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A book to introduce Rev. Martin Thornton's context, biography, and theology with selected writings from all thirteen of his works.
A book to introduce Rev. Martin Thornton's context, biography, and theology with selected writings from all thirteen of his works.
41 backers pledged $4,781 to help bring this project to life.

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Basic Description

The project is to research and then publish a book on Martin Thornton, a priest in the Church of England (1915-1986) who was an innovator in pastoral and ascetical theology in the English/Anglican tradition.

I ask for your support because the theology of Martin Thornton can really help today's Church. It is theology that is balanced, accessible, ecumenical, and full of love and wisdom. That is Martin Thornton, and his theology can help us move beyond the division and friction and confusion we see in the Church today. Because he roots everything, all of it, in the prayer life.

The book I will write, which is described below in more detail, is tentatively titled Martin Thornton: Introduction and Selected Writings. It will be the first of its kind, even though Thornton has not been an unpopular figure in the Anglican world.

Overall, this project can be said to involve three phases.

1. The Research Phase. I will go to England to do research for this book on Martin Thornton; I will be there this summer for four weeks. Roughly half the funds raised will be for this phase. As part of my research, I'll meet with the Thornton family, meet with Rowan Williams, retired Archbishop of Canterbury, and others. I'll also examine Thornton's collected papers.

2. The Publishing Phase. I will write, edit, publish, and market the book through Akenside Press. Anticipated release date is the Feast of the Presentation of Our Lord 2015 (that is, 2 Feb 2015).

The project proper concludes at this point, but will lead toward 3. The Reissuing Phase. This is more open-ended, in that I will leverage the net income from this book toward offsetting the costs of production to reissue Martin Thornton's 13 books over the coming years, both title by title and in multi-volume collected works.

The covers of my personal copies of each of Thornton's thirteen books
The covers of my personal copies of each of Thornton's thirteen books

That's basically the whole project. And I'm confident saying that this project is without question a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to give a lasting gift to Anglicans everywhere.

With both humility and confidence, I ask for your support.

Note: And if I raise more funds than my goal, I will be able to consider publishing my book along with the reissues of Thornton's work in hardcover volumes. That would be exciting!

Support Thus Far

The initial support I received was from the Thornton family, who extended to me their openness to a stranger in the form of their offer to stay in England to examine Martin's collected papers. They have also granted me permission to reissue all of Martin Thornton's catalog, which is thirteen books (!). What a blessing.

I received more support from my master's thesis adviser at Nashotah House, the Rev. Dr Steven Peay, who upon hearing me describe the invitation from the Thornton's, immediately suggested I try to get over to England because doing so would be very valuable. I also have received very helpful conversation about Thornton from Dr Richard McCarron, my adviser at my other seminary, Catholic Theological Union. Their guidance continues to be a blessing.

I also received support from an anonymous Anglican priest in The Episcopal Church. This person donated all costs of my airfare to and from England. He gave this gift through an invitation extended by Father Thomas Fraser, the rector of my home parish. At some point I hope to meet this priest and extend to him my deep gratitude. Again, what a blessing.

I have received still more support from a scholarship for room and board from Gladstone's Library, where I will stay for the bulk of my four weeks. Gladstone's Library was known until 2010 as St Deiniol's Library, and Martin Thornton served as reader then warden for ten years, until 1968. So I will walk in the same halls, and peruse the same tall bookshelves, that Thornton did when he was writing several of his seminal works. What a blessing!

Exterior of Gladstone's Library (nee St Deiniol's Library)
Exterior of Gladstone's Library (nee St Deiniol's Library)

And finally I have received significant emotional support from my wife, Hannah Dallman, and my four girls (Twyla, Isadora, Oona, and Marla), along with my father, mother, and brother, as well as my relatives. Many colleagues I know through my two seminaries (Nashotah House and Catholic Theological Union) as well as colleagues I know through the Thornton email discussion group, and those known only through Facebook and Twitter: many, many people have expressed their solidarity with my work that aims, in the words of the Rt Rev. Daniel Martins, Episcopal Bishop of Springfield, Illinois, to "keep Martin Thornton in front of Anglican eyes." Blessings upon blessings!

To everyone — THANK YOU! And let's keep at this, because MARTIN THORNTON CAN STILL TEACH US. And taught by him, we become better equipped to help ecclesia anglicana and its heirs to regain stability and thrive for another 2,000 years.

The Longer Story

As I said, I have been invited by Thornton's family to visit western England and Wales to meet them and interview them about Martin and his work. They have generously opened their doors to me. While I am there, I will closely examine and scrutinize his collected papers, interview family, friends, and acquaintances, and investigate everything I can about Thornton's life, career, and theology. I plan to do my research primarily at Gladstone's Library in Wales, and secondarily in a shorter stay at St Stephen's House in Oxford.

