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Ruskin, John - Extracts from Letters to the Clergy

Identifier

005132

Type of spiritual experience

Background

 In one of the more ironic events in Ruskin's life, he was asked by the Christian church council to first speak to their council in what might have ben a sort of debate and then when he declined because of his poor health, to at least write a few letters stating his views.

He agreed to a few letters and these resulting letters make wonderful reading.  Their contents provoked reams and reams of comment from the council itself, none of which is worth including, as they appear to have both not understood and ignored what he said and worse, to have used it to push their own views.  This rather leads one to suspect the motive of those wanting Ruskin's views, and leads to the suspicion that the whole exercise was a sort of failed publicity stunt by the established Church.  One that in the end did not quite turn out as planned.

The following paragraphs are all related to the Lord's Prayer and his interpretation of what it really meant

A description of the experience

Extracts From Letters to the clergy.

On don’t hurt …………Let the clergyman only apply--with impartial and level sweep--to his congregation the great pastoral order:
"The man that will not work, neither should he eat;"
and be resolute in requiring each member of his flock to tell him what--day by day--they do to earn their dinners;--and he will find an entirely new view of life and its sacraments open upon him and them.  For the man who is not--day by day--doing work which will earn his dinner, must be stealing his dinner; and the actual fact is, that the great mass of men calling themselves Christians do actually live by robbing the poor of their bread, and by no other trade whatsoever; and the simple examination of the mode of the produce and consumption of European food--who digs for it, and who eats it--will prove that to any honest human soul..

On the true meaning of confession……………  the English Liturgy, evidently drawn up with the amiable intention of making religion as pleasant as possible to a people desirous of saving their souls with no great degree of personal inconvenience, is perhaps in no point more unwholesomely lenient than in its concession to the popular conviction that we may obtain the present advantage, and escape the future punishment, of any sort of iniquity, by dexterously concealing the manner of it from man, and triumphantly confessing the quantity of it to God…………….

On the need to say sorry and mean it…………….. our clergy need not be surprised at the daily increasing distrust in the public mind of the efficacy of Prayer, after having so long insisted on their offering supplication, at least every Sunday morning at eleven o'clock, that the rest of their lives hereafter might be pure and holy, leaving them conscious all the while that they would be similarly required to inform the Lord next week, at the same hour…Among the much rebuked follies and abuses of so-called "Ritualism," none that I have heard of are indeed so dangerously and darkly "Ritual" as this piece of authorized mockery of the most solemn act of human life, and only entrance of eternal life—Repentance….

On desires and opportunities……….. It is surely scarcely necessary to say, .. what the holy teachers of all nations have invariably concurred in showing,--that … no man can ask honestly or hopefully to be ‘delivered from temptation’, unless he has himself honestly and firmly determined to do the best he can to keep out of it. But, in modern days, the first aim of all Christian parents is to place their children in circumstances where the temptations (which they are apt to call "opportunities") may be as great and as many as possible; where the sight and promise of "all these things" … may be brilliantly near………..

On the Great Work……….. I believe very few, even of the most earnest, using the petition

Thy kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven .... 

realize that it is the Father's--not the Son's--kingdom, that they pray may come,--although the whole Lord’s prayer is foundational on that fact:

For Thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory.

And I fancy that the mind of the most faithful Christian is quite led away from its proper hope, by dwelling on … Christ … Their prayer is to be for the greater kingdom …And, though the greatest, it is that everlasting kingdom which the poorest of us can advance.

 On Destiny and challenges ………… Perhaps the most subtle and unconscious way in which religious teachers have [confused people] is in never telling their people the meaning of the clause in the Lord's Prayer …:

 "Thy will be done."

They allow their people to use it as if their Father's will were … to follow comfort and wealth, instead of explaining to them that the first and intensest article of their Father's will was … to understand what the will of the Lord was, and to do all they could to get it done. Whereas one would think, by the tone of the eagerest preachers nowadays, that they held their blessed office to be that, not of showing men how to do their Father's will on earth, but how to get to heaven without doing any of it either here or there!………..

 Forgive us our trespasses  …….In connection with the more accurate translation of "debts," rather than "trespasses," it would surely be well to keep constantly in the mind of complacent and inoffensive congregations, that in Christ's own prophecy of the manner of the last judgment, the condemnation is pronounced only on the sins of omission:

 "I was hungry, and ye gave Me no meat."

On forgiveness - I have been very long before trying to say so much as a word about the sixth clause of the Lord’s Prayer; for whenever I began thinking of it, I was stopped by the sorrowful sense of the hopeless task .. clergymen had, nowadays, in recommending and teaching people to love their enemies, when their whole energies were already devoted to swindling their friends.  ………. in any days, past or now, the clause is one of such difficulty, that, to understand it, means almost to know the love of God which passeth knowledge. 

On Prayer - And is it not for want of this special directness and simplicity of petition, and of the sense of its acceptance, that the whole nature of prayer has been doubted in our hearts, and disgraced by our lips; that we are afraid to ask God's blessing on the earth, when the scientific people tell us He has made previous arrangements to curse it; and that, instead of obeying, without fear or debate, the plain order,
"Ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full,"
we sorrowfully sink back into the apology for prayer, that "it is a wholesome exercise, even when fruitless,"  

                                    Ever affectionately yours,

                                                         J. RUSKIN.

The source of the experience

Ruskin, John

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