Why St Alban
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Why St. Alban?
X Ian Hooker, Australia

Perhaps for you, as for me, the St Alban’s Day Eucharist opened with the grand hymn by Bishop James Burton proclaiming St Alban as our patron and our helper, one who unites his prayers with ours. Perhaps, too, on that day you joined in another splendid hymn, which declares ...

We your church profess your greatness Guided by your mighty hand,

and concludes ...

Saint of old and saint today
Lead us, heal us, as
we pray.

Can we sing these words honestly, with full conviction? Do we really hold that a martyr of the third century is potently present today, and is truly an influence in our church, in our lives? Is there anything actually functional in the LCC having adopted Alban as its patron saint, or in so many of our churches having been named after him?

We will all recall the words of the Eucharistic prayer (in the longer form) to God the Son "…consubstantial, co-eternal with the Father…" in which He is acknowledged to be "…working evermore through that most august hierarchy of Thy glorious saints, who live but to do Thy will as perfect channels of Thy wondrous power, to whom we ever offer heartfelt love and reverence". We are familiar also with the terse statement in the Summary of Doctrine: "There is a communion of saints, just men made perfect or holy ones, who help mankind". So also with the passage in the Ascription in the Service of Solemn Benediction, which prefaces the sacramental blessing with praise offered to the Holy Trinity, to our Lord Christ, to the greatest of the angels, and to "…the glorious assembly of just men made perfect, the Watchers, the Saints the Holy Ones...". Are these solely figurative expressions, we might ask, pointing to depths to be explored within ourselves? Or do they point also to some definite and objective reality beyond ourselves?

Our Founders were in no doubt on this issue, and neither have been many others in the short history of the LCC. The Holy Ones were as real to them as hands and feet, nearer than breathing. In truth, as three generations of our leaders have taught, the great saints are our Elders. They are those who have gone before, completed the weary rounds of human incarnations, developed every power, perfected the supreme virtue of universal compassion (Christ in you, the hope of glory), lifted the mind from argumentative reasoning to immediate unerring insight. In the process they have paid every debt, passed through profound suffering, even to the point of some form of physical or psychological crucifixion and have, like their great Exemplar, ascended into elevated realms of consciousness, beyond the need for rebirth.

Granting the likely truth of this teaching in its general application, as most Liberal Catholics are prone to do, we are still left with the questions: "Perhaps the Founders actually knew, but how can we know?" and "Why St Alban?"

At present most of us cannot, in the sense in which the Founders did, know. We may in the context of the general teachings of the Church, go a step further and form a deep conviction that this is so, and hold to it until we can gain direct corroboration - or evidence to the contrary. That is, we may hold to this belief as an act of faith, or a little less positively, as a likely hypothesis. But how can we gain that direct knowledge?

Sooner or later we will gain knowledge of this kind, but we have to accept that it may not be in this lifetime. Other priorities will probably prevent us expending the time, dedication and will power - and readiness for sacrifice - that such knowledge demands. Those who persist and gain direct confirmation that Saint Alban, or another of the Holy Ones, does exist and does overshadow and inspire human aspirants, will doubtless along the way have learned much besides and will be on the way to becoming, themselves, Gnostics, Knowers of hidden truths.

A few such Knowers are identifiable from the recorded history of humankind and others are discernible in the scriptural and anecdotal traditions of different cultures. Doubtless there have been many more who have lived and died without record, whether known as Saints or Rishis, or Zaddikim, or Sheikhs. Doubtless there have been the silent ones, the unknown, unrecognised benefactors of all around them.

As an interesting and relevant example, let us consider Plato, who has been widely recognised as not only a philosopher, but also a Seer - one who had assimilated in youth the Pythagorean philosophy and discipline and then exemplified it in his middle and later years. In describing the education of his ideal man or woman, namely the philosopher, Plato outlined an interior discipline, which those familiar with Eastern Traditions will immediately recognise as yogic...

Through meticulous training, he has to climb the ladder of knowledge, from the world of imagination and belief to the world of understanding or reasoning. He must reach the highest level of knowledge, the intelligible, that is the world of pure forms. From that level, he must finally reach into the first principle, the good, through his power of intuition1.

