Why We Call This Friday Good

 

Well, why Jane Austen did, anway. From a bedtime prayer she wrote:

Give us grace to endeavour after a truly Christian spirit to seek to attain that temper of forbearance and patience of which our blessed saviour has set us the highest example; and which, while it prepares us for the spiritual happiness of the life to come, will secure to us the best enjoyment of what this world can give. Incline us oh God! to think humbly of ourselves, to be severe only in the examination of our own conduct, to consider our fellow-creatures with kindness, and to judge all they say and do with that charity which we would desire from them ourselves.

There are 25 comments.

  1. Mollie Hemingway Contributor

    So I’ve been sitting looking at this prayer for an hour and I hate to be critical but it seems like a better prayer outside of Holy Week than during it. Every Christian’s day should be focused on Christ crucified, but particularly this one. Today is the day we mark the Lord Jesus laying down his life for our sins. It’s a triumphant day, albeit a sad one, because of the forgiveness we receive for — among other things — failing to forbear, be patient, follow Christ’s example, think humbly, be severe only with ourselves, kind to others, non-judgmental, and all the other things Miss Austen rightly calls us to.

    There’s a lot of “be a better person” here and not a lot of “Christ died for you because you’re not.”

    • #1
    • April 6, 2012, at 6:51 AM PDT
    • Like
  2. Mollie Hemingway Contributor

    Actually, after I just harshed on this (as we say in Colorado), I realized that you wrote “From a bedtime prayer …” so the rest of the prayer probably did have a better focus on the Gospel as opposed to the Law. In which case, I retract my criticism!

    • #2
    • April 6, 2012, at 6:56 AM PDT
    • Like
  3. Liver Pate Inactive

    Mollie,

    For your penance, after much due deliberation, I think you may have to spend some time reading the Neo Platonists after Sunday.

    No need to thank me.

    • #3
    • April 6, 2012, at 8:16 AM PDT
    • Like
  4. Elizabeth Kantor Contributor
    Elizabeth Kantor Post author

    You may be right, Mollie. Unfortunately we don’t have anything like “prayers for different liturgical occasions” by Jane Austen, just three bedtime prayers she wrote–& this is actually the most obviously crucifixion-centered passage in any of them.

    But your comment–like several of the other comments here this week–also has me thinking about how Protestant Christianity today tends to differ from JA’s 18th- & early 19th-c. Anglican Christianity. I can see how she’s going to sound very works-oriented to modern Christians who aren’t Catholic–and probably she always would have to actual Lutherans and the Reform tradition folks. But are you also missing something more sacramental in her theology?

    Mollie Hemingway, Ed.: So I’ve been sitting looking at this prayer for an hour and I hate to be critical but it seems like a better prayer outside of Holy Week than during it. Every Christian’s day should be focused on Christ crucified, but particularly this one. . . .

    There’s a lot of “be a better person” here and not a lot of “Christ died for you because you’re not.” · 8 hours ago

    • #4
    • April 7, 2012, at 3:10 AM PDT
    • Like
  5. doc molloy Inactive

     ‘..follow Christ’s example, think humbly, be severe only with ourselves, kind to others..’ Kindness is a most underrated virtue in modern society.

    ‘How kind of you to say..’ But I think someone will develop an app for it.

    Don’t know about being non-judgemental.. has a ring of relativism about it.

    • #5
    • April 7, 2012, at 3:37 AM PDT
    • Like
  6. Liver Pate Inactive

    But are you also missing something more sacramental in her theology?

    A fascinating point, Elizabeth.

    • #6
    • April 7, 2012, at 3:55 AM PDT
    • Like
  7. Elizabeth Kantor Contributor
    Elizabeth Kantor Post author

    Are you joking or serious about nonjudgmental sounding like relativism? I mean, it’s pretty absolute–Judge not, that ye be not judged.

    One of the most important lessons I think Jane Austen has to teach is that high (and absolute) standards are 100% compatible with compassion and respect for other people–& even with being really easy to get along with. She thought morality was self-evident (though not necessarily obvious to people who’d rather not think about it): “respect for right conduct is felt by everyone.” But she also valued self-knowledge (which tends to get you down off your high horse) and “delicacy towards the feelings of other people.” Thus the heroine of Mansfield Park, for example, is “firm as a rock in her own principles” with “a gentleness of character so well adapted to recommend them.”

    doc molloy: ‘..follow Christ’s example, think humbly, be severe only with ourselves, kind to others..’ Kindness is a most underrated virtue in modern society.

    ‘How kind of you to say..’ But I think someone will develop an app for it.