The Thornton family: Monica, Magdalen, and Martin (1985)
The Thornton family: Monica, Magdalen, and Martin (1985)

Immediately this will issue in a book tentatively titled, Martin Thornton: Introduction and Selected Writings. The purpose of this book is to advance his theology and demonstrate its relevance to contemporary Christianity, especially Anglicanism. The book will invite readers to get to know Thornton's theology more than they already do. Many people in fact do know of Thornton, and on the other hand, still more have never heard of him. Those that do often have read a couple of his books, which they love and treasure. I want to make it evident that ALL of Thornton's corpus should be part of the conversations within Anglicanism and Christianity more broadly.

My goal is simple: that everyone who is passionate about the Anglican Church be aware of the depth and breadth of Martin Thornton's theology. He is as good as it gets in teaching about the liturgical and sacramental prayer life.

I estimate now that Martin Thornton: Introduction and Selected Writings will be 150 pages. It will have two sections. The first third will be an in-depth introduction that results from my ongoing research into the milieu in which Thornton lived, his biography, as well as my study of his theological principles. The rest of the book will be excerpts from each of Thornton's thirteen books.

Hence this book will be useful in two ways. On one hand, it will be useful for those who are learning about Thornton for the first time. And on the other hand, it will be useful for those who know some of Thornton, and little or nothing of the rest.

What I hope the book does is "whet the appetite" to want to study Thornton's theology — and to bring it into Anglican parishes. I'm talking whetting the appetite of bishops, priests, deacons, lay formation leaders (catechists), spiritual directors, and ordinary (and heroic) lay Anglicans. I want this book to make you want to dive into Thornton's corpus of erudite, accessible, and brilliant theology.

In the third phase, I plan to reissue all of these books (all are out of print; some are available through Wipf and Stock reprints, although significant typographical problems originating elsewhere remain uncorrected). But makes sense to do so after I publish Introduction and Selected Writings, so that people can first thoughtfully preview excerpts and see something of the big picture of Thornton's theology before diving into particular works, although doing that is the ultimate publishing goal.

A Reflection

It is fascinating that Thornton is both so known and so unknown — a presence in Anglicanism beloved by many and invisible to many more. Martin Thornton, who died in 1986 at the age of 71, was a man whose work was endorsed by the likes of Archbishop Michael Ramsey and Dr John Macquarrie. A parish priest in the Church of England for many years, he also taught as an adjunct professor in two stints at The General Theological Seminary, where he received an Honorary Doctorate of Sacred Theology, along with other theological schools. He was for ten years Canon Chancellor at Truro Cathedral, specializing in spiritual direction. He was recognized and celebrated during his life, yet he himself said that he felt like he was something of an outsider in the Church of England.

Thornton, second from the right, receiving his Honorary Doctorate from The General Theological Seminary in 1966
Thornton, second from the right, receiving his Honorary Doctorate from The General Theological Seminary in 1966

Few now know that he was first a farmer and was an early adopter of organic/sustainable agriculture. Later, he was an early adopter of the theology of Julian of Norwich and Margery Kempe, as well as contemplative practices for ordinary Christians. I would still further and say he was an early adopter of an "ecumenical Catholic Anglicanism" in light of the Second Vatican Council, and he was an early adopter of the brilliant theology of John Macquarrie, whose "existential-ontological" dogmatic writing changed the direction of Thornton's theology.

Through it all, Thornton's voice is that of sanity, balance, and honesty. His writing is by turns erudite, witty, "homely", and prophetic. He's been described as "strictly orthodox and strictly radical," but that only begins to describe him. For him, to be "orthodox" is to be "devoutly experimental", and vice versa. His career began just after World War II, and he absorbed the impact felt by the entire western Church of emerging existential philosophy, the Liturgical Movement, the Second Vatican Council, the fall of "Christendom" and rise of "post-Christianity", increasing secularization, and the reality of smaller and smaller average Sunday attendance in English pews.

Academically, one would situate his work with that of John Macquarrie, Michael Ramsey, ressourcement, Louis Bouyer, G.K. Chesterton, Karl Rahner, and Evelyn Underhill. He is certainly among the most well-read Anglican theologians of the last 150 years.

And in English Spirituality, his magnum opus, he offered a comprehensive interpretation of the theological roots and dynamics within Anglicanism the likes of which have never before or since been expounded with as much clarity, detail, and thoughtfulness. It is almost a mission statement for the future of Anglican theological study, in seminaries and in parishes.