Placing these ideas within the context of the perspective of our Founders and of course of many contemporary Liberal Catholics, we see that Plato advocated controlled ascent in consciousness beyond mere belief, understanding and reasoning, into the realm of direct knowledge, of archetypal ideas – pure forms in Plato’s terminology. This realm in the thought patterns of the Ageless Wisdom, is also the home of the reincarnating individuality, the Soul. This is the home or level from which the Soul periodically sends forth into the worlds of thought, feeling and physical action, those fragments of herself, which we call her successive personalities. In the process of descent into matter (i.e. incarnation), the personality loses the vast perspective of the Higher Self or Soul. He or she as personality becomes preoccupied with the multifarious necessities of the new incarnation. Not so the Higher Self, the Soul. At that level, we retain the capacity to think in terms of great and complex systems of ideas. Further - and here we have one key to the conviction of our Founders as to the reality and present relevance of the great Saints - at that level we have access to the memory of our own past lives. Therefore also to parts of the past lives of those with whom we have been many times linked - and even of those who have been, over and over, our teachers and guides. Not only that, but for the aspirant, who like Plato's philosopher is able to enter consciously the world of forms or archetypes, the realms of the higher mind, direct access may be gained at that level to the Holy Ones. This should not be thought to preclude at our less elevated level the possibility of initial fleeting contact with one of Them, whom we may especially reverence through more everyday methods of approach such as sustained devotion, or reflective meditation.

The idea of the accessibility of past life memories is present also in classical Indian Tradition. In, for example, Book 3 of The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, the best known resume of the ideas underlying yogic practice, the author includes among the powers attainable by the practised and dedicated yogi, the capacity to recapture the memory of a previous birth2. These days we understand that glimpses of this kind may at times be gained by hypnotic suppression of the normal functions of feelings and mind, and continuing directives to regress until pictures and feelings associated with a previous existence come into focus3.

In our own churches the vision of the vesture of the soul, the Robe of Glory, or the Shining Augoeides as it was known by the ancient Greeks, is often the explanation given for the experience of Peter, James and John when taken up on to the Mount of Transfiguration with the Lord. And we may well try to imagine the splendour of the Soul Vesture of so elevated a Being. Small wonder the three disciples were overwhelmed.

Against this background it may now become more meaningful to suggest again that our Founders - and not only the Founders, but others, also, of our tradition – were so utterly convinced of the continuing presence and benediction of he who was once St Alban, because it was to them a matter of direct knowledge. Much evidence points to the Founders having both been accomplished Seers, at home in the inner worlds, where the restrictions of sense and argument are transcended and where, it may be suggested, they were privileged to be in contact with more than one of the Holy Ones. Moreover, the capacity to read the memory of nature possessed by those able to ascend consciously to the level of the higher mind, the realm of the Soul, accounts for Bishop Leadbeater’s often quoted resume of the extraordinary lives said to have followed St Alban’s resolute sacrifice in Roman Britain5. These lives of achievement and service and sacrifice Bishop Leadbeater saw as concluding Alban's human pilgrimage, enabling him to join the ranks of the guardians of humanity, the Communion of Saints.

The tradition of modern day discipleship remains strong in the Liberal Catholic Church. This may be thought of in terms of a special devotion and responsiveness to Our Lord Christ Himself, or in terms of a definite relationship with one of His Communion of Saints, according to the nature, or type, or Ray of the aspirant. All these approaches are equally valid, equally productive of significant change and development and capacity to serve in the disciple, or would-be disciple.

It was the view of the Founders, corroborated by a number of other informed exponents of the esoteric tradition, that those who are especially drawn to a ceremonial or ritualistic expression of religious truth, who are especially responsive to the idea of collaborating with angelic helpers in invoking and spreading spiritual influence are, as they become less self-centred and more compassionate, eventually drawn into relationship with the member of the Communion of Saints especially concerned with ceremonial rites and worship. It appears certain that this was Bishop Wedgwood’s type or Ray, and that he may be regarded as having been an advanced pupil, or apprentice, of the Holy One we know of as St Alban.

Turning to another of the questions raised, the published writings of the founders enable us to conclude that St Alban took – and still takes – a keen interest in this tiny church dedicated to him in its earliest years.

To those so inclined - and many of us seem to be of different temperament and to be following different lines of development - it may be suggested that one study every reference one can find to this great saint. Meditate upon him, dedicate your efforts in life to the Lord Christ and His brother Alban, and rest assured that if your endeavors are selfless and persevering, you will not only enhance the effectiveness of your work, but you will feel his undeniable presence, support and blessing. Then you will have no difficulty at all in answering the question, "Why St Alban?"

Notes:
1 Nash, P., "The Educated Man", Wiley, New York, 1965, p.5
2 Taimni, I.K., "The Science of Yoga", TPH, Adyar, 1992, p.317
3 It should be noted at this point that the earlier mentioned means of recall arises from natural growth, aspiration and discipline, that is, it comes when appropriate and needed. Recall of previous lives by hypnotic regression depends on handing over control of the person’s psyche to another and may not always prove enlightening or beneficial; there may be a price to pay.
4 Hodson, G., "The Christ Life from Nativity to Ascension", Quest, Wheaton, 1975, p.370
5 Leadbeater, C.W., "The Hidden Life in Freemasonry", TPH, Adyar, 1928, pp.12-15

 

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