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Prayer of the week

25 October 2013

Life and learning go together, says Ben Stephens, even in an era of instant opinion


Almighty God, who didst raise up thy servant Edward Bouverie Pusey, to contend by his life and learning earnestly for the truth of the Incarnation of thy Son: Grant that this House which is established for his memorial may ever serve to thy glory, by the maintenance of the Catholic Faith, and by the preaching of thy Holy Gospel, through the same thy Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Prayer of Pusey House

THE early adherents of the Oxford Movement were known as Puseyites. Edward Bouverie Pusey was something of a 19th-century religious celebrity, although it was a status that he neither desired nor embraced. Regius Professor of Hebrew at Oxford, and a Canon of Christ Church, he became seen as the figurehead and de facto leader of the movement after Newman's secession and Keble's retirement into parish life.

Much in demand as a spiritual director, Pusey was quietly instrumental in restoring many of the riches of the Anglican sacramental tradition to the life of the Church of England, and championed the revival of the religious life. When he died in 1882, it was decided that some sort of national memorial should honour his memory and continue his work, and, to that end, leading figures in Church and State brought about the founda- tion of Pusey House in Oxford in 1884.

The Revd Dr George Westhaver is due be installed as the 11th Principal of Pusey House tomorrow; and this prayer sets out the mission statement of this place of "piety and learning" that has nurtured the faith of generations of young people who have worshipped in its chapel, studied in its library, and been cared for by its priests.

We should always thank God for those whose example of prayerful leadership has shone in the history of the Church, and for those places that work to maintain a Christian presence in universities, and an academic presence in the Church. Although the prayer is not well known, and not widely used except by those who know and love Pusey House, it suggests a model of prayer for other institutions.

When we pray for the places of learning with which we have been associated, we should remember more widely all who serve in research and education. In an age when the tweet, sound-bite, and status-update obscure the need for depth in reflection and public comment, God continues to raise up scholars to witness to the truths that he has revealed in every age. As this prayer suggests, the Oxford Movement maintained that there was no higher truth than that of the incarnation: "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us" (John 1.14).

Believing in the incarnation of the Second Person of the Trinity in the historical figure of Jesus Christ is the distinctive sign of Christian faith; and was the prime concern of the Catholic Creeds and the Ecumenical Councils, on which our self-understanding as Anglicans rests.

The existence of academic institutions that serve the Church reminds us that, according to our capacities, serious and thoughtful engagement with our faith is important to our growth in holiness. If Christians are in the business of truth, efforts of this kind are necessary, with God's help, if we are to have a faith that is founded not on feelings or fashion, but on firm foundations that will remain when we are tested.

Dr Ben Stephens is a freelance writer and theologian.

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