying to live a tradition minded Latin Christian existence in a church and a parish that has all but abandoned it is very difficult.

In praying the Old Rite Horologion and Old Orthodox Prayerbook and the Jesus Prayer I’m led deeper into the East. This is really the practice I’ve stuck with for a long time and the one I will ( God willing) stick to.

So, to my readers, what’s been your experience of this business of Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi, most especially in your private prayer life? Does what Bunge say resonate on any level? Do you disagree with him or me? Why? I’m interested in discussing this.

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11 thoughts on “Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi

  1. John says:

    I’ve also read Bunge’s “Earthen Vessels” and it definitely gave me new insight into importance of tradition and prayer rule (fidelity to prayer) and engaging the entire body and soul and mind in prayer. I’m a simple beginner and need to constantly struggle to remain faithful to my prayer life.

    What you say in your post reinforces my belief that the distinction between small “t” traditions and large “T” traditions so commonly put forth by Catholic apologists at this time is a false distinction. Small t traditions reinforce the faith. I’ve always believed that and Bunge’s book and your post confirm this for me. In my own personal experience, it seems when I am most faithful to small t traditions like regular daily prayer, spiritual reading, fasting, church services, etc is when I feel most committed to my faith.

    I’ve gone back and forth between Byzantine and Roman praxis and prayer. I have found the content of Byzantine liturgy and especially the hymns of the divine office (troparia and canons, etc) to move me to a deep sense/ feeling/ attitude of repentance. I think repentance is the essence of Christianity and it’s more obvious in Byzantine spirituality, at least in my experience of Byzantine prayer.

    Because I haven’t found a Byzantine Catholic or Orthodox parish where I’ve felt at home and been able to connect with the parishioners at a human level (amongst other reasons) though has resulted in my moving back and forth between Byzantine and traditional Roman practices and not being able to take a definitive step towards the East.

    Please feel free to NOT post my comment if it doesn’t make much sense to you. It’s also not really answering your question but it is simply a compilation of some thoughts your post triggered.

    • John I definitely feel where you’re coming from. Even before ever picking up Earthen Vessels I too had a sense that the distinction between big T and small t Traditions was a false one. While I don’t necessarily think the Old Believers are healthy in every respect I feel like on some level they get this in a very deep way, a fact that has given me an appreciation for them and their ways.

      Even amongst Nikonian Orthodox there’s this sense that, as you say, small t Traditions and big T Traditions interpenetrate and go hand in hand. Sadly I do not at all see this deep respect and reverence for Tradition in the broad sense amongst even the most staunchly traditional within the Roman Church.

      It’s hard when the human element is missing, and when you can’t find a parish to really feel at home. I’m in the same boat, although at this point I can no longer in good faith receive communion in the Roman Catholic Church, as I’ve become very convinced on a certain level that I do not share faith and communion with Rome. It’s not easy because there’s a decent new Rite Roman parish a stones throw from me, but my conscience would reproach me.

      Lately also my prayer life has kind of dried up. Perhaps acedia has set in, and I must just plug through it. I’m going to try to post soon about this profound dryness I’ve been going through. At any rate, thanks for sharing.

  2. I read Fr. Gabriel’s book almost a year ago from start to finish (a rare occurrence with books these days for me, unfortunately, but I just could not put this one down!). Your post has prompted me to pick it up again.

    I think you’re right: it’s definitely one of those wellsprings that you end up coming back to over and over again for refreshment and insight.

    I share John’s experience inasmuch as I have personally found Byzantine styles (and content) of prayer to be more conducive to my own (attempts at) repentance, and every time I have wanted to excise them for the sake of the integrity of my family’s Latin-rite faith and praxis, to stop confusing the rest of my family, or to stop “pretending to be Orthodox or Eastern” when I’m a Roman Catholic, they have always crept back.

    I would inevitably start feeling like my spirit is foundering without the Jesus Prayer and other basic prayers (the standard “intro” prayers, the Small Paraklesis, or the Akathist to the Sweetest Lord Jesus). They (and they alone to date) have given me something perhaps akin to the “warmth of the heart” I have read about in St. Seraphim of Sarov; a noetic sense of not just being in the presence of God, but of God’s overpowering presence within and all around me. (Sorry; this is the closest I can come to explain something that seems inexplicable to me.)

    • I appreciate you sharing this Tom. While I love the Benedictine Breviary and a handful of Roman Catholic things like Gregorian Chang or the Rosary I too feel most at home amongst Byzantine style prayers.

      What’s interesting is that I’ve found that how you pray really and truly informs how you believe. There’s a richness and depth to the Byzantine style that’s just breathtaking. I’ve always told people to stay away from theology books and just pray the Jesus Prayer and get a good Orthodox Prayerbook. It’s about all you need.

  3. William Tighe says:

    I have several copies of an Anglican book on the papacy which might be of interest to you, *The Church and the Papacy: A Historical Study* by Trevor Gervase Jalland (London, 1944); I will gladly send one of them to you if it would like it.

    I used to correspond with the Rev’d Laurence Wells, the Rector of the Anglican Catholic Church in Jacksonville, but I haven’t been in touch with him for some years.

    William Tighe
    History Department
    Muhlenberg College
    Allentown, PA

    • Dr. Tighe-

      Thanks for stopping by and thanks for the offer. Honestly I’d love to check out that book. I’m always open to reading something that might be able to give me better understanding of a certain issue,in this case the papacy.

    • Christ is risen!

      Dear Dr. Tighe: do you still have extant copies of said book by Jalland regarding the Church and the Papacy? If so, may I request a copy? I am happy to give you my address privately via email, where I can be reached at tbako2 (at) gmail (dot) com.

      Thank you!

      • By the way, if Dr. Tighe cannot find another copy of that I can send you the one he sent me. I want to read it through one more time first though.

      • Dr. Tighe told me via email that he has given away his last copy. If you’d like to share yours with me, I would happily take you up on you r offer — on your timeline, of course. (We are in the process of moving now in the next few weeks anyway, so I wouldn’t have anything shipped anywhere at this time.)

      • I would happily have sent that to you but I have bad news—my best friends puppy actually chewed it up last week. It sounds like a fake story but it’s not. I was pretty upset.

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