    Don’t know about being non-judgemental.. has a ring of relativism about it. · 54 minutes ago

    • #7
    • April 7, 2012, at 4:41 AM PDT
    • Like
  8. Liver Pate Inactive

    Are you joking or serious about nonjudgmental sounding like relativism? I mean, it’s pretty absolute–Judge not, that ye be not judged.

    I think the comment is referring to the difference between passing judgement on the state of another person’s soul and their eternal salvation — something we are forbidden to do — with the quite logical formation of judgements on people and situations that we rely on for prudence in our day to day lives. 

    I may for example form a judgement that Alice the slightly irritating Spirit of Vatican II lady rushing the sanctuary every Sunday is not someone I want catechizing my children, while at the same time acknowledging that despite her painfully obvious naivete in matters theological she could, in fact, be a great deal closer to eternal beatitude if she were to die tomorrow, where I might be turning the lights out in purgatory at the end of time because of various grudges I keep below the surface, unknown to anyone.

    • #8
    • April 7, 2012, at 4:51 AM PDT
    • Like
  9. Elizabeth Kantor Contributor
    Elizabeth Kantor Post author

    If these lines don’t seem Gospel-centered to you, neither would the whole prayer. But here’s what I’ve been thinking about these lines all day–in between doing the Stations of the Cross &c. at church, seeing my Catholic FB friends’ pictures and meditations on the Crucifixion, & saying the sorrowful mysteries (which pretty much hit the big scenes in Mel Gibson’s The Passion, if you’re not familiar with the rosary): that what Jane Austen is talking about–the forbearance in our day-to-day lives, the too-few-and-far-between moments when we are able to yield in little ways to the people we love, instead of demanding that they yield to us–that’s where we actually experience grace at work. That’s where we touch the Cross, and His blood poured out for us–though I can’t imagine Jane Austen thinking about it so graphically (or quasi-sacramentally). It’s not about the Law, but about being caught up in supernatural charity. Too Catholic?

    Mollie Hemingway, Ed.: . . . the rest of the prayer probably did have a better focus on the Gospel as opposed to the Law. · 10 hours ago
    • #9
    • April 7, 2012, at 4:58 AM PDT
    • Like
  10. doc molloy Inactive

    Elizabeth- I was being slightly tongue in cheek as cultural relativism wasn’t around back in Austen’s time.. Be kind..

    • #10
    • April 7, 2012, at 5:04 AM PDT
    • Like
  11. Profile Photo Member

    Sorry, misunderstood your first point.

    And Mollie said it better than I could – Good Friday is about so much more, than this prayer, which barely seems to touch on the main things of Good Friday. And works righteousness is one of many great sins to be avoided, but of course we can’t avoid sin, we are even in faith, simul iustus et peccator, even though I’m still a sinner, I can be justified, through nothing of my own in the eyes of God, made a son of the Father, and a co-heir with Jesus; that is the glory of Good Friday, in spite of my utter inability to be good, there is merit, unmerited for me and all humankind in the sacrificial love and death of Christ Jesus.

    • #11
    • April 7, 2012, at 5:12 AM PDT
    • Like
  12. Elizabeth Kantor Contributor
    Elizabeth Kantor Post author

    Sorry about that, I get it now!

    doc molloy: Elizabeth- I was being slightly tongue in cheek as cultural relativism wasn’t around back in Austen’s time.. Be kind.. · 25 minutes ago
    • #12
    • April 7, 2012, at 5:30 AM PDT
    • Like
  13. Elizabeth Kantor Contributor
    Elizabeth Kantor Post author

    And I get this one, too!

    doc molloy: Be kind.. · 26 minutes ago
    • #13
    • April 7, 2012, at 5:31 AM PDT
    • Like
  14. Elizabeth Kantor Contributor
    Elizabeth Kantor Post author

    If that were all she meant–that Jesus is a great example–then I wouldn’t be a fan of of the prayer either!

    Mollie Hemingway, Ed.

    Preaching Jesus as a “great example” would not come close to qualifying in Lutheran sacramental theology. We believe the sacraments are God’s works, not ours — he makes us his own in baptism, he forgives us and strengthens our faith in the Lord’s Supper. Our sacramental life and regular reception of Christ’s body and blood certainly sanctify us and enable us to be loving with each other. Is that what I’m missing in this prayer? Her sentiments are noble, I’m just not sure they focus on Christ and what he accomplished for us in His crucifixion to merit being a meditation on why we call this Friday good, as you put it. · 10 hours ago

