Arthur Middleton on Remembering
Memory enables us to retain information and reconstruct past experiences usually for present purposes and is one of the most important ways by which our histories animate our current actions and experiences. It can conjure up long-gone but specific episodes of our lives and is a key aspect of personal identity. It is a source of knowledge, remembering experiences and events which are not happening now. Much of our moral and social life depends on the peculiar ways in which we are embedded in time.
As we begin a new Christian year in which our lives are enmeshed it will be helpful to be reminded of what Bishop Cosin wrote about the Calendar in A Collection of Private Devotions and the special use of it in the Church of God, and what may be termed institulionized memory. It has in it a very beautiful distinction of the Days and Seasons whereof ‘some are chosen out and sanctified, and others are put among the days of the week to number.’ He goes on, quoting from St. Augustine, that the chief use is to preserve a solemn memory, and to continue in their due time, sometimes a weekly and sometimes an annual commemoration of those excellent high benefits, which ‘God both by himself, his Son, and his blessed Spirit, one undivided Trinity has bestowed upon mankind, for the founding and propagating of the Christian Faith and religion which we now profess.’
And this Faith of ours being no other than the same, wherein the holy Angels are set to succour us, and which the glorious company of the Apostles, the noble army of Martyrs, and the goodly fellowship of other God’s Saints and Servants, men famous in their generations before us, have some maintained with the sanctity of their lives, and some sealed with the innocency of their deaths. It is for this cause that the names of these holy and heavenly Saints are still preserved in the Calendar of the Church, there to remain on Record and Register (as of old time they did) where they might also stand as sacred memorials of God’s mercy towards us as ‘forcible witnesses of his Ancient Truth, as confirmations of the Faith which we now profess to be te same that theirs then was. As Provocations to the piety which they then practised and as everlasting Records, to show whose blessed servants they were on earth, that are now like the angels in heaven.
This notion of remembrance extends far beyond nostalgic recall. It embraces a comprehensive range of human experiences, for the purpose of fully integrating faith and life and for the goal of complete obedience to God. Disciplined remembrance is institulionized because we are called to interpret the present circumstances in the light of God’s known faithfulness in the past. As the psalmist keeps reminding us, forgetfulness is one of mankind’s greatest spiritual diseases and leads to wandering from God. We are called to walk backwards into the future always keeping an eye on the past through the festivals and meditations on God’s law and acts.