Saturday, December 02, 2006

more on the blog challenge

There have been some good, very thoughtful comments on the Blog Challenge post of a few days ago, attempting to get a theologically coherent account of catholicity from liberals. Here are some notable responses:

From our own Fr. Thorpus we have what strikes me as a very Anglican (in the good sense) account of patristic catholicity:

My understanding of the historical roots of the term 'catholic' is this: it had two aspects. If you wanted to be recognized as a part of the Church (back when there was considerd to be only one) you had to 1. hold Apostolic doctrine, as defined by the Apostles themselves and expressed in the New Testament and the Creeds; and 2. fit your church into the visible structure of Apostolic leadership - i.e. the historic episcopate, or Apostolic Succession. Those two things were it: apostolic doctrine, apostolic leadership. Nothing about liturgical standardization, nothing about customs and practices. Apostolic Doctrine and Apostolic leadership. These two things were shared throughout the Patristic Church and were the basis for differentiation between the true Church and all the spin-offs, gnostic and otherwise.

As Fr. Thorpus is not a theological liberal, his answer isn't in the running for the prize.

Next we have the following from Hoosierpalian. I thought this very forthright and coherent. Its coherence is not, however, theological. It is less an apologia for some notion of liberal catholicity, and more an explanation of the ubiquitous lack of such. I concur with its main points, which I think draw out the point that the liberal / conservative divide among ECUSA laity is much more political / social than it is theological. There is a great dearth in ECUSA, on all sides, of good catechesis. Here is Hooseirpalian's comment:

As I said on my comment to the post above, I am a big-time "broad and hazy" liberal. I arrived here by clicking on a link from another blog that I regularly follow. I personally think that making a "theologically coherent" statement on any point of Christian faith is like herding cats. We can't do it. Those of us pewsitters on board with the "New Religion" take pride in the fact that we listen to many different points of view. If you wanted to nail the "broad and hazy" contemporary Episcopalian down and ask him what they think "catholic" means in the creeds, he would give you a one word answer--"universal." And then he'd get impatient and bored if you wanted to define it further. Maybe he might say that "catholic" means all people throughout time and space who have believed in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and in the two sacraments of baptism and holy communion.
I love these folks. I'm one of them. But if you want to make the charge that we've become intellectually lazy or lukewarm in our religion, I can agree. We need to crack open our Bibles, read the current and past Books of Common Prayer, become serious about actually living a life of prayer.

Lastly, there is the following trenchant analysis from Bernard Brandt. It doesn't qualify for the prize either, as it doesn't come from a defender of the New Religion, but from a detractor.

I suppose that it all depends on how liberals define catholic. If they define the word catholic in the sense that Lewis Carroll's Humpty Dumpty does (i.e.: "When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean - neither more nor less."), then, like Humpty Dumpty, they can make the word catholic mean whatever they want it to. Of course, we can play the same game, and define TEC and its presiding bishopess as duplicitous, or mendacious, or hypocritical. Oh, what fun!

Of course, if they define the word catholic in the way that St. Vincent of Lerin did (Quod semper, quod ubique, quod ab omnibus creditur), they have somewhat more of a problem. One can then ask for answers to simple statements of fact, such as: was it always believed that homosexual activity was tolerated or beloved of by God? was it everywhere believed that abortion was a proper choice of action by Christians? was it believed by everyone that contraceptive methods were approved of by or for Christians? and so on.

If the word catholic is defined from its first etymological meaning (kath 'olos, or universal), then they have yet more of a problem. How can they claim that a church of several million who have adopted beliefs found nowhere in Christiandom until the twentieth century, and even then only by a small minority, can in any way be considered universal? The question, of course, is rhetorical: they can't.

And of course, there is the second etymological definition of the word catholic as complete, which has been espoused by some Orthodox theologians. But in the case of some of the statements by Schori, this definition would be applicable only if the word complete were the descriptive adjective to the following phrase: complete nonsense[.]

Lets continue the discussion.


Hoosierpalian said...

I started daily Bible reading as a Lenten discipline in 2003. 2006 is the year that I finally will have read the King James version cover to cover. Any thoughts pro/con on The One Year Bible as a way to encourage fellow parishioners to step up their Bible reading?

father wb said...


Daily Bible reading is a wonderful discipline, usually overlooked discipline. I think the very best method divsed by Christians is, frankly, the Anglican Daily Office. It is a two-year cycle, and I recommend it be supplemented by regular study of particular books for historical context, etc. But the Daily Office has the benefit of combining Bible Reading, Psalmody, and preparatory prayer, as well as intercession, etc.

I've added a link to the DAily Office book in the devotional books section of the sidebar. It is very helpful, as it contains all of the Bible readings in order throughout the two year cycle.

The Daily Office is challenging to learn, but like everything else, practice and persistence pays off, and it is a discpline that will be richly, richly rewarding throughout your life.

And if you can't manage actually to pray the office, you could use the Daily Office books just to read the readings each day.

Hoosierpalian said...

Hi Father WB,

Thank you for the suggestion! I started reading the daily offices as an Advent discipline this week. I've attended a weekly Evensong for years, so I've learned the patterns of Evening Prayer pretty well. Fortunately a temporary job situation has taken me to a neighborhood where Morning and Evening Prayer are recited daily in a parish church, so when I want company, it's only a couple of miles away.