    • #14
    • April 7, 2012, at 5:43 AM PDT
    • Like
  15. Profile Photo Member

    I do think you might be reading a sacramental attitude into Austen’s religious expression that isn’t really there. From what I’ve read, her family seems to be of the latitudinarian camp, and her three prayers are consistent with that theological outlook, it is not very sacramental at all, but more influenced by 17th and 18th century Anglican rationalists (one of Dean Swift’s main targets in Gulliver’s Travels). I fear that Austen would be as far from your sacramental Catholicism as from my Reformed Anglicanism, she did famously state she did not like evangelicals, but in her letters toward the end of her life this dislike seemed to soften toward admiration if not approbation. 18th century Anglicanism was general hostile to an overly sacramental approach, smacking of Roman-ism, as well as the harsh and emotional “enthusiasms” of the evangelicals. I would be interested in your thought on Michael Giffin’s work in this regard, as he places her within the Anglican mainstream, this to be me is too Catholic a take on her views.

    Elizabeth Kantor:

    But are you also missing something more sacramental in her theology?

    • #15
    • April 7, 2012, at 5:45 AM PDT
    • Like
  16. Elizabeth Kantor Contributor
    Elizabeth Kantor Post author

    “In spite of my utter inability to be good” is the nub, I think. JA seems to think that we can be–though only with the grace of God (through the merits of Jesus’ death) . Which today sounds surprisingly Catholic, for such a very English Protestant lady.

    St. Salieri: Sorry, misunderstood your first point.

    And Mollie said it better than I could – Good Friday is about so much more, than this prayer, which barely seems to touch on the main things of Good Friday. And works righteousness is one of many great sins to be avoided, but of course we can’t avoid sin, we are even in faith,simul iustus et peccator, even though I’m still a sinner, I can be justified, through nothing of my own in the eyes of God, made a son of the Father, and a co-heir with Jesus; that is the glory of Good Friday, in spite of my utter inability to be good, there is merit, unmerited for me and all humankind in the sacrificial love and death of Christ Jesus. · 31 minutes ago

    • #16
    • April 7, 2012, at 5:51 AM PDT
    • Like
  17. Lucy Pevensie Inactive

    I have to say that this is a kind of spirituality that I recognize–it is what I grew up seeing in my father, who was raised Episcopalian with the 1928 prayer book. The thing that you can’t get about this if you haven’t known it personally is how private it is. I think all the backbone of the gospel is there, but it’s not easily expressed.

    • #17
    • April 7, 2012, at 5:53 AM PDT
    • Like
  18. Elizabeth Kantor Contributor
    Elizabeth Kantor Post author

    This seems v. close to what’s going on in the prayer. It seems simply Catholic to me (after all, Henry VIII & his descendants weren’t really very thorough Reformers) rather than neoPlatonist. But then I’m a Catholic, & you’re a neoPlatonist.

    Pseudodionysius: There’s something else at work here. Jane Austen in the prayer that Elizabeth highlights is clearly petitioning God for something and that something is divine grace. I can’t say that she had an explicit doctrine of divine grace fully worked out, that the Anglican theology to which she was exposed would have had, retained or expounded such a doctrine but she’s clearly asking for it. Sacraments are divine signs and channels of grace, but she seems to be intimating not merely beatitude in the next life but some measure of participation in the divine beatitude in this life. 

    It is, dare I say it, hinting at a neoplatonic development of divine participation. A very clever example, Ms. Kantor. · 9 hours ago

    • #18
    • April 7, 2012, at 5:57 AM PDT
    • Like
  19. Liver Pate Inactive

    This seems v. close to what’s going on in the prayer. It seems simply Catholic to me (after all, Henry VIII & his descendants weren’t really very thorough Reformers) rather than neoPlatonist. But then I’m a Catholic, & you’re a neoPlatonist.

    Actually, I am a Catholic as well (a convert within the last 10 years), though I defer to several texts published by CUA Press, including the English translation of Jean Pierre Torrell, OP’s Aquinas’s Summa which gives a thumbnail of the considerable debt Aquinas’s synthesis owes to neo platonists in general and Pseudo-Dionysius in particular though, of course, Aquinas is not an uncritical synthesizer and remains firmly in charge of his own work.

    • #19
    • April 7, 2012, at 6:22 AM PDT
    • Like
  20. Elizabeth Kantor Contributor
    Elizabeth Kantor Post author

    No, what I meant was, does Mollie find Jane Austen’s theology not sacramental enough, somehow?

    No doubt JA would have been weirded out by my riff on the rosary & the blood of Jesus & the supernatural charity in our daily forbearance.

