MartinThornton (1915–1986) was an influential Anglican priest, spiritual director, and author. He was an advocate of ascetical or, “applied theology,” which he saw as a body of knowledge and practice that leads the Church and individual Christians to “the Vision of God.” I have found his writing a tonic to the self-indulgent, spiritual sloth to which I am prone and with which I suspect many American Christian have become comfortable. Here are some quotes from his book on English Spirituality:
The Christian goal is the Vision of God and nothing less will ever do: however long the journey, however remote the end may seem, our eyes must be constantly fixed upon it. We must take comfort in the fact that so long as we progress, however slowly, all is well, but progress is meaningless without a destination. All our methods, disciplines, Rules, fasts, mortifications, etc. are pointless unless we move toward our final glory in heaven, where, as St. Augustine teaches, we shall see God and love God and praise God and rest in God. (p. 22-23)
Ascetical theology is Christian doctrine interpreted and applied by a teacher of prayer together with the mental and physical disciplines which nurture and support it. The experience of the Church, codified by her saints and doctors, assures us that this total discipline is necessary as means to an end. Fasting, mortification, and so on are needed, but they do not constitute ascetical theology, they are subsidiary parts of it. Or we may say with John of the Cross that ascetical theology consists in those methods and disciplines which dispose the soul to receive the motions of the Holy Ghost: it is the art of co-operating with grace.
Needless to say, when we speak of teaching prayer, we mean that total spirituality which controls the whole of human life, that which includes not only liturgical and formal private prayer but also habitual recollection colouring and inspiring every minute and every action of a lifetime. To the Christian, then, ascetical theology is the key to the art of living as fully, creatively, and indeed joyfully, as [humanity] is capable. (p. 24-25)