Here he reinvigorates the discipline of ascetical theology, seen as the articulation of the Church's corporate experience, in his exceptional commentary on the works of Sts Augustine, Benedict, Bernard, Aquinas, and Anselm, as well as the likes of Hugh of St Victor, William of St Thierry, the Ancrene Riwle, Walter Hilton, Julian of Norwich, Richard Rolle, Margery Kempe, Richard Hooker, Jeremy Taylor and other Caroline Divines, John Keble, and many more — the whole point of which is to demonstrate that the following statement is not idyllic speculation but simple fact:

In other words, his objective is to reinvigorate Anglicanism through the teaching of how it came to be in the first place — in a sense, the history of its prayer life —and how it can continue to live, thrive, and offer itself to the wider Christian community.

In my very humble opinion, he is a true Doctor and Saint of Holy Church, and will come to be recognized as such by more and more people as the exposure of this work increases.

Yet what he was all about was simple: he wanted to teach people how to teach the prayer life. He lived and wrote so that ordinary Christians could grasp the richness, profundity, humility, and rightness of faith in Christ Jesus as expressed and developed in the English lands, from the first days of Christianity all the way through into the 20th century. Although he never rejected the provocative formulations of early career (inspired by E.L. Mascall, Rudolf Otto, and Evelyn Underhill, among many others) by the end of his life his articulation of the Christian prayer life had grown, matured, and deepened into one thoroughly ecumenical, contemplative, biblical, creedal, and exciting. He believed that the primary pastoral need today is for competent spiritual direction, and for him, Anglicanism properly understood is perfectly suited to that task with its bulk of amassed spiritual riches, anchored in the Prayer Book, and a deeply ingrained DNA of "family" life in the local parish.

Thornton's writing is simply unparalleled in all of Christianity. A substantial dimension of my God-given vocation is to help make all of this evident not merely to academics and bishops, but to ordinary, heroic Anglicans — again, I ask for your support!

Thornton's gravestone in Crewkerne, England.
Thornton's gravestone in Crewkerne, England.

The Budget

There are two categories of my budget.

The first is Travel Expenses. These involve the remaining room/board expenses at Gladstone's Library and St Stephen's House, my per diem food expenses, costs for local transportation, copying expenses, and general contingencies.

The second category is Publishing Expenses. These involve the costs for ISBNs and Barcodes, the payment to the book designer, the costs of the first print run, and advertising/marketing costs once the book is available.

Risks and challenges

The primary challenge I will face after the project is successfully funded is negotiating it with the demands and (joyful) obligations I have as a husband and father. Although I will complete the coursework for both of my master's degrees this spring, and graduate from one of my seminaries in May, and hence have more free time starting this summer, nonetheless I will have to find a stable source of income to be able to afford my family's regular expenses. Raising four girls and being an engaged husband and father, all of which are fundamental covenants in my life and part of my God-given vocation, require quite a bit of time, effort, and energy. So negotiating these demands will be a significant challenge.

As far as the risks that will come with completing this project, these have to do with the unpredictability of the publishing industry. Everyone knows it is a trouble industry, and yet people still love their books, and will always (I believe) love their books. A specific risk I face is that I might not be able to penetrate to "clutter" of the contemporary media environment, and not be able to market my book effectively.

The good news on all fronts is that Akenside Press has very, very low overhead and can wait patient for the book sales to accumulate. I take as much advantage as possible from the free advertising bestowed through social networking (Twitter, Facebook) and the low-cost advertising allowed by the web. I am also 100% committed to the cause of Akenside Press — renewing Catholic reality in Anglican parishes — and will see through any challenge I face till the end. Too much of my life, energy, and thoughts are invested in Martin Thornton for me to possibly give it up. Anyone who knows me is well aware of how much Martin Thornton's theology has opened and changed my heart toward Christ.

Let me conclude with a prayer.

Heavenly Father, you are the source of all thoughtfulness and grace. We give you profound thanks for the gift of the life and theology of Martin Thornton, a priest whose whole life was lived to the greater glory of your name. If it be your will, continue to guide us your children as we gather and build a community of people who study Martin's theology and use it to bring others toward closer relationship with the joy and salvation of your Son, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, our comforter — one God, now and forever. Amen.

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    Backers at this level will receive the above PLUS an Akenside Press refrigerator magnet with an image of Martin Thornton.

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    Backers at this level will receive the above PLUS an Akenside Press coffee mug with an image of Martin Thornton — perfect for reading a Thornton book on your favorite comfy chair.

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    Backers at this level will receive the above PLUS a copy of "Martin Thornton: Introduction and Selected Writings" autographed by Matthew Dallman and Monica Thornton on a bookplate designed by Akenside Press. Expected pub. date: Jan 2015.

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    Backers at this level will receive the above PLUS one copy of all 13 books by Thornton as they are published by Akenside Press, and autographed by Matthew Dallman.

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- (30 days)