    It’s funny, Jane Austen’s Protestantism–& even the Protestantism I originally grew up with, though it was changing, as the church I was in became more evangelical–seems further removed from something like a Catholic meditation on the wounds of Christ on Good Friday than almost any Protestantism seems today. It was just so buttoned down & modest & self-controlled–“that sweet Protestant world” as I think C.S. Lewis calls it–& also very keen on staying away from anything graphic, for fear it might lead to idolatry.

    St. Salieri: I do think you might be reading a sacramental attitude into Austen’s religious expression that isn’t really there. . . .

    14 minutes ago

    • #20
    • April 7, 2012, at 6:27 AM PDT
    • Like
  21. Elizabeth Kantor Contributor
    Elizabeth Kantor Post author

    And yet you & Mollie, coming from different places in Protestant Christianity both see something wrong JA’s prayer. I gather you both see it as missing the mark in a more or less Catholic direction (you call it latidudinarian, she sees it as Law/works vs. grace/faith). And I can, remembering myself back into my old Protestant theology, sort of see what you mean. Jane Austen seems very unlike the kind of Protestant who is always watching out lest justification-by-works creep in, who sees that as THE great error to be avoided at all costs. I mean, she is very clear on our unworthiness before God, but she also thinks of people as being actually good (as in that very letter where she seems to have softened to evangelicals, where she talks about her niece’s suitor and pooh poohs “there being any objection from his Goodness, from the danger of his even becoming Evangelical”). Which makes me think it likely that Giffin (whose book I have not read) may be closer to the truth on the question than you are.

    St. Salieri: . . . this to be me is too Catholic a take on her views.
    • #21
    • April 7, 2012, at 6:45 AM PDT
    • Like
  22. doc molloy Inactive

    Thank you, Elizabeth. You know what they say, you’ve got to be cruel to be kind.. 

    Cruel to be kind in the right measureCruel to be kind it’s a very good signCruel to be kind means that I love youBaby, got to be cruel, you got to be cruel to be kind..

    Now, I hope you don’t have that ringing in your ears too.. It’s driving me nuts! 

    • #22
    • April 7, 2012, at 6:59 AM PDT
    • Like
  23. Mollie Hemingway Contributor
    Elizabeth Kantor: No, what I meant was, does Mollie find Jane Austen’s theology not sacramental enough, somehow?

    54 minutes ago

    Preaching Jesus as a “great example” would not come close to qualifying in Lutheran sacramental theology. We believe the sacraments are God’s works, not ours — he makes us his own in baptism, he forgives us and strengthens our faith in the Lord’s Supper. Our sacramental life and regular reception of Christ’s body and blood certainly sanctify us and enable us to be loving with each other. Is that what I’m missing in this prayer? Her sentiments are noble, I’m just not sure they focus on Christ and what he accomplished for us in His crucifixion to merit being a meditation on why we call this Friday good, as you put it.

    • #23
    • April 7, 2012, at 7:29 AM PDT
    • Like
  24. Leo Burke Inactive

    In my judgment, the standard for Jane Austin was the natural prototype, the good and noble human being, the gentleman. One can see the original idea of the gentleman in Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics (Bartlett, Collins translation recommended). To understand Miss Austin, it is helpful to begin from this perspective. 

    From this perspective, we see Miss Austin modifies Christianity to serve this natural standard. For example, in the prayer she states:

    “…while it prepares us for the spiritual happiness of the life to come, will secure to us the best enjoyment of what this world can give.”

    Her prayer redirects our concerns. The end is not the “life to come” gained by saintly suffering and sacrifice, but “enjoyment” of “this world.”

    Christianity does supplement this natural understanding by adding a divine sanction which is necessary for those “unfit to hear moral philosophy.” (Shakespeare Troilus and Cressida, Act 2 Scene 2)

    Miss Austin re-forms Aristotle’s idea of the gentleman. Military valor is less necessary. The modern democratic commercial republic requires a more modest gentleman. The Founding Fathers and, especially, Lincoln are perfect examples. Her gentleman is “industrious and rational,” engaged in honorable mutually-beneficial business.

    • #24
    • April 7, 2012, at 8:28 AM PDT
    • Like
  25. Liver Pate Inactive

    There’s something else at work here. Jane Austen in the prayer that Elizabeth highlights is clearly petitioning God for something and that something is divine grace. I can’t say that she had an explicit doctrine of divine grace fully worked out, that the Anglican theology to which she was exposed would have had, retained or expounded such a doctrine but she’s clearly asking for it. Sacraments are divine signs and channels of grace, but she seems to be intimating not merely beatitude in the next life but some measure of participation in the divine beatitude in this life. 

    It is, dare I say it, hinting at a neoplatonic development of divine participation. A very clever example, Ms. Kantor. 

    • #25
    • April 7, 2012, at 8:34 AM PDT
